Book Review: The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis: The Berlin Years, 1941-1945.

Klaus Gensicke. The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis: The Berlin Years, 1941-1945. Edgware: Vallentine Mitchell, 2010. 256 pp. $74.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-85303-844-3.
Reviewed by Norman Goda (University of Florida)
Published on H-Judaic (December, 2011)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

The Riddle of the Mufti

The enduring nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the attacks of September 11, and the antisemitic rhetoric of Mahmud Ahmadinejad and other extreme Islamists has produced contemporary interest in the history of antisemitism in the Arab/Muslim world. Specifically, scholars and journalists have asked whether there exists a link between Nazi thinking on the Jewish question and current discourse in the Arab/Muslim world on Jews and on Western modernity. These questions are of great importance. Current “anti-Zionist” rhetoric is said to center on anticolonial narratives, which carry moral authority with many on the political left in Europe and in formerly colonized regions. But this moral authority would vanish should the roots of anti-Israel thinking be shown to have its roots in Nazism.

Scholars have tackled the problem from many angles.[1] But a key piece to the puzzle is Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem from 1921 to 1948. In 1941 the mufti, having triggered failed revolts against the British in both Palestine and Iraq, gravitated to Berlin, where for four years he tried to tighten bonds between Nazi Germany and the Arabs and Muslims of the Middle East. After Germany’s defeat he fled to Paris, then Cairo, then Beirut, while styling himself as a nationalist and anti-imperialist. Was the mufti’s policy in Berlin simply a question of anti-British pragmatism? Or was he the missing link between the Nazis’ war against the Jews and more extreme forms of Muslim antisemitism today? And whom did the mufti ultimately speak for in the Middle East?
The complex of issues is the subject of Klaus Gensicke’s Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten (2007), now translated and updated as The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis. The book is based primarily on German and British records and shows that the mufti’s role in Berlin was multilayered yet telling. On the one hand, he never convinced the Germans to back his geopolitical aim of an independent Middle East under his own leadership. On the other, he endorsed Nazism’s war against the Jews on ideological grounds, and contributed where he could to the Jews’ destruction.

Amin al-Husseini was initially a clan leader and uncompromising political agitator. He worked against the Balfour Declaration from the moment it was issued in 1917 and helped trigger riots against the settlement of European Jews in the 1920s. The British hoped to co-opt him and the Husseini clan by making him the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921. The position made Husseini responsible for Islamic holy sites, but Husseini used it to argue that the Jews were trying to control the al-Aqsa Mosque and to augment his political standing. By 1936 he was head of the Arab Higher Committee, a position from which he claimed to speak for all Arabs. The revolt he triggered in Palestine from 1936 to 1939 sought to end British rule and to eliminate the mufti’s more moderate Arab political opponents.

Husseini adopted an uncompromising antisemitism that viewed Jews not just as Western interlopers in Palestine and not just as religious infidels, but as an existential threat as per the modern European antisemitic tradition. He rejected British partition schemes for Palestine in 1937 as well as the 1939 White Paper, which sharply limited Jewish immigration and was accepted by the more moderate Nashishibi faction. Instead the mufti courted Nazi Germany from the moment Hitler came to power in part because Hitler, at least when it came to Jews, spoke his language. Husseini argued to German interlocutors that, “Current Jewish influence on economics and politics is injurious all over and has to be combated” (p. 29). Living in exile in Baghdad after his failure in Palestine, he further demanded the expropriation of the 135,000 Jews there–who were hardly part of the European Zionist movement–and he instigated the pogrom that eventually erupted in Baghdad after the failed anti-British revolt in 1941.

Most crucial is the mufti’s period in Berlin from 1941 to the end of the war. On the one hand, Husseini hoped to win Hitler’s support for an independent Middle East while outflanking his Arab rivals in Berlin, namely Rashid Ali al-Kailani, who led the coup against the British in Iraq and whom the Germans hoped they might return to power there. On the other, he hoped to enlist the Germans to help with the eradication of the Jews in the Middle East. It was one of the mufti’s great disappointments that Hitler, realizing Italian aims in the Middle East and viewing the Arabs as another inferior Asiatic race, refused to back Arab independence openly. Husseini was sure that such a statement would deliver the Arab world to the Axis while cementing his own position in the Arab world. But Hitler and the mufti were in full accord that when Germany defeated the British, the Jews of Palestine would be destroyed. The mufti knew what this meant. When he met personally with Hitler in November 1941, Nazi propaganda on the Jews had been clear for two decades, and the Germans, with local help, had been killing Jews in the Soviet Union for four months.

Here indeed was the crucial link between the mufti and the Nazis. Unable to agree on Middle Eastern geopolitics, they could agree that Jews controlled the governments in Moscow, London, and Washington, and that murder was a desirable policy by which to eradicate Jews from the Middle East. The mufti was pleased to broadcast this message to the Arab world through the use of German radio facilities, and the Germans were pleased to have him do so, particularly after June 1942 when it looked as though the Afrika Korps, with an attached SS murder squad, would break through British defenses. As late as December 1942, with the Allies having taken the offensive in North Africa, Husseini, on the opening of the new Islamic Central Institute in Berlin, proclaimed that “the Holy Koran … is full of evidence of Jewish lack of character and their insidious lying and deceitful conduct” and that the Jews “will always remain a divisive element in the world … committed to devising schemes, provoking wars, and playing people off against one another” (p. 108). As scholars have pointed out, the tone and content of Arab propaganda from Berlin, speaking as it did of Jewish global conspiracies, has much in common with extreme Arab narratives today.

