THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER
30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program
12-03-1997 Fifth Program in Series
Guest: Dr. Charles W. Sydnor, Jr.
SOLDIERS OF DESTRUCTION: SS DEATH’S HEAD DIVISION 1933-1945
In this show Roger Fredinburg interviews Dr. Charles Sydnor on the topic: Soldiers of Destruction – SS Death Head Division. Here is a video clip from this wonderful interview.
ISBN-10: 0691008531 and ISBN-13: 978-0691008530
Roger: Welcome to the program, ladies and gentlemen! I am Roger Fredinburg, radio’s regular guy. Our presentation tonight is Part 5 of our ongoing series, The Holocaust: We Must Remember. I once again want to thank Chey Simonton and Kelleigh Nelson for all their help in putting together this incredible array of guests we’re having during this series. It’s just unbelievable, a mind-boggling group of folks who have incredible stories to tell us! So far, it’s been very fascinating! I’m really enjoying it and I hope you are too.
Tonight we speak with a gentleman who has spent a lifetime really dedicated to service to his community and to bringing forth educational principles that will forever endure and help Americans and other learn the lessons of the past. He’s been assigned and appointed to numbers of boards and commissions, had numerous appointments, was a college professor, was the President of Emory and Henry College from 1984 to 1991, was assistant to the Governor of Virginia and has had a remarkable career in television documentaries and radio. He’s certainly no stranger to the medium. We’d like to welcome Dr.Charles Sydnor to the program this evening. We’re going to talk about his book, “Soldiers of Destruction: SS Death’s Head Division.” It has been continuously in print for 20 years now. Dr. Sydnor, welcome to the show!
Dr. Sydnor: Roger, thank you! It’s an honor to be with you!
Roger: It’s a real pleasure to have you here. I know I didn’t do you any justice with your biography; but, it’s so incredible, I didn’t know where to begin!
Dr. Sydnor: Well, thank you. I heard what you said and that’s just fine! I have probably changed careers, I think nine times now, more than the average person my age. I’m in my mid-50s. Through all of this; as a college professor, as a college administrator, a gubernatorial assistant, a college president, and now a general manager in a public broadcasting operation,the continuous thread that runs through all of this has been my training as a professional historian. I was trained in modern German history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, completed my graduate education at the University of Fribourg in the Federal Republic of Germany in the late 1960s. While I completed my graduate education, I spent a year and a half in the archives of the West German National Archive system doing research in the original records of the SS. I worked in the Himmler files; the surviving records of Himmler’s office that are deposited in the West German National Archives in Coblenz, the records of the Waffen SS which are deposited at Fribourg, the records of the concentration camp expectorate, part of those records are in Munich at the Institute for History and the rest of them are up in Coblenz, and on and off, about four different times over a period of about four months, in the Berlin Document Center which houses all of the surviving personnel records of the SS Officer Corps.
Over that period of time, from 1968 to 1976, I put together the research that became the book, “Soldiers of Destruction,” which Princeton University Press first published in 1977. It’s a history of one of the original three Waffen SS Divisions; the SS Totenkopf or Death’s Head Division, that was created in the fall of 1939 from three regiments of SS guards from the concentration camps in Germany. The man who was the first commander of the SS Death’s Head Division, Theodor Eicke, is one of the still unknown, or less well known, major perpetrators of the holocaust. It was Eicke who built the concentration camp system, trained the men who administered it and instilled in the SS camp guards, in the period before the Second World War, the ethos of brutality and harshness that became the basis on which the extermination of the European Jews in Auschwitz and other concentration camps was carried out.
Roger: Maybe you can help us out here because we hear a lot of definitions and things regarding the Nazis; but, I’d like you to explain what the SA was, what the SS was? What were the different branches of Hitler’s army?
Dr. Sydnor: Neither the SA or the SS were part of the German Army. The apologists for the SS after WW II claimed the SS was simply another military branch of the German Armed Forces which was not the case! The SS was an affiliate and an agency of the Nazi Party. Briefly, the distinction between the SA and the SS is this: the SA was the original brown-shirted storm trooper Nazi Party army created in the 1920s that were used to demonstrate in the streets of Germany the Nazi political muscle. Most of the political parties in Germany in the 1920s had paramilitary formations; that was an outward visible sign of the political strength and might, was the nature and discipline and size of your paramilitary unit. The SA was the Nazi Party’s paramilitary unit.
The SS was created in 1925, originally as a very small group of men who were very highly trained and disciplined and served their original purpose performing security duty as Hitler’s personal body guards. That group of men, from the outset, were very elite. In 1929 a young man named Heinrich Himmler, who had joined the Nazi party in 1922, had been a member of the SA and at one time was secretary to Gregor Strasser, one of Hitler’s original confederates. Heinrich Himmler became the chief of the SS, which was still a very small unit within the SA. It was part of the SA. It remained part of the SA until after Hitler came to ower in 1933.
By the time Hitler came to power in 1933 the SA brown-shirt, storm trooper army had grown to nearly 4,000,000 men. The rapid growth of the SA caused disciplinary problems. There was a sort of breakdown of Hitler’s authority and control over it . The leader of the SA, a man named Ernst Rohm, wanted the brown-shirted army to become the new army of Nazi Germany, the political Nazi army of Nazi Germany. The old traditional officer corps and the military establishment in Germany which had survived after WW I did not want this radical mob of undisciplined bullies to take over the military functions of the state. In 1934 the leading figures in the military basically gave Hitler a choice. He had been in power about a year and a half. He was trying to consolidate a totalitarian system with an internal political and repressive apparatus that would do away with other political parties, control the press, media, universities, schools, etc. He needed the military establishment for his long-range goals of re-armament and eventually making war. A brown-shirted army of storm troopers was not in any way qualified for that mission.
