Degrelle: “We Dreamed Of Something Marvelous”
Degrelle was a charismatic Belgian
political leader during the 1930s,
a legendary combat hero duirng the Second
World War, and a prolific author.
In the wake of Germany’s 1941 attack against the
Soviet Union, he joined what he and
many millions of others regarded
as a pan-European crusade. In Belgium, he helped
raise a volunteer battalion
of fellow French-speaking Walloons to ensure a place of honor
for his country
in the “new Europe.” He rose through the ranks to become commander
of the unit that finally came to be known as the 28th SS Division “Wallonie.” During the
course of his three and a half years of combat, Degrelle was wounded
seven times and earned 22 military decorations.
By Leon Degrelle
Before the outbreak of the Second World
War, Leon Degrelle was already known as the
leader of the anti-Establishment
Rexist party in Belgium, and as Europe’s youngest and
political figure. During the war he became known across the continent for
charismatic leadership and courage in combat on the Eastern Front. Of him Hitler
reportedly said: “If I were to have a son, I would want him to be like Degrelle.”
His life began in 1906 in Bouillon,
a small town in the Belgian Ardennes. As a student
at the University of Louvain,
he earned a doctorate in law. His keen interests were
and included political science, art, archeology and Thomistic philosophy.
In his student days he traveled in Latin America, the United States and Canada.
He visited North Africa, the Middle East and, of course, much of Europe.
His natural gifts as a leader were apparent early on. Imbued with a
strong Christian ethos,
he sought to win support for his vision of a
more just and noble social-political order
dedicated to the best long-term interests
of the people. While still in his twenties, he was
reaching out to people
in many articles and several books he wrote, through a weekly
he ran, and in numerous speeches. Mussolini invited him to Rome, Churchill
with him in London, and Hitler received him in Berlin.
Although often provocative and controversial, people read what he wrote and listened
to what he had to say because he expressed himself with clarity, passion and obvious
sincerity, and because he dealt with real concerns and issues. In a few short years he
won a large measure of popular backing. On May 24, 1936, his Rex movement scored
a remarkable electoral breakthrough. In a startling rebuke of the Establishment
parties, it won 11.5 percent of the national vote.
As tensions mounted in 1939, Degrelle sought to counter the drift into
conflict. In September Britain and France declared war on
Germany. Events were to quickly
prove that the leaders in London and
Paris had badly miscalculated. Within a year the
swastika flag flew from the
North Pole to the shores of Greece and the border with Spain.
continued between Britain and Germany, the Soviet leaders prepared to seize the
opportunity and strike westwards. But Hitler beat them to it. On June 22, 1941, German
and allied forces struck against the Soviet Union. It was soon clear to everyone that the
titanic struggle could end only in victory for either Hitler or Stalin.
With an awareness that this great
clash would determine the long-term future of their native
countries and of
the West, thousands of young men across Europe pledged their lives
a better future in a united Europe, and volunteered for combat against the Soviets.
They joined the ranks of the Waffen SS – the military and
ideological shock troops of the
new Europe. This first-ever truly European armed
force would grow to nearly a million men.
About 400,000, a minority of
the total, were Germans from the Reich. Most of those
who will fill the scores
of Waffen SS divisions -- including Degrelle and the other
Wallonie volunteers from Belgium’s French-speaking region
were Europeans from outside of Germany.
These hundreds of thousands of volunteers, and their leaders, understood that after the
war this pan-European brotherhood in arms would be the social and political foundation
of a new continental order that would transcend the petty national rivalries of the past.
All SS men fought the same struggle. All became comrades in arms. And all shared
the same vision of the future.
For understandable reasons, the military and political achievements of
Waffen SS are not well known today, and even less properly appreciated.
Leon Degrelle is one of its most famous soldiers. After joining
as a private he quickly rose
in rank due to his exceptional courage
and proven leadership at the front. He engaged in
dozens of hand-to-hand combat
actions. He was wounded on numerous occasions.
His many decorations
for outstanding service and valor included the highest honors: the
Cross (Ritterkreuz) of the Iron Cross, the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross, and
the Gold German Cross in Gold. He was among the last to fight on the Eastern Front.
At the end of the war he escaped surrender and certain death in Allied captivity with a
daring and perilous flight of some 1500 miles from Norway to Spain. He was critically wounded
when his plane crash-landed on a Spanish beach. But once again, he survived. In the
life he built in Spanish exile, he dedicated his efforts, above all,
to keeping faith with his
wartime comrades, both living and dead, and in passing
on to future generations the
story of their epic struggle and vision.
-- The Publisher
I am asked to talk to you about the great unknown
of World War Two: the Waffen SS.
It is somewhat amazing that this organization,
which was both political and military, and
which united a million fighting
volunteers during the war, should still be largely ignored.
Why? Why is it that the official record still distorts or virtually ignores this
of volunteers? An army that was at the vortex of the most
gigantic struggle, affecting the
entire world. The answer may well be
found in the fact that the most striking feature of the
Waffen SS was
that it was composed of volunteers from some thirty different countries.
What cause brought them together, and why did they volunteer their lives?
Was it a German phenomenon? At the beginning,
yes. Initially, the Waffen SS amounted
to fewer than two hundred members. It
grew steadily until 1940 when it evolved into a
second phase, the Germanic
Waffen SS. In addition to men from the German Reich,
and ethnic Germans from across Europe enlisted.
Then, in 1941 -- during the great clash with the Soviet Union -- arose the European
Young men from the most distant countries fought together
on the Eastern Front.
Few knew anything about the Waffen SS during the years
preceding the war.
The Germans themselves took some time to recognize
its distinctive character.
rose to power democratically, winning at the ballot box. He ran electoral campaigns
like any other politician. He addressed meetings and advertised on billboards, and his speeches
attracted capacity audiences. More and more people liked what he had to say, and
larger numbers elected members of his party to parliament. Hitler
did not come to power
by force, but was duly elected by the people and duly
installed as Chancellor by the
President of Germany, Field Marshal von
Hindenburg. His government was legitimate
and democratic. In fact, only two
of his followers were included in his first Cabinet.
During these election campaigns Hitler faced formidable enemies. Those who held power
had no qualms about tampering with the electoral process. He had to face the
Weimar-regime Establishment and its well-financed left-wing and liberal parties, as well
as the highly organized bloc of six million Communist Party members. Only through the
most fearless and relentless struggle to convince people to vote for him, was Hitler
to obtain a democratic majority.
In those days the Waffen SS was not even a factor. There was, of course,
“Stormtroopers,” with some three million men. They were rank
and file members of the
National Socialist Party, but certainly not
an army. Their main function was to protect
party candidates from Communist
violence. And the violence was murderous indeed.
More than five hundred
National Socialists were murdered by the Communists, and
thousands were grievously
injured. The SA was a volunteer, non-governmental organization,
and as soon
as Hitler rose to power he could no longer avail himself of its help.
Hitler had to work within the system through which he had come
to office. He came to
power with major disadvantages. He had to contend
with an entrenched bureaucracy
appointed by the old regime. In fact, when the
war broke out in 1939, 70 percent of the
German bureaucrats in place
had been appointed by the old regime, and did not belong
to Hitler’s party.
He could not count on the support of the Church hierarchy. Both big
and the Communist Party were totally hostile to his program. On top of all this,
extreme poverty existed, and six million workers were unemployed. Never before had
so many people in a European country been out of work.
The three million SA party members are not in the government. They voted
win elections, but they could not supplant the entrenched
bureaucracy in the government.
The SA also was unable to exert influence on
the army, because the top brass,
fearful of competition, was hostile
This hostility reached
such a point that Hitler was faced with a wrenching dilemma.
What to do with
the millions of followers who helped him to power?
He could not abandon
The army was a highly
organized power structure. Although only numbering 100,000,
by the Treaty of Versailles, it exerted great influence in the affairs of state.
President of Germany was Field Marshal von Hindenburg. The army was
privileged caste. Almost all the officers belonged to the upper classes of society.
It was impossible for Hitler to take on the powerful army frontally.
Hitler had been elected
democratically, and he could not do what Stalin did:
to have firing squads execute the
entire military establishment. Stalin
killed thirty thousand high ranking officers. That was
way to make room for his own trusted commissars. Such drastic methods could
happen in Germany, and unlike Stalin, Hitler was surrounded by international enemies.
His election had provoked international rage. He had gone to the voters
the intermediary of the Establishment parties. His
party platform included an appeal for
racial integrity in Germany, as well as
a return of power to the people. Such
tenets so infuriated world Jewry
that in 1933 it officially declared war on Germany.
Contrary to what one is told, Hitler had limited power and was quite alone. How this man
ever survived these early years defies comprehension. Only the fact that he was an
exceptional genius explains his survival against all odds. Abroad and at
home Hitler had to bend over backwards just to demonstrate his good will.