Gensicke points out, however, that the mufti was more than a propagandist while in Berlin. He conducted his own diplomacy, acting as a mediator between Berlin and King Farouk of Egypt in 1942. He tried to create an Arab legion with French POWs from North Africa to help the Germans and he also helped with the recruitment of the Bosnian Muslim SS division in 1943 that fought against Josef Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia. Berlin’s desire to use him for German ends rather than place him at the head of an Arab independence movement infuriated him. Yet as Gensicke points put, the mufti openly committed himself to the Germans past the point of no return. Besides, the German Foreign Ministry kept him in opulent comfort, providing him with immense sums for his work and living expenses.

And regardless of the mufti’s frustrations with Hitler, the Jews remained his existential enemy. In spring 1943 when gas chambers in Poland murdered Jews from all over Europe, the mufti engaged in quiet diplomacy with the Romanian, Bulgarian, and Hungarian governments, urging them not to allow a few thousand Jewish children to travel to Palestine as was then being discussed in London. The Jews would be better off, the mufti said, in Poland where the Germans could keep an eye on them. Husseini enjoyed a close relationship with Heinrich Himmler and knew what awaited deported Jews. The mufti never drove the Final Solution–Himmler was unwilling to allow Jews to escape in any event–but he worked to ensure that as many Jews were killed as possible. In the meantime he tried to fuse Islam with Nazism, creating seven new “pillars” that included the thesis that, “In the struggle against Jewry, Islam and National Socialism come very close to one another” (p. 149).

Gensicke points out that Husseini could easily have been tried for war crimes, particularly in Yugoslavia where Bosnian Muslims he recruited engaged in various excesses. But following his escape to France in the war’s final days, neither then French nor the British wished to inflame radical Arab opinion by extraditing him. The mufti’s apologists in Palestine and Egypt could thus claim that he tried to use the Germans for anticolonial aims rather than collaborating with them. Moreover, his role in the Final Solution did not come up in postwar trials. The distortion had immediate effects in Cairo, where Arab nationalists launched a pogrom to celebrate his arrival in 1946. It also had effects in Palestine, where as a hero with bona fides he effectively agitated against 1947 UN partition schemes, called for the immediate destruction of the Jews once the British left, and branded Arabs who accepted the partition as traitors. It all backfired. “The Mufti,” concludes Gensicke, “bore much of the blame for the naqba,” by which the attack on Israel in 1948 created throngs of Arab refugees (p. 189).

After 1948 the mufti waned into political insignificance. The new generations of Arab leaders such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser were committed to destroying Israel. So was the new generation of Palestinian students who came of age in the 1960s and formed the PLO. A former clan based-leader Arab leader whose Nazi collaboration sullied an anticolonial narrative and was surely yesterday’s man. Still none openly condemned the connection between Husseini and Hitler. Yassir Arafat was among Husseini’s mourners when he died in exile in 1974, and he referred to Husseini as “our hero” as late as 2002 (p. 203). And as Gensicke shows in this important book, the mufti threw a long shadow as a precursor to the Arab and Muslim factions who reject all compromise with Jews in the Middle East and whose brand of antisemitism borrows much from the Western traditions that they otherwise despise.

Note
[1]. See especially Matthias Küntzel, Jihad and Jew Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11 (New York: Telos, 2007); Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers, Nazi Palestine: The Plans for the Extermination of the Jews in Palestine (New York: Enigma, 2010); Ian Johnson, A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West (Boston: Hoghton Mifflin, 2010); Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (reprint, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010); and Jeffrey Herf, ed., Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism in Historical Perspective: Convergence and Divergence (London: Routledge, 2006).

Soviet PoW and Polish and Soviet Civilians – The Holocaust?

Of the 5,700,000 Soviet soldiers who surrendered to the Germans during World War II, more than 3,000,000 were either shot shortly after capture, starved to death in prisoner of war camps, gassed in extermination camps, or worked to death in concentration camps. They are usually ignored in books about the Holocaust because at the time they were not targeted for total extermination. Those who offer explicit or implicit arguments for including them among the victims of the Holocaust, such as Bohdan Wytwycky in The Other Holocaust and Christian Streit and Jürgen Förster in The Policies of Genocide, point out that the appallingly high losses among Soviet prisoners of war were racially determined. The Germans did not usually mistreat prisoners from other Allied countries, but in the Nazi view Soviet prisoners were Slavic “subhumans” who had no right to live. Moreover, young Slavs of reproductive and fighting age were dangerous obstacles to resettling Eastern Europe with Germans. Hence it is reasonable to conclude that all of them were destined to be killed or else sterilized so that their kind would disappear.

