Possessed as he was by the desire to attract all the Nordic blood of Europe into the SS, Himmler envisaged the ultimate creation of a new Germanic province to be called Burgundia, grouping the Netherlands, Belgium and north-east France, which would act as a buffer protecting Germany from invasion. Burgundia would eventually be policed and governed by the SS, and to that end the Reichsführer established native replicas of the Allgemeine-SS in Flanders, Holland and Norway soon after the conquest of these countries. At the end of 1942, these formations were removed from the influence of their own national, collaborationist political leaders and amalgamated to become a new ‘Germanic-SS’ under Himmler’s direct orders. With the raising of a Danish branch in 1943, the Germanic-SS grew to encompass a total active membership of almost 9,000 men, whose primary task was to support the local police by rooting out partisans, subversives and other anti-Nazi elements. Members retained their own languages and customs, but there was no question that Germany pulled the strings. From the outset, Himmler told his western volunteers:
Be certain of this. There will be in all Europe just one SS – the Germanic-SS under the command of the Reichsführer-SS. You can resist, but that is a matter of indifference to me for we will create it in any case. We do not ask you to turn against your country, nor to do anything repugnant to anyone proud of his country, who loves it and has his self-respect. Neither do we expect you to become Germans out of opportunism. What we do ask is that you subordinate your national ideal to a superior racial and historical ideal, that of the single and all-embracing Germanic Reich.
General responsibility for the supervision of the Germanic-SS and its forerunners rested with the SS Hauptamt, which assisted in the foundation and expansion of the new body. Personnel were soon kitted out with surplus black Allgemeine-SS uniforms imported from Germany, to which suitable national insignia were attached. A special Germanic Liaison Office, or Germanische Leitstelle, was set up, with headquarters at 20 Admiral von Schröder Strasse, Berlin, and branches in The Hague, Oslo and Copenhagen. The function of these outposts was to oversee the whole political propaganda and recruiting activity of the SS in the respective areas of western Europe and Scandinavia. After a time, it became apparent that the Germanic recruits often needed special handling and indoctrination before they could be fully accepted into the SS, and to meet this requirement a Germanic-SS Training Department was established, with four main training camps at Sennheim in Alsace, Schooten in Belgium, Hovelte in Denmark and Avegoor in Holland. The emphasis in the camps’ curriculum was on games, sport and political education. In addition, there was a Germanic-SS Officers’ School (Führerschule der Germanischen-SS) at Hildesheim, the purpose of which was to provide general training for future political leaders in the Germanic-SS. In fact, the vast majority of applicants to join the Germanic-SS were immediately redirected towards the Waffen-SS, particularly the ‘Wiking’ and ‘Nordland’ Divisions, for combat service. Each of the four national formations which came to make up the Germanic-SS had its own distinct history, and these are now covered in turn.
So far as Belgium was concerned, the Nazis had always drawn a clear distinction between its two peoples, at first favouring the Flemings of Flanders, who were Germanic in language and race, as against the Walloons of Wallonia, who were French-speaking and of Romanic origin. From 1940, Hitler played upon the long-standing resentment felt by Flemings against the Walloon-dominated state of Belgium, which had been created only 110 years before. He encouraged nationalist dissension in the country, supporting the Vlaamsch Nationaal Verbond or VNV (Flemish National Union) of Gustave ‘Staf’ de Clercq, which saw Flanders as a natural part of the Netherlands rather than of Belgium, and which soon absorbed all collaborationist parties in Flanders. The VNV had its own version of the German SA, called the Dietsche Militie Zwarte Brigade, and a network of other organisations which paralleled the HJ, NSKK, RAD and NSDAP political leadership.
