The Waffen SS
The Elite Group During the Second World War

By Leonidas Samouilidis, M.D.
Greek-American Review

During the Second World War (or in any other way) countries involved in the war have established fighting groups that were characterized as "Elite" as The Marines (Rangers) of the U.S., the commandos in England, the Sacred Squadron (Hieros Lochos) in Greece etc. In Germany during the Second World War such an elite group were the Waffen-SS.

A brief history of how this elite group evolved and developed throughout the pre-war and war years is of interest.

The revolutionary militia of the National Socialist (Nazi) movement in Germany, in its early years were the Brown Shirked "Sturmabteilungen" (Storm troopers) or SA.

Paul Hausser, "the senior," the man
who ensured that the SS-V became
a professional elite

This party's army was a big organization whose leadership hoped that their men (about 100,000 allowed by the treaty of Versailles) could form a new army of Germany in the future. Adolf Hitler felt a growing need for a small elite group that would be loyal to him personally and provide protection in the cities that he had to travel for political reasons. About 200 men were selected for that reason and became known collectively as the "Schutzstaffein" (Protection Detachments) or SS.

The official history of the SS began January 16, 1929 when Hitler appointed Heinrich Himmler as "Reichsfuhrer" SS (State Chief While Himmler had big plans under his direction the SS became a formation composed of the best physically fit men in the Nazi movement when Hitler became Chancellor in January 30, 1933 he provided the opportunity for a former Reichwehr (German Army of the Weimar Republic) senior NCO Josef (Sepp) Dietrich to resume a military career. On March 17, 1933 Dietrich collected 117 reliable young men into a body guard for Hitler. This was the origin of what became the "Leibstan darte" (Body Guard) Adolph Hitler Regiment (Briefly SS-LAH).

In the meantime the SA had grown to about 2 to 3 million men under the leadership of Ernst Rohm and were seeking to exercise some sort of power. The tensions increased till the summer of 1934 when Hitler, after seeing a threat, decided to eliminate the SA or at least diminish their power. The event occurred June 20, 1934 and is known in history as the "Night of the long knives" Thence the SS began to grow rapidly. "Politisches Bereitschaften (Political Readiness) detachments were set up in major cities to act in the event of a communist strike. In October 1, 1934 the term "SS-Verfugungstruppen" (Special Use Troops) or briefly SS-V replaced the former Political Readiness Label. Eventually this group was organized by battalions in 1935 and the next year became formalized into the SS-V Regiments "Deutschland" and "Germania." The already existing SS-LAH was considered related to the SS-V but retained separate status. The SS-V troops were represented in the military occupations of the Rheinland, Sudetenland, Austria (Anschluss) and Czechoslovakia. In the Polish campaign of September 1, 1939 ( beginning of the second World War) these troops distinguished themselves in action. By the end of the war in May 1945 the Waffen-SS consisted of 33 divisions (about 1 million men) and had developed the reputation of toughness in battle and were recognized as an elite of the German Army (Wehrmacht). The army was somewhat hesitant of the development of the Waffen-SS particularly of the SS-LAH whose leader Dietrich was a tough and opinionated man. A rivalry was created between the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrnacht (Army High Command) and Reichsfuhrer Himmler. Hitler managed to handle successfully this rivalry. Never less the antipathy of the army toward the Waffen-SS remained.

In spite of that, there have been numerous statements of positive nature, from army higher officers for the Waffen-SS. Hermann Goring the Luftwaffe (Air force) chief made a statement to the effect that only the SS-Totenkopf (Death head) or SS-T division had the greatest value in the Russian campaign. Field Marshall Eric von Manstein made a similar statement about the same group. General Heinz Gttderian (The inventor of the Blitzkreig) confirmed that seeing the Waffen SS in battle one realized that they fought according to their motto "Unsere Ehre Heisst Treue" (Our honor is our loyalty.) Also many positive evaluations were made by Wehrmacht commanders of their Waffen SS Subordinates, recommending them for military decorations.

