In January 1935, Himmler addressed an audience of senior Wehrmacht officers on his vision of the Third Reich. ‘I am,’ he said, ‘a convinced supporter of the idea that the only thing which really matters in the world is good blood. History teaches us that only good blood, in particular the blood engaged in military activity and, above all, Nordic blood, is the leading creative element in every State. I have always approached my task from this angle, and will continue to do so.’ It is perhaps surprising, given the generally non-Nazi nature of the audience, that such a statement was accepted at face value, as a valid and realistic opinion to expound. However, it is important to appreciate that this Nazi form of racism was nothing new in Germany. The notion that the Germanic master race or Herrenvolk had somehow been endowed with an inherent superiority, contrasting particularly sharply with the corrupt characteristics of Slavs, Latins and Jews, had enjoyed widespread support in Germany since the mid-nineteenth century. Theories were regularly propounded that stronger peoples had a natural right to dominate or even exterminate weaker nations in the general struggle for survival, and various versions of the message, often supported by the claims of scientific research, appeared in German, British and other European journals over the years.

One of the early twentieth-century proponents of racial ideology was Alfred Rosenberg, born the son of an Estonian shoemaker in 1893. Rosenberg studied in Russia, and received a degree in architecture from the University of Moscow. Having fled to Germany after the Russian Revolution, he settled in Munich and joined the Thule Society, whose members specialised in anti-Bolshevik and anti-Semitic philosophy. In 1920 he enrolled in the Nazi party with membership number 18, and immediately won Hitler’s attention with the publication of the first of his many books attacking Judaism. In 1923, Rosenberg was nominated by the Führer as editor of the NSDAP newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, which thereafter vigorously denounced communists, Jews, Freemasons and Christians. Rosenberg ultimately proposed a new religion which would counter the weak doctrine of Christian love with a strong ideal of racial superiority. In 1930 he produced his masterpiece, The Myth of the Twentieth Century, a massive tome which concluded that any given culture would always decay when humanitarian ideals obstructed the right of the dominant race to rule those whom it had subjugated. The latter were degraded in the book to the level of Untermenschen, or sub-humans. According to Rosenberg, the mixture of blood, and the sinking of the racial standard contingent upon it, was the primary cause for the demise of all cultures. Although over 20 million copies of The Myth of the Twentieth Century were eventually sold, few people could be found who actually had the stamina to wade through it from cover to cover. Hitler himself had to admit to ‘giving up’ half way through the book.

One who did read and admire Rosenberg’s theories, however, was Richard Walther Darré, a First World War artillery officer who turned to agriculture after 1918 and whose consuming enthusiasm was the peasantry. In 1929 he wrote a book entitled Blood and Soil – The Peasantry as the Life Source of the Nordic Race, which called for an energetic programme of selective breeding to ensure the increase of Nordic peasant stock and their domination of the Jews and Slavs. In Darré’s view, blood alone determined history, ethics, law and economics, and the blood of the German farmer was related to the ground he worked. The argument ran like this. The farmer who toiled the land would be buried in the same soil, therefore the farmer’s daily bread was, in fact, the blood of his forefathers, which fertilised the earth. German blood would be passed on from generation to generation by means of the soil. Himmler loved Darré’s book, befriended its author, and took him into the SS to pursue his research with official sanction and financial backing. At Hitler’s request, Darré later prepared an agricultural policy for the NSDAP which favoured Aryan farmers and re-established the medieval hereditary system by which no farmland could ever be sold or mortgaged.

Heavily influenced by Darré, Himmler now began to use agricultural metaphors to justify his new SS recruitment policy of racial selection. In 1931 he wrote: ‘We are like a plant-breeding specialist who, when he wants to breed a pure new strain, first goes over the field to cull the unwanted plants. We, too, shall begin by weeding out people who are not suitable SS material’. Applicants for the SS were soon being categorised according to their racial characteristics, from I-a-M/1 (racially very suitable) to IV-3-c (racial reject). Himmler’s rapidly increasing obsession with racial purity began to motivate more and more of his schemes during the 1930s. At his behest, the SS kept a genealogical register of its members, and the Reichsführer often pored over it like a horse-breeder examining a stud book. He ordered elaborate investigations into his own ancestry and that of his wife, to gather irrefutable evidence of their pure German lineage, and he dreamed of a new feudal Europe, cleared of Untermenschen, in which model farms would be operated by a racial élite. The spearhead of that élite was to be the SS, an ‘Orden nordischer Rasse’, or Order of Nordic Men, of the purest selection, acting as guardians of the German people. The SS would become a ‘Blutgemeinschaft’, a blood community. To paraphrase Himmler, they would ‘march onward into a distant future, imbued with the hope and faith not only that they might put up a better fight than their forefathers but that they might themselves be the forefathers of generations to come, generations which would be necessary for the eternal life of the Teutonic German nation’. As late as 1943, when SS manpower shortages were desperate, the discovery of even minor racial blemishes (‘borderline type – eighteenth-century Jewish ancestor’) resulted in a swift removal of SS officers from their positions.