In September 1940, two pro-German Flemings, Ward Hermans and René Lagrou, set up a Flemish equivalent of the Allgemeine-SS in Antwerp. Hermans was a prominent member of the VNV, and began by enrolling 130 of his party colleagues into the corps, which he called the Algemeene Schutsscharen Vlaanderen, or Flemish General SS. By March 1941 there were 1,580 active members with a further 4,000 Patron Members or Beschermende Leden, who contributed financially, like the German Fördernde Mitglieder. However, due to the constant loss of its men to the German armed forces, particularly the ‘Westland’ and ‘Nordwest’ Regiments and Flemish Legion of the Waffen-SS, the strength of the Algemeene-SS Vlaanderen fell away considerably during 1941, although it was never less than 300. In 1942, veterans returning from their voluntary service on the eastern front again built up the numbers of the Flemish SS. That October, in accordance with Himmler’s policy of bringing all Germanic General SS formations within a single German orbit, the body was renamed the Germaansche-SS in Vlaanderen, or Germanic-SS in Flanders. Those who were too old or not up to the physical requirements of the Germaansche-SS could enrol in its reserve unit, known as the Vlaanderen-Korps. The policy of the Flemish SS was very much at odds with the cautious pro-Dutch attitude of the VNV, and it used its own newspaper, De SS Man, openly to advocate total German control over Flanders.
Badge worn by Patron Members, or Beschermende Leden, of the Germanic-SS in Flanders.
The nominal strength of the Flemish SS in June 1944 was 3,500. However, 1,600 of these were on military service with the Waffen-SS, 940 were with the NSKK and 500 were in the Vlaanderen-Korps, leaving only 460 active General SS members in Flanders, of whom 100 were still probationers. By the end of the year, most of Belgium had been liberated. There was only one significant exception – the important port of Antwerp, birthplace of the Flemish SS, which remained in German hands. The Senior SS and Police Commander in Belgium, SS-Gruppenführer Richard Jungclaus, linked the remnants of the Germaansche-SS in Vlaanderen and the paramilitaries of the VNV into a Security Corps, or Sicherheitskorps, of some 2,500 men. A battalion of this corps fought alongside the German defenders of Antwerp in a battle which lasted throughout September–November 1944. It was one of the rare examples of western European SS being used to fight against the British and Americans, most of their colleagues seeing combat service only in Russia.
So far as Holland was concerned, over 50,000 Germans lived and worked there before the Second World War so it is not surprising that a number of pro-Nazi groups sprang up in the Netherlands during the formative years of the Third Reich. The most important of these was the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging or NSB, the National Socialist Movement of Anton Adriaan Mussert. The NSB was a highly organised and fully uniformed party with its own paramilitary section, the Weer Afdeelingen or WA, and in 1940 it was granted a political monopoly in the Netherlands under the controlling authority of the country’s Reichskommissar, SS-Obergruppenführer Dr Arthur Seyss-Inquart. In November 1940, following the Flemish example, the NSB took the bold step of establishing its own SS within the framework of the party. The initiative came from the former leader of Mussert’s personal bodyguard, Johannes Hendrik (‘Henk’) Feldmeijer, who created what was known simply as the Nederlandsche-SS. In October 1942, the Dutch SS ceased to be a paramilitary formation of the NSB. It was renamed the Germaansche-SS en Nederland and became a part of the greater Germanic-SS under Himmler’s orders. Mussert’s control over it came to an end, and all Dutch SS men had to swear a personal oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler.
The Germaansche-SS en Nederland had, on paper, a strength of five regiments plus an SS-Police regiment, in addition to 4,000 Patron Members, or Begunstigende Leden. It also supported its own journal, the Storm SS. However, its nominal active membership of 3,800 was constantly depleted by voluntary enlistments in the Waffen-SS. An affiliated guard unit set up by the HSSPf Nordwest, SS-Obergruppenführer Hanns Rauter, after the disbanding of the ‘Nordwest’ Regiment, took the title SS-Wachbataillon Nordwest. It had four companies, one of which was used largely for ceremonial duties at SS Headquarters in The Hague. The others acted as guards at the concentration camps which were established at Herzogenbusch, Vught and other parts of the Netherlands. The SS-Postschutz in Holland also employed a number of over-age Dutch volunteers.
Tunic of an Opperschaarleider, 2nd Standaard (Arnhem), Germanic-SS in the Netherlands, c. 1944. This is a non-regulation item, probably converted from a Dutch police jacket at a time when black SS service uniform tunics were in short supply.
