"Together in combat in an
army of soldiers from many European nations, like it
hopefully not too late, is being urged by the western powers -
This thought was already then set into real life with us.
In the ranks of Division Wiking stood representatives of most of Europe's countries and nations.
It was no Foreign Legion, neither a collection of vagabonds and workless - as has often been the claim after the war.
The majority were idealists, with a strong national feeling towards their own country.
But they realized already 10 years ago that Europe could only be defended by joint efforts."
-Oberstgruppenführer (ret.) Herbert-Otto Gille, October 26th, 1952
was Hitler's bodyguard unit, his personal
Praetorian Guard. They were troops, handpicked
as the perfect specimens of the Aryan ideal and
the most faithful and committed to the Nazi
Purpose of the SS :
"...The Gods of the new Germany will be the SS"
Reichsführer-SS Himmler, 1931
When Hitler began WWII, RFSS Himmler wanted to ensure that the SS - guardians of the internal security of the Reich - got their share of the military glory.
In early 1940, he combined the above three units into the "Waffen-SS." By August 1940, Hitler & Himmler further defined the purpose of the Waffen-SS:
- The Waffen-SS will help execute the authority of the state within the borders of the Greater German Empire.
- The Waffen-SS will be a paragon of both Aryan racial purity and of National Socialist philosophy.
- The Waffen-SS will be organized along military lines, function
as a "state police,"
but be prepared for any & all "special tasks" that may be required.
- The Waffen-SS will earn its authority through front line combat.
- The Waffen-SS will concentrate on internal enemies of the state; the Wehrmacht will concentrate on the external enemies.
- The Waffen-SS will be an exclusive formation, limited in size.
The Waffen-SS were a political-ideological elite military formation akin to the Teutonic Knights; brave soldiers that represented both the Nazi ideal and were the future aristocratic spine of the German Empire. However, WWII created massive changes in the structure and purpose of the Waffen-SS.
The birth of the SS
Hitler was still convinced that his opponents, both within and outside the Nazi Party, would try to kill him if they had the opportunity. On his release from prison he moved quickly to re-establish his bodyguard.
In April 1925 only eight men were in the group that was soon renamed the Schutz Staffel, or Protection Squad. This title was quickly abbreviated to SS, creating the infamous name and, because of their distinctive black uniforms, they were soon nicknamed the Black Guard or Black Order. Their uniforms were adorned with the letters SS, stylized as distinctive Nordic runes.
For the next four years the SS was a small, élite group of bodyguards that travelled with Hitler wherever he went. They were initially volunteers who did their security work in the evenings or at weekends.
Only a small number of the 300 or so SS men were full-time on the Nazi Party payroll. As Hitler moved to establish the Nazi Party as a national body
outside of his Bavarian power base, the SS was expanded and small detachments were set up in every major German city to protect local leaders and party meetings. The SS was deliberately kept small so its total loyalty to Hitler could be assured. Already, Hitler was growing suspicious of Röhm and the SA because their "hot-headed" behaviour was threatening his attempts to re-brand the Nazi Party as a "respectable" political force (Röhm saw the SA as the nucleus of a revolutionary army).
The Aryan recruit also had to show no traces of Jewish or other untermenschen blood in his ancestry, in the case of ordinary soldiers back to 1800, and to 1750 for officers. Those with "undesirable" blood were refused entry, and if racial impurities came to light during his service an SS man could be summarily dismissed.
The future brides of SS men were also subjected to the same level of racial profiling to ensure any offspring were "pure" Aryans.With the strength of the armed SS limited by the army, these restrictions meant that it was very hard to join the armed force of the Nazi Party. However, such was the mystique built up around the armed SS that every place was over-subscribed, helping to build its image as an élite force. Unlike army conscripts, ordinary enlisted SS men had to serve a minimum of 4 years, non-commissioned officers 12 years and officers 25 years.
In January 1929 Hitler appointed a chicken farmer, Heinrich Himmler, as head of the SS with the brief to build it up as a force to rival the SA.
Even though the SS was nominally part of Röhm's force, Himmler was totally loyal to Hitler and threw himself into expanding his new fiefdom.
Over the next four years he expanded the SS to some 52,000 men, which not only included bodyguards but also a covert secret intelligence organization called the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service, or SD). Loyalty to Hitler was at the core of the SS ethos. The expanded SS organization was essentially a shadow internal security apparatus that would help the Nazis gain and keep power in Germany...
A crucial development was the setting up in Berlin in March 1933 of a new, elite grouping within the SS under the command of one of Hitler's old henchmen from Munich. Josef "Sepp" Dietrich was an old party crony of Hitler, whom he trusted implicitly (he had been appointed commander of Hitler's bodyguard in 1928).
The new group was initially only 120 men strong and was dubbed the
SS-Stabswache Berlin. Its job was to guard Hitler and his official residence in the Reichs Chancellery. Two months later it was renamed SS Sonderkommando (Special Commando) Zossen, but this was a short-lived title. In September 1933 it became the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (SS Bodyguard Regiment Adolf Hitler) and in November that year members of this new "life guard" swore an oath of loyalty unto death to their new Führer.
Under the leadership of Dietrich, the Leibstandarte would later rise to be Germany's premier armoured division.
However, in its early days the unit would gain infamy for its role in one of Hitler's first extra-legal acts as he moved to establish his dictatorship.
SS Stabswache -
© Peter J. Hertel -
In late 1924, Hitler's need for a special bodyguard seemed to have grown in his viewpoint, and the SS's position within the Party's structure had been achieved. On January 16, 1929, Hitler appointed Heinrich Himmler (a former chicken farmer) to the position of Reichführer SS and ordered him:
"to...form of this organization an elite troop of the Party, ..dependable in every circumstance."
Total strength of the SS at this time was but 280 men.
Until 1933, there were no officially recognized branches of the SS, and its membership formed the Algemeine SS (General SS). After receipt of the official acknowledgement of the specialized branches, i.e. SD, those persons not so attached were considered Algemeine SS members.
A handful of armed troops had been held by Himmler for ceremonial and security purposes. Designated SS Verfügungstruppen, these armed SS troops grew in numbers slowly during the prewar years. The first distinctive SS formation of 1933 was the Sonderkommando Berlin (Special Detail Berlin) raised by Sepp Dietrich in Berlin in the March of 1933, with 117 selected SS men as a headquarters guard (Stabswache) for Adolf Hitler's Chancellery. Other SS units were placed under the Verfügungstruppen (SS-VT).
In September, 1933, during the NSDAP rally, Hitler awarded Stabswache its official title of "Leibstandarte SS 'Adolf Hitler' (SS Bodyguard Regiment 'Adolf Hitler')", LSSAH. November 9, 1933, the tenth anniversary of the Munich beer-hall putsch, the Leibstandarte swore an oath which unconditionally bound them to the Führer, effectively removing them from direct control of the Reichsführer SS and the NSDAP, becoming Hitler's new praetorian guard.
SS racial offices
As well as its armed and security branches, the SS also eventually boasted unusual organizations such as the SS marriage bureau, the Rasse-und Siedlungshauptamt (Central Office for Race and Resettlement, or RuSHA), which first had the responsibility of confirming the racial purity of the brides of SS men.
There was also the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (German Racial Assistance Office, or VOMI), which was charged with protecting the well-being of ethnic Germans living outside the borders of the Reich.
These groups then helped in the establishment of the Reichskommisariat
für die Festigung des Deutschen Volkstums (Reich Office for the Consolidation of the German Nationhood, or RKFDV), which was nominally responsible for the movement of ethnic Germans back into Reich territory, but was really a cover for the deportation and eventual extermination of Jews, Slavs and other groups considered untermenschen (sub-humans) by Hitler. It finally spawned the SS Wirtschafts-und Verwaltungshauptamt (Economic and Administrative Central Office, or WVHA), which was in charge of the concentration camp system and the "Final Solution" of the Jewish problem (the leaders of these organizations developed bland euphemisms for the mass-murder of most of Europe's Jews).
Growth of the SS
By the end of the 1930s, the SS organization had ballooned to some 200,000 men, of whom the vast majority were in its police, security and concentration camp guard units rather than in the SS-VT. During this period the SS became central to Hitler's "folk myth", with senior figures in the organization being portrayed as Nordic gods in Nazi propaganda. The racial purity of SS recruits was given great prominence, and Hitler tried to build on this as a way to indoctrinate the German people with his theories of racial superiority.
The SS also had its own rank system that gave members prestige and power over ordinary mortals in the army, the Nazi Party and in civilian branches of government.
During the course of WWII, the Waffen-SS grew form an elite force of 4 division of ethnic Germans to a polyglot force of 900,000 men in 41 divisions and other units, with over half of its troops foreign volunteers or conscripts. It gained a fearsome combat reputation and committed many war crimes.
Waffen-SS strength event at its peak represented only 10% of the German Army compliment - although SS panzer units made up 25% of all German Armed forces Panzer strength!
However, SS fighting capability did not increase proportionally to its growth in size. By 1944, the Waffen-SS order of battle was inflated with "divisions" with the strength of battalions and a plethora of mixed bag foreign conscripts.
Although the Waffen-SS is most famous for its battlefield exploits during the latter part of the war, and is often thought of as a military formation exclusively, it is important to recognize that the Waffen-SS never entirely dissassociated itself from internal security duties for the Reich, either in practice or purpose.
ideology was based on the premise that the Aryan race was an élite
among nationalities. Similarly, the Waffen-SS was the ideological
and racial élite of Nazi Germany. Recruitment and training reflected
this, and only those foreigners deemed "racially acceptable" were
accepted into its ranks.
The role of the Waffen-SS
Although the Waffen-SS was primarily an armed force at Hitler's disposal for the maintenance of order inside Germany, Hitler also decreed that in time of war it was to serve at the front under army command. He believed that frontline experience for the Waffen-SS was essential if such a force was to command the respect of the German people. He also insisted that its human material was to be of the highest calibre, and so restricted the size of the Waffen-SS to between five and ten percent of the peacetime strength of the German Army.
German Army training
Unlike many armies, the German Army's recruits were immediately placed in their branch of service at the beginning of their basic training, which lasted three weeks. The recruits were also exposed to an above-average amount of multi-disciplinary training. Thus, those in the artillery arm would learn how to use radios; signals troops would learn how to fire heavy machine guns and so on. Nazi Germany used a system of Wehrkreis (military districts) to recruit and train troops, with a total of 21 districts at the height of the Nazi conquests. The Ersatzheer (Replacement Army), which was formed in 1938 and revised in 1942, administered these 21 districts.
The Waffen-SS was under the Replacement Army system, but maintained a degree of independence with its own supply and weapons depots, training camps and military schools. From the beginning, it was intended that the Waffen-SS would benefit from the highest standards of training available. Two highly regarded former army officers, Paul Hausser and Felix Steiner, were recruited for this purpose. The SS-Hauptamt (Main Office), established on 30 July 1935, organized all branches of the SS, and a special Inspectorate of the SS-Verfügungstruppe was also created on 1 October 1936 to supervise military training. The new inspectorate had the objective of moulding the mainly ill-trained and far-flung units of the Waffen-SS into an efficient fighting force. SS-Oberstgruppenführer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS Paul Hausser, who was to become known affectionately as "Papa" Hausser to his men, was chosen as the Inspector of the SS-Verfügungstruppe, although he had only just been appointed inspector of the SS-Junkerschulen (Officer Schools) at Bad Tölz and Braunschweig (both came into existence in 1934). Once established, Hausser began attracting increasing numbers of former police officials and German Army noncommissioned officers (NCOs) into the fledgling SS-Verfügungstruppe.