But despite all his efforts Hitler was gradually being driven into
a corner. The feud between
the SA and the army was coming to a head. His old
comrade, Ernst Röhm, Chief of
the SA, wanted to follow Stalin’s
example and physically eliminate the army brass. The
in the death of Röhm, either by suicide or summary killing, and of
of his assistants, with the army picking up the pieces and putting the SA back in its place.
At this time the only SS men in Germany were in Chancellor Hitler’s
one hundred eighty in all. They were young men of exceptional
qualities, but without any
political role. Their duties consisted of guarding
the Chancellery and presenting
arms to visiting dignitaries.
It was from this miniscule group that a few
years later would spring an army of a million
soldiers. An army of unprecedented
valor extending its call throughout Europe.
After Hitler was compelled to acknowledge the superiority of the army, he realized that
the brass would never support his revolutionary social programs. It was an army of aristocrats.
Hitler was a man of the people, a man who succeeded in wiping out unemployment,
feat unsurpassed to this day. Within two years he gave work to six million
got rid of rampant poverty. In five years the German worker
doubled his income without
inflation. Hundreds of thousands of beautiful homes
were built for workers at minimal
cost. Each home had a garden to grow
flowers and vegetables. All the factories were
provided with sport fields,
swimming pools, and decent and attractive work areas.
For the first time, German workers had paid vacations. The Communists and capitalists
had never offered paid vacations; this was Hitler's creation. He organized the famous
“Strength Through Joy” programs, which meant that workers could, at
affordable prices, board passenger ships and visit scenic foreign lands.
All these social improvements did not please the establishment. Big business
and international bankers were worried. But Hitler stood up to them.
make profits, but only if people were paid decently and
allowed to live and work
in dignity. People, not profits, came first.
This was only one of Hitler’s reforms.
He initiated hundreds of others. He literally rebuilt
Germany. In a
few years more than five thousand miles of freeways were built. For the
the affordable Volkswagen was created. Any worker could get this car for payment
over time of five marks a week. It was unprecedented. Thanks to the freeways, workers
for the first time could visit any part of Germany whenever they liked. The same programs
applied to the farmers and the middle class.
Hitler realized that if his social reforms were to go forward and
take root, he needed a powerful lever, one that commanded respect.
Hitler still did not confront the army, but skillfully started
to build up the SS. He needed the
SS because above all Hitler was a political
man; to him war was the last resort. His aim
was to convince people, to obtain
their loyalty, particularly the younger generation.
He knew that the
Establishment-minded brass would oppose him at every turn.
In order not to alert the army, Hitler enlarged the SS into a force responsible
for law and
order. There was of course a German police force, but in that case
as well Hitler was unsure
of their loyalty. The 150,000 policemen had
been appointed by the Weimar regime. Hitler
needed the SS not only to detect
and quash plots, but mostly to protect his reforms. As
his initial Leibstandarte
unit of 180 grew, other regiments were organized, such as the
and the Germania.
army brass did everything to prevent SS recruitment. Hitler bypassed the obstacles
by having the interior ministry and not the war ministry handle the recruiting. The army
countered by discouraging recruitment. Privates were required to serve four years,
non-commissioned officers twelve, and officers twenty-five years. Such restrictions,
it was thought, would greatly discourage SS recruitment. In spite of the lengthy service
requirements, thousands of young men, in fact, rushed to apply -- more than could
The young felt
the SS was the only armed force that represented their own ideas. The
formations captivated public imagination. Clad in smart black uniforms, the SS
more and more young men. It took two years -- 1933 to 1935 --
and a constant
battle of wits with the army to raise a force of 8,000 SS men.
At the time they were called just SS. It was not until 1940, after the French campaign,
that it would officially be named “Waffen SS.” And 8,000 SS men did
not go far in a
country of 80 million people. Hitler had to devise yet
another way to get around the army.
He created the Totenkopf guard
corps. They were really SS in disguise, but their official
function was to guard
the concentration camps.
were these concentration camps? They were just work centers where intractable
Communists were put to work. They were well treated because it was thought that sooner
or later they would be converted to patriotism. There were two concentration camps
with a total of three thousand inmates. Three thousand out of a total of six million card-carrying
members of the Communist Party. That represents one per two thousand. Right until the
there were fewer than ten thousand inmates.
The young men who joined the SS were trained like no other army in the
and academic instruction was intensive, but it was the
physical training that was the most
rigorous. They practiced sports with excellence.
Each of them would have performed with
distinction at the Olympic Games.
The extraordinary physical endurance of the SS
on the Russian front,
which so amazed the world, was due to this intensive training.
There was also rigorous ideological training. They were taught to understand why
were fighting, and what kind of Germany was being resurrected. They were
Germany was being morally united through class reconciliation,
and physically united
through the return of the lost German homelands. They
were made aware of their kinship
with all the other Germans living in
foreign lands -- in Poland, Russia, and, and other
parts of Europe.
They were taught that all Germans represented an ethnic unity.
Young SS were educated in two military academies, one in Bad Tölz the other in Braunschweig.
These academies were totally different than the grim barracks of the past. Combining
with the latest technology, they were located in the middle
of hundreds of acres of beautiful countryside.
Hitler was opposed to any war, particularly in western Europe. He did not even conceive
that the SS could participate in such a war. Above all the SS was a political force. Hitler
regarded Western countries as individual cultures that could be federated
not conquered. He felt that a conflict within the West
would be a no-win civil war.
conception of Europe was thus far ahead of the views held by those neighboring
countries. The mentality of 1914-1918, when small countries fought other small countries
over bits of real estate, still prevailed in the Europe of 1939. Not so in the case of the
Soviet Union, where internationalism replaced nationalism. The Communists never aimed
at serving the interests of Russia. Communism does not limit itself
to acquire chunks of territories, but aims at total world domination.
This was a dramatically new factor. Alone among the world’s
Hitler saw Soviet Communism as a threat to all nations.
Hitler recalled vividly the havoc the Communists
unleashed in Germany at the end of
World War One. Particularly in Berlin
and Bavaria the Communists, acting on foreign
orders, organized a state
within a state and almost took over. For Hitler, everything
pointed east. The
threat was Communism. Apart from his lack of interest in subjugating
Europe, Hitler was well aware he could not successfully wage war on two fronts.
Instead of letting Hitler fight Communism, the Allies at this
point made the fateful decision
to attack Hitler. The so-called Western Democracies
also allied themselves with
the Soviet Union for the purpose of encircling
and destroying the new Germany.
Treaty of Versailles had already amputated Germany on all sides. The imposed
Treaty was also designed to keep the country in a state of permanent economic backwardness
and military impotence. Adding to the pressure from all sides, the Allies ratified a string
of treaties with Belgium, the newly created Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland and
In the summer
of 1939 the governments of Britain and France were secretly negotiating
military alliance with the Soviet Union. The talks were held in
and the discussion minutes were signed by Marshal Zhukov.
I have these minutes in my possession. They are stupefying. In one report, the Soviets
pledge to join with Britain and France in war against Germany. Upon ratification,
Soviet Union was to immediately provide Anglo-French forces with
the support of 5500
combat planes, with a promise of back up support of the
entire Soviet air force. Between
9,000 to 10,000 Soviet tanks would
also be made available. In return, the Soviet Union
demanded the Baltic
States and free access to Poland. The plan called for an early joint attack.
At this stage Germany was still only minimally armed. The French negotiators
the 10,000 Soviet tanks would quickly destroy the 2,000 German
tanks, but they did not
foresee that the Soviets would be unlikely to
stop at the French border. Likewise
the British government was not prepared
to halt a Soviet takeover of Europe.
Facing total encirclement Hitler decided once more to make his own peace with one
or the other side of the Soviet-British partnership. He turned to the British and French
governments and requested formal peace talks. His quest for peace was answered
by an outpouring of insults and denunciations. The international press went on an
unprecedented orgy of hate against Hitler. It is mind-boggling to re-read
When Hitler made similar peace overtures to Moscow he was surprised to
find the Soviets
eager to sign a treaty with Germany. In fact, Stalin
did not sign such a treaty for the purpose
of peace. He signed to let Europe
destroy itself in a war of attrition,
while giving him the time he needed
to build up his military strength.
Stalin’s real intent is revealed in the minutes of the Soviet High Command, also in my
possession. Stalin states his intention to enter the war the moment Hitler and the Western
powers have annihilated each other. Stalin had a great interest in marking time and
letting others fight first. I have read his military plans, and I have seen how
achieved. By 1941 Stalin’s ten thousand tanks had increased
to 17,999, and the next
year they would have been 32,000, ten times
more than Germany’s.
The Soviet air force would likewise have been ten
to one in Stalin’s favor.
very week Stalin signed the peace treaty with Hitler, he gave orders to build 96
fields on the Western Soviet border, with 180 planned for the following year. His
strategy was consistent: “The more the Western powers fight it out the weaker they will
be. The longer I wait the stronger I get.” It was under these appalling circumstances
that World War Two started – a war which was offered to the Soviets
on a silver platter.
of Stalin’s preparations, Hitler knew he would have to face Communism sooner
rather than later. And to fight Communism he had to rely on totally loyal men, men who
would fight for an ideology against another ideology. It had always been Hitler’s
policy to oppose the ideology of class war with an ideology of class cooperation.