In the Blitzkreig against Poland the SS-V received its baptism of fire. However the OKW expressed negative views to the effect that Waffen-SS leaders on the other hand argued that their troops were force to serve in strange units with difficult assignments and inadequate support from the army. It was generally believed that Waffen-SS casualties were much higher than army casualties. This was invalidated by a statistical study made in 1971 by an official German agency which showed that Waffen-SS' casualties in battle were about 27% whereas Wehmacht were 30%. In all these past debates, Hitler did not want to break his relationship with his generals so he gave the Wehmacht favorable treatments. He also thought that this war would not last long and that the Waffen-SS would return after the war to the original role assigned to them of "State of Police." Never less, the Waffen-SS fought alongside the Wehmacht and dressed in the standard field gray uniform of the army. But they were Distinguished from their comrades in army by their SS insignia and their belt buckle which proudly inscribed their motto. The term Waffen-SS at the beginning of the war was unknown. By 1940 the Waffen-SS had become the official designation of the combat units of the SS. Himmler continued to find ways to have armed men under his control. He sought the cooperation of Theodore Eicke who was general inspector of the concentration camp system since 1936, Thus another division was formed the "Totenkopf division SS" (SS-T) However the standards of these men were lower than those of the SS-LAH and the other divisions.

Immediately after the cease fire of the campaign in Poland the combat elements of the Waffen-SS were withdrawn to Germany for reorganization. Thus the two major formations SS-V and SS-LAH remained and other important formations were made the SS-T, the SS- polizeidivision and the SS-Junkerschule. Also "Der Fuhrer" composed mostly of Austrians who joined after the "Anschluss" Most of these were reinforced with tanks and became "Panzer divisions." The general attitudes of the Army commanders about these formations of the Waffen-SS remained less than cordial. They expected these divisions to be composed of Nazi street brawlers of the type that made the ranks of SA. They were therefore surprised and often pleased to find that they had given command of well disciplined formations whose soldiers made excellent impressions. They realized that the Waffen-SS were a different organization from other SS (Gestapo etc) and notably from the "Eisatzdruppen" (task groups) that were established largely for murderous actions at the Russian front, to eliminate Slavs, Jews subhumans and other undesirables. Waffen-SS were tarred on occasion but not justly; on the whole they conducted themselves as exceptionally brave and skillful soldiers.

The Western campaign (Fall Gelb or Case Yelloe) of 1940 was a milestone in the development of the Waffen-SS.

For the first time they fought in divisional formations under the command of their own officers and their performance assured them a permanent place as the fourth branch of the Wehrmacht. The other three being the Heer (infantry) Airforce and Navy.

The Waffen-SS in the Netherland campaign (May 10, 1940) were represented by the SS-LAH led by Dietrich and the SS-V led by General Paul Hausser. After the capitulation of the Dutch army these Waffen-SS formations moved south to take part in the French front Moving forward toward Belgium on May 19,1940 the SS-T under Theodore Eicke went to assist the Wehrmacht and suffered the first serious casualties at the battle of Arras. The British had launched a relatively weak counter attack that shook the Germans considerably. The continued advance of the German army toward Dunkirk involved all three Waffen-SS divisions and more severe casualties were reported till the final withdrawal of the British Expeditionary force from Dunkirk.

Next, the German plan for "Fall Rot" (Case Red) was issued by headquarters on May 31, 1940. Its aim was to annihilate the Allied Force still remaining in France as soon as possible. The Waffen-SS prepared for their role in Fall Rot. In order to fill the gaps caused by their battle losses, they sent for personnel replacements from Germany. In this campaign they followed Ewald von Kleist's panzer-gruppe in the advance through the heart of France. Exception was the SS-LAH that managed to be at the head of the advance-often without any authority other then Sepp Dietrich's. On June 14, 1940 Paris fell and June 25, 1940 the cease fire went into effect.

On July 19, 1940, when the Fuhrer spoke to the Reichstag, he Said that "within the framework of the German Armies, fought the valiant divisions of the Waffen-SS." This was an important acknowledgment coming from the highest leader of the Reich.