The highest standards
Hausser readily accepted the responsibility for the organization and training of the SS-Verfügungstruppe, which enabled him to formulate the directives and codes of practice it was to use. Hausser remained in his post until the outbreak of World War II, when he took command of the Das Reich Division. During the war, the SS established two additional Junker schools at Klagenfurt in Austria and Prague in Czechoslovakia.
The Waffen-SS offered advancement to promising candidates regardless of their education or social standing, but those charged with grooming the new SS élite set their sights high. They called their academies Junkerschulen (schools for young nobles) and devised a curriculum to transform the sons of farmers and artisans into officers and gentlemen. For some, this required basic training in matters that were not exclusively military. For example, incoming cadets were issued an etiquette manual that defined table manners. Correct form was further encouraged through cultural activities and lectures on Nazi ideology. When off-duty, officers and men addressed each other as "kamerad". Locks were forbidden on wardrobes (much emphasis was placed on trust), and obedience was unconditional at all times.
On selection to the SS school, the individual was designated an SS-Führeranwärter, or SS officer candidate. After completing the initial phase, he became an SS-Standartenjunker. Towards the end of the training period, the commandant of the SS-Junkerschule bestowed the designation of SS-Junker on qualified personnel, and when achieving this position the SS-Junker put on the rank insignia of an SS-Scharführer. Upon successful completion of training, but before being commissioned to the rank of SS-Untersturmführer, the officer candidate was elevated to the position of SS-Oberjunker, and was thus authorized to wear the rank insignia of an SS-Hauptscharführer.
At the heart of training was a mixture of athletics and field exercises designed to turn the Junkers into commanders. Thus, the facilities at Bad Tölz included a stadium for soccer, track and field events, separate halls for boxing, gymnastics and indoor ball games, and a heated swimming pool and sauna. The complex attracted outstanding talent. At one time, for example, eight of twelve coaches at Bad Tölz were national champions in their events.
Felix Steiner was the luminary when it came to the actual training programme of the Waffen-SS. He was 16 years Hausser's junior, and his motto was "sweat saves blood". Steiner believed strongly in the creation of élite, highly mobile groups whose training put the emphasis on individual responsibility and military teamwork rather than on rigid obedience to the rule book. His ideas had been formulated and refined during World War I, when he served as the commander of a machine-gun company, witnessing the formation of "battle groups", which had greatly impressed him. They were made up from selected men, withdrawn from the trenches and formed into ad hoc assault groups. Specially trained for close-quarter fighting, usually carried out at night, they wreaked havoc in their trench raids, employing individualized weapons such as knuckle-dusters, cluster grenades and entrenching tools sharpened like razors. The enemy's customary notification of an impending attack, a long artillery barrage, was often dispensed with, thus reinforcing the element of surprise.
As their value became recognized, Steiner's reforms gradually filtered throughout the SS hierarchy. In concert with the "battle group" ideology, his training stressed three main points: physical fitness, "character" and weapons training. He structured a recruit's day with a rigorous hour-long physical training session beginning at 06:00 hours, with a pause afterwards for breakfast of porridge and mineral water. Intensive weapons training followed, then target practice and unarmed combat sessions. The day was broken by a hearty lunch, then resumed with a comparatively short but intensive drill session. The afternoon was then punctuated by a stint of scrubbing, cleaning, scouring and polishing and rounded off with a run or a couple of hours on the sports field. As a result of his men spending more time on the athletics fields and in cross-country running than on the parade ground, they developed standards of fitness and endurance enabling them to perform such feats as covering 3km (1.8 miles) in full kit in 20 minutes, feats that could not be matched by either army recruits or members of the Leibstandarte (who spent a lot of time on the parade square, hence their nickname "asphalt soldiers").
Ideology and passing out
The training programme stressed aggressiveness and included live-firing exercises. It was interrupted three times a week by ideological lectures, which included understanding the Führerprinzip (leadership principle) and unravelling the meanings of Hitler's Mein Kampf (ideology formed an important element in examinations, and was responsible for failing one candidate in three during the five-month course).
For the successful candidates, there was a passing-out parade where they took the SS oath, at 22:00 hours on the occasion of the 9 November anniversary celebrations of the Munich Putsch. This took place in Hitler's presence before the Feldherrnhalle and the 16 smoking obelisks, each of which bore the name of a fallen party member. The oath was a major ingredient in the SS mystique, binding each successful candidate in unswerving loyalty to Adolf Hitler.
The price of excellence
Bad Tölz and Braunschweig were the premier Waffen-SS training centres for officers from their inception in 1934 until the end of the war. By 1937, the SS schools were graduating more than 400 officers a year, in two sets of classes. These officers were very well-trained and in due course often later earned distinguished military reputations. The spirited aggressiveness taught at the school was not without cost, though, for by 1942 nearly 700 Waffen-SS officers had been killed in action, including almost all of the 60 graduates of the 1934-35 Bad Tölz class. During the war, the Junker schools accepted recruits from occupied countries. Most foreigners enlisted to fight the Soviet Union, so the SS lectures shifted from the sanctity of Nordic blood to the evils of Bolshevism.
Generaloberst der Waffen-SS
General der Waffen-SS
Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS
Generalmajor der Waffen-SS
|Senior NCO with Portepée||Stschaf.|
|Junior NCO without Portepée||Schaf.|
The SS Recruiting Office
Himmler established an SS Recruiting Office within the SS-Hauptamt on 1 December 1939. The running of this office was entrusted to the steady hands of Gottlob Berger. The armed forces were unwilling to relinquish the cream of German manhood to the SS as they were suspicious of all paramilitary forces outside their control. Their passive resistance made Berger's task of locating the recruits who were required all the more difficult.
His pool comprised those who were too young and too old to be eligible for military service in the
German armed forces, and by 1940 the SS was having difficulties in finding recruits. However, Berger was able to circumvent the armed forces' restrictions by recruiting from abroad. He availed himself of Himmler's contacts outside the Reich to encourage ethnic Germans living abroad, as well as non-Germans of Nordic blood, to enlist. Not only were these groups allowed to become members of the SS, they were also exempt from conscription in the German armed forces. By May 1940, more than 100 foreigners were serving with the Waffen-SS. Following the defeat of France in the summer of 1940, a vast recruiting ground had opened up, over which the Wehrmacht had no jurisdiction.
In preparation for the attack on Russia, the German Army was expanded, but the SS was allowed to recruit only three percent of the newly enlisted age groups, which meant that it had to fall back on foreign manpower. Hitler was insistent that the Waffen-SS should remain a small, exclusive police force, but he did agree to the formation of a new SS division on condition that mainly foreigners were recruited. In addition, his own personal bodyguard was to be expanded from a regiment to a brigade.
The search for manpower
From the beginning of the war, German recruits had been apportioned on the basis of 66 percent to the army, 8 percent to the navy and 25 percent to the air force. Those for the Waffen-SS were subtracted from the army's percentage on a quota established by Hitler himself. During the Polish and French campaigns, German casualties had been moderate. From its share of the available German manpower, the SS had been able to replenish its losses, but it would be forced to cast its net further afield for its replacements when it began to look as if the war would last longer than expected. Hitler's decision to invade the USSR was announced in July 1940. One of the first to be informed was Himmler, who wasted no time in informing Berger. On 7 August 1940, he drew up his SS manpower forecast.
In August 1940, there was still a strong possibility that England would be invaded, thus the navy and air force were demanding an increase of their percentages to 40 and 10 percent respectively. Berger estimated that 18,000 recruits per year would be required by the SS, but assumed that it would receive only 12,000 men, or two percent. Consequently, the Germanic areas of Western Europe, together with the ethnic German populations of southeastern Europe, were the areas where recruiting should begin in earnest. As long as the SS recruited personnel who were not available to the Wehrmacht, Berger did not anticipate any objections. He also requested permission to establish a recruiting office to deal with foreign countries.
In Western Europe, Berger's recruiting staff had sufficient response to form two new regiments, Nordland and Westland, and to make the new Germania Division, later named Wiking, a feasible proposition. Nevertheless, when the first enthusiastic rush of pro-German and National Socialist volunteers had been signed up, recruiting figures began to drop. Even when an existing SS regiment, Germania, was transferred to the new formation, and other Reich Germans provided cadres, there were still large gaps in its ranks. When the Soviet Union was invaded, for example, the Wiking Division contained Reich and ethnic Germans to such an extent that a mere 630 Dutchmen, 294 Norwegians, 216 Danes, 1 Swede and 1 Swiss were to be found in its ranks.
Several recruting and propaganda paflets used during the war.
The anti-Bolshevik crusade
German diplomatic agencies received offers of help from individuals living in the occupied countries, as well as in the Independent State of Croatia and in neutral Spain and Portugal following the German attack on the Soviet Union. The German Government decided to accept these offers of assistance and to establish contingents of foreign nationals. On 29 June 1941, Hitler gave his formal approval to the establishment of legions for foreigners who wished to take part in the crusade against the Soviet Union. Legions from the Germanic countries were to be the responsibility of the Waffen-SS, while the German Army was to organize those from non-Germanic countries. A Spanish formation was established on 25 June, and almost simultaneously Danish and Norwegian units were brought into being.
The German Foreign Office convened a meeting of interested parties on 30 June 1941. Represented at the meeting were the Foreign Office, the SS-Führungshauptamt, the Foreign Section of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), the German Plenipotentiary in Copenhagen and the Foreign Section of the Nazi Party. Its brief was to settle the details pertaining to the formation of the new units. Because of international law, it was agreed that non-German volunteers were to fight in German uniforms but would wear national badges. It was not envisaged that German citizenship would be conferred upon the volunteers, but they were to receive the same pay and allowances as German serviceman while those with previous military experience would hold ranks equivalent to their former ones. The meeting also considered how the volunteers were to be organized. It was decided that they should be deployed only in closed units, some of which had already been formed. The Waffen-SS, being responsible for volunteers from the Germanic countries, had already set up a Freikorps in Denmark and a Freiwilligenverband in Norway, both independent of Regiment Nordland, a separate Freiwillingenkorps for the Netherlands and the Flemish parts of Belgium, in addition to and independent of Regiment Westland.
