Epic: The Story of the Waffen SS
By Leon Degrelle
Before the outbreak of the Second World War,
Leon Degrelle was already known as the
leader of the anti-Establishment Rexist
party in Belgium, and as Europe’s youngest and
most dynamic political figure.
During the war he became known across the continent for
his charismatic leadership
and courage in combat on the Eastern Front. Of him
Hitler reportedly said: “If
I were to have a son, I would want him to be like Degrelle.”
His life began in 1906 in Bouillon, a small town in the Belgian Ardennes. As a student
at the University of Louvain, he earned a doctorate in law. His keen interests
wide-ranging, and included political science, art, archeology and Thomistic
In his student days he traveled in Latin America, the United States
He visited North Africa, the Middle East and, of course, much of
His natural gifts as
a leader were apparent early on. Imbued with a strong Christian ethos,
to win support for his vision of a more just and noble social-political order
dedicated to the best long-term interests of the people. While still in his twenties, he was
reaching out to people in many articles and several books he wrote, through a weekly newspaper
he ran, and in numerous speeches. Mussolini invited him to Rome,Churchill met with him
in London, and Hitler received him in Berlin.
Although often provocative and controversial, people read what he wrote and listened
to what he had to say because he expressed himself with clarity, passion and obvious
sincerity, and because he dealt with real concerns and issues. In a few short years he
won a large measure of popular backing. On May 24, 1936, his Rex movement scored
a remarkable electoral breakthrough. In a startling rebuke of the Establishment
parties, it won 11.5 percent of the national vote.
As tensions mounted in 1939, Degrelle sought to counter the drift into another cataclysmic
conflict. In September Britain and France declared war on Germany. Events were to quickly
prove that the leaders in London and Paris had badly miscalculated. Within a year the
swastika flag flew from the North Pole to the shores of Greece and the border with Spain.
As war continued between Britain and Germany, the Soviet leaders prepared to
opportunity and strike westwards. But Hitler beat them to it. On June
22, 1941, German
and allied forces struck against the Soviet Union. It was soon
clear to everyone
that the titanic struggle could end only in victory for either
Hitler or Stalin.
With an awareness
that this great clash would determine the long-term future of their native
and of the West, thousands of young men across Europe pledged their lives for
a better future in a united Europe, and volunteered for combat against the Soviets.
They joined the ranks of the Waffen SS – the military and ideological
shock troops of the
new Europe. This first-ever truly European armed force would
grow to nearly a million men.
About 400,000, a minority of the total, were Germans
from the Reich. Most of those who
will fill the scores of Waffen SS divisions
-- including Degrelle and the other Légion Wallonie
from Belgium’s French-speaking region -- were Europeans from outside of Germany.
These hundreds of thousands of volunteers, and their leaders, understood
that after the
war this pan-European brotherhood in arms would be the social
and political foundation
of a new continental order that would transcend the
petty national rivalries of the past.
All SS men fought the same struggle. All
became comrades in arms. And all shared
the same vision of the future.
For understandable reasons, the military
and political achievements of
Waffen SS are not well known today, and even less
Degrelle is one of its most famous soldiers. After joining as a private he quickly rose
in rank due to his exceptional courage and proven leadership at the front. He engaged in
dozens of hand-to-hand combat actions. He was wounded on numerous occasions.
His many decorations for outstanding service and valor included the highest honors: the
Knight’s Cross (Ritterkreuz) of the Iron Cross, the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross, and
the Gold German Cross in Gold. He was among the last to fight on the Eastern Front.
At the end of the war he escaped surrender and certain death in Allied captivity with a
daring and perilous flight of some 1500 miles from Norway to Spain. He was critically wounded
when his plane crash-landed on a Spanish beach. But once again, he survived. In the new
life he built in Spanish exile, he dedicated his efforts, above all, to keeping faith with
wartime comrades, both living and dead, and in passing on to future generations
story of their epic struggle and vision.
-- The Publisher
I am asked to talk to you about the great unknown of World War Two: the Waffen SS.
It is somewhat amazing that this organization, which was both political and military, and
which united a million fighting volunteers during the war, should still be largely ignored.
Why? Why is it that the official record still distorts or virtually ignores
army of volunteers? An army that was at the vortex of the
most gigantic struggle, affecting
the entire world. The answer may well be found
in the fact that the most striking feature
of the Waffen SS was that it was composed
of volunteers from some thirty different countries.
What cause brought them together, and why did they volunteer their lives?
Was it a German phenomenon? At the beginning, yes. Initially, the Waffen
to fewer than two hundred members. It grew steadily until 1940 when
it evolved into a
second phase, the Germanic Waffen SS. In addition to men from
the German Reich,
northwestern Europeans and ethnic Germans from across Europe
Then, in 1941 -- during
the great clash with the Soviet Union -- arose the European Waffen SS.
men from the most distant countries fought together on the Eastern Front. Few knew
anything about the Waffen SS during the years preceding the war. The Germans
themselves took some time to recognize its distinctive character.
Hitler rose to power democratically, winning at the ballot box. He ran electoral campaigns
like any other politician. He addressed meetings and advertised on billboards, and his speeches
attracted capacity audiences. More and more people liked what he had to say, and ever
larger numbers elected members of his party to parliament. Hitler did not come to power
by force, but was duly elected by the people and duly installed as Chancellor by the
President of Germany, Field Marshal von Hindenburg. His government was legitimate
and democratic. In fact, only two of his followers were included in his first Cabinet.
During these election campaigns Hitler faced
formidable enemies. Those who held power
had no qualms about tampering with the
electoral process. He had to face the Weimar-regime
Establishment and its well-financed
left-wing and liberal parties, as well as the highly organized
bloc of six million
Communist Party members. Only through the most fearless and relentless
to convince people to vote for him, was Hitler able to obtain a democratic majority.
In those days the Waffen SS was not even a factor. There was, of course,
the SA “Stormtroopers,”
with some three million men. They were rank
and file members of the National Socialist Party,
but certainly not an army.
Their main function was to protect party candidates from Communist
And the violence was murderous indeed. More than five hundred National Socialists
were murdered by the Communists, and thousands were grievously injured. The SA was a
non-governmental organization, and as soon as Hitler rose to power he could
longer avail himself of its help.
had to work within the system through which he had come to office. He came to
with major disadvantages. He had to contend with an entrenched bureaucracy
by the old regime. In fact, when the war broke out in 1939, 70 percent of the
German bureaucrats in place had been appointed by the old regime, and did not belong
to Hitler’s party. He could not count on the support of the Church hierarchy. Both big
business and the Communist Party were totally hostile to his program. On top of all this,
extreme poverty existed, and six million workers were unemployed.
before had so many people in a European country been out of work.
The three million SA party members are not in the government. They voted and helped win
elections, but they could not supplant the entrenched bureaucracy in the government.
The SA also was unable to exert influence on the army,
the top brass, fearful of competition, was hostile to it.
This hostility reached such a point that Hitler was faced with a wrenching dilemma.
What to do with the millions of followers who helped him to power? He could not abandon them.
The army was a highly organized power structure.
Although only numbering 100,000,
as dictated by the Treaty of Versailles, it
exerted great influence in the affairs of state.
