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Selbstschutz (German: Self-protection) stands for two types of organisations:

  1. A name used by a number of paramilitary organisations created by ethnic Germans in Central and Eastern Europe
  2. A name for self-defence measures and units in ethnic German, Austrian, and Swiss civil defence.

Para-military organisation[edit]

Selbstschutz as a para-military organisation was formed both after World War I in territories inhabited by Germans outside of Germany before the beginning of World War II; notably in Poland, the Free City of Danzig, Czechoslovakia and Russian Empire[clarification needed] by ethnic Germans who were citizens of these countries. The first incarnation of the organisation was aimed at keeping Polish inhabited territories within Germany.

In 1921, units of Selbstschutz took part in the fights against the Third Silesian Uprising.

In 1938, a campaign was started by local Selbstschutz in the Czechoslovakian Sudetenland in order to subjugate the local Czechs prior to the Munich Conference.

During the Invasion of Poland of 1939, a number of similar units operating in Poland and led by volunteers trained in Nazi Germany were officially merged into one organization, the Ethnic German Self-Defense Force (Volksdeutsche Selbstschutz). These units took part in fighting as a Fifth Column, served as auxiliary forces of the Gestapo, SS and SD during the early stages of the occupation of Poland, and helped the Civil Administrations of West Prussia and Wartheland, and other entities of the German occupation forces, as local controllers, informers and members of execution squads particularly active in the eradication action of Polish intelligentsia called Operation Tannenberg as well as in other more local and vengeful atrocities. The killings of Poles and Jews that can be ascribed specifically to the more than 100,000 strong Volksdeutsche Selbstschutz is set to at least 10,000 men, women and children.[1] The force was disbanded in winter 1939/40 and the majority of its members joined the German SS or Gestapo by the spring of the following year.

Inter-war years[edit]

In Silesia, Selbstschutz militia were active on the German side of the Polish/German conflicts in the area. In 1921, its organized units resisted the Polish rebellion in the Third Silesian Uprising; which was aimed at seceding Upper Silesia from Germany.

Mennonite units[edit]

Russian Mennonite young men in Ukraine from Molotschna and to a lesser extent Chortitza formed Selbstschutz units through the influence of the German occupation forces at the end of World War I. Before the end of the occupation, German soldiers supervised the creation of several Selbstschutz units, leaving guns, ammunition, and a few officers to command the groups. Together with a neighboring Lutheran colony, the young men from Molotschna formed twenty companies totaling 2,700 infantry and 300 cavalry, which, during the Russian Civil War, held back the forces of anarchist Nestor Makhno until March 1919. When the Red Army combined with Makhno, the self-defense group was forced to retreat and disband. This attempt to defend the villages departed from the Mennonite's traditional teaching of nonresistance and was disapproved by many colonists. However, in the absence of effective governmental authority and when faced with the horrific atrocities committed by anarchist partisans[citation needed], many others came to believe in the necessity of self-defence. Later church conferences and delegations officially condemned this action as a "grave mistake".[2][3]

World War II[edit]

Selbstschutz leaders in Bydgoszcz: SS-Standartenführer Ludolf von Alvensleben, SS-Obersturmbannführer Erich Spaarmann, SS-Obersturmbannführer Hans Kölzow, SS-Sturmbannführer Christian Schnug
Inspection of Selbstschutz unit in Bydgoszcz. Josef Meier ("Bloody Meier") - leader of Selbstschutz in Bydgoszcz, Werner Kampe - mayor of Bydgoszcz and Ludolf von Alvensleben - leader of Selbstschutz in Pomerania
Members of Selbstschutz guarded Polish teachers in Valley of Death near Bydgoszcz
Execution of Polish intelligentsia by Selbstschutz unit - Mass murders in Piaśnica

The Selbstschutz were reintroduced during the late 1930s in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Selbstschutz activists worked to indoctrinate ethnic Germans and commit acts of terrorism against the Czech population in the Sudetenland.[4]

In the interwar period German minority organizations in Poland such as Jungdeutsche Partei, Deutsche Vereinigung, Deutscher Volksbund and Deutscher Volksverband actively cooperated with Nazi Germany through espionage, sabotage, provocations and political indoctrination. They maintained close contact with and were directed by the NSDAP, Auslandsorganisation, Gestapo, SD and Abwehr. It is estimated that 25% of the German minority in Poland were members of these organisations.[5]

By October 1938, SD agents were organizing the Selbstschutz in Poland. Ethnic Germans with Polish citizenship were trained in the Third Reich in various sabotage methods and guerilla tactics.