The delegates expected that other European countries would yield few volunteers. It was agreed not to approach the Swiss Government or to launch an appeal for Swiss recruits, but Swiss volunteers were to be accepted if they presented themselves (in fact, some Swiss were already serving in the Waffen-SS). The conference reached no decision about whether Walloons and Frenchmen were to be accepted. Finns could hardly be expected to volunteer for the German Army when Finland was already fighting the Soviet Union, though some were already serving in Regiment Nordland. Swedes would probably prefer to volunteer for the Finnish armed forces, but if enough came forward a Swedish Volunteer Corps could be formed under the auspices of the SS. If equipping and training of Swedish volunteers was outside the capacity of the Finnish Army to cope with, they were to be directed to German reception centres. It was also considered probable that a number of Danes would prefer the Finnish forces. Portugal was expected to produce few volunteers, but if enough presented themselves there was the possibility of incorporating them in the Spanish formation. In fact, no Portuguese legion was formed, and it is doubtful if any Portuguese volunteered at all.
For the German Army, Hitler's newly authorized non-German legions did not represent an important increase in size, but for the Waffen-SS they provided a considerable accession of strength. Himmler was interested only in raising legions of Danes, Norwegians, Dutchmen and Flemings on racial grounds. The SS could have had a far larger share of Western European manpower but for this policy. Although in need of additional manpower, it relinquished to the army the Walloon Legion that it had sponsored because Himmler maintained that Walloons were not Germanic and that their presence in the SS might offend the Flemings.
Maintaining racial purity
In some cases, the Germans opposed enlistment. Russian émigrés had expressed a willingness to serve the Germans, but they were to be refused. However, some White Russians served as interpreters, and others served in both the French Volunteer Legion and in the Danish Freikorps. Czechs of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia who offered their assistance were not to be accepted. The newly occupied Baltic areas were to be dealt with by the local German military commander while Balts in Germany who presented themselves were to be dealt with in a derogatory manner.
Himmler probably thought that it was just not worthwhile compromising the racial purity of the SS for the sake of short-lived units that might never see action (a long campaign against the Soviet Union was not anticipated in the summer of 1941). In any case, the SS would have had difficulty in providing facilities and cadres for a division of Spaniards, a regiment each of Frenchmen and Croats, and a battalion of Walloons, in addition to those already employed - even if it had wanted to.
Finland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Italy were allied with Germany. Small as they were, their legions had considerable propaganda value. The presence of Western Europeans and Croats in the ranks of the German forces gave Germany's act of aggression the semblance of a European crusade against Bolshevism.
Apart from meeting the strict racial standards of the SS, volunteers for the Waffen-SS had to be perfect physical specimens. They signed on for an initial period of four years before the war. For the most part, volunteers came from the ranks of the Hitler Youth via the Allgemeine-SS. In 1938, Himmler authorized the enlistment of Germanics into the Waffen-SS. Now, SS men needed only to be of Germanic origin, provided that they were of Nordic blood. By the end of the year, 20 foreign volunteers had been accepted. In the Waffen-SS, one could enlist for as long as 12 years and become eligible for German citizenship. Like their German comrades, foreigners could on retirement take up a career in the German police or civil service or receive land in the Incorporated Territories.
Foreign nationals who volunteered for service in the Germanic legions found their conditions of acceptance were less stringent than those for the Waffen-SS. Candidates still had to be able to prove Aryan decent for two generations, and to possess an "upright" character. They also had to be between 17 and 40 years of age, although for former officers and NCOs the upper age limit was raised. The minimum height was reduced to 1.65m (5.5ft) and later disregarded. They received the same pay and allowances as members of the Waffen-SS, and were subject to the same penal code. They wore the uniform of the Waffen-SS but with additional national insignia. Those accepted into the legions were not members of the Waffen-SS but of units attached to it. The material inducements for joining the legions were less than those of the Waffen-SS for the simple reason that the legions were a temporary creation, in which a volunteer was not expected to make a career. In many cases, the legionnaires were not affected by the advantages that other nationals received when they joined the Waffen-SS proper.
A badge for Nordic principles
Himmler wanted a badge that would be available to both the General SS in Germany and the Germanic SS abroad, and which would not only require a high standard in various sports but also ability in military activities and National Socialist ideology. But the badge had to reflect all of the Nordic principles, and be an emblem of commitment to the SS. On a much grander scale, he aimed at strengthening the pan-Germanic idea within the entire political SS organization.
The badge that Himmler introduced was called the Germanic Proficiency Runes, and its very design was geared to appeal particularly to the Germanic SS. The two runes of the SS were superimposed upon a mobile swastika, the formation sign of the Wiking Division, and later adopted by III Germanic SS Panzer Corps (made up largely of volunteers from Germanic countries). The badge was instituted in two grades, bronze and silver, with a higher standard required for the attainment of the silver. It was worn in the centre of the left breast pocket of the service uniform.
The Germanic Proficiency Runes
From his headquarters on 15 August 1943, Himmler officially introduced the Germanic Proficiency Runes. In the institution document, he stated that it, "should be an example in physical training and tests in the use of weapons in the National Socialist spirit, and confirmation of the voluntary attainment of the Germanic joint destiny". Physical requirements for award of the badge included the sprint, long jump, grenade throwing, swimming, shooting and camouflage skills (observation and description of objective), climbing and digging trenches.
The Germanic Proficiency Runes were open to members of the German General SS. Although all four branches of the Germanic SS were eligible, and the rules and requirements were published in the newspapers of each, record has only been found of awards in Holland, Denmark and Norway. It is possible that the runes were awarded to members of the Flemish SS, but as this formation was on the decline in 1944 it is believed that none of its members received them. Only one presentation ceremony is recorded for each of the three countries concerned, although there may have been others later in the war.
Presenting the award
The awards of the Germanic Proficiency Runes in Denmark were made at Hovelte on 2 June 1944 by Berger. The presentation took place at a memorial ceremony for SS volunteers from Denmark killed in action, and in fact the test schedule had been timed so that the results would be ready for this ceremony. Berger spoke of the Danish SS volunteers killed in action, and how "their spirits could rest in peace knowing that new columns of Germanic fighters stood behind them". He stated that it was in the memory of the dead Danish SS volunteers and in their spirit that the first Germanic Proficiency Runes were being awarded on Danish soil. No details are available of the number of badges awarded, or of the recipients. However, photographs suggest that the badges went to members of the Schalburg Corps, who were wearing black service uniforms.
The only recorded awards of the Germanic Proficiency Runes in Norway were made at the Norwegian SS school on 16 August 1944, when the Higher SS and Police Leader in Norway, SS-Obergruppenführer Rediess, acting on instructions from Himmler, awarded 10 in silver and 15 in bronze to members of the Norwegian SS.
Rediess spoke of the badge's meaning, and how the 25 recipients had, though their behaviour, been a good example to their comrades in the Germanic SS and to the youth of Norway. After the awards, Rediess made a short speech on the meaning of the SS victory runes and the sun-wheel swastika design of the badge.
Once the SS Main Office handed over Waffen-SS training to the SS-Führungshauptamt (SS-FHA), it was left with only ideological training, physical training and vocational training through its Branch C - offices CI, CII and CIII respectively. It was CII that was responsible for the testing. SS-Standartenführer der Reserve Herbert Edler von Daniels, Chef SS Hauptamt Amt C II, was the commanding officer and authorizing signatory for the test document. The office was in Prague, and it was here that the tests were now taken, with exams being held in the Beneshau/Prague area of Czechoslovakia. The first recorded test following on from those in Norway was held from 23 September 1944 until 26 September 1944, then from 26 October 1944 until 29 October 1944, and the last from 6 March 1945 until 9 March 1945.
A Settling of Scores
Technically, all those foreign nationals who fought for Germany in World War II were traitors, and as such deserved a traitor's fate. Stalin was more than happy to shoot or work to death all those from the Soviet republics who had taken up arms against him, and also wreaked vengeance on their families for good measure. In the West, although there were thousands of trials after the war for collaborators, justice rather than revenge was the prime motive.
At the end of World War II, there were millions of men and women of non-German origin who had served Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1945 and whose fate had to be determined by the victorious Allies.
The German Army, the agent for spreading Nazi ideology throughout Europe, made use of great numbers of foreign volunteer units. These included "sub-human" Slavs, although Hitler had categorically forbidden the use of Russians by the German forces (an order that was largely ignored by divisional commanders). Their utilization not only occurred, it occurred on a vast and vital scale. It is a strange and ironic truth that without Russian aid Germany's war against Stalin could not have continued as long as it did. Desertion from the Red Army was massive in the early stages of the 1941 invasion. Many of the defectors offered their services to the Wehrmacht. Reluctant to turn away willing hands, the army took them on, albeit "off the record", as Hiwis. They may have been given uniforms and rations but old prejudices died hard - there was a kind of racist supremacy pleasure in seeing Hiwis digging ditches and latrines. But, then, especially during the winter of 1941-42, hundreds of Hiwis were sucked into the vortex of battle and became de facto combatants. Their courage and steadiness under fire, and their uncomplaining fortitude in the face of hardship and danger, won for them the respect of the German soldier at the front and did much to break down the psychological barrier between "sub-human" Slavs and "supermen" Aryans created by Nazi propaganda. Berlin would have never agreed, of course, and so the German Army never declared the Hiwis, and thus thousands of Russians never appeared on the recorded strengths of German divisions in the East. By the end of 1941, around 150,000 Russians were in the employ of the Wehrmacht. Less than a year later, this had risen to 500,000; of these, some 200,000 were in combat units. By the end of 1943, this figure had doubled. Large proportions of this manpower pool were later absorbed into the Waffen-SS.
Western and Eastern foreign nationals
The foreign volunteer programme was always central to the development of the Waffen-SS as the war developed, but was it worth it, both in terms of manpower and contribution to the German war effort? The SS was able to tap a useful source of high-grade manpower in the case of Western European volunteers, which the German armed forces would otherwise have found unavailable. The Western volunteers were usually highly motivated and their units well equipped, although there were a number of initial problems, not least that SS training grounds, officer and noncommissioned officer (NCO) schools were not set up to readily accommodate non-German recruits. As a result, the Western recruits fought well on the battlefield, the ultimate criterion for any military organization, and the Nordland and Wiking Divisions were among the best fielded by the Waffen-SS.
Disaster in the East
If there were problems integrating Western volunteers, then German policy with regard to the Eastern volunteers can only be seen as an almost unmitigated disaster. On the credit side, the German invasion of the Soviet Union did serve to galvanize foreign nationals, Western Europeans that is, by suggesting that it was a "European" undertaking intent on ridding the world of communism. This had less appeal to the Eastern volunteers, who may have wanted to rid their homelands of the Bolsheviks but also wanted national self-determination. This was anathema to the Germans, of course, and so the Eastern volunteer units were never used to their full potential. They were employed for rear-area tasks, or even shipped off to the Atlantic Wall for garrison duties. And once away from their homelands, their morale plummeted. How much more effective they could have become had they been used to fight for the re-establishment of their homelands will never be known, but the ill-conceived German policy towards them hampered Nazi aims in the East. The ultimate example of this is the fiasco of Vlassov's army, which only became a reality when the war was already lost.
The whole Eastern programme could have been excused in 1941 or perhaps even as late as 1942 for its propaganda potential, but thereafter it siphoned off trained officers and NCOs desperately needed elsewhere when manpower and material shortages began to bite in 1943. In the same way, it frittered away essential stocks of war munitions on second-rate units.