The President of Germany was
Field Marshal von Hindenburg. The army was
a privileged caste. Almost all the
officers belonged to the upper classes of society.
It was impossible for Hitler to take on the powerful army frontally. Hitler had been elected
democratically, and he could not do what Stalin did: to have firing squads execute the
entire military establishment. Stalin killed thirty thousand high ranking officers. That was
Stalin’s way to make room for his own trusted commissars. Such drastic methods could
not happen in Germany, and unlike Stalin, Hitler was surrounded by international enemies.
His election had provoked international rage. He had gone to the voters
the intermediary of the Establishment parties. His party platform
included an appeal for
racial integrity in Germany, as well as a return of power
to the people. Such
tenets so infuriated world Jewry that in 1933 it officially
declared war on Germany.
to what one is told, Hitler had limited power and was quite alone. How this man
ever survived these early years defies comprehension. Only the fact that he was an
exceptional genius explains his survival against all odds. Abroad and at
Hitler had to bend over backwards just to demonstrate his good will.
But despite all his efforts Hitler was gradually being driven into a corner. The
the SA and the army was coming to a head. His old comrade, Ernst
Röhm, Chief of the
SA, wanted to follow Stalin’s example and physically
eliminate the army brass. The showdown
resulted in the death of Röhm, either
by suicide or summary killing, and of many of his
assistants, with the army picking
up the pieces and putting the SA back in its place.
At this time the only SS men in Germany were in Chancellor Hitler’s personal guard:
one hundred eighty in all. They were young men of exceptional qualities, but without any
political role. Their duties consisted of guarding the Chancellery and presenting arms to
was from this miniscule group that a few years later would spring an army of a million soldiers.
An army of unprecedented valor extending its call throughout Europe.
After Hitler was compelled to acknowledge the superiority of the army,
that the brass would never support his revolutionary social programs.
It was an army of aristocrats.
was a man of the people, a man who succeeded in wiping out unemployment,
unsurpassed to this day. Within two years he gave work to six million Germans
got rid of rampant poverty. In five years the German worker doubled his income
inflation. Hundreds of thousands of beautiful homes were built for workers at
cost. Each home had a garden to grow flowers and vegetables. All the factories
were provided with sport fields, swimming pools, and decent and attractive work areas.
For the first time, German workers had paid vacations. The Communists and
had never offered paid vacations; this was Hitler's creation. He
organized the famous
“Strength Through Joy” programs, which meant
that workers could, at
affordable prices, board passenger ships and visit scenic
All these social
improvements did not please the establishment. Big business tycoons
bankers were worried. But Hitler stood up to them. Business could
but only if people were paid decently and allowed to live and work in
People, not profits, came first.
was only one of Hitler’s reforms. He initiated hundreds of others. He literally rebuilt
Germany. In a few years more than five thousand miles of freeways were built. For the
worker the affordable Volkswagen was created. Any worker could get this car for payment
over time of five marks a week. It was unprecedented. Thanks to the freeways, workers
for the first time could visit any part of Germany whenever they liked.
same programs applied to the farmers and the middle class.
Hitler realized that if his social reforms were to go forward and take
root, he needed a powerful lever, one that commanded respect.
Hitler still did not confront the army, but skillfully started to build up the SS.
He needed the
SS because above all Hitler was a political man; to him war was
the last resort. His aim
was to convince people, to obtain their loyalty, particularly
the younger generation.
He knew that the Establishment-minded brass would oppose
him at every turn.
not to alert the army, Hitler enlarged the SS into a force responsible for law and
order. There was of course a German police force, but in that case as well Hitler was unsure
of their loyalty. The 150,000 policemen had been appointed by the Weimar regime. Hitler
needed the SS not only to detect and quash plots, but mostly to protect his reforms. As
his initial Leibstandarte unit of 180 grew, other regiments were organized, such as the
Deutschland and the Germania.
The army brass did everything to prevent SS recruitment. Hitler bypassed the obstacles
by having the interior ministry and not the war ministry handle the recruiting. The army
countered by discouraging recruitment. Privates were required to serve four years,
non-commissioned officers twelve, and officers twenty-five years. Such restrictions,
it was thought, would greatly discourage SS recruitment. In spite of the lengthy service
requirements, thousands of young men, in fact, rushed to apply -- more than could be accepted.
The young felt the SS was the only armed force that represented their own
new SS formations captivated public imagination. Clad in smart black
uniforms, the SS
attracted more and more young men. It took two years -- 1933
to 1935 --
and a constant battle of wits with the army to raise a force of 8,000
At the time they were
called just SS. It was not until 1940, after the French campaign,
that it would
officially be named “Waffen SS.” And 8,000 SS men did not go far in a
country of 80 million people. Hitler had to devise yet another way to get around the army.
He created the Totenkopf guard corps. They were really SS in disguise, but their official
function was to guard the concentration camps.
What were these concentration camps? They were just work centers where intractable
Communists were put to work. They were well treated because it was thought that sooner
or later they would be converted to patriotism. There were two concentration camps
with a total of three thousand inmates. Three thousand out of a total of six million
card-carrying members of the Communist Party. That represents one per
two thousand. Right until the war there were fewer than ten thousand inmates.
The young men who joined the SS were trained like no other army in the
and academic instruction was intensive, but it was the physical
training that was the most
rigorous. They practiced sports with excellence. Each
of them would have performed with
distinction at the Olympic Games. The extraordinary
physical endurance of the SS
on the Russian front, which so amazed the world,
was due to this intensive training.
There was also rigorous ideological training. They were taught to understand why they
were fighting, and what kind of Germany was being resurrected. They were shown how
Germany was being morally united through class reconciliation, and physically united
through the return of the lost German homelands. They were made aware of their kinship
with all the other Germans living in foreign lands -- in Poland, Russia, and, and other
parts of Europe. They were taught that all Germans represented an ethnic unity.
Young SS were educated in two military academies, one in Bad Tölz the
other in Braunschweig.
These academies were totally different than the grim barracks
of the past. Combining aesthetics
with the latest technology, they were located
in the middle of hundreds of acres of beautiful countryside.
Hitler was opposed to any war, particularly in western Europe. He did not even conceive
that the SS could participate in such a war. Above all the SS was a political force. Hitler
regarded Western countries as individual cultures that could be federated but
not conquered. He felt that a conflict within the West would be a no-win
of Europe was thus far ahead of the views held by those neighboring
The mentality of 1914-1918, when small countries fought other small countries
over bits of real estate, still prevailed in the Europe of 1939. Not so in the case of the Soviet
Union, where internationalism replaced nationalism. The Communists never aimed at
serving the interests of Russia. Communism does not limit itself to
acquire chunks of territories, but aims at total world domination.
This was a dramatically new factor. Alone among the world’s leaders,
Hitler saw Soviet Communism as a threat to all nations.
Hitler recalled vividly the havoc the Communists unleashed in Germany at the end of World
War One. Particularly in Berlin and Bavaria the Communists, acting on foreign orders,
organized a state within a state and almost took over. For Hitler, everything pointed east.
The threat was Communism. Apart from his lack of interest in subjugating western
Hitler was well aware he could not successfully wage war on two fronts.