POLISH AND SOVIET CIVILIANS

Slavic civilians, ordinary citizens of Poland and the Soviet Union in particular, were held no higher in Nazi racial ideology. Millions were forced to work for the Germans under frequently murderous conditions. Their natural leaders, such as teachers, professors, lawyers, clergymen, and politicians, were ruthlessly exterminated by the Germans. Others perished in massive German reprisals against various forms of resistance. Three million Poles (10 percent of the population) and 19,000,000 Soviet citizens (11 percent of the population) died at the hands of the Germans. Because these deaths were far more selective than was the case with Jews, Gypsies, and the handicapped, it is possible to place them in a different category. Those who would exclude them from the Holocaust emphasize that the Germans did not plan to kill all the Slavs. On the contrary, Germany considered the Slavs of Slovakia and Croatia as valuable allies, not candidates for extermination. Complicating the issue is the difficulty of distinguishing racially motivated killings of Poles and Soviet citizens from those that resulted directly or indirectly from German military actions. Bohdan Wytwycky has estimated that nearly one-fourth of the Soviet civilian deaths were racially motivated, namely, those of 3,000,000 Ukrainians and 1,500,000 Belarusans.

Those who would include Polish and Soviet civilian losses in the Holocaust include Bohdan Wytwycky in The Other Holocaust, Richard C. Lukas in The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Rule, 1939–1944, and Ihor Kamenetsky in Secret Nazi Plans for Eastern Europe. These scholars point out that the deaths were a direct result of Nazi contempt for the “subhuman” Slavs. They note that the “racially valuable” peoples of Western European countries like France and the Netherlands were not treated anywhere near as badly. Moreover, Nazi plans for the ethnic cleansing and German colonization of Poland and parts of the Soviet Union suggest that a victorious Germany might well have raised the level of genocide against the civilian populations of those areas to even more appalling proportions. Slovakia and Croatia did not figure as victims in Hitler’s plans to secure Lebensraum, and their Slavic populations could be spared. In A World At Arms: A Global History of World War II, Gerhard Weinberg suggests that experiments done on concentration camp inmates to perfect methods of mass sterilization probably were chiefly aimed at keeping Slavs alive to perform slave labor in the short term while assuring their long-term disappearance.

Foundation gives voice to Nazi-era forced laborers

 
Many forced laborers became pariahs once they returned to their home countries.

The Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation no longer pays out compensation to victims of Nazi forced labor in 2007. But it hasn’t stopped working to publicize the former forced workers’ suffering.

The Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation (EVZ) began paying compensation to victims of Nazi forced labor in 2000. Funded by the German government and about 6,500 German companies, EVZ paid 4.4 billion euros ($5.7 billion) to 1.7 million former forced workers over seven years.
When payments ended in 2007 – and with them EVZ’s original mission – the organization faced the challenge of redefining itself.
Part of a European culture of remembrance
For EVZ board member Guenter Saathoff there was no question that the group should continue to exist.
“Considering the 13 million people who were brought to Germany as forced workers, you have to recognize that forced labor was a European occurrence,” Saathoff told Deutsche Welle.
“It must be a permanently anchored and fundamental element of the history of wrongdoing in a European culture of remembrance,” he added.
The EZB has holdings of about 400 million euros, which it has used to fund over 2,100 projects, including a program called “Europeans for Peace.” So far over 100,000 young people from 28 countries have participated in the program aimed to help victims of anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism.
Labeled traitors to the fatherland
Still of particular importance to the foundation are projects that support former forced laborers and their families through local initiatives. One such project in eastern Europe encourages dialogue about the once-taboo topic of forced labor. The dialogues initiated by the program give long-needed acknowledgement to the “other” victims of Nazism, according to Saathoff.
“Under Stalin many returning forced laborers were seen as traitors to the fatherland,” Saathoff said, adding that many of them lived as pariahs within their societies.
“This project attempts to give those people a voice again in their communities, and we also want to encourage the communities to give the victims their attention, so intergenerational dialog and local initiatives are at the center of our efforts,” he said.
Jewish Museum exhibition
Berlin’s Jewish Museum is set to host a large exhibition on Nazi-era forced labor beginning this September with the EVZ’s financial support.
One of the exhibition planners, Jens-Christian Wagner, explained that the exhibition will show “when and how Germans had to decide what position to take on forced labor.”
Wagner, who is also the director of the Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp Memorial, added that the exhibition will “use the frame of forced labor to tell the social history of Nazism, the history of a social order that was ideologically anchored in extreme racism.”
He said the exhibition is not simply a “commission” by the EVZ but will critically examine both at forced labor and at compensation paid to victims by the EVZ.
To that end, Wagner said the exhibition will also “consider the Italian military detainee or the Soviet prisoner of war, who were denied compensation and humanitarian aid, but who, of course – in the eyes of historians – were also forced workers.”
An injury to justice

Wagner said it would have been impossible to make the distribution of compensation absolutely fair. He said this “injury to justice” is yet another result of Germany’s coming to terms with Nazi forced labor.
The exhibition will move to Warsaw in 2011, with further stations planned in Russia to mark the 70th anniversary of Germany’s 1941 attack on the Soviet Union.
Author: Marcel Fürstenau (dl) 
Editor: Sean Sinico

The Cossacks

painting
Operation Keelhaul – Betrayal of the Cossacks in Lienz
German-Cossack

The Cossacks were probably the most militarily skilled and loyal foreign volunteers of the Wehrmacht.
In September 1942 the German cavalry General von Pannwitz started raising a complete division with Cossacks, by absorption of previous regiment-sized units like Kampfgruppen von Jungschultz, Lehman, Konomow and Wolff, fresh recruitments, and by implanting a ‘stan’ or Cossack settlement in Poland, and later in Northern Italy. In September 1943 this 1. Kossacken Division was ordered to Yugoslavia, to fight the partisans of Tito.