Western Europeans :
The Waffen-SS recruited many foreign volunteers into its ranks. After the May 1940 "Victory in the West," the SS began an active program to gain Western European recruits for several new Wafffen-SS volunteer legions. This effort intensified after June 1941, as the SS exhorted volunteers to join the "anti-bolshevik" campaign in the Soviet Union.
Why were the Waffen-SS were so interested in Western European volunteers?
This effort was in response to Hitler and the German army setting strict quotas on the number of German youth the SS could recruit.
Over 125,000 West Europeans volunteered for the SS. Although their experiences really need to be researched on a unit by unit basis, here are some common elements regarding their service:
to their nationality
traitors and collaborators
At first Nazi racial polices determined acceptance level of
volunteers. For example: Flemish volunteers were considered "aryan"
enough to volunteer for the Waffen-SS, whereas Walloons were not;
why the Walloon volunteer legion was assimilated at first by the
German Army, not the SS. These racial standards were increasingly
ignored as the German war fortunes declined and the SS was in
desparate need of manpower.
The Waffen-SS also recruited great numbers of Volksdeutsche from central and eastern European countries as well. Despite their ethinc background, these troops often suffered greater language and motivation difficulties that the western legions. Volksdeutsche seemed to have a bit of a mixed reputation among the Reichdeutsche Waffen-SS - in some instances they were considered good soliders, yet in others the volksdeutsche were considered cowardly and untrustworthy.
Eastern/Central European/Balkan volunteers :
As the German fortunes steadily declined, the Waffen-SS took to recruiting or conscripting increasing numbers of foreign recruits that were by no stretch of the imagination bore any relation to the Nazi "ideal". These troops, although numerous, were perhaps the least motivated of all.
What was the fate of those foreign nationals who had
fought for Hitler? In Western Europe, the process of dealing
with collaborators began as soon as the war ended. In
Holland, special courts were established to enable the many
thousands of collaborators, as well as those who had served
in the German armed forces, to be tried, and the death
penalty was reintroduced for the first time since its
abolition in 1873. In all, 138 death sentences were
pronounced, although only 36 were actually carried out.
Anton Mussert was brought to trial at The Hague in November
1945 on a charge of high treason. On 12 December, he was
unsurprisingly found guilty and sentenced to death. Eighteen
Germans also received death sentences for crimes in Holland
but only five, of whom one was Rauter, were executed.
The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg dealt with Reich Commissioner Seyss-Inquart. The tribunal stated that he had been "a knowing and voluntary participant in war crimes and crimes against humanity which were committed in the occupation of the Netherlands". He was hanged on 16 October 1946.
Between 120,000 and 150,000 persons were arrested in Holland in the immediate post-liberation period but, by October 1945, only 72,321 men and 23,723 women remained in prison. Thirty-five special courts consisting of five judges each were set up to deal with major cases of collaboration, while smaller tribunals comprising one judge and two laymen dealt with less serious offences. Some 60,000 persons were deprived of their Dutch citizenship for entering foreign military service, and also had their property seized by the state.
This was applied to all those who had served in the German Army, Navy, Air Force, the Waffen-SS, the Landstorm Nederland, German police or security formations, the guard companies of the Todt Organization and the German Labour Service (RAD). However, it did not include service with the Dutch Germanic SS or the German state railways. On the whole, the Dutch treated their collaborators with tolerance and humanity, though perhaps the very magnitude of the problem prevented harsh judgements.
Following its liberation, Belgium set up special courts consisting of two civilian and three military judges to try collaborators. Some 100,000 persons were arrested but only 87,000 were subsequently brought to trial; of these, around 10,000 were acquitted. Sentences of death were passed on 4170 persons (3193 were for military collaboration), of which only 230 were actually carried out. About 16,000 persons received long prison sentences. Léon Degrelle, the Rexist leader and famed Walloon commander, was sentenced to death in absentia, having escaped to Spain.
Those members of the Flemish Legion still serving in the Waffen-SS retreated from the River Oder and surrendered to the Americans near Schwerin on 2 May 1945. From there they were sent to the former German concentration camp at Neuengamme, which was being used by the British as a holding centre for SS prisoners. In the autumn, the Flemings were handed over to the Belgian Army, which transported them by cattle truck to the Belgian Army camp at Beverloo. This first contingent consisted of 1900 men and four Flemish Red Cross nurses. On arrival at Beverloo station, the prisoners were allegedly kicked and beaten as they made the 4.8km (three-mile) journey to the camp. Once inside the camp, the prisoners were subjected to the same brutality, indignities and lack of medical attention inflicted on inmates of German concentration camps.
In Denmark, the prosecution of collaborators was smaller in scale and intensity. The main reasons were that relatively few Danes had served in the German armed forces, and the occupation had been mostly lenient (at least until 29 August 1943 when the Germans had officially dissolved the Danish Government and instituted martial law), thus lessening the desire for revenge. In total, 15,724 Danes were arrested on charges of collaboration after the war. Subsequently, 1229 were acquitted, while the remainder were handed prison sentences ranging from one year to life (62 individuals received the latter sentence). The death penalty, abolished in 1895, was reintroduced under a special law of 1 June 1945 for extreme cases of collaboration or crimes against humanity. The courts meted out a total of 112 death sentences, but only 46 were carried out. K.B. Martinsen, commander of Freikorps Danmark, was executed on 25 June 1949. Prison sentences in excess of four years were passed on 3641 persons, 9737 persons were temporarily deprived of their civil rights and another 2936 had their civil rights removed permanently.
The status of former members of the Freikorps became a delicate issue in post-war Denmark. At one stage during the war, the Danish war minister had consented to the enlistment of Danish military personnel into the Freikorps, but later changed his mind. After the war, volunteers were tried as collaborators, but claimed that they had been led to believe that the Freikorps had the backing of the Danish Government. The government replied that even if it had given its consent, the volunteers could not use this as a valid excuse since they should have realized that the government was acting under German pressure. The authorities then proceeded to cancel the volunteers' pension rights, and most volunteers were sentenced to one or two years' imprisonment (the Danish resistance blew up the Freikorps Danmark war memorial at Hovelte in May 1945).
In Norway, more than 90,000 persons were investigated by the police on suspicion of collaboration; of these, 18,000 were sent to prison and a further 28,000 fined (some also lost their civil rights). In the case of state employees, a fine also meant the loss of their jobs. About 3500 sentences of more than three years, and 600 of more than eight years, were meted out to collaborators. The death penalty, abolished in 1870, was reintroduced. Some 30 death sentences were passed although only 25 were carried out. For volunteers who had served in the German armed forces, sentences of imprisonment ranged from four to eight years dependent on rank and age. Officers were held to be more culpable than other ranks. Arthur Quist, for example, the commander of the Freiwilligen Legion Norwegen between 1942 and 1943, was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. Female volunteers were not exempt from punishment, either.
Periodic amnesties lessened the severity of some initial punishments. A law of 9 July 1948, for example, allowed for the release of all those imprisoned for collaboration after the completion of half their original sentences. But there would be no leniency shown to the man whose name has since become a byword for collaboration: Vidkun Quisling. After voluntarily surrendering to the Norwegian Government, he was put on trial for treason. Found guilty, his seven-hour closing speech notwithstanding, he was sentenced to death and executed in October 1945.
In France, a country wracked with guilt over the Vichy regime, trials of collaborators lasted from September 1944 until the end of 1949. In court, 2071 persons were sentenced to death, which does not include those passed in absentia - another 4400. Of the 2071 capital sentences, only 768 were carried out (all death sentences passed on women or minors were automatically commuted by General de Gaulle). In the armed forces, 3035 officers were dishonourably discharged and a further 2635 involuntarily retired. About 5000 civil servants, including 18 magistrates, were relieved of their posts. A further 6000 were punished in lesser ways. Former members of the Légion des Volontaires Français and French Waffen-SS were offered active service in Indo-China as an alternative to imprisonment. Many decided to take this offer, and were killed fighting the Viet Minh.
Britain stood alone in not being occupied by the Germans, except for the Channel Islands. The latter, with their short lines of communication to the continent and their high density of population, were ideal for denunciation, collaboration and fraternization. In general, denouncers had two motives, both of which were fuelled by pragmatism rather than ideology. A tiny minority of islanders had been recruited by the German police force as informers and received lump sums for keeping the German authorities up to date on public opinion and all movements in the civilian population. The second motive was more personal and was usually directed against particular individuals against whom people bore a grudge. In fact, British citizens under German occupation did not behave dramatically differently to those under the Nazi jackboot on the continent.
At least three people from the islands ended up volunteering for the German forces: Eric Pleasants and John Leister both joined the British Freikorps; and Eddie Chapman became a double agent. But there were no large-scale trials for collaboration on the islands. On the other hand, cases were brought against Britons from the mainland who had fought for or collaborated with the Germans. The most notable was the trial of John Amery, who was charged with high treason. He pleaded guilty and was condemned to death, a sentence that brought many calls for clemency, particularly from the Duke of Bedford. They fell on deaf ears, though, and he was executed at Wandsworth Prison. William Joyce, "Lord Haw-Haw", was also charged with high treason, found guilty and likewise executed. Thomas Hellor Cooper, the most senior British national in the British Freikorps, was similarly charged with high treason, found guilty and condemned to death, though this was later commuted to life imprisonment.
Other members of the British Freikorps were charged with varying offences, those in the military being tried by courts martial and receiving varying terms of imprisonment of between two years to life. Civilians were tried under the Defence of the Realm Act, and received prison sentences of between two and three years in length.
The Indians who fought for both Germany and Japan were tried at the Red Fort trials in Delhi, the symbol of past Mogul rule and the very location where Chandra Bose had boasted that his triumphant army would parade in a free India. For its part, the Congress Party, the main movement for Indian independence, saw in the trials a heaven-sent opportunity to attack the British. The first three officers selected to stand trial were Shah Nawaz Khan, commander of the Subhas Brigade and then of the 2nd Division of the Indian National Army (INA); P. K. Sahgal; and G. S. Dhillon. All three were charged with waging war against the King-Emperor. They were a cross-section of India's community: a Muslim, Sikh and Hindu. However, India was in no mood to hear words focused on the imperial past. Demonstrations on behalf of the INA occurred all over the country, and under pressure from public opinion a compromise was reached whereby the accused were found guilty but their sentences of transportation for life were suspended. They were cashiered, though, since the Commander-in-Chief in India, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, emphasized that it was "in all circumstances a most serious crime for an officer or soldier to throw off his allegiance and wage war against the State". With this comment, the trials ended.
The consequences of Yalta
By the end of the war, there were huge numbers of Eastern peoples milling around in Central Europe awaiting their fate. They had fought for Germany, but would they be treated as prisoners of war (POWs) or traitors?
The ultimate fate of all those who served with the German war machine was first discussed at the Tehran Conference (28 November-1 December 1943). At that meeting, British Prime Minister Churchill was concerned that large numbers of British and Commonwealth troops were being held by the Germans in the Eastern territories, and he believed it was highly probable that they would be liberated by the advancing Soviet forces (with no second front in Western Europe, he thought the Red Army might even reach the Low Countries). These gains would leave the liberated POWs as pawns in the power struggle he predicted would occur after the final victory in Europe.