Instead of letting Hitler fight Communism,
the Allies at this point made the fateful decision
to attack Hitler. The so-called
Western Democracies also allied themselves with
the Soviet Union for the purpose
of encircling and destroying the new Germany.
The Treaty of Versailles had already amputated Germany on all sides. The imposed
Treaty was also designed to keep the country in a state of permanent economic backwardness
and military impotence. Adding to the pressure from all sides, the Allies ratified a string
of treaties with Belgium, the newly created Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland and Rumania.
In the summer of 1939 the governments of Britain and France were secretly
a full military alliance with the Soviet Union. The talks were held
and the discussion minutes were signed by Marshal Zhukov.
I have these minutes in my possession. They
are stupefying. In one report, the Soviets pledge
to join with Britain and France
in war against Germany. Upon ratification, the Soviet Union
was to immediately
provide Anglo-French forces with the support of 5500 combat planes,
with a promise
of back up support of the entire Soviet air force. Between 9,000 to 10,000
tanks would also be made available. In return, the Soviet Union demanded the
States and free access to Poland. The plan called for an early joint attack.
At this stage Germany was still only minimally armed. The French negotiators
the 10,000 Soviet tanks would quickly destroy the 2,000 German
tanks, but they did not
foresee that the Soviets would be unlikely to stop at
the French border. Likewise
the British government was not prepared to halt a
Soviet takeover of Europe.
total encirclement Hitler decided once more to make his own peace with one
the other side of the Soviet-British partnership. He turned to the British and French
governments and requested formal peace talks. His quest for peace was answered
by an outpouring of insults and denunciations. The international press went on an
unprecedented orgy of hate against Hitler. It is mind-boggling to re-read these
Hitler made similar peace overtures to Moscow he was surprised to find the Soviets
eager to sign a treaty with Germany. In fact, Stalin did not sign such a treaty for the purpose
of peace. He signed to let Europe destroy itself in a war of attrition,
giving him the time he needed to build up his military strength.
Stalin’s real intent is revealed in the minutes of the Soviet High Command, also in my
possession. Stalin states his intention to enter the war the moment Hitler and the Western
powers have annihilated each other. Stalin had a great interest in marking time and
letting others fight first. I have read his military plans, and I have seen how they were
achieved. By 1941 Stalin’s ten thousand tanks had increased to 17,999,
and the next
year they would have been 32,000, ten times more than Germany’s.
The Soviet air force would likewise have been ten to one in Stalin’s favor.
The very week Stalin signed the peace treaty
with Hitler, he gave orders to build 96 air
fields on the Western Soviet border,
with 180 planned for the following year. His strategy
was consistent: “The
more the Western powers fight it out the weaker they will be. The
longer I wait
the stronger I get.” It was under these appalling circumstances that
War Two started – a war which was offered to the Soviets on a silver platter.
Aware of Stalin’s preparations, Hitler knew he would have to face
rather than later. And to fight Communism he had to rely on
totally loyal men, men who
would fight for an ideology against another ideology.
It had always been Hitler’s
policy to oppose the ideology of class war
with an ideology of class cooperation.
Hitler had observed that Marxist class war had not brought prosperity to the Russian
people. Russian workers were poorly clothed, badly housed, and poorly fed. Goods are
always in short supply, and even in Moscow housing was nightmarish. For Hitler the failure
of class war clearly made class cooperation the only just alternative. To make
it work Hitler saw to it that one class would not be allowed to abuse the other.
It is a fact that the newly rich classes emerging from the industrial revolution
abused their privileges, and it was for this reason that the National
Socialists were socialists.
Socialism was a popular movement in the truest sense. The great majority of
Socialists were blue collar workers. Seventy percent of the Hitler Youth were
children of blue collar workers. Hitler won elections because the great mass of workers
was solidly behind him. Many wondered why the six million Communists who had voted
against Hitler turned their back on Communism after he came to power in 1933. There
is only one reason: they witnessed and experienced the benefits of class cooperation.
Some say they were forced to change; it is not true. Like other loyal Germans they
fought four years on the Russian front with distinction.
The workers never abandoned Hitler, but the upper classes did. Hitler spelled out
his formula of class cooperation as the answer to Communism with these words:
“Class cooperation means that capitalists will never again treat the workers as mere
economic components. Money is but one part of our economic life. The workers are not
just machines to whom one throws a pay packet every week. The real wealth of Germany is its
gold with work as the foundation of the economy. National Socialism was
opposite of Communism. Extraordinary achievements followed Hitler’s election.
We always hear about Hitler and the camps, Hitler and the Jews, but we
about his immense social work. It was in large measure because of
that social work
that the international bankers and their servile press generated
so much hatred against
Hitler. It was obvious that a genuinely popular movement
like National Socialism would
collide with the selfish interests of high finance.
Hitler made clear that the control of
money did not convey the right of rapacious
exploitation of an entire country, because
there are also people living in the
country, millions of them, and these people have
the right to live with dignity
and without want. What Hitler said and practiced won
over the German youth. It
was this social revolution that the SS felt compelled
to secure throughout Germany,
and, if need be, to defend with their lives.
The 1939 war in Western Europe defied all reason. It was a civil war
among those who should have been united. It was a monstrous stupidity.
The young SS were trained to lead the new National Socialist revolution. In five
years they were to replace all those who had been put in office by the
But at the beginning
of the war it was not possible for these young men to stay home.
Along with other
young fellow countrymen, they felt called to defend their country,
and even to
defend it better than others.
war turned the SS from a home political force to a national
army fighting abroad,
and then to a supra-national army.
are now at the beginning of the 1939 war in Poland, with its far reaching
Could the war have been avoided? Emphatically yes!
The Danzig conflict was inconsequential. The Treaty of Versailles had separated the
German city of Danzig from Germany and gave it to Poland against the wish of its citizens.
This action was so outrageous that it had been condemned all over the world. A large
section of Germany was sliced through the middle. To go from western Prussia to East
Prussia one had to travel in a sealed train through Polish territory. The citizens of
Danzig had voted 99 percent to have their city returned to Germany.
Their right of self-determination had been consistently ignored.
However, the war in Poland started for reasons
than Danzig’s self-determination or even Poland’s.
Just a few months earlier, Poland had attacked Czechoslovakia at the same time Hitler
had returned the Sudetenland to Germany. The Poles were ready to work with Hitler.
Poland turned against Germany only because the British government
did everything in its power to poison German-Polish relations.
Why? Much has to do with a longstanding inferiority complex British rulers have felt
Europe. This complex has manifested itself in the British Establishment’s
obsession in keeping Europe weak through wars and dissension.
At the time the British Empire controlled 500 million human beings outside
but somehow it was more preoccupied with its traditional hobby: sowing
dissension in Europe.
This policy of never allowing the emergence of a strong
has been the British Establishment’s modus operandi for
Whether it was Charles
the Fifth of Spain, Louis the Fourteenth or Napoleon of France,
or William the
Second of Germany, the British Establishment never tolerated any unifying
in Europe. Germany never wanted to meddle in British affairs. However, the British
Establishment always made it a point to meddle in European affairs, particularly in
Central Europe and the Balkans.
entry into Prague brought the British running to the fray. Prague and Bohemia had
part of Germany for centuries, and had always been within the German
influence. British meddling in this area was totally unjustified.