Introductory page to a series of prints by the renowned German artist Wolfgang Willrich, commissioned by Himmler in 1936 to illustrate the racial purity of the SS.


Willrich print depicting the ideal SS soldier.

As foretold in Mein Kampf, Hitler’s Nürnberg Laws of 1935 deprived Germany’s Jews of Reich citizenship, the vote and eligibility for appointment to state offices. Marriage or extra-marital relations between Jews and Germans was forbidden, and Jewish businesses closed down. By 1938, the Nazis were raising an international loan to finance the emigration of all German Jews and their resettlement on some of Germany’s former colonies overseas. When war broke out, however, Jews began to be moved instead to ghettos in occupied Poland, which was a cheaper and more expedient alternative. This racial fanaticism reached its ultimate and infamous conclusion at the end of 1941, when it became clear that an easy victory would not be won and that the Second World War might drag on for years. The complex prewar plans for the peaceful removal of Jews and Slavs from Reich territory were now shelved. Einsatzgruppen in the east had been executing Jews and suspected partisans on an ad hoc basis since the invasion of Russia, but the actual process of killing was random and had to be accelerated. On 20 January 1942, Heydrich convened a meeting of representatives of the various government ministries at the pleasant Berlin suburb of Wannsee, and they decided upon a much simpler and irrevocable ‘Final Solution’ to the problem. All the Jews and Slavs of Europe and western Russia were to be rounded up and transported to specified locations to be worked to death, then cremated. Those who were unfit for work would be killed on arrival by gassing. To that end, large Vernichtungslager, or extermination camps, were established at Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka, all in Poland, and minor ones were set up at Kaunas, Lwow, Minsk, Riga and Vilna. Naturally, all were placed under the control of the Reich’s racial warriors, the SS. By the end of 1943, most of the death camps had completed their horrific work and had been closed down and demolished. The gas chambers at Auschwitz and Majdanek, however, continued almost until the arrival of the Soviet army. Those still alive in the slave labour barracks at Auschwitz and Majdanek as the Russians approached were force-marched westwards, to Dachau and Belsen, where tens of thousands died of starvation. In 1946, the Nürnberg indictment concluded that these camps witnessed the deaths of 5,700,000 Jews, Slavs and gypsies between 1942 and 1945, in the Nazi drive towards the ‘racial purification of Europe’.

At Auschwitz, the main extermination camp complex, which comprised twenty labour camps and four massive gas chambers, racial experiments were carried out in the same way that Rascher engaged upon military medical experiments at Dachau. Skeletons of victims were collected for racially-based ‘scientific measurements’. Skulls and skin types were compared, eyes and noses categorised, brains weighed and hair graded. An assortment of SS eugenists from Ahnenerbe strove to prove by their research that humans could be bred exactly like animals, with full pedigrees. The most infamous of them all was Josef Mengele, a Doctor of Philosophy (Munich) and a Doctor of Medicine (Frankfurt/Main), who was rabidly inspired by the hope of eliminating all racial impurities and physical abnormalities from the German people. He served as a medical officer with the Waffen-SS in France and Russia, and in 1943 was appointed Chief Doctor at Auschwitz, with carte blanche from Himmler and an unlimited supply of human guinea-pigs at his disposal. At once, he began a study of deformities. All prisoners who were in any way malformed were immediately butchered upon their arrival at Auschwitz so that Mengele and his team could examine the bodies in a special dissection ward. No twins, dwarves or hunchbacks escaped his scalpel. He even sewed normal twins together to create artificial Siamese twins, and injected the brown eyes of living patients in an effort to turn them blue. These racial experiments caused untold agonies and had little or no practical benefits, unlike some of the purely medical experiments carried out in other camps.