The intensive recruiting campaign launched by the Waffen-SS after the defeat of Poland continued throughout the spring and summer of 1940. Gottlob Berger was named by Himmler chief recruiter. But the seemingly limitless expansion of the Waffen-SS and the subsequent drain on the Wehrmacht's manpower, led to another conflict between the Military Authorities and the Waffen-SS high command. Thus one of the techniques that -Himmler used to gain recruits was to focus in areas outside the Reich, a source of manpower not subject to Wehrmacht control. As early as 1938, Himmler had authorized the acceptance of qualified "Germanics" in the Waffen-SS. These came mostly as volunteers from Denmark, Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands, and were not subject to the rigid screenings the Germans had. By the end of the Western campaign, the Waffen-SS was receiving significant increments of foreign personnel. Between the campaigns of West and East (Russia) major changes were being brought in the organization and structure of the Waffen-SS, most of them to accommodate Himmler in having control over them, against the army. The details of these changes are beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, the veteran formations of the Waffen-SS, namely SS-T, SS-LAH, and SS-Das Reich remained in France to train for what was supposed to be the forthcoming invasion of England under Operation Sea Lion. However on December 18, 1940 Hitler issued his directive for Fall Barbarossa, which was to crush the Soviet Union in a rapid campaign before the invasion of England. So when the first units of the Waffen­SS finally received the marching orders in April 4, 1941, they moved not against England or Russia, but against Yugoslavia and Greece. Waffen-SS Division Das Reich thrust toward Belgrade. Charge of the Greek campaign was Field Marshall Wilhelm List... The Waffen -SS participated with SS-LAH under Dietrich. At this point an appropriate parenthesis is indicated to show the valiant Greek resistance to the German attack which started 5:15 A.M. April 6th 1941. The attack (Operation Marita) began through the Metaxas Line, a series of concrete pillboxes and fieldworks stretched along the Bulgarian border. The German attack was defended without any major successes for the Germans, for three days when the Yugoslavian army capitulated and the Germans invaded from the border of Yugoslavia, that created a major danger for the Greek Armies in Macedonia and Albania to be cut apart. Then the order came from the Greek Army Command to Constantine Bakopoulos leader of that army group to surrender.

The German Military Command admitted that for the first time they saw enemy troops fighting with intact spirit and unusual determination and sacrifice. For the first time they saw enemies defying the frightening German Military machine and fight with bayonets, the overwhelming powers with such gallantry and heroism. All these astounded them. They realized that the operation against Greece was not going to be as easy as they thought. They did not want to believe that these fortifications were defended by a relatively small number of soldiers. They admired the perfection of the Greek fortifications and admitted that nowhere in Europe have they found such a defensive position and such an heroic army. The German commander, talking to General Panayotis Dedes, expressed whole­heartedly his admiration. In showing his report he was describing that the fortified Greek locations

Joseph "Sepp" Dietrich was one of the
most experienced tank veteran in the
German military

were superior to the Maginot line, and equal to the Siegfried line. An officer of the Luftwaffe told general Dedes that "the Greek army was the first one not to panic under the Stuka dive bombers and concluded by saying: "Your soldiers instead of fleeing with panic as it was in Poland and France, were shooting at us from their positions." It is also told that the Waffen-SS soldiers, after their victory, presented a guard honoring the valiant Greek soldiers.

On April 10, 1941 the SS-LAH captured the Klidi Pass which meant that now the gateway to south Greece was practically open. From that time on, operations took more or less the form of delaying techniques so that the bulk of the British Expeditionary Force would be able to gradually board ships and evacuate Greece. By April 18, 1941 all fronts, including the victorious Albanian front that so successfully fought the Italians for six months, fell back.

On April 21, 1941 general George Tsolakoglou, against orders from the high command, capitulated to Sepp Dietrich by signing the papers in Larissa. This capitulation with the German forces was partly due to the understanding with general List, that Italian forces should not be allowed south across the border into Greece and the Greek army would not surrender to them. Some men of the SS-LAH forcefully tried to stop the Italians from moving further. This was a humiliating blow to Benito Mussolini who had been desperate to beat the Greeks before the German intervention.

He warned, immediately, the German Military Attache in Rome that he would observe the ceasefire only if the Greeks came to terms with the Italians too. Otherwise the perfidious Greeks would later boast-as they indeed did-that they had not been beaten by the Italians. With reluctance, Hitler decided to help Mussolini once again, so a second surrender was signed up in Salonica on April 23,1941 that included the Italians. Thus ended the glorious Greek campaign for the Waffen-SS and the Greek army.