For Germany the Prague regime represented a grave threat. Czech president Benes,
Stalin’s servile satrap, had been ordered by his Kremlin masters to open his borders
the Communist armies at a moment's notice. Prague was to be the Soviet springboard
For Hitler, Prague
was a watchtower to central Europe and an advance post to delay a
There were also Prague’s historic economic ties with Germany. Germany
always had economic links with Central Europe. Rumania, the Balkans, Bulgaria,
and Yugoslavia [Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia] have had long-standing, mutually
complimentary economic relations with Germany, which have continued to this day.
Hitler’s European economic policy was based on common sense and realism.
And it was his
emerging central European common market, rather than concern for
Czech freedom, that the
British Establishment could not tolerate.
All the same, English people felt great admiration
for Hitler. I remember when [former
British prime minister] Lloyd George addressed
the German press outside Hitler’s home,
where he had just been a guest.
He stated: “You can thank God you have such a wonderful
man as your leader.”
Lloyd George, the enemy of Germany during World War One, said that!
King Edward the Eighth of England, who had just abdicated and was now the Duke of
also came to visit Hitler at his Berchtesgaden home, accompanied by
his wife. When they
returned home, the Duke sent a wire to Hitler. It read: “What
a wonderful day we have
spent with your Excellency. Unforgettable!” And
reflecting what many English people had
already learned, the Duke remarked on
how well off German workers were. The Duke was
telling the truth. The German
worker earned twice as much, without inflation,
as he did before Hitler, and
consequently his standard of living was high.
Even Churchill, the most fanatic German-hater of them all, had in 1938, a year before the war,
wrote in the London Times: “I have always said that if Great Britain were defeated in war
I hoped we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among the nations.”
Friend or foe, all acknowledged that Hitler
was a man of exceptional genius. His
achievements were the envy of the world.
In five short years he rebuilt a bankrupt nation
burdened with millions of unemployed
into the strongest economic power in Europe.
It was so strong that for six years
his geographically small country was able to
withstand a war against world powers.
Churchill acknowledged that no one in the
world could match such a feat. Just before the
outbreak of war he stated that
no doubt a peace formula could be worked out with Hitler.
But Churchill received
other instructions. The Establishment, fearful that Hitler’s successes
in Germany could spread to other countries, was determined to destroy him. It created
hatred against Germany across Europe by stirring old grievances.
also exploited the envy some Europeans felt toward Germany.
The Germans’ high birth rate had made Germany the most populous country in western Europe.
In science and technology Germany was ahead of both France and Britain. Hitler
Germany into an economic powerhouse. That was Hitler’s crime,
British Establishment opted to destroy Hitler and Germany by any means.
The British manipulated the Polish government
against Germany. The Poles themselves
were more than willing to live in peace
with the Germans. Instead, the unfortunate Poles
were railroaded into war by
the British. One must not forget that one and a half million
lived in Poland at the time, at great benefit to the Polish economy.
In January 1939 Hitler had proposed to Beck, the Polish foreign minister, a compromise
solve the Danzig issue: The Danzigers’ wish to return to Germany would
be honored, and
Poland would continue to have free port access and facilities,
guaranteed by treaty.
notion of the day that every country must have a sea port really does not
sense. Switzerland, Hungary and other countries with no sea ports manage quite well.
Hitler’s proposals were based on the principles of self-determination and reciprocity.
Even Churchill admitted that such a solution could dispose of the Danzig problem.
This admission, however, did not prevent Britain from sending an ultimatum to Germany:
withdrawal from Poland, or war. (The world has seen what happened when Israel invaded
Lebanon [in 1982]. Heavily populated cities like Tyre and Sidon were destroyed, and so
was West Beirut. Everybody called for Israel’s withdrawal, but no one declared war
on Israel when it refused to budge.)
With a little patience a peaceful solution regarding Danzig could certainly have been arranged.
Instead, the international press unleashed a massive campaign of outright lies and distortions
against Hitler. His proposals were willfully misrepresented by a relentless press onslaught.
Of all the crimes of World War Two, one never hears about the wholesale
occurred in Poland just before the war. I have detailed reports
in my files documenting the
mass slaughter of defenseless Germans in Poland.
Thousands of German men, women
and children were massacred in the most horrendous
fashion by media-enraged mobs.
The photographs of these massacres are too sickening
to look at. Hitler decided to halt
the slaughter, and he rushed to the rescue.
The Polish campaign revealed another startling
characteristic of this man: his rare military
genius. All the successful military
campaigns of the Third Reich were thought out and
directed by Hitler personally,
not the General Staff. He also inspired a number
of generals who became his
most able executives in later campaigns.
In regard to the Polish campaign the General Staff had planned an offensive along the
Baltic coastline to take Danzig, a plan that would been doomed to failure. Instead, Hitler
invented the Blitzkrieg or “lightning war” technique, and in no time captured Warsaw. SS
soldiers appeared for the first time on the Polish front, and their performance amazed the
The brief campaign saw
three SS regiments in action: The Leibstandarte, the Deutschland
the Germania. There was also an SS motorbike battalion, a corps of engineers, and
a transmission unit. In all it was a comprehensive but small force of about 25,000 men.
After bolting out of Silesia, Sepp Dietrich and his Leibstandarte alone split Poland in half
within days. With fewer than 3,000 men he defeated a Polish force of 15,000,
and took 10,000 prisoners. Such victories were not achieved without loss.
The second campaign in France was also swift. The British-French forces
to Holland and Belgium to check the German advance, but they were
outwitted and outflanked in Sedan. It was basically all over in a matter of days.
The story goes that Hitler had nothing to
do with this operation; that it was all the work of
General von Manstein. That
is entirely false. Von Manstein had indeed conceived the
idea, but when he submitted
it to the General Staff, he was reprimanded, demoted and
retired to Dresden.
The general staff had not brought this particular incident to Hitler’s
On his own, Hitler organized a campaign along the same lines, and routed the
British-French forces. It was not until March 1940 that von Manstein came into contact with Hitler.
Hitler also planned the Balkan and Russian campaigns. On the rare occasions
Hitler allowed the General Staff to have their way, such as in Kursk, the
battle was lost.
In the 1939
Polish campaign Hitler did not rely on military textbook theories devised 50
years earlier, as advocated by the general staff, but on his own plan of swift, pincer-like
encirclement. In eight days the Polish war was won, in spite of the fact that Poland is as large as France.
It is hard to imagine, but out of a total
of some one million SS men, 352,000 were killed in
action, with 50,000 more missing.
It is a grim figure! Four hundred thousand of the
finest young men in Europe!
Without hesitation they sacrificed themselves for their
beliefs. They knew they
had to set an example. They were the
first on the front line in defending their
country and their ideals.
victory or defeat the Waffen SS always sought to be the best representatives of their
people. The SS was a democratic expression of power: people joining together of their
own free will. The ballot box is not the only expression of such consent; there is also
consent of the heart and the mind through action. The men of the Waffen SS made a
plebiscite of deeds. And the German people, proud of them, gave them their respect
and their love. Such high motivation made the volunteers of the Waffen SS the best
fighters in the world.