Stalin, too, wished to see the return of his own POWs held by the Germans, though for different reasons than Churchill. He wanted the quick return of the "traitors" (he viewed any Russian who surrendered to the enemy as such). Ever suspicious, he also believed that if they were outside his control they could be used as a potential army of invasion equipped by the Allies to topple his regime. A possible civil war was the last thing he required after the destruction of his purges and the losses suffered in the war. Thus it was agreed that all nationalities would be returned to their native lands. Churchill was happy but, unwittingly, the Western Allies had acquiesced in what was to become the death warrant for millions of Soviet and Baltic citizens.
The Yalta sellout
The status of POWs was formalized at the Yalta Conference (4-11 February 1945), the subsequent agreement stating: "All Soviet citizens liberated by forces operating under United States command will, without delay after their liberation, be separated from enemy prisoners of war and will be maintained separately from them in concentration camps until they have been handed over to the Soviet authorities." The agreement also provided for Soviet control of the camps and "the [Soviet] right to appoint the internal administration and set up the [camps's] internal discipline and management in accordance with the military laws of their country".
The policy of repatriation had actually been voiced many months before. On 16 September 1944, US Political Officer Alexander Kirk sent a cable to US Secretary of State Cordell Hull which noted that an agreement had been reached between the Soviets and the British for repatriation of Soviet citizens held as prisoners of war "irrespective of whether the individuals desire to return to Russia or not. Statements will not be taken from Soviet nationals in the future as to their willingness to return to their native country."
At the end of the war, the Soviets possessed large numbers of German POWs, who were placed in camps without differentiating the Waffen-SS from the other branches of the German forces. In the camps, the prisoners were expected to undertake any and all tasks allotted to them. They were employed in such hazardous pursuits as mine and bomb disposal without proper training. The principle was very simple: every able-bodied prisoner was to carry on living so long as he contributed to the rebuilding of the Soviet Union. He was kept alive to expunge his "crimes" by hard labour. By the tenth anniversary of the end of the war - 1955 - those who had survived had all been repatriated.
The Allies collude in murder
The Soviets also set up trials after the war, which investigated war crimes, crimes against humanity and "crimes against the Soviet system". Vast numbers of suspects were tried and subsequently executed. Those who had fallen into Allied hands were turned over to the Soviet authorities; their fate in most cases was horrific. Many were summarily executed within hours of leaving Allied hands. This was the case for thousands of Soviet prisoners handed over by the British in Austria. A sham parade was mustered that was overseen by General Keightley, commander of V Corps. Non-Soviet and non-Yugoslav citizens and Serbian royalists were supposedly exempt from the deportation order, but key military officials in the British chain of command surreptitiously included them also. As a result, many Russians waving French passports and British medals from World War I were all rounded up and delivered to Stalin. About 35,000 Yugoslavs were handed over to Titoists between 19 May and 4 June 1945, a substantial number being subsequently tortured, brutally treated and massacred.
The fate of the Cossacks - German War Machine Copyright
Up to 58,000 Cossacks, including XV.SS Cossack Cavalry Corps, surrendered to British forces in southern Austria. They were repatriated by British soldiers using a substantial amount of violence and brutality in which several hundred were killed. As a German, von Pannwitz, their commander, was not obliged to exchange British for Russian captivity, but like a good officer he elected to share the fate of his men. He was hanged along with five senior Cossack leaders in Moscow in July 1947.
Stalin was determined that Vlassov would never live to head an anti-communist army under the patronage of the United States. In his case, he was not so much handed over by the Americans as snatched from them by a Russian armoured column. In July 1946, for "acting as agents of German intelligence and indulging in espionage and diversionary terrorist activity", Vlassov and 11 other leading figures in the POA-KONR movement were executed in Moscow.
Horror at Bleiburg
The fate of those anti-Tito forces and their families who managed to escape from Yugoslavia at the end of the war is particularly tragic. The huge column, numbering perhaps as many as 500,000 soldiers and civilians, including Slovenes, Serbs and even Chetniks, finally came to rest in a small valley near the Austrian village of Bleiburg. One of the first groups to arrive at British headquarters was a contingent of 130 members of the Croatian Government headed by President Nikola Mandic. All were informed that they would be transferred to Italy as soon as possible by British military police. All were then loaded into a train and returned to the partisans for execution. It was the intent of the British to turn over all Croatians, as well as Serbs and Slovenes, to the communists from whom they had fled.
When the Croatian military leaders realized that they had led hundreds of thousands into a trap, many committed suicide on the spot. The British extradited thousands of Croatians. Some were shot at the border, while others joined the infamous "death marches" which took them deeper into the new people's republic for execution. Realizing the importance of the clergy to the Croatian people, most church leaders were arrested. Although Archbishop Stepinac was sentenced to death, he was saved by a massive outcry of world public opinion and died under house arrest in 1960. Two bishops, 300 priests, 29 seminarians and 4 lay brothers were less fortunate and were executed. The number of Moslem religious leaders executed has never been determined, although the figure is thought to be in excess of 600.
Not all Eastern people fell into the hands of Stalin and his henchmen. Before the war, Galicia had been part of Poland. Hitler had handed it over to Stalin at the conclusion of the Polish campaign under the terms of the Russo-German Non-Aggression Treaty. Hitler was aware of how the area had become an Austrian "Crown Land" in 1772, being confirmed with slight frontier adjustments in 1814, thus becoming the largest province in the Austro- Hungarian Empire. After the war's end, the Soviets reaped vengeance on the population for their support of the Germans.
Some Ukrainians escaped Soviet vengeance, such as the men of the 14th SS Waffen-Grenadier Division Galicia under Pavlo Shandruk. He was a former staff officer of the Polish Army and before that a soldier in the Ukrainian Republic of 1919-21. He was the overall Ukrainian leader and head of the Ukrainian National Committee, a body seemingly dedicated to achieving Ukrainian independence but actually a sham to bolster the Ukrainians' morale and keep them fighting alongside the Germans to the bitter end. Shandruk had planned on taking control of the division in March 1945 and renaming it the "First Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army". Himmler agreed to hand the division over to Shandruk, and between 25-30 April 1945 the men took a new oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian nation.
The lucky few
The division surrendered to the British near Radstadt on 8 May 1945. When Shandruk successfully convinced his captors that he and his men were Poles rather than Russians, they were spared the unenviable fate that surely would have followed compulsory repatriation to the Soviet Union (after struggling to convince the Germans that they were Ukrainians rather than Galicians, the men of the 14th SS Division saved their lives by claiming to be Galicians after all). They negotiated with the British Army and retreated from the front across the mountains to a region agreed upon by the British. The Ukrainians were interned in the pleasant surroundings of Rimini, an Italian seaside resort on the Adriatic. The Soviets made many attempts to obtain the division, but with the Cold War intensifying this prospect was a non-starter. Finally, the Labour Government brought them all to Britain. One idea was that they would be a ready spearhead for any attack on the Soviet Union. To the relief of the men of the division, this idea came to nought; thereafter, many of them emigrated to the USA, Canada, South America and elsewhere.
These Ukrainians were lucky, but their country, like the Baltic states and the homelands of the other Eastern peoples, was under Soviet control. They and the other foreign nationals who had fought for Hitler had gambled, but they had lost.
© Copyright Brown Online
The soldiers of the Waffen-SS committed many atrocities during World War II, both on and off the battlefield. They were above all the racial warriors of the Third Reich, and they were contemptuous of all those that Nazi ideology classed as inferior races. As they held their own lives in low esteem, it was unlikely that they would accord the lives of their enemies greater value.
The military prowess of the elite panzer divisions of the Waffen-SS is rarely called into question. They were undoubtedly formidable fighting forces that acquitted themselves with great distinction on the battlefields of World War II. However, the participation of Waffen-SS men in massacres across Europe during the war has cast a shadow over their military victories. Apologists for the Waffen-SS have tried to portray it as a separate and distinct military branch of the large SS organization, which had no role in the genocidal campaigns of murder against Jews and other racial groups considered sub-humans by Hitler and his Nazi race-based ideology.
To try to draw a distinction between the "ordinary" soldiers of the Waffen-SS and SS "war criminals" is a mere semantic exercise. The Waffen-SS was an integral element of the SS, and even if its members were not specifically part of the Nazi murder machine that organized and conducted massacres and deportations, they certainly knew it was happening and helped ensure it did happen. A large number of Waffen-SS men and units, however, did undoubtedly participate in a series of massacres of civilians and prisoners of war across Europe between 1939 and 1945.
The collective guilt of the Waffen-SS stems first from the fact that the early leaders of the organization were the ringleaders and trigger-pullers during the infamous "Night of the Long Knives" in June 1934. "Old Guard" SS officers, such as "Sepp" Dietrich and Theodor Eicke, were the men who led the firing squads that killed off Hitler's enemies in the SA. Eicke even fired the first shots into the defenceless SA leader, Ernst Röhm. This was the first act of extra-judicial killing by Hitler, and effectively established his dictatorship.
It was the war in Russia that next showed up the Waffen-SS in its true light. It was the vanguard of Hitler's war of racial conquest. No mercy was shown to racial and political opponents of the Nazis by the Waffen-SS. According to Hitler and National Socialist ideology, the lives of Jews and Russians were totally worthless, except as forced labour to be exploited for the benefit of the German war effort. Russian civilians were treated with disdain, and their property, crops and houses were routinely looted or confiscated by Waffen-SS troops, even if this resulted in death or starvation in the country's harsh climate. Any Soviet commissar or political officer captured by the Waffen-SS was executed in accordance with Hitler's infamous "commissar order". The Geneva Convention was not applied to Soviet soldiers captured by the Waffen-SS, and they were routinely starved and denied medical treatment. Punishment killings of hundreds of Soviet prisoners were common occurrences in the Waffen-SS, with the Leibstandarte once killing 4000 prisoners in a four-day period.
None of these actions in themselves were unique to the Waffen-SS. German police and army units, as well as locally recruited auxiliary forces, have also been implicated in atrocities on the Eastern Front. The SS, however, threw themselves into the war against the Soviet Union with a zeal that was unsurpassed in other branches of the German occupation forces. If there was a tough job that needed doing, the Waffen-SS would be there. The Waffen-SS clearly believed in its cause and did not flinch from carrying out its orders no matter how murderous. The point was that the war in Russia was above all a racial struggle between the Aryan Germans and the "inferior" Slav races. The Waffen-SS was the racial vanguard of the National Socialist movement, staffed with pure Aryan recruits. Prior to Operation Barbarossa, Waffen-SS commanders went to great lengths to indoctrinate their men with Hitler's racial ideology to prepare them for the coming struggle. It was not surprising that when they were unleashed into battle, the Waffen-SS carried out its orders to kill and murder Hitler's "race enemies" with ruthless efficiency.