The Cossacks fought bitterly against the partisans, and proved to be more successful in this kind of operations than the German units, their horses giving them a useful tactical flexibility in the wild terrain of the Balkan mountains. At the end of 1943, with a new 2. Division, von Pannwitz formed the XIV Kossacken Korps. General von Pannwitz was so popular amongst his Cossacks that they granted him the title of ‘Feldataman’, the highest rank in the Cossack hierarchy, traditionally reserved for the Tsar alone.

The Cossacks continued fighting against the partisans and later the Red Army until the end, when the majority of them managed to surrender to the British Army. However, Stalin demanded them to be handed over, and the British acceded. General von Pannwitz, who refused leaving his men, was hanged. The Cossacks were shot at once or sent to the Siberian gulags.

Vlassov’s Army

Prague 1945

e000b-po28

 

Russia was far from a monolithic structure. It contained numerous diverse ethnic groups, many of which had long histories of resenting Russian suzerainty and domination. Combined with the long standing hatred of Russia, the new Soviet regime was often even more hated, even by the Russians, so when the Germans invaded, their initial reception was often one of liberator than one of conqueror. Deserters appeared in the hundreds before German units offering their services in any capacity and they were taken in gladly. They were given the names “Hilfsfreiwilliger” (Volunteer Helpers) or Hiwis for short. Initially, their functions were the various menial tasks such as cooking, digging latrines, officers’ batmen, etc., but more than once they jumped into combat roles when the opportunity arose. Hundreds of the Hiwis were gradually sucked into the role of combatant, despite the lack of orders and the German ethnic attitudes of the period.

The 134th Infantry Division began openly enlisting Russians in July 1941. Other divisions refrained from such overt violation of Hitler’s orders, but more than willingly took the Russians on an unofficial basis. During the winter of 1941/42 the first Osttruppen or Eastern Troops were formed. By early 1942 six battalions of Ostruppen were formed in Army Group Center under Oberst von Tresckow. These units were given territorial designations, like Volga, Berezina, and Pripet. Initially they were used in the rear on anti-partisan operations with the security divisions, but slowly they were brought forward into the front lines.

In early 1942 racist elements of the German hierarchy brought this to Hitler’s attention. He responded to the movement by prohibiting the use of Russian “sub humans” as soldiers and on 2/10/42 issued a Fuhrer Order that limited their use of those existent units to rear area operations only. Despite his obvious displeasure, the Osttruppen continued to expand. The OKH was to authorize the use of Hiwis up to 10% to 15% of divisional strength and by August 1942 official regulations were issued governing uniforms pay, decoration, and insignia. By early 1943 an estimated 80,000 Russians were serving the Wehrmacht in Ostbataillonen.

The formation of Russian units in the German army would have been quite limited had not the Soviet General Vlassov been captured in July 1942. He had been a prominent general after the war erupted, but in March 1942 he was ordered to liberate Leningrad with the 2nd Soviet Assault Army. His attack failed and his army of nine infantry divisions, six infantry brigades, and an armored brigade were surrounded, abandoned by Stalin, and crushed, leaving the Germans with 32,000 prisoners. Amongst the German High Command there had always some hope of forming a Russian army to assist them in the conquest of Soviet Russia. As time progressed, it became apparent that Vlassov was the ideal man to form this army.

As the war progressed and the German effort in Russia began failing, Hitler was eventually persuaded to permit the formation of the army. The first steps occurred in August 1942 when General Koestring formed an Inspectorate which was to organize Caucasian troops. Koestring, however, ignored this limitation and took all volunteers possible. When Koestring retired in January 1943 the post of General der Ostruppen was created and given to General Hellmich, who had no previous experience with the Russians. Fortunately, Hellmich and Koestring’s service overlapped and the two men agreed on Koestring’s earlier decisions.

The Osttruppen was absorbing not only Caucasians, but Ukrainians, Russians, Azberjainis, and Turkistanis. In January 1944 Koestring, now apparently out of retirement, took over from Hellmich with the new title General der Freiwilligen Verbaende (General of Volunteer Units). In the meantime, Hitler had authorized the formation of a Russian army under Vlassov. In November 1942 a Russian National Committee was established in Berlin with Vlassov serving as Chairman. It then issued the Smolensk Manifesto, calling for the destruction of Stalinism, the conclusion of an honorable peace with Germany, and Russian participation in the “New Europe.”

The German Army intelligence then proceeded to drop copies of leaflets over the Russian lines, as well as a carefully planned accident which resulted in their being dropped over German lines as well. It appears that Hitler had forbidden any release of this in the German press. During the winter of 1942/43, faced with the destruction of the 6th Army in Stalingrad and Rommel’s expulsion from North Africa, Hitler began to reconsider the role he had allocated to Vlassov’s Russkaia Osvoboditelnaia Armiia or ROA.

