Während die weibliche Hysterie eine verhältnismäßig harmlose Bereicherung des Daseins ist, wird die männliche Hysterie oft zum blutigen Motiv der Geschichte. Daß die meisten Menschen nicht wissen, daß es Hysterie bei Männern gibt, macht die Störung nur um so gefährlicher. (Whereas female hysteria is a comparatively harmless enrichment of existence, male hysteria often becomes the bloody motive of history. The fact that most people don’t know that there is hysteria in men only makes the disturbance all the more dangerous.)
The above text can be read on p. 68 of the 14th edition, by Munich editor Kösel-Verlag GmbH & Co., of Peter Bamm’s book Die unsichtbare Flagge. What follows is my translation of the paragraph in the context of which Bamm wrote the above-quoted remark, which shows who was the particular male hysteric that Bamm had in mind:
The motives of the primitive man at the top became ever less transparent. It is part of the clinical picture of hysterics, especially of the schizoid fanatics among them, that they are unable to admit errors. Whereas female hysteria is a comparatively harmless enrichment of existence, male hysteria often becomes the bloody motive of history. The fact that most people don’t know that there is hysteria in men only makes the disturbance all the more dangerous. After the primitive man had for ten years exercised terror in the land dominated by him, he complained that the terror had created resistance. After he had made himself enemies for ten years, he complained that he had them. He was no politician.Peter Bamm was the pen name of Curt Emmrich, who served as a volunteer in the First World War and later as an army surgeon on the Eastern Front of World War II, cutting off limbs and trying to save the lives of badly wounded soldiers, first on the southern sector of the front including the Crimean Peninsula, and later during the Wehrmacht’s retreat through East Prussia. Bamm’s account of his Eastern Front experiences, Die unsichtbare Flagge, was first published in 1952 and became a worldwide bestseller.
Mostly dedicated to the merits of the ordinary German soldier and the exploits of Bamm and his colleagues as military surgeons, the book also contains some brief references to massacres of the Jewish population by those who Bamm called the "Others", meaning the organs of the National Socialist state as opposed to the Wehrmacht’s troops and leaders, who he portrays as having been outraged by the crimes of the "Others" but having done nothing about them, in part because they feared the consequences of resistance but also because of their increasing "moral corruption" after years of Nazi rule.
Thus on page 79 Bamm addressed the massacre of the Jews of Nikolayev (my translation):
In Nikolayev the Russian citizens of Jewish faith were registered by a commando of the Others, rounded up, murdered and buried in an anti-tank ditch. We heard of this through rumors that we at first didn’t want to believe, but eventually had to believe. An officer from the army commander’s staff had photographed the scene. The colonel-general expelled the officer from his staff.[…]On pp. 152-153 Bamm refers to the murder of Sevastopol’s Jews after that city’s conquest by the Wehrmacht in July 1942. My translation:
Doubtlessly the indignation about the massacres in the army was general. Everyone considered it a scandal that the Others were allowed to use for their purposes the victories won by brave soldiers of the army. But it was no blazing indignation of humanity coming from deep inside the heart. The poison of anti-Semitism had already penetrated too deep. An intense reaction by all fighting troops against the crime would not have avoided the massacres, but only led to their being carried out more secretly. But there was no blazing indignation. The worm was already inside the wood. The moral corruption after seven years of the Others’ rule had already advanced too far, also among those who at the time would have vehemently denied this. The individual was helpless, not because he got in danger when he defended himself against the crimes. This many would have accepted. Reprisals were taken against his family. A letter, in which a colonel of the division had expressed his indignation to his own wife, fell into the hands of the Others’ censorship. The consequence was that the colonel’s wife was arrested. The psychological situation was further made difficult by the fact that the Soviets had also committed crimes. In the German villages by the lower Bug the entering troops had encountered mountains of corpses. The Soviets had wanted to take away the inhabitants of these villages who were Russians of German descent. When due to the Germans’ fast advance there had not been sufficient time, they had simply shot down these unfortunates.
During the conquest of Nikolayev many Jews, who guessed what expected them, had taken part in the street fighting as franctireurs. The Others justified the shooting of the Jews in Nikolayev by calling it a "reprisal measure". The totalitarian brothers, adversarial but similar in their character, played into each other’s hands. Each of them justified his crimes with the crimes of the other side. Each of the two maintained the right to revenge. But revenge is not right.
Gradually there came times for us that we could call quiet. But the Others had now slowly caught up and begun to murder here as well. In a sealed part of the GPU prison, wall to wall with us, they collected the Sevastopol citizens of Jewish faith and killed them. They had those meant to die enter a huge box van. The door was closed. The motor was started. It initiated some sort of gas mechanism. Here also technology was a willing servant of the crime. After a few minutes of dull knocking on the van’s inside that slowly died down, the driver drove away. He was only transporting corpses, which were buried outside the city in old anti-tank ditches.Despite the somewhat-less-than-convincing claims that anyone protesting against the massacres of the Jewish population would have risked his life, Bamm’s admission of the Wehrmacht’s guilty passivity can be considered remarkably honest if one considers that his book was published at a time when neither the German public nor the German judicial system was much interested in the crimes of Nazi Germany (a change in attitudes only started with the 1958 Einsatzgruppen trial in Ulm, mentioned here) and former Nazi officials were making their way back into leading positions of state and economy in the German Federal Republic.