SS proved themselves in action. They were not empty talking politicians, but men
pledged their lives, and, in an extraordinary expression of comradeship, were the
first to fight. This comradeship was one of the most distinctive
of the SS: the SS leader was the comrade of the others.
It was on the front lines that the results of the SS physical training were really apparent.
SS officers had the same rigorous training as the regular soldiers. Officers and privates
competed in the same sports events, and only the best man won, regardless of rank.
This created a real brotherhood that energized the entire Waffen SS. Only the teamwork
of free men, bonded by a higher ideal, could unite Europe. Look at the Common Market
of today [and its successor, the European Union]. It is a failure. There is no unifying ideal.
Everything is based on haggling over the price of tomatoes, steel, coal or booze. Fruitful
unions are based on something higher than that.
A relationship of equality and mutual respect between soldiers and officers was always
in place. Half of all division commanders were killed in action. Half! There is not another
army in the world where that happened. The SS officer always led his troops to battle.
I was engaged in 75 hand-to-hand combat operations, because as an SS officer I had to
be the first to meet the enemy. SS soldiers were not sent to the slaughter by
behind-the-line commanders; they followed their officers with passionate loyalty. Every SS
commander knew and taught all his men, and often received unexpected answers.
After breaking out of the Cherkassy siege,
I talked with all my soldiers one-by-one; there
were thousands at the time. For
two weeks, every day from dawn to dusk, I asked them
questions, and heard their
replies. Sometimes it happens that soldiers who brag a little
while heroic men who keep quiet miss out. I talked to all of them because
to know first-hand what had happened, and what they had done. To be just, I
to know the truth.
It was on
that occasion that two of my soldiers suddenly pulled out their identity cards
the Belgian resistance movement. They told me that they had been sent to kill me.
the front line, it is very simple to shoot someone in the back. But the extraordinary
SS team spirit had won them over. By setting an example, SS officers could expect
the loyalty of their men.
The life expectancy of an SS officer at the front was three months. On one Monday while
in Estonia I received ten new young officers from the Bad Tölz
by Thursday only one was still alive, and he was wounded.
In conventional armies, officers talked at the men as a superior to an inferior,
and seldom as brothers in combat or as brothers in ideology.
By 1939 the SS had earned general admiration and respect. This gave Hitler
to call for an increase in their numbers. Instead of regiments,
there would be three divisions.
the army brass laid down draconian recruiting conditions: young men could join the
only for a minimum of four years of combat duty. The brass felt that no one would take
such a risk. Again, they guessed wrong. In the month of February 1940 alone, 49,000 joined
the SS. From 25,000 in September 1939, there would be 150,000 in May 1940. Thus,
from 180 to 8,000 to 25,000 to 150,000, and eventually nearly one million men -- all this
against all odds.
had no interest whatsoever in getting involved in a
conflict with France. It was
a war that was forced on him.
150,000 SS had to serve under the Army, and they were given the most dangerous
difficult missions, despite the fact that they were supplied with inferior weapons and
equipment. In 1940 the Leibstandarte was only provided with a few scouting tanks.
The SS were given wheels, and that’s all. But with trucks, motorbikes,
and various other means they were able to perform amazing feats.
The Leibstandarte and Der Führer regiments were sent to Holland under
of Sepp Dietrich. They had to cross Dutch waterways. The Luftwaffe
had dropped paratroopers
to hold the bridges 120 miles deep in Dutch territory,
and it was vital for the SS to reach
these bridges with the greatest speed. The
Leibstandarte achieved an unprecedented feat:
advancing 75 kilometers
in a single day, and advancing 215 kilometers in just four days.
It was unheard
of at the time, and the world was staggered. In one day the SS crossed all
Dutch canals on flimsy rubber rafts. Here again, SS losses were heavy. But thanks
to their heroism and speed, the German forces reached Rotterdam in three days. The
risked being wiped out if the SS had not accomplished their lightning-thrust.
In Belgium, the SS regiment Der Führer faced the French army
head on, which after
falling in the Sedan trap, had rushed toward Breda, Holland.
There, one would see for
the first time a small motivated military force route
a large national army. It took one SS
regiment and a number of German troops
to throw the whole French Army off
balance and drive it back from Breda to Antwerp,
Belgium, and northern France.
Leibstandarte and Der Führer regiments jointly advanced on the large Zeeland islands,
between the Scheldt and Rhine rivers. In a few days they were brought under control.
In no time the Leibstandarte then
crossed Belgium and northern France. The second
major combat engagement of SS
regiments was in concert with the regular army tank division.
These units were
under the command of General Rommel and General Guderian. They
spearhead a thrust
toward the North Sea.
and his troops then crossed the French canals, but were pinned down by
in a mud field, just managing to avoid extermination. But despite the loss of
many soldiers, officers and one battalion commander, all killed in action, the Germans reached Dunkirk.
Hitler was very proud of them.
The following week, Hitler deployed them along the Somme river, from where
out across France. Here again, the SS would prove itself to be the
best fighting force in the
world. Sepp Dietrich and the Second Division of the
SS, Totenkopf, advanced so far so
fast that for three days they lost
contact with the rest of the army. They found themselves
in Lyon, a French city
they were later obliged to vacate after the signing of the French-German
Sepp Dietrich and a handful of SS men on trucks had achieved the impossible.
The SS regiment Der Führer spearheaded the Maginot Line breakthrough.
said that the Line was impenetrable. The war in France was over.
Hitler had the three SS
divisions march through Paris. Berlin also honored these
heroes. But the regular Army
was so jealous that it would not cite a single SS
man for valor or bravery. It was Hitler
himself who, in addressing the German
Reichstag, solemnly paid tribute to the heroism
of the SS. It was on this occasion
that he officially recognized the Waffen SS name.
This was more than a mere change of name. The Waffen SS became “Germanic,” as
volunteers were accepted from all Germanic countries. This was based on an awareness
that the peoples of northwestern Europe were closely related to them, and that the Norwegians,
the Danes, the Dutch, and the Flemish all belonged to the same Germanic family. These
Germanic people were themselves very much impressed by the SS, and so, by the way, were the French.
The people of western Europe had marveled
at this extraordinary German force with a
style unlike any other: if two SS scouts
reached a town on motorbike ahead of everybody
else, they would -- before presenting
themselves to the local authorities – first clean
themselves up so they
would be of impeccable appearance. People could not help but be impressed.
The admiration felt by young Europeans of Germanic stock for the SS was very natural.
Thousands of young men from Norway, Denmark, Flanders, and Holland were awed
with admiration. They felt irresistibly drawn to the SS. It was not Europe, but
with their own Germanic race that so deeply stirred their souls. They
the victorious Germans. To them, Hitler was the most exceptional
man ever seen.
Hitler understood them, and had the remarkable idea to open the
doors of the SS
to them. It was quite risky. No one had ever thought of this
before. Prior to Hitler,
German imperialism consisted only of peddling goods
to other countries, without
any thought of creating a “community”
ideology – a common ideal with its neighbors.
