The Lost Boys
Note: most of this chapter is concerned with the Waffen-SS, rather than the Allgemeine-SS and especially with the eight men named above, who were all members of The Second SS-Panzer Division Das Reich on 10th June 1944. However it should be appreciated that both Waffen and Allgemeine-SS had many points of similarity and throughout their history there was an exchange of staff between the two sections. Unless it is necessary for reasons of clarity to distinguish between them, I will refer to the whole organisation simply as the, SS, both in this chapter and throughout the entire website: see Notes on language and terms used.
The title for this chapter does not come from the Lost Boys in the story of Peter Pan, or from the film The Lost Boys, starring Kiefer Sutherland, which was about a group of vampires living in a small American town. Rather it expresses my feelings about the Waffen-SS, a group of superb fighting soldiers who were created and used for wholly evil ends by a desperate and despotic regime. Absolutely convinced of the justice of their cause they willingly gave their souls to the devil, marching wide-eyed and innocent into legend and infamy.
There is a well-known quotation by Heinrich Himmler, which reads:
There are instances of the Waffen-SS in particular, behaving with considerable restraint and even courtesy towards enemy troops whom they considered to be worthy opponents, for example the surrendering British paratroopers at Arnhem in 1944. It is worth noting that Himmler personally followed his own advice, for at the end of things, with The Third Reich in collapse and his own arrest, he repeatedly enquired about the welfare of his two subordinates captured at the same time. The SS looked after its own and there are masses of evidence for this at all levels and in all circumstances.
The SS never, even under the most desperate situations turned their collective back on their members. In this they were considerably more admirable than say the Japanese armed forces in general (who regarded themselves as being the Knights of Bushido). There are instances of Japanese soldiers being denied aid because they were from a different unit to those they sought assistance from. A good example of this was during the battle for Okinawa. Towards the end, as the cohesiveness of the defence collapsed, desperate soldiers from destroyed units were turned away to go and fend for themselves by other more fortunate groups.
Following the German surrender in May 1945, the whole of the SS was declared an illegal organisation. This blanket condemnation was issued without any distinction between its various parts. Thus the Gestapo was judged as guilty as the SS-signals corps (and vice-versa). This arbitrary and universal condemnation gave rise to a somewhat unexpected and unintentional result. Which was that the German people as a whole took the opportunity to lay all the blame for the excesses of The Third Reich onto the SS and avoid any personal responsibility of their own. There is an early book about this phenomenon by Gerald Reitlinger, called, The SS Alibi of a Nation: see Bibliography.
In effect the Allies created a convenient whipping boy out of the SS (both Waffen and Allgemeine), which allowed ordinary Germans to conveniently forget that they had earlier voted and cheered enthusiastically for Hitler and the Nazi party. It must be re-stated that the Nazis had been voted democratically into power on the promises laid down in a clearly stated set of proposals. On this basis, all Germans of voting age in 1933 have to accept that they share some measure of responsibility for what followed, to pass all the blame to the SS was (and still is) simply wrong.
To demonise individual members of the SS simply because they were members of the SS is a gross injustice and wholly contrary to the spirit of Christian belief. Yet an entire country (France) did just that after the war when they passed, "The Law of Collective Responsibility" (see Chapter 5). This act said that all members of a unit that had carried out a war crime were to be regarded as equally suspect and indeed equally guilty, unless they could prove their non-involvement. Thus all members of the Third Company of the 1st Battalion of the Der Führer Regiment of the Das Reich 2nd Armoured Division were to be regarded as being equally culpable for the events at Oradour.
The origins of the SS go right back to the early days of the Nazi party, when there was a real physical risk to Hitler and the other party leaders (mostly from the communists.) It must be remembered that SS is the abbreviation for Shutz Staffel (Protection Squad) and their earliest function was simply the protection of Hitler. It was not by chance that the honour title of the 1st Waffen-SS Division was the, Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, (the Body Guards of Adolf Hitler). Another facet of the SS was that they took their oath of allegiance direct to Hitler, not the Party or the State. They were thus (in Hitler's eyes) more reliable than the SA. In fact by 1933 with the Nazi party legally in power, the rough and rowdy SA were becoming an embarrassment and Ernst Röhm, their leader was increasingly being perceived as a threat. On June 30 1934 Hitler unleashed the, 'Night of the long Knives' and purged the SA, killing Röhm and other prominent leaders. The group, which carried out this purge, was the SS. In their first big test, they demonstrated their loyalty to their Führer in the most tangible manner, by arresting and killing their erstwhile comrades.
This chapter is not the place to re-tell the full history of the SS as there are many excellent books and websites already in existence which do that job: see Bibliography for details. All I will say here is that from small beginnings, the SS grew and divided into its two main parts of the Allgemeine-SS and the Waffen-SS before the war began. The main driving force behind this expansion was Heinrich Himmler after he became Reichsführer-SS in January 1929 and by 1944 the total manpower of the whole organisation was close to a million. The bulk of this number were in the Waffen-SS and this in its turn became the largest multi-national force in the history of warfare ever to fight under the one banner.
At the start of the war the majority of the Waffen-SS was comprised of German and Austrian volunteers. After 1939 - 40 other Nordic type Europeans, such as Dutch, Danes, Norwegians, French, Belgians and men from the conquered eastern territories found their way into its ranks. In fact whole SS-Divisions were created specifically to cater for foreign nationals and given honour titles to match. One such was the 33rd Waffen - Grenadier Division der SS Charlemagne, which was specifically aimed at attracting Frenchmen.
In the early days of the war, the Waffen-SS was still a wholly volunteer organisation and many attempts were made to attract additional suitable personnel. The usual recruiting slogans and posters used throughout the German sphere of influence at this time were those espousing a war against communism. It must be remembered that in the 1930-40's many people in Europe truly hated bolshevism and the prospect of a crusade against it had a strong appeal to many men. Just in passing, it can be mentioned that in 1944 the Waffen-SS had in its ranks, British, American, and even Japanese personnel. Admittedly these nationalities had only a minimal, symbolic presence; but they were there.