Even before the war, Selbstschutz activists from Poland helped to organize lists of Poles who later were to be arrested or executed in Operation Tannenberg.

With the beginning of the Invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, Selbstschutz units engaged in hostility towards the Polish population and military, and performed sabotage operations helping the German attack on the Polish state. In mid-September, the chaotic and autonomous activities of this organization were coordinated by SS officers. Gustav Berger was placed in charge of the organization and district commanders in occupied zones made by the German army were put in place — West Prussia, Upper Silesia and Warthegau.

While the SS leadership was limited to overseeing the operations, local units remained under the control of ethnic Germans who had proven their commitment at the beginning of the war.

Selbstschutz also organized concentration camps for Poles. Occasionally they were founded in places where Wehrmacht or German police units established camps. There were 19 such camps in the following places: Bydgoszcz (Bromberg), Brodnica (Strasburg), Chełmno (Kulm), Dorposz Szlachecki, Kamień Krajeński, Karolewo[disambiguation needed], Lipno[disambiguation needed] (Lippe), Łobżenica, Nakło (Nakel), Nowy Wiec (near Skarszew), Nowe (over Vistula), Piastoszyn, Płutowo, Sępolno Krajeńskie, Solec Kujawski (Schulitz), Tuchola (Tuchel), Wąbrzeźno (Briesen), Wolental (near Skórcza), Wyrzysk (Wirsitz). The majority of the Poles imprisoned in those camps (consisting of men, women and youth) were murdered in cruel ways.[citation needed] After German invasion of Poland Selbstschutz worked together with the Einsatzgruppen in massacres of Poles. For example this organisation took part in first action of elimination Polish intelligentsia, the Mass murders in Piaśnica, during which between 12,000 and 16,000 civilians were murdered. An Intelligenzaktion was a plan to eliminate all Polish intelligentsia and Poland's leadership class in the country. These operations took place soon after the fall of Poland, lasting from the fall of 1939 until the spring of 1940.[5][6] As the result in 10 regional actions 60,000 landowners, teachers, polish entrepreneurs, social workers, military veterans, members of national organisations, priests, judges and political activists were killed.[7] The Intelligenzaktions were continued by the German AB-Aktion operation in Poland.[8]

By 5 October 1939, in West Prussia alone, Selbstschutz under the command of Ludolf von Alvensleben was 17,667 men strong, and had already executed 4,247 Poles, while Alvensleben complained to Selbstschutz officers that too few Poles had been shot. (German officers had reported that only a fraction of Poles had been "destroyed" in the region with the total number of those executed in West Prussia during this action being about 20,000. One Selbstschutz commander, Wilhelm Richardt, said in Karolewo (Karlhof) camp that he did not want to build big camps for Poles and feed them, and that it was an honour for Poles to fertilize the German soil with their corpses[9] There was little opposition or lack of enthusiasm for activities of the Selbstschutz among those involved in the action.[9] There was even a case where a Selbstschutz commander was relieved after he failed to account for all the Poles that were required, and it was found that he executed "only" 300 Poles.[9]

The total number of Selbstschutz members in Poland is estimated at 82,000.

The organization was ordered to be dissolved on 26 November 1939, yet this process continued until the spring of 1940. Among the reasons for this order were cases of extreme corruption, disorderly behaviour and conflicts with other organizations as well as excessive use of force.

The existence of a large paramilitary organization of ethnic Germans with Polish citizenship that helped in the German war against Poland and engaged in widespread massacres of Poles served as one of the reasons for the expulsion of Germans after the war.