Modern apologists for the Waffen-SS have consistently put forward the argument that the horrors which took place in concentration and extermination camps during the war must have been unknown to ordinary SS soldiers fighting at the battlefront, on the basis that the camps had nothing at all to do with the Waffen-SS. However, the fact is that from April 1941 the camps were classified by Himmler as an integral part of the Waffen-SS system. From that time on, during the worst atrocities, camp officers and guards wore Waffen-SS uniforms with distinctive brown piping and carried Waffen-SS paybooks. The permanent camp administrative staffs of older Totenkopf NCOs were reinforced by substantial numbers of wounded and recuperating personnel transferred in on a temporary rota basis from various battlefield SS units, of which the Totenkopf-Division was only one. For example, Feldgendarmerie elements of the Leibstandarte and men from the 13th SS-Division were stationed at Buchenwald and Gross-Rosen camps in 1943, while ‘Wiking’ Division troops found themselves in the unfortunate position of manning Belsen when it was liberated by the British. Karl Gebhardt, supervisor of medical and racial experiments at the camps, had formerly been a front-line surgeon with SS-Division ‘Das Reich’, and Richard Glücks, the man in daily charge of the whole concentration camp system, was a Waffen-SS general as well as being Inspekteur der Konzentrationslager. The Waffen-SS men who transiently staffed the camps took their directions from the permanent cadre of Totenkopfverbände veterans, and were assisted by foreign auxiliaries, selected prisoners, and even a few factory guards, SA and Wehrmacht personnel in 1944–5. So while the WVHA administered the camps and the RSHA decided who was to be incarcerated in them, members of the Waffen-SS effectively ran them and were certainly not exempt from practising the Final Solution at grass-roots level. It is still a common misconception that ‘the black-uniformed Allgemeine-SS staffed the concentration camps’.


Security policemen searching Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, November 1939.


An SS medical officer, from Mengele’s staff, examining a newly arrived consignment of Jews at the railway sidings at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. Those deemed unfit for work in the SS factories were despatched for immediate gassing.

Under Himmler, the SS came to regard itself not merely as a temporary political association but as a ‘Sippe’, i.e. a tribe or clan. The same racial qualities looked for in the SS man were therefore also required of his wife. The Engagement and Marriage Order of the SS, one of the oldest fundamental laws of the organisation, was issued by Himmler on 31 December 1931, and read as follows:

1.The SS is an association of German men, defined according to their Nordic blood and specially selected.

2.In conformity with the National Socialist conception of the world, and recognising that the future of our people is founded on selection and the preservation of good German blood, free from all taint of hereditary disease, I now require all members of the SS to obtain the authorisation of the Reichsführer-SS before marriage.

3.Consent to marry will be given solely on the grounds of racial or physical considerations, and with a view to congenital health.

4.Any SS man who marries without seeking the prior authorisation of the Reichsführer-SS, or who marries in spite of being refused such authorisation, will be dismissed from the SS.



Young German girls from a Lebensborn home, their heads garlanded with flowers in pagan style, give the Nazi salute at Nürnberg in 1938.

To administer the racial and marriage procedures, Himmler created the SS Race and Settlement Office on the same day the order was issued, and placed it under Darré, his racial guru.

The main objects looked for in adjudging the marriage applications of SS men were, firstly, racial purity and, secondly, physical compatibility between the two partners likely to result in a fertile union. Thus an application to marry an elderly woman, or a woman markedly bigger or smaller than the intended husband, was likely to be rejected. The prospective bride and her family had to prove their Aryan ancestry back to the mideighteenth century, uncontaminated by the presence of Jewish or Slavonic ancestors. She further had to demonstrate that she was free from all mental and physical disease and had to submit to an exhaustive medical examination, including fertility testing, by SS doctors. Only after a couple had successfully completed all these tests could an SS marriage take place. More than a few members found the marriage regulations impossible to live with, and in 1937 alone 300 men were expelled from the SS for marrying without approval.

Christian weddings were replaced in the Allgemeine-SS by pseudo-pagan rites presided over by the bridegroom’s commander. Marriages no longer took place in churches, but in the open air under lime trees or in SS buildings decorated with life runes, sunflowers and fir twigs. An eternal flame burned in an urn in front of which the couple swore oaths of loyalty, exchanged rings and received the official SS gift of bread and salt, symbols of the earth’s fruitfulness and purity. A presentation copy of Mein Kampfwas then taken from a heavy oak casket carved with runes, and handed over to the groom. Finally, as the couple departed from the ceremony, they invariably passed through a sombre arcade of saluting SS brethren.