When Himmler initially obtained Hitler's permission to expand the Waffen-SS beyond its embryonic beginnings, he set very strict guidelines as to who could be admitted into what was intended to be an elite unit. It has often been mentioned that in the early days just one tooth filling was enough to bar entry to the Leibstandarte. Applicants had to be physically fit, racially pure, politically irreproachable and financially sound. There were to be no rough edges to the Waffen-SS, they were to be a very smart and well-disciplined outfit, in stark contrast to the SA and its, 'street fighter' image. In their early days (prior to the war), the embryonic Leibstandarte were known somewhat contemptuously as, "The Asphalt Soldiers", because of the amount of time they spent on parade and ceremonial guard duties dressed in their smart uniforms, rather than on manoeuvres.
The SS was conceived as an elitist force, in fact as the political soldiers of the Third Reich. In order to re-enforce this image it was allowed to develop in its own way, with its own rituals and insignia. The most obvious visible differences in the early days were the very distinctive SS runes on the right collar tab and the Death's Head symbol on the cap for members of all units. The rank titles were completely different to the rest of the Wehrmacht and were to some extent carried over and modified from those of the SA, see: Waffen-SS Ranks. The SS even developed its own special typewriter keyboards with the Sig runes (SS) on one key (by using the "shift" key with the "3").
Other differences between the SS and their non-SS colleagues in the army were of a more subtle nature to establish their sense of being special. Two well-known features were firstly; the instruction not to keep personal lockers locked shut in the barracks. Secondly, that any SS man could address any other, no matter what his rank without saying, "Herr" ("Sir"). The logic to the first was that since the SS were a band of brothers, locking up ones belongings implied a distrust of ones brother and what brother would steal from another? The second point again came from the idea of the band of brothers; all that was necessary when addressing a higher rank was to quote the rank, "Sir" was superfluous. A private soldier, an SS-Mann could address Himmler, the Reichsführer-SS himself, simply as, "Reichsführer!" (in written communications it was normal to place an exclamation mark after the rank title in order to give it a sense of emphasis).
To reinforce this sense of being special and in addition, to give his ideas an historical foundation, Himmler set up a research department, the Ahnenerbe Forschungs und Lehrgemeinschaft (Society for Research and Teaching of Ancestral Heritage). This group were to enquire into Germany's ancient past and to search out racial and mythological facts for use within the SS. It was from the research work done at this time that the various SS runic symbols came into use, for example the Wolfsangle (Wolf Hook) used as the tactical symbol by Das Reich: see SS Insignia for more details.
SS officers were encouraged to take a great interest in their men and to lead from the front. They were always to set an example and partake in sports, especially team events. There are many examples of officers helping their men carry heavy equipment when on the march, of returning to their units before being properly recovered after injury and of having a deep concern for their men's welfare. Being regarded as a good comrade (Kamerad in German) was highly important and this aspect of behaviour was commented on in many of the personnel assessments of the men listed at the head of this chapter, as you can read in the Appendices.
The SS taught its recruits Himmler's racial nonsense as if it were established and scientifically backed fact. It must be remembered, that this view was believed by the majority, probably because it was part and parcel of the obviously successful, political, economic, diplomatic and military revival of Germany. The only choice that Hitler gave was that one had to believe in all of National Socialism, if not then be cast into the shadows. You could not elect to accept bits of it; all or nothing was the rule. It is interesting to speculate how long the unscientific, almost mythological Third Reich with all its contradictions could have lasted before the accumulating weight of scientific evidence (and economic reality) sank it. However this was not to be and war was the way in which the German people learned that believing in the unholy trinity of political, economic and racial fantasy, would always end in tears.
It is perhaps difficult looking back from the twenty-first century, to appreciate just how much hope and wish-fulfilment that Hitler offered the dispirited and demoralised Germans of the 1920-30's. He said 'follow me and all will be well' and for a time it was. He blamed the failures of the past, especially the loss of the First World War on both 'International Jewry' and the communists operating within Germany, the so called, 'Stab in the back' that led to the armistice of 1918. The hope for the future was National Socialism and population growth (with racial purity) into the unoccupied spaces of the east.
The date that the Second World War began does to some extent depend on nationality. To the Chinese it began on 7th July 1937 with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, to the Poles it began on 1st September 1939 with the German invasion of their country. To the British and French, 3rd September 1939 was the date that they declared war on Germany. To the Russians, 22nd June 1941 when the Germans invaded and to the Americans the 7th of December 1941 with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. However as far as the Waffen-SS was concerned the fighting started in earnest with the invasion of Poland on 1st September 1939.
The early campaigns against the Poles saw the SS units allocated on a piecemeal basis amongst the regular army divisions; they did not fight together as one group. The Wehrmacht commanders were only partly impressed by what they saw. They said that the SS took great risks, had high casualties and would have been more effective with a little less dash and verve. They were however undoubtedly brave and resourceful soldiers. The relatively high causality rate was to be a feature of the SS, after all, they were taught to be aggressive in attack and contemptuous of risk. The effect of this training was that by 1944, their battlefield losses, had so strained the Waffen-SS, that not only had they to resort to conscription to make up the numbers, but many suitable foreign volunteers were also admitted to the ranks of the organisation. Toward the end of the war, even Muslims wearing turbans were allowed in, something that the volunteers of the 1920's and early 30'swould surely have found quite incomprehensible.
Hitler was impressed with the Waffen-SS. He came to regard them as his trusty sword that could be rapidly sent where the need was greatest and whose performance would never disappoint him. They quickly gained a reputation for being harsh with surrendering enemy troops and others that did not fit their racial stereotypes. The first such incidents took place in Poland, naturally enough as this was their first major battlefield test of the war.
It was as the political soldiers of The Third Reich that the SS established themselves as a fanatical fighting force, especially in adversity. It is perfectly true that armies of every country and every age have had their elite units of highly trained and motivated troops. What made the SS different however was the level of political and racial belief that they carried.
