The Third Reichs Eastern Legions and POWS–Glossary

BARBAROSSA, OPERATION
Hitler’s code name for his invasion of the Soviet Union, launched on 22 June 1941. It was the greatest military conflict of the modern era and the greatest land invasion in the history of modern warfare. It was also one of the greatest betrayals of history, since Stalin had obviously believed that Hitler’s commitment to the Hitler- Stalin Pact was genuine. Placed under the aegis of the great German medieval emperor Frederick Barbarossa, it was intended to signal Hitler’s determination to assert German imperium over Slavdom. It was also meant to demonstrate the superiority of the Germans, members of the master race, over the Slavs, considered in Nazi racial theory to be Untermenschen—“subhumans.” Special orders were given as to the treatment of captured Russians and Russian civilians, for whom the normal rules of war were not to apply.
References
Glantz, David. 2003. Before Stalingrad: Hitler’s Invasion of Russia, 1941. Stroud: Tempus.

Overy, Richard. 1999. Russia’s War. London: Penguin.

DRANG NACH OSTEN (“DRIVE TO THE EAST”)
Hitler’s expression for the Reich policy of conquering Slav territories to the East of Germany in order to satisfy Germany’s supposed need for more Lebensraum— “living space.” In Mein Kampf, whose fourteenth chapter is dedicated to “Eastward orientation,” Hitler argued that an increase in her living space was essential if Germany were to rise to the status of world power; the only place where “new territories” could be found was in Russia, so Ostpolitik (“Eastern policy”) actually meant “the acquisition of the necessary soil for the German people.” This acquisition of territory in the East, which Hitler saw as his “historic mission,” along with the annihilation of the Jews, formed a favorite theme of his speeches and monologues. He associated a racist ideology of the “inferiority” of the Slavs with the economic concept of a ruthless exploitation of the resources of Eastern Europe. The peoples of the East must be set to work: “Slavdom is a born mass of slaves that cry for a master”; since the Slavs “were not destined to a life of their own,” they must be “Germanized.” In the context of his “European territorial ordering,” the brutal achievement of which he entrusted to Himmler and the SS in 1942, Hitler planned the settlement of 100 million persons of German origin in the East. According to the plans made by Hitler and Himmler, the “persons of German origin” settling in Russia were to “organize” the native Slav populace into an army of slaves and servants.
References
Leitz, C. 2004. Nazi Foreign Policy, 1933–1941: The Road to Global War. London: Routledge.

Meyer, Henry Cord. 1996. Drang nach osten: Fortunes of a Slogan-concept in German-Slavic Relations, 1849–1990. Berne: Peter Lang.

THE SLAVS, (and Germany)

Denotes a variety of ethnicities and nations in Central, Eastern, and South-East Europe whose tongues belong to the Slavic language group: “the Slavs” were seen by the Nazis as inferior peoples. In comparison to the Jews however, they occupied an indeterminate position in the Nazi racial hierarchy. They were collectively or separately characterized as fremdvölkische (“nationally alien”), Untermenschen, or “Asiatic,” and constituted the majority of victims of Nazi annihilation, deportation, and exploitation policies from 1938 to 1945. Nevertheless, representatives of all three Slavic subgroups—Western, Southern, and Eastern—were, at one point or another, accepted as German allies. A number of Nazi publications considered parts (and some all) of the Slavs as belonging to the original “Nordic” or “Indogermanic” peoples. The Third Reich’s attack on Eastern Europe may have been primarily determined by motives other than anti-Slavism, such as anti-Bolshevism and the quest for new Lebensraum. Yet implementation of the latter aims accounts only partly for the deaths of the millions of Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and other Slavs who perished not only in combat against, but primarily under the occupation of, the Wehrmacht and the SS during World War II.

