Excerpt from "Hitler's Order of the Day to the
German Troops on the Eastern Front"
Issued October 2, 1941 Excerpt taken from Associated Press release reprinted in the New York Times, October 10, 1941, p. 2
After Adolf Hitler was named chancellor (chief officer) of Germany in 1933, the German government stepped up efforts to expand its territory in Europe. In March 1938 the German army moved into Austria and united it with Germany. Soon, Hitler began demanding the return of land that Germany had lost after World War I (1914-18). His first target was a German-speaking section of Czechoslovakia, called the Sudetenland. Czechoslovakia didn't have a strong enough military to stand alone against Germany and prevent it from taking the territory. Czechoslovakia's allies, Britain and France, did not want to go to war over the territory, so they agreed to let Germany take over the Sudetenland. Hitler claimed that this would be his last territorial demand in Europe. In reality, he already had plans for conquering all of Europe.
By March 1939 Hitler's army had taken over all of Czechoslovakia. Soon after, Hitler made demands on Poland, specifically the port city of Danzig. Before World War I, Danzig was a German city. After World War I it became a "free city," which meant it didn't belong to Germany or to Poland, even though it now fell within Poland's borders. Poland had a rightto use the port for its exports and imports. But the people of the city were almost all German. Hitler wanted Danzig returned to Germany and he also wanted to build a road through Polish territory that would connect Danzig and Germany. European leaders were no longer willing to give in to Hitler's demands. Poland refused to give up its right to use Danzig and England and France swore to defend Poland if Germany attacked it.
In August 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, an agreement that the two countries would not fight each other. On September 1, 1939, only a week after the pact went into effect, Hitler launched a German attack on Poland. (Under the terms of the nonaggression pact, the Soviet Union would not interfere with Germany's actions in Poland.) Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. It was too late to save Poland—by September 24 Germany had conquered it. The stunning victory was called blitzkrieg (pronounced "BLITS-kreeg," meaning "lightning war" in German).
By mid-1941 Germany controlled virtually all of Europe west of the Soviet Union. In May and June it had conquered Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. Germany's quest for territory seemed unquenchable. Tensions were mounting between Hitler and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The führer (pronounced "FYOOR-uhr"; German term for "leader," the title Hitler gave himself) was infuriated by Stalin's moves to expand Soviet territory farther into central Europe. On June 22, 1941, more than three million German troops invaded the Soviet Union, thus launching the famous assault that Hitler named Operation Barbarossa. In a July 3 radio address Stalin warned his nation of the seriousness of Germany's aggressions. "A grave danger hangs over our country," he stated. "The enemy must be crushed. We must win." Italy sided with Germany, declaring war on the Soviet Union and setting the stage for a long conflict with the Soviets, the British, and the Americans.
Things to remember while reading the excerpt from Hitler's Order of the Day:
- In his July 3, 1941, radio broadcast Stalin predicted: "Our war for the freedom of our country will merge with the struggle of the peoples of Europe and America … It will be a united front of peoples standing for freedom and against enslavement and threats of enslavement by Hitler's … armies."
- On July 12, 1941, the British and Soviet governments signed an agreement pledging mutual assistance in the war against Germany.
- Hitler's order to the German troops on the eastern front was issued on October 2, 1941, about three and a half months after Germany invaded the Soviet Union. At this time, Hitler felt confident that Germany had won the war against the Soviet Union.
- Notice how Hitler plays upon his soldiers' deepest emotions and rawest instincts—instincts of loyalty, courage, and survival—by telling them that Stalin had long planned a devastating invasion of Germany. He also calls on a higher power—God—to lead the German forces to victory in their war against the Soviet "beasts."
Hitler's Order of the Day to the German Troops on the Eastern Front
Issued October 2, 1941.
Filled with the greatest concern for the existence and future of our people, I decided on June 22 to appeal to you to anticipate in the nick of time threatening aggression by one opponent [the Soviet Union].
It was the intention of the Kremlin powers—as we know today— to destroy not only Germany but all Europe.…
God's mercy on our people and the entire European world if this barbaric enemy had been able to move his tens of thousands of tanks before we moved ours!
All Europe would have been lost, for this enemy does not consist of soldiers, but a majority of beasts.…
Soldiers, when I called on you on June 22 to ward off the terrible danger menacing our homeland you faced the biggest military power of all times.…
Within a few weeks his three most important industrial regions will be completely in our hands. Your names, soldiers of the German armed forces, and the names of our brave allies, the names of your divisions and regiments and your tank forces and air squadrons, will be associated for all time with the most tremendous victories in history.
You have taken more than 2,400,000 prisoners, destroyed or captured more than 17,500 tanks and more than 21,600 pieces of artillery. Fourteen thousand two hundred planes were brought down or destroyed on the ground.
The world hitherto never has experienced similar events… Since June 22 the strongest fortifications have been penetrated, tremendous streams have been crossed, innumerable localities have been stormed and fortresses and casemate systems have been crushed or smoked out.