The desertion rate from the Soviet army rose to 6,500 in July 1943, compared to 2,500 the previous year, as a result of ROA propaganda and the future looked bright. However, in September 1943 Hitler announced that the ROA was to be dissolved. The German generals pleaded with him, pointing out that the Russian front would collapse, as there were currently 78 Ost battalions, 122 companies, one regiment and innumerable supply, security, and other units then serving with the German army, not to mention the thousands of Hiwis in the German units. Certainly there were 750,000 Russians then serving in the German army and some estimates go so far as to suggest that 25% of the German army on the Russian front was made up of ethnic Russians.

A screaming and raging Hitler was eventually brought to compromise and only those units whose loyalty was suspect were to be disbanded and the rest would be transferred to the West. This, being left in Wehrmacht hands, the disbandings were limited to 5,000 men and serious procrastination prevented many transfers westwards. However, by October 1943 large numbers of Ostruppen did begin moving west. This was accomplished by exchanging Ost Battalions for German battalions in the west. These Ost battalions were then formally incorporated into the German divisions where they were assigned.

The morale of the Osttruppen began to collapse. Vlassov was persuaded to write them an open letter announcing these transfers were only a temporary expediency and hinted at bigger and better things. When the allies invaded Normandy they were startled to find that many of their German prisoners were, in fact, Russians and soon had 20,000 ROA prisoners in custody. Though Himmler refused to believe Koestring’s reports, at that time there were 100,000 eastern volunteers in the Luftwaffe and Navy and another 800,000 in the German Army.

The continuing reversal of German military hopes was slowly bringing even the SS around to reconsidering the desirability of Russian troops. In the east the SS was, by late 1943, regularly rounding up 15-20 year olds to serve as Flak helpers. There was discussion of the creation of an Eastern Moslem SS Division and several Slavic legions were forming in the SS. Himmler soon began considering himself as the leader of the “Army of Europe” and began taking any non-German human material he could find into his hands. It was not long before he saw Vlassov’s ROA as another force that could be added.

Himmler approached Vlassov and proposed the formation of a Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (Komitet Osvobozhdeniia Narodov Rossi or K.O.N.R.) It was to be allowed to raise an army of five divisions, two of which were to be raised immediately. The personnel would be drawn from the existing ROA units and from among the Ostarbeiter then in Germany. The first two units formed were placed under Vlassov’s command on 1/28/45, the 600th and 650th Russian Divisions. In Neuren an airforce or air division, was organized that consisted of an air transport squadron, a reconnaissance squadron, a flak regiment, a paratrooper battalion, and a flying training unit. This force of some 4,000 men was assigned to General V.I. Maltsev. On 2/1/45 Goering formally handed this division over to Vlassov’s command.

By March 1945 the KONR numbered some 50,000 men. The Cossack Cavalry Corps was promised to Vlassov by Himmler, as was the Russian Guard Corps in Serbia, but in fact neither was ever placed under his command. The KONR fought its first battle in February 1945 when a force of the 600th Division attacked in Pommerania and its engagement was a complete success. Hundreds of Soviet soldiers changed sides and joined it. In March it moved to the Oder front and was ordered to attack the Soviet army near Frankfurt. However, it was so pounded by the Soviets that it withdrew to the south and back into Czechoslovakia. On 5/5/45 the Czech communists began a revolt in Prague and Buniachenko ordered the 600th Division to assist them. Their assistance was refused by the Czechs and, as the war ended the next day, the division was taken prisoner by the Americans. The 650th Division, except for one regiment, were captured by the Russians and either executed or sent into the Russian Gulag. Vlassov was snatched from American hands by the Russians, suffered through a short show trial, and was quickly executed along with the major leaders of the KONR.

599TH RUSSIAN BRIGADE: Formed in April 1945 in Aalborg, Denmark, as part of the Liberation Russian Army under Vlassov. It contained:

1/,2/,3/1604th Grenadier Regiment (from 714th (Russian) Grenadier Regiment) 1/,2/,3/1605th Grenadier Regiment 1/,2/,3/1606th Grenadier Regiment

The division was intended to be expanded to form the 3rd Vlassov Division.

600TH (RUSSIAN) INFANTRY DIVISION Formed on 12/1/44 as part of the Russian Liberation Army under Vlassov with what was to have become the 29th Waffen SS Grenadier Division (1st Russian). On 2/28/45 it contained:

1/,2/1601st Grenadier Regiment 1/,2/1602nd Grenadier Regiment 1/,2/1603rd Grenadier Regiment 1/,2/,3/,4/1600th Artillery Regiment 1600th Division Support Units

650TH (RUSSIAN) DIVISION Formed in March 1945 as part of Vlassov’s Russian Liberation Army. The division was organized with prisoners of war and contained, on 4/5/45:

1/,2/1651st Grenadier Regiment 1/,2/1652nd Grenadier Regiment 1/,2/1653rd Grenadier Regiment 1/,2/,3/,4/1650th Artillery Regiment 1650th Divisional Support Units

The division was not fully formed and remained in Munsingen until overrun. On 17 January 1945 the organization of the 650th Infantry (Russian) Division was established as follows:

DIVISION STAFF: Division Staff (2 LMGs) 1650th (mot) Mapping Detachment 1650th (mot) Military Police Detachment (3 LMGs)

