Waffen-SS foreign volunteers and conscripts
During World War II, the Waffen-SS recruited significant numbers of non-Germans, both as volunteers and conscripts. In total some 500,000 non-Germans and ethnic Germans from outside Germany, mostly from German-occupied Europe, were recruited between 1940 and 1945. The units were under the control of the SS Führungshauptamt (SS Command Main Office) beneath Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Upon mobilization, the units' tactical control was given to the High Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht).
- 1 History of the Waffen-SS
- 2 Recruitment and conscription
- 3 Post-war
- 4 Foreign Waffen-SS units recruited by Nazi Germany
- 4.1 Albania
- 4.2 Belgium
- 4.3 Bulgaria
- 4.4 Czech lands (Bohemia and Moravia)
- 4.5 Croatia/Bosnia
- 4.6 Denmark
- 4.7 Estonia
- 4.8 Finland
- 4.9 France
- 4.10 Hungary
- 4.11 India
- 4.12 Italy
- 4.13 Latvia
- 4.14 Netherlands
- 4.15 Norway
- 4.16 Romania
- 4.17 Spain
- 4.18 Soviet Union
- 4.19 Sweden
- 4.20 Switzerland
- 4.21 Ukraine
- 4.22 United Kingdom
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Sources
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
History of the Waffen-SS
The Waffen-SS (Armed SS) was created as the militarized wing of the Schutzstaffel (SS; "Protective Squadron") of the Nazi Party. Its origins can be traced back to the selection of a group of 120 SS men in 1933 by Sepp Dietrich to form the Sonderkommando Berlin, which became the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH). In 1934, the SS developed its own military branch, the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), which together with the LSSAH, evolved into the Waffen-SS. Nominally under the authority of Heinrich Himmler, the Waffen-SS developed a fully militarised structure of command and operations. It grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions during World War II, serving alongside the Heer (army), while never formally being a part of it. It was Hitler's wish that the Waffen-SS should not be integrated into either the army or the state police, instead it would remain an independent force of military-trained men at the disposal of the Führer.
Recruitment and conscription
In 1934, Himmler initially set stringent requirements for recruits. They were to be German nationals who could prove their Aryan ancestry back to 1800, unmarried, and without a criminal record. Recruits had to be between the ages of 17 and 23, at least 1.74 metres (5 ft 9 in) tall (1.78 metres (5 ft 10 in) for the Leibstandarte). Recruits were required to have perfect teeth and eyesight and provide a medical certificate. By 1938, the height restrictions were relaxed, up to six dental fillings were permitted, and eyeglasses for astigmatism and mild vision correction were allowed. Once World War II commenced in Europe, the physical requirements were no longer strictly enforced. Following the campaign in the West in 1940, Hitler authorized the enlistment of "people perceived to be of related stock", as Himmler put it, to expand the ranks. A number of Danes, Dutch, Norwegians, Swedes and Finns volunteered to serve in the Waffen-SS under the command of German officers. Non-Germanic units were not considered to be part of the SS directly, which still maintained its strict racial criteria; instead they were considered to be foreign nationals serving under the command of the SS.
Recruitment began in April 1940 with the creation of two regiments: Nordland (later SS Division Nordland) and Westland (later SS Division Wiking). As they grew in numbers, the volunteers were grouped into Legions (with the size of battalion or brigade); their members included the so-called Germanic non-Germans as well as ethnic German officers originating from the occupied territories. As the war progressed, foreign volunteers and conscripts made up one half of the Waffen-SS.
After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, recruits from France, Spain, Belgium (including Walloons), the territory of occupied Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the Balkans were signed on. By February 1942, Waffen-SS recruitment in south-east Europe turned into compulsory conscription for all German minorities of military age. From 1942 onwards, further units of non-Germanic recruits were formed. Legions were formed of men from Estonia, Latvia as well as men from Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Georgia, Ukraine, Russia and Cossacks. However, by 1943 the Waffen-SS could not longer claim overall to be an "elite" fighting force. Recruitment and conscription based on "numerical over qualitative expansion" took place, with many of the "foreign" units being good for only rear-guard duty. In addition by 1944, the German military began conscripting Estonians and Latvians in an effort to replenish their losses. The foreigners who served in the Waffen-SS numbered "some 500,000", including those who were pressured into service or conscripted.
A system of nomenclature developed to formally distinguish personnel based on their place of origin. Germanic units would have the "SS" prefix, while non-Germanic units were designated with the "Waffen" prefix to their names. The formations with non-German volunteers of Germanic background were officially named Freiwilligen (volunteer) (Scandinavians, Dutch, and Flemish), while the units of ethnic Germans born outside the Reich were known as Volksdeutsche and their members were from satellite countries. These were organized into independent legions and had the designation Waffen attached to their names for formal identification. In addition, the German SS Division Wiking included recruits from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Estonia throughout its history. The number of SS recruits from Sweden and Switzerland was only several hundred men. Despite manpower shortages, the Waffen-SS was still based on the racist ideology of Nazism, thereby ethnic Poles were specifically barred from the formations due to them being looked upon as "subhumans".
