Waffen-SS foreign volunteers and conscripts
|Waffen-SS foreign volunteers and conscripts|
Finnish Waffen-SS men in 1941
The Waffen-SS foreign volunteers and conscripts during World War II were members of the Waffen-SS who had been recruited or conscripted mainly from among the nationals of Nazi-occupied Europe. The units were under the control of the SS Führungshauptamt (SS Command Main Office) beneath Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Upon mobilization, the units' tactical control was given to the High Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht).
- 1 History of the Waffen-SS
- 2 Recruitment and conscription
- 3 Post-war
- 4 Foreign Waffen-SS units recruited by Nazi Germany
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Sources
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
History of the Waffen-SS
The Waffen-SS (Armed SS) was created as the militarized wing of the Schutzstaffel (SS; "Protective Squadron") of the Nazi Party after the Night of the Long Knives purge of the Sturmabteilung (SA; "Storm Detachment") leadership. In 1933, a group of 120 SS men were chosen to form the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH). In 1934 the SS developed its own military branch, the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), which together with the LSSAH, later evolved into the Waffen-SS. Nominally under the authority of Heinrich Himmler, the Waffen-SS developed a fully militarised structure of command and operations. It grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions during World War II, serving alongside the Heer (army), while never formally being a part of it. It was Hitler's wish that the Waffen-SS should never be integrated into either the army or the state police, instead it would remain an independent force of military-trained men at the disposal of the Führer in times of both war and peace.
Recruitment and conscription
In 1934 Himmler initially set stringent requirements for recruits. They were to be German nationals who could prove their Aryan ancestry back to 1800, unmarried, and without a criminal record. Recruits had to be between the ages of 17 and 23, at least 1.74 metres (5 ft 9 in) tall (1.78 metres (5 ft 10 in) for the Leibstandarte). Recruits were required to have perfect teeth and eyesight and provide a medical certificate. By 1938 the height restrictions were relaxed, up to six dental fillings were permitted, and eyeglasses for astigmatism and mild vision correction were allowed. Once World War II commenced in Europe, the physical requirements were no longer strictly enforced, and essentially any recruit who could pass a basic medical exam was considered for Waffen-SS service. Following the campaign in the West in 1940, Hitler authorized the enlistment of "people perceived to be of related stock", as Himmler put it, to expand the ranks. A number of Danes, Dutch, Norwegians, Swedes and Finns volunteered to fight in the Waffen-SS under the command of German officers. Non-Germanic units were not considered to be part of the SS directly, which still maintained its strict racial criteria, instead they were considered to be foreign nationals serving under the command of the SS.
Recruitment began in April 1940 with the creation of two regiments: Nordland (later SS Division Nordland) and Westland (later SS Division Wiking). As they grew in numbers, the volunteers were grouped into Legions (with the size of battalion or brigade); their members included the so-called Germanic non-Germans as well as ethnic German officers originating from the occupied territories. As the war progressed, foreign volunteers and conscripts made up one half of the Waffen-SS. By February 1942 the recruitment to the Waffen-SS in south-east Europe turned into compulsory conscription for all German minorities of military age.
After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, recruits from France, Spain, Belgium (including Walloons), the territory of occupied Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the Balkans were signed on. From 1942 forward, further units of non-Germanic recruits were formed. Legions were formed of men from Estonia, Latvia as well as men from Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Georgia, Ukraine, Russia and Cossacks. By 1944 the German military began conscripting Estonians and Latvians in an effort to replenish their losses. The foreigners who served in the Waffen-SS numbered "some 500,000", including those who were pressured into service or conscripted.
A system of nomenclature developed to formally distinguish personnel based on their place of origin. Germanic units would have the "SS" prefix while non-Germanic units were designated with the "Waffen" prefix to their names. The formations with non-German volunteers of Germanic background were officially named Freiwilligen (volunteer) (Scandinavians, Dutch, and Flemish), while the units of ethnic Germans born outside the Reich were known as Volksdeutsche and their members were from satellite countries. These were organized into independent legions and had the designation Waffen attached to their names for the ease of formal identification. In addition, the German SS Division Wiking included recruits from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Estonia throughout its history. The number of SS recruits from Sweden and Switzerland was only a de minimus number of several hundred men. Despite manpower shortages, the Waffen-SS was still based on the racist ideology of Nazism, thereby ethnic Poles were specifically barred from the formations due to them being looked upon as "subhumans".
