28/10/1915 OberOst: Germany plans the East’s exploitation

OberOst is the German abbreviation for Oberbefehlshaber der gesamten Deutschen Streitkräfte im Osten (the Supreme Commander of German Forces in the East). But OberOst is coming to mean not just the actual German commander on the Eastern Front (Field Marshal Hindenburg) but the military administration of the territory captured from Russia. Poland is under the separate administration of General Hans Hartwig von Beseler, in keeping with plans under consideration to reconstitute it as a German or Austro-Hungarian client state. OberOst’s writ runs in the occupied territories further east: Courland, Lithuania, sections of Byelorussia and the Ukraine.

At the start of the war there was very little thought given in Germany to the long-term disposition of conquered territory. German leaders saw themselves as fighting a war for national survival rather than conquest. Many assumed that any territories captured would be returned at the end of hostilities. But now that Germany has conquered great swathes of territory and suffered considerable casualties in doing so the political mood turns towards making these permanent parts of the German Empire.

Within nationalist circles many are saying that Germany has a civilising mission towards the less advanced lands of the East. Sometimes this is seen as meaning that the inhabitants of these territories are to receive the benefits of German civilisation and to be forcibly rescued from their perceived backwardness. Sometimes there is talk of clearing away these natives or converting them into a subject people for Germany. Either way there is not much consideration of the interests of the people in the lands OberOst administers and even less respect for their cultures.

The German chief of staff in the east is Erich Ludendorff. He directs the administration of OberOst. Although he is in some ways close to the thinking of German ultra-nationalists, his concerns are more pragmatic and driven by Germany’s needs in the war. Ludendorff views OberOst’s territories as a space for economic exploitation. With the British naval blockade strangling German trade and cutting off food imports Ludendorff sees the East as an important source of raw materials and foodstuffs for Germany. If that means the locals go hungry so be it.

image sources:

Das Land Ober Ost (Wikipedia)

Erich Ludendorff (Wikipedia)

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