In addition to bringing in their own police, the German occupation authorities in Holland set about reorganising the Dutch police, and the SS were inevitably involved in the process. A new body, the Communal Police, replaced the various municipal forces and was trained under SS direction at the Police School at Schalkhaar. Members were kitted out in a uniform based upon that of the Allgemeine-SS but with a closed collar, and any Dutch policeman who was also a member of the Germanic-SS could wear the SS runes below the left breast pocket of his tunic. In March 1943, the NSB set up the Landwacht Nederland (Dutch Home Guard), in which all party members between the ages of seventeen and fifty were required to serve. The following October, it was renamed Landstorm Nederland and taken over by the SS. Members initially wore WA or Germanic-SS uniform, but later went into field-grey. The Landstorm fought primarily against the Dutch resistance, but was also engaged against the British airborne forces around Arnhem in September 1944. Two months later it absorbed the SS-Wachbataillon Nordwest, the staffs of various training establishments and around 3,000 Dutchmen brought back from working in Germany, and became the SS-Grenadier Division ‘Landstorm Nederland’. The division saw minor defensive fighting before it surrendered in May 1945.
Unlike the other occupied western countries, Norway had only one collaborating party of any importance, the uniformed Nasjonal Samling or NS (National Unity) movement of Vidkun Quisling. Quisling attempted to assume power immediately after the German invasion, but was ordered to step down and it was not until February 1942 that Hitler appointed him President of Norway, the only collaborator ever to achieve such high office in a German-occupied country. However, he was not entrusted with exclusive power. The real ruler of Norway was his arch-rival, Reichskommissar Josef Terboven, who operated a ruthless régime from his fortress at Castle Skaugum in Oslo. In April 1941, Jonas Lie, Chief of the Norwegian Police, and Axel Stang, Minister of Sport and Chief of Staff of the Rikshird (the NS version of the German SA), saw service in Yugoslavia with the Waffen-SS Division ‘Reich’. Both received the Iron Cross 2nd Class. After his homecoming as a war-decorated hero, Lie at once set about intriguing with Terboven against their mutual foe, Quisling. With German complicity, Lie founded the Norges-SS, a Norwegian equivalent of the Allgemeine-SS recruited from the cream of the Rikshird. Quisling, who had not been consulted or forewarned, was furious but there was little he could do, for Himmler had given the Norwegian SS his blessing. The Reichsführer arrived in Oslo to preside over the oath-taking ceremony, and duly appointed Lie to command the unit with the rank of SS-Standartenführer. Before the Norges-SS could complete even its basic training, however, Hitler invaded Russia and 85 per cent of its membership immediately volunteered for service with the Norwegian Legion in the east. The rest went into a Police Company under Jonas Lie, which took part in the siege of Leningrad.
In July 1942, many veterans returned from Russia and the Norges-SS was reactivated. A few months later, in accordance with Himmler’s policy, it became the Germanske-SS Norge. The former Rikshird insignia was abandoned and a common scheme of ranks, based on those of the Allgemeine-SS and the other Germanic-SS formations, was adopted. The Germanic-SS in Norway severed all connections with its Rikshird parent and it was henceforth forbidden for members to belong to both organisations. A new oath of allegiance was taken, to Hitler rather than Quisling, and the German-inspired motto ‘Min Aere er Troskap’ (‘My Honour is Loyalty’) was authorised. No Germanic-SS unit in Norway attained sufficient size to be regarded as a Standarte. The largest that could be mustered was a Stormbann or battalion, of which there were twelve in various parts of the country. It is possible that at least five of these existed only on paper and that all the others were consistently under-strength. This was not the result of a lack of volunteers so much as the fact that the Germanic-SS in Norway, as elsewhere, was part-time and often merely a stepping stone into the Waffen-SS or other branches of the Wehrmacht. So many Germanic-SS men did, in fact, volunteer for full-time Waffen-SS service that they were able to contribute an entire company to the ‘Nordland’ Regiment in the spring of 1943. At the same time, the Germanske-SS Norge established the SS-Wachbataillon Oslo, which recruited another 500 Norwegians to act as guards at various installations in the city and elsewhere. The concept of Patron Members, or Stottende Medlemner, was introduced into Norway as in the other Germanic countries. Official figures published in Germaneren, the Norwegian SS paper, in September 1944 gave the strength of the Germanic-SS in Norway as 1,250 of whom 330 were on combat duty with the Waffen-SS and 760 in police units, including SS-Wachbataillon Oslo. That left only 160 Norwegians in the active Germanic-SS, so many units must have existed in a skeleton form only. At the same time, there were 3,500 Patron Members.