It has often been claimed that the Waffen-SS should be regarded as something different from the Allgemeine-SS and thus not held responsible for the concentration and extermination camp system. Otto Weidinger does quite specifically mention (in Comrades to the End) that Himmler had proposed in both September 1940 and again in 1942-43 that the Waffen-SS be removed from the SS proper and:
Unfortunately, as history records, there was a continual interchange between the field units and the concentration camps and Weidinger himself began his career in the SS as a concentration camp guard at Dachau in 1934. Officers found unfit to command, recovering wounded, or disabled soldiers and some discipline cases from the Waffen-SS spent time staffing the camps. The main significance of mentioning this is not to show that the two branches were equally responsible, but that there must have been widespread knowledge of the camp system throughout the whole of the SS. It is undoubtedly true that some members of the German armed forces really did not know about the camps, but most Germans did know (or at least had a very good idea) and chose to close their eyes and ears to reality. This willing blindness was part of the Hitler magic, of his almost religious fervour that he managed to convey to the German nation right up to the end in May 1945.
The SS as a whole were duped just as much as other members of The Third Reich and in their way they behaved in an almost naive and innocent manner. They quite genuinely believed in the message. For the most part they did not act as they did out of a sense of wickedness, but rather in the firm belief of the essential rightness of their actions and the justice of their cause. This blindness to the inhumanity of ones actions has not been uniquely confined to the SS alone, more recent examples being the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot in Cambodia, and the actions of Al Quaida under Osama bin Laden in New York.
Unfortunately for mankind it is possible for a political 'snake charmer' to hijack a nation's moral code and twist it for his (or her) own purposes. These extreme events always burn themselves out, but usually not before much damage and distress has been caused. Examples from opposite sides of the political spectrum are to be found in the McCarthy 'witch-hunt' for communist sympathisers in America during the 1950's and the Red Guards of Mao's China during the 1960-70's.
The instigators of these movements are always responding to previously existing events, they do not manufacture them. Hitler did not start either the First World War nor did he cause the hyper-inflation in Germany during the 1920's which was its consequence, but without them, it is difficult to see how he could have succeeded as he did. An extremist always requires a perceived injustice or threat to act as his cause, without a good cause to make the majority feel wronged and endangered, then there is no chance for a radical to be taken seriously.
It has often been said that Stalin's Russia was just as evil an empire as was the Third Reich and it is true that the Russians were guilty of many atrocities perpetrated against different groups, especially their own citizens. For example, Stalin personally persecuted many of his own military personnel ("with an Asiatic sense of cruelty", see: The SS a personal view as a result of suspicions about their political reliability and this led to him sending tens of thousands of Soviet citizens to the Gulags. In addition he was also responsible for crimes against other nationalities which were motivated by political expediency, such as the murder of the Polish Officers in Katyn Wood during early 1940 (which the Russians tried to blame on the Germans).
Some Waffen-SS units do consider that their actions during the war were wholly correct and proper and indeed perhaps they were. Many units however took part in actions of studied brutality, for example in 1940 part of the Leibstandarte murdered surrendered members of the British army at Wormhoudt near the Belgian border in northern France and of course in June 1944, elements belonging to Das Reich killed civilians at Oradour. It is wrong, as I have previously stated to demonise all members of the SS because of the actions of some of them. But it must be appreciated that the number of atrocities laid at the door of the SS is large and that as a group they acted both more harshly and with less restraint than other units of the Wehrmacht.
For the record it must be stated that non-SS soldiers of the Wehrmacht were also guilty of some atrocious behaviour, especially in the east. Many of the senior commanders of the army, whilst not being either members of the NSDAP, or of the SS believed in the racial theories of the day and acted just as harshly as did their SS counterparts.
However, the Germans, mainly but not exclusively members of the Allgemeine-SS, also killed people, mostly civilians simply because they were of the wrong race or religion or were not sufficiently well developed mentally. There was no argument, no pleading, no appeal, if you were in the wrong group you were to be killed. It did not matter that a person could speak six languages, or had a long record of public service, or was an artist of repute, if for example that person was a Jew, then after January 1942 they were to be killed. Killed because they were of the wrong kind, there was no trial, no chance to state their case (simply because they had none), just death. It was at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin that the broad outline for the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem was worked out and agreed. This meeting was attended by members of both the SS as well as civilian Party members of the Third Reich, it was chaired by Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler's deputy. In this meeting can be seen yet again the integral part the SS played in German (Nazi) society during the years of the Third Reich.
Briefly, it can be summarised by saying that whilst the Germans regarded themselves as fighting a racial war for living space in the east, the Soviets were fighting a political war against the west and very often against their own citizens.
After the war many of the ex-members of the SS were in denial (some still are) and could not realise the enormity of their actions in supporting the evil of The Third Reich and National Socialism. They could not realise the horror of much of what they had willingly done: they truly were, The Lost Boys, lost to reason, lost to logic, lost to humanity.
The next eight sections give detailed information about those officers that are most associated with the story of the Oradour massacre, these data have been derived from their surviving SS records and due to the accidental nature of preservation, are more complete in the case of some than others. Nevertheless from what is available one can get a sense of the political and racial commitment that an SS-Officer had to give in order to be acceptable to his fellows. There is relatively little interpretation in what follows; mostly it is a summary of what has been recorded in their personal files.
To view transcripts of the source material see Appendices and the entry for each man.
Heinz Barth was born in Gransee (30 miles north of Berlin) on 15th October 1920 and he was a Grocer by trade before joining the German armed forces as a military policeman. He transferred, to the SS on 10th February 1942 (it is not known if this was a voluntary move or not) and he was given SS number 458037. His rank on entry was that of an Untersturmführer (2nd Lieutenant), so he was already an officer before entering the SS. Later, on 19th October 1943 he found himself on the Eastern Front as a member of the 2nd SS-Panzer Division Das Reich and at some date unknown, assigned to the Der Führer Regiment.
Barth is unique in that he is the only officer who was present at Oradour on the 10th June 1944 to actually attend a civil court of law to stand trial for his actions on that day. Some of the survivors of the attack, Robert Hébras, Marcel Darthout and Yvon Roby from the Laudy barn and Martial Machefer and Joseph Beaubreuil who escaped from the village before the men were herded into the barns, attended his trial in East Berlin as witnesses.
