Title: Descent into Darkness: The Local Participation of the Wehrmacht in the Holocaust in Belarus, 1941-2
Name: Waitman W. Beorn

Louis and Frances Blumkin Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Assistant Professor of History
University of Nebraska-Omaha

Year: 2010
Type: Dissertation Fellowship

The HFG Dissertation Fellowship gave me the support necessary to complete my dissertation on the participation of the German Army in the Holocaust on the ground in Belarus. In this project, I investigated German archival documents, survivor testimonies, and visited sites of killing in Belarus to examine how and why the German Army came to play such a key role in both the Holocaust and the larger Nazi genocidal project. While other studies have focused on the upper level collusion of the German Army in the Holocaust by looking at generals and relationships between the Army upper leadership and the SS, this study shifts the focus to the ground level where German soldiers were actually involved in the murder of Jews in the occupied Soviet Union.

Centered on the involvement of the Wehrmacht in genocide in six local areas, this work details a progression of complicity from improvised participation to the internalization of anti-Jewish measures. Moreover, it explains in detail the myriad ways in which German soldiers aided in and benefited from the murder of Jews in Belarus (such as theft and sexual exploitation). It also demonstrated that there was sufficient space for soldiers to both refuse participation and to rescue or help Jews under their control.

This work highlights the critical importance of unit culture and the complex interaction between situational factors, values, and social-psychological forces. It also demonstrated that the antipartisan war (or threat thereof) was intentionally and successfully mobilized to increase the participation of the German Army in the Holocaust. Finally, this dissertation examined in detail the many different relationships between German soldiers and Jews that occurred in the context of the Nazi genocidal project in the East.

Given that 17 million men served in Wehrmacht at some point, an understanding of their position in the larger Nazi genocidal project is vital as it tells us about not only military participation in the Holocaust but also how and why individuals became involved in carrying out genocide in general.


Beorn, Waitman Wade. Marching into Darkness: The Wehrmacht and the Holocaust in Belarus. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013.

Beorn, Waitman W. A Calculus of Complicity: The Wehrmacht, the Anti-Partisan War, and the Final Solution in White Russia, 1941-42. Central European History 44, no. 2 (2011): 308-337.