The leaders of the military establishment said, ‘look, you’ve got a choice. You can either deal with Rohm and the SA and bring the SA under control and get rid of Rohm or we’ll take matters into our own hands.” Hitler needed the military so he arranged, with the assistance of Herman Goring who at that time was probably Hitler’s closest paladin, and the two principal figures in the SS, Heinrich Himmler and Reinhardt Heydrich, Hitler arranged to have Rohm and the leadership of the SA murdered. This is the notorious Night of the Long Knives, June 30, 1934. Basically, they decapitated the SA! They murdered all the leading figures in the SA with Hitler’s blessing and on his orders. Subsequent to that, Hitler issued a decree that separated the SS completely from the SA and the SS became a separate and distinct institution.
At that time, Hitler had also sanctioned the beginning of a process by which Himmler was taking control of the police forces in Germany. Between the Night of the Long Knives at the end of June, 1934 and the middle of June, 1936, Heinrich Himmler and Reinhardt Heydrich consolidated control over all the police forces in the German states and basically merged the police forces of the country with the SS as a Nazi Party institution.
Roger: Oh, boy!
Dr. Sydnor: In June of 1936, Germany had for the first time what it had never had in it’s history, it had a National Chief of Police. The German system at that time was a federal system like ours with police powers reserved to the states. The police forces were regional and localized police forces; in states, communities and counties, like here in the United States. Himmler consolidated police power at the national level in June of 1936 under himself as the chief of the German police in his capacity as of the SS. From 1936 on, the police forces in Germany worked outside the normal standards of law.
At the same time, one of the other principal figures involved in the decapitation of the SA in June, 1934 was this man, Theodor Eicke. Eicke, in 1933, had been appointed as second commandant of a detention complex that had been hastily erected outside Munich at a little town called Dachau. Himmler had a great deal of confidence in Eicke’s organizational ability. He had a nasty, mean, brutal streak; he was just the kind of man to organize a permanent detention center or concentration camp for political prisoners in Bavaria. By June, 1934 Eicke had made Dachau into what quickly became known as a model concentration camp. It was Eicke, acting on Himmler’s orders with Hitler’s blessing, who actually shot Ernst Rohm to death in his cell behind Stadelheim Prison in Munich. As a reward for murdering Rohm, and because of his achievements at Dachau, in July of 1934 Himmler appointed Eicke to the new post of Inspector General of Concentration Camps and ordered him to create a permanent system of large concentration camps staffed and guarded by SS soldiers who would be trained by Eicke. The system that emerged by 1938 was based on four and then five large concentration camps; Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald- the notorious camp near Weimar, Ravensbruck — that became the concentration camp for women. After the Anschluss which was the incorporation of Austria in March of 1938, the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp near Linz, Austria.
It is noteworthy that four or five of the most notorious mass murderers of the SS, people associated in the minds of victims, survivors, students and historians, as principal SS perpetrators, served in the SS concentration camps at one time or another and were proteges of Theodor Eicke. They were trained by him! They were taught the business of brutality and mass murder by Theodor Eicke. They included:
Adolf Eichmann who served as a guard at Dachau in 1934;
- Rudolf Hoss, the later commandant of the Auschwitz extermination complex who served at Dachau and also at Oranienburg under Eicke,
- Odilo Globocnik, the SS General who ended up as the central figure in Operation Reinhardt (the code name for the extermination of the Jews of Poland). Globocnik had served briefly as a guard in a concentration camp unit.
- Paul Werner Hoppe (sp?) who became the commandant of the Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig in Poland, was a protegé of Eicke.
- Karl Otto Koch, the commandant of Buchenwald.
- Anton Kaindl was commandant of the Sachsenhausen
- Friedrich “Fritz” Hartjenstein, also a camp commandant at Auschwitz/Birkenau and later at the Natzweiler concentration camp.
The generation of hand-on camp administrators, perpetrators, murderers were the proteges of Theodor Eicke and their experience in the SS all went back to the early history of the concentration camp system in the 1930s, from 1933 on.
Roger: So, when these initial concentration camps were established, what was the objective?
Dr. Sydnor: The objective was two-fold. Hitler’s objective, which Himmler and Heydrich understood from the first, was to create a detention center, a prison (which they preferred to call a concentration camp) into which they could throw anybody who potentially was any kind of threat to the Nazi Party or Hitler’s regime, or anybody who might conceivably challenge the new Nazi state in any way. That included people who were Communists, Socialists, members of the Catholic Center Party, Democrats, Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Nazis had a particular distaste and dislike for Jehovah’s Witnesses because they refused to recognize the secular authority of the state and the Nazis believed they were particularly seditious, Catholics, Protestant clergymen and, of course, Jews in larger and larger numbers.
In Germany in the 1930s a concentration camp was not a prison that was under the control of the Ministry of the Interior or a state agency like the Dept. of Corrections here in Virginia. The concentration camps were under the jurisdiction and command authority of the Inspector of Concentration Camps who was a senior officer in the SS. So, the concentration camps existed outside the normal confines of authority and accountability to any state agency.
Roger: Now prior to this…..
Dr. Sydnor: …There’s another essential thing that needs to be explained.
Roger: Go ahead!