Spanish, Croat and Belgian units now join you and others will fol low. This fight—perhaps for the first time—is recognized by all Euro pean nations as a common action to safeguard the future of this most cultural continent.…
This outstanding achievement of one struggle was obtained with sacrifices that, however painful in individual cases, in the total amount to not yet five percent of those of the World War…
During these three and a half months, my soldiers, the precondition, at least, has been created for a last mighty blow that shall crush this opponent before Winter sets in.
All preparations … have been made… We can now strike a deadly blow.
Today begins the last great decisive battle of this year. It will hit this enemy destructively and with it the instigator of the entire war, England herself. For if we crush this opponent, we also remove the last English ally on the [European] Continent.
Thus we will free the German Reich and entire Europe from a menace greater than any since the time of the Huns and later of the Mongol tribes.
The German people, therefore, will be with you more than ever before during the few ensuing weeks. What you and allied soldiers have achieved already merits our deepest thanks.
With bated breath, the blessing of the entire German home-land accompanies you during the hard days ahead. With the Lord's aid you not only will bring victory but also the most essential condition for peace.
The Fuehrer's Headquarters: Oct. 2, 1941.
Adolf Hitler Fueher and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
What happened next…
Even though German forces captured the Soviet city of Kiev in September of 1941, their December advance on Moscow failed. Stalin used the unbearably cold Russian winters to his advantage, launching his counterattack just as temperatures plunged to a bitter-40°F. The Germans retreated, but the conflict was far from over. Fierce fighting in the cities of Leningrad and Stalingrad broke out in 1942. Food was scarce. Once-thriving towns were reduced to rubble. Thousands of Soviet citizens died of starvation; others fell into the hands of the Nazis and became prisoners of war. By December, however, Soviet forces surrounded the German troops occupying Stalin-grad, isolating them in the heart of the city. The German campaign in the Soviet Union ended on January 31, 1943, with the surrender of German forces. The Soviets' triumphant defense of Stalingrad was a staggering blow to Hitler and his supposedly unbeatable army.
In December 1941, the United States officially joined the war after Japanese forces attacked an American Naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The United States declared war on Japan, and then Japan's allies, Germany and Italy, declared war on the United States. Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States established a unified strategy for defeating Germany. Almost immediately the United States and Britain launched an offensive against the Germans in North Africa. Britain and the United States also planned to launch an assault in western Europe (the western front) as soon as possible, while the Soviets kept fighting in the east (the eastern front). By forcing Hitler to fight on many fronts, the Allies hoped that the German army would be spread too thin and could be more easily defeated. The plan was to advance from the east, west, and south and squeeze the Germans between the Allied armies advancing from three directions.
Did you know…
- As a young man Hitler spent a few years in Vienna making money by painting portraits, postcard scenes, and store posters.
- While serving in the German army in World War I Hitler suffered a poison gas attack, during which he claimed to have a vision of himself as an Aryan (white) hero called upon by the gods to lead his country in a glorious 1000-year reich (reich means empire).
- In 1944, some high-ranking officers in the German military tried, unsuccessfully, to assassinate Hitler. Hitler responded to the attack by having approximately five thousand people he suspected of being involved in the plot killed.
- Hitler spent his last days in an underground bunker in Berlin. As the Russian army was overtaking Berlin, the final blow in Germany's defeat, Hitler was in a state of extreme nervous exhaustion. It is reported that he shuffled around the bunker, stooped over, with trembling limbs, talking incoherently, and planning new war strategies for divisions of the German army that had long been defeated.
For More Information
Fuchs, Thomas. The Hitler Fact Book. Los Angeles: Fountain Books, 1990.
Marrin, Albert. Hitler. New York: Viking Kestrel, 1987.
Skipper, G. C. The Battle of Stalingrad. Chicago: Children's Press, 1981.
Stein, R. Conrad. Invasion of Russia. Chicago: Children's Press, 1985.
Stein, R. Conrad. Siege of Leningrad. Chicago: Children's Press, 1983.
Warth, Robert D. Joseph Stalin. New York: Twayne, 1969.
Whitelaw, Nancy. Josef Stalin: From Peasant to Premier. New York: Macmillan, 1992.
Stalin. HBO, 1992.
Allen, Peter. The Origins of World War II. New York: Bookwright Press,1992.
Hills, Ken. Wars That Changed the World: World War II. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1988.
Leckie, Robert. The Story of World War II. New York: Random House, 1964.
Hoobler, Dorothy, and Thomas Hoobler. World Leaders Past and Present: Joseph Stalin. New York: Chelsea House, 1985.
New York Times, May 7, 1941, p. 1; June 23, 1941, p. 1; July 3, 1941, p. 1;August 14, 1941, p. 1; October 4, 1941; October 10, 1941, p. 2.
Ross, Stewart. World Leaders. New York: Thomson Learning, 1993.