on 5 September 2013
Having read Christopher Allsby's 'Hitler's Foreign Renegades', I was interested in following up the whole matter of foreign volunteers for the Waffen SS and the Wermacht. The scale and depth of this 'Involvement' appears to have been prodigious, especially in the like of the Ukraine and Russia. No country was exempt and some of the volunteers like the Croat Ustase and Boleslav Kaminski's RONA made even the Nazis look like choirboys!
This work does spend most of it's time with the Baltic States and the Ukraine. But this is justified by the lack of attention this area of Europe has received to date. The Author also spends some time on the whole question of how they should be regarded by the present inhabitants. This is most significant among those who seek to make the volunteers 'resistance' against the Red Army and the USSR.
I am reminded of the strange rumour that after 1945, in Hungary, before the communist coup of 1949,the surviving members of the infamous Arrow Cross fascist party joined the AVO, the communist militia that became the most vicious of the communist secret police. Even the USSR had to order the communists to restrain them!
even now, fascism is making something of a comeback, with the likes of Jobbik in Hungary and the Golden Dawn in Greece. To paraphrase Berchtold Brecht, in the ending to 'Arturo Ui'
Do not rejoice you men
The beast that bore him is on heat again.
on 6 March 2012
By the summer of 1944 just over half of the men serving in the Waffen SS were not so-called "Aryan Germans" at all. Dutchmen, Danes, Norwegians, Flemings, Swedes, Swiss, Romanians and Frenchmen had been fighting in SS uniforms since 1942 and by the summer of 1943 they had been joined by Ukrainians, Fez-wearing Muslims from Bosnia, Latvians and Estonians. By the end of the war, men from the occupied territories of the Soviet Union, Indians from the sub-continent and even a handful of British National Socialists known as the 'Britisches Freikorps' were all fighting for Hitler under the banner of the SS. Even when the war was lost, fanatical, rag-tag bands of foreign SS men could still be found scuttling around Berlin taking pot-shots at the invading Soviet soldiers. This book endeavours to explain who these men were, why they were recruited, why they were prepared to collaborate with and die for the foreign power who had invaded their countries and expose the role they played in the destruction of European Jewry.
According to Christopher Cole, Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS, had an almost unbelievably ambitious plan to create an SS empire which would, in time, supersede both the National Socialist Party and its leader Adolf Hitler. This 'SS Europa' would bring together 'Germanic' peoples from all over Europe, Germanise them further and dissolve their national identities. The first stage of this master plan called for the 'chosen' people to be bound together in perpetuity through the shedding of a 'blood sacrifice' in a joint war of total annihilation against the Nazis' two pet hates, Jewry and Bolshevism. In this book, Cole asserts that Europe's dirty secret is that nearly half a million Europeans and more than a million former Soviet citizens rallied to this call and enlisted in the armed forces of the Third Reich to wage a brutal, ideological war against what was essentially a mythical enemy, the "Jewish-Bolshevik". He argues that the Holocaust was not, in fact, solely a German crime at all but a European phenomenon and one which modern-day Europe seems very reluctant to even acknowledge, let alone come to terms with. In "Hitler's Foreign Executioners" Christopher Cole shows that SS recruitment of foreign men was not, as many historians claim, merely a way of providing cannon-fodder for the eastern front but was the first stage of a half-mad plan by Heinrich Himmler and his SS fanatics to racially re-engineer the European continent along more Nordic lines. It was a plan which caused a bitter split at the very top of the Third Reich and contributed greatly to the demise of the man Hitler once thought of as "loyal Heinrich".
This is a fascinating and engaging book, well-researched and well-argued. I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested in Second World War history, the darker side of human nature and the sinister underbelly of modern European history and politics.
for anyone who reads military history regularly its nearly always a struggle to find that balance in a book of scholorship written in an interesting and accessible way. well Hale does an outstanding job of it here, by dispelling myths, bringing new information to light and doing it in a riveting fashion. Having just read Weales book on the SS about 4 months after reading this you notice a massive differnce in the general Quality of the research, also you come away from this book feeling like you really have learnt somthing new. His treatment of the evidence is sometimes a liitle less even handed but doing so with a subject like killing squads I imagine would be supremely difficult so I am not bothered about that, but his treatment of the various counties involved, and the getting away from the " it was all germans and only Germans " was refreshing as so many writers still wander down that road, especially when the wermacht still doesnt get its share of the blame from some writers.