After the war, several former Waffen-SS officers tried to distance themselves from the SS mass-murder campaigns in occupied Russia, saying that they were only "simple soldiers who just fought at the front". This defence does not really hold water, given that few Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS units did not participate in some sort of rear-area security duty (which inevitably involved the routine mistreatment of civilians) at some time during their service in the East. Even if they did not participate in the murders of civilians themselves, cross-posting of Waffen-SS men between the various divisions and units of the SS organization meant its members were all aware of the true nature of German rule in occupied Russia.
The Waffen-SS and the Holocaust
It has also been claimed that the Waffen-SS played no part in the Holocaust and the industrialized killing of Jews. The concentration camp system was set up in the 1930s by Theodor Eicke of the SS-Totenkopfverbönde that was incorporated into the Waffen-SS in 1940. Thousands of Waffen-SS men were also drafted to help the Einsatzgruppen's murderous campaign to exterminate the Jews of Eastern Europe, participating in mass killings or guarding ghetto districts where Jews from the west were concentrated before being sent to death camps. Waffen-SS units played a major role in the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, which was little more than a exercise in mass murder.
Even the supposed Waffen-SS combat units participated in the mass killing and deportation of Jews as part of the infamous "Final Solution". Jews were routinely executed or maltreated in areas controlled by Waffen-SS units. The Totenkopf, Das Reich and Wiking Divisions were all documented joining in the mass killings of Jews in Poland and Russia. Albanian Waffen-SS troops were also involved in loading Jews onto rail cars bound for the death camps.
The Totenkopf Division
The Totenkopf Division was particularly implicated in the concentration camp system. Even though it became part of the Waffen-SS in 1940, when its official administrative link to the camps was broken, the division continued to draw personnel from the camp system and wounded personnel from the front spent time recuperating on "light duties" in the camps. The 36th Waffen-SS Division also spent many months guarding ghettos in Poland and Russia. This was the infamous Dirlewanger Brigade, which became a volunteer unit of the Waffen-SS in January 1942. Recruited from convicted criminals, by the beginning of 1943 its 700 men comprised 50 percent non-Germans. As the war dragged on the unit pressed members of the SD, court-martialled Waffen-SS soldiers, army prisoners and even political prisoners from concentration camps into its ranks. The brigade's most notorious episode was during the 1944 Warsaw uprising, when Dirlewanger's men went on an orgy of killing and looting.
SS "special duties"
It has been estimated that at the height of the war, some 10,000 Waffen-SS men were serving away from their combat divisions on "special duties", supporting SS murder campaigns in the occupied East. The Waffen-SS also benefited from the huge SS slave labour empire, with weapons, uniforms, supplies and other equipment being provided direct from SS-controlled factories and warehouses in the main concentration camps.
Senior Waffen-SS officers had a hard time trying to deny they knew anything about the Final Solution. The ultimate Waffen-SS combat soldier, Joachim Peiper, served as Himmler's adjutant for a time, organizing meetings between the SS chief and heads of the concentration camp system. At least six Waffen-SS generals also at one time or another in the war held command appointments in the concentration camps, overseeing the mass murder of Jews and the use of millions of other prisoners for slave labour. One Waffen-SS general, Karl Wolff, boasted, "special joy now that 5000 members of the Chosen People [the Jews] are going to Treblinka [a death camp] every day". After the war Wolff was sentenced to four years in prison by a de-Nazification court in Germany. He served one week of his sentence before being released.
War crimes in the Balkans
Waffen-SS crimes in the Balkans were of the same order as those in Russia, but had an added element because of the large number of local troops recruited into Waffen-SS ranks. Croat, Albanian and Bosnian Muslim units of the Waffen-SS treated the anti-partisan campaign in Yugoslavia as an extension of their age-old ethnic feuds, and were responsible for a series of horrendous massacres that the German High Command tried to pass off as battles. German Waffen-SS commanders let their acolytes do their worst because it suited their purposes of keeping the ethnic communities in Yugoslavia fighting each other, and reducing the number of German troops required for occupation duties. In one incident in Greece, the Waffen-SS Polizei Division achieved the dubious distinction of being condemned by the Red Cross, a very rare occurrence. The condemnation followed an anti-partisan sweep and an ambush in which Waffen-SS troops were killed. The Polizei Division troops then staged a reprisal in the nearby village of Distrimo, which involved mass rape, looting and the summary execution of partisan suspects. Some 300 civilians were killed, and this outraged even the pro-German puppet
government in Athens and the Wehrmacht. They invited the Red Cross to visit the village and several days after the event found corpses hanging from trees. The Waffen-SS tried to wash its hands of the incident by convicting an Waffen-SS captain of falsifying a report, even though the reprisal was deemed "justified" for "military reasons".
In the West, the crimes of the Waffen-SS are generally better documented than in the East. The survivors were often able to make accounts of their experiences public, whereas in the East the Soviet Government and their satellite allies in the Warsaw Pact were less willing to allow independent scrutiny of wartime events, including Nazi war crimes. The Cold War stand-off that developed after 1945 also meant that some elements in Western governments did not want to give "visibility" to war crimes conducted by people who were now key allies against the Soviets. This was particularly so in the case of refugees from the Baltic states and the Ukraine, who were leading lights in anti-communist movements. The fact that many of these people had been wartime collaborators with the Nazis and members of the SS was swept under the carpet. This policy came back to haunt the British and US governments in the 1990s, when evidence emerged after the collapse of the Iron Curtain that they had given refuge to former SS members who had participated in
war crimes in Eastern Europe, even through their crimes were known to Western intelligence agencies.
SS atrocities in the West
Waffen-SS war crimes in the West fall into two distinct categories: the cold-blooded murder of prisoners of war and the massacre of civilians in anti-resistance reprisals. The massacre of US Army prisoners at Malmédy, Belgium, by the Leibstandarte Division in December 1944 is perhaps the most famous, but it is one of several.
In 1940, Leibstandarte and Totenkopf troops participated in the murder of captured British soldiers in two incidents. The Hitlerjugend Division was also implicated in the killing of captured Canadian soldiers in Normandy in the summer of 1944.
These have been portrayed by Waffen-SS apologists as "heat of battle" crimes by tired and stressed soldiers, with the Normandy killings being excused because "both sides were doing it". Survivors of the massacres, however, have recounted how their Waffen-SS guards calmly gathered them up and machine-gunned them in cold blood after they had surrendered. In all these cases senior Waffen-SS officers were aware of what had happened and chose not to punish those involved. Most participants were promoted afterwards.
Reprisals against civilians
Waffen-SS units rarely participated in anti-partisan operations in Western Europe, but when they did the results were very similar to those experienced in the East. In September 1943, after two Leibstandarte officers were captured by Italian partisans, Peiper ordered a town full of civilians to be shelled in reprisal, killing 34 people. The most famous Waffen-SS reprisal operation was in June 1944, when the Das Reich Division was attacked by French resistance fighters as it moved towards the Normandy battlefield. Some 99 French civilians were hung in reprisal in the town of Tulle; the following day, 642 civilians, including 207 children, were killed when the village of Oradour was razed to the ground in a further reprisal.
The Reichsführer-SS Waffen-SS division was involved in a series of three reprisal operations in northern Italy during August and September 1944, in which more than 1000 Italian civilians were killed. A Waffen-SS man from the division later commented, "personally I am of the opinion that the majority of partisans killed were women and children".
SS emergency courts
These reprisal operations cannot be whitewashed as battlefield incidents. They were all cold, calculated acts, carried out on the orders of senior Waffen-SS officers who knew what they were doing. Brutal reprisals for partisan attacks on German troops were the norm in the East, and the Waffen-SS was just bringing its tried and tested tactics to the West. The people of Western Europe must be thankful that Allied armies swept rapidly to the German border in the summer of 1944. The Waffen-SS divisions in France at this time were pre-occupied at the front, and had little time to turn their attention to dealing with the growing resistance problem behind their lines.
Ironically, when American, British and Soviet forces were inside Germany itself in early 1945, Waffen-SS soldiers turned on their own people. With his world crumbling around him, Hitler saw treachery and cowardice everywhere. He therefore ordered those still loyal to him to show no mercy to those who displayed "cowardice in the face of the enemy". Roving SS squads shot or hanged thousands of Germans for not fighting with fanatical determination. SS officers convened so-called emergency courts that dispensed instant justice to those brought before them, which usually meant death. Victims included an aged farmer who had disarmed a group of Hitler Youth who had planned to attack an American armoured column on bicycles.
Even in Berlin during the last days of the war, fanatical Waffen-SS officers trawled the city searching for those guilty of cowardice, desertion or "resisting the war effort". German civilians suffered disproportionately as, when the Red Army approached, the citizens living in streets about to be attacked would hang white blankets from their windows as a sign of surrender (and in the hope that the Soviets would not blast their buildings with tank and artillery fire).
However, German forces launched counterattacks and often recaptured said streets. The residents who had displayed the white blankets would then be hauled before the SS courts, to be either shot or hanged from lamp posts as a warning to others. Even after the fall of Berlin and the suicide of Hitler, SS officers still at large continued to shoot at Germans giving themselves up to the Red Army!
Despite the excuses of their apologists, the Waffen-SS was thoroughly tainted by its participation in Hitler's murderous policies of racial supremacy.
Not only were Waffen-SS soldiers willing believers of this ideology, but they were also willing participants in the actual execution of Hitler's attempts to exterminate Jews and other people he considered untermenschen.
Individually, Waffen-SS officers and men were soon hardened to killing on behalf of their Führer and put a low value on human life, particularly on the lives of Germany's enemies. Civilians and enemy prisoners were regarded as a nuisance, and Waffen-SS officers had little compunction about ordering executions or reprisals. Although the Waffen-SS was embarrassed when some of its excesses were exposed during the war by the German Army High Command or the Red Cross, the perpetrators were invariably protected by Himmler. He had no time for such squeamishness.
Of all the foreign nationals who served the Third Reich,
the Western Europeans were the best. They were the most
enthusiastic, the most militarily effective and the most
loyal. They formed the core of the Wiking Division, one of
the best fighting units in the Waffen-SS, and indeed in the
A slow start
Before the outbreak of war, only a handful of fanatical Western European Nordic volunteers had offered themselves for service with the Allgemeine-SS.
In the main, these were devoutly anti-communist individuals who saw the "Red Menace" as a reality, i.e. as an ominous threat to their homelands and way of life. Few, if any, had made overtures to the other branches of the German military forces. By mid-1940, though, with Western Europe firmly in the grip of the Third Reich, the way was made clear for those with pro-Nazi beliefs to volunteer for service. In dribs and drabs, volunteers from West European countries presented themselves for entry into the ranks of the Waffen-SS.
Motives of the volunteers
The principles of such individuals fighting for Germany, whose countries had been devoured by the Reich's armed forces, were highly questionable. Service in the Waffen-SS appeared to compound their immorality. Two questions arise. First, why should these men desire military service within the German armed forces, let alone the SS with all its connotations of racial superiority? Second, why would the SS, or indeed any other branch of the German armed forces, recruit them? And, having done so, why would they trust them in battle? Surely these individuals could pose the threat of being a Trojan Horse? The simple answer to these questions is that the men were all volunteers, who for various reasons viewed service with the Waffen-SS as being desirable - or at least tolerable.
