"For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit."
----- Noam Chomsky
The Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal labeled the Waffen SS as a criminal body. The Russians used to torture and kill any Waffen SS prisoner they could lay their hands on. The American soldiers hated the Waffen SS and preferred to kill them rather than take them prisoner.
What were the men of the Waffen SS? Mad fanatical criminals or some of the best fighting soldiers human history has ever seen?
While divisions like the Nordland and Nord have virtually spotless records, most Waffen-SS divisions were involved in at least some questionable actions. The debate over the culpability of the organisation is the center of much revisionist thinking.
A GRAND DAUGHTER TALKS ABOUT HER WAFFEN SS GRANDFATHER....
The story of my mum’s father Helmut Barkowsky is a little more colourful. He was born in Koenigsberg (now Kalinigrad) / East Prussia in 1926 and was drafted into the Waffen SS in 1942. I was quite shocked when he told me that he had been a member of the most infamous branch of the German terror machine, but he made it quite clear that he did not want to be associated with Hitler’s SS in any way. Although guilty of many crimes the Waffen SS in the West had little to do with the black uniformed, skull-and-crossbones toting maniacs, they were more like a better equipped branch of the Wehrmacht fighting alongside regular army units.
The American marines who fought the Japanese held the "Yellow " bastards" in contempt and considered them as sub-human.....
HERR PELCKMANN: Do you consider that the Waffen-SS, in its majority, participated in the crimes which indubitably were committed?
HAUSSER: No. The Prosecution chains the Waffen-SS to the fate of Heinrich Himmler and a small circle of criminals around him. The Waffen-SS is taking this quite bitterly for it believes that in its majority it fought decently and fairly. It is far removed from these crimes and from the man who is responsible for them. I should like to ask the High Tribunal to please listen to the accounts and the judgments of the front soldiers on your side. I believe that they will not fail to show us respect. Wherever specific incidents occurred they were exceptions. The WaffenSS considers it quite unjust that it is being treated differently from the mass of the German Armed Forces and it does not deserve to be outlawed as a criminal organisation.
(The International Military Tribunal, 1946: Vol 20:370)
In their brief but extraordinary existence the Waffen-SS won a unique reputation for daring elan and esprit de corps and unfailing professionalism in combat. Their courage was unquestioned and they achieved worldwide fame and notoriety. Waffen-SS played a conspicuous role in most of the important German triumphs, one far disproportionate to their numbers. Despite repeatedly sustaining horrendous casualties, their discipline remained unbroken, their fighting ardour unimpaired.
After WWII, the Allies declared that the whole of the SS, including the Waffen-SS, was a criminal organization. Regardless of the military professionalism and the record of individual combat units, the entire organization was declared criminal. At a stroke, the imprisoned European volunteers were stripped of the protection of the Geneva Convention. All Soldiers of the Waffen-SS were automatically considered war criminals by virtue of being volunteers in the Waffen-SS; and for all their matchless undoubted bravery, the Waffen-SS now bears a reputation which will remain forever stained with infamy.
Sir Norman Birkett, British alternate judge at the Nuremberg Tribunal, explained in April 1946 that: the trial is only in form a judicial process and its main importance is political.
Although there are numerous facts that demonstrate that the Waffen-SS was guilty of various crimes, it would not be correct to state that every Waffen-SS member was a criminal. The Waffen-SS was a very heterogeneous organization in which in 1945 some 800,000 men were active. Certainly not every unit or individual was guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity. Every unit and every individual therefore ought to be studied to arrive at an objective judgment. In order to judge the question whether a soldier in the Waffen-SS was either “correct” or “wrong” it is of great importance to put oneself in the time and place and the motivation of men to join that political army.
In most cases the expansion of the Third Reich and the spreading of the national socialistic doctrine was not the motivation for the larger part of the foreign volunteers to join the Waffen-SS. Frequently the fear for the “advancing Bolshevism” or a national struggle for independence was the most important motivation to fight on the side of the Nazis. Also the coercion of their surroundings (for example the parents or propaganda) and the passion for adventure may have been reasons for someone to join the Waffen-SS.
It may be clear however that each and every member of the Waffen-SS has contributed to the horrors that have been brought upon Europe by Nazi-Germany. With today’s knowledge it is easy to condemn the national socialistic regime. We will have to realize however, that in those days not every Waffen-SS soldier was aware of the criminal character of the regime he supported.
Summarizing it may be stated that the Waffen-SS was a crucial participant of the Nazi-regime and that the organization has played an important part in the terror this system has caused. Just like the whole of the SS, the Waffen-SS was therefore a criminal organization To characterize therefore each and every member of the Waffen-SS to be “wrong” and criminal is not correct. In order to reach such condemnation every individual should be judged to achieve an objective and honest conclusion. Neither can we state that every allied soldier or resistance fighter was a hero, nor can it be said that every Waffen-SS member was a ruthless murderer and war criminal.
1. Into the Abyss: The Last Years of the Waffen SS 1943-45: A Photographic History By IAN BAXTER
2. Steel Storm: Waffen-SS Panzer Battles on the Eastern Front 1943-1945 By TIM RIPLEY