Military and Oral History Conference:
Between Memory and History
"Get what you can in a week and come back": S.L.A. Marshall and the European Theater Historical Interrogations of 1945.
James Wood, University of Victoria
as civilian employees of the U.S. government, produced roughly two hundred thousand
pages of manuscript histories dealing with nearly every aspect of the Nazi war effort.
The origins of this ambitious German Military History Program lay in the efforts of the
U.S. Army Historical Section in Europe to collect information on enemy operations in
the European Theatre. In the summer of 1945, US Army historians were keenly
interested in finding out what exactly had happened on "the enemy side of the hill," and
a few were ready to consider asking the Germans themselves so soon after
the opposition of colleagues to the idea of interviewing German prisoners of war. Would
these prisoners willingly cooperate with such a program? Could their testimony be
regarded as sincere and historically reliable? In the words of one critic, there was little
to be gained from interviewing "a filthy Nazi who cannot be trusted farther than you
a piano." With such opposition duly noted and ignored, Colonel Marshall
Hermann Goring, Karl Donitz, Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl, Joseph "Sepp" Dietrich,
and others. Ordered by Marshall to "get what you can in a week or ten days and then
come back," US Army historians proceeded to accumulate a mass of interview
transcripts that became the foundation of a sixteen-year effort to document the history of
the Second World War from the German perspective.