During the war, the position as regards Allgemeine-SS men serving in the Wehrmacht became fairly unclear, for a decree published in Army Orders on 27 October 1943 stated that the decision on the marriage of such persons to foreigners rested with the Reichsführer-SS. Requests for permission were to be forwarded through official service channels to the competent High Command which would then transmit the request to RuSHA for a final decision. The implication, at least, of this decree was that marriage between SS men in the Wehrmacht and females who were Reich German nationals no longer required the authorisation of the Reichsführer-SS.

The SS maintained colonies for the convenience of its married personnel. Eight of these existed in 1944. Four (Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau and Oranienburg) were located at the large SS settlements which grew up around or near concentration camps, and the remainder (Berlin, Graz, Radolfzell and Wien) were in the neighbourhood of main SS headquarters, barracks or schools. In addition, three colonies specifically for married officers of the Allgemeine-SS were established at Bad Frankenhausen, Jüterbog and Klagenfurt.

It is interesting to note that the marriage rules applied not only to male members of the SS but also to female employees and auxiliaries. In the case of the latter, if they were already married when they applied for appointment with the SS, they were obliged to produce on behalf of their husbands records and genealogical charts going back to the grandparents, for examination by RuSHA.

The SS demanded that its racial élite should breed quickly and multiply, to compensate for the catastrophic losses of manpower suffered between 1914 and 1918. In 1931, Himmler announced that it was the patriotic mission of every SS couple to produce at least four children, and where that was not possible the SS pair were expected to adopt racially suitable orphans and bring them up on National Socialist lines. To show the interest the SS had in its children, the organisation created a range of official gifts for them. At the birth of their first child, Himmler sent each set of SS parents a ribbon and bib of blue silk, symbolising the unity of birth, marriage, life and death, and a silver beaker and spoon representing eternal nourishment. During the subsequent pagan naming ceremony, which replaced the traditional christening in SS circles, the child would be wrapped in a shawl of undyed wool embroidered with oak leaves, runes and swastikas, while both parents placed their hands on the baby’s head and pronounced names such as Karl or Siegfried, Gudrun or Helga, and, of course, Adolf or Heinrich. The Reichsführer served as nominal godfather to all SS children born each year on the anniversary of his birth, 7 October, and on the birth of a fourth child he sent the happy parents a letter of congratulations and a Lebensleuchter, a silver candlestick engraved with the words, ‘You are a link in the eternal racial chain’.


The future SS: new pupils on parade at the Potsdam NPEA, 1938.

However, the SS birthrate during the 1930s remained average for the country as a whole. Wages were low, and children were expensive. On 13 September 1936, in a further desperate attempt to encourage SS families to have more offspring, the Reichsführer established a registered society known as Lebensborn, or the Fountain of Life. Senior full-time SS officers were expected to make financial contributions so that the Society could provide maternity homes to which both married and unmarried mothers of SS children could be admitted free of charge. Although affiliated to RuSHA, Lebensborn was directly subordinated to SS-Standartenführer Max Sollmann of the Hauptamt Persönlicher Stab RfSS. Its stated objectives were: assist in sustaining large racially valuable families look after pregnant women of good race care for the children of racially suitable unions

Maternity homes were quickly set up at Hohehorst, Klosterheide, Polzin, Steinhöring and Wienerwald, and Himmler took an intense personal interest in them. Every detail fascinated him, from the shapes of the noses of newly born infants to the volume of milk produced by nursing mothers, the most prolific of whom received Mothers’ Crosses and other special recognitions. Any babies appearing with mental or physical handicaps were smothered at birth and, so far as the mothers were concerned, were said to be ‘still-born’. Despite the contemporary salacious rumours about brothels and ‘SS stud farms’, only a small percentage of children appearing from the Society’s homes in peacetime were illegitimate. The establishment of the Lebensborn homes was a genuine attempt by Himmler to provide free but high-quality maternity care for the poorer SS families.

The outbreak of war in 1939 stimulated the Reichsführer to remind all members of the SS that it was now their most urgent duty to become fathers. On 28 November, he issued the following instruction:

Order to the SS and Police.

Every war involves a shedding of the purest blood. A multitude of victories will mean a great loss of it, but the death of our best men will not in itself be the ultimate consequence. What will be worse will be the absence of children who have not been procreated by the living during the war, and who most certainly cannot be procreated by the dead after the war. Regardless of the civil law and normal bourgeois customs, it must now be the duty of all German women and girls of good blood to become mothers of the children of SS soldiers going to the front. Official guardians will take over the wardship of all legitimate and illegitimate children of good blood whose fathers have fallen in the war, and the Chief of the RuSHA and his staff will observe discretion in the keeping of docu-mentation relating to the parentage of illegitimate children. SS men must see clearly that, in complying with this order, they will perform an act of great importance. Mockery, disdain and noncomprehension will not affect us, for the future belongs to us!