1651ST INFANTRY REGIMENT: REGIMENTAL STAFF Staff Staff Company (3 LMGs) 1 Signals Platoon 1 Engineer Platoon (6 LMGs) 1 Reconnaissance Platoon (3 LMGs) 1 Signals Platoon 2 BATTALIONS, each with 3 Infantry Companies (9 LMGs ea) 1 Heavy Company (8 HMGs, 4 75mm infantry support guns, 1 LMG & 6 80mm mortars)

13TH INFANTRY SUPPORT COMPANY: (2 150mm leIG, 1 LMG, 8 120mm mortars & 4 LMGs)

14TH PANZERJAGER COMPANY (54 Panzerschreck, 18 Reserve Panzerschreck & 4 LMGs)

1652ND INFANTRY REGIMENT: same as 1651st 1653RD INFANTRY REGIMENT: same as 1651st

1650TH (MOUNTED) RECONNAISSANCE BATTALION: 4 Squadrons, each with (9 LMGs, 2 80mm mortars)

1650TH PANZERJAGER BATTALION: 1 Staff 1 (mot) Staff Company (1 LMG) 1st Company (12 75mm PAK & 12 LMGs) 2nd (armored) Company 14 Assault Guns (sturmgeschutz) & 16 LMGs Detachment captured Russian tanks 3rd (mot) Flak Company (9 37mm Flak guns & 5 LMGs)

1650TH ARTILLERY BATTALION: 1 Staff 1 Staff Battery (1 LMG) 1ST, 2ND & 3RD BATTALIONS, each with: 1 Staff 1 Staff Battery (1 LMG) 2 105mm leFH Batteries (4 105mm leFH & 4 LMGs ea) 1 75mm Battery (6-75mm guns & 3 LMGs) 4TH BATTALION: 1 Staff 1 Staff Battery (1 LMG) 2 150mm sFH Batteries (6-150mm howitzers & 4 LMGs ea)

1650TH (BICYCLE) PIONEER BATTALION 2 (bicycle) Pioneer Companies, each with: (2 HMGs, 9 LMGs, 6 flame throwers & 2 80mm mortars) 1 Pioneer Company (2 HMGs, 9 LMGs, 6 flame throwers & 2 80mm mortars)

1650TH SIGNALS BATTALION: 1 (mixed mobility) Telephone Company (4 LMGs) 1 (mixed mobility) Radio Company (2 LMGs) 1 (mixed mobility) Signals Supply Detachment (2 LMGs)

1650TH FELDERSATZ BATTALION: 1 Supply Detachment 5 Replacement Companies, with a total of: (50 LMGs, 12 HMGs, 6 80mm mortars, 1 120mm mortar 1 75mm leIG, 1 75mm PAK, 1 20mm/37mm Flak, 2 flame throwers, 1 105mm leFH 18 , 6 Panzerschrecke, & 56 Sturm Gewehr 41

1650TH DIVISIONAL SUPPORT REGIMENT: SUPPLY TROOP: 1650th (mot) 120 ton Transportation Company (4 LMGs) 1/,2/1650th Horse Drawn (30 ton) Transportation Companies (2 LMGs ea) 1650th Horse Drawn Supply Platoon OTHER: 1650th Ordnance Troop 1650th (mot) Vehicle Maintenance Troop 1650th Supply Company (3 LMGs) 1650th (mot) Field Hospital 1650th (mot) Medical Supply Company 1650th Veterinary Company (2 LMGs) 1650th (mot) Field Post Office

In a parallel formation to the ROA and KONR another large force of Russians was formed in March 1942 by German Intelligence. This force was the Versuchsverband Mitte (Experimental Formation of Army Group Center). Though officially known as Abwehr Abteilung 203 the unit was to have several names – Verband Graukopf, Boyarsky Brigade, Russian Special Duty Battalion, Ostintorf Brigade, and finally the Russian National People’s Army (Russkaia Natsionalnaya Narodnaya Armiya or RNNA). The unit was started when a Russian émigré, Sergi Ivanov, recruited several prominent Russian prisoners of war and other Russian exiles, to the German cause. Ivanov, acting as a liaison officer for the Abwehr, worked with Igor Sakharov, son of a White Russian General and émigré to Germany, and slowly they organized a force of 3,000 former prisoners of war.

By December 1942 they had 7,000 men training. A brigade was formed consisting of four battalions, an artillery battalion, and an engineer battalion. The organization of the units was based on the Russian model. In August 1942 Colonel Boyarsky took command in December Feldmarschal von Kluge inspected the brigade, was pleased with what he saw, and expressed his pleasure with its actions in combat in the German rear in May 1942. He then stated that he would issue the unit German uniforms and weapons and split it into a number of infantry battalions, which would be assigned to various German combat divisions. This offhanded command shattered the brigade’s morale and 300 men promptly deserted. It had seen itself as the cadre of a Russian army of liberation. Despite their protests, the brigade was broken into the 633rd, 634th, 635th, 636th, and 637th Ost Battalions and employed in anti-Partisan operations.