Hitler had observed that Marxist class war had not brought prosperity
to the Russian
people. Russian workers were poorly clothed, badly housed,
and poorly fed. Goods are
always in short supply, and even in Moscow housing
was nightmarish. For Hitler the failure
of class war clearly made class
cooperation the only just alternative. To make
it work Hitler saw to it that
one class would not be allowed to abuse the other.
It is a fact that the newly rich classes emerging from the industrial revolution had enormously
abused their privileges, and it was for this reason that the National Socialists
Socialism was a popular movement in the truest sense. The great majority
of National Socialists were blue collar workers. Seventy percent of the Hitler Youth were
children of blue collar workers. Hitler won elections because the great mass of workers
was solidly behind him. Many wondered why the six million Communists who had voted
against Hitler turned their back on Communism after he came to power in 1933. There
is only one reason: they witnessed and experienced the benefits of class cooperation.
Some say they were forced to change; it is not true. Like other loyal Germans they fought
four years on the Russian front with distinction.
The workers never abandoned Hitler, but the upper classes did.
Hitler spelled out his
formula of class cooperation as the answer to
Communism with these words: “Class
cooperation means that capitalists
will never again treat the workers as mere economic
components. Money is but
one part of our economic life. The workers are not just machines
whom one throws a pay packet every week. The real wealth of Germany is its workers.”
Hitler replaced gold with work as the foundation of the economy.
National Socialism was
the exact opposite of Communism. Extraordinary achievements
followed Hitler’s election.
We always hear about Hitler and the camps, Hitler and the Jews, but we never hear about
his immense social work. It was in large measure because of that social work that
international bankers and their servile press generated so much hatred against
was obvious that a genuinely popular movement like National
Socialism would collide
with the selfish interests of high finance.
Hitler made clear that the control of money did
not convey the right of rapacious
exploitation of an entire country, because there are also
in the country, millions of them, and these people have the right to live with
dignity and without want. What Hitler said and practiced won over the German youth. It was
this social revolution that the SS felt compelled to secure throughout Germany, and, if
need be, to defend with their lives.
The 1939 war in Western Europe defied all reason. It was a civil war
among those who should have been united. It was a monstrous stupidity.
The young SS were trained to lead the new
National Socialist revolution. In five or ten
years they were to replace
all those who had been put in office by the former regime.
But at the beginning of the war it was not possible for these young men to stay home.
Along with other young fellow countrymen, they felt called to defend their country, and
even to defend it better than others.
The war turned the SS from a home political force to a national
army fighting abroad, and then to a supra-national army.
We are now at the beginning of the 1939 war in Poland, with its far reaching
consequences. Could the war have been avoided? Emphatically yes!
The Danzig conflict was inconsequential. The Treaty of Versailles had
German city of Danzig from Germany and gave it to Poland
against the wish of its citizens.
This action was so outrageous that it
had been condemned all over the world. A large
section of Germany was sliced
through the middle. To go from western Prussia to East
Prussia one had
to travel in a sealed train through Polish territory. The citizens of
had voted 99 percent to have their city returned to Germany.
of self-determination had been consistently ignored.
However, the war in Poland started for reasons other
self-determination or even Poland’s.
Just a few months earlier, Poland had attacked Czechoslovakia at the same time Hitler
had returned the Sudetenland to Germany. The Poles were ready to work with Hitler.
Poland turned against Germany only because the British government
did everything in its power to poison German-Polish relations.
Why? Much has to do with a longstanding inferiority complex British rulers have felt towards
Europe. This complex has manifested itself in the British Establishment’s
obsession in keeping Europe weak through wars and dissension.
At the time the British Empire controlled 500 million human beings
outside of Europe,
but somehow it was more preoccupied with its traditional
hobby: sowing dissension in
Europe. This policy of never allowing the emergence
of a strong European
country has been the British Establishment’s
modus operandi for centuries.
Whether it was Charles the Fifth of Spain, Louis the Fourteenth or Napoleon of France,
or William the Second of Germany, the British Establishment never tolerated any unifying
power in Europe. Germany never wanted to meddle in British affairs. However, the
Establishment always made it a point to meddle in European affairs,
particularly in Central
Europe and the Balkans.
Hitler’s entry into Prague brought the British running to the fray.
Prague and Bohemia
had been part of Germany for centuries, and had
always been within the
German sphere of influence. British meddling in this
area was totally unjustified.
Germany the Prague regime represented a grave threat. Czech president Benes,
Stalin’s servile satrap, had been ordered by his Kremlin masters to open his borders to
the Communist armies at a moment's notice. Prague was to be the Soviet springboard to Germany.
For Hitler, Prague was a watchtower to central
Europe and an advance post to delay a
Soviet invasion. There were also
Prague’s historic economic ties with Germany. Germany
has always had economic
links with Central Europe. Rumania, the Balkans, Bulgaria,
Hungary and Yugoslavia
[Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia] have had long-standing, mutually
economic relations with Germany, which have continued to this day.
Hitler’s European economic policy was based on common sense and realism.
And it was
his emerging central European common market, rather than concern
for Czech freedom,
that the British Establishment could not tolerate.
All the same, English people felt
great admiration for Hitler. I remember when [former
British prime minister]
Lloyd George addressed the German press outside Hitler’s
where he had just been a guest. He stated: “You can thank God you have such
a wonderful man as your leader.” Lloyd George, the enemy of Germany during
World War One, said that!
Edward the Eighth of England, who had just abdicated and was now the Duke of
Windsor, also came to visit Hitler at his Berchtesgaden home, accompanied by his wife.
When they returned home, the Duke sent a wire to Hitler. It read: “What a wonderful day
we have spent with your Excellency. Unforgettable!” And reflecting what many English
people had already learned, the Duke remarked on how well off German workers were.
The Duke was telling the truth. The German worker earned twice as much, without
inflation, as he did before Hitler, and consequently his standard of living was
the most fanatic German-hater of them all, had in 1938, a year before the
war, wrote in the London Times: “I have always said that if Great Britain were defeated in
war I hoped we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among the nations.”
Friend or foe, all acknowledged that Hitler
was a man of exceptional genius. His achievements
were the envy of the
world. In five short years he rebuilt a bankrupt nation burdened with
of unemployed into the strongest economic power in Europe. It was so strong that
for six years his geographically small country was able to withstand a war against world powers.
Churchill acknowledged that no one in the
world could match such a feat. Just before the
outbreak of war he stated
that no doubt a peace formula could be worked out with
Hitler. But Churchill
received other instructions. The Establishment, fearful that Hitler’s
successes in Germany could spread to other countries, was determined to destroy him.
It created hatred against Germany across Europe by stirring old grievances.
It also exploited the envy some Europeans felt toward Germany.
The Germans’ high birth rate had made Germany the most populous country
Europe. In science and technology Germany was ahead of both France
and Britain. Hitler
had built Germany into an economic powerhouse. That
was Hitler’s crime, and
the British Establishment opted to destroy
Hitler and Germany by any means.
British manipulated the Polish government against Germany. The Poles themselves
were more than willing to live in peace with the Germans. Instead, the unfortunate Poles
were railroaded into war by the British. One must not forget that one and a half million
[ethnic] Germans lived in Poland at the time, at great benefit to the Polish economy.
In January 1939 Hitler had proposed to Beck,
the Polish foreign minister, a compromise to
solve the Danzig issue: The Danzigers’
wish to return to Germany would be honored, and
Poland would continue
to have free port access and facilities, guaranteed by treaty.
The prevailing notion of the day that every country must have a sea port really does
make sense. Switzerland, Hungary and other countries with no sea ports manage
Hitler’s proposals were based on the principles of
self-determination and reciprocity.
Even Churchill admitted that such a solution
could dispose of the Danzig problem. This
admission, however, did not prevent
Britain from sending an ultimatum to Germany:
withdrawal from Poland,
or war. (The world has seen what happened when Israel invaded
Lebanon [in 1982].
Heavily populated cities like Tyre and Sidon were destroyed, and so
was West Beirut. Everybody called for Israel’s withdrawal, but no one declared war on
Israel when it refused to budge.)
With a little patience a peaceful solution regarding Danzig could certainly have been arranged.
Instead, the international press unleashed a massive campaign of outright lies and distortions
against Hitler. His proposals were willfully misrepresented by a relentless press
Of all the
crimes of World War Two, one never hears about the wholesale massacres that
in Poland just before the war. I have detailed reports in my files documenting the
mass slaughter of defenseless Germans in Poland. Thousands of German men, women
and children were massacred in the most horrendous fashion by media-enraged mobs.
The photographs of these massacres are too sickening to look at. Hitler decided to halt
the slaughter, and he rushed to the rescue.
The Polish campaign revealed another startling characteristic of this man: his rare military
genius. All the successful military campaigns of the Third Reich were thought out and
directed by Hitler personally, not the General Staff. He also inspired a number
of generals who became his most able executives in later campaigns.