Dr. Sydnor: In 1933 the Nazis very quickly developed a special kind of arrest procedure that was illegal. They used that special arrest procedure on people they specifically wanted to throw into concentration camps. That procedure was called “Protective Custody” or “Protective Detention”. The Gestapo, the secret state police, came into existence at the same time. It was also an agency of the SS after 1936. The Gestapo issued the protective custody warrants. If you got picked up on a protective custody warrant, you were hauled into the police station, fingerprinted and shipped off immediately to a concentration camp and held there indefinitely. You had no right to make a phone call, no right to summon a lawyer, no right to an appearance in court! You could be held, originally for 30 days, subsequently for 60 days and then 90 days. After the war broke out, if you were in concentration camp you could be held indefinitely. Only the Gestapo decided whether you got out, or when you got out. So, everything involved, using the camps as instruments of terror, was based on the procedures that were outside the normal laws, the checks and balances of a legal system in a civilized state.
Roger: Now, before Hitler, there was the Weimar Republic. It was a republic, just like the Republic of the United States of America?
Dr. Sydnor: It was a federalized system in which the national government and the individual state governments of Germany shared powers. The federalized system that existed in the Weimar years was an outgrowth of the merged state system of the German Empire between 1871 and 1918. Germany was a collection of individual states; Prussia, Schleswig-Holstein, Hanover, Wurtemburg, Baden, Bavaria, Saxony and a whole collection of smaller states.
Roger: Hold it right there. We’ve got to take a quick break. We’ll come back and develop this whole evolution of the Waffen SS group that you’ve studied. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest this evening is Dr. Charles Sydnor. His book is “Soldiers of Destruction.” He follows the evolution of one of these groups right through to the bitter end, so to speak. Fascinating reading! Fascinating book! Our phone lines will not be open until we get a little deeper into the discussion.
Roger: Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! Dr. Charles Sydnor is our guest this evening. We’re discussing his incredible book. Charlie, are you with us, my friend?
Dr. Sydnor: Yes, sir! I’m right here.
Roger: I want to develop this story a little bit. First of all, on the front of your book it says, “the SS Death’s Head Division.” What does that mean?
Dr. Sydnor: “Death’s Head” in German is “Totenkopf.” The Death’s Head is the “skull and crossbones” symbol that is on the bill of the peaked cap worn by the officers, it’s the little silver symbol in front of the cap. The Death’s Head units that guarded the pre-war concentration camp had the Death’s Head emblem on the right collar tab of their tunics. After the three SS units were formed into the Death’s Head Division and trained for combat in 1939, it became the name of the Waffen SS Death’s Head Division. The German name is the SS Totenkopf Division.
Roger: Let me see if I’ve got this format understood. This would be like a charismatic Democrat or Republican or Libertarian leader coming into power by way of building a giant paramilitary group. It would be like Bob Dole had his army and Bill Clinton had his army. If Bob Dole had a bigger army then he’d be president, right?
Dr. Sydnor: That’s partially correct as an analogy. In the Weimar period, all political parties had paramilitary groups, even the Social Democratic Party had a paramilitary group, a marching army. Germany was a country that placed deep faith in the traditional military values. It was a country that had millions of men who served in the ranks of the army or navy in the First World War. It was a country full of demobilized veterans. Using paramilitary groups was one way to flex political muscle. Once Hitler was in power, the militarized SS who were heavily armed and trained became the political shock troops. The SS Death’s Head Units, between 1934 to 1939 guarded and administered the concentration camps, into which all the political and ideological enemies of the regime were thrown, the people who were rounded up and arrested by the Gestapo. And their numbers grew as the years went by. There were also a couple of regiments of SS recruits that were trained as Special Service troops. They were to be used if there was an attempted coup or a domestic insurrection. They could be deployed to defend the regime.
There was another special militarized SS group that was Hitler’s bodyguard. It achieved regimental strength by the beginning of the war. It was called the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler that translates to the Lifeguard of Adolf Hitler.
You take these three groups; the SS Death’s Head units that guard the pre-war concentration camps, the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler which was his big praetorian guard and the SS Special Service troops and after the Germans defeated Poland in 1939, units from these three groups were organized into field divisions and became the nucleus and origins of the Waffen SS or the wartime SS. Throughout the Second World War, from 1939 on, SS concentration camp guards remained part of the Waffen SS. The SS grew into a huge, enormous conglomeration of agencies, institutions and men.
Roger: This Totenkopf, am I’ saying that correctly?
Dr. Sydnor: Totenkopf or Death’s Head Division.
Roger: This group that you followed, what is their legacy?
Dr. Sydnor: Their legacy is a vast swamp of destruction everywhere they went. They were fanatically devoted Nazis. They were thoroughly indoctrinated ideologically. Theodor Eicke set the stamp of his personality upon the character of that division. He was a fanatically driven man. He was an absolute racist, a complete Nazi fanatic! He insisted that his men be like him and he drove himself as hard as he drove his men. He inspired tremendous devotion and loyalty from the SS soldiers who served under him, both in the concentration camps before 1939 and in the Death’s Head Division after 1939. He was not an educated man who possessed any great military skill. The SS hallmark was to simply attack and assault the enemy with the greatest vigor possible; never mind the casualties, take the objective whatever it is and expect to take heavy losses!