Suddenly, instead of peddling and haggling, here was a man who offered a glorious ideal:
an enthralling social justice, for which they all had yearned for years. A broad New Order,
instead of the formless cosmopolitanism of the pre-war so-called “democracies.” The
response to Hitler’s appeal was overwhelming. Legions from Norway, Denmark, Holland,
and Flanders were formed. Thousands of young men now wore the SS uniform. For
them Hitler specifically created the famous Viking division, one that
was destined to become one of the most formidable of the Waffen SS.
The regular army was still doing everything it could to discourage men
in Germany from
joining the SS. It acted as though the SS did not exist. Against
this background of obstructionism
at home, it was all the more understandable
that the SS would welcome men from outside Germany.
The ethnic Germans living abroad provided a rich source of volunteers. There were millions
of these Germans in Hungary, Rumania and across Europe. The victories of the Third Reich
made them proud of belonging to the German family. Hitler welcomed them home. He
saw them as a source of elite SS men as well as important factor in unifying all Germans ideologically.
Here again, the enthusiastic response was
amazing. From across Europe some 300,000
volunteers of German ancestry would
join, including 54,000 from Rumania alone. In the
context of that era, those
were remarkable figures. There were numerous problems to
overcome. For instance,
most Germanic volunteers did not speak German. Their ancestors
had settled in
foreign lands many years earlier, so many of these
men spoke different languages,
and had different manners and needs.
How to find officers who could speak all these languages? How to coordinate such
a disparate lot? Mastering these problems was a miracle of the Waffen SS assimilation
program. This homecoming of the separated “tribes” was regarded by the Waffen SS
as a foundation for real European unity. The 300,000 Germanic volunteers were welcomed
by the SS as brothers, and they reciprocated by being as dedicated, loyal and heroic as
the Reich German SS men.
the year, everything had changed for the Waffen SS. The barracks were full, the
academies were full. The strictest admission standards and requirements equally
applied for the Germanic volunteers as well. They had to be the best in every
both physically and mentally. They had to be the best of the Germanic race.
Third Reich racialism has been deliberately distorted. It was never an anti-“other”
It was a pro-German racialism. It was concerned with making the German
race strong and
healthy in every way. Hitler was not interested in having millions
of degenerates. Today
one finds rampant alcohol and drug addiction everywhere.
Hitler cared that German
families be healthy, and cared that they raise healthy
children for the renewal of a healthy
nation. German racialism meant re-discovering
the creative values of their own race,
re-discovering their culture. It was a
striving for excellence, a noble idea. National Socialist
racialism was not against
other races, it was for its own race. It aimed at defending and
own race, and wished that all other races would do the same for themselves.
That was demonstrated when the Waffen SS enlarged its ranks to include 60,000 Muslims.
The Waffen SS respected their way of life, their customs, and their religious beliefs. Each
Muslim SS battalion had an imam, and each company had a mullah. It was our common
wish that their qualities found their highest expression. That was our racialism.
present when each of my Muslim comrades received a New Year’s gift
It was a pendant with a small Koran. Hitler was honoring them with
this small symbolic
gift, one that honored an important aspect of their lives
and traditions. National
Socialist racialism was loyal to the German race and
totally respected all other races.
At this point, one hears: “What about the anti-Jewish racism?”
One can answer: “What about Jewish anti-Gentilism?”
It has been the misfortune of the Jewish race that it could never get along
with any other
race. It is an unusual historical fact and phenomenon. I say this
without passion: When
one studies the history of the Jewish people and their
behavior across the centuries, one
observes that always -- at all times, and
at all places -- they have been hated. They were
hated in ancient Egypt. They
were hated in ancient Greece. They were hated in Roman
times to such a degree
that 3,000 of them were deported to Sardinia. (That was the first
of Jews.) They were hated in Spain, in France, in England (where they
for centuries), and in Germany. The conscientious Jewish author Bernard
wrote a very interesting book on Anti-Semitism, in which he wrote: “We Jews should
ask ourselves a question: Why are we always hated everywhere? It is not because of our
persecutors, all of different times and places. It is because there is something within us that
is very unlikeable.” What is unlikeable is that the Jews have always wanted to live as
a privileged class, divinely-chosen and beyond scrutiny. This attitude has made them
Jewish race is therefore a unique case. Hitler had no intention of destroying it. He
the Jews to find their own identity in their own environment, but not to the
of others. The fight -- if we can call it that – of National Socialism against the
Jews was purely limited to one objective: that the Jews leave Germany in peace. It
was planned to give them a country of their own, outside Germany. Madagascar was
contemplated, but the plans were dropped when the United States entered the war. In
the meanwhile, Hitler thought of letting the Jews live in their own traditional ghettos.
They would have their own administration, they would run their own affairs, and would
live as they wanted. They had their own police, their own tramways, their own flag, and
their own businesses. With regard to other races, they were all
in Germany as guests, but not as privileged occupants.
In one year the Waffen SS had gathered a large number of Germanic men from northern
Europe, and hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans or Volksdeutsche from outside Germany,
to make the Germanic SS. It was then that the conflict between Communism and National
Socialism burst into the open. The conflict had always existed. In Mein Kampf, Hitler
had clearly laid out his objective: “to eliminate the world threat of
Communism,” and, incidentally, to claim some land in Eastern Europe.
This eastward expansionism created much outrage: How could the Germans
land in Russia? To this one can answer: How could the Americans claim native
lands from the Atlantic to the Pacific? How could France claim southern
Roussillon from Spain? And what of Britain? And what of so many
other countries that
have claimed, conquered and settled in other territories?
Somehow it was all right for
all those countries to settle foreign lands, but
not for Germany. Personally, I have
always vigorously defended the Russians,
and I finally did succeed in convincing
Hitler that Germans had to live with
Russians as partners, and not as conquerors.
Before achieving this partnership,
there was first the matter of wiping out Communism.
During the [21 months of
the] Soviet-German non-aggression treaty, Hitler was trying
to gain time, but
the Soviets were intensifying their acts of aggression from Estonia to Bukovina.
In this regard, extracts from Soviet documents are most revealing. Marshal
himself said: “We now have the time to prepare ourselves to
be the executioner of the
capitalist world while it is agonizing. We must, however,
be cautious. The Germans must
not have any inkling that we are preparing to stab
them in the back while they are busy
fighting the French. Otherwise, they could
change their general plan, and attack us.”
In the same record, Marshal Shaposhnikov [?] wrote: “The coexistence between Hitler's
Germany and the Soviet Union is only temporary. We will not make it last very long.”
Marshal Timoshenko, for his part, did not want to be so hasty: “Let us not forget that
our war material from our Siberian factories will not be delivered until the fall.” This
was written at the beginning of 1941, and the material was only to be delivered in the
fall. A Soviet war industry Commissariat report stated: We will not be in full production
until 1942. Marshal Zhukov made this extraordinary admission:
is in a hurry to invade us; he has good reasons for it.”
Indeed, Hitler had good reason to quickly attack Russia -- he realized that he would be
wiped out if he did not. Zhukov added: “We need a few more months to rectify many of
our defects before the end of 1941. We need 18 months to complete the modernization of our
The orders are
quite precise. At the fourth session of the Supreme Soviet in 1939, it
that Army officers would serve three years, regular soldiers would serve
years, and Navy personnel, five years. All these decisions were made less
a month after the Soviets signed the non-aggression treaty with Germany.