In regard to the Polish campaign the General Staff had planned
an offensive along the Baltic
coastline to take Danzig, a plan that would been
doomed to failure. Instead, Hitler invented
the Blitzkrieg or “lightning
war” technique, and in no time captured Warsaw. SS soldiers
for the first time on the Polish front, and their performance amazed the world.
The brief campaign saw three SS regiments in action: The Leibstandarte,
and the Germania. There was also
an SS motorbike battalion, a corps of engineers, and
a transmission unit.
In all it was a comprehensive but small force of about 25,000 men.
out of Silesia, Sepp Dietrich and his Leibstandarte alone split Poland in half
within days. With fewer than 3,000 men he defeated a Polish force of 15,000,
and took 10,000 prisoners. Such victories were not achieved without loss.
The second campaign in France was also swift. The British-French forces
to Holland and Belgium to check the German advance, but
they were outwitted
and outflanked in Sedan. It was basically all over
in a matter of days.
story goes that Hitler had nothing to do with this operation; that it was all the work
of General von Manstein. That is entirely false. Von Manstein had indeed conceived the
idea, but when he submitted it to the General Staff, he was reprimanded, demoted and
retired to Dresden. The general staff had not brought this particular incident to Hitler’s
attention. On his own, Hitler organized a campaign along the same lines, and routed
British-French forces. It was not until March 1940 that von Manstein
came into contact
Hitler also planned the Balkan and Russian campaigns. On the rare occasions where
Hitler allowed the General Staff to have their way, such as in Kursk, the battle
In the 1939 Polish
campaign Hitler did not rely on military textbook theories devised 50
earlier, as advocated by the general staff, but on his own plan of swift, pincer-like
encirclement. In eight days the Polish war was won, in spite of the fact that Poland
is as large as France.
It is hard to imagine, but out of a total of some one million SS men, 352,000 were killed in
action, with 50,000 more missing. It is a grim figure! Four hundred thousand of the finest
young men in Europe! Without hesitation they sacrificed themselves for their beliefs.
knew they had to set an example. They were the first on the front
line in defending thei
r country and their ideals.
In victory or defeat the Waffen SS always sought to be the best representatives
people. The SS was a democratic expression of power: people
joining together of their
own free will. The ballot box is not the only
expression of such consent; there is also
consent of the heart and the
mind through action. The men of the Waffen SS made a
plebiscite of deeds.
And the German people, proud of them, gave them their respect and
Such high motivation made the volunteers of the Waffen SS the best fighters
in the world.
SS proved themselves in action. They were not empty talking politicians, but men
who pledged their lives, and, in an extraordinary expression of comradeship, were the first
to fight. This comradeship was one of the most distinctive characteristics of the SS: the SS
leader was the comrade of the others.
It was on the front lines that the results of the SS physical training
were really apparent.
SS officers had the same rigorous training as the regular
soldiers. Officers and privates
competed in the same sports events,
and only the best man won, regardless of rank. This
created a real brotherhood
that energized the entire Waffen SS. Only the teamwork of free
bonded by a higher ideal, could unite Europe. Look at the Common Market of today
[and its successor, the European Union]. It is a failure. There is no unifying ideal. Everything
is based on haggling over the price of tomatoes, steel, coal or booze. Fruitful
unions are based
on something higher than that.
A relationship of equality and mutual respect between soldiers and officers
in place. Half of all division commanders were killed in
action. Half! There is not another
army in the world where that happened.
The SS officer always led his troops to battle. I was
engaged in 75 hand-to-hand
combat operations, because as an SS officer I had to be the
meet the enemy. SS soldiers were not sent to the slaughter by behind-the-line commanders;
they followed their officers with passionate loyalty. Every SS commander
knew and taught all his men, and often received unexpected answers.
After breaking out of the Cherkassy siege, I talked with all my
soldiers one-by-one; there
were thousands at the time. For two weeks,
every day from dawn to dusk, I asked them
questions, and heard their replies.
Sometimes it happens that soldiers who brag a little receive
while heroic men who keep quiet miss out. I talked to all of them because I wanted
to know first-hand what had happened, and what they had done. To be just, I had to know the truth.
It was on that occasion that two of my soldiers
suddenly pulled out their identity cards of
the Belgian resistance movement.
They told me that they had been sent to kill me. At the
front line, it
is very simple to shoot someone in the back. But the extraordinary SS team
had won them over. By setting an example, SS officers could expect the loyalty of their men.
The life expectancy of an SS officer at the front was three months. On
one Monday while
in Estonia I received ten new young officers from the
Bad Tölz academy;
by Thursday only one was still alive, and he was wounded.
In conventional armies, officers talked at
the men as a superior to an
inferior, and seldom as brothers in combat
or as brothers in ideology.
1939 the SS had earned general admiration and respect. This gave Hitler the opportunity
to call for an increase in their numbers. Instead of regiments, there would be three divisions.
Again, the army brass laid down draconian recruiting conditions:
young men could join
the SS only for a minimum of four years of combat duty.
The brass felt that no one would
take such a risk. Again, they guessed
wrong. In the month of February 1940 alone, 49,000
joined the SS. From
25,000 in September 1939, there would be 150,000 in May 1940.
180 to 8,000 to 25,000 to 150,000, and eventually nearly one million men
all this against all odds.
had no interest whatsoever in getting involved in a conflict with France.
a war that was forced on him.
The 150,000 SS had to serve under the Army, and they were given the most dangerous
and difficult missions, despite the fact that they were supplied with inferior weapons and
equipment. In 1940 the Leibstandarte was only provided with a few scouting tanks.
The SS were given wheels, and that’s all. But with trucks, motorbikes,
and various other means they were able to perform amazing feats.
The Leibstandarte and Der Führer regiments
were sent to Holland under the leadership
of Sepp Dietrich. They had to cross
Dutch waterways. The Luftwaffe had dropped paratroopers
to hold the
bridges 120 miles deep in Dutch territory, and it was vital for the SS to reach these
bridges with the greatest speed. The Leibstandarte achieved an unprecedented feat: advancing
75 kilometers in a single day, and advancing 215 kilometers in just four days. It
was unheard of
at the time, and the world was staggered. In one day
the SS crossed all the Dutch canals on
flimsy rubber rafts. Here again, SS
losses were heavy. But thanks to their heroism and speed,
forces reached Rotterdam in three days. The paratroopers
risked being wiped
out if the SS had not accomplished their lightning-thrust.
In Belgium, the SS regiment Der Führer faced the French army head
on, which after falling
in the Sedan trap, had rushed toward Breda,
Holland. There, one would see for the first time
a small motivated military
force route a large national army. It took one SS regiment and a
of German troops to throw the whole French Army off balance and
it back from Breda to Antwerp, Belgium, and northern France.
The Leibstandarte and Der Führer regiments jointly advanced
on the large Zeeland islands,
between the Scheldt and Rhine rivers.
In a few days they were brought under control.
In no time the Leibstandarte then crossed Belgium and northern France. The second
major combat engagement of SS regiments was in concert with the regular army tank
These units were under the command of General Rommel and
General Guderian. They spearhead a thrust toward the North Sea.
Sepp Dietrich and his troops then crossed the French canals, but
were pinned down by
the enemy in a mud field, just managing to avoid
extermination. But despite the loss of
many soldiers, officers and one battalion
commander, all killed in action, the Germans
Hitler was very proud of them.
The following week, Hitler deployed
them along the Somme river, from where they poured
out across France. Here again,
the SS would prove itself to be the best fighting force in the
Sepp Dietrich and the Second Division of the SS, Totenkopf, advanced so far so fast
that for three days they lost contact with the rest of the army. They found themselves in
Lyon, a French city they were later obliged to vacate after the signing of the French-German
armistice. Sepp Dietrich and a handful of SS men on trucks had achieved the impossible.
The SS regiment Der Führer
spearheaded the Maginot Line breakthrough. Everyone had
said that the Line
was impenetrable. The war in France was over. Hitler had the three SS
divisions march through Paris. Berlin also honored these heroes. But the regular Army
was so jealous that it would not cite a single SS man for valor or bravery. It was Hitler himself
who, in addressing the German Reichstag, solemnly paid tribute to the heroism of the
SS. It was on this occasion that he officially recognized the Waffen SS name.
This was more than a mere change of name.
The Waffen SS became “Germanic,” as
volunteers were accepted
from all Germanic countries. This was based on an awareness
that the peoples
of northwestern Europe were closely related to them, and that the Norwegians,
the Danes, the Dutch, and the Flemish all belonged to the same Germanic family. These
Germanic people were themselves very much impressed by the SS, and so, by the way,
were the French.
people of western Europe had marveled at this extraordinary German force with a
style unlike any other: if two SS scouts reached a town on motorbike ahead of everybody
else, they would -- before presenting themselves to the local authorities – first clean
themselves up so they would be of impeccable appearance. People could not help
but be impressed.
