The trillion-Reichsmark (and a million-lives) question was how to achieve this fundamental objective. In other words, how to win this existential war (and what exactly would this victory look like).
In all campaigns (except the British and the North African ones) the path to victory was crystal clear. Destroy (in a lightning-fast war) a sufficient chunk of armed forces of the opponent, occupy sufficient territory and create a sufficiently clear and present threat (for which there were no countermeasures) to force the adversary to unconditionally surrender to the victorious Wehrmacht.
In the Soviet Union none of the above was possible. For a very simple reason – both the damn country and its armed forces were so damn huge. Enormous. Gargantuan. In addition, its management system (built by Joseph Stalin – also an organizational genius) was highly resilient to external shocks – even of an enormous magnitude.
Hence, Adolf Hitler launched the attack on the Soviet Union without any clear idea how to achieve victory (in other words, how to end the war on his terms). “Destruction of the Red Army” that Adolf Hitler stated as the key objective of Operation Barbarossa (even over the achievement of specific terrain objectives) did not qualify as such.
For the Red Army (that was preparing for its own attack – on Germany) had at its disposal fourteen million men. A complete destruction of the army of such an enormous size even for a four-million Wehrmacht was a pure fantasy.
Especially given the fact that the enormous size of the USSR gave it plenty of room for retreat (this is how Kutuzov defeated another would-be conqueror of Russia – Napoleon Bonaparte). And, of course, an unlimited (for all practical purposes) conscription potential of an almost 200-million strong population of the Soviet Union.
Incredibly, unlike in his previous victorious campaigns, Adolf Hitler had no plans of how to force the Soviet leadership to sign the peace treaty on his terms (i.e. the reincarnation of sorts of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty of 1918 between the Soviet Russia and the Central Powers). Let alone of forcing an unconditional surrender of the Red Army.
His other – criminal – fundamental objective did not help (to put it mildly). The “Lebensraum in the East” objective was a very broad, general and highly abstract idea; consequently, it required a detailed plan for its implementation – what needs to be done, why and how.
In 1940, exactly such a plan (dubbed Generalplan Ost) was prepared by a team led by SS-Standartenführer Dr. Hans Ehlich and SS-Oberführer Dr. Konrad Meyer. The latter was (not surprisingly) an economist and the Chief of the Planning Office of Reich Commission for the Strengthening of Germandom (an organization within the SS). The former was (rather surprisingly) a medical doctor. The work was commissioned (unsurprisingly) by Reich Main Security Office (RSHA).
Development of Generalplan Ost had been preceded by the Ostforschung, a number of studies and research projects carried out over several years by various academic centers to provide the necessary raw data.
The full text of the plan has been discovered in German archives only in the 1980s and reads like a very bad, very bloody and very apocalyptic horror fantasy novel. It entailed the enslavement, expulsion, and mass murder of most Slavic peoples (and substantial parts of the Baltic peoples) in Europe along with planned destruction of their nations, whom the ‘Aryan’ Nazis viewed as racially inferior.
Generalplan Ost called for the removal of 45 million non-Germanizable people from Central and Eastern Europe, of whom 31 million were “racially undesirable”, 100% of Jews, Poles (85%), Lithuanians (85%), Belorussians (75%) and Ukrainians (65%), to West Siberia.
About 14 million were to remain, but were to be forced to work as slaves of up to 10 million Germans who would be settled in Lebensraum freed from the “inferior races”.
Fortunately, this “mass murder manifesto” never left the planning stage. It was never officially adopted as guidelines for governing the occupied territories – let alone put into practice.
There is no indication that any of the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the occupied territories in the East, were in any way related to the plan. Likewise, there is no evidence that Adolf Hitler or his military commanders in the East were even aware of its existence (although Heinrich Himmler and his lieutenants obviously were).
The plan was obviously insane (from functional perspective, of course, although it does raise serious questions about the mental health of its authors). Any sane military commander or administrator would have immediately pointed out that its implementation would result only an all-out guerilla warfare in the occupied territories in question.
Warfare that German occupation army could only lose (as it failed to win guerilla wars of a much smaller magnitude in Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece and in the Soviet Union).
The plan was supposedly secret but apparently not secret enough because the Soviet propaganda machine very successfully used its key points to develop in Red Army troops a powerful drive and commitment to fight to the death to save their homeland and its people from being destroyed by the “fascist hordes”.
Which, combined with enormous material and human resources and no less enormous production capacity of Soviet war industry (most of which has been successfully evacuated from the Western USSR) ultimately made all the difference in the Eastern Front. And predictably led to the defeat of Germany in World War II, the demise of the Third Reich and Hitler’s suicide in the Führerbunker.
Soviet propaganda received additional enormous help from the Germans. Adolf Hitler believed (correctly) that in the Eastern front Germany was fighting an existential war and (incorrectly) that to win this war, it needed to use the most brutal tools and methods.
In reality, these methods produced exactly opposite results. The infamous “Commissar Order” (issued even before the start of Operation Barbarossa), “Severity Order”, murderous treatment of Soviet POWs, brutal and murderous reprisal policies (part of the anti-guerilla strategy), treatment of Soviet citizens as “subhuman species”; persecution and mass murder of Jews and other strategic blunders of German occupation authorities only transformed initially neutral and even sympathetic to Germany residents of the Soviet union into resolute, dedicated and fearless fighters. Who fought not for Germany, but against it.
With very predictable results