The Death’s Head/Totenkopf Division was first deployed in combat as a Division in the Battle of France in 1940. It distinguished itself in France, not militarily; but, for two of the most notorious early atrocities committed by German units. In late May of 1940 a unit of the Death’s Head Division murdered 100 British prisoners of war near a little village in Flanders called Le Paradis. Three weeks later in southern France, units of the SS Division systematically murdered Senegalese and Moroccan French troops, black soldiers serving in the French army. If they attempted to surrender to units of the SS Death’s Head Division, they were simply shot! The Division’s great fame came a year later when it fought in the assault of the Soviet Union. The Death’s Head Division fought exclusively in Russia from June, 1941 until the collapse of the Third Reich in April, 1945.
Roger: So, all the while, not only are they out on the battlefield; but, they’re back home running the concentration camps?
Dr. Sydnor: It’s interesting the way the system worked. The reserve and replacement units, their rear echelon units, continued to serve as guard units in the concentration camps. Men would be recruited to serve in a Death’s Head formation in, let’s say, the Buchenwald concentration camp. They would get military training at Buchenwald; learn how to guard prisoners and basic military tactics, how to handle weapons, how to march, learn the basics of military service. They’d serve in Buchenwald for several months, then be rotated out of Buchenwald if they were physically fit enough for combat duty, and sent to someplace in Poland.
Roger: We’ve got to take a quick break here! Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re talking to our guest, Dr. Charles Sydnor, about his book, “Soldiers of Destruction.” We’ll be right back! Don’t go away!
Roger: Charlie, we’re back! You were telling us they had a pretty good system for training and replenishing these SS guys?
Dr. Sydnor: Yes, sir! The guard units in the concentration camps served as a manpower pool, a replacement pool for the SS Death’s Head Division during the war. SS men came from other types of SS units; but, a number of them came from the concentration camp guard formations thoughout the war. In addition, the flow of personnel worked the other way, too. Officers and men in the Death’s Head Division who were wounded in combat or for some other reason became physically unfit to continue with the rigors of front line combat, were transferred back to rear area SS units. Most of those men ended up going back to the concentration camps because their experience in concentration camps was badly needed. The two most notable instances in this regard were Paul Werner Hoppe, Theodor Eicke’s adjutant in the SS Division. Hoppe was wounded in northern Russia in 1942. He had served as Eicke’s adjutant when Eicke was the Inspector General of the concentration camps. Hoppe was transferred to Auschwitz as commander of the guard company. After several months at Auschwitz, he was promoted to the position of Commandant of the Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig. He served for the rest of the war as commandant of that concentration camp.
Friedrich Hartjenstein who was a battalion commander in the Death’s Head Division in Russia was relieved for incompetence as a battalion commander and transferred to Auschwitz and was, for a time, the commandant of the Birkenau death camp in the Auschwitz complex. In 1944 he was tranferred from Birkenau to France and became the commandant of the Natzweiler concentration camp. There was a constant movement of personnel back and forth between the division, the concentration camps and the death camps during the Second World War.
Roger: The thing that has always bothered me, and I think it bothers a lot of folks,s how it would be possible…. you talked a bit ago about these troops killing the Moroccan black soldiers when they were surrendering….. they were brutal killers! How do you get people to think like that?
Dr. Sydnor: It was easier to train men like that in the Death’s Head Division than anywhere else except the Einsatzgruppen, the special SS mobile killing commandos that operated in Czechoslovakia in 1938, in Poland in 1939 and in the Soviet Union in 1941 and 1942. It involved harsh discipline, a rigid code of conduct and ideological indoctrination. It involved exposing men to concentration camp inmates who were ragged, hungry, filthy, who looked the part of the sub-humanity that the Nazi ideology portrayed them to be. The ethos in the SS was that an “enemy behind the wire”, that’s a literal term that Eicke used with his concentration camp guards. Prisoners were enemies who just as potentially lethal and dangerous and insidious as any other enemy; racial, political or ideological, only they happened to be “behind the wire”. They had to be guarded very closely and carefully. They must not be shown any pity, any mercy. They had to be given no quarter. The regulations for punishing prisoners were totally within the authority of the concentration camp commandant. The commandant of a concentration camp could sentence a prisoner to death for an infraction of camp rules! That prisoner had no appeal, no recourse! There was no way any outside judicial authority could intervene in the camp. Once you were in a concentration camp, you were totally in the mercy of the SS Guards. The SS guards, basically, showed no mercy!
It’s very easy once you have trained, hundreds of men, thousands of men, to think this way about enemies of the state who were in concentration camps…it is then very easy to convince them with ideological training that when they’re in a combat division facing an enemy across the front line is the same type of racial sub-human, the same type of human garbage, he’s more dangerous now because he’s not locked up behind the wire and he’s got a gun in his hand! So, the object in war, the object for the men in the SS Death’s Head Division was not to defeat the enemy’s army, not to capture his military leaders, it was simply to destroy the enemy, to kill as many of them as possible!
Roger: Wow! We’ve got to take a news break. We’ll come back and talk about how this turned into an extermination experiment. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest this evening is Dr. Charles W. Sydnor, Jr. His book is “Soldiers of Destruction: the SS Death’s Head Division 1933-1945″ We’ll be right back!
2ND HOUR – COMMERCIAL BREAK
Roger: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our 2nd hour of the program. I am Roger Fredinburg, radio’s regular guy. Nice to have you aboard. Our guest this evening in our continuing series, The Holocaust: We Must Remember is Dr. Charles W. Sydnor, Jr. His book is “Soldiers of Destruction: the SS Death’s Head Division, 1933-1945.”
We have a pretty good foundation laid, Charlie. I want to go back to something you said on the first hour of the broadcast. You talked about people being perceived as sub-human. You described them as ragged, tattered, filthy people. You mentioned indoctrination, the discipline and rigid training, all of those things that went into making these “killing machines” that were human robots, for lack of a better definition.