It was the same concern to ensure the future of the race which was behind Himmler’s subsequent ‘Special Order’ of 15 August, 1942. It indicated that when an SS family had only one son left, and he was of military age, he would be withdrawn from the battlefield and sent home for anything up to a year, or at least long enough to find a mate and make her pregnant, so as to ‘preserve his lineage’. Therefore, no justification could exist for SS men to fall short of their biological duty. In fact, failure to carry it out hampered their careers. By virtue of a Himmler memorandum issued in February 1944, all recommendations for the promotion of married SS officers had henceforth to include details of their date of marriage, age of wife, number of children and date of birth of the last child. Where the last child was born more than two years previously, and where the wife was not over forty years of age, an explanation had to be added as to why no more children had been conceived. If there was no sufficient explanation, the application for promotion would be rejected. In a similar vein, a forty-four-year-old bachelor, SS-Hauptsturmführer Franz Schwarz, was threatened in 1943 that if he had not married within the year, he would be dismissed from the SS!

The Lebensborn Society continued to operate until the end of the war, and new SS maternity homes were opened up in Oslo, Schwarzwald, Schloss Wegimont in Belgium, and Taunus. Suitable foreign children, usually war orphans and even infants who had been torn from their Polish, Czech or Russian families by VOMI officials because they were recognised as being of Nordic descent, were accepted into Lebensborn homes to be adopted by childless SS couples. Ultimately, more than 80,000 non-German children were thus ‘Germanised’ by the SS.

As SS racial policies expanded and developed, so too did the departments charged with their administration. Darré’s Race and Settlement Office achieved Hauptamt status on 30 January 1935, as the SS Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt or RuSHA, the SS Race and Settlement Department. It was therefore one of the three oldest Hauptämter in the Reichsführung-SS, and by 1937 consisted of the following seven ämter:


Organisation & Verwaltungsamt (Organisation & Administration)


Rassenamt (Race)


Schulungsamt (Education)


Sippen- und Heiratsamt (Family & Marriage)


Siedlungsamt (Settlement)


Amt für Archiv und Zeitungswesen (Records & Press)


Amt für Bevölkerungspolitik (Population Policy)

In the general reorganisation of the SS administration which took place in 1940, RuSHA, like the SS Hauptamt, lost some of its functions and retained only the Rassenamt, Sippen- und Heiratsamt, Siedlungsamt and Verwaltungsamt. It was thus stripped down to the bare essentials for continuing the work indicated by its title. Nevertheless, in spite of this restriction in its field of activity, the volume of work undertaken by RuSHA necessarily increased with the progress of the war. That was due partly to the physical expansion of the SS, and partly to the repatriation of racial Germans from Russia and the Balkans and their resettlement in Germany and the occupied areas of Poland.

The main duty of RuSHA was to translate into practice the general racial theories of SS ideology. To assist in the execution of its policy it had a special officer (Führer im Rasse- und Siedlungswesen) on the staff of each Oberabschnitt, and Family Welfare Offices (Sippenpflegestellen) set up in the larger towns of Germany and the occupied territories. With the racial laws of the SS as a basis, it was the task of RuSHA and its agencies to supervise the selection and breeding of SS men and to foster the general well-being of the SS in accordance with its code of ‘tribal solidarity’. RuSHA was the only competent authority for checking the racial and genealogical records of SS recruits. In peacetime, and in wartime so far as the Allgemeine-SS was concerned, these checking procedures were strictly adhered to. With the rapid expansion of the Waffen-SS after 1940, however, the racial rules became something of a dead letter for its 750,000 rank and file. During the war, the hard-pressed RuSHA authorities were content to accept a signed declaration of Aryan descent from enlisted German and west European Waffen-SS men, which could be investigated later when the opportunity presented itself. RuSHA was also responsible for issuing one-year marriage permits, or Heiratserlaubnis, on behalf of the Reichsführer-SS, granting his approval for SS personnel to wed. Another of its functions was to keep the Sippenbuch, or Family Book of SS members, and it compiled a register of all SS men willing and suited to become colonists in the occupied territories. In addition, RuSHA was responsible for SS and police welfare, particularly the maintenance of orphans and widows of SS and police men killed in the war, and the care of families and dependants of SS men serving in the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS in all cases of distress, hardship or private difficulty. By 1944, RuSHA had absorbed the Hauptfürsorge und Versorgungsamt der Waffen-SS und Polizei (HFVA), the Waffen-SS and Police Welfare und Pensions Department. The rehabilitation and retraining for civil or administrative posts of war-disabled SS men formed a further part of the work of RuSHA, and for that purpose it controlled two training schools at Schleissheim and Mittweida and a craft school at Bernau near Berlin. Moreover, there was a very close cooperation between RuSHA and Lebensborn in view of the overlapping nature of their work and, while Lebensborn was technically subordinated to the Hauptamt Persönlicher Stab RfSS, RuSHA was the normal channel through which it received its instructions from Himmler.