Organising Hell in the East

While the German armies had been desperately trying to carve out this new empire in the East, the tentacles of the SS and its various subsidiary organizations had been assiduous in their allotted task of securing the civilian population. In Russia their first move was to deprive the people of their local party officials. Hitler ordered that all political commissars were to be liquidated, and instructions went out to the ‘special units’, who acted independently of the army, that some were to be decapitated and their heads brought back to Berlin for further study. The SS were obviously intrigued with the cranial characteristics of those who were classed as untermenschen, a species of Slavic sub-humanity. But this was only the preliminary stage – a mere curtain-raiser to what was to come. This barbaric treatment of prisoners of war became a byword even among some Germans themselves. The Wehrmacht was sometimes involved, but almost invariably these tasks were left to the not so tender mercies of the special units. A report of the Soviet Chief-of-Staff at Sebastopol in December 1941 gives us some idea of the situation: he states

as a rule troop formations exterminate prisoners without interrogation…the shooting of prisoners at the place of capture or at the front line, which is practised most extensively, acts as a deterrent to soldiers of the enemy wanting to desert to us. (Hohne 1969:432)

The special units usually comprised Security Service (SD) personnel plus contingents of the Armed (Waffen) SS who were normally engaged on straightforward military duties, assisted by local militia. Some idea of the more general involvement of the military SS can be seen from a few random instances. Only two weeks after the opening of the Russian campaign, the ‘Viking’ Division shot 600 Jews in Galicia as a reprisal for ‘Soviet crimes’. On some occasions entire villages were destroyed as a form of reprisal, and this kind of ‘action’ was by no means confined to the East. Lidice in Czechoslovakia was destroyed in 1942 in retaliation for the assassination of the Reich-Protector Heydrich. The ‘Prinz Eugen’ Division liquidated the inhabitants of Kosutica in 1943; and in 1944 came the destruction of Klissura in northern Greece. The year 1944 also witnessed the notorious murder of the inhabitants of Oradour-sur- Glane in France by the ‘Das Reich’ Division, and the killing of Canadian and British prisoners of war by members of the ‘Hitlerjugend’ Panzer Division during the battles in Normandy.

The worst of the atrocities were carried out by the re-formed Einsatzgruppen. There were four such units each comprising about 1,000 men, including support personnel such as wireless operators, drivers etc., and detachments from the Waffen SS and the police. Their instructions were couched – quite deliberately – in extremely vague terms. They were to act on their own responsibility to take ‘executive measures against the civilian population’ (quoted in Krausnick and Broszat 1970:78). The implicit intention of shooting Jews is not stated overtly, and it is not clear to what extent the army itself was always aware of these plans, although the chiefs may well have guessed what was going to happen. According to the evidence of Otto Ohlendorf, the commander of one such Einsatzgruppe, when the groups were being formed in May 1941 in preparation for the invasion of Russia, they were told of the secret decree of ‘putting to death all racially and politically undesirable elements where these might be thought to represent a threat to security’ (Krausnick and Broszat 1970:79). During the Nuremberg trials after the war, it transpired that at the time this was understood to include communist officials, second-class Asiatics, gypsies and Jews. Despite the care taken in disguising their intentions, members of the Nazi hierarchy were sometimes quite explicit in their planning on occupation policy. At one conference held in July 1941, the officials were told ‘we are taking all necessary measures — shootings, deportations and so on…[the area] must be pacified as soon as possible, and the best way to do that is to shoot anyone who so much as looks like giving trouble’ (Krausnick and Broszat 1970:82). It does not take much imagination to realize that almost any measures, no matter how ruthless and bestial, could be justified in the name of security even where the victims – especially women and children – could be shown to pose no real threat to security at all.

There is very little evidence as to what actually took place during one of these ‘actions’. For example there is no documentary material for the events leading up to the destruction of the small town of Tuczyn in eastern Poland, although a vivid picture has been ‘recreated’ by eight of the survivors – who gave their testimonies at different times in different places. There were only fifteen survivors in all out of a population of 3,500, and the stories that were told apparently have an amazing degree of consistency. For economic reasons Tuczyn was not destroyed at the same time as many of the surrounding Jewish settlements, so when the time came – as the inhabitants knew it must – they were ‘prepared’. The head of the Jewish Council organized the people for resistance, but they had no weapons, only petrol, matches and bars. When the Germans came in the summer of 1942, the Jews set light to their own wooden houses, and the old and sick – led by the rabbi – jumped into the fire. Others tried to break out of the trap, and a thousand or so fled into the nearby Ukrainian forest. Only fifteen survived because of the actions of Ukrainian peasants who either killed them or handed them over to the Germans. Those who were saved were helped by the Baptist minority among the Ukrainians (Bauer 1976).

The actual executions were carried out on a massive scale by the members of the Einsatzgruppen, often with the active co-operation of local ‘partisans’ as, for example in Lithuania and the Ukraine. Thanks to the meticulous records kept by some of those involved, we often have complete breakdowns and statistics of their programme of mass murder. By 25 November 1941, Einsatzgruppe A had already executed 229,052 Jews; Einsatzgruppe B had killed 45,467 by 14 November 1941; Einsatzgruppe C 95,000 by the beginning of December of that year; and Einsatzgruppe D 92,000 by 8 April 1942. The speed at which these executions took place was frightening. For instance, in Kiev alone in two days in September 1941, reports showed that 33,771 persons were executed, mainly Jews. In fact, it is probable that by the end of 1942, as many as a million Jews had been killed. And this was just the beginning. The whole grisly process was about to be rationalized with the introduction of the gas chambers. Five extermination camps were set up for this specific purpose, as distinct from the other concentration camps which often functioned as labour industries for some eminent German firms.