I know you were an expert witness for the Justice Department on a number of court cases. It never seems to be properly addressed as to how the human mind is altered in such a way that it could commit the evil we witnessed in Hitler’s Germany. I’m trying to figure out what people need to be aware of so that can never happen to them!
Dr. Sydnor: I’m not sure we can really fathom that. I’m not sure that is a question that is susceptible to a clear and distinctive answer. Clearly, different things motivate different people to do murder. In the SS, years of racist education in Nazi schools with Nazi teachers using books that contained pornographic, stereotypical cartoons depicting Jews and other undesirable people (particularly gypsies) was followed by years of indoctrination in the SS. Having grown up and been surrounded by a massive state system, it gave the veneer of legality to what was going on. At some point, nearly everybody in that system crossed the line. The people who were in the SS were there because they wanted to be in the SS! They volunteered for the SS! It was the elite of the National Socialist Order! It was to be the cadre of the future of the Thousand Year Reich in Europe once Hitler won the war, defeated Russia and established a new Nazi millennium!
I’m not sure that the question is susceptible to an answer because that indecision lies at the heart of why it is so important to remember what happened. Not only to remember it generally; but, to remember it factually, to remember it specifically, to remember it accurately, not to enlarge it in some way or embellish it or embrace it! Heaven knows, it’s horrible enough in the dimensions that it actually took place in! In my estimation as an historian, it’s precisely because we don’t know the answer to that question, that we have to remember.
Roger: As an historian, you clearly are well aware of the old adage that if you don’t learn from history, it will repeat itself!
Dr. Sydnor: That’s George Santayana! That has been recycled so much that most of the tread’s off of it!
Roger: Ha, ha, ha!
Dr. Sydnor: Just because something is a cliche doesn’t mean it is not true! And that, of course, is very true! Many of us who are trained historians come to a point in our careers where we’re really not certain that people in government are capable of learning anything from history, or very much from history!
Roger: What I want, by the end of this series, is for people to look around and see the signs of indoctrination, of propaganda. What do the average citizens of the world look for? What are the signs that tells us we’re headed down a bad chunk of road?
Dr. Sydnor: I think the clearest sign, the most unmistakable marker and the sharpest and shrillest warning is any situation in which people attempt to organize hatred into a political program; or any cause, or group, or association seeks to justify it’s own existence or perpetuate an agenda or develop and manifest a program based upon the presumed demonization or anathemetization of other peoples, individuals or groups. Whatever their motives and public manifestations, if hatred and prejudice and presumed projection of inferiority and intolerance of other human beings is the statement of their programs, that’s the first warning sign.
Roger: How about the KKK?
Dr. Sydnor: It’s interesting that after George Lincoln Rockwell was killed in 1957, the Klan and the American Nazi Party basically merged. The staple of the two programs really merged and the American Nazi Party lost its distinct identity after Rockwell’s death. The hangers-on in that movement, many of them ended up in the Klan.
Roger: How about the Nation of Islam?
Dr. Sydnor: It’s the same principle on the other side of the coin. Farrakhan is a little more difficult to typecast than Elijah Mohammed was a generation ago because he moved in a different direction. I’m not sure that’s any more convincing than David Dukes efforts were in Louisiana to portray himself as a kind mainstream American political conservative when his background had been in the American Nazi Party, the Klan and the White Citizens Councils in Louisiana.
I think the proposition boils down to this; in every society there are potential Hitlers, in every generation there are potential Hitlers. What keeps those people on the fringe, under the mattress of acceptable society, are conditions of relative normality. Bear in mind what happened in Germany in the 1920s and into the early 1930s, there was a remarkably unique conglomeration or collection of historical circumstances. If Germany had not gone through the trauma of defeat in the First World War, the French occupation, the inflation of the 1923, the huge upheaval of the Great Depression where there was no social security net, when one third of the country was unemployed and had no welfare, unemployment benefits, etc., those sorts of conditions radicalized an entire population into accepting Hitler as a legitimate politician. The closer a society comes to conditions like that, the graver the danger is that lunatic fringe people will be looked upon as credible, as people who have something legitimate to offer in a political program.
Roger: So, bad times seem to precipitate these events. Hard times…. people in despair!
Dr. Sydnor: There are historians who point out Hitler’s popularity really peaked after the Great Depression had begun to ease somewhat in Germany. The Nazi Party politically became popular before the worst part of the Great Depression hit Germany in 1930. The Wall Street crash in 1929 precipitated a chain reaction causing world economies to collapse. Germany fell like a domino about 19 months after the Wall Street crash. Hard times, unusual circumstances, economic and social turbulence and upheaval and chaos, are the stuff these types of movements, or “would be” Hitlers feed upon because they are circumstances ideally suited to getting across a message based on hate.
Roger: Capitalize on the anger, I suppose. Taking that into account, you and I spoke the other day about a project you are working on, the National Smokers Alliance. I had jokingly said to you that it was kind of fascist! There are people out there demonizing folks who smoke! If we see that if the dominant media culture doesn’t like somebody, they begin to “demonize”! I began to equate that with some of the techniques used by Josef Goebbels!
Dr. Sydnor: I don’t think the American media has been as focused as Goebbels was; but, the National Smokers Alliance with 4 million members in the association, it’s a group with one very simple objective; to promote accommodation and toleration of people who, as adults, choose to smoke. The Smokers Alliance is not interested in promoting the tobacco industry. It doesn’t want kids smoking; but, if adults make a decision to smoke, the Alliance feels they ought to have that right and ought not to be subjected to discriminatory regulations and ordinances that prevent them from doing that. 20% of the people who belong to the NSA are non-smokers!
