The Wehrmacht were the German armed forces from 1935 to 1945. It was preceded by the Reichswehr, which was the main German army during the period of the Weimar Republic and for a few years into the beginning of the Third Reich when Hitler replaced it. In 1945, the Wehrmacht was abolished and eventually succeeded by the Bundeswehr and Nationale Volksarmee. The term Wehrmacht translates roughly to defense-make, which was equivalent during the Weimar years to the term armed forces in the United States today. Using a word which implied defense was also important for the Nazis during their early years, when they had to contend with the British and French and the Treaty of Versalles, which placed severe restrictions on the German military.
War-crimes and the Holocaust
It was, and is still commonly believed, that the Wehrmacht had very little or no involvement in the Holocaust, and seldom committed war-crimes. This is incorrectas, while it is true that the majority of humane and professional military commanders were in the Wehrmacht, as opposed to the SS and other more heavily Nazi dominated organizations, there were still many war-crimes and acts of genocide which were committed by the Wehrmacht. Many of these crimes were committed on the Eastern Front.
Notable incidents of humane conduct by the Wehrmacht
There were occasions during the war where exceptional Wehrmacht commanders showed dedication to the rules of warfare, as part of being professional soldiers.
- During the war in North Africa, Erwin Rommel disobeyed orders to execute captured Free French prisoners, since they were in uniform and fought for a conventional army. The order tried to take advantage of the fact that soldiers who are not part of a national army are not technically soldiers and not protected by the rules of war.