The admiration felt by young Europeans of Germanic stock for the SS was very natural.
Thousands of young men from Norway, Denmark, Flanders, and Holland were awed with
admiration. They felt irresistibly drawn to the SS. It was not Europe, but solidarity with their
own Germanic race that so deeply stirred their souls. They identified with the victorious
Germans. To them, Hitler was the most exceptional man ever seen. Hitler
and had the remarkable idea to open the doors of the
SS to them. It was quite risky. No one
had ever thought of this before. Prior
to Hitler, German imperialism consisted only of peddling
goods to other
countries, without any thought of creating a “community” ideology
a common ideal with its neighbors.
Suddenly, instead of peddling and haggling, here was a man who offered a glorious ideal:
an enthralling social justice, for which they all had yearned for years. A broad New
instead of the formless cosmopolitanism of the pre-war so-called “democracies.”
to Hitler’s appeal was overwhelming. Legions from
Norway, Denmark, Holland, and Flanders
were formed. Thousands of young
men now wore the SS uniform. For them Hitler specifically
created the famous
Viking division, one that was destined to become one of the most formidable
of the Waffen SS.
The regular army was still doing everything it could to discourage men in Germany from
joining the SS. It acted as though the SS did not exist. Against this background of obstructionism
at home, it was all the more understandable that the SS would welcome men from outside
Germans living abroad provided a rich source of volunteers. There were millions
of these Germans in Hungary, Rumania and across Europe. The victories of the Third Reich
made them proud of belonging to the German family. Hitler welcomed them home. He saw
them as a source of elite SS men as well as important factor in unifying all Germans ideologically.
Here again, the enthusiastic response
was amazing. From across Europe some 300,000
volunteers of German ancestry would
join, including 54,000 from Rumania alone. In the
context of that era,
those were remarkable figures. There were numerous problems to
For instance, most Germanic volunteers did not speak German. Their ancestors
had settled in foreign lands many years earlier, so many of these men
spoke different languages, and had different manners and needs.
How to find officers who could speak all these languages? How to coordinate such
disparate lot? Mastering these problems was a miracle of the Waffen SS assimilation
This homecoming of the separated “tribes” was regarded
by the Waffen SS as a foundation
for real European unity. The 300,000 Germanic
volunteers were welcomed by the SS
as brothers, and they reciprocated
by being as dedicated, loyal and heroic as the Reich
German SS men.
Within the year, everything had
changed for the Waffen SS. The barracks were full, the
academies were full.
The strictest admission standards and requirements equally applied
the Germanic volunteers as well. They had to be the best in every way,
physically and mentally. They had to be the best of the Germanic race.
Third Reich racialism has been deliberately distorted. It was never an
It was a pro-German racialism. It
was concerned with making the German race strong and
healthy in every way.
Hitler was not interested in having millions of degenerates. Today
finds rampant alcohol and drug addiction everywhere. Hitler cared that German families
be healthy, and cared that they raise healthy children for the renewal of a healthy nation.
German racialism meant re-discovering the creative values of their own race, re-discovering
their culture. It was a striving for excellence, a noble idea. National Socialist
not against other races, it was for its own race. It aimed
at defending and improving
its own race, and wished that all other races
would do the same for themselves.
was demonstrated when the Waffen SS enlarged its ranks to include 60,000 Muslims.
The Waffen SS respected their way of life, their customs, and their religious beliefs. Each
Muslim SS battalion had an imam, and each company had a mullah. It was our common
wish that their qualities found their highest expression. That was our racialism. I was present
when each of my Muslim comrades received a New Year’s gift from Hitler. It was
with a small Koran. Hitler was honoring them with this small
symbolic gift, one that honored
an important aspect of their lives and
traditions. National Socialist racialism
was loyal to the German race and totally
respected all other races.
At this point, one hears: “What about the anti-Jewish racism?”
One can answer: “What about Jewish anti-Gentilism?”
It has been the misfortune of the Jewish race that it could never
get along with any other
race. It is an unusual historical fact and phenomenon.
I say this without passion: When one
studies the history of the Jewish
people and their behavior across the centuries, one
observes that always
-- at all times, and at all places -- they have been hated. They were
hated in ancient Egypt. They were hated in ancient Greece. They were hated in Roman
times to such a degree that 3,000 of them were deported to Sardinia. (That was the first
forced deportation of Jews.) They were hated in Spain, in France, in England (where they
were banned for centuries), and in Germany. The conscientious Jewish author Bernard
Lazare wrote a very interesting book on Anti-Semitism, in which he wrote: “We
ask ourselves a question: Why are we always hated everywhere? It
is not because of our
persecutors, all of different times and places.
It is because there is something within us that
is very unlikeable.” What
is unlikeable is that the Jews have always wanted to live as a
class, divinely-chosen and beyond scrutiny. This attitude has made them
Jewish race is therefore a unique case. Hitler had no intention of destroying it. He
wanted the Jews to find their own identity in their own environment, but not to the detriment
of others. The fight -- if we can call it that – of National Socialism against
the Jews was
purely limited to one objective: that the Jews leave Germany in
peace. It was planned to
give them a country of their own, outside Germany.
Madagascar was contemplated, but
the plans were dropped when the United States
entered the war. In the meanwhile, Hitler
thought of letting the Jews
live in their own traditional ghettos. They would have their own
they would run their own affairs, and would live as they wanted. They had
own police, their own tramways, their own flag, and their own businesses. With regard
to other races, they were all welcome in Germany as guests, but not as privileged occupants.
In one year the Waffen SS had gathered a
large number of Germanic men from northern
Europe, and hundreds of thousands
of ethnic Germans or Volksdeutsche from outside
make the Germanic SS. It was then that the conflict between Communism
and National Socialism burst into the open. The conflict had always existed. In Mein Kampf,
Hitler had clearly laid out his objective: “to eliminate the world threat of
Communism,” and, incidentally, to claim some land in Eastern Europe.
This eastward expansionism created much outrage: How could the
Germans claim land
in Russia? To this one can answer: How could the
Americans claim native Indian lands
from the Atlantic to the Pacific? How could
France claim southern Flanders, and Roussillon
from Spain? And what
of Britain? And what of so many other countries that have claimed,
and settled in other territories? Somehow it was all right for all those countries
to settle foreign lands, but not for Germany. Personally, I have always vigorously defended
the Russians, and I finally did succeed in convincing Hitler that Germans had to live with
Russians as partners, and not as conquerors. Before achieving this
was first the matter of wiping out Communism. During
the [21 months of the] Soviet-German
non-aggression treaty, Hitler was trying
to gain time, but the Soviets were intensifying their acts of
from Estonia to Bukovina.
this regard, extracts from Soviet documents are most revealing. Marshal Voroshilov
himself said: “We now have the time to prepare ourselves to be the executioner of the
capitalist world while it is agonizing. We must, however, be cautious. The Germans must
not have any inkling that we are preparing to stab them in the back while they are busy
fighting the French. Otherwise, they could change their general plan, and attack us.”
In the same record, Marshal Shaposhnikov
[?] wrote: “The coexistence between Hitler's
Germany and the
Soviet Union is only temporary. We will not make it last very long.” Marshal
Timoshenko, for his part, did not want to be so hasty: “Let us not forget that our war material
from our Siberian factories will not be delivered until the fall.” This was
written at the beginning
of 1941, and the material was only to be delivered
in the fall. A Soviet war industry Commissariat
report stated: We will not be
in full production until 1942. Marshal Zhukov made this
admission: “Hitler is in a hurry to invade us; he has good reasons for it.”
Indeed, Hitler had good reason to quickly attack Russia -- he
realized that he would be
wiped out if he did not. Zhukov added: “We
need a few more months to rectify many of
our defects before the end of
1941. We need 18 months to complete the modernization of our forces.”
The orders are quite precise. At the fourth session of the Supreme
Soviet in 1939, it was
decreed that Army officers would serve three
years, regular soldiers would serve four years,
and Navy personnel, five years.
All these decisions were made less than a
month after the Soviets signed
the non-aggression treaty with Germany.
Thus the Soviets, pledged to peace, were frantically preparing for war. More than 2,500
new concrete fortifications were built between 1939 and 1940; 160 divisions were made
combat-ready; 60 tank divisions were on full alert. The Germans only had ten panzer
divisions. In 1941, the Soviets had 17,000 tanks, and by 1942 they
had 32,000. They had
92,578 artillery pieces. And their 17,545 combat planes
in 1940 greatly outnumbered the
German air force.
With such war preparations underway, it is easy to understand
that Hitler was left
with only one option: invade the Soviet Union immediately,
or face annihilation.