Himmler inspecting Norwegian volunteers for the SS-Standarte ‘Nordland’, 9 February 1941.
The other Germanic country, Denmark, had several pro-Nazi political parties before the Second World War, the main one being the Danmarks National-Socialistiske Arbejder Parti, or DNSAP, under Frits Clausen. The DNSAP was highly organised, with its own Corps of Political Leaders, Youth Section, Labour Service and SA, which it called the Storm Afdelinger. In December 1939 the Danish SA could muster only 900 men, but by the beginning of 1941 this had risen to 2,500, many of whom were later sent on training courses to the Germanic-SS camp at Sennheim. In April 1941, 200 Danes volunteered for service with the Waffen-SS ‘Nordland’ Regiment, and after the invasion of Russia a further 1,200 joined the hastily raised Freikorps Danmark to fight in the east. The Freikorps was commanded by Christian Frederick Count von Schalburg, a Danish aristocrat of Baltic-German origin and one-time leader of the DNSAP Youth, who had until recently been serving as an SS-Sturmbannführer with the ‘Wiking’ Division. The unit went into battle in May 1942 attached to the SS-Totenkopf-Division, and took part in the celebrated action at Demjansk where von Schalburg was killed on 2 June. He was given a state funeral by the Nazi authorities in Denmark. The Freikorps ultimately suffered over 20 per cent casualties, and was officially disbanded a year later.
Most of the Freikorps veterans were transferred, without much regard for their personal wishes, to the Waffen-SS division ‘Nordland’. A few, however, including SS-Obersturmbannführer Knud Martinsen, the last commander of the formation, returned to their homeland to set up what amounted in all but name to a Danish branch of the Allgemeine-SS. In April 1943, with German support, Martinsen established the Germansk Korpset (Germanic Corps), which he shortly thereafter renamed the Schalburg Korpset or Schalburg Corps in memory of the Freikorps hero. Several eastern front veterans formed themselves into the cadre of the new unit, which opened its ranks to all young Danes of Nordic blood. The Corps was divided into two main groups, namely the active uniformed personnel, in five companies, and the nonregular patrons who gave moral and financial support. The latter came to be known as the Dansk-Folke-Vaern, or Danish People’s Defence, and practised the use of small arms.
The Schalburg Corps adopted the same techniques as the partisan groups which it fought, and responded to each resistance assassination with one of its own. It was said that every act of sabotage provoked one of ‘Schalburgtage’. A so-called ‘Schalburg Cross’ bearing the Corps motto ‘Troskab vor Aere’ (‘Our Honour is Loyalty’) was instituted and, according to the Corps journal Foedrelandet, at least one posthumous award was made to a Schalburg man killed by partisans. After a general strike in Denmark in July 1944, the Schalburg Corps was moved to Ringstad outside Copenhagen and incorporated into the Waffen-SS as SS-Ausbildungsbataillon (Training Battalion) Schalburg. Members were taught to use heavy weapons, in preparation for their defence of Denmark against the impending Allied invasion. Six months later the unit became SS Vagtbataillon Sjaelland, or SS Guard Battalion Zealand. It never saw frontline combat, however, and was disbanded in February 1945.