WAR OF ANNIHILATION

Hitler said on many occasions that his dreams of race and space inevitably would involve war with the USSR. Operation Barbarossa, the attack on the Soviet Union, was set for mid-1941. Even before it began Hitler insisted it was to be a Vernichtungskrieg, or war of annihilation unlike any other in history. Planning began in earnest in July 1940 when Hitler stated again that it would not be enough just to win the war but that the Soviet state had to be “utterly destroyed.” After the “inferior race” was conquered, the Soviet peoples, like the Poles, were to become “a people of leaderless slave laborers.”

He was not alone in repeatedly insisting on “the utmost brute force” and said this war was going to be unlike anything seen before. When the invasion began it was by far the largest in world history. Himmler’s attitude on the eve of the attack was that he had “no interest in the fate” of such people. “Whether they thrive or starve to death concerns me only from the point of view of them as slave labor . . . in all other respects I am totally indifferent.”

In the beginning Operation Barbarossa was unstoppable, and the Germans took vast numbers of prisoners, so many in fact that it was possible to murder the Jews without giving much thought to concerns about their lost labor power. Numerous Soviet prisoners were shot out of hand, but many thousands were confined in camps, including some inside Germany, where it was well known locally that the men were starving to death and were otherwise in desperate shape. The mayor of at least one town wanted to have the road to the camp opened so that ordinary Germans could go to see for themselves “these animals in human form” and imagine what would have happened if “these beasts” had conquered Germany.

To illustrate the net effect of how Soviet prisoners were treated, we need only look at one German report from May 1, 1944. It states that by then the Germans had taken a total of 5,165,381 prisoners. The report speaks about a “wastage” of 2 million (i.e ., they died). Another 1,030,157 were supposedly “shot while trying to escape,” while 280,000 perished in transit camps, bringing the total to 3.3 million. By 1945, out of a grand total of 5.7 million prisoners of war, no less than 3.3 million of them died in captivity. We have to recall, however, that the Germans often made sure there were no prisoners to take and had largely stopped taking any by the time of this survey.

The civil population in one place after another across the occupied areas of the Soviet Union was simply allowed to starve to death, deported to work as slaves in Germany, or exploited on the spot. Mass starvation, however, almost inevitably accompanied the German invasion, because the troops were expected to live off the land, which in many cases had already been combed through for provisions by the retreating Soviet forces. Deliberate starvation was part of the great sieges such as the one at Stalingrad and the other at Leningrad, but we can see the effect of the occupation in many less well known areas like Charkov, a city with a population of nearly 1 million before nearly half of them left with the Soviet evacuation. Located on the road to Stalingrad in the southeast of the country, Charkov was already in terrible shape when the Wehrmacht arrived. Nevertheless, the German Armed Forces were told to live off the land, which meant seizing provisions where they could be found and that left very little for the native population. During each month of the German occupation, hundreds starved to death.

Starvation was magnified many times in cities like Leningrad where major battles took place. The siege of the city lasted from September 8, 1941, to January 18, 1943. Hitler and other leaders repeatedly said they did not even want it to surrender, nor did they wish any of the civilian population to escape. In this battle alone, according to official Soviet figures, civilian losses were put at 632,253, the vast majority of them dying from starvation, but the losses in fact were higher. Hitler told Goebbels that Leningrad should disappear, for it would be impossible to feed its 5 million inhabitants after the battle was won. Even on the ground by the winter of 1942 the death rate just for this city was estimated at between 4,000 and 5,000 per day before the registration system broke down.

The Slavic peoples suffered enormous losses. A reliable and conservative estimate puts the losses of the Soviet Union alone at around 25 million, of whom two-thirds or so were civilians. Some Soviet historians have only recently suggested the number of dead may have been twice as large in total, ranging close to 50 million. Although we have to be very careful with these kinds of statistics, there is no disputing the fact that the Soviets suffered by far the greatest casualties in the war. There should be no question in anyone’s mind that if the Nazis had won that war against Stalin, the results for the peoples of the Soviet Union would have been even more catastrophic.

Russia grants WW II vets housing, amnesty

MOSCOW, April 16 (UPI) — The Russian Duma passed legislation Friday giving amnesty to most World War II veterans and providing them with free housing.

The amnesty also applies to those who survived imprisonment in German concentration camps, workers in munitions factories and survivors of the Leningrad siege, ITAR-Tass reported. It does not include those convicted of murder or sexual assault on children.

The bills are linked to the 65th anniversary of the war’s end on May 9.

“The amnesty is offered to apply without any restrictions to veterans of the Great Patriotic War, workers of the home front, who have worked for at least six months from June 22, 1941 through May 9, 1945, former prisoners of the concentration camps, ghettos created by the Nazi Germany and its allies, as well as residents of the besieged Leningrad,” said Pavel Krasheninnikov, chairman of the State Duma Committee for Civil, Criminal, Arbitration and Procedural Legislation.

Krasheninnikov, who drafted the bill, said he expects about 100 to 200 people to qualify for amnesty.

The Duma, the lower house of Parliament, also approved a bill providing housing for World War II veterans and the families of veterans who have died, Voice of Russia reported. Officials estimate at least 1,200 veterans are homeless or forced to share housing.