This being the case, they presented little threat of being unreliable in the field once they had been committed to battle. These men were desirable to the SS in turn because they were Aryan brothers, i.e. "racially pure" volunteers who would be a valuable part in the crusade against the "sub-humans" in the East.
From the SS standpoint, the administrative procedure to raise foreign volunteer legions had been perfected before the war, being a direct result of Himmler's goal of a pan-Germanic Europe. Himmler had decreed in 1938 that non-Germans of acceptable "Nordic" origins could join the Allgemeine-SS. It is important to highlight that, at this time, the distinction between the civilian "General" or Allgemeine-SS and the Special Purpose Troops or SS-Verfügungstruppe, which later became the Waffen-SS, did not exist.
Indigenous fascist parties
The occupied countries of Norway, Denmark, Holland and Belgium all had their own fascist parties, which in some cases modelled themselves on the German Nazi Party. Others took their inspiration from Rome (where Mussolini had ruled since 1922). Norway, the first to be overrun by the Nazis, also held the dubious distinction of spawning the most notorious of all collaborators, albeit not the most accomplished, Vidkun Quisling. Norway had only one collaborative political party of any significance, which Quisling founded in May 1933 - the Nasjonal Samling (NS), which means National Unity. The organization of the NS paralleled that of the German Nazi Party. The NS was small, though after the German invasion it grew to around 50,000 members. It described itself as a "deeply rooted Norwegian, national, spiritual and Christian movement". Curiously, it contained a large number of Freemasons (whom the Nazis believed were helping Jews achieve world domination). Immediately after the German invasion in April 1940 (which, contrary to popular belief at the time, the NS did not assist), Quisling attempted to take power by declaring himself prime minister. Hitler, incensed at this arrogance, ordered him to step down one week later and then named Josef Terboven as Reich Commissioner for Norway. Terboven disliked Quisling intensely, a feeling that was reciprocated. However, eventually Quisling was appointed "Minister President" of Norway by Hitler on 1 February 1942, becoming the only foreign leader ever to achieve such high office in a German-occupied country.
The Danmarks National Socialistiske Arbejder Parti
Denmark was overrun and occupied with virtually no resistance on the part of the Danes. Denmark had several pro-Nazi political parties because no one individual had emerged who could weld them all together. For this reason, entrusting political power to the Danish Nazis never seems to have been considered by the Germans. The Danmarks National Socialistiske Arbejder Parti (DNSAP - Denmark's National Socialist Workers' Party), founded in November 1930, was the largest of the Danish Nazi parties. At first the leadership comprised a three-man committee, but in 1933 the alcoholic Frits Clausen took over (he had joined the party in 1931). It was an extremely well-disciplined organization. For example, it was administered by its own corps of political leaders, and for protection it could call on its own stormtroopers, the Storm Afdelinger (SA).
The Nationaal Socialistische Beweging
The Germans invaded Holland on 10 May 1940, which surrendered after only four days, giving rise to widespread panic and confusion among the population. The Dutch, who are related both linguistically and racially to the Germans, were taken aback by the confrontation. Prior to World War II, Holland had some 52,000 German residents who lived and worked in the Netherlands. It is not surprising, therefore, that a number of imitation Nazi movements emerged during the 1930s. The largest was founded on 14 December 1931 by Anton Adriaan Mussert. It was called the Nationaal Socialistische Beweging (NSB - National Socialist Movement). It was a strictly nationalistic Dutch fascist movement, and proved ultimately to be the most successful.
On 18 May 1940, Arthur Seyss-Inquart became Reich Commissioner of the Netherlands, which was declared to be a Reich Commissariat. With complete control of the country's entire resources, which he exclusively directed towards the demands of the German war machine, Seyss-Inquart ruled authoritatively, answering only to Hitler. He generally followed the "carrot and stick" method of rule, though his rule was more stick than carrot. In March 1941, he had bestowed upon himself the power to administer summary justice, at least pertaining to dissension or suspected resistance. He levied swingeing fines, confiscating the property of all enemies of the Reich, including Jews, and instigated severe reprisals for acts of subversion and sabotage. He forced five million Dutch civilians to work for the Germans, and deported a total of 117,000 Jews to concentration camps.
Under these conditions, the main exponent of collaboration was the NSB, a party that was extremely well organized. The NSB was now to come to the fore, and on the tenth anniversary of its foundation was granted an exclusive political monopoly in the Netherlands by the Germans. All other parties were faced either with merger or disbandment. The NSB had its own stormtroopers, the Weer Afdeelingen (WA - Defence Section), but on 11 September 1940 it took a bold step by establishing its own SS within the party framework. J. Hendrik Feldmeyer, the former leader of the Mussert Garde, was the initiator of the plan; he had visions of it becoming the equivalent of the German Allgemeine-SS. It was at first simply known as the Nederlandsche SS, which was replaced by the more general term Germaansche SS en Nederland (or the Germanic SS in the Netherlands) on 1 November 1942. Until then it had been one of the paramilitary sub-formations of the NSB. Himmler gave orders that it was now to become part of a greater Germanic SS. Mussert's control was now marginalized, with an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler being taken by the Dutch SS men. Its membership, which stood nominally at 3727 (five regiments plus an SS police regiment), was constantly depleted by voluntary enlistment into the Waffen-SS. There were possibly up to a further 7000 Dutch volunteers in the Germanische Sturmbann, an SS formation raised from the large pool of Dutch and other Nordic workers in Germany.
Seven battalions were recruited from the industrial cities of Berlin, Brunswick, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Nuremberg and Stuttgart. In effect, the Germanische Sturmbann was never anything other than a recruiting agency for the Waffen-SS.
The Dutch NSKK
It would be wrong to state that all foreign volunteers were recruited into the more "glamourous" organizations within the SS. There were others formations that absorbed volunteers for the German war machine. These included the Nationalsozialisches Kraftfahrkorps (NSKK - National Socialist Motor Corps), Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD - National Labour Service) and the Kriegsmarine. The NSKK, for example, was almost as voracious in the recruitment of Dutchmen as the SS. The invasion of Russia in 1941 led to additional loads being placed on the already overstretched German military transport system, and so the occupation authorities were always searching for foreign drivers.The WA, the Dutch equivalent of the German SA, had its own transport arm - the Motor WA - which provided the usual source of drivers for service on the Eastern Front.
The Dutch drivers were passed through a unit called the Alarmdienst, which was created to provide the German forces in Holland with auxiliary transport. Its members were kitted out with Motor WA or other NSB uniforms. The service was rechristened the Transportactie on 12 January 1943, and thereafter its members sported German field-grey uniforms.
The army's Dutch drivers
The German Army also raised a small unit of Dutch civilian drivers, which was known initially as the Kraftfahrt Transport Dienst. This was mainly to help with work on military construction projects, and after April 1942 it was renamed the Kraftfahrzeugüberführungs Kommando (KUK). When the need arose, some KUK drivers had to be coerced to serve in the Soviet Union in German rear areas. Due to the partisan threat they were permitted to carry arms for their defence, being kitted out in ex-French Army uniforms.
In November 1943, the Higher SS and Police Chief in the Netherlands, Hans Albin Rauter, upon being informed that the NSKK was proving very successful in drawing into its ranks young Dutchmen, was forced to issue an order forbidding the NSKK from accepting anyone below the age of 30. Volunteers under the age of 30 were to be directed into the Waffen-SS instead.
The NSKK units
Most of the Dutch NSKK volunteers came under the jurisdiction of the Luftwaffe, with volunteers in the following formations: NSKK Gruppe Luftwaffe, NSKK Staffel WBN (Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Netherlands) and NSKK Todt/Speer. The Organization Todt was the construction formation of the Nazi Party, auxiliary to the Wehrmacht. It was named after its founder, Dr Fritz Todt, who was replaced by Albert Speer following Todt's death in 1942. It should not be confused with the Organization Speer, which was a separate body concerned with engineering. Like many similar agencies in Hitler's Reich, they competed with each other for power and resources.
Dutchmen in the RAD
The Dutch had a labour service of their own but also provided volunteers for the RAD. The number was small, possibly around 300, but was enough for an all-Dutch unit to be formed known as Gruppe Niederland. Dutchmen also graduated as RAD officers, such as those of the Oostkorp (East Corps) of the Niederland Arbeits Dienst (NAD - Dutch Labour Service). Gruppe Niederland saw active service between May and October 1942 on the Eastern Front, behind the German frontline. Normally, RAD personnel were unarmed, but due to partisan activities guards were permitted to carry rifles or pistols. For a nation with a distinguished maritime tradition, it is surprising that perhaps only about 1500 Dutchmen served in the Kriegsmarine. This may be because the first appeal was not made until May 1943, for naval volunteers in the 18-35 age group.
Service in Russia
In January 1942, NSKK Gruppe Luftwaffe was created under Luftwaffe General Wilhelm Wimmer in Brussels, which brought together under one command all Dutch, Flemish and Walloon NSKK members. The Dutch NSKK saw active service in Russia as the NSKK Regiment Niederland. Luftwaffe General Kraus reported to Hermann Göring on 6 August 1942: "We have thousands of Dutchmen in transport regiments in the East. Last week one such regiment was attacked. The Dutch took more than 1000 prisoner and were awarded 25 Iron Crosses." Scores of Dutch NSKK men fought and died at Stalingrad as part of the German Sixth Army in 1942-43. In October 1942, the NSKK Todt and the NSKK Speer were merged to become NSKK Transportgruppe Todt; then NSKK Gruppe Speer; and, finally, in 1944, Transportkorps Speer. The Transportkorps Speer and KUK were made part of the NSKK Staffel WBN in the autumn of 1943. Volunteers wore field-grey uniforms with NSKK rank and other insignia, and signed on for one year or for the duration of the war, whichever was shorter. It is conceivable that 8-9000 Dutchmen served in the various branches of the NSKK in total during World War II.
Belgium was attacked by Germany on 10 May 1940, and in little more than two weeks was overrun and occupied. Before this happened, many "fifth column" suspects were arrested and transported by the Belgian police to northern France. The German incursion was rapid, causing widespread panic and confusion. This resulted in 22 of the "fifth columnists" being summarily executed at Abbeville on 20 May. Joris van Severen was among the victims, thus dealing Dinaso a mortal blow. No replacement of his standing could be found. And following the Nazi occupation, the party was deeply divided over how far it should cooperate with the Germans.
The Vlaamsch Nationaal Verbond
The Vlaamsch Nationaal Verbond (VNV - Flemish National Union) emerged as the leading movement regarding collaboration with the Germans, and those wanting to court favours with the Germans had to do so within the framework of this party. Gustave de Clercq assumed the leadership of the party after several Flemish national parties came together in October 1933. In general terms, the party's political goals were not unlike those held by Dinaso, i.e. the creation of a Greater Netherlands embracing all those of Dutch/Flemish stock. The region was to encompass an area from French Flanders in the south to German Friesland in the north. The main difference between the VNV and Dinaso was over religion. The VNV was staunchly Catholic while van Severen was anti-clerical.