The Waffen-SS was subsequently sent to Prague to be refitted for the next undertaking -the invasion of the Soviet Union. The massive array of the military might of the Wehrmacht made the formations of the Waffen-SS appear lost. The SS-LAH, and Wiking division (Mostly Germanic,) were assigned to Army Group South. The SS-Ds- Rich with Army group Center and the SS­Twith Army Group North. All the Waffen­SS formations were under Army Command and saw action within the first few days of the campaign. Prior to the impending Russian campaign, the indoctrination of the Waffen-SS became intensified regarding that war as a Holy Crusade against Bolshevism and the Subhumans (Untermensch.) Although Waffen-SS divisions fought in every theater, except with the Afrika Korps, it was the East that they fought the hardest, longest and most fanatically, and it was there that the Elite formations developed fully that blend of determination and ruthlessness which became their distinct military style. Himmler was constantly reiterating the theme of racial struggle in his speeches to the officers of the Waffen-SS. Many officers of the fighting troops claim that they did not take the statements seriously and regarded him as a rather comical figure out of touch with reality. For the soldiers of the Waffen-SS, the racial struggle did not take the form it did for other SS men who ran extermination camps or staffed Einsatzgruppen. Two important authorities of the Waffen-SS, Paul Hausser and Felix Steiner were both involved in World War I and after the war they joined the Reichswehr. With the ascent of Nazism they first joined the SA and eventually the Waffen-SS. In their curriculum they emphasized tactical training and leadership principles with a minimal portion devoted to political indoctrination. They emphasized initiative over blind obedience.

Since it has been obvious from wars that soldiers find it easier to kill or risk being killed when they are fighting an enemy they hate, all nations have attempted, in one way or another, to instill in their troops a picture of the enemy sufficiently repugnant or evil to inspire that hatred. For the Waffen-SS it was two things: The image of the enemy as subhuman and as being ideologically opposite. Another example of this closer to home was the attitude of American Marines fighting the Japanese enemies during World War II in the Pacific. The Marines did not consider that they were killing their equals, but rather that they were wiping out dirty animals (as per Andrew A. Rooney: The fortunes of War). Or, a more recent example would be men in the Arab world thinking that they are fighting the infidels in the name of Islam. Thus, if Americans raised in an allegedly free society would react thus toward the Japanese, we could imagine how the Waffen-SS (and Germans in general) would react as products of a systematic racial arid political indoctrination in a totalitarian system. While all the Waffen-SS formations in Russia were distinguishing themselves in action, one formation the "Kampfgruppe" suffered an ignominious defeat at the hands of the Red Army. That defeat was made even more distressing to Himmler when it was realized that the soldiers missing had been taken prisoners despite Himmler's repeated injunctions that the Waffen-SS must fight to death or kill themselves rather than surrender. In the other fronts the Waffen-SS scored one impressive victory after another.

A new unconventional approach to war appeared in the Russian Front, whereby both sides ignored the usual convention of war fare. For example, killing and brutality toward prisoners, mutilation of bodies, and barbarism were practiced by German Army and Waffen-SS as well as the Red Army. Thus Hermann Goring, while confronting Russian general Rudenko chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, said that the Russians had no right to judge the Germans or accuse them of atrocities.

At the outbreak of World War II, most members of the Waffen-SS were Germans; as the war years progressed foreigners who joined the Waffen-SS outnumbered native Germans. The largest group of non-German SS men were Eastern Europeans. These people enlisted mostly for the freedom and independence of their countries and hoped that the Germans would grant some sort of autonomy to their homelands after the war, mostly away from the possible Russian domination The Western Europeans who joined the Waffen-SS had mostly in their minds, saving Europe from Bolshevism.

Felix Steiner, the innovator who brought his
tactical insights to the SS-V and Waffen-SS.
He later embraced the Germanic volunteer
movement, and helped to make it a success

Others were motivated by an adventurous desire, better food, the prestige of the SS uniform, or to avoid compulsory labor service. Few had criminal records. With the turn in the tide of the war in 1943, these people felt caught in between. Their countries of origin would consider them traitors, and their compromising solution was to strengthen their attitudes in combat and fight even more bravely. It was one of the ironies of the war that at the end within the encircled German capital, the last defenders of the entombed Father included Danes and Norwegians of the Waffen-SS division "Nordland," a group of French from the division "Charlemagne" and a group of Latvian Waffen­SS.