"People executed by shooting were finished by blows from shovels, or by beating with rifles, sometimes they were even buried alive. Mothers were forced to place their children in mass graves where they were shot together afterwards. Before executions women and girls were raped.(...) [Those atrocities] evoked horror even in Germans, including some soldiers who were terrified at what they saw in the camps."

A short description of Selbstschutz operations from Polish State Museum of Stutthof. [10]

Civil defense organisation[edit]

Selbstschutz can be defined as the local self-help of the civil population and of local and national institutions and infrastructures against air raids and catastrophes. The term was coined in the 1920s and was widely used in the 1930s as part of the German preparations for the Second World War.

The German Selbstschutz was part of a comprehensive system of air-raid protection conceived by the German government and which covered the civil population, industry and public administrations.

There are several forms of Selbstschutz: - the Selbstschutz of the local population, organised by air wardens and forming small first intervention squads, - the Selbstschutz of infrastructures (railways, post and telecommunications, waterways, police, SS) and of public bureaucracies (ministry of finance, for instance), - the Werkluftschutz of private industry. All forms of Selbstschutz became eventually mandatory, at latest with the start of the war in 1939.

Besides its official function, air-raid protection, the Selbstschutz and its administrative organisation, the Reichsluftschutzbund, had additional functions: - mentally and practically preparing the German population for war, - fostering the feeling of belongingness (Volksgemeinschaft), - controlling the political opinion (through the air-wardens) in the city wards, - security: collaborating with the local police and the Gestapo.

After the end of World War II the organisation was dissolved.

With the Cold War and concomitant German rearmement a new denazified Selbstschutz organisation was created, based on the experience of its forerunner and organised by the Bundesluftschutzverband (BLSV), which was later renamed the Bundesverband für den Selbstschutz (BVS). Among its major activities were the training of the civil population in first aid and propaganda for constructing air-raid shelters. In West Germany in the 1980s, standard telephone directories included a page with instruction from the BVS how to protect yourself in catastrophes and in case of attacks.

With the end of the Cold War the BVS was dissolved in 1997. [11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jansen and Weckbecker, 1992, pp. 7-8
  2. ^ Smith, 1981, p. 316
  3. ^ Krahn, Cornelius and Al Reimer (1989). "Selbstschutz, Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online". Retrieved 2013-03-21. 
  4. ^ The Avalon Project : Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 3 - Eleventh Day
  5. ^ a b Kampania Wrześniowa
  6. ^ Encyklopedia PWN
  7. ^ *Maria Wardzyńska "Był rok 1939 Operacja niemieckiej policji bezpieczeństwa w Polsce. Intelligenzaktion" IPN Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, 2009, ISBN 978-83-7629-063-8
  8. ^ Meier, Anna "Die Intelligenzaktion: Die Vernichtung Der Polnischen Oberschicht Im Gau Danzig-Westpreusen" VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, ISBN 3-639-04721-4 ISBN 978-3-639-04721-9
  9. ^ a b c Browning (2004). p. 33.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ "State Museum of Stutthof". Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  11. ^ "Bundesgesetzblatt 1997 Teil I Seite 731". Retrieved 20 March 2013. 


  • Jansen, Christian; Weckbecker, Arno (1992). Der "Volksdeutsche Selbstschutz" in Polen 1939/40 (Schriftenreihe der Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte - Bd. 64). München: R. Oldenbourg Verlag. ISBN 3-486-64564-1. 
  • C. Henry Smith, Revised and expanded by Cornelius Krahn (1981), "Smith's Story of the Mennonites", Faith and Life Press, Newton, Kansas, ISBN 0-87303-069-9
  • Browning, Christopher R. (2004). The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-1327-1. 
  • "Germany and Eastern Europe: Cultural Identities and Cultural Differences", Keith Bullivant, Geoffrey Giles, Walter Pap
  • "Selbstschutz im Luftschutz. Eine Anweisung für jedermann über Schutz und Verhalten bei Fliegerangriffen". E. Ohlenhof, H. von Mutius, Berlin-Wilmersdorf: Selbstschutz Verlag, s.d. [circa], 1925.

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