Darré headed RuSHA until February 1938, when he quarrelled with Himmler and left to concentrate on his government career as Minister of Agriculture. He was succeeded by Obergruppenführer Günther Pancke, later HSSPf in Denmark, and in July 1940 by Obergruppenführer Otto Hofmann, subsequently HSSPf in Oberabschnitt Südwest. The last chief of the Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt was Obergruppenführer Richard Hildebrandt, who took over in April 1943. Although Hildebrandt had an active appointment abroad as HSSPf Black Sea during 1943–4, he did not relinquish his post as Chef RuSHA. His deputy, SS-Gruppenführer Dr Harald Turner, covered for him during his absence in Russia.

A cornerstone of SS racial policy was the desire to reunite the Volksdeutsche with their German relations. When the Nazis came to power, millions of these Volksdeutsche, or ethnic Germans, were living in central and eastern Europe. Ever since the Middle Ages, their ancestors had moved eastwards from their original German territories to find new lands and livelihoods. Settling in an enormous region stretching from the Baltic states in the north to the Volga and the Caucasus in the south, these migrants formed closely knit communities that remained independent of their neighbours and retained strong ties of kinship with the old ‘Heimat’. They had their own association, the League for Germans Abroad, or Volksbund für das Deutschtum in Ausland (VDA), which was taken over by the NSDAP in 1930 and put under the direction of Werner Lorenz, a former First World War pilot who owned a vast estate near Danzig and had the reputation of being something of a bon vivant. Lorenz joined the SS in 1931, and his sophisticated lifestyle, combined with his unique ability to be equally at ease with diplomats and peasant farmers alike, soon brought him to Himmler’s attention.

From the outset, the Nazis were counting on ethnic Germans to augment their new Reich’s depleted population and help in its ultimate expansion eastwards. Himmler in particular vowed to take German blood from wherever it could be found in the world, and to ‘rob and steal it’ whenever he could. To that end, an agency of the NSDAP known as the Büro von Kursell was formed in March 1936 to co-ordinate attempts to encourage the return of the Volksdeutsche to Germany. In 1937 it was renamed the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle or VOMI, the Department for the Repatriation of Racial Germans, and put under the direction of Lorenz, now an SS-Obergruppenführer. Under Lorenz, VOMI performed so efficiently that in July 1938 Hitler increased its power by allowing it to absorb the VDA and similar agencies, bring together rival factions in the ethnic German communities, and generate money to build recreational facilities and hospitals and spread Nazi propaganda. As an SS-inspired aside, VOMI also investigated the politics of individual ethnic Germans, and began compiling files on those suspected of opposition to the Führer. Although VOMI was not formally incorporated into the Allgemeine-SS structure until 1941, Himmler very quickly made it his own instrument. He infiltrated SS men into the department from its earliest days, and persuaded its existing staff to join the SS. The Reichsführer also installed as Lorenz’s deputy an SS colleague, Gruppenführer Dr Hermann Behrends of the SD, by which means Heydrich was soon using VOMI to plant SD officials in far-flung communities of ethnic Germans in eastern Europe.

Himmler first exercised his new-found authority in foreign affairs in Czechoslovakia. Created after the old Austro-Hungarian empire was carved up in 1919, Czechoslovakia was home to more than 3 million people of German descent. Most of these Volksdeutsche lived in the country’s western part, the Sudetenland, and their presence became a wedge by which Hitler began to splinter the Czech republic in 1938. He used VOMI and the SS to continuously penetrate Sudeten communities. SD agents provocateurs played upon the grievances of the Sudeten Germans, who had been hard hit by the depression and felt mistreated by the Czech government, and SS funds subsidised the pro-Nazi Sudeten German Party under Dr Konrad Henlein. Heydrich won the allegiance of Henlein’s deputy, Karl Hermann Frank, and VOMI helped form a secret fifth column to subvert the Czech government in the event of a German invasion. However, the mere threat of armed conflict was sufficient for the Czechs to cede the Sudetenland to Germany as of 1 October 1938. Henlein became Gauleiter of the area, and both he and Frank were rewarded by Himmler with the rank of SS-Gruppenführer.

