Did the Soviet soldiers fighting think they were liberating the countries or did they know they were conquering them?

Would it even make a difference in the mind of soldiers fighting a brutal war for years


This is my take on this

In most cases I don’t think many of the Soviet soldiers had that in mind when they were fighting the Germans. Yes, they were fighting to free up their country and repulse the invaders but the average Soviet soldier mostly spent their time trying to stay alive and not get shot by their own political officers which was a very common occurrence for even the most mundane of infractions and their commanding officers used threats and terror to keep their soldiers moving forward.

Things to remember.

Most of the red armies commanding officers spent their time placating their commander in chief because if he had you removed from command you were most likely to disappear and never be seen again. They, to save their own skin would threaten and terrorize the junior ranks and so on down the line.

Most of the Red Armies professional soldiers had been mostly wiped out in the first months of Operation Barbarossa and many of the soldiers on the front lines had little to no training and were basically handed a weapon and ammunition and told to shoot that way and if you ran you would be shot by the political officers.

Political officers were the SS of the Red Army they were brutal, unforgiving and were known to treat friend and foe alike. The average Soviet infantryman was more terrified of the political officer than they were of the enemy in many cases. At least with the Germans you knew where you stood.

As to viewing themselves as liberators undoubtedly many red army personnel felt that way but I think for most it was they were beating back the threat to their homeland as remember most Soviet soldiers had little formal training and were farm boys and office workers forced to the front lines and all they wanted was for the war to be over and for that to happen the Germans had to be conquered so that they could go back to their lives at home. Being liberators was just a side effect of pushing the hated Germans back to Germany.

Anyway that’s my take on it and could most likely be wrong


Solzhenitsyn captures the situation well in The First Circle, which is set in the early 1950s, but has characters imprisoned for various “political” reasons from the war.


Well, they said they were – except for Germany, where “Bread for Bread, Blood for Blood” was more the rule.

Most (indeed all) of the countries the Red Army were moving into in 1944/1945 had Communist Party members willing to form a “national government” at the Russians behest (and control), so it could at least look like liberation.

The Russians paid very much attention to political indoctrination of the troops, and in large part this was successful. The Germans tried this on the Wehrmacht, where it didn’t (the SS was made of ideologues anyway, true believers by choice.)

Hope this helps!


How did the soviets indoctrinate their troops? And was the success of their indoctrination known in the 1930s? If yes, then why didn’t the Germans copy the methods used to indoctrinate?


Do you have credible sources for this? This sounds doubtful at best and complete bullshit at worst. The Whermacht was maybe not as filled with nazi ideologues, but the hatred for communism was deeply entrenched.

1 Like

And to American troops too:

1 Like

Well, I’d say that most of what was left of the Wehrmacht heading west in Spring 1945 might be a clue. And please be a bit less scatalogical in your conversation, eh?

Hmmm… how about this: “All sides tried to politically indoctrinate their troops, with varying success.” ?

Yes, but German and Soviet soldiers lived inside and outside their armies in a totalitarian media world. Very different to the soldiers of the western powers.

1 Like

Hmm… well, every unit had a political officer (“Commisar”) whose job was to instill proper zeal in the troops. From what I’ve read, this indoctrination was non-stop, every day in every direction. Films, lectures, pamphlets, radio, the works. The Party was everything; Stalin was god. (This even extended back to the days of the great famines in the 1930s.). The soldiers did not know a time where that wasn’t true.

As far as the Germans go, there was a strong religious vein in their culture, which the Nazi’s hated, but couldn’t eradicate. The Party was not as ubiquitous; one could go into a church and hear alternative views. That the Nazi’s paid enormous attention to morale in the civilian sector is indicative that even they didn’t think they could count on the people to be proper thinkers. The party ideology did not saturate the military (and the folks back home). The Germans, I think, expected they could bath the next generation of Germans in group-think, but not in the time of the war.

Does that sound reasonable?

I don’t see how Wehrmacht soldiers heading west in spring 1945 supports your argument that the nazi’s failed at ideologically indoctrinating their soldiers. The Wehrmacht fought ideological war and was very confident that fighting ‘a quick and devastating war’ on communism was a ‘good idea’ in 1941. It was very much an ideological war from the very start, the Wehrmacht’s willingness to execute the commissar order being the prime example here.

Yeah, eventually some soldiers started to become more sceptical of a war they were losing and started asking themselves if it was really worth fighting to the dead for. Some stopped fighting and surrendered (preferaly to those they hadn’t raped the daughters and wifes of), others didn’t.

