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18 Resistance during Wartime Life

After the German Wehrmacht’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the Gestapo and the justice system were even more determined than in previous years to intervene in Germans’ everyday lives in order to smother every hint of opposition. Trials and death sentences under the “Wartime Special Penal Code” were intended to intimidate the population. In the last years of the war in particular, thousands of people were accused, sentenced, and murdered. Critical statements by individuals were punished by death as “subversion of the war effort.” The same could happen to those who listened to “enemy radio stations” in order to be independent from Nazi propaganda.

A few individuals made use of the limited scope they had, nonetheless. They helped persecuted Jews, forced laborers, prisoners of war, and deserters, and informed others about the real course of the war and the National Socialist crimes of violence. Even in the concentration camps, there were acts of self-assertion and solidarity up to and including joint escape attempts and uprisings.

Conscientious objectors and deserters on political grounds refused to take part in the criminal war, despite the threat of death sentences. Regime opponents, who had been classified as “unworthy of service” since the 1930s, were grouped in special Wehrmacht “probation units” in the 999th Division. Many of them attempted to sabotage the war or desert from the army.

Some German regime opponents in Soviet, American, or British prisoner-of-war camps tried to fight the National Socialist system through propaganda and by explaining the facts to their fellow prisoners. More than 10,000 Germans in exile joined the Allied armies to liberate Germany.

In a number of cases, Germans attempted to surrender their towns and cities without bloodshed in April of 1945, and to sabotage orders to destroy them. They were sentenced by court martial and publicly murdered—in many cases only hours before Allied troops arrived.