We knew that. We did nothing. Anyone who had really protested or done something against the murder detachment would have been arrested and disappeared twenty-four hours later. It is one of the finesses of our century’s totalitarian state constructions that they don’t give their opponents a chance to die a great, dramatic martyr’s death for their convictions. The totalitarian state has its opponents disappear in mute anonymity. It is certain that anyone who would have dared to suffer death rather than silently tolerate the crime would have sacrificed his life in vain.
However, Bamm’s writing comes across as apologetic in the light of research during the past decades about the Wehrmacht’s involvement in the crimes of Nazi Germany, which has revealed that
a) The Wehrmacht’s role in the mass murder of Jews in the occupied territories of the USSR was not just that of a passive bystander;
b) The Wehrmacht bore the chief responsibility for the mass dying of Soviet prisoners of war in German POW camps or on the way there;
c) Wehrmacht commanders also bore much of the responsibility for the genocidal siege of Leningrad; d) Wehrmacht units were involved to a large extent in atrocities against non-Jewish civilians committed in the course of anti-partisan fighting, especially in Belarus;
e) The Wehrmacht’s criminal scorched earth policy during its retreat caused untold suffering to the civilian population of the occupied Soviet territories.
It is unlikely that Bamm was not aware of any of these Wehrmacht crimes.
During his time in the Crimea he probably learned about the Eupatoria massacre, in which about 1,200 male civilians had been shot at Wehrmacht commander von Manstein’s orders in reprisal for assistance given by a part of the local population to a Soviet landing operation in early January 1942. Bamm’s awareness of this reprisal is quite likely as he was also informed about the Feodosia massacre of wounded German soldiers by landed Soviet troops at the end of December 1941. Bamm mentions the Feodosia killings on pp. 116-117 of Die unsichtbare Flagge, but makes no mention of the Eupatoria reprisal killings.
Bamm was also no stranger to how Soviet prisoners of war were treated by the Wehrmacht. On page 140 he describes the plight of the Soviet wounded left behind after the conquest of Sevastopol (my translation):
Many thousands of them were lying between the vines, scattered over the ground. They had had nothing to eat for days, and nothing to drink for forty-eight hours. Most of them were surgically unattended. The sun burned down on them hour after hour, and a wind of groans blew over the hills. The misery of these men beaten down by war didn’t cry to heaven, it only went over the hills like a breath. And in the valley one saw some enclosures in which the about thirty thousand unwounded prisoners of war were penned up, waiting for their further fate. A few shots could be heard from below.Bamm went to the commandant of the POW camp to ask for release of the Soviet medics and orderlies in the camp in order to help him tend the Soviet wounded. The encounter with this officer he described as follows (p. 141, my translation):
The commandant was an amiable Viennese. He had a tent below by the prisoners’ enclosures. I stood before him and declared that I had the order to take care of the Russian wounded and wanted to avail myself of his help. With a friendly smile he asked: "Do you want a machine gun?"The mention of Soviet wounded who probably would have been left to die but for his intervention, and of a POW camp commandant whose initial offer of assistance was a machine gun to finish them off, was as far as Bamm was prepared to go in revealing that the Wehrmacht was not all that different from the "Others" in its behavior towards non-combatants. Still, it suggests Bamm’s having been conscious that his distinction between Wehrmacht soldiers and commanders on the one hand and the infamous "Others" on the other was not wholly appropriate.
I couldn’t depart from amiability. If the commandant didn’t want to, he didn’t have to hand over the imprisoned medics. Thus I told him that we were a little old-fashioned and wanted to tend the wounded. I asked him to put the Russian medics among the prisoners of war at my disposal. He also remained amiable, and said he was prepared to comply with my request.
This distinction was enthusiastically received by contemporary critics and politicians, according to a 1995 article in the German weekly Die Zeit, which maintains that this distinction even contributed to making the Wehrmacht presentable in the context of the discussion about the rearmament of the German Federal Republic. Only Heinrich Böll, also a war veteran and one of Germany’s most important postwar authors, criticized what he called Bamm’s black-and-white-painting, pointing out that "The ones and the others, they overlapped, and sometimes merged into each other" ("Die einen und die anderen, sie überschnitten einander, gingen stellenweise ineinander über", statement quoted in the aforementioned article).
However, despite being apologetic as concerns the Wehrmacht’s involvement in Nazi Germany’s crimes, in that it goes little further than half-heartedly admitting the Wehrmacht’s familiarity with the mass murder of the occupied Soviet territories' Jewish population, Bamm's Die unsichtbare Flagge remains, in my opinion, one of the best books written about the Eastern Front of World War II.
And Bamm's characterization of who he calls "the primitive man at the top" is as pertinent as any.