During the Nuremberg Trials, the Waffen-SS was declared a criminal organization for its major involvement in war crimes and for being an "integral part" of the SS. Conscript units, however, were not deemed to be criminal as these individuals had no choice in becoming members. A number of volunteers were executed, while others were tried and imprisoned by their countries. Still others either lived in exile or returned to their homeland.
Walloon leader Léon Degrelle escaped to Spain, where, despite being sentenced to death in absentia by the Belgian authorities, he lived in exile until his death in 1994. Some 146 Baltic soldiers from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia who fought against Soviets and escaped to Sweden were extradited to the Soviet Union in 1946.
The men of the XV SS Cossack Corps found themselves in Austria at the end of the war and surrendered to British troops. Though they were given assurances that they would not be repatriated, the Cossack prisoners of war were nonetheless returned to the Soviet Union. Many were executed for treason.
After the war, members of Baltic Waffen-Grenadier Units were considered separate and distinct in purpose, ideology and activities from the German SS by the Western Allies. Subsequently, in the spring of 1946, out of the ranks of Baltic conscripts who had surrendered to the Western Allies in the previous year, a total of nine companies were formed to guard the external perimeter of the Nuremberg International Tribunal courthouse and the various depots and residences of US officers and prosecutors connected with the trial. The men were also entrusted with guarding the accused Nazi war criminals held in prison during the trial up until the day of execution.
Foreign Waffen-SS units recruited by Nazi Germany
Total: 6,500 to 7,000
Total: 40,000 (about "evenly divided between Flemings and Walloons")
- SS-Freiwilligen Legion Flandern (1941): 875
- SS-Freiwilligen-Standarte Nordwest
- 5th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Wallonien
- 6th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Langemarck
- 27th SS Volunteer Division Langemarck
- 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien
- Flemish volunteers in the 5th SS division Wiking
Czech lands (Bohemia and Moravia)
- 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar (1st Croatian)
- 23rd Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Kama (2nd Croatian)
- Free Corps Denmark (1941): 1,164
- Danish volunteers in the Waffen-SS, the majority of them in the SS Division Wiking and the SS Division Nordland
- Französisch SS-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade a/k/an 8th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade France
- 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien
- 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne (1st French)
- Bretonische Waffenverband der SS (80 men)
- 22nd SS Volunteer Cavalry Division Maria Theresia
- 25th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Hunyadi (1st Hungarian)
- 26th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (2nd Hungarian)
- 33rd Waffen Cavalry Division of the SS (3rd Hungarian)
- Italienische Freiwilligen Legion (1943): 6,000
- 1st Sturmbrigade, Italienische Freiwilligen Legion
- 24th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS
- 29th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Italian)
- Latvian Legion
- SS Freiwilligen Legion Niederlande (1941): 2,559
- SS-Freiwilligen-Standarte Nordwest
- SS Volunteer Grenadier-Brigade Landstorm Nederland
- 4th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Brigade Nederland
- 23rd SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Nederland
- 34th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Landstorm Nederland
- Romanian volunteers in the Waffen-SS
- Waffen Grenadier Regiment of the SS (1st Romanian)
- Waffen Grenadier Regiment of the SS (2nd Romanian)
- 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician)
- 29th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS RONA (1st Russian)
- 30th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Belarussian)
- Kaukasische Waffen-Verbände der SS
- Osttürkische Waffen-Verbände der SS
- Tataren-Gebirgsjäger-Regiment der SS
- Waffen-Sturm-Brigade Kaminski
- Waffen-Sturm-Brigade RONA
- Waffen-SS abteilung Sveaborg. Other Swedes and Estonian-Swedes Waffen-SS volunteers fought in various units. Many of them were from Norrland and had fought for Finland´s sake, in 1939-40.
- The number of Swedish SS-men is unclear, perhaps a few hundred. The Waffen-SS lacked any recruitment office inside Sweden, however some flew to occupied Norway or Denmark - or directly to Germany.
Considerable numbers of German-speaking Swiss joined the SS. Of particular note was Swiss-born SS Colonel Hans Riedweg, de facto leader of the Germanische Leitstelle's Germanic recruits. Riedweg gave a speech in 1943, criticizing the manner in which the SS handled the escape of 7,000 Danish Jews form Nazi-held territory. He and fellow Germanic volunteers form neutral Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland were stripped of leadership roles and sent to the Eastern Front, where most perished.
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- Wehrmacht foreign volunteers and conscripts
- List of Nazis of non-Germanic descent
- Waffen-SS in popular culture
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