In 1944, Barth was a part of Adolf Diekmann's brigade and under the direct command of Otto Kahn. On the 10th June, he went to Oradour with them to take part in the massacre and is perhaps best remembered as the officer who said to his men during a pause en route, "today you will see blood flow!" This halt in the journey was during the time that the attack column stopped after crossing the N141 and written orders were distributed to the officers and NCO's.
When they arrived at Oradour itself, Barth later recounted (at his trial in East Berlin in 1983) that, "Hauptsturmführer Kahn gave me the command to shoot the French citizens in the barn with my group. The gates of the barn stood open wide. The men in it were very excited, very nervous. (...) and then I ordered: Group, fire! It (his group) shot everyone. I myself fired 12 to 15 shots approximately. So in about half a minute everyone was shot".
After Oradour, Barth marched to Normandy with the rest of the Regiment and was severely wounded in August, losing the lower part of a leg (thought to be his left).
After the war, he lived openly in East Germany under his own name and it was not until 1981 that he was questioned about Oradour, probably as a consequence of political expediency. At his trial he was sentenced to life imprisonment, but was released in 1997 on health grounds and because he declared himself to be repentant. After his release he made no alterations to his story, which is significant because he had been imprisoned by the somewhat severe East German state and was released into a united and democratic Germany where he was not under any threat of re-arrest.
During his trial Barth had stated that there were no arms, or ammunition in Oradour and that the sole aim of going there was to kill everyone present in the village at that time. He did not know why Oradour was chosen, he did not know why it was necessary to kill everyone, he had not thought about it, "in war one acts harshly and with the means available": see pictures of Barth. Put simply, Barth just followed orders and did as he was bid, he certainly had not questioned his orders either at the time or subsequently.
Some people have claimed that Barth's trial was a show trial with the plea and the verdict agreed in advance. This arrangement was supposed to be that Barth would plead guilty and his life would then be spared provided that he stated that Oradour was innocent of any partisan activity or weapons storage. If this was indeed the case then it must be explained why he has not now come forward to set the matter straight and clear, or at least provide some excuse for, the activities of the SS on 10th June. That he has not changed his story at all says to me one simple thing: it was true at the time of his trial and is thus still true: see trial judgement.
See Dramatis Personae for more details.
Adolf Rudolf Reinhold Diekmann was born on 18th December 1914 in Magdeburg. Thus he grew up in the war years and immediate aftermath of the First World War. His family was fairly typical of its day, a schoolteacher father a housewife mother and five children. If not truly middle class and affluent, they would have regarded themselves as comfortably well off from a financial point of view at the time Adolf was born, see: photograph.
Adolf's father was a Primary School teacher and it would have been strange if he had not taken an active interest in the education of his children. Yet in spite of this potential domestic support the boy had to repeat the sixth year of his secondary education and left school in 1932 aged 17. (This requirement to repeat the last year of secondary education if the set standard is not reached is still in place in the Germany of today). Early the next year, whilst he was 18 he joined the NSDAP (Nazi Party) on 1st April 1933. It must be remembered that the NSDAP had been elected to power on 30th January that year, so it appears that the young Diekmann was not previously an ardent party member. Seemingly he did what very many people did, he waited to see if the Nazis were successful and then when they were, he joined them.
As a part of life in the Germany of the Nazi years, it was expected that young people would do some, Work Service for the state (usually on the land) and this was normally of 6 months duration. Diekmann volunteered for his service on 18th May 1933 and worked at Burg, 15 miles north-east of Magdeburg until 13th November. During this period he decided to continue his education and take his Reifeprüfung (High School Graduation Certificate) and so in November that year he enrolled at the Nationalpolitischen Erziehungsanstalt Anstalt (National Political Training Institute) at Naumburg. These 'Napolas' as they were known were a Hitler idea for the training of the new elite. They specialised in political (Nazi) education and gave emphasis to languages. During his time at Naumburg, from 27th June to 15th July 1935, Diekmann visited Tonbridge, in Kent, England, for the purpose of practising and improving his English. Unfortunately to date, in spite of many enquiries, I have been unable to find out any local information from Tonbridge about this visit. He is recorded as speaking English in his SS records, so he must have been at least reasonably fluent in the language. He also studied French and Latin, but these are not recorded on his service records, so his level of proficiency in these was probably more modest. Diekmann gained his High School Certificate on 12th December 1935, just 6 days before his 21st birthday. Whilst still at Naumberg he applied for the Verfungstruppe ('Special Forces', as the early Waffen-SS were known) and was called-up on 1st March 1936 into the Signals Battalion at Berlin Aldershof and was given SS number 309894.
Adolf Diekmann seemingly had the aim to make the army his career and his ambition was to become an officer as soon as possible. The Special Forces Signals Battalion sent him to the SS-Officers School at Bad Tölz (30 miles south of Munich) on 4th October 1937. At Bad Tölz, he became an SS-Standartenjunker (SS-Cadet Officer) on 1st April 1938 and after completing the Number 4 Course for Platoon leaders at the Dachau branch of the school on 12th August 1938, was promoted to an SS-Standartenoberjunker (Upper Cadet Officer).
It is worth repeating that the SS-Officers School based at Bad Tölz had a branch at Dachau and it seems inconceivable that students at the school could have been unaware of the Concentration Camp there and what it represented, indeed, as can be read below Otto Weidinger served there as a guard for at least a year. In 1938 Dachau was not an extermination camp, it was basically a very harsh prison camp where undesirables were concentrated together instead of being dispersed throughout the country in smaller prisons. In the early pre-war years it was even possible for Jews who had been imprisoned in Dachau to be released and then expelled alive from Germany. The death camp system (especially for Jews) did not begin in earnest until early in 1942 following the Wannsee Conference when the, "Final Solution" was formulated. Nevertheless it must be realised that, 'harsh' in 1938 meant the possibility of instant death for the inmates without any form of trial.
As an SS-Standartenoberjunker, Diekmann was posted to the ‘Germania’ Regiment, which in September 1938 was part of the forces that marched into the Sudetenland to re-claim it for a united Germany - Austria. It is worth remembering that this move was not universally seen as territorial aggression, as surviving photographs of the time show the population enthusiastically greeting the troops as liberators from Czech rule. Up to 1919 the Sudetenland had been part of Austria and contained about 3 million German speaking people who genuinely welcomed re-unification.