Russian campaign was the “last chance” campaign. Hitler did not go into Russia
with any great optimism. He later told me: “When I entered Russia, I was like a man facing
a shut door. I knew I had to crash through it, but without knowing what was behind
was right. He knew the Soviets were strong, but above all
he knew they were going to be
a lot stronger. The only time Hitler had
a respite was in 1941. The British had not yet succeeded
in expanding the
war. Hitler, who never wanted war with Britain, still tried for peace. He invited
me to spend a week at his home. He wanted to discuss the whole situation and hear what I
had to say about it. He spoke very simply and clearly. The atmosphere was informal
relaxed. He made you feel at home, because he really enjoyed being hospitable.
pieces of toast in a leisurely fashion, and passed them
around, and although he did not drink,
after each meal he went to get a bottle
of champagne because he knew that I enjoyed finishing
with a glass
of it. All without fuss and with genuine friendliness. It was part of his genius that he
was also a man of simple ways, without the slightest affection, and a man of great humility.
We talked about England. I asked him bluntly: “Why on earth didn’t you finish
off the British
at Dunkirk? Everyone knew you could have wiped them
out.” He answered: “Yes, I withheld
my troops and let the British
escape back to England. The humiliation of such
a defeat would have
made it difficult to try for peace with them afterwards.”
At the same time, Hitler told me he did not want to dispel the Soviet belief that
going to invade England. He mentioned that he even had small Anglo-German
distributed to his troops in Poland. The Soviet spies there
duly reported to the Kremlin that
Germany’s presence in Poland
was a bluff, and that the soldiers were about to be sent for
On June 22, 1941,
it was Russia and not England that Germany invaded. The initial
were swift but costly. I lived the epic struggle of the Russian front. It was a
epic; it was also martyrdom. The endless thousands of miles of the Russian steppes
were overwhelming. We had to reach the Caucasus by foot, always under extreme
conditions. In the summer we often walked knee-deep in mud, and in winter there were
freezing below-zero temperatures. But for a matter of a few days, Hitler would have
won the war in Russia in 1941. Before the Battle of Moscow, he had largely succeeded
in defeating the Soviet Army, and had taken enormous numbers of prisoners.
General Guderian’s panzer group, which had encircled nearly a million
Soviet troops near
Kiev, had reached Moscow right up to the city’s
tramway lines. It was then that suddenly
an unbelievable freeze struck:
40, 42, 50 degrees Celsius below zero! This meant not
only that men were freezing,
but also that equipment froze on the spot. No tanks could
mud had frozen to a solid block of ice, half a meter high, icing up the
In 24 hours
all of our tactical options had been reversed. It was then that masses of
troops brought back from the Russian Far East were thrown against the Germans.
Those few fateful days of ice, which made the difference between victory and defeat,
were due to the delay caused by the Italian campaign in Greece in the fall of 1940.
Mussolini was envious of Hitler’s successes. It was a deep and silent
jealousy. I was a friend
of Mussolini. I knew him well. He was a remarkable
man, but Europe was not of great concern
to him. He did not like to
be a spectator, watching Hitler winning everywhere. He felt
compelled to do
something himself, and quickly. Impulsively, he launched a senseless
were immediately halted. But it gave the British an excuse to invade Greece, which
until then had not been involved in the war. From Greece the British could bomb the Rumanian
oil wells, which were vital to Germany’s war effort. Greece could also be used to cut off
German troops on their way to Russia. Hitler was forced to quash the threat preemptively.
He had to waste five weeks in the Balkans. His victories there were an incredible
achievement, but they delayed the start of the Russian campaign
by five critical weeks.
Hitler had been able to start the campaign on time, as planned, he would have entered
Moscow five weeks earlier, in the fall when the ground was still dry. The war would have
been over, and the Soviet Union would have been a thing of the past. The combination of
the sudden freeze and the arrival of fresh Siberian troops spread panic among some
the old army generals. They wanted to retreat 200 miles back from Moscow.
It is hard to
imagine such an insane plan! The freeze affected Russia
equally, from West to East, and
to retreat 200 miles in the open steppe
would only have made things worse. At the time I
was commanding my troops in
the Ukraine, where it was 42 degrees Celsius below zero.
Such a retreat would have meant abandoning all the heavy artillery, as well as assault
guns and tanks, which were stuck in the ice. It would also have meant
exposing half a
million men to heavy Soviet sniping. In fact, it would have
meant condemning them to
certain death. One need only recall Napoleon’s
retreat in October 1812. He reached the
Berezina River in November, and by
mid-December all the French troops had left Russia.
It was cold enough,
but it was not a winter campaign.
one imagine in 1941 half a million Germans fighting howling snowstorms, cut off
from supplies, attacked from all sides by tens of thousands of Cossacks? I have faced
charging Cossacks, and I know that only the utmost, superior firepower will stop them.
In order to counter such an insane retreat, Hitler had to fire more than 30 generals within a few days.
It was then that he called on the Waffen
SS to fill in the gap and boost morale. Immediately
the SS held fast on
the Moscow front. Right through the war the Waffen SS never retreated.
They would rather die than retreat. One cannot forget the figures. During the 1941 winter,
the Waffen SS lost 43,000 men in front of Moscow. The regiment Der Führer fought
almost literally to the last man. Only 35 men survived out of the entire regiment. The
Der Führer men stood fast, and no Soviet troops got through. They tried
to bypass the
SS in the snow. (That is how the famous Russian General
Vlasov was captured by the
Totenkopf SS division.) Without their
heroism, Germany would have been annihilated
by December 1941.
Hitler would never forget it: he
gauged the willpower that the Waffen SS had displayed in
front of Moscow. They
had shown character and guts. And that is what Hitler admired most
all: guts. For him, it was not enough to have intelligent or clever associates. Such people
can often fall to pieces, as happened with General Paulus during the following winter at
the battle of Stalingrad.
knew that only sheer energy and guts, the refusal to surrender,
the will to hang tough against all odds would win the war.
The blizzards of the Russian steppes had shown how the best army in the world, the
army, with thousands of highly trained officers and millions of highly
was just not enough. Hitler realized that they could
be beaten, that something else was
needed, and that only unshakable faith in
a high ideal could overcome the situation.
The Waffen SS had this ideal,
and from then on Hitler used them at full capacity.
From all parts of Europe volunteers rushed to help their German brothers. It was then that
the third great Waffen SS was born. First there was the German, then the Germanic,
finally the European Waffen SS. To defend Western culture and civilization,
thousands of young men would volunteer. They joined with
full knowledge that the SS
incurred the highest death tolls. More than 250,000
out of one million would die in action.
For them, the Waffen SS was,
despite all the individual deaths, the birth of a new Europe.
The young European volunteers observed two things: first, that Hitler was
the only leader
who was capable of building Europe, and secondly that Hitler,
and Hitler alone, could defeat the world threat of Communism.
For the men of this SS, the Europe of petty
jealousies, jingoism, border disputes, and
economic rivalries was of
no interest. It was petty and demeaning. That Europe was no
longer valid for
them. At the same time, the men of the European SS, as much as they
Hitler and the German people, did not want to become Germans. They were
of their own people, and Europe was the gathering of the various peoples of the
continent. European unity was to be achieved through harmony, not domination of
one over the others.
discussed these issues at length with both Hitler and Himmler. Like all men of genius,
Hitler had grown beyond the national stage. Napoleon was first a Corsican, then a Frenchman,
then a European, and then a singularly universal man. Likewise Hitler had been an
then a German, then a greater German, then Germanic, and then
he had seen and grasped the magnitude of building Europe.
The Waffen SS had a solemn duty, after the defeat of Communism,
to focus all their efforts and strength to build a united Europe.
Before being joined to the Waffen
SS, our Wallonian unit had known very difficult ordeals.
We had gone to the
Eastern front first as adjunct units to the German army, but during the
Battle of Stalingrad we had seen that Europe was critically endangered. Great common
effort was imperative. One night I had an eight-hour-long debate with Hitler
and Himmler on the status of non-German Europeans within the new Europe.
We now expected to be treated as equals fighting for a common cause.
fully, and from then on we [of the Légion
Wallonie] had our own flag, our own
officers, our own language, and our
own religion. We had a totally equal status.
I was the first one to have Catholic chaplains in the Waffen SS. Later chaplains of all
denominations were available to all those who wanted them. The Muslim SS division
its own mullahs, and the French even had a bishop. We were confident that,
Europeans would be federated as equals. We felt that, in
this critical hour, the best way
to be deserving of our place as equals was
to defend Europe just as well as our
For Hitler what mattered above all was courage. He created a new chivalry.
earned the order of the Knight’s Cross, the Ritterkreuz,
were indeed the new knights.
They earned this nobility of courage. And after
the end of the war, each of our units
returning home would be the force
that would protect the people’s rights in our respective
All the SS understood that European unity meant the whole of Europe, even Russia.
There had been a great lack of knowledge among many Germans regarding
Many believed that the Russians were all Communists,
while in fact Russian representation
in the Communist hierarchy was
unimportant. They also believed that the Russians were
than the Europeans. Yet, they have similar familial structures, an
civilization, deep religious faith, and traditions which are not unlike those of other
The SS saw the new Europe formed of three great components: central Europe as the
power house of Europe, western Europe as the cultural heart of Europe, and eastern Europe
as the potential of Europe. Thus the Europe envisioned by the SS was alive and real. Its
six hundred million inhabitants would live from the North Sea to Vladivostok.