Nineteenth-century German public opinion and research on Eastern Europe and Russia showed, along with certain russophile tendencies, strong currents of anti-Slavism that continued earlier negative stereotypes about Poles and Russians. Views of Slavs as “unhistorical,” “cultureless,” or “barbaric” were voiced by representatives of both Right and Left—including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In the völkisch discourse of late Imperial Germany, Slavs were described as “racially mixed” or “mongolized.” A significant minority of nationalist and racist publicists with influence on the Nazi movement, including Houston Stuart Chamberlain, did, however, write positively about the Slavs. The Slavs played a relatively minor role in interwar German racist discourse in general and Nazi racial thinking in particular. Both official statements and unofficial procedures of the Third Reich regarding Slavic people continued to be marked by contradictions and shifts right down to 1945.

Although the Czechs were viewed by Hitler in the 1920s more negatively than the Poles, German occupation policies in the Reichsprotektorat of Czechoslovakia were more permissive and less violent than those in the Generalgouvernement and other annexed Polish territories. Whereas “only” 40,000 or so Czechs perished during Nazi occupation, the overwhelming majority of the 1.8 to 1.9 million Polish civilian victims of World War II were killed by Germans. In spite of manifest SS anti-Polonism, Himmler’s Generalplan Ost of 1942 made a distinction between eindeutschungsfähige Poles (“those who can be Germanized”) and Poles who were to be deported to Siberia within the next decades. Earlier, the greater part of the Czech population had become regarded as assimilable by the Nazis, while the Slovaks had been allowed to form their own satellite state.

Whereas in the Balkans Orthodox Serbs were among the nations least respected by Hitler, Orthodox Bulgarians (seen as being of Turkic origin) occupied a relatively high position in the Nazi racial hierarchy and were referred to by Joseph Goebbels as “friends.” Bulgaria was permitted to abstain from participation in the attack on the Soviet Union and to pursue an independent policy with regard to its Jews. The Soviet people were labeled “beasts,” “animals,” “half-monkeys,” “hordes,” and the like. Among the approximately 10 million Soviet civilians who perished under the Nazis, there were 3.3 million POWs, most of them Eastern Slavs. Yet, as the German advance into Russia halted, the Waffen-SS recruited, among other soldiers from the USSR, a specifically Ukrainian division (“Galicia”) and a Byelorussian unit. Impressed by the phenotype of the Ukrainians, Hitler, in August 1942, proposed the assimilation of Ukrainian women. Toward the end of the war, German troops were assisted by General Andrei Vlasov’s Russian Popular Army of Liberation, consisting of tens of thousands of Russian POWs and emigres. The Cossacks— though being Eastern Slavs—were even seen as “Germanic.” Shortly before his suicide, Hitler described the “Slavic race” as stronger than the Germanic one— whose destiny it was to succumb.
References
Connelly, John. 1999. “Nazis and Slavs: From Racial Theory to Racist Practice.” Central European History 32, no. 1: 1–33.
Laffin, John. 1995. Hitler Warned Us: The Nazis’ Master Plan for a Master Race. Dulles, VA: Brassey’s.
Schaller, Helmut. 2002. Der Nationalsozialismus und die slawische Welt. Regensburg: Friedrich Pustet.
Volkmann, Hans-Erich, ed. 1994. Das Russlandbild im Dritten Reich. Köln: Böhlau.

Wippermann, Wolfgang. 1996. “Antislavismus.” Pp. 512–524 in Handbuch zur Völkischen Bewegung” 1871–1918, edited by Uwe Puschner. München: Saur.

LEBENSRAUM

Roughly translates from German as “living space”; particularly associated with the imperialistic ideology and population policies of Nazism, although there was an equivalent expression in Italian Fascism (spazio vitale). In policy and prosecution, the Nazi pursuit of Lebensraum involved the massive transfer—and violent uprooting— of indigenous populations in Central Eastern Europe. Forming a significant aspect of Hitler’s Weltanschauung as illustrated in Mein Kampf, and put into violent practice during World War II, the quest for Lebensraum can be seen to underpin a number of actions undertaken by the Third Reich: the invasions of Poland and Soviet Russia, massive population resettlements and “evacuations,” and the Holocaust. All were defended as a means to secure Germanic hegemony in Europe by control of natural resources (such as grain and oil) as well as forcible depopulation of vast territories— including some 50 million Eastern Europeans— construed as indispensable to the resettlement and functioning of a European “New Order,” or “thousand year Reich,” dreamed of by Nazi planners.