The gradual deterioration of the Waffen-SS as to their purity for Aryanism ended up in January 1944 by recruiting Moslem divisions from Bosnia the "Handscar" (form of Turkish sword). However the Moslems did not show any efficiency or reliability. According to Himmler, eight weeks of SS training for the Moslems only taught them not to steal from one another! Having openly compromised its racial exclusiveness by the creation of the "Handschar" division, the Waffen-SS no longer had any good reason for denying itself a share in the Slavic manpower pool. Since then, Himmler in his speeches made only very few tentative remarks about the "Jewish-Bolshevik" enemy, and not a word about "Asiatic Hordes" and "Slavic subhumans." It is interesting to note that an attempt to form a Waffen-SS "free Corps" by selecting British prisoners of war was hardly successful. The enlargement of the Waffen-SS with foreigners did not lead to a corresponding increase in its military capabilities. It was rather the opposite. Only the West European group-numerically the smallest-fought consistently well and were practically indistinguishable in quality from native Germans. Most of the non­Germanic volunteers and conscripts were thought as traitors in their own countries, and after the and of the war they were punished either by execution or imprisonment. As the war progressed, more Waffen-SS divisions were formed. Some of which, like the "Hohenstauffen" and "Frundsberg" consisted of youth about 16 years old. Hitler commented that Germany's youth fights magnificently and with incredible bravery, and more fanatically than their older comrades. By the middle of 1943 the Germans were in all fronts on the defensive as the progress of the war turned in favor of the allies. Then it was Hitler's intent to conduct an active defense by counterattacks with the object of wresting the initiative from the allies. Despite Hitler's best efforts, the constantly deteriorating military situation made it impossible to maneuver the troops properly. Thus the Waffen-SS divisions were shuttled from one danger spot to another, with only an occasional brief rest for refitting. For example the Waffen-SS-LAH made the trip between West and East seven times in two years. In the final analysis the contribution of the Waffen-SS till the end of the war was to be able to delay the allied advances.

The retreat of the German armies in all fronts to the final collapse of the Third Reich, are very well known from Historical documents and they do not need any mention here. Nevertheless there were specific spots where the Waffen­SS till the end of the war had the chance to show their valor in battle. Few examples ace quoted here: "In August 7, 1944 the newly reestablished SS Panzer Divisions "Wiking" and "Totenkopf" launched a counterattack which threw the Russians out of Warsaw and back across the Vistula River. The Russians were held back for two months. That same night of August a formidable force of several SS Panzer divisions under the command of General Paul Hausser launched an heroic assault against the American troops that was checked by a furious Allied air attack. The newly refitted SS Panzer divisions "SS-LAW "Das Reich" "Hohen­stauffen" and "Hitler Jugend" were organized into the 6th SS Panzer Army.

Under Sepp Dietrich and on December 16,1944 they launched operation "Wacht am Rhein" known as "the Battle of the bulge" in Ardennes aiming at capturing the port of Antwerp. In the early stages of the assault the Waffen-SS made considerable gains. They were assisted from the south by Hasso von Manteuffel's 5th Panzer Army. In the long run this battle failed and ended by mid January 1945.

The final participation of the Waffen­SS worth mentioning is the battle for the defense of Berlin. The Soviet push on Berlin started April 16, 1945. The valiant general of the Waffen-SS Felix Steiner had the honor to be in charge of the few Panzer divisions that were left, of the huge structure of the Waffen-SS. During the years of defeat, Hitler's latent and growing paranoia took over and he started to mistrust even more his generals, particularly after the assassination attempt undertaken by colonel Count. Glaus von Stauffenberg by putting a bomb in Hitler's Headquarters at Rastenburg "Wolf's Lair" on July 20, 1944.

