What with all the propaganda, prejudice, and humanity's tendency to reduce the complexities of history to Michael Bay films, World War II remains one of the most misunderstood wars ever fought. If you're a history buff, a war nut, or a really old dude with a hell of a life story, you might already know some of the following things. But if you're like us and got most of your World War II knowledge from fighting Hitler in a robot suit, you might think that ...
5Hitler Was In Undisputed Control Of The German Military
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Hitler wasn't the military genius pop culture usually portrays him as, but at least the guy commanded some loyalty. Dude was the Fuhrer, after all, and we know he was a captivating leader -- we've seen those videos of him delivering terrifying, passionate speeches to the tune of riotous cheers.
Shockingly enough, being cuffed in the ears by Nazis every time they stepped out of line wasn't openly embraced by 100 percent of the population. The German Navy, the Kriegsmarine, was fiercely loyal to the state, but harbored a deep-seated distrust of politicians and their shenanigans. Erich Raeder, the Grand Admiral for the first half of the war, actively resisted any and all attempts to Nazify the Navy, and gained some notoriety for his up-to-two-hour shouting matches with Hitler. After Raeder's inevitable resignation in 1943, his more Reich-minded successor allowed the Nazi mentality to seep in, but even he continued to keep the Party at an arm's length.
Die Kriegsmarine Magazine
This month's featured story: "27 Secret Codes For Telling The Fuhrer To Suck It (To His Face)."
The Navy even had a rule that people who joined had to leave the Nazi Party before taking part in any missions, but that didn't mean the Kriegsmarine were passive-aggressively condemning the evils of Nazism. They were mostly just too Christian and conservative to buy into this new-wave Nazi stuff. Still, the Navy was an apt breeding ground for dissenters like Admiral Canaris, who collaborated with generals on the Eastern Front to use a wine bottle to blow Hitler up in 1943.
Which resulted in him being stripped nude and lynched, with his body left up to rot and bloat. Um ... YOLO?
Speaking of the Eastern Front: Invading the Soviet Union didn't go well for the Germans, and the troops' opinion of their supreme commander was directly proportional to the depth of the frozen shit creek they found themselves in. Starting in 1942, the Wehrmacht began taking in Soviet citizens to bolster their ranks, and when Hitler told them to stop recruiting racially inferior people into his army, the officers politely told him to screw off. By the end of 1942, 700,000 of the three million soldiers in the Axis army were Soviets. Additionally, a type of German machine gun called the Sturmgewehre proved invaluable on the Eastern Front ... after it was developed against Hitler's orders.
United States Military
He presumably wanted only pure German weaponry, like schnitzel cannons and bratwurst bombs.
Basically, disobeying Hitler was the main reason the Nazis didn't lose the Eastern Front so quickly that the D-Day troops would have landed in the middle of a Normandy-wide vodka-and-borscht beach party.
4Nazi War Prisoners Got What They Deserved
Being a Nazi POW must have been rough. How could it not have been? Look at what they did to the people they put in prison camps. How do you say "karma" in German, motherfuckers?
Oh, it's still just "karma"? Well ... shut up. Jerks.
Tons of Nazi war prisoners got away virtually scot-free ... and we helped them. America took in over 400,000 German prisoners, and an estimated percentage of who-the-hell-knows were unrepentant Nazis. The U.S. had relatively little experience dealing with POWs, and the sudden influx of up to 30,000 of them per week required quick thinking. So they rounded them up, took them to a bunch of prison camps, and ... treated them super fine. They were fed well, and even given wine and beer with their meals, because it's always a great idea to give alcohol to hundreds of thousands of enemy soldiers on your soil when your own army is on another continent.
Camp Hearne Museum
Light beer didn't exist back then, so they couldn't even torture the POWs with that.
The prisoners even got pretty well along with the locals, after (we assume) the obligatory wacky misunderstandings. Sure, there was some forced labor, but even that was strictly governed by the Geneva Convention accords, paid, and mostly the kind of manual labor (farm work, etc.) they were used to anyway. The most common stated grievance was boredom. As such, escape attempts remained minimal, and some prisoners stated that their life in a POW camp was way better than it had been back in the German military.
After the prisoners were returned to their war-ravaged homeland by 1946, some of them kept in contact with the American friends they had made, and many eventually returned to the U.S. Ironically, these positive U.S./German relations (along with the CIA) enabled thousands of registered Nazis to eventually settle in America and gain citizenship.
Like your regular neighbors, but even more likely to ignore property lines.
But the U.S. didn't get blitzed or anything, so it makes sense that they'd go easier on the Nazis than the more involved nations, like the Soviets. You'd think that, and you'd be wrong. In 1943, Stalin gave orders that the treatment of all Axis prisoners, including Germans, be improved. As a result, Axis POWs had it better than Soviet civilians while in captivity. It's a wonder surrendering didn't become the hottest fad in the Third Reich years earlier.