Well, I know you well enough, so I know that your question reflects the “confusion”, what is the “Wehrmacht” what are the “Nazis”. And I see and answer here with (hopefully) historical correctness, though of course I can’t speak with 100% personal impartiality on my own involvement. But I try to let my historical education prevail here, although it is very difficult for me personally.
1.) Before I get lost in my own blah words, I’ll reduce this post to the mentality of the Wehrmacht. What I think, what a this thread, which is, after all, mainly on depression, has more value than if I just talk here unnecessarily about historical facts.
2.) We Germans have a very ambivalent attitude towards our own past and especially our fighting troops. Because it was Germans (and their allies) who fought at the front at that time. That is an incalculable fact. I try to talk about it as neutral as I can.
3.) Only some of the Wehrmacht soldiers commit war crimes – how many exactly is a matter of debate in research. However, it is clear today that the German army as an overall organization and its leadership supported the Nazis’ war of extermination and actively participated in it. The Wehrmacht is therefore rated by many historians as a “criminal institution”
4.) I cannot and do not want to talk about the mentality that drove my grandfather to join the Wehrmacht (although there are many indications that he was recruited but not forcibly recruited). One can certainly assume that as a young man he felt it was his duty to fight. Unfortunately, I was not lucky enough to personally ask my grandfather about this matter, as he had already died by his own hand.
5.) The Nazi regime has done everything since it came to power to convince the German people that their way of life, thought and warfare is the only right one. Propagandistically, this was justified by the Treaty of Versailles. The so-called “peace of shame”. As I said, I didn’t know my grandfather personally. I can only assume that as a young man who grew up in Nazi propaganda, he too felt subject to this justification.
6.) In any case, and this is a historical fact, my grandfather fought on the Ukrainian-Russian front and was very badly wounded by a Russian sniper. He would certainly have died if a Ukrainian farmer and his wife hadn’t found him in the snow and nursed him back to health with so much love and compassion that he was able to fight his way to the nearest German military hospital. And then he met my grandmother in the hospital. A love story.
These Ukrainian peasants, the people without prejudice to his German origins, had the grace and compassion to nurse a wounded man back to health. Personally, I’m not questioning the political or personal background here. Perhaps they were afraid that a German soldier would die on their land. Perhaps other motives were at play here. Unfortunately, their descendants were never able to give a clear explanation for this. But my grandfather survived. And ever since, my family has borne a debt of gratitude to Ukraine and its people.
7.) Since his return, my grandfather has always distanced himself from Nazi propaganda. This corresponds to the attitude of my maternal great-grandfather, who held a much higher military rank, even worked in the Wolfschanze, who was a party member due to the very strict network between the Nazi regime and the working population, but who understood the politics of the always secretly condemned the Hitler regime. But was later acquitted and allowed to continue his business. But only because he was able to flee to the West with a small part of his fortune. In the East he would certainly have been sentenced to death.
8.) Here you can clearly see the difference between East and West Germany. In the West, the Allies allowed us some political retraining. As long as you didn’t commit war crimes, or exploit Jews or prisoners of war (which my great-grandfather certainly did, but at least he treated them humanely), you weren’t “bad” persons. We’re talking pure white-among-white politics here. My great-grandfather was “only” a businessman in the textile industry (we produced the uniforms for the Wehrmacht), as long as nobody was “sacrificed” personally, we were still nice Germans for that long.
Well, here’s the justice of fate: neither my family nor my fortune survived the later years. I am the last survivor of my family along with my cousin. And we will surely die out. My cousin is gay and I don’t want children. We who have done our duty (we were Prussians and fought like Prussians) but have also taken upon ourselves a great deal of guilt, we do not deserve forgiveness. We are just one of the numerous families who collaborated in concept with Nazi propaganda. We may not have been Nazis. Just like the Wehrmacht. But we didn’t prevent evil either. We are guilty. And that’s a fact. And that’s how fate is supposed to decide.
9.) I have accepted my destiny. And I honor that legacy, mean as it is. But I’m learning from it and trying to be as good a Democrat as I can be. But I am now 41 years old. I don’t know if I could ever be responsible for creating offspring. I’d rather die expecting we’ve tried to make everything right than pass my tainted genes on to another generation who might not be able to live with that guilt. ;-)