During the Nuremberg Trials, the Waffen-SS was declared a criminal organization for its major involvement in war crimes and for being an "integral part" of the SS. Conscript units, however, were not deemed to be criminal as these individuals had no choice in becoming members. A number of volunteers were executed, while others were tried and imprisoned by their countries. Still others either lived in exile or returned to their homeland.
After the German Instrument of Surrender, many volunteers were tried and imprisoned by their countries. In several cases, volunteers were executed. Henri Joseph Fenet, one of the last recipients of the Knight's Cross was sentenced to 20 years of forced labour and released from prison in 1959. Some were far less lucky and were shot upon capture by the French authorities. General Leclerc was famously presented with a defiant group of 11 or 12 captured 33rd SS Charlemagne 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 then promptly executed without any form of military tribunal procedure.
Walloon leader Leon Degrelle escaped to Spain, where, despite being sentenced to death in absentia by the Belgian authorities, he lived in exile until his death in 1994. Some 146 Baltic soldiers from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia who fought against Soviets and escaped to Sweden were extradited to Soviet Union in 1946.
The men of the XV SS Cossack Corps found themselves in Austria at the end of the war and surrendered to British troops. Even though they were given assurances that they would not be turned over to the Soviets, they nevertheless were forcibly removed from the compound and transferred to the USSR. This event became known as the Betrayal of the Cossacks. Most of the Cossacks were executed for treason.
After the war members of Baltic Waffen-Grenadier Units were considered separate and distinct in purpose, ideology and activities from the German SS by the Western Allies. Subsequently in the spring of 1946, out of the ranks of Baltic conscripts who had surrendered to the Western allies in the previous year, a total of nine companies were formed with a mission to guard the external perimeter of the Nuremberg International Tribunal courthouse and the various depots and residences of US officers and prosecutors connected with the trial. The men were also entrusted with guarding the accused Nazi war criminals held in prison during the trial up until the day of execution.
Foreign Waffen-SS units recruited by Nazi Germany
Total: 6,500 to 7,000
Total: 40,000 (about "evenly divided between Flemings and Walloons")
- SS-Freiwilligen Legion Flandern (1941): 875
- SS-Freiwilligen-Standarte Nordwest
- 5th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Wallonien
- 6th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Langemarck
- 27th SS Volunteer Division Langemarck
- 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien
- 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar (1st Croatian)
- 23rd Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Kama (2nd Croatian)
- Free Corps Denmark (1941): 1,164
- Danish volunteers in Waffen-SS, the majority of them in the SS Division Wiking and the SS Division Nordland
- Französisch SS-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade a/k/a 8th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade France
- 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien
- 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne (1st French)
- Bretonische Waffenverband der SS (80 men)
- 22nd SS Volunteer Cavalry Division Maria Theresia
- 25th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Hunyadi (1st Hungarian)]
- 26th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (2nd Hungarian)
- 33rd Waffen Cavalry Division of the SS (3rd Hungarian)
- Italienische Freiwilligen Legion (1943): 6,000
- 1st Sturmbrigade, Italienische Freiwilligen Legion
- 24th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS
- 29th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Italian)
- Latvian Legion
- SS Freiwilligen Legion Niederlande (1941): 2,559
- SS-Freiwilligen-Standarte Nordwest
- SS Volunteer Grenadier-Brigade Landstorm Nederland
- 4th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Brigade Nederland
- 23rd SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Nederland
- 34th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Landstorm Nederland
- Romanian volunteers in the Waffen-SS
- Waffen Grenadier Regiment of the SS (1st Romanian)
- Waffen Grenadier Regiment of the SS (2nd Romanian)
- 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician)
- 29th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS RONA (1st Russian)
- 30th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Belarussian)
- Kaukasische Waffen-Verbände der SS
- Osttürkische Waffen-Verbände der SS
- Tataren-Gebirgsjäger-Regiment der SS
- Waffen-Sturm-Brigade Kaminski
- Waffen-Sturm-Brigade RONA
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Waffen-SS.|
- Wehrmacht foreign volunteers and conscripts
- List of Nazis of non-Germanic descent
- Waffen-SS in popular culture
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