On 9th November 1938 Diekmann was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and this was the rank he held at the outbreak of the war. For his service in Poland as a Platoon Leader he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class, on 14th November 1939.
At some point in his career and before the war started, Adolf Diekmann met a young doctor Hedwig (Hedi) Meindl, the daughter of Bruno and Hedwig Meindl. In due course they decided to marry and Adolf applied for permission, under the special provisions of the arrangements for war weddings.
In order to apply for permission to marry, the couple had to supply a considerable quantity of personal information about themselves to the Rasse und Siedlungs Hauptamt SS (Race and Settlement Head Office of the SS). This in itself gives an insight into the race dominated thinking of The Third Reich. They each had to supply a full family tree stretching back to include all their great-great-great grandparents, a total of 124 relatives not including themselves covering both sides of the family. If anybody reading this account has ever tried to trace their own family tree, they will appreciate the potential magnitude of this task. Both Diekmann and his bride-to-be managed to complete their respective ancestry charts in full and submitted them to the Rassehauptamt (Race Head Office).
In addition to the ancestry data, a large amount of personal information had to be supplied at the same time by both parties: see personal data for Diekmann. The same kind of information had to be supplied by his bride-to-be, but in her case this had to have added to it information relating to her menstrual cycle. All this data was required so that Himmler could ensure that all future breeding within the SS and the Nazi Party membership was in accordance with his ideas of race and to ensure 'racial purity' within The Third Reich.
They both declared their religious faith to be Gottgläubigkeit, rather than any of the established Christian denominations. Adolf Diekmann had been brought up in the Protestant Church and had made the change on 2 March 1938 by declaring his wish to renounce his confirmation. Gottgläubigkeit signified a general belief in the existence of God without owning allegiance to any established church. It was one of Himmler's tasks, given him by Hitler, to derive a new religion for the Party and the SS. He did not get very far with the job, due mainly to the outbreak of war. Nevertheless, 'Gottgl' appears on many SS and Nazi Party records, signifying the willingness of members to accept the new order as and when it was proclaimed. Nazism was not just politics; it was also religion.
Diekmann received a very brief telegram from the Rassehauptamt, (which had been sent on 10th February 1940) in reply to his marriage application, "Authorisation impossible. Letter on the way." However they were married on 12th February, due it seems to some delay in the telegram being delivered (or possibly a blind eye being turned?) The reason for the refusal was the medical condition of the bride's father. He was mentally ill and it was possible that this could be an inheritable condition. It would obviously be out of the question to approve the marriage if it could lead to deranged or mentally sub-normal children.
After considerable correspondence and further medical reports, it was finally agreed that Bruno Meinde's condition was not in itself a bar to the match and that it could now be officially blessed. It is noteworthy that Hedwig was not allowed to certify her fathers condition, but had to obtain independent medical reports to the effect that he was suffering from a simple clinical, rather than an inheritable mental state. That they married ahead of official approval, is I think, a measure of Hedwig being able to convince those around her, (especially Adolf) that there was no risk involved.
This was the period known in Britain as, "The phoney war", because nothing much seemed to be happening anywhere. Poland was subjugated, France and Britain still had large armed forces on Mainland Europe but basically they were sitting still waiting to see what Germany (or diplomacy) would do next.
Diplomacy having failed, Germany acted decisively in May 1940 by invading France, bypassing the Maginot Line and entering via the Low Countries. The result was the collapse of France, the fighting retreat and evacuation of some 200,000 British and 100,000 French troops to Britain via operation Dynamo; the so called 'miracle' of Dunkirk.
Just before the French campaign began, Diekmann was appointed A.D.C. to II Company of the SS-Regiment 'Germania' and shortly afterwards became Adjutant. It was during his time as Adjutant that he was severely wounded by a gunshot to the lungs on 27th May 1940 at Saint Venant (on the La Basse canal in northern France). Soon after (on 20th August) he was awarded the Iron Cross First Class. He was sent to Elbogen on the river Eger in the Sudetenland (present day Loket on the river Ohre in the Czech Republic) for convalescence. Diekmann never fully recovered from this wound and was described in his last assessment (of 1st June 1944) as being, "Physically well and completely fit, sometimes somewhat handicapped by lung wound."
It is true that most soldiers do not hate their enemies and that at times they even feel some degree of bond with them, nevertheless Diekmann would not have thanked the French soldier who shot him for this wound. I would not make too much of this incident in the analysis of what followed at Oradour. I doubt that caused him to act in the way that he did, but just possibly he acted with less restraint as a result.
Following his recovery, in September, Diekmann was transferred to the first battalion of the Germania Regiment at Hamburg. On his promotion to Obersturmführer on 1st July 1940 he was appointed to lead the Third Company. After a move to Krakau he became Company Leader on the Staff of the First SS-Brigade on 1st December 1940. Then he moved on 1st May 1941, when he was appointed as a signal instructor at the SS-Officer School at Bad Tölz. He was to stay at Bad Tölz until September 1943. It was during this time that he became the father of two boys, the first on 11th March 1942 and the second on 6th May 1943.
On 20th April 1942 following a series of very favourable reports on his character and performance, he was promoted to Hauptsturmführer at the school: see Appendicies for various reports. It is worth noting that 20th April was Hitler's birthday and it was no coincidence that many SS promotions took effect on that day, it was in effect a common seniority date for many officers. A little later in January 1943 Diekmann attended a course in Paris for Panzer Officers and co-incidentally Otto Weidinger was on this same course (see his entry below). It was possibly the good impression he made there that led on 12th September 1943 to his transfer to Das Reich, The Second SS-Panzer Division, in Russia.