The emergence of the SS as a force in foreign policy had relegated von Ribbentrop’s diplomats to a back seat during the Sudeten crisis, and Hitler again looked to VOMI and the SS as he plotted to take over the rest of Czechoslovakia. Late in January 1939, the Führer assigned Heydrich and other leading members of the SD key roles in the final dismemberment of the country. Hitler’s plan hinged upon provoking trouble in the eastern provinces of Slovakia, where nationalist feelings had been stirred by the events in the Sudetenland. A team of SS men led by Gruppenführer Wilhelm Keppler set off bombs in Bratislava and put the blame on the Slovaks. VOMI organised street demonstrations and SD groups led by Heydrich’s troubleshooter, Alfred Naujocks, carried out further acts of provocation. On 15 March, rather than risk war, the Czechoslovakian President agreed to German ‘protection’ of the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, while Slovakia became a German puppet state and Hungary grabbed the easternmost and last remaining province, Ruthenia. Late in August 1939, Hitler turned to the SS once more to provide his excuse for invading Poland. Heydrich dreamed up scores of incidents which could be attributed to Polish extremists and thus justify a German attack. These were played out by a dozen teams of SD men and police officers under the Gestapo chief, Heinrich Müller. The most important of the bogus raids, codenamed ‘Operation Himmler’, was launched by Alfred Naujocks against a German radio station at the border town of Gleiwitz on 31 August. The following day, citing the Gleiwitz incident as the reason for his actions, Hitler declared war on Poland.

During September 1939, the advances of the Red Army into eastern Poland in accordance with the Nazi-Soviet Pact brought some 136,000 Volksdeutsche under Russian occupation. In discussions with Berlin, however, the Soviets agreed to let these people leave. Moreover, the Reich also negotiated for the transfer of another 120,000 ethnic Germans living in the Baltic states. Throughout the winter of 1939–40, the first 35,000 east European Volksdeutsche were evacuated from Wolhynia. The provisions of the Russo-German Resettlement Treaty had to be completed by November 1940, and during October alone some 45,000 rapidly uprooted men, women and children made the long and so-called ‘final trek’ from Bessarabia and northern Bukovina to VOMI reception camps in Pomerania, East Prussia and the Warthegau before leaving for permanent resettlement in the incorporated Polish territory. By mid-1941, 200,000 ethnic German repatriates had been given possession of 47,000 confiscated Polish farms comprising a total of 23 million acres, in the two new Reichsgaue of Danzig-West Prussia and Wartheland.

As the Reich expanded further eastwards into the Ukraine after 1941, masses of Volksdeutsche were moved out from Romania, Hungary, Albania and Yugoslavia for resettlement in the newly occupied lands under the Eastern Ministry of Alfred Rosenberg. Each family was permitted only 50 kilogrammes of personal possessions or two horse-drawn wagon loads, and some wagon trains travelled as many as 2,000 miles in scenes reminiscent of the American frontier era. All arrivals were probed by SS doctors and racial examiners from RuSHA to confirm that they were suitable to be reclassified as Reichsdeutsche and given German citizenship, but long stays in VOMI’s 1,500 resettlement and transit camps left many Volksdeutsche feeling disappointed, embittered and hopeless. By 1945, VOMI had forcibly moved as many as 1,200,000 ethnic Germans, the bulk of whom became displaced persons at the end of the war.

While VOMI dealt with the transportation of Volksdeutsche repatriates and RuSHA supervised their racial purity, their actual resettlement was the responsibility of a third SS organisation, the Reichs-kommissariat für die Festigung des deutschen Volkstums, or RKFDV, the Reich Commission for the Consolidation of Germanism. It was created on 7 October 1939, with Himmler as its Reichskommissar, and he immediately established a Berlin staff HQ, the Hauptamt RKF, directed by SS-Obergruppenführer Ulrich Greifelt. To administer the financing of its operations, a Land Bank Company was set up under SS-Obersturmbannführer Ferdinand Hiege and money poured in from the sales of confiscated Jewish and Polish property. Himmler intended that not only repatriated ethnic Germans but also crippled SS ex-servicemen and returned veterans should eventually be settled in the eastern territories as ‘Wehrbauern’ or ‘peasant guards’, to provide a buffer between the Reich proper and the unconquered wilderness beyond the Urals. From 1940, SS recruiting propaganda laid considerable stress on the opportunities which would be open to all SS men after the war, with the promise of free land in the east, and a number of SS soldiers invalided out from the services were employed on preparatory settlement work with the so-called ‘SS-Baueinsatz-Ost’. In the words of SS-Obergruppenführer Otto Hofmann of RuSHA, the east would ‘belong to the SS’.