Then his trust turned more to the Waffen-SS generals. Hitler, from his bunker at the last days of Berlin, would give irrelevant orders to his Waffen-SS generals which were disobeyed because of their absurdity. Finally the Fuhrer lost trust in his last trusted general of the Waffen-SS Felix Steiner. That made Hitler realize that it was the end and thus he committed suicide. During his outbursts at the Bunker he needed only to have gone a little out of his way to see that he had not been really betrayed by the Waffen-SS. As was mentioned before the divisions "Nordland" and "Charlemagne" were there fighting to the end. Now the crucial question is whether the Waffen-SS were involved in atrocities performed by other branches of the SS and to what degree. Loathed by many as a criminal organization yet also respected for the esprit du corps, resolve and valor of its units and individuals, the Waffen-SS was a highly complex multifaceted phenomenon unique among the military organizations of the world. The history of the Waffen-SS began to be recorded before the 2nd world war and continued during the war. Many accounts were biased as they were written by pro-Nazi sources or wartime enemies. The debate continued and to a lesser degree is still going on now. However the controversy contributed too many incorrect concepts being taken into historiography as accepted truths.

The military tribunal at Nuremberg accepted the view that the Waffen-SS were part of the criminal organization of the SS and proceeded along these lines of thinking. The defenders argued that Waffen-SS was a purely military organization no different from any other component of the Wehrmacht and had no connection with crimes committed by other branches of the SS, and the only similarity was that of the common original title.

After the tribunal in Nuremberg there came the years of silence whereby members of the Waffen-SS were too ashamed or intimidated to raise any issues. Then, when war crimes etc passed into memory and the passions were somewhat subdued, leading Waffen-SS veterans decided that the time was ripe to remove the stigma on their honor. They started to organize under the efforts of Otto Kumm (prior leader of Germania Deutschland and Prinz Eugen) and others, grew in 1950 the "Hilfsgemeinschaft auf Gegenseitigkeit der Waffen-SS" or HIAG, (Mutual Aid Society of the Waffen-SS). In late 1953 a number of Waffen-SS men were released from Allied captivity. Among them was Kurt Meyer former commander of the Panzer division "Hitler Jugend" who became the chief spokesman for HIAG. In 1957 Meyer, speaking before 8,000 former Waffen-SS men in Karlberg, Bavaria claimed that Waffen-SS troops did not commit any collective crimes except few isolated incidents, like the firadour massacre in France, which was as a reprisal for the killing of Waffen-SS officers by French marquis (Part of the French resistance). He also condemned the theory of "collective guilt" established at Nuremberg.

He also said that the charge that units belonging to the divisions of the Waffen­SS were assigned to carry out extermination operations is a deception designed to defame the group.

Yet, contrary to Hausser's and Steiner's original conception Reichsfuhrer SS Himmler assigned numerous units of Waffen-SS to purposes other than combat. These included Murderous Eisatzgruppen and concentration camp guards. Waffen-SS veterans point out that they themselves had no say in these other men being assigned to their group and many cases had no idea that they were linked to such groups. To confuse the issue even more we note that there were varying degrees of personnel exchange between the murderous groups and combat units. The controversy still goes on. Much depends on one's definition of the term Waffen-SS. The accusers stress the fact that the Waffen-SS was part of the SS system and therefore shared their activity and responsibility of crimes and associated guilt. The defenders claim that the Waffen-SS was only a small part of the huge and complex SS system and were only concerned with military and combat issues. They do not deny that isolated instances of atrocities may have occurred by the Waffen­SS particularly in the Russian front. But someone could see as war crimes the daily bombing of the Hamburg civilian population by the Allied Airforce, or the dropping of the atom bomb in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Also the barbarism the British used against EOKA fighters in Cyprus in the mid 60's.

An important case to mention is the Oskar Dirlewanger and his brigade. It consisted of convicted poachers at first and ended up using the scum of the earth. Understandably these men would commit murder and other atrocities without any difficulty. At the Nuremberg trials it was debated whether the Dirlewanger group was directly connected with the Waffen-SS or not. The most notorious crimes the brigade committed were during the suppression of the 1944 Warsaw uprising. Finally Dirlewanger was wounded in February 1945 and was arrested for these crimes. He died June 7, 1945 of "unspecified causes." The issue of Waffen-SS criminality has been clouded by propaganda which included many Germans who tended to identify the Waffen-SS with the commission of war crimes. One of these was field Marshall Erwin Rommel (the famous "desert fox".) An episode with his son Manfred as described by him is as follows (See Rommel papers).