I do not know if the transfer was at his personal insistence, or if it was just High Command wishing to make better use of an experienced officer in a critical theatre of the war. I suspect the latter, because the order for him to move (dated 9th September 1943) made no mention of answering a request, it simply (and tersely) said:
Diekmann joined Das Reich as Adjutant for the Der Führer regiment on 10th October 1943 and it was here that it seems he met Helmut Kämpfe. There is no evidence in the surviving records that they had ever met previously. Kämpfe had been in Russia for some time before Diekmann arrived and he was not, nor ever had been a signals officer. Much has been made in subsequent years about their close friendship and this has frequently been used to explain Diekmann's actions at Oradour. Whilst it is perfectly true that soldiers do form intense friendships under the pressure of wartime action, it must be appreciated that in this instance, they probably had just over two months together on the Eastern Front before the majority of the Das Reich Division (including part of Der Führer) moved to France.
There are no precise records in Diekmann's personal files to show if he was in the first group out of Russia or not, but there are some good indications that he was. Firstly, he had joined the Regiment as its Adjutant (basically the military version of a secretary) and it would seem logical for such a post to be required with the main body during a re-equipping, re-building and re-training period. Secondly, as Sylvester Stadler was the commander of that part of the Regiment which was in France being re-trained etc, then the promotion request below does seem to point to Diekmann having left Russia at the beginning of the transfer in December 1943.
On 28th February 1944, Stadler, the commander of the Der Führer Regiment (in France) placed a formal request for the "preferred promotion" of Adolf Diekmann to Sturmbannführer on the following grounds:
The requested promotion date was to be 20th April 1944 (Hitler's 55th birthday). It is interesting to note the reference to his service as Battalion leader, it implies that Diekmann had been temporary promoted before the request was made. On his promotion he took command of 1st Battalion of the Der Führer regiment of Das Reich Division.
The bulk of the Das Reich Division, including much of the Der Führer Regiment had been transferred from the Eastern Front on 24th December 1943, first to the training grounds at Stablack, East Prussia and then southern France to rest and refit in the quiet backwater around Montauban. The remainder followed in a somewhat piecemeal manner over a period of several months. By 27th April 1944 all of the remnants had arrived, so that they could reform and train together as a Division.
On 1st June 1944, just 5 days before D-Day and 9 days before the massacre at Oradour, Stadler filed his last assessment on Diekmann (this time as a Sturmbannführer). See assessment. The tone of this assessment is one of praise and hope for the future career prospects of someone whom Stadler clearly valued. This assessment does contain one comment that is perhaps more significant than Stadler realised when he wrote it, "…. somewhat receptive during rebukes, because he always gives himself the biggest one."
This assessment was countersigned by Brigadeführer Lammerding (commander of Das Reich Division) expressing his agreement with Stadler's judgement and opinion.
There are no further papers that I can find in Diekmann's surviving records that relate to his performance, or indeed any at all that relate to Oradour. The last two records in his file mention his death on 29th June 1944. The first of these brief forms is his death notice to the SS-Hauptamt (Head Office) and it simply records that he was killed near Noyers in Normandy by artillery shell splinters to the head. The second, which is the record card of his death at the SS-Hauptamt (SS-Head Office), gives the place of death as being, Bretteville, which is about 5 miles to the south-east of Noyers. Otto Weidinger states in 'Comrades to the End' that Diekmann was killed, "in front of his command post north of Noyers." This is a typical example of contradictory evidence that one finds when examining old records. I think that Noyers is the more likely location and that Bretteville was perhaps the place where his body was first buried, although another possibility is that he was wounded at Noyers and actually died at Bretteville.
The final point of note is that the last official entry by the SS-Hauptamt regarding Diekmann is the date stamp of 13th March 1945 on the above record card. I find that action quite poignant. The Third Reich was collapsing, the Russians were virtually at Berlin, the RAF and the USAF were pounding the country to bits and yet the mundane business of keeping the books up to date still went on as normal. The SS machine was still functioning.
See Dramatis Personae for more details.
Karl Gerlach was born on 9th December 1914 in Hamburg, northern Germany, he was thus just 9 days older than Adolf Diekmann. Like Diekmann he joined the SS with the intention of making it his career and his first recorded posting was to the Germania Regiment on 15th October 1934 as a Schütze (Private) with the SS number of 283079. He was transferred to the Der Führer regiment on 12th April 1935 and was promoted to SS-Rottenführer on 1st May 1937 and to SS-Unterscharführer on 1st September 1937. Curiously he only joined the Nazi Party on 1st May 1937 and it is tempting to speculate whether joining the Party was in any way linked with these latter advancements, either as cause, or as effect.
Gerlach did not complete his education to the level of obtaining the High School Diploma and had left school after competing 8 years in Primary / Secondary education followed by 3 in a Technical school where he learned the trade of bricklaying. Thus he was not an intellectual student, rather an artisan who saw a route to a better life through the SS.
In his early career Gerlach does not seem to have been especially interested in politics, as witnessed by his quite late entry into the Nazi Party. He was not a, "convinced National Socialist" like Diekmann, more of a convenience member, rather than a "convinced" member. Nevertheless Gerlach did change his religious denomination from that of the Protestant church to Gottgläubigkeit over a year before he joined the Nazis.
He was married on 31st October 1939 and by 1944 was the father of two girls. Physically Gerlach was quite tall at 6ft 2½in (189cm) and powerfully built. He had won all the usual SS sports badges, but only to the bronze standard.
The late entry into the Party, the lack of academic qualifications and the relatively low standard of sporting achievement perhaps imply that he was going through the motions to ensure a comfortable life, rather than being a person driven by ambition or political conviction.
When the war started however he seems to have found a new sense of purpose, for he was unquestionably a brave and resourceful man who was wounded quite severely on several occasions and yet returned to duty in a very short time. In particular he was shot in the right lung on 9th October 1941 and on 1st April 1944 was recorded by Hauptsturmführer (later to become Sturmbannführer within a month) Ernst Krag as being wounded again on 1st March 1944, in the right lung. In recognition of these and other woundings Gerlach was awarded the Wound Badge in Gold on 1st March 1944.
Gerlach spent most of his SS career, from 12th April 1935 to 25th November 1944 in Der Führer, rising to the final rank of Hauptsturmführer on 9th November 1944. Thus it seems certain that he would have known Otto Weidinger quite well, especially as they both served in the Kampfgruppe Das Reich (the section left behind in Russia through the winter of 1943 / 44) and these personal relationships do seem to have mattered a great deal within the SS. Gerlach seems to have left front-line duty at the end of 1944, as his last appointment was to a Panzer Grenadier school on 31st December, presumably as an instructor.