Probably the most important part of the VNV was the Dieische Militle (DM), the uniformed militia. It was formed by an amalgamation of the VNV's Grijze Werfbrigade (Grey Defence Brigade) and the DMO from the disbanded Dinaso.
Jef van de Wiele
In 1935, a harmless "cultural" body was founded that aimed for the promotion of better artistic contacts between Flanders and Germany. This small group styled itself the Duitschen-Vlaamsche Arbeidsgemeenschap (German-Flemish Working Community), which was abbreviated to Devlag, the Flemish word for "flag". However, the group's objective was but a smokescreen as its leader, Jef van de Wiele, held the grandiose view of himself as the Führer of a National Socialist Flanders under the benevolent protection of the Germans. This fanatical apostle of Adolf Hitler ensured that the wholesale incorporation of Flanders into the German Reich became Devlag's aim. On 11 May 1941, the German occupation authorities issued an edict stating "all authorized political parties in Flanders must merge with the VNV or face dissolution". The reference to "authorized" meant collaborationist parties, so in effect all pro-Nazi factions in Belgium were now under one umbrella. An exception, which allowed Devlag to escape the net, was made for "cultural" bodies. Although before the war it was only on the fringe of politics, it was now to drop its "cultural" camouflage and emerge as a serious rival to - and even an enemy of - the VNV.
September 1940 witnessed the creation of the equivalent of the German Allgemeine-SS in the city of Antwerp. The founding fathers were two pro-German Flemings, Ward Herman and René Lagrou. They began by enrolling 130 supporters into the "New Order", and by November 1941 the ranks had swollen to 1580 members with a further 4000 "sponsoring members". The corps was originally titled Algemeene Schutscharen Vlaanderen but was more commonly known as the Vlaamsche SS or the SS-Vlaanderen. In September 1941, it reached regimental strength and was then known as 1. SS-Standarte Flandern. In October 1942, with Himmler's policy of bringing all non-German General SS formations together, it became the Germaansche SS in Vlaanderen or Germanic SS in Flanders. Devlag maintained a close relationship with the Flemish SS, and Devlag leader Jef van de Wiele held an honorary commission in its ranks. Both were openly pro-Nazi, advocating much greater German control in Flanders. The VNV's cautious attitude was thus very much at odds with the policy of the Flemish SS.
The NSKK in Belgium
Soon after the occupation of Belgium, the Germans began recruitment, which was fairly successful for the NSKK. The age limits were set at 18 to 45 years. The physical standards for volunteers were lower than those required for the legion or for the Waffen-SS. Recruits could also sign on for a specified period of service, the minimum being 12 months. German sources of the time note 2500 Flemings recruited in 1941, and a further 1500 the following year. The whole of the DM/DMO was virtually absorbed into the NSKK as the NSKK Transportbrigade Flandern. Flemish volunteers were allowed to wear a shield on the left upper arm with the black lion of Flanders on a yellow background within a black frame. Later, in July 1943, the Flemish NSKK volunteers combined with Walloon, Dutch and French NSKK volunteers to form the NSKK Transportgruppe Luftwaffe. Like many other German formations, this went under a variety of designations: NSKK Regiment Luftwaffe, NSKK Transportregiment Luftwaffe, NSKK Gruppe Luftwaffe and NSKK Motorgruppe Luftwaffe.
Recruitment of civilian workers in Flanders had begun practically with the start of the occupation, and if German sources are to be believed it was highly successful. In the autumn of 1941, recruiting started for the defence forces of the Organization Todt (OT) in the so-called Schutzkommando. The OT Schutzkommando took on 4-5000 Flemings to protect its property and doubtless also to keep watch over their compatriots, though service could be in any part of occupied Europe.
A recruiting office was opened in Antwerp (later moved to Brussels) for the Kriegsmarine to recruit Flemings in July 1943. Volunteers had to be between 17 and 45 years of age, and had to sign on for either a period of two years or for the duration of the war. However, as in other occupied countries, private enlistment had certainly taken place before this authorized date. All recruits, whether former members of the Belgian Navy or not, had to go through a 12-week period of training. In November 1943, it was announced that 300 Flemings had enlisted. In all, there may have been about 500 Flemings in the Kriegsmarine, seeing service usually in either E-Boats or U-boats. Although German naval regulations allowed foreign volunteers to wear a shield in their national colours, there is no evidence that any Fleming wore such an emblem in the German Navy.
Freiwilligen Standarte Nordwest
Dutch and Flemish males between the ages of 18 and 25 were encouraged to volunteer in the Standarte Westland, which had been established by the SS in May 1940. Recruiting did not get under way until that autumn, though, when the volunteers were told they were being trained "for police duties" in their respective homelands. The regiment was up to full strength in a matter of weeks due to the large numbers of volunteers who presented themselves for service. Westland was incorporated into the Waffen-SS during the winter of 1940-41. Himmler was encouraged by his success in finding Dutch and Flemish volunteers to raise a second volunteer regiment on 3 April 1941, to be known as the Freiwilligen Standarte Nordwest. It was for young men from Flanders, Holland and also Denmark. But Nordwest shrank to such an extent that it was no longer able to carry on as a regiment, due to the fact that the Flemings, Dutch and Danes were being drawn off into ethnic legions of their own. It was therefore disbanded on 21 September 1941.
The Flemish Legion
The formation of a Flemish Legion, open to men between the ages of 17 and 40, was then announced. In September 1941, it was officially christened the Freiwilligen Legion Flandern, having previously been known variously as the Verbond Flandern, Landesverband Flandern and Bataillon Flandern. Ex-regular soldiers, especially officers and NCOs, were particularly sought after. Those below the age of 23 could sign on for a specified period, the minimum being 12 months, while for other candidates enlistment had to be "for the duration". The unit was sent to the front at Leningrad in November 1941, having been deemed ready for active service, as part of the 2nd SS Motorized Infantry Brigade. It was pulled out of the line after six months' active service at the front in June 1942 after suffering heavy casualties, returning in August 1942. In May 1943, the unit was renamed the 6th SS-Sturmbrigade Langemarck (6th SS Volunteer Assault Brigade Langemarck). The honorary title Langemarck had been conferred on the SS Infantry Regiment Langemarck of the Das Reich Division on 20 April 1942. This regiment now became the cadre around which the Flemish brigade was to be constructed. Throughout Belgium, the SS had by this time no fewer than 23 recruiting offices, but there were still insufficient numbers of volunteers coming forward, and it was only by adding a Finnish SS battalion that the brigade could be brought up to the required strength.
The Walloons transfer to the Waffen-SS
Walloon volunteers who came from Léon Degrelle's Rexist movement were grouped by the German military administration in the 373rd Infantry Battalion and assigned to the army. They fought in this army unit in the Eastern campaign; then, in 1943, an agreement was reached between the supreme command of the Wehrmacht, the head of the General Staff of the army and the Reichsführer-SS that the Walloons should be assigned to the Waffen-SS on 1 June 1943. The Legion Wallonie was then converted into the SS-Sturmbrigade Wallonien. In July 1944, it was reorganized and enlarged to become the 28th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Wallonien.
The division's commander, Léon Degrelle, was the archetypal Nazi foreign volunteer. He spent most of the war on the Russian Front with his legion of Walloon volunteers. In January 1944, the Walloons were cut off in the Cherkassy Pocket, 2000 men out of 56,000 German troops trapped. Degrelle and his men cut their way through Soviet lines to reach safety, though 1300 of them died doing so. Following a period of rest in Germany, the brigade was posted back to Russia, this time to the north at Narva in April 1944. Degrelle and his Walloons put up an heroic defence against heavy odds in the subsequent Battle of Narva, his leadership being so exemplary that he was awarded the Oakleaves to his Knight's Cross by Hitler personally in August 1944. The Führer had earlier remarked to him: "If I had a son I would want him to be like you."
As stated above, in Wallonie the Germans discovered a far more dependable and charismatic collaborator than could be found elsewhere in Flanders: Léon Degrelle. In 1935, he founded a political movement called Christus Rex, popularly known as the Rexist Party. Its fortunes, however, were in steep decline in the months immediately preceding World War II, but the German conquest and occupation provided the catalyst for its revival. The only authorized political party in Wallonie was declared to be the Rexists in May 1941. Rexism was a "one-man show", unlike the VNV, and enjoyed a much narrower base of popular support in Wallonie than the VNV did in Flanders. Rex had its own stormtroopers known as the Formation de Combat.
Among the people of Wallonie, recruitment into the NSKK was a much more attractive proposition than service with the legion. Manpower sources were Rex and another Flemish party, Amisdu Grande Reich Allemand (AGRA - Friends of the Great German Reich), which was founded in 1941 and escaped suppression by claiming it was a non-political party (though the fact that it was the most outspokenly pro-German party in Wallonie probably had more to do with its continued existence). Both parties were rewarded for their efforts by being granted the right to wear their respective party emblems on the NSKK uniform. The NSKK absorbed most of the Brigade Vollante Rex, which became known as NSKK Rex. After merging in July 1943, NSKK Rex and NSKK AGRA formed part of the larger NSKK Motor Group Luftwaffe, and was then known simply as NSKK Wallonie. The minimum period of engagement was for 12 months, but, like their Flemish compatriots, many found themselves eventually drafted into the Waffen-SS. Possibly about 6000 Walloons served in the NSKK.
Degrelles escapes the death sentence
In December 1944, Degrelle and his men were in the Rhine area, the "division" having a strength of 3000 men. Meanwhile, the Belgian Government, having been reinstated by the Allies, sentenced Degrelle to death in absentia. Between January and May 1945, he and his men were again fighting the Russians, this time on German soil. Following the fall of Germany, Degrelle escaped to Spain where he lived until 1994. Asked if he had any regrets about the war, his reply was: "Only that we lost!"
Degrelle was perhaps an exception among the volunteers who staffed the legions, but there is no doubt that the first draft of West European volunteers who fought for the Germans in Russia did so with great enthusiasm, and needed little encouragement to take part in the anti-Bolshevik crusade. The casualties the legions suffered in Russia in late 1941 and early 1942 is perhaps testimony to the old adage that enthusiasm does not compensate for proper training. However, the figures also indicate the level of commitment and bravery displayed by the foreign legions fighting their ideological foe: Legion Niederlande - 80 percent losses; Freikorps Danmark - 78 percent losses; and Legion Norwegen - 50 percent losses. Such enthusiasm would be a defining factor among the West European foreign volunteers fighting for the Third Reich for the rest of the war.
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The people involved in this site feel no sympathy for, or affiliation to, the ideas and ideals of the Third Reich. We wish to clearly disassociate ourselves from all the ideas and themes of the Nazis. We do not want, or intend, to deny any war crime committed by either the Wehrmacht or the
Waffen-SS in any way. However, both the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS are an integral part of German history and within these organizations were soldiers who discharged their duties, with no care or belief for the Nazis, but only because they had been raised to understand that it was their duty to serve the Fatherland. The Fatherland is now a term that is nearly taboo within Germany yet holds high importance in other countries.
Essays and illustrations, both drawn and photographic, that are concerning the Third Reich and showing national markings and/or emblems of the Third Reich are collected and exist on this site only for the purpose of scientific study and for civil education.