On the eve of World War I, völkisch Pangermanism, military expansionism, and increasingly explicit racism became more closely associated with the doctrine of the established idea of Lebensraum, which had generally been used to cover colonial expansionism such as was practiced by all the major European powers in the nineteenth century. Friedrich von Bernhardi in particular explicitly advocated territorial seizures to the east of Germany, and the issue of the progression from Bernhardi via German militarism in World War I to Nazi conceptions of Lebensraum has been hotly debated, especially after the so-called Fischer Controversy in the 1960s concerning the continuity (or otherwise) of postunification German expansionism. Although the Third Reich’s expansionist policies between 1933 and 1939 in areas such as Czechoslovakia and Austria may be viewed as the first shots in the battle for Lebensraum, that battle is generally considered to have begun with the onset of World War II in Europe. Following the conquest of Poland, massive population transfers of ethnic Germans and “non-Aryans” alike were prioritized by Nazi functionaries, and following the invasion of the Soviet Union efforts were made to depopulate vast areas through murdering millions in Central Eastern Europe.
References
Burleigh, Michael. 2000. The Third Reich. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Fischer, Fritz. 1986. From Kaisserreich to Third Reich: Elements of Continuity in German History, 1871–1945. London: Unwin Hyman.
Housden, Martyn. 2003. Hans Frank: Lebensraum and the Holocaust. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Secret archive reveals how Russia showed huge support for ‘Christian crusader’ Nazi invaders who had come to fight ‘godless communists’

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A group of Russians captured by the Nazis during Operation Barbarossa: Documents from secret archives have revealed how some Soviets believed the Germans were Christian crusaders come to throw of the yoke of communism.

By Allan Hall
An extraordinary secret archive has revealed for the first time how thousands of Soviet citizens collaborated with Nazi invaders during World War II.

The cache of documents, some retrieved from the files of the KGB, shows how many viewed the Germans as Christian liberators – and their own masters as godless Communists.

This view was reinforced when the soldiers of the Third Reich opened up 470 churches in north-western Russia alone and reinstated priests driven from their pulpits by Stalin.

In turn, the clergy co-operated closely with S.S. death squads in betraying Communist officials, Jews and partisan resistance groups.

Perhaps most astonishingly, the Germans even shipped numerous mayors, journalists, policeman and teachers back to the Reich to show them the ‘German way of life.’

Russia has always portrayed the war against the Germans as a historic struggle which cost 27million lives but ultimately defeated the Nazis forever.

Until now, there has been little examination of the extent of collaboration by Soviet citizens with the invaders.

And there is no doubt that there many Russians detested the Nazis who inflicted mass atrocities on the civilian population.

But the archive, assembled by Professor Boris Kovalyov of the University of Novgorod, undermines the one-dimensional nationalist view of Soviet history.

Unsurprisingly, the research has already triggered a huge debate in Russia about attitudes to the Nazis.

‘The files give an extraordinary glimpse into a country that was deeply divided and not at all as heroic as Stalin made out,’ Prof Kovalyov, who teaches historical jurisprudence, said.

‘They show how local journalists strove under S.S. supervision to present to their compatriots the Nazis as friends of the Russians.

‘There was even praise in newspapers edited by former Communists for Alfred Rosenberg, the chief racial theorist for the Nazis who had made speeches in the past talking of the “sub-humanity of the Russians.”

‘Of course these newspapers were all collected and burned, or locked away, when the tide of war turned.  And those who wrote the articles were executed.’

The Nazis marched on Russia in summer 1941 after Hitler put plans for the invasion of Britain on hold.

He had met heavy resistance and had become increasingly paranoid about the Soviets grabbing valuable natural resources as they expanded their empire.

The campaign was code-named Operation Barbarossa and plunged the Third Reich into a catastrophic situation of war on all fronts.

Troops were given stark rules of engagement. They were to press ahead with a ‘war without rules’ that would see the merciless execution of millions.

But the freshly rediscovered archives reveal a far more complex situation.

In many instances, the Nazi commanders attempted a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign to win over civilians already oppressed by Communist dictates which included a ban on religious worship.

