1

The commander of Headquarters, Allied Forces Central Europe (AFCENT) from 1968–1973 was (Konrad Max Arthur) Jürgen Bennecke, a German.

In short: Bennecke's publically available bio has some gaps in his career, despite him having rare high awards, the same as some war criminals, and him continuing his career to highest levels in NATO. (Why is that?) Having such a career in the Wehrmacht is the opposite of ruling out involvement in war crimes, and equally such a career in NATO doesn't ensure a clean track record. So, what is the track record?


Unlike his predecessor Kielmannsegg, who was at least accused of being one of the conspirators of the July-20th plot to assassinate Hitler, Bennecke has no English wikipage and the German version is equally a bit lacking in details.

What is curious is that unlike the English version German Wikipedia knows that he was one of only 15 highly decorated Nazi officers, being the recipient of the German Cross in silver and gold (DKiS/DKiG), just like known war criminals Globocnik and Rauff. Bennecke received the gold version on 30 January 1945, then a Oberstleutnant.

From his German Wikipedia entry we learn that:

In March 1939 he passed the examination at the Kriegsakademie. In 1939/40 he was an adjutant in the Infantry Regiment 183. In 1940/41 he attended the 3rd General Staff Course at the Kriegsakademie in Berlin. 1941 he was Id with the Army Group A, later he was transferred to the Army Group South. 1943 he stayed in the Führerreserve. He fought on the western front, on the Balkans and on the eastern front. From 25 March 1943 to 30 September 1944 he was Staff Officer (Ia) of the 100th Jäger Division, before the end of the war Bennecke became Deputy 1st General Staff Officer of the Army Group Mitte. In May 1945 he became a US/British prisoner of war.

And the biography site Munzinger lists in the free version:

During the Second World War Bennecke was always in the field. In the West, on the Balkans and the longest time in the East. He was first regimental adjutant and later in various general staff positions, including 1 1/2 years as 1st general staff officer of the 100th Jäger Division. At the end of the war he was Deputy 1st Generalstabsoffizier of the Army Group Mitte.

That is very ambiguous, if not suspicious. The 100th Jägerdivision for example:

The 100th Jäger Division was reestablished and fought partisans in the Balkans, Croatia, Albania, …

"Eastern front" and "fighting partisans" makes direct participation in war crimes a not so unlikely possibility.

However, in this case that is speculation fueled by circumstance and conspicuous lack of information. Even the half-official collection of biographies and careers of Bundeswehr Generals is not overly talkative on the subject (in as much as gBooks permits a peak). A 1967 article in Der Spiegel went as far as dispelling concerns voiced of putting a Nazi on a elevated NATO post with:

Minister Schröder does not need to fear that this candidate could also be rejected [like Schnez, equally GKiG, LLC] because of a flaw in the personal file. Bennecke was nothing -- not even a boy scout. He was already too old for the Hitler Youth in those days.

Note that ambiguity or suspicions are increased because Bandenbekämpfung means:

Another more common understanding of Bandenbekämpfung is anti-partisan warfare. The doctrine of "bandit-fighting" provided a rationale to target and murder any number of groups, from armed guerrillas to the civilian population, as "bandits" or "members of gangs". As applied by […] Nazi Germany, it became instrumental in the genocidal programs implemented […], including the Holocaust.


the Army Group Centre Rear Area, compared to the territories of Army Group North and Army Group South Rear Areas, the army troops played a significantly larger role in direct persecution of Jews during the period that he studied.
Wikipedia: Clean Wehrmacht Myth

And that it is not uncommon to classify even the lower decorations, like Iron Cross, already wholesale as "Medals for Mass Murder".

What follows is a lengthy quote that details that thousands of 'presumed guilty', 'found guilty' and even 'sentenced to death in absence' members of the Wehrmacht were spared from prosecution, on purpose, systematically by West-German, American and even East-German authorities, because of their utility and a feared loss of prestige for harbouring countries. That is just to demonstrate that 'guilty of war crimes Nazi soldiers' making a career after the war was the norm, and not the exception. The justice system destroyed files to ensure that it stayed this way. For the purpose of understanding and answering the question, you may skip the next block entirely. For the purpose of downvoting this as "not well researched, not useful", you have to read this:

Vorherrschend ist bis heute weitgehend noch die Meinung, daß sich die Wehrmacht im Zweiten Weltkrieg überwiegend an die Ge- und Verbote des Kriegsvölkerrechts gehalten habe, obwohl zumindest durch den Hauptkriegsverbrecherprozeß in Nürnberg und die zwölf Nachfolgeverfahren der Vereinigten Staaten feststeht, daß durch das Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) und das Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) völkerrechtswidrige Befehle erlassen und durch die Truppe ausgeführt wurden.