"So one day I decided to opt for the Waffen-SS and told my father of my decision in order to get his consent. He reacted strongly. 'That's out of the question,' he said 'You'll join the same force as I've served in for over thirty years.' When I argued the point with him he perfectly well recognized the quality of the SS troops, under no circumstances did he want me to be under the command of a man (Himmler) who, according to his information was carrying out mass murders."

One misconception is that Waffen-SS were political soldiers indoctrinated in Nazi ideology. However political indoctrination was a very minor part in the Waffen-SS training. It was much more prevalent in Youth Groups, the majority of which served in the Wehrmacht. Also the Wehrmacht consisted mostly of Ethnic Germans whereas about 33 to 50% of Waffen-SS consisted of Germanics and other foreigners who were not raised under any Nazi indoctrination. Thus it cannot realistically be said that the Waffen-SS was characterized as being a group of Nazi fanatics than the soldiers of the German Army. When we talk about criminality and atrocities connected with combat areas of the Waffen-SS it is interesting to note that separate crimes were found for each of the eight first Waffen-SS divisions. These incidents have sometimes received little study but are taken at face value and their few particulars are repeated in countless works that rehash one another.

It is important to realize that most cases resulted from previous atrocities committed in violation of the laws and customs of war. For example, when captain Fritz Knochlein was condemned for the massacre of British prisoners at LeParadis, during the Western campaign in 1940, later evidence showed that he had simply reacted to earlier British crimes. Controversially speaking, Knochlein was found later not to be such an honorable officer.

As informative pieces I would like to mention few other alleged atrocities performed by the Waffen-SS: Malmedy massacre at the Ardennes by the 1st Panzer SS division, Oradoqr in France by the 2nd SS Panzer division, LeParadis in France by the 3rd SS Panzer division, Larissa in Greece by the 4th SS Panzer division, murder of 600 Galician Jews after Barbarossa by the 5th SS Polizel division, destruction of Hovaniemi, Finland by the 6th Mountain SS division.

It is safe to assume that most Waffen­SS war atrocities were due to reprisals after guerilla activities, as for example the destruction of Distomo in Sterea Ellada, Greece, in the spring of 1944 followed an attack by guerillas, who in their turn claimed that the Germans were killing whomever they found in their way. It is worth remembering that before and during the Second World War reprisals involving the civilian population in occupied lands were tolerated as a last resort to subdue the enemy, therefore they were not considered illegal. Only the nature and the degree of the reprisal should be taken under consideration in other words if it was appropriate to the crime or not. In most cases the reprisal was probably exaggerated. It was only in 1949 at the revision of the Geneva Convention that this was changed and acts like reprisals etc became prohibited. Thus, then, not every killing of a civilian by men of the Waffen-SS was a crime. However true massacres such as the executions at the razing of Lidice in Czechoslovakia in the wake of Reinhard Heydrich's assassination (an incident perpetrated not by the Waffen-SS but by the Gestapo, German and Czech police units) were never allowed under International Law.

In the East, generally, the Waffen­SS had to face partisan activity which traditionally is of cruel nature. People in Yugoslavia used the concept of "Ethnic cleansing" thus the Germans got involved in a style of warfare that existed there for centuries before and has been continuing until very recently if there is a war. The Waffen-SS had a substantial proportion of its units involved in anti-partisan warfare not only in Southern and Eastern Europe but in the Soviet Union, Italy and elsewhere. So it is within the realm of anti partisan operations that the bulk of Waffen-SS atrocities can be found. The conclusions that I personally draw out of this expensive study are these: All wars no matter how noble are climbing to be they involve atrocities and cruel acts.

There is no doubt that the Waffen-SS were participating in combat atrocities; however they cannot be labeled as a criminal organization.

The justification that most atrocities were performed as reactionary acts to other atrocities by the enemy does not hold water. Two wrongs do not make it right, and one evil does not justify another evil. The Waffen-SS were really honorable soldiers and they deserve the designation of Germany's Elite troops.

(Posting date 12 April 2007)

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