Roger: It’s a freedom issue! The thing that concerns me, the smoking is one of those issues you’re “for” or “against”; but, it’s the way they demonize people for something they do or something they believe in. That bothers me! That seems like the same propaganda tools we want to avoid!
Dr. Sydnor: Yes! There’s nothing to be gained for the stability of a free society in demonizing or anathematizing anybody! In recent statewide elections here in Virginia, I went to help a friend who was up for re-election to the House of Delegates. At a polling place a man who voted for his opponent really got in my face. He was consumed with anger and became irrational, spitting out this stream of invective, accusing my friend of being dishonest, saying he was guilty of everything except commiting unnatural acts with barnyard animals! My response was, you don’t need to be this way. You don’t have to demonize somebody to vote against them. All you have to do is disagree with them to vote against them. It’s not necessary to work yourself up into such a state.
Roger: I just worry about the whole sentimentality that surrounds this concept that seems to be growing in this country. I’d like to see it stopped!
Charlie, are you ready to take some phone calls? Folks, the phone lines are open. We’re talking with Dr. Charles Sydnor about his fascinating book,, “Soldiers of Destruction: the SS Death’s Division – 1933 to 1945″ If you really want to know how the SS got to be what they became, how bad and nasty they really were, you’ll find it in this book! You can order the book from Princeton Publishing at 1-800-777-47261-800-777-4726 FREE.
Alright! We’re going to Brian out in Springfield, Illinois! Hello, Brian!
Caller-Brian: I heard that were French, Dutch, Danes, Norwegians and even some Russians that served in the SS.
Dr. Sydnor: That’s absolutely correct. In fact, there was a Flemish legion in the Waffen SS led by a Belgian collaborator by the name of Leon Degrelle. There was Dutch SS unit, there were Norwegians and even some Swedish volunteers in the Waffen SS also. There was even a Moslem SS created in 1943 in the Balkans. There were Russians who served in the Waffen SS. There was a Ukranian, Latvian and Estonian legion created late in the war. By 1945 the Waffen SS was really a kind of multi-national fighting force.
Caller-Brian: I’ll bet a lot of those SS men smoked cigarettes!
Roger: Ha, ha, ha! Brian, thank you very much!
Dr. Sydnor: Himmler was a cigar smoker. Ha, ha!
Roger: Matt in Eugene, Oregon, how are you?
Caller-Matt: Fine, Roger! Thanks for taking my call. Dr. Sydnor, it’s a great show!
Dr. Sydnor: Thank you.
Caller-Matt: I couldn’t help but call. I was listening to you talk about the Jews and how Hitler and his buddies had to first make this group of people somehow non-human and not entitled to the protection of the state. We hear over and over, again and again, that we need to keep this from happening again. Do you see any group of people in our culture that have lost the protection of the state?
Dr. Sydnor: Any group in our culture? None that I’m really familiar with.
Caller-Matt: Not even the unborn?
Dr. Sydnor: I guess you could make that argument.
Caller-Matt: Do you agree or disagree? That’s a whole group of people who have lost their “human-ness”! They’re no longer human, they are blobs of tissue that no longer have the right to life! You have to first dehumanize them, of course! We’re doing that now! I agree with you! It was hideous what happened! But, we’re still doing it and we’re still blind to it, like we were then! We’re still blind!
Dr. Sydnor: If you’re asking if I believe in abortion, the answer is NO, I do not believe in it!
Roger: Alright, Matt, I don’t want to turn this into an “abortion show”, folks, please! We’re talking about the Nazi SS here. We’ve got John on the line. He’s calling from Santa Rosa, California.
Caller-John: Good evening! I’d like to ask Dr. Sydnor, do these former SS officers and enlisted men get together like American veterans do? That seems pretty disturbing if they do!
Dr. Sydnor: Yes, they do. John, it’s a very interesting question! That has been a very controversial subject in Germany over the years. In fact, there have been reunions of veterans of the SS Death’s Head Division. It got to the point that the German press was very interested in this about ten years ago, so they began organizing these reunions under pseudonyms like the “Westphalian Hunting Club” or the “Sons of the Order of the Nibelungen” or something like that. They do get together from time to time.
Caller-John: Were any of the Waffen SS officers allowed to go into the West German Wermacht or whatever they called it after the war?
Dr. Sydnor: The Bundeswehr?
Caller-John: Whatever they called it.
Dr. Sydnor: No, not immediately.
Caller-John: Adolf Gehlen (sp?) was an Ace, was allowed to go back in to the Luftwaffe. I was wondering….?
Dr. Sydnor: Not that I know of. The Germans were pretty careful in the immediate post-war years. In the face of a pretty well-organized and highly financed campaign by Waffen SS veterans to rehabilitate the image of the Waffen SS, to create a kind of mythology about it…. of course, there were a lot of SS veterans after the war, a lot who survived the war. They became integrated into German society. Many of them emerged as prominent business figures in the 1960s when they were in their 50s, into the 1970s when they were in their 60s. They had a lot of political clout and and lot of political influence. They lobbied the West German parliament to restore benefits and to award pensions. It started out with enlisted men who served in the Waffen SS who became eligible for pensions, then NCOs and junior grade officers, then middle grade officers. Finally in the 1970s, they lifted the restrictions altogether. By that time there were only a handful of surviving colonels and generals who had served in the Waffen SS who qualified for pensions.