The propaganda war had considerable success, with newspapers and collaborators praising the Germans.

‘We pray to the all-powerful that he gives Adolf Hitler further strength and power for the final victory over the Bolsheviks!’ ran one article in the newspaper ‘For the Homeland!’ that was printed in Pskow in December 1942.

Clandestine tours of Germany were also hugely effective for provincials who had never travelled ten miles beyond their birthplace, never seen indoor plumbing or central heating, such trips worked wonders.

When they returned to the Soviet Union, said Professor Kovalyov, they were ‘deeply impressed”’ and worked hard to undermine the stiffening Soviet resistance to the Nazi armies.

Even in January 1943, as the fate of the German Sixth Army was being sealed at Stalingrad – and with it the war – many Russians still enthused about the charms of Nazism.

Ian Borodin, a village mayor from Piskowitschi, wrote that month: ‘Germany is a country of gardens, first class steelworks and autobahns. It has exemplary order.  We should fight for it!’

In the end it was the Nazis themselves who squandered the opportunity to rally an entire people to its cause.

As news of German atrocities spread and the Soviet Red Army began pushing the invader back, the population that had been initially so enthusiastic for Hitler now began to turn against him.

The Nazis were eventually driven out of Russia and the Red Army pressed on to Berlin, routing Hitler’s forces on the way.

For those tens of thousands who had shown disloyalty to Stalin during the occupation there was only death awaiting them or long years in the gulag.

Professor Kovalyov intends to publish a book based on his research next year.

Good Comment
After Hitler came to power in 1933 the order was given to demolish a rundown part of Berlin that had been notoriously ‘Red’ and an area the Nazis never had any serious support in. The residents thought they were being punished, but instead their flats were rebuilt with central heating and other improvements – how to win hearts and minds….. By 1939 living standards had increased to the point where Russian civilians visiting Nazi Germany would have been greatly impressed. It’s said that when US troops entered Germany in 1945 towards the war’s end it was the first time many of them had come across bathrooms with showers and indoor flushing toilets since leaving the USA, and yes that included those who had been stationed in 1940’s England! Good article – and illustrates how the German’s lost the opportunity to bring the critical mass of Soviet citizenry ‘on side’. Had they done so I don’t doubt they would have defeated Stalin and forced the Western powers to accept a negotiated peace.

– A Richards, London

Brotherhood of Veterans of the 1st-Division of the Ukrainian National Army

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

The purpose of this Web page is to present the factual and true information concerning the Galician Division, which fought against the Soviet Union within the framework of the German Army, during the Second World War. Since the end of the war the information media has been repeatedly maligning this military unit, accusing it of misdeeds and war crimes, without giving it a forum for the presentation of the true account of its activities. The information on this Web page is offered as a means to set the record straight.

The Division was established in Western Ukraine in the spring of 1943. During the course of its existence, its name was changed several times. Known at first as the 14th SS Riflemen Division Galizien, it later became Waffengrenadier Division Galizien, der SS Ukr. #1, and finally, First Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army.

The idea of creating a distinctly Ukrainian military force came to fruition soon after the outbreak of the German-Soviet war and was widely supported by the Ukrainian population in Western Ukraine. In the spring of 1943 it was reinforced by the viewpoint that the Ukrainians urgently needed to establish a nucleus of Ukrainian power, and to build it up by whatever means possible, before the Nazi collapse. It was argued that only if and when Ukrainians become a power factor, could they expect recognition from the Western powers.

Much as they abhorred the Nazis, the Ukrainians hated and feared the Communists even more. Following the Stalingrad debacle, it became apparent that the prospect of a German victory was extremely remote. Many Ukrainian leaders envisioned a protracted struggle in which both totalitarian powers would be so weakened, that they would be forced to surrender their domination in Eastern Europe. The Ukrainians were also convinced that in accordance with either the dictum of the Atlantic Charter, or the elementary principles of the balance of power, Great Britain and the United States would prevent the Soviet Union from completely occupying Eastern Europe. They anticipated a period of power vacuum, like that of 1918, during which it could be possible for a nation possessing a strong, organized military force, to assert itself.