It was in this
span of 8,000 miles that Europe could achieve its destiny.
It would be a space for young
people to start new lives. This Europe would be
the beacon of the world. It would be a
remarkable racial ensemble. An
ancient civilization, a spiritual force, and the most advanced
and scientific complex. The SS prepared for the high destiny of Europe.
Compare these aims, these ideals, with those of the “Allies.”
The Roosevelts and the
Churchills sold Europe out at Tehran, Yalta and
Potsdam. They cravenly capitulated to the
Soviets. They delivered half
of the European continent to Communist slavery. They let the
rest of Europe
disintegrate morally, without any ideal to sustain it. The SS knew
they wanted: the Europe of ideals would be the salvation for all.
This faith in higher ideals inspired four hundred thousand German SS men,
thousand Volksdeutsche or Germanic SS, and three hundred
thousand other European SS.
Volunteers all, one million builders of Europe.
The ranks of the SS grew proportionately
with the expansion of the war in Russia.
The nearer Germany was to defeat the
more volunteers arrived at the front. This was
phenomenal; eight days
before the final defeat I saw hundreds of young men join the SS
the front. Right to the end they knew they had to do the impossible to stop the enemy.
So from the 180-strong Leibstandarte in 1933 to the SS regiments
before 1939, to the
three regiments in Poland, to the three divisions
in France, to the six divisions at the beginning
of the Russian war,
to the 38 divisions in 1944, the Waffen SS reached 50 divisions in 1945.
more SS men fell, the more others rushed to replace them. They had faith and stood
firm to the extreme limit. The exact opposite happened in January 1943 at Stalingrad.
The defeat there was decided by a man without courage. He was not capable of facing
danger with determination, of saying unequivocally: I will not surrender;
I will stand fast until I win. He was morally and physically gutless, and he lost.
A year later the SS Viking and Wallonia divisions were encircled
in the same way at Cherkassy.
With the disaster of Stalingrad fresh in the
minds of our soldiers, they could easily have
been prone to demoralization.
On top of it, I was down with a deep side wound and a 102
degree F temperature.
As commander of the SS Wallonia forces, I knew that all this was
to high morale. I got up, and for 17 days I led charge after charge to break
the blockade, engaged in numerous hand-to-hand combats, and was wounded four times
– but I never stopped fighting. All my men did just as much, and more. The siege was
broken by sheer SS guts and spirit.
After Stalingrad, when many thought that all was lost, and when the Soviet forces poured
across the Ukraine, the Waffen SS stopped them dead in their tracks. They re-took
and inflicted a severe defeat on the Soviet army. This was a pattern:
again and again the SS
would turn reverses into victories.
The same fearless energy was also present
in Normandy. General Patton called them
“the proud SS divisions.”
The SS was the backbone of resistance in Normandy.
As Eisenhower observed,
“the SS fought as usual to the last man.”
If the Waffen SS had not existed, Europe would have been overrun entirely by the Soviets
by 1944. They would have reached Paris long before the Americans. The Waffen SS
stopped the Soviet juggernaut at Moscow, Kharkov, Cherkassy, and Tarnopol.
lost more than twelve months. Without SS resistance the
Soviets would have been in Normandy
before Eisenhower. The people showed deep
gratitude to the young men who sacrificed their
lives. Not since the
great religious orders of the Middle Ages had there been such selfless
idealism and heroism. In this century of materialism, the SS stands out as a shining beacon
have no doubt whatsoever that the sacrifices and incredible feats of the Waffen SS will one
day have their own epic poets like Schiller. Greatness in adversity is the distinction of the SS.
After the war a curtain of silence
fell on the Waffen SS. But now more and more young
people somehow know of its
existence and of its achievements. The fame is growing,
and the young
demand to know more. In one hundred years almost everything will be forgotten,
but the greatness and the heroism of the Waffen SS will be remembered. It is the reward of an epic.
From The Journal of Historical
Review, Winter 1982-83 (Vol. 3, No. 4). This essay by
(1906-1994) was first presented at the Fourth IHR Conference in Chicago
(Sept. 1982). In October 2015 the introduction text was revised, and the main text was
edited for clarity and to eliminate typos and errors.
Click on this text to watch Secret WW2 History - Minorities in the German Army.
A full 40% of the Waffen SS was made up of non-German nationalities.
SS volunteers came from Denmark, Norway, Switzerland,
Finland, Croatia, Ukraine, Latvia, Hungary, Spain, and Sweden
and from Russians and Cossacks. One force was formed into
Der Britisches Freikorps otherwise known as The British Free Corps (BFC).
Swiss, Swedish and Danish men who volunteered for the Waffen-SS
were highly intelligent and ambitious individuals, another study says.
In an article published in the journal Contemporary European History, Dr Martin Gutmann
argues that men from the neutral countries of Scandinavia and Switzerland who offered
their services “left for Germany with an active interest in contributing both physically
and intellectually to the NS project”. Gutmann challenges ‘the myth of the volunteers’ –
that they were uneducated social ‘losers’ and deviants, drawn by naivety
Instead, he argues, most were well-travelled, well-educated,
and of a middle or
upper-class upbringing. By examining documents detailing the lives of a
volunteers, such as journals and school records, Gutmann
volunteers “were not weak followers, but confident leaders”.
Gutmann also found that volunteers were, with very few exceptions, convinced nationalists,
who had a “sense of impending demographic and racial degradation”,
and were fearful
of both Bolshevism and liberal capitalism.
They were “at
best ambivalent towards the German National Socialist party”, but had
inclination towards fascism”, and were
keen to “reclaim the ‘purity’
of [their] nation[s]”, he found.
And from reading volunteers’
military evaluations, Gutmann surmised that many
of the men had an inclination towards “viewing
violence as having personal and
socially redemptive qualities”.
While acknowledging that each volunteer had personal reasons for joining the Nazi regime,
concludes it was “a profound decision taken only by confident and ambitious
who were well aware of its potential consequences but willing to gamble for the sake of an ideal”.
Gutmann told historyextra: “There are already some excellent national studies that
the various motivations and experiences among SS volunteers from Denmark, Norway and
“But the transnational approach
of my study offers some unique insights. By placing
the more intellectual and influential volunteers
from various countries side-by-side,
I uncovered surprising similarities in the types of men
from the smaller European
peripheral countries who were attracted to the National Socialist
ideology and project.
“I was motivated to conduct this
study because my maternal grandfather served in the
Swedish military during the war and my
paternal in the Swiss. Both of them had vivid and
patriotic memories of this time, and they
often told me about the few ‘mentally
deranged traitors’, as they called them –
Swedish and Swiss who helped the Germans.
“So I decided to look
into this issue more closely.
“It's easy and perhaps
more convenient to lay the blame for this murderous ideology
completely with Germans, and to
some extent Italians, and to see other
western Europeans as victims. Of course, the truth is
rarely this straightforward.”
Dr Nir Arielli, a lecturer
in international history at the University of Leeds, told historyextra:
makes an important contribution to the study of transnational volunteering
by applying the
dispassionate approach to foreigners who joined the
Waffen-SS during the early stages of the
Second World War.
“His very thorough analysis, which
draws on material from 19 archives
in seven countries, sheds new light on the motivations of
“The German war effort offered individuals
whose armies did not take part in the fighting
a blend of adventure, a test to affirm their
worthiness and the opportunity
to fight for a cause – or parts of a cause – they
“Much like other transnational volunteers
in the modern era, foreigners in the Waffen-SS
wanted to add meaning to their lives, and chose
to seek it in very dangerous and controversial settings.”
Siegrunen Magazine (1987)
From 1943-45, 3rd Company of the Recce Detachment of
the "Nordland" Division bore the sobriquet, "The Swedish Company," because it contained a nearly all
Swedish platoon, and had Estonian ethnic-Swedes scattered throughout the company along with either a Swedish company commander
or Swedish officers attached to the company.
format the company consisted of three light armored scout car platoons and the IV. (heavy) Platoon, whose armored vehicles
had heavy machine guns mounted upon them.
Almost all Swedish
in composition, IV. Platoon consisted of one or two officers, five NCOs and 30 to 35 men. Its first commander was Oscha.
Walter Nilsson, was KIA on 25 January 1944 near Rogovitzky. Four Swedish officers eventually served with IV. Platoon, and
two of them were also killed-in-action.
Much of 3rd Company
was composed of ethnic-Germans from Romania, and there were concentrations of other Scandinavians and Swiss in it and the
detachment as a whole. In early September 1944, the Swedish crew of an armored personnel carrier from 3rd Company (Sven
Alm, Markus Ledin and Ingemar Johansson), were repairing the motor of their broken-down vehicle in a concealed position
near Dorpat, Estonia when they noticed Soviet motorized forces bypassing them. They went on with their work and in a few
hours had the motor operating again, but it then proved impossible to make any further contact with their unit. So they traveled
by night in their vehicle through Soviet occupied territory until they eventually reached the Estonian coast. Here the trio
was able to secure civilian clothes and a fishing boat which they used to take them safely across the Baltic to Sweden,
thus escaping both Soviet captivity and the travails of the rest of the war.