Die Ermittlungsverfahren gegen Angehörige der früheren Wehrmacht wegen Kriegs- und NS-Verbrechen hatten im Umfang und Ergebnis zu keiner Zeit die Bedeutung wie die Verfolgung der von Angehörigen der ehemaligen Sicherheitspolizei und des SD sowie von den Einheiten der Polizei begangenen NS-Verbrechen. Die Verstrickung nicht weniger Offiziere und Soldaten der Wehrmacht wurde allgemein totgeschwiegen. »Die Wehrmacht war sauber«, ist das vorherrschende Schlagwort gewesen.

Eine systematische Verfolgung fand nicht statt, obwohl das Ausmaß der völkerrechtswidrigen Handlungen zumindest in den Kreisen der Justiz bekannt war. Nahezu alle Gerichtsbüchereien enthielten die sogenannten Blauen Bände, die amtlichen Protokolle und Beweisdokumente des Hauptkriegsverbrecherprozesses in Nürnberg, aus denen sich die von OKW und OKH erlassenen völkerrechtswidrigen Befehle und zum Teil ihre Ausführung durch die Truppe ergaben. Aus ihnen war auch ersichtlich, daß Armee- und Truppenführer, Feld- und Ortskommandanturen mit mobilen SS- und Polizeiverbänden, Dienststellen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD, sowie Gruppen der Geheimen Feldpolizei (GFP) bei den Vernichtungsaktionen gegen die Juden zusammengearbeitet hatten. Keine Staatsanwaltschaft fühlte sich - mangels Zuständigkeit- verpflichtet, ein Verfahren einzuleiten.

So sind Vorgänge aufgrund des Straffreiheitsgesetzes vom 17. Juli 1954 eingestellt worden, die beispielsweise die Erteilung eines Befehls zur Erschießung von zwei abgesprungenen britischen Fliegern, die Tötung eines sowjetischen und die schwere Mißhandlung eines amerikanischen Kriegsgefangenen sowie dieFolterung eines gefangengenommenen britischen Fliegers zum Gegenstand hatten. Leider sind die »Amnestieakten« überwiegend bereits vernichtet worden, so daß sich nicht mehr feststellen läßt, in welchem Umfang das Straffreiheitsgesetz angewendet wurde.

Angehörige der Wehrmacht und andere Personen, gegen die von französischen, britischen oder amerikanischen Strafverfolgungsbehörden Untersuchungen wegen Verdachts der Begehung von Kriegs verbrechen und Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit geführt worden waren, die jedoch mangels ausreichender Beweise eingestellt werden mußten, konnten wegen dieser Taten selbst dann nicht mehr vor Gericht gestellt werden, wenn nunmehr der Schuldbeweis zu erbringen war. Außerdem blieben weit über 1000 mutmaßliche Kriegs- und NS-Verbrecher außer Verfolgung, die in Frankreich in Abwesenheit - nicht selten zum Tode - verurteilt worden waren. Hierunter fielen die Täter der rechtswidrigen, teils barbarischen »Sühnemaßnahmen«, die durchweg in den letzten beiden Kriegsjahren im besetzten Frankreich gegen die Zivilbevölkerung durchgeführt worden waren.

Gegenstand der meisten dieser Vorgänge waren Repressalienmaßnahmen, die von der Truppe vorwiegend in den besetzten Ostgebieten, Frankreich und Griechenland durchgeführt worden waren. Von den über 1000 Ermittlungsverfahren gegen eine Vielzahl von Angehörigen der ehemaligen Wehrmacht, insbesondere des Heeres, die auf Initiative der Zentralen Stelle von den Strafverfolgungsbehörden eingeleitet wurden, ist es jedoch in keinem Fall zu einer Anklage gekommen. Die Verfahren wurden durch Einstellung mangels Beweises sowie Verjährung abgeschlossen oder waren durch Tod der Beschuldigten erledigt. Dominierend war bei der Einstellung wegen Verjährung im übrigen die Begründung, daß es dahingestellt bleiben könne, ob die Repressalienmaßnahmen völkerrechtswidrig gewesen seien oder nicht; selbst wenn sie dem Völkerrecht widersprechen würden, könne eine Bestrafung der Beschuldigten nicht mehr erfolgen, weil keine Anhaltspunkte für die den Mord qualifizierenden Tatbestandsmerkmale vorlägen oder ersichtlich wären (§ 211 StGB), und Totschlag (§ 212 StGB) seit dem 8. Mai 1960 verjährt sei.

Alfred Streim: "Saubere Wehrmacht? Die Verfolgung von Kriegs- und NS-Verbrechen in der Bundesrepublik und in der DDR" in Hannes Heer & Klaus Naumann (Eds): "Vernichtungskrieg. Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941-1944", Zweitausendeins, 1997.

Far from reasonably complete information about Bennecke, with one Wiki not even having a page at all and the German version being almost as apologetically barren as the outright lying magazine article.