All in all A great book well executed which brings colour to those innvolved and will keep you looking for spare moments in the day to read more of it. One of teh better books I have read this year
This book covers an area of WWII which is often overlooked and now, as the author says, more often glossed over. Did men from the occupied countries join the SS to protect their lands from the threat of international communism or were they really adherents of Nazism? In the Baltics especially the SS units seem to be glorified as national heroes defending the homeland and any "excesses" (i.e. mass murder) put down to hostile left-wing propaganda or quite simply denied.
There is much original research and many interesting potted biographies of volunteers, many of whom have, as the author points out more than once, had 60-odd years to invent convincing backstories in which they metamorphose from vodka-sodden sadistic killers into white knights forlornly defending the frontiers of civilsation. Not all skullduggery is confined to the Axis - we find the British authorities up to some shady dealing as the ink dies on the instrument of surrender. It was also interesting to learn that the Grand Mufti became a mentor to Yassar Arafat in the post-war Middle East.
However, I found two big problems with the book. The typos and editing errors are abundant. Names of persons and places change from page to page and sometimes sentences stop mid-way because they have reached the end of the line (literally) and the new line starts with a new sentence. Sometimes you can guess what is missing, sometimes not. The other problem is the author's style which is very repetitive. How many times do we need to be told that von dem Bach-Zelewski was a 'bandit hunter'? Twice may be but surely not every time this SS leader is mentioned. The same applies to Himmler's masseur, who gets nearly as many mentions as the Reichsführer himself.
Perhaps this is a hangover from the author's documentary work but it is even more annoying in print when you can see the same phrases facing each other on opposite pages. I feel that a decent editor sould have cut this sort of thing out. It may have shortened the book a little but a slightly trimmer volume would have been just as effective and easier to read.
While I find little fault in the information here more effort could have been on its presentation. I have to concur to some degree with the reader who gave the 1-star review. This sort of editing (or lack of) detracts from the impact of the serious subject matter. However, if you are interested in the subject and can turn a blind eye to this it is well reading this book.
on 14 September 2011
The murky history of the foreign volunteers to the SS has for too long been the preserve of either books that only highlighted and focused on the military aspects of their service, or danced dangerously close to the precipice of approval or even adulation. I remember books on the subject that have made me squirm uncomfortably at the partisan approach their author had adopted. The studies of the local auxillary volunteers who actively aided the Germans - both Wehrmacht and SS - in their murderous pursuit of the Final Solution, have either been too particular in their approach or written with an avowedly political agenda that dates back to the Cold War. "Hitler's Foreign Executioners" has in one book managed to combine both elements of the SS foreign volunteer story and offers a cogent and thoughtful explanation as to why these volunteers were not only welcomed but actively encouraged at the highest level - by Himmler himself.
The sections on the Baltic States and the manner in which the earliest and most enthusiastic participants in SS-organised (or spontaneous) murders of Jews were later recruited into more regular volunteer SS formations, is particularly noteworthy for the depth of the research and new material presented to the reader. The author has obviously done considerable research in these countries and found much new material to illustrate the development of -and the later cultural resurgence of - those who considered the Jewish pogroms not only acceptable but patriotic.
I feel the subject is almost too large for one book. However, the author skilfully manages to illustrate the auxillary nature of the first volunteers and their later development and transformation into more formal SS units. The melange of units that were created, merged and dissolved in the final bitter years of the war is a fascinating and intriguing story.