Thus the Soviets, pledged to peace, were frantically preparing for war. More than
new concrete fortifications were built between 1939 and 1940; 160 divisions
combat-ready; 60 tank divisions were on full alert. The Germans only
had ten panzer tank
divisions. In 1941, the Soviets had 17,000 tanks, and by
1942 they had 32,000. They had
92,578 artillery pieces. And their 17,545 combat
planes in 1940 greatly outnumbered the
German air force.
With such war preparations underway, it is easy to understand that Hitler
left with only one option: invade the Soviet Union immediately, or face annihilation.
Hitler’s Russian campaign was the “last
chance” campaign. Hitler did not go into Russia
with any great optimism.
He later told me: “When I entered Russia, I was like a man facing
door. I knew I had to crash through it, but without knowing what was behind it.”
Hitler was right. He knew the Soviets were strong, but above all he knew they were going
to be a lot stronger. The only time Hitler had a respite was in 1941. The British had not yet
succeeded in expanding the war. Hitler, who never wanted war with Britain, still tried
for peace. He invited me to spend a week at his home. He wanted to discuss the whole
situation and hear what I had to say about it. He spoke very simply and clearly. The atmosphere
was informal and relaxed. He made you feel at home, because he really enjoyed being
hospitable. He buttered pieces of toast in a leisurely fashion, and passed them around,
and although he did not drink, after each meal he went to get a bottle of champagne because
he knew that I enjoyed finishing with a glass of it. All without fuss and with genuine friendliness.
It was part of his genius that he was also a man of simple ways, without the slightest affection,
and a man of great humility. We talked about England. I asked him bluntly: “Why on earth
didn’t you finish off the British at Dunkirk? Everyone knew you could
have wiped them out.”
He answered: “Yes, I withheld my troops and
let the British escape back to England.
The humiliation of such a defeat would
have made it difficult to try for peace with them afterwards.”
At the same time, Hitler told me he did not want to dispel the Soviet belief that
going to invade England. He mentioned that he even had small Anglo-German
distributed to his troops in Poland. The Soviet spies there duly
reported to the Kremlin
that Germany’s presence in Poland was a bluff,
and that the soldiers were about
to be sent for action against Britain.
On June 22, 1941, it was Russia and not England
that Germany invaded. The initial
victories were swift but costly. I lived the
epic struggle of the Russian front. It was a tragic
epic; it was also martyrdom.
The endless thousands of miles of the Russian steppes
were overwhelming. We
had to reach the Caucasus by foot, always under extreme
conditions. In the summer
we often walked knee-deep in mud, and in winter there were
temperatures. But for a matter of a few days, Hitler would have won
the war in
Russia in 1941. Before the Battle of Moscow, he had largely succeeded
the Soviet Army, and had taken enormous numbers of prisoners.
General Guderian’s panzer group, which had encircled nearly a million Soviet troops near
Kiev, had reached Moscow right up to the city’s tramway lines. It was then that suddenly
an unbelievable freeze struck: 40, 42, 50 degrees Celsius below zero! This meant
only that men were freezing, but also that equipment froze on the spot. No
move. Yesterday’s mud had frozen to a solid block of ice, half
a meter high, icing up the tank treads.
In 24 hours all of our tactical options had been reversed. It was then that masses of
Siberian troops brought back from the Russian Far East were thrown against the Germans.
Those few fateful days of ice, which made the difference between victory and defeat,
were due to the delay caused by the Italian campaign in Greece in the fall of 1940.
Mussolini was envious of Hitler’s successes. It was a deep and silent
jealousy. I was a friend
of Mussolini. I knew him well. He was a remarkable man,
but Europe was not of great concern
to him. He did not like to be a spectator,
watching Hitler winning everywhere. He felt
compelled to do something himself,
and quickly. Impulsively, he launched a senseless
offensive against Greece.
His troops were immediately halted. But it
gave the British an excuse to invade Greece,
which until then had not been involved
in the war. From Greece the British could bomb
the Rumanian oil wells, which
were vital to Germany’s war effort. Greece could also be
used to cut off
German troops on their way to Russia. Hitler was forced to quash the
He had to waste five weeks in the Balkans. His victories there were
logistical achievement, but they delayed the start of the Russian campaign
five critical weeks.
had been able to start the campaign on time, as planned, he would have entered
five weeks earlier, in the fall when the ground was still dry. The war would have
over, and the Soviet Union would have been a thing of the past. The combination
of the sudden freeze and the arrival of fresh Siberian troops spread panic among some
of the old army generals. They wanted to retreat 200 miles back from Moscow. It is hard
to imagine such an insane plan! The freeze affected Russia equally, from West to East,
and to retreat 200 miles in the open steppe would only have made things worse. At the
time I was commanding my troops in the Ukraine, where it was 42 degrees Celsius below zero.
Such a retreat would have meant abandoning all the heavy artillery, as
well as assault
guns and tanks, which were stuck in the ice. It would also have
meant exposing half a
million men to heavy Soviet sniping. In fact, it would
have meant condemning them to
certain death. One need only recall Napoleon’s
retreat in October 1812. He reached the
Berezina River in November, and by mid-December
all the French troops
had left Russia. It was cold enough, but it was not a winter
Can one imagine in
1941 half a million Germans fighting howling snowstorms, cut off
attacked from all sides by tens of thousands of Cossacks? I have faced
Cossacks, and I know that only the utmost, superior firepower will stop them.
In order to counter such an insane retreat, Hitler had to fire more than 30 generals
within a few days.
It was then
that he called on the Waffen SS to fill in the gap and boost morale. Immediately
the SS held fast on the Moscow front. Right through the war the Waffen SS never retreated.
They would rather die than retreat. One cannot forget the figures. During the 1941 winter,
the Waffen SS lost 43,000 men in front of Moscow. The regiment Der Führer fought almost
literally to the last man. Only 35 men survived out of the entire regiment. The Der Führer
men stood fast, and no Soviet troops got through. They tried to bypass the SS
in the snow.
(That is how the famous Russian General Vlasov was captured by the
Totenkopf SS division.)
Without their heroism, Germany would have been
annihilated by December 1941.
would never forget it: he gauged the willpower that the Waffen SS had displayed
front of Moscow. They had shown character and guts. And that is what Hitler admired
most of all: guts. For him, it was not enough to have intelligent or clever associates.
Such people can often fall to pieces, as happened with General Paulus during the
following winter at the battle of Stalingrad.
Hitler knew that only sheer energy and guts, the refusal to surrender,
the will to hang tough against all odds would win the war.
The blizzards of the Russian steppes had shown how the best army in the world, the German
army, with thousands of highly trained officers and millions of highly disciplined men, was
just not enough. Hitler realized that they could be beaten, that something else was needed,
and that only unshakable faith in a high ideal could overcome the situation.
The Waffen SS had this ideal, and from then on Hitler used them at full capacity.
From all parts of Europe volunteers rushed
to help their German brothers. It was then that
the third great Waffen SS was
born. First there was the German, then the Germanic, and
finally the European
Waffen SS. To defend Western culture and civilization, hundreds of
of young men would volunteer. They joined with full knowledge that the SS
the highest death tolls. More than 250,000 out of one million would die in action.