One of the Swedish officers killed with 3rd Company was Ustuf. Rune Ahlgren, who had broken off his officer’s
training course at the War College in Stockholm to join the Waffen-SS. He fell near Duna, Latvia on 30 October 1944 and
was buried in the outskirts of the town. Another Swedish officer who had spent some time with the company at Narva, Ustuf.
Thorkel Tillmann, was KIA near Cheux in Normandy on 20 July 1944 while attached to the staff of an SS Panzer Corps as a war
correspondent. During the final battles of the "Nordland" Division in Berlin the surviving members of the "Swedish
Company" generally fought on foot as infantrymen. At least some members of the company, including its long-time commander,
Hans-Goesta Pehrsson utilized a Swedish armshield in the national colors of blue and yellow.
Uscha. Sven Erik Olsson, Swedish radioman with the "Nordland" Division
Swedish SS volunteers with the "Nordland" Division on the Narva Front
"Nordland" medical officers; a Swedish SS doctor is on the right (note armshield!)
Reported Numbers of Swedish Volunteers in the
One hundred and one as of 31 January 1944 (from
a speech by Ogruf. Berger; out of this total nine had been killed and seven wounded).
One hundred and thirty (David Littlejohn in Foreign Legions of the Third Reich, Volume 3).
One hundred and fifty (as of October 1943 according to the head of Germanic Volunteer
recruiting, the Swiss Ostubaf. Dr. Franz Riedweg).
One hundred and seventy-five
(as of 25 July 1942 according to 11. Picker in Hitler’s Table Talk).
Three hundred and fifteen as of 31 October 1944 (from an unpublished biography of Ogruf. Gottlob Berger by Robert
Kuebler - this is close to the "usual" estimates by assorted Waffen-SS historians).
Swedish Casualties in the Waffen-SS
About 30 to 45 killed. Lennert Westberg, who is probably the most accurate among those who have written about the
Swedish volunteers lists 130 survivors out of an estimated 175 Swedes in the Waffen-SS.
The 33rd Waffen-Grenadier-Division
of the SS Charlemagne (French No.1)
Click on this text to watch a 4 and a half minute video:Berlin 1945: French Division Charlemagne (Fenet , De la Mazière)...
One of the last Waffen-SS units to hold out defending Adolf Hitler’s
bunker in Berlin was comprised entirely of Frenchmen.
The 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS
Charlemagne (1st French) and Charlemagne Regiment are collective names used for units of French volunteers in the Wehrmacht
and later Waffen-SS during World War II.
From estimates of 7,400 to 11,000 at its peak in 1944, the strength of the division fell to
just sixty men in May 1945. They were one of the last German units to see action in a pitched battle during World War II,
where they held central Berlin and the Führerbunker against the onslaught of Soviet infantry and armor. Knowing that
they would not survive should Germany be defeated, they were among the last to surrender in the brutal house-to-house and
street-to-street fighting during the final days of the Battle in Berlin.
Its crest is a representation of the dual empire of Charlemagne,
which united the Franks in what would become France and Germany. The Imperial eagle on the dexter side represents East Francia
(Germany) and the fleurs-de-lys on the sinister side represents West Francia (France).
In September 1944, a new unit, the Waffen-Grenadier-Brigade der
SS “Charlemagne” (französische Nr.1), also known as the Französische Brigade der SS was formed out
of the remnants of the LVF and French Sturmbrigade, both of which were disbanded.
Joining them were French collaborators fleeing
the Allied advance in the west, as well as Frenchmen from the German Navy, the National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK), the
Organisation Todt, a construction unit and the Vichy French Milice. Some sources claim that the unit also included volunteers
from some French colonies and Switzerland. SS-Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg took actual command with Puaud (now an
SS-Oberführer), as nominal French commander.
Defence of Berlin
In early April 1945, Krukenberg now commanded
only about 700 men organized into a single infantry regiment with two battalions (Battalions 57 and 58) and one heavy support
battalion without equipment. He released about 400 men to serve in a construction battalion; the remainder, numbering about
350, had chosen to go to Berlin and conduct a delaying action against the approaching Soviet Army.
On 23 April the Reich Chancellery in Berlin ordered
Krukenberg to proceed to the capital with his men, who were reorganized as Sturmbataillon (“assault battalion”)
“Charlemagne”. Between 320 and 330 French troops arrived in Berlin on 24 April after a long detour to avoid
Soviet advance columns. (The French SS men had been attempting to cross the Falkenrehde canal bridge which was blown up under
them by men of the Volkssturm who thought they were a Soviet column). Sturmbataillon “Charlemagne” was attached
to the 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division “Nordland”.
The arrival of the French SS men bolstered the Nordland Division
whose “Norge” and “Danmark” Panzergrenadier regiments had been decimated in the fighting. Both equaled
roughly a battalion. SS-Brigadeführer Krukenberg was appointed the commander of (Berlin) Defence Sector C on 25 April.
This command included the Nordland Division, following the dismissal of its previous commander, SS-Brigadeführer Joachim
Ziegler on the same day.
The soldiers noted that the first night in Berlin was unnaturally quiet. They heard people dancing and laughing,
but no sounds of fighting were audible except for the occasional distant sound of Soviet artillery.They walked from West
to East Berlin, to a brewery near the Hermannplatz. Here the fighting began, with Hitler Youth firing Panzerfausts at Soviet
tanks belonging to advance guards near the Tempelhof Aerodrome. Soon some members of the Sturmbataillon joined the Hitler
Youth in tank hunting sorties.
Supported by Tiger II tanks and the 11th SS Panzer-Battalion “Hermann von Salza”, the Sturmbataillon
took part in a counterattack on the morning of 26 April in Neukölln, a district in southeastern Berlin near the Sonnenallee.
The counterattack ran into an ambush by Soviet troops using a captured German Panther tank. The regiment lost half of the
available troops in Neukölln on the first day. It later defended Neukölln’s Town Hall.
Given that Neukölln was heavily penetrated
by Soviet combat groups, Krukenberg prepared fallback positions for Sector C defenders around Hermannplatz. He moved his
headquarters into the opera house. As the Nordland Division withdrew towards Hermannplatz the French SS and one-hundred
Hitler Youth attached to their group destroyed 14 Soviet tanks with panzerfausts; one machine gun position by the Halensee
bridge managed to hold up any Soviet advance in that area for 48 hours.
The Soviet advance into Berlin followed a pattern of massive shelling
followed by assaults using battle groups of about 80 men in each, with tank escorts and close artillery support. On 27 April,
after a spirited but futile defence, the remnants of Nordland were pushed back into the central government district (Zitadelle
sector) in Defence sector Z.
There, Krukenberg’s Nordland headquarters was a carriage in the Stadtmitte U-Bahn station. Fighting was very
heavy and by 28 April, approximately 108 Soviet tanks had been destroyed in the southeast of Berlin within the S-Bahn. Sixty-two
of those were destroyed by the efforts of the Charlemagne Sturmbataillon alone, which was now under the command of SS-Hauptsturmführer
Henri Joseph Fenet. Fenet and his battalion were given the area of Neukölln, Belle Alliance Platz, Wilhelmstrasse and
the Friedrichstrasse to defend.
Fenet, who was now wounded in the foot, remained with his battalion as they withdrew to the
vicinity of the Reich Aviation Ministry in the central government district under the command of SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm
Mohnke. For the success of the battalion during the Battle in Berlin, Mohnke awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron
Cross to Fenet on 29 April 1945.
On 28 April, the Red Army started a full-scale offensive into the central sector. Fighting
was intense, the Sturmbataillon Charlemagne was in the center of the battle zone around the Reich Chancellery. SS-Unterscharführer
Eugene Vaulot, who had destroyed two tanks in Neukölln, used his Panzerfausts to claim six more near the Führerbunker.
He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross by Krukenberg during a candlelight ceremony on the Stadtmitte
U-Bahn station platform on 29 April. Vaulot did not survive the battle being killed three days later.
The French Charlemagne SS were the last defenders
of Hitler’s Führerbunker, remaining there until 2 May to prevent the Soviets from capturing it on May Day.
Reduced to approximately
thirty able men, most members of the Sturmbataillon had been captured or escaped Berlin on their own, or in small groups.
Most of those who made it to France were denounced and sent to Allied prisons and camps. For example, Fenet was sentenced
to 20 years of forced labour, but was released from prison in 1959. Others were shot upon capture by the French authorities.
General Philip Leclerc, the French divisional commander who had served under the Americans, was presented with a defiant
group of 11-12 captured Charlemagne Division men. The Free French General immediately asked them why they wore a German
uniform, to which one of them replied by asking the General why he wore an American one (the Free French wore modified US
army uniforms). The group of French Waffen-SS men was later executed by the "victorius allies" without any form
of military tribunal procedure.