The only reason for my not awarding this book 5 stars is down to the numerous and recurring editorial errors that occur. This is obviously the result of poor editing by the publisher but, as highlighted by the previous reviewer, does not detract from the worth of this book. For anyone interested in the history of the SS and the Nazi State I would recommend it without hesitation.
on 22 June 2016
An excellent and well researched book that outlines the fallacies that have been concocted in the years after the fall of the Nazi regime ... Whilst the Nazi's must take responsibility for the outcomes it is clear from the information contained in this book that they were ably and willingly assisted from all quarters and show that in the later years they were happy to exploit those who would never have beem seen as being 'of the master race' in normal circumstances. It also highlights both the strength and weakness of the Nazi's ... Strength that they were able to conduct an all out or total war with all that that entails and the weakness that whilst doing that diverting essential resources running a parallel campaign against the Jews Gypsies and other 'undesirables'. A campaign that denied the Wehrmacht vital transport and man power.
on 12 September 2011
In contrast to the previous reviewer, I was not left wondering what happened, or who did it, or when, in the passage that reviewer considers to be unclear. Hale introduces the topic from a variety of perspectives, but the connection between them I found not the least hard to fathom. The paragraphs on Amery show us the Nazis trying to recruit former BUF members into the Waffen SS, while the following section on the Baltic discusses the contribution of Latvians and other Baltic nationals to this organisation. It is true that the word `formerly' is used at one point, instead of `formally'. But are we really going to make one slip of the pen a criterion for judging the quality of a book? If so, we can rule out a whole number of masterpieces of historiography on that grounds alone.
Readers, please do not be put off from buying Hale's book. It is, as Michael Burleigh comments on the cover, "fascinating". It is also a highly original and thoughtful work, challenging some of the core assumptions behind Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's "Hitler's Willing Executioners". If the Holocaust was the result of an ingrained anti-Semitism unique to the German psyche, why did so many non-Germans participate? As Hale shows, it is by no means the case that they were frogmarched into the Waffen SS. And why was Himmler so apparently ready to integrate so many foreigners into an elitist organisation supposedly constituted according to principles of race? Not necessarily, Hale argues, simply because recruits were needed (the usual argument of historians, Hale tells us). It seems that Himmler long harboured the idea of racially "improving" the stock of non-Germanic peoples by getting them involved in the grand schemes of Nazi world conquest. Race was a more malleable concept that has hitherto been assumed.
In short: an excellent read, and a valuable book which adds to our knowledge of the period.
on 20 September 2011
Our view of the Second World War is one which Hollywood has comfortably help shape -- is of uniformed generals leading their troops and tanks into battle, with not just the sides clearly marked--"Nazis" and "Allies" but also the territories they fought over, as well as the war objectives firmly established. Hale's book is a powerful reminder that although that narrative is
easy to keep straight it is also far from truly reflecting the actual reality of the war that was fought. Hales' book reminds us that the war Hitler organized was not just for lands it was also for the eradication of the Jews. To achieve these aims, the Germans had to recruit thousands of civilians to kill the Jews in Eastern Europe in regions that the Germans did not fully control. Reading this book you discover what actually happened between 1939 and 1944. You will be shocked as you also realize the ways Eastern Europe's shameful past was covered up as the prevailing narrative started to dominate.
on 20 September 2014
Christmas present no complaints.
on 8 September 2011
I bought this book and was very disappointed to read on the second page of the preface that in January 1943 the German military authorities gave John Amery access to British POWs. Next sentence: By the end of 1942, Amery's bizarre antics had exhausted German tolerance and he was effectively sidelined by the German Committee. Next sentence: The baton passed to one Thomas Cooper, a former resident of Chiswick ... Next sentence: In early 1943, he was transferred to a British POW camp at Genshagen where he busily promoted the German cause ... Next sentence: In September 1943 Gottlob Berger, the SS head of recruitment, formerly [sic] took over Cooper's band of converts as the British Free Corps ...
The sequence of events is not made clear by the author here. The reader is left wondering exactly what happened, who did it, and when. This is really not good enough. As for Berger "formerly" taking over Cooper's group, that's an appalling grammatical error. This is in the second page of writing, mind you.
If the author can't get something as straightforward as this right, then I'm certainly not going to waste my time reading the rest of the book. Sadly, I wasted my money buying it in the first place. My advice to anyone else: don't make the same mistake.