Given his later rank and prominence, the track record and suspicions raised surrounding his 'alternatives' for the post, the nature of the war in the East and (Vernichtungskrieg and Bandenbekämpfung) it is very unusual that this is not in more detail. Some of his fellow DKiS/DKiG recipients that have biographies of meaningful extent available online (Globocnik & Rauff) are just what you expect from mass murderers, yet the reason for Bennecke having these distinctions is nowhere?

Having that decoration does not really imply being a war criminal, just being well liked by his superiors in the war of extermination. I've read dissertations about nazi personnel continuity from Wehrmacht to NATO (Matthias Molt: "Von der Wehrmacht zur Bundeswehr: Personelle Kontinuität und Diskontinuität beim Aufbau der deutschen Streitkräfte 1955–1966", Heidelberg, 2007. PDF) yet these barely know even his name and only go into detail post-45. There is a gap.


Please note that the above is not intended to say from measly circumstantial evidence that "therefore he was a war criminal". The above does complain about a lack of information that should give anyone reason to be suspicious. But nothing more, and certainly not judging on that lack of info, as it doesn't present hard evidence either way.

The question is simply, what exactly did he do during the war? Can we fill in the blanks about the career in the Wehrmacht of this officer and his actual deeds? Especially, was he somehow connected to any units or personally involved in war crimes or not? For which deeds did he receive the two German Crosses?

  • 3
    Not able to research properly right now, but this forum thread has some info that might get you going in the right direction. – sempaiscuba Apr 25 at 20:31
  • 4
    It is not clear what is the question about. The German Wikipedia gives a reasonable information on his career. That a person was decorated with military awards or fought partisans does not make him automatically a criminal (if I understood correctly what you are aiming at). – Alex Apr 25 at 21:50
  • 4
    @LangLangC According to the Wikipedia page on the Deutsches Kreuz, 26,000 were awarded in Gold and about 2,500 in Silver. Are you really suggesting they're all "mass murderers"? I agree there is an interesting gap in his bio, given the senior role he later held in NATO. However, his service record would have been reviewed by the other NATO member states before his appointment. Given the risk of political embarrassment, or vulnerability to Soviet blackmail, I doubt very much they'd have simply glossed over any potential war crimes. – sempaiscuba Apr 25 at 22:50
  • 1
    This still feels uncomfortably close to a 'push question'. For example, you say "His fellow DKiS/DKiG recipients that have biographies available online are just what you expect from mass murderers ...". Admittedly, I've only carried out a brief search, but that doesn't seem to be true for Ernst Merk, Felix Schwalbe, Alfred Thielmann or Bodo Zimmermann, who all have biographies online. (Incidentally, I didn't find the citations for their awards either). The two examples you cite were both in the SS. Like the others I've listed here, Bennecke wasn't. – sempaiscuba Apr 26 at 13:28
  • 1
    If it were me? I'd drop all the stuff about war crimes and war criminals. Just say what I did find about his bio. Point out where there are contradictions. Ask if anyone can find citations for his DKiS & DKiG (perhaps also ask whether anyone can find citations for any of the others who received both. Was there an equivalent of the London Gazette where they would be published, for example?). Finally ask if anyone can find information about the gaps or if they know the archive where that info should be held. But that's just what I would do. At the end of the day, it is your question. – sempaiscuba Apr 26 at 14:31
0

Can not answer about Eastern Front, but I have answered another question about how Serbian commie partisans treated captured German officers.

Are there any specific events which grants a soldier permission to execute a prisoner on sight? (Like in the movie: Fury)

Note that it is a direct testimony from one soldier who went from private up to captain during the war.

If the Serbian commie partisans themselves, in war time, did not consider ALL German Herr officers as war criminals, why should we?

  • Membership in a criminal organisation is nowadays reason alone to be convicted in a court of law. – In this historic case we cannot infer either way about one individual's personal conduct or involvements during the war. That's why I want to see more concrete evidence about this particular one. – LangLangC Apr 26 at 16:17
  • was the Wehrmacht itself at divisional or army level considered a criminal org by the allies? I thought it was only the SS, OKW, Gestapo, etc. After the war the Allies defined how to deal with 'I was just a member' claims. But Herr officers did not get the same treatment. I see that your question is about a single individual, but my point is that just 'he fought in the Balkans' is not enough to consider him guilty. – Luiz Apr 26 at 16:27
  • And I don't consider him 'guilty'. And also not 'not guilty'. It's unknown. The official allied ruling directly after the war was more lenient to lower ranks and the whole org than recent research. The war in the East, massacres in France, Italy, Greece etc just make "ah, clean because WM and not SS" untenable. Instead of inference based on outdated cold war policy and logic I want a closer look at evidence for this one later high-ranking individual. – LangLangC Apr 26 at 16:55

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.