The Efterretnings Tjenesten, or ET, the Intelligence Service of the Schalburg Corps, was withdrawn from its parent body in April 1944 and placed under the direct control of the HSSPf in Denmark, SS-Obergruppenführer Günther Pancke. On 19 September, as a consequence of what the Germans regarded as unreliable behaviour during the general strike, the traditional Danish police organisation was stood down in its entirety and Pancke ordered the ET to form a new auxiliary police force in its place. This body, known by the Germans as the Hilfspolizeikorps, or Hipo, quickly acquired an ugly reputation and was responsible for the murder of at least fifty resistance suspects and the torture of hundreds more. In effect, it became a Danish branch of the Gestapo. Some members wore a black uniform similar to that of the Schalburg Corps, but the majority operated in civilian clothes.
Initially, SS personnel from Flanders, Holland, Norway and Denmark were entitled to compete for and wear the paramilitary sports badges awarded by their domestic pro-Nazi parties, the VNV, NSB, NS and DNSAP. However, the consolidation of the Germanic-SS at the end of 1942 all but severed such links with home and consequently a new all-embracing award was called for. On 15 July 1943, SS-Obergruppenführer Berger of the SS Hauptamt drew up draft regulations introducing just such a badge for the Germanic-SS. It was to take the form of two Sig-Runes, symbolic of victory and long the emblem of the German SS, superimposed over a sunwheel swastika which was associated with the west European Nazi movements. The design was therefore representative of the union between the German SS and the Germanic-SS. Approved and instituted by Himmler on 1 August 1943, the award was named the Germanische Leistungsrune, or Germanic Proficiency Rune. It came in two grades, bronze and silver, and the tests leading to an award were on a par with those undergone by Germans in the SS to qualify for the German National Sports Badge and SA Military Sports Badge. As well as athletics and war sports such as shooting and signalling, proficiency in National Socialist theories had to be demonstrated. Over 2,000 members of the Germanic-SS presented themselves for the first tests in January 1944, but only 95 passed. The Allied invasion of France and the ensuing battles undoubtedly prevented widespread distribution, and it is believed that total awards numbered fewer than 200. As the only nationally recognised decoration instituted by Himmler, the Germanic Proficiency Rune holds a unique place in the history of the SS.
In addition to the Germanic-SS formations proper, the Allgemeine-SS established its own Germanische Sturmbanne or Germanic Battalions in the areas of the Reich where there were large concentrations of workers imported from the Nordic countries. These foreigners numbered several hundred thousand by the end of 1942, and posed a major problem for German internal security. To assist in their control, Flemish and Dutch SS officers and men, most of them fresh from front-line service in the east, were employed by German firms to engage upon a propaganda campaign in the factories. They succeeded in persuading such a large number of their compatriots to join the local Allgemeine-SS that seven Germanic Battalions were set up in Berlin, Brunswick, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Nürnberg and Stuttgart. Service in the Germanische Sturmbanne was voluntary and unpaid, and was performed either during after-work hours or at weekends.
The Germanic Proficiency Rune was, in Himmler’s words, intended for those who ‘distinguished themselves in sports, the use of weapons and spiritual maturity, demonstrating a voluntary desire to attain the Germanic joint destiny’.
By the end of 1944, the Germanic-SS in Germany was fully organised as an integral but distinctive part of the regular Allgemeine-SS. Membership peaked at around 7,000 and SS-Obersturmbannführer Max Kopischke held the post of Chef der Germanischen-SS in Deutschland (Chief of the Germanic-SS in Germany). Subordinated to him were several Reichsreferenten, officials for the various national groups into which the Germanische Sturmbanne were divided. Their Sonderstäbe, or special staffs, worked from the headquarters of the Oberabschnitte in which the battalions operated. The cultural centre of the Germanische Sturmbanne was the Germanische Haus, or Germanic House, in Hannover, set up by the Germanische Leitstelle of the SS Hauptamt in May 1943 and subsequently moved to Hildesheim under the title of Haus Germanien. It also served the social needs of associated Nordic workers, students and young people employed or holidaying in Germany, organising visits from their own national orchestras, singers, film stars and other celebrities. Copies of Das Schwarze Korps were distributed widely by the House, along with De SS Man, Storm SS, Germaneren and Foedrelandet. As the war situation worsened, the House placed more emphasis on extolling the virtues of Germanic-SS men at the front, and by the end of 1944 it had become little more than a glorified recruiting office for the Waffen-SS.