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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Oberbefehlshaber der gesamten Deutschen Streitkräfte im Osten
Supreme Command of All German Forces in the East
Military occupation authority of the German Empire
Flag Coat of arms
Capital 1919 - HQ in Koenigsberg
Political structure Military occupation
Supreme Commander
 - 1914-1916 Paul von Hindenburg
 - 1916-1918 Prince Leopold of Bavaria
 - 1918-1919 Max Hoffmann
chief of staff
 - 1914-1916 Erich Ludendorff
 - 1916-1918 Max Hoffmann
Historical era World War I
 - Established 1914
 - Treaty of Brest-Litovsk March 3, 1918
 - German surrender November 11, 1918
 - Disestablished 1919
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Autonomous Governorate of Estonia
Governorate of Livonia
Courland Governorate
Kovno Governorate
Vilna Governorate
Duchy of Courland and Semigallia (1918)
Kingdom of Lithuania (1918)
United Baltic Duchy
Second Polish Republic

Ober Ost is short for Oberbefehlshaber der gesamten Deutschen Streitkräfte im Osten, which is a German term meaning "Supreme Commander of All German Forces in the East" during World War I. In practice it refers not only to said commander, but also to his governing military staff and the district they controlled - Ober Ost was in command of the Eastern front. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk it controlled Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, parts of Poland, and Courland: former territories of the Russian Empire. The land it controlled was around 108,808 km². Ober Ost was created in 1914, and its first leader was Paul von Hindenburg, a Prussian military hero. When the Chief of the General Staff Erich von Falkenhayn was dismissed from office in 1916, von Hindenburg replaced him, and Prince Leopold of Bavaria was given control of the Ober Ost.



Ober Ost ruled the land with an iron fist, in an effort to control the chaotic war torn land. The movement policy, or "Verkehrspolitik", divided the land without regard to the preexisting social and ethnic organization and patterns. One was not allowed to move between the districts, which destroyed the livelihood of many merchant Jews, and prevented indigenous people from visiting friends and relatives in neighboring districts.[1] They also tried to civilize the people in the Ober Ost controlled land, attempting to integrate German ideals and institutions[1] with existing cultures. They brought in railroads, however only Germans were allowed to ride them, and the schools were taught by German instructors, since they had not trained Lithuanians.[2]

Upon Ober Ost's inception in 1915, Erich Ludendorff, von Hindenburg's second in command, immediately set up a system of managing the large area under Ober Ost’s jurisdiction. Although von Hindenburg was technically in command, it was Ludendorff who was in control of the administration. There were ten staff members, each with a specialty (finance, agriculture, etc.), and the area itself was divided into the Courland District, the Lithuania District and the Bialystok-Grodno District, each overseen by a district commander. Ludendorff's plan was to make Ober Ost a colonial territory for the settlement of his troops after the war, as well as provide a German haven for German refugees from inner Russia.[2] In addition, Ludendorff quickly organized the Ober Ost so that it was a self sustaining region, growing all its own food, and even exporting excesses to Berlin. The largest resource was one that Ludendorff was unable to exploit without difficulty. The locals had no interest in helping obtain a German victory, as they had no say in their government, and were subject to increasing requisitions and taxes.[2]

Parallels with Nazi German policy

Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius postulates in his book War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I, that a line can be traced from Ober Ost's policies and assumptions to Nazi Germany's plan and attitudes towards Eastern Europe. His main argument is that "German troops developed a revulsion towards the 'East', and came to think of it as a timeless region beset by chaos, disease and barbarism", instead of what it really was, which was a region suffering from the ravages of warfare.[3] He claims that the encounter with the East formed an idea of 'spaces and races' that needed to be "cleared and cleansed". Although he has garnered a great deal of evidence for his thesis, including government documents, letters and diaries, in both German and Lithuanian, there are still problems with his work. For example he does not say much about the reception of German policies by native populations.[3] Also, "he makes almost no attempt to relate wartime occupation policies and practice in Ober Ost to those in Germany's colonial territories overseas".

Communication with locals

There were a great many problems with communication with indigenous persons within the Ober Ost. Among the upper class locals the soldiers could get by with French or German, and in large villages the Jewish populations would speak German or Yiddish, "which the Germans would somehow comprehend".[4] But in the rural areas and amongst peasant populations soldiers had to rely on interpreters who spoke Latvian, Russian, or both.[4] These language problems were not helped by the thinly stretched administrations, which would sometimes number 100 men administrating an area as large as Rhode Island.[4] In addition the clergy were at times relied upon to spread messages to the masses, since this was an effective way of spreading a message to people who speak a different language.[4] A young officer-administrator named Vagts relates that he listened (through a translator) to a sermon by a priest who tells his congregation to stay off highways after nightfall, hand in firearms, and not to have anything to do with Bolshevist agents, exactly as Vagts had told him to do earlier.

Administrative divisions

Borders drawn up in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

Wilna Administrative Area was a unit of administrative division of German-controlled territory of the Ober Ost. It bordered the so-called Southern Lithuania area to the south and Kaunas government precinct to the north. The area was formed roughly in the parts of former Vilna Governorate and Suwałki Governorate of the Russian Empire.[5]

Main military units in 1919


The Germans started to withdraw from Ober-Ost around late 1918 and early 1919. In the vacuum left upon their retreat, a series of conflicts arose, as various ethnic groups (Poles, Balts, Ukrainians) tried to create their states, clashing with each others and with the various factions of the ongoing Russian Revolution. Winston Churchill commented: "The war of giants has ended, the wars of the pygmies began."[6] For details, see:


  1. ^ a b Gettman, Erin (June 2002). "The Baltic Region during WWI". Retrieved 2008-03-02.  
  2. ^ a b c Koehl, Robert Lewis (October 1953). "A Prelude to Hitler's Greater Germany". The American Historical Review 59 (1): 43–65. doi:10.2307/1844652. Retrieved 2008-03-02.  
  3. ^ a b Gatrell, Peter (2001). "Review of War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I". Slavic Review 60 (4): 844–845. doi:10.2307/2697514. Retrieved 2008-03-02.  
  4. ^ a b c d Vagts, Alfred (Spring 1943). "A memoir of Military Occupation". Military Affairs 7 (1): 16–24. doi:10.2307/1982990. Retrieved 2008-03-02.  
  5. ^ War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I, Review author[s]: Peter Gatrell
  6. ^ Adrian Hyde-Price, Germany and European Order, Manchester University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-7190-5428-1 Google Print, p.75

Further reading

  • Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius: War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I - review by Matthew R. Schwonek in The Journal of Military History, Vol. 65, No. 1. (Jan., 2001), pp. 212-213. [1]
  • Stone, N (1975). The eastern front 1914-1917. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Davies, Norman (1972). White Eagle, Red Star: The Polish-Soviet War, 1919–20. (2004 edition: ISBN 0-7126-0694-7)

See also

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