The SS vs. the partisans
This information is from "Justice
at Nuremberg" by Robert E. Conot
Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski was the head
of the German Waffen-SS section in charge of anti-partisan warfare.
He was one of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler's favorites
and was among the 12 highest ranking SS officers. As a long time
member of the Nazi party, he had killed several Communists in
the street fighting in Germany in 1932 and 1933.
The following is quoted from the book
entitled "Justice at Nuremberg" by Robert E. Conot:
Following the onslaught on the Soviet Union, Bach-Zelewski
became Höbere SS and Polizeiführer in central Russia.
In 1942 he suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized.
Tortured by guilt, he writhed and screamed, and was oppressed
by horrible visions. "Don't you know what's happening in
Russia?" he asked his doctor. "The entire Jewish people
is being exterminated there."
Two of his sisters were married to
Polish Jews. He was from Pomerania, much of which had gone to
Poland after World War I.
Dr. Ernst Grawitz, the chief SS medical
officer, reported to Himmler: "He is suffering particularly
from hallucinations connected with the shooting of Jews, which
he himself carried out, and with other grievous experiences in
Within a few months Bach-Zelewski
recovered sufficiently to be named chief of all antipartisan
units. Throughout 1943 he flew from one headquarters to another
organizing antipartisan task forces out of units of the Wehrmacht,
the SS, the SD, and the police. Occasionally, when he considered
an action especially important, he led it himself.
While, individually, many of the partisan
groups were more a nuisance than a danger to the Germans, collectively,
by their very numbers and the vast territory over which they
spread, they posed a major threat. Attacks on trains averaged
eight hundred to a thousand a month.
By its very nature, the warfare was
savage. The partisans had no facilities to keep prisoners or
to treat wounded, so captured soldiers were shot as a matter
of course. Hitler, conversely, reiterated that whoever was involved
in antipartisan warfare had carte blanche: "The enemy employs
in partisan warfare Communist-trained fanatics who do not hesitate
to commit any atrocity. It is more than ever a question of life
or death. If the fight against the partisans in the East is not
waged with the most brutal means we will shortly reach the point
when the available forces are not sufficient to control this
pest. It is therefore not only justified but it is the duty of
the troops to use all means without restriction even against
women and children as long as it insures success. No Germans
employed against the partisans will be held accountable for the
fighting against them or their followers either by disciplinary
action or by court-martial."
Warfare between guerrillas and German
troops in western Europe was scarcely less savage. On February
3, 1944, the commander in chief of the forces in the West (General
Hugo Sperrle) directed: "It is of little importance that
innocent people should suffer. It will be the fault of the terrorists.
All commanders of troops who show weakness in suppressing the
terrorists will be severely punished. On the other hand, those
who go beyond the orders received and are too severe will incur
When, the following month, 35 German
soldiers were killed in an attack in Rome, 382 people of all
genders and ages were mowed down in the Ardeatine Caves. While
retreating north through Italy, the SS killed and burned as wantonly
as in the East. (President George W. Bush visited the caves in
June 2004 during the 60th anniversary of D-Day events.)
In France, thirty thousand people
were shot and forty thousand died in Nazi prisons during the
war. The violence reached its height following the Allied landing
in Normandy. The Wehrmacht, and especially the SS, came under
relentless attack from the Maquis, supplied and loosely coordinated
by the Allies. Sniped at, blown up by mines, their stragglers
picked off and their wounded killed, their columns bombed by
British and Americans planes directed by the guerrillas, the
SS cut a swathe of terror in revenge.
The division Das Reich, ordered from
Bordeaux to the Normandy front, required seventeen days to make
what was normally a three-day journey and suffered hundreds of
casualties en route. When a popular battalion commander was killed
in the village of Oradour-sur-Vayres, near Limoges, the troopers
descended in error on Oradour-sur-Glane. Unable to extract any
information, they machine-gunned the 190 men of the community
in the square, and burned 245 women and 207 children alive in
The account of an eyewitness was introduced
into evidence: "Outside the church the soil was freshly
dug; children's garments were piled up, half burned. Where the
barns had stood, completely calcinated human skeletons, heaped
one on the other, partially covered with various materials, made
a horrible charnel house."
Juxtaposed was the report of a German
judicial inquiry, issued January 14, 1945: "The reprisals
appear to be absolutely justified for military reasons."
Biddle (the prosecutor at Nuremberg)
wanted to know how many troops Germans had committed to antipartisan
warfare. Bach-Zelewski replied: "Perhaps three divisions."
This was a statement that was true insofar as it went, but was
completely misleading as to the extent of the combat. The fact
of the matter was that at the height of the fighting there had
been 253,000 men employed in battling the guerrillas, but, of
these, 238,000 had been auxiliaries recruited from the occupied
End of Quote from "Justice at Nuremberg"
by Robert E. Conot