Hiwi (volunteer)

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Hiwi ([ˈhiːviː]) is a German abbreviation meaning either "voluntary assistant" (Hilfswilliger, willing to help) or "assistant scientist" (Hilfswissenschaftler). Following Operation Barbarossa in World War II, the term Hiwis acquired a thoroughly negative meaning. Between September 1941 and July 1944 the SS began training and deploying collaborationist auxiliary police recruited directly from the Soviet POW camps for service with Nazi Germany in the General Government.[1]

In just one instance, the German SS and police inducted, processed, and trained 5,082 Hiwi men before the end of 1944 at the SS training camp division of the Trawniki concentration camp set up in the village of Trawniki southeast of Lublin. They were called Hilfswilligen, lit. "those willing to help" and deployed in all major killing sites of the "Final Solution", which was their primary purpose of training. They took an active role in the executions of Jews at Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka II, Warsaw (three times), Częstochowa, Lublin, Lvov, Radom, Kraków, Białystok (twice), Majdanek as well as Auschwitz, not to mention Trawniki itself.[2][3][4]

Hilfswilliger ("voluntary assistant")[edit]

Russia January 1942, two "volunteers" of the Wehrmacht decorated with the General Assault Badge.

The word entered into several other languages during World War II when German troops enlisted volunteers from the occupied territories for supplementary service (drivers, cooks, hospital attendants, ammunition carriers, messengers, sappers, etc.).

In the context of World War II the term often has connotations of collaborationism, and (in the case of the occupied Soviet territories) of anti-Bolshevism (and widely presented by Germans as such). A captured "Hiwi" told his People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del, or NKVD) interrogators:

"Russians in the German Army can be put into three groups:

  • First: Soldiers mobilized by German troops, so-called Cossack sections, attached to German divisions.
  • Second: Voluntary Assistants (Hilfswillige) - Local civilians or Russian prisoners who volunteer or Red Army soldiers who desert to join the Germans. These wear full German uniform with their own ranks and badges. They eat like German soldiers and they are attached to German regiments.
  • Third: Russian prisoners doing the dirty jobs, kitchens, stables and so on. The categories are treated differently, volunteers treated best."[5]

Soviet authorities referred to Hiwis as "former Russians", regardless of the circumstances of their joining, and their fate at the hands of the NKVD was most likely death or the Gulag.[6]

The reliance upon "Hiwis" exposed a gap between Nazi ideologues and pragmatic German Army commanders. Nazi leaders, such as German dictator Adolf Hitler, regarded all Russians as sub-human (Untermenschen) and therefore of no value to the Aryan German Army.[citation needed] On the other hand, the manpower was needed,[7] and German Intelligence had recognised the need to divide the Soviet people. The contradiction was sometimes disguised by their reclassification as Cossacks.[8] Colonel Helmuth Groscurth (Chief of Staff, XI Corps) wrote to General Beck: "It is disturbing that we are forced to strengthen our fighting troops with Russian prisoners of war, who are already being turned into gunners. It's an odd state of affairs that the "Beasts" we have been fighting against are now living with us in closest harmony."[9] One quarter of 6th Army's front-line strength were Hiwis[9]

Contemporary use[edit]

The word Hiwi remained in colloquial use for workers, mostly by menial labor, who work directly in the presence of their bosses in positions below the level of journeyman and outside an apprenticeship. It is also widely (but exceptionally, given that their work is non-menial) used for the group of studentische Hilfskräfte (students who work part-time as teaching assistants or research assistants). In the latter case, the objectionable origin of the expression has been disguised by interpreting it as the abbreviation for Hilfswissenschaftler or assistant scientist.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Browning, Christopher R. (1992; 1998). "Arrival in Poland" (PDF file, direct download 7.91 MB complete). Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. Penguin Books. pp. 52, 77, 79, 80. Retrieved May 1, 2013. "Also: PDF cache archived by WebCite." 
  2. ^ "Trawniki". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved July 21, 2011. 
  3. ^ Mgr Stanisław Jabłoński (1927–2002). "Hitlerowski obóz w Trawnikach". The camp history (in Polish). Trawniki official website. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  4. ^ Tadeusz Piotrowski (2006). "Ukrainian Collaboration". Poland's Holocaust. McFarland. p. 217. ISBN 0786429135. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  5. ^ Beevor, Antony (1999). Stalingrad. London: Penguin. pp. 184–185. ISBN 0-14-024985-0. 
  6. ^ Beevor, Antony (1999). Stalingrad. London: Penguin. p. 186. ISBN 0-14-024985-0. 
  7. ^ Davies, Norman (2007). Europe at War 1939-1945: No Simple Victory. London: Pan Books. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-330-35212-3. 
  8. ^ Beevor, Antony (1999). Stalingrad. London: Penguin. p. 185. ISBN 0-14-024985-0. 
  9. ^ a b Beevor, Antony (1999). Stalingrad. London: Penguin. p. 184. ISBN 0-14-024985-0. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ordinary men : Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, New York : HarperCollins, 1992.