In May 1942, SS-Oberführer Prof. Dr Konrad Meyer of the Hauptamt RKF finished drawing up the great resettlement plan on behalf of Himmler. Under its terms, the Baltic states and Poland were to be fully Germanised. The occupied east would be carved up into three huge provinces or Marks, namely Ingermanland, Narev and Gotengau, under the supreme authority of the Reichsführer-SS, who was to be their new liege lord. He would direct the settlers to the areas provided for them and grant them lands of varying types depending on their service, including ‘life fiefs’, ‘hereditary fiefs’ and ‘special status properties’. Provincial headmen appointed by Himmler were to supervise the Marches of the new SS empire. After a 25-year period of racial purification, it was calculated, their population would be 50 per cent Germanic. There would be a direct autobahn linking Berlin with Moscow, and a 4 metre-wide railtrack between Munich and Rostov. A system of twenty-six eastern strongpoints consisting of small towns of about 20,000 inhabitants, each surrounded by a ring of German villages at a distance of about three miles, would guard the intersections of German communications arteries. The villages themselves were to comprise thirty to forty farmhouses and have their own SS ‘Warrior Stürme’ to which all male inhabitants would belong. Working along Viking lines, it was to be the greatest piece of continental colonisation the world had ever seen, designed to protect western civilisation from the threat of Asiatic invasion.

From the beginning, however, Himmler and the RKFDV encountered insurmountable obstacles set up not by the enemy but by competing Nazi satraps in the occupied lands, each intent upon securing his own niche of influence in the new empire. Neither Hans Frank, Governor-General of Poland, nor Alfred Rosenberg, Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories, were SS men and they owed no allegiance to the Reichsführer. Several Gauleiters, particularly Erich Koch, Reichskommissar in the Ukraine, and Wilhelm Kube, Reichs-kommissar in Byelorussia, fought consistently to hinder the resettlement programme in their areas, which they saw as an SS impingement on NSDAP authority. Even Albert Forster, the Gauleiter of Danzig-West Prussia, who was an SS-Ober-gruppenführer and had been a member of the SS before Himmler himself, was so antagonistic to the prospect of taking Volksdeutsche settlers into his domain that ships carrying repatriates from Estonia to Danzig had to be re-routed.

In the end, the practicalities consequent upon the turn of the tide of war smashed Himmler’s dream of an eastern Germanic empire run by the SS. The Reichsführer clearly viewed the Second World War as the final war of racial extermination which would secure the future of the Germanic peoples once and for all. The fairly modest racial policies of the early SS, which centred around its recruiting standards, had exploded out of all recognition by the spring of 1942, with the mass killings of the Einsatzgruppen and the commencement of the ‘conveyor belt’ destruction of human life at Auschwitz. Had the war gone in Germany’s favour, there is little doubt that the Jews, gypsies and Slav races would have been depleted to extinction in Europe. However, from 1943 Hitler felt that their labour, and that of the repatriated ethnic Germans, could be better used in solving Germany’s pressing domestic manpower shortage, and Himmler had little choice but to listen and agree. Thereafter, Volksdeutsche were brought ‘home to the Reich’ only to work in the thriving armaments industry and to staff factories and farms that had been sorely affected by Wehrmacht recruitment. In so doing, these ethnic Germans toiled alongside Poles, Russians and other imported labourers whom they were supposed to have replaced in the east. Ironically, huge numbers of anti-communist Slav volunteers in the Schutzmannschaft and Wehrmacht, technically Untermenschen by SS standards, were by that time being relied upon to bolster and defend the Nazi régime in the occupied territories, and had even been accorded the honour of their own range of medals and decorations. Many were employed as auxiliaries by the SS itself.

Heinrich Himmler had attempted to do too much too quickly, to reverse the developments of a thousand years in a single decade, and the whole racial programme had come crashing down about his head.

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