The recruitment campaign to form a Ukrainian military division attracted mostly young people who had been raised cherishing the ideals of a sovereign and independent Ukraine. The campaign also attracted veterans of Ukrainian military units from the First World War. The process of organizing the unit and the training of the recruits took a full year. In July 1944 the Division was ready for combat.
It first encountered the Red Army, with its overwhelming superiority in manpower, armor, and air power during the Soviet’s most successful offensive against the Germans. Near the town of Brody, in Western Ukraine, the Division together with the German XIII Army Corps was encircled and decimated. Only 3,000 Division troops were able to escape. Eventually they formed the nucleus of the new, reorganized Division. Following retraining, the Division again faced the Red Army in Austria, near Feldbach.

Before the end of the war the Division separated itself from the German Armed Forces, and was renamed the First Division of Ukrainian National Army. Its officers and soldiers swore allegiance to Ukraine, thus becoming a truly Ukrainian national military unit.

The Division was a par excellence combat unit. It only engaged in military action against the Soviet forces — never against the Western Allies. This was a condition demanded by Ukrainians prior to the creation of the Division. During the course of its existence the Division was never engaged in any police action or in any actions against the civilian population. During its first year the Division’s troops spent their time in various training camps, mostly in Germany. Then came the fateful battle of Brody, which was followed by a period of replenishment in Germany, Slovakia and Yugoslavia, as well as the final battles in Austria.

The accusations, which contend that the Division participated in the extermination of the Jewish population are baseless. In Ukraine, by the summer of 1943 the activities promoted by the extermination policies had run their course before the Division even existed. Also baseless is the accusation that the Division took part in the suppression of the Warsaw uprising in 1944. At that time the Division was undergoing a replenishment and restoration in Germany, after fateful battle of Brody and no soldier of the Division ever set foot in Warsaw at that or any other time.

After the war, the Division troops who surrendered to the British forces were interned by them in POW camps in Italy, where they were screened by the British and Soviet authorities alike. No charges of war crimes were levied against them. In 1947 they were transferred to England and freed, and in 1950 some of them immigrated to Canada. The Division soldiers who surrendered to the Americans were freed in Germany. Following thorough screening and full disclosure of their war-time activities, some were allowed to immigrate to the United States.

Today, it is unfortunate that quite often rumors as well as slanderous and false information about the Division are being made public through various vehicles of the media, including through the Internet. Mainly, these false allegations stem from the legacy of the recently defunct Soviet Union and its powerful KGB. This infamous secret police was known to have effectively spread all kinds of disinformation, poisoning public opinion with the aim of discrediting their enemies and achieving political goals. There are countless examples of their tactics. During the Cold War period even the Western Powers were repeatedly victimized in this manner. (See, for example: KGB, John Barron, Readers Digest Press, 1974).

The Division Galicia was the only Ukrainian military unit fighting the Soviet Union during the Second World War with the ultimate aim of freeing the Ukrainian people from communism and achieving independence for Ukraine. Therefore, the Division, understandably became a target of the false and vicious attacks launched by the Soviets, who hurled accusations of various misdeeds and crimes designed to defame the Division and its veterans in the post war period. In a similar manner, the Ukrainian émigré community and its efforts aimed towards liberation from communism, were also targeted for disinformation and slander. It must be unequivocally stated that these libelous assaults are baseless and have no historical proof. There are no credible sources of information to back up these false allegations, except the Soviet archives, which are generally considered as sources of disinformation.

This falsehood was greedily picked up by the enemies of the Ukrainian people and by those who are against Ukraine as an independent and sovereign country. We, therefore challenge all those, who are spreading these lies, to provide any credible evidence substantiating their assertions.

Latest News, November 1998:

Justice Minister Hon. Anne Mclellan clears the Ukrainian Galicia Division of any wrongdoing in war and confirms the conclusions reached by the Commission of Hon. Justice Jules Deschenes in December 1986. For further information please read the following press releases of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association:
Judge’s remarks praised by Ukrainian Community — November 16th 1998.

Justice minister clears Ukrainian division of any wrongdoing in war — November 19th 1998.

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).

Posted in SS

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

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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.