Caller-John: It’s kind of disturbing to me. I have nothing against the German Wehrmacht soldiers. They were just doing their duty. But, there’s something about the SS organization, a political organization. It was Hitler’s personal army, wasn’t it?
Dr. Sydnor: Well, it was; but, the longer the war went on, the more blurred that distinction became. One of the previous callers a few minutes ago raised a question about the multi-national character of the SS, the Waffen SS anyway. Keep in mind, that closely related and directly affiliated with the Waffen SS were the SS and police agencies that ran the instruments of repression in the conquered countries and occupied territories of Nazi Europe in the Second World War. The security police and the SD, armed SS units, were involved in the clearing of Jewish ghettos at Newvlene, Chestahova, Warsaw, Minsk, Bialystok. (all spelled phonetically) The SS was an all-purpose organization that was trained, equipped, ready, willing and able to serve the purposes of repression and persecution required them to do.
Roger: All right, Charles, we’ve got to take a break. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re following the evolution of one of these Waffen SS groups, the Totenkopf. What an incredible story is told in the book! We’ll get back to it on the other side of the break!
Roger: Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! Dr. Charles Sydnor’s our guest. “Soldiers of Destruction” is his book, an incredible story following the evolution of the Waffen SS!
All right, Charlie! We’re back! Let’s go to Mike in Tampa, Florida and then I have a quick question for you! Mike, hello!
Caller-Mike: Yes, sir! I’ve lived in Paris, France and I personally know a number of Frenchmen who were in the Charlemagne SS as volunteers for Adolf Hitler. Today, these older Frenchmen are writing books and being interviewed on French national radio. They are very proud that they volunteered to help Adolf Hitler to fight Communism. I assure you, if you know them the way I know them, and you listen to them, you will see the whole war very differently and that we Americans have been lied to by the television networks about current events ever since WW II. These men are very proud about what they did and they believe Hitler was doing the right thing in fighting communism. They say they would do it again! They’re very proud of what they did!
Roger: Do you want to respond to that, Charles?
Dr. Sydnor: The Charlemagne Regiment in the Charlemagne Division was a unit of French SS Legionnaires that has less than an admirable record in the way they conducted themselves, particularly in the Battle of Berlin. That, in fact, was the unit that defended the government quarter of the city against the Red army in April, 1945. They didn’t exercise any particular care in who they killed. They killed a number of German civilians along with Russian soldiers.
France is still deeply troubled, and I think in some respects, still politically split by the lingering issues of whether one collaborated or whether one resisted. There are older men in France now, many of whom were never in the SS, who were collaborators or committed supporters of the Vichy French regime. They are not ashamed of their wartime service or what they did and make no apologies for it.
Roger: The question I had, because it was an obvious one when John called and asked about the SS getting together and having their reunions. How did those folks escape prosecution?
Dr. Sydnor: The important point to make here is that everyone who served in the Waffen SS was not a war criminal. There were men who served in the Waffen SS who did not murder Jews, who did not shoot gypsies, who never worked in concentration camps. There were a lot of men in the Waffen SS who did. There were a lot of men in the Waffen SS who never shot civilians. or burned villages. or massacred groups of innocent civilians, or looted or plundered or did any of the other terrible things that some Waffen SS units did. We can’t stigmatize the whole group of the whole institution. The SS itself, the entire organization, was condemned as a criminal organization by the Nuremburg Tribunal in 1946; but, I interviewed a number of men in Germany in 1969, 1972 and 1976 who were veterans of the Waffen SS. I interviewed a number of men who served in the SS Death’s Head Division. Two of the most interesting and upright people I ever met were Otto Baum and Karl Ulrich, both veterans of the SS Death’s Head Division. They were not war criminals.
The point to Roger’s question is that many of the individuals who were responsible for atrocities, committed crimes and were war criminals were never identified, or prosecuted or held accountable for what they did. They got away with it!
Roger: You were state’s witness for US vs. John Demjanjuk. Just two or three days ago, he asked for his US citizenship back. Do you have any reflection on that?
Dr. Sydnor: Yes! I have a very specific and vigorous reflection on that! First, I served as an affiant. I did an affidavit for the court in Cleveland, Ohio in the second Demjanjuk case which was a deportation proceeding. Mr. Demjanjuk was de-naturalized and ordered deported from the United States legally under the law; the Holtzman Amendment and the Supreme Court’s Federenco Judgement which holds that anyone who served as a concentration camp guard and engaged in the persecution of human beings on the basis of race, religion, national origin, social status or economic station was never eligible for citizenship in the United States.
What’s happened is Mr. Demjanjuk’s extradition was requested by the Israelis subsequent to the deportation hearing. The Israelis tried him solely on the charge that he was Ivan the Terrible who operated the gas chamber at Treblinka. Subsequent to his trial in Israel and the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were documentary records that became available; interrogation protocols that the Soviets had conducted after the war when they were looking for former Soviet citizens who had served as death camp guards. Ivan the Terrible was high on their Most Wanted List. There was conflicting testimony about who Ivan the Terrible was. The Israeli Supreme Court came to the conclusion that they could not execute a man based upon event the faint shadow of a doubt about his past identity. Given the specific charge on which he had been tried, they were forced to turn him loose. If Mr. Demjanjuk was not, in fact, Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka, he was Ivan, the slightly less terrible, of Sobibor because his identity card, which is an authentic document from the period verified by historians, handwriting experts,chemists, forensic experts; his identity card as a Ukrainian Auxiliary serving as a Trawnicki guard places him in the Sobibor death camp.