Ernst Krag wrote of Gerlach in his 1st April 1944 promotion request that as a result of his lung wound, "there is no more reckoning with his able-bodiedness" and in his 31st May assessment there is another mention of this handicap, along with a reference to his, "quite outstanding nerve". Krag also mentions Gerlach's National Socialist views and stresses his all-round suitability as an SS-Officer.
It is interesting to realise that in just over a week after the above mentioned May assessment, Gerlach would need all his nerve and (reduced) able-bodiedness to escape from his French Resistance captors on the 9th June.
See Dramatis Personae for more details.
Otto Erich Kahn was born on 4th March 1908 in the Borsigwalde district of Berlin, to the north-west of the city centre. He trained initially for a career as an electro-mechanical technician before entering the army on 12th July 1926 as a member of the 100,000 strong Reichswehr. The Reichswehr was the limited size army that Germany was allowed under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and it was to become one of the causes of German unrest during the 1920's and 30's. During his service in the Reichswehr he rose to the rank of Feldwebel (Sergeant) in the Pioneers.
Kahn was a somewhat taller man than Diekmann being 6 ft 0 in (183 cm). He was married with three children, a girl born in 1936 and two sons, born 1938 and 1940. Unlike Diekmann, Kahn who had been brought up in the Protestant Church (a majority of Germans at this time were Catholic) did not change his religious declaration to that of, Gottgläubigkeit on entering the SS. In fact he stayed true to his faith right up to the last entry in his records on 10th February 1945. Those people who have declared Kahn as being a godless killer may now be surprised to learn that from his official SS records, he was a more consistent Christian that either Barth, Diekmann, Gerlach, Kämpfe, Lammerding, Stadler, or Weidinger, all of whom are recorded as having changed to Gottgläubigkeit. When he died in 1977 Kahn was buried in the Christian faith and eventually his (second) wife was buried alongside him in Ottmarsbocholt, northern Germany: see grave.
On 13th October 1938 Kahn made a career move into the SS-Feldgendarmerietrupps (SS-Military Police) where he was to remain until the early part of 1944 when he became a Panzer Grenadier Officer under Adolf Diekmann. On 23rd October 1938 he was allocated to the unit which was eventually to become, 'Das Reich'. When the war started he was a Platoon Leader and it was then that he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class on 27th November 1940. This was as a result of him carrying out reconnaissance work, "in direct contact with the enemy." Eventually he was promoted to Untersturmführer (2nd Lieutenant) on 20th April 1941 (note again the use of Hitler's birthday as a promotion date). Further promotions followed on 9th November 1941 to Obersturmführer (1st Lieutenant) and finally on 9th November 1943 to Hauptsturmführer (Captain). It was a normal practice in the SS to use notable Nazi Holiday dates as common promotion dates and 9th November was the anniversary of the Beer-Hall Putch (Revolt) of 1923.
Kahn was not a member of the Nazi party, though his political belief was referred to in his assessments, "Kahn is politically reliable and is keen at all times to trust National Socialist Philosophy to shape his life." He was also recorded as being, "a popular and respected superior, his commands are obeyed gladly and willingly by his subordinates." He was also, "a comrade who understands and as far as it is in his powers, eases the personal needs of his subordinates and comrades. This capability always guarantees Kahn a good harmony with his superiors, comrades and subordinates" see assessment. He seems to have been a believer in the various Nazi ideals, as his pay and deductions records show him contributing to the Lebensborn (Well of Life) scheme. This was an organisation set up to encourage women to have children, no matter what their personal circumstances, providing that they and the father were racially acceptable. In fact he increased his contribution from RM 1 (Reichsmarks) during 1944 to RM 2 and in December 1944 after he had been wounded, to RM 3.
Kahn spent his entire SS career in Das Reich Division, from 1938 until he was wounded in Normandy in 1944. He thus served for a long time on the Eastern Front in Russia. All current histories about the war in the east emphasise its great brutality, especially those actions involving partisan activity. Up until the collapse of communist rule in the USSR, little was heard from the common people about their wartime experiences. Now many first hand accounts have appeared and hopefully more will emerge before death robs historians of invaluable eyewitness experiences. A consistent theme about life and death in Russia has been the way in which Police units were used by the Germans as the main part of their Einsatzgruppen (Special Forces). These units were the principle killers of Jews, Commissars and those thought to be partisans. There is no specific evidence from his records to show that Kahn was involved with the Einsatzgruppen, but it seems certain that he would have had involvement with whatever anti-partisan activity Das Reich undertook. In other words it seems certain that he was experienced in both regular and irregular military activity.
There is no definite information as to when Kahn left Russia for France, but it seems likely that he moved to Montauban with the first group in December 1943. There is no hard evidence for this, however it does seem probable given his background in police and training, that his services would have been sought-after to assist in the re-building of Das Reich / Der Führer.
At the time of the march north from Montauban in southern France to the Normandy beachheads Kahn was the commanding officer of the 3rd Company of Adolf Diekmann's 1st Battalion of the Der Führer Regiment of the 2nd SS-Panzer Division, Das Reich.
After Oradour, Kahn continued with his Company and the rest of Das Reich towards the Normandy battles and it was there that he was twice wounded. The first wounding was during the night of 29 - 30 June (the same day that Diekmann was killed) and this must have been a quite minor event because he stayed with the Regiment until his second serious wounding when he lost his left arm on 1st August. He was then transferred "after military hospital discharge", on 1st September 1944 to the SS-Panzer Grenadier Training and Education, 2nd Battalion as a disabled person. This was presumably for retraining in a non-combatant service role. After this training period, he was moved on 27th November 1944 to the Reserve Corps Depot at Kurmiark and finally on 10th February 1945 to the SS-Panzer Grenadier School at Kienschlag (Prosetschnitz-Beneschau near Prague in present day Czechoslovakia), possibly as an instructor. It is at this point that his SS service record ends, although as he makes clear in his witness statement at Dortmund in 1962 he ended the war in Prague when he fell into Russian captivity. What is interesting about his spell in Russian hands is that it was so short, as he claims to have been released "at the end of 1945", after which he made his way home via Austria.