For them, the Waffen SS was, despite all the individual deaths, the birth of a new Europe.
The young European volunteers observed two things: first, that Hitler was
the only leader
who was capable of building Europe, and secondly that Hitler,
and Hitler alone, could defeat the world threat of Communism.
For the men of this SS, the Europe of petty jealousies, jingoism, border
economic rivalries was of no interest. It was petty and demeaning.
That Europe was no
longer valid for them. At the same time, the men of the European
SS, as much as they
admired Hitler and the German people, did not want to become
Germans. They were
men of their own people, and Europe was the gathering of the
various peoples of the
continent. European unity was to be achieved through harmony,
not domination of one over the others.
I discussed these issues at length with both Hitler and Himmler. Like all men of genius,
Hitler had grown beyond the national stage. Napoleon was first a Corsican, then a Frenchman,
then a European, and then a singularly universal man. Likewise Hitler had been an Austrian,
then a German, then a greater German, then Germanic, and then
seen and grasped the magnitude of building Europe.
The Waffen SS had a solemn duty, after the defeat of Communism,
all their efforts and strength to build a united Europe.
Before being joined to the Waffen SS, our Wallonian unit had known very difficult ordeals.
We had gone to the Eastern front first as adjunct units to the German army, but
Battle of Stalingrad we had seen that Europe was critically endangered.
effort was imperative. One night I had an eight-hour-long debate
with Hitler and
Himmler on the status of non-German Europeans within the new
We now expected to be
treated as equals fighting for a common cause. Hitler understood fully,
then on we [of the Légion Wallonie] had our own flag, our own officers,
our own language, and our own religion. We had a totally equal status.
I was the first one to have Catholic chaplains in the Waffen SS. Later
chaplains of all
denominations were available to all those who wanted them. The
Muslim SS division had
its own mullahs, and the French even had a bishop. We
were confident that, with Hitler,
Europeans would be federated as equals. We
felt that, in this critical hour, the best way to
be deserving of our place as
equals was to defend Europe just as well as our German comrades.
For Hitler what mattered above all was courage. He created a new chivalry. Those who
earned the order of the Knight’s Cross, the Ritterkreuz, were indeed the new
They earned this nobility of courage. And after the end of the war,
each of our units
returning home would be the force that would protect the people’s
rights in our respective
countries. All the SS understood that European unity
meant the whole of Europe, even Russia.
There had been a great lack of knowledge among many Germans regarding the Russians.
Many believed that the Russians were all Communists, while in fact Russian representation
in the Communist hierarchy was unimportant. They also believed that the Russians were
diametrically different than the Europeans. Yet, they have similar familial structures, an
ancient civilization, deep religious faith, and traditions which are not unlike those
of other European countries.
The SS saw the new Europe formed of three great components: central Europe as the
power house of Europe, western Europe as the cultural heart of Europe, and eastern Europe
as the potential of Europe. Thus the Europe envisioned by the SS was alive and real. Its
six hundred million inhabitants would live from the North Sea to Vladivostok. It was in this
span of 8,000 miles that Europe could achieve its destiny. It would be a space for young
people to start new lives. This Europe would be the beacon of the world. It would be a remarkable
racial ensemble. An ancient civilization, a spiritual force, and the most advanced
technological and scientific complex. The SS prepared for the high destiny of Europe.
Compare these aims, these ideals, with those
of the “Allies.” The Roosevelts and the Churchills
sold Europe out
at Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam. They cravenly capitulated to the Soviets.
delivered half of the European continent to Communist slavery. They let the rest of
Europe disintegrate morally, without any ideal to sustain it. The SS knew
they wanted: the Europe of ideals would be the salvation for all.
This faith in higher ideals inspired four hundred thousand German SS men, three hundred
thousand Volksdeutsche or Germanic SS, and three hundred thousand
other European SS. Volunteers all, one million builders of Europe.
The ranks of the SS grew proportionately with the expansion of the war in Russia.
The nearer Germany was to defeat the more volunteers arrived at the front. This
phenomenal; eight days before the final defeat I saw hundreds of young men
join the SS
on the front. Right to the end they knew they had to do the impossible
to stop the enemy.
So from the
180-strong Leibstandarte in 1933 to the SS regiments before 1939, to the
three regiments in Poland, to the three divisions in France, to the six divisions at the beginning
of the Russian war, to the 38 divisions in 1944, the Waffen SS reached 50 divisions in 1945.
The more SS men fell, the more others rushed to replace them. They had faith and stood
firm to the extreme limit. The exact opposite happened in January 1943 at Stalingrad.
The defeat there was decided by a man without courage. He was not capable of facing
danger with determination, of saying unequivocally: I will not surrender;
I will stand fast until I win. He was morally and physically gutless, and he lost.
A year later the SS Viking and Wallonia divisions were encircled in the
same way at
Cherkassy. With the disaster of Stalingrad fresh in the minds of
our soldiers, they could
easily have been prone to demoralization. On top of
it, I was down with a deep side
wound and a 102 degree F temperature. As commander
of the SS Wallonia forces,
I knew that all this was not conducive to high morale.
I got up, and for 17 days I led charge
after charge to break the blockade, engaged
in numerous hand-to-hand combats, and was
wounded four times – but I never
stopped fighting. All my men did just as much, and more.
The siege was broken
by sheer SS guts and spirit.
Stalingrad, when many thought that all was lost, and when the Soviet forces poured
the Ukraine, the Waffen SS stopped them dead in their tracks. They re-took Kharkov
and inflicted a severe defeat on the Soviet army. This was a pattern:
again the SS would turn reverses into victories.
The same fearless energy was also present in Normandy. General Patton called them
“the proud SS divisions.” The SS was the backbone of resistance in Normandy.
As Eisenhower observed, “the SS fought as usual to the last man.”
If the Waffen SS had not existed, Europe would have been overrun entirely
by the Soviets
by 1944. They would have reached Paris long before the Americans.
The Waffen SS heroism
stopped the Soviet juggernaut at Moscow, Kharkov, Cherkassy,
and Tarnopol. The Soviets
lost more than twelve months. Without SS resistance
the Soviets would have been in
Normandy before Eisenhower. The people showed
deep gratitude to the young men who
sacrificed their lives. Not since the great
religious orders of the Middle Ages had there been
such selfless idealism and
heroism. In this century of materialism,
the SS stands out as a shining beacon
I have no doubt
whatsoever that the sacrifices and incredible feats of the Waffen SS will
day have their own epic poets like Schiller. Greatness in adversity is the distinction of the SS.
After the war a curtain of silence fell on the Waffen SS. But now more
and more young
people somehow know of its existence and of its achievements.
The fame is growing,
and the young demand to know more. In one hundred years
almost everything will be
forgotten, but the greatness and the heroism of the
Waffen SS will be remembered.
It is the reward of an epic.
From The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1982-83 (Vol. 3, No. 4).
This essay by Leon Degrelle (1906-1994) was first presented at the Fourth IHR Conference
in Chicago (Sept. 1982). In October 2015 the introduction text was revised,
and the main text was edited for clarity and to eliminate typos and errors.