Mr. Demjanjuk is not entitled to have his citizenship back! He should never have been let back in to the United States. He was allowed back into the United States because one of the appellate judges in the Sixth Court of Appeals saw fit to exercise judicial activism and take the law into his hands and let Mr. Demjanjuk back into the country! Mr. Demjanjuk is not entitled to have his citizenship back because, under American law, he was never entitled to it in the first place!
Roger: Now, I was under the impression he was vindicated. You’re telling me he has not?
Dr. Sydnor: He absolutely has not been vindicated! Absolutely not! This man was a death camp guard. He was a Ukrainian serving in the Red army who was captured by the Germans in 1942. The Germans trained him to be an SS auxiliary. They took him to a place in Poland called Trawnicki where they trained eastern European collaborators. He was trained, armed and deployed for the purpose of killing civilians, rounding up Jews and guarding camps. There is evidence now that after he served….. In point of fact, I myself believe that he was Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka!
Roger: Oh! Man!
Dr. Sydnor: The identity card places him in Sobibor. There’s evidence now that suggests that he was also a guard at the Flossenbürg concentration camp late in the war.
Roger: We’ve got to take a quick break! We’ll go to calls right on the other side, folks!
Roger: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back! Dr. Charles Sydnor is with us. You can order his book “Soldiers of Destruction” from the publisher at 1-800-777-47261-800-777-4726 FREE. Charlie, we’ve got more phone calls! Are you ready?
Dr. Sydnor: Yes, sir!
Roger: Kelleigh in Tennessee, you’re on the radio!
Caller-Kelleigh: Thank you, Roger! Dr. Sydnor, I wanted to mention two short questions. One, I have a difficulty in finding anything on the White Rose Society or the Odessa Files. Two, I recently watched a 3-hour program on Discovery Channel regarding the CIA that mentioned the CIA was responsible for bringing former Nazis to this country. I’m wondering how many, like Demjanjuk, sneaked in or were helped to get into this country? Perhaps that has something to do with the Odessa Files. I’m not sure because I have nothing on it. I’m interested in how many were brought over here because I know it is documented that a lot of them got into America.
Dr. Sydnor: Let me answer your questions in the order you asked them.
First, there are two or three books that deal with the White Rose Society, the student anti-Nazi movement during the Second World War at the University of Munich; the movement around the brother and sister, Hans and Sophie Scholl. Let me suggest a book by Canadian scholar, Peter Hoffman. It’s called, “The History of the German Resistance.” The bibliography is excellent for a whole range of sources on the different resistance movements in Germany during the war. I cannot remember the author’s name, but there is a book written in English on the White Rose Society.
Secondly, the Odessa is largely a figment of post-war fictional imagination. The SS veterans organization in Germany, the Waffen SS veterans which, I presume, served for the book and movie called “The Odessa File” is called HIAG, a German term that means a self-help organization. That’s the acronym for the SS veterans organization.
Thirdly, most of the men who had been SS guards at concentration camps or SS policemen got into the country after the war by posing as displaced persons, or lying about, or concealing the material facts about what they had done during the Second World War. However, it is true that some got in with the active assistance, sponsorship or support of the Army Counter-Intelligence Corps after the Second World War, and perhaps with the CIA. With the CIA I can’t even give you an educated opinion because whatever records there may be are, to the best of my knowledge, not available. I would assume there is the basis for a correct assumption, that some of these people did get in that way.
What I think is even more reprehensible in this vein is the active assistance that counter-intelligence gave to people like Klaus Barbie. There’s no question they helped him evade identification and capture, helped him get out of Europe to Latin America! It was not until the Bolivian military government was overthrown and civilian rule was re-established in the early 1980s that Klaus Barbie was finally extradited back to France and stood trial.
Caller-Kelleigh: Okay! Thanks!
Roger: Thanks, Kel! Slim in Salem, Oregon, hello!
Caller-Slim: Good program, Roger! Dr. Sydnor, I wonder if you could make a comment or two about the event that led up to all the events you’re talking about….maybe start with the Versailles Treaty and how the Federal Reserve banks, known over there as the central bank or the Riechsbank…
Dr. Sydnor: Yes, the German Reichsbank, that’s correct!
Caller-Slim: Could you make a comment about their part in it and how they totally destroyed the economy and issued all those worthless marks?
Dr. Sydnor: The real issue for the historian is the huge collection of blunders that were involved in ending the First World War and imposing an absolutely ruinous peace on the Germans. Some of the circumstances of the First World War made that understandable. The French wanted revenge, the British didn’t want the Germans to ever regain the type of military strength that would enable them to inflict that kind of destruction on the world again. In brief, the Treaty of Versailles and the conditions the Germans were forced to accept sowed the seeds for all of the later upheaval and chaos that developed.
The great inflation of 1923 which was the effort undertaken by the banking authority in Germany to deliberately inflate the currency in order to de-value what the Germans were having to pay the French and British in reparations for war damages was deliberately allowed to get out of control. As you know, the currency became virtually worthless in a matter of months. You could take a bushel basket of 100,000 reichmark notes into a butcher shop and buy a couple of pounds of sausage with it.
Roger: Dr. Sydnor, we’ve run out of time, my friend! I really appreciate your spending the evening with us tonight!
Dr. Sydnor: Roger, it’s been an honor to be with you and your listeners, thanks!
Roger: Thank you, sir, and God Bless!
(Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.
Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology. Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)