The reason I fell out against your argument so harshly is because with statements like “they tried to indoctrinate the wehrmacht, but they failed” make it sound like the Wehrmacht weren’t really nazi’s. From there it is only a few steps to propagating the clean Wehrmacht myth and historical revisionism.

There was a German resistance movement. But the nazi propaganda was very successfull in the military and civilian population. Till the very end and after it Germans were murdered for not beeing faithfull to the nazis. BTW, I am German so please call nazi politics nazi, not German.

1 Like

I doubt that “xfilesfc” knew what you are talking about.

I’m not so sure nazi propaganda was all that successful. The German military followed orders; it was built into their ‘corporate psyche’. They went to war as their fathers had done in WWI - the leadership said it was necessary; they went. That doesn’t make 'em evil, it makes 'em soldiers. The myth of the “clean Wehrmacht” isn’t true, but neither is it true that Wehrmacht soldiers were basically SS in feldgrau.

Hitler had to rescind the “Commissar Order” (“they must, on principle, be shot immediately”) in March 1942 entirely because of the Wehrmacht disobeying it, for instance. Criminalizing not killing Commissars just wasn’t working.

Most of the civilian sector, near as I can tell, especially after 1942 just put their heads down and hoped for the best. They weren’t Nazi’s, they were just hoping to live through it all.

OK, from my readings, the Wehrmacht fought because they were told to. They were loyal Germans. (This is quoted from a description of research by Sonke Neitzel, from the London School of Economics and Politics)

"Neitzel’s research revealed that most soldiers were not interested in National Socialism or the ‘new order’ that Nazi leaders sought to impose upon Europe. Their worldviews, shaped by the violent exigencies of war, were largely shaped by the core group to which they belonged, their unit, their duty, the next battle, and their weapons of war.

Critically, Neitzel’s research underscored that for most German soldiers the Second World War was in the main a continuation of the First World War: bigger, probably more brutal, but in the end the same war for the same reason, which was defence of the Homeland against foreign aggression. "

(I’ve managed to get a copy of this beast (500+ pages), and if’n it changes my mind, I’ll mea culpa)

Followed by: “That the Second World War was of a totally different character—emphasising ethnic cleansing, genocide and global conquest—was not reflected, even though many soldiers spoke casually, even gleefully, about raping and killing civilians and prisoners.”

1 Like

I see your point of the average foot soldier being motivated more from human and social aspects than from pure ideological fanaticism. That said, I have a hard time believing this was much different for the red army.
Most soldiers there fought for the defense of their homeland and loyalty to their country, not necessarily their loyalty to the regime. That doesn’t go to say propaganda was not effective for the German army. Like the red army, defending your home and family went hand in hand with disgust for your opponent and his ideology.

So if you want to go the length of saying that because their primary loyalty was primarily to their direct group, commanders and homeland, hence therefore they weren’t really national socialists. You then conveniently skip out on whether or not the average German soldier believed national socialist rethoric. They probably believed at least most or some of it as 44% of Germans voted national socialist in 1933 and propaganda intensity only went up from there. It may not be important enough to being a primary motivator to average soldier, but I have a hard time believing communism was enough to convince the red army.

In conclusion, most german soldiers were supporters of national socialism, just like in the red army. Ideology however was probably not the biggest motivator in continuing the fight on either side.

Yup. What I have found in my reading so far is interesting. Many soldiers were anti-semitic (though those that weren’t may simply not have spoken up), and did not perform any ‘ethnic cleansing’, but had rationalized the murder of Jews thoroughly down into, “Well, they deserved it.”

Haven’t gotten into it further, though.

And “speaking casually” about massive cruelty is not unusual in any army. Even laughing about it - but only to other soldiers; its a coping mechanism.

(for those of you joining us now, I’m reading and entirely not enjoying Sonke Neitzel’s “Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying.”)


Ultimately, the simple fact that many more Germans thought of going ‘West’ rather than ‘East’ was one of the leading factors in the downfall. In his book “Hitler’s Empire, how the Nazis ruled Europe” Mark Mazower describes this as a key factor in why the Third Reich failed. For all of the leadership’s plans to be carried out, the Third Reich was short of 20 million or so Germans. For example, of the one million Germans expected to come to what was formerly Poland, only about 10% actually showed up. Heydrich’s RSHA wrote extensive reports which basically predicted that the whole thing would fail if drastic measures weren’t taken.

Almost immediately when the war began, Germany suffered a chronic labor shortage, and German occupied Europe had a near permanent food shortage which peaked in the winter of 1944-1945. Had the war lasted one year longer, there would have been a gigantic Europe wide famine.

1 Like