Kahn contrary to popular belief did not take up residence in Sweden with his family after the war, but rather lived in Germany under his own name until his death in 1977. At the time of the trial in Bordeaux in 1953, the French authorities were pleading with the world in general to hand Kahn over for trial, but without result. Otto Weidinger, writing in, Tulle and Oradour a Franco German Tragedy, published in 1985 said, "Kahn died some years ago", which as we now know was true. It is interesting to note that Kahn was living in Germany under his own name, yet no one seems to have connected him with Oradour and certainly no one denounced him to the authorities as a war-criminal.
For Kahn's own version of his involvement at Oradour, read his witness statement made at Dortmund on 13th December 1962, when he gave a sworn account of events. This was done as an aid to Heinrich Lammerding who was resisting attempts at that time to call him to trial in France for his supposedly ordering the massacre.
See Dramatis Personae for more details.
Unfortunately there is not much original record material available for Helmut Kämpfe. To date I have been able to find only 5 sheets of his service papers. He was born on 31st July 1909 in Jena and was a Typographer by training (as was his father) and a Printing Works owner just before entering the Reichsheer (New German Army set up after the Nazis came to power in 1933) on 16th December 1934. He entered the SS on 9th November 1939 (anniversary of the Beer-Hall Putch) and became an Untersturmführer on 1st March 1940, an Obersturmführer on 30th January 1941 (anniversary of the "Machergreifung" the day Hitler became Chancellor in 1933.) Further promotions followed on 20th April 1942, (Hitler's birthday) to Hauptsturmführer and finally on 1st September 1943, to Sturmbannführer.
Kämpfe spent most of his service with the SS as a member of Der Führer Regiment of the Das Reich Division. From the various surviving photographs of the period, he would be of about average height, say 5ft 11in (180cm) and of a strong build. He did not seem to favour shaving the sides of his head as did many men of the Nazi era (often done it would appear to enhance their 'Nordic' appearance). Kämpfe, like Diekmann showed his religion as being Gottgläubigkeit, although I do not know from his records in which faith he was originally brought up, or the date of his renunciation and conversion.
He was undoubtedly a brave and determined soldier as his record of decorations and woundings shows. On 20th July 1941 in Bassmanowa he was hit in the hand and stomach by grenade splinters and was hospitalised until 20th August that year, when at his own request he was returned to duty ahead of medical advice and recommendation. Then on 7th November 1941 in Staraja he was wounded again by a grazing shot that hit his right cheek and neck. This time he was evacuated to Jena (his birthplace) for further treatment. Kämpfe returned to duty on 27th January 1942, not the nicest time of year in Russia that winter. On 24th August 1943 in Kowotitsch he was wounded again, by artillery shell splinters to his right thigh and left arm. He was again sent to Jena to recover. It must have been a slight wound, because by 7th September he was back with his unit. Lastly he was again hit by grenade splinters in the right cheek and chest on 22nd October 1943. This incident took place near to Lipowyj Roy; the wound must have been slight, because there is no record of his being hospitalised away from the front.
Kämpfe was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class on 26th August 1941, 1st Class on 7th November 1941, the German Cross in Gold on 11th March 1943 and finally the Knights Cross on 10th December 1943. It is interesting to note that his Knights Cross was one of 6 awarded to members of Das Reich at the same time. The citation for this medal, which was released in the form of a Press notice reads as follows:
When the Der Führer Regiment was moved from Russia to France in the winter of 1943, Kämpfe was the Commander of the 3rd Battalion. Weidinger records that his battalion formed the core of the regiment at this time, as it was the only one completely ready for combat just before D-Day, by way of contrast, Diekmann's 1st Battalion was still not fully re-equipped when the invasion began.
The question as to whether Kämpfe left Russia for France at the start of the transfer of the Regiment cannot be directly answered from his personal file, but I think he did so move. This is because firstly, his battalion was the only one fully equipped and ready for action on D-Day. My feeling that this degree of readiness could only have come about as a result of personal attention and commitment, so my thought is that Kämpfe must have been present throughout. Secondly, the picture of Kämpfe wearing his Knights Cross must have been taken out of the Russian winter, as he is not wearing any cold weather clothing and yet the trees in the background are not all in leaf. This suggests southern France, probably in early March 1944. Taken together these two points indicate that he left Russia in December 1943.
Interestingly, whilst both Diekmann and Kahn's records show them as holding driving licences, Kämpfe's does not; this is significant in view of what happened on 9th June. It does seem strange that a Sturmbannführer in charge of an armoured battalion is not recorded as holding a licence to drive even a car, but nevertheless that is what his records show.
On 9th June 1944 Kämpfe's battalion (en route to Normandy) was ordered to assist the German garrison of Guéret (40 miles north east of Limoges) who had been attacked by the Resistance. However when Kämpfe and his men arrived, the situation had been resolved by other German troops who, with air support had driven off the Resistance. The battalion then prepared to return to its quartering area around Saint Léonard de Noblat (15 miles east of Limoges). At about 20:00 Obersturmführer Dr. Müller was ordered by Kämpfe to take some wounded personnel to the quartering area for treatment. Müller set off at the head of the column, then Kämpfe, "driving alone in his Talbot, overtook him, waved and roared away." (the quote is from Otto Weidinger, in various books).
There is clearly a discrepancy here, as according to his above-mentioned records Kämpfe did not have a driving licence and some other accounts mention him as being accompanied by a driver. Weidinger, in Comrades to the End is quite specific that he was alone at the time. The Resistance leader Jean Canou, who gave evidence at the Bordeaux trial in 1953, did not mention whether Kämpfe was alone or not (or at least the newspaper reports of the trial do not say). Either way, what happened is quite simple; Kämpfe met Canou and some of his men in a lorry on the road (N141) to Limoges and was abducted, see memorial. By the time Dr. Müller arrived they had all disappeared. There was much anger in the men of Der Führer at this capture and they lost no time in organising a search, even though by now it was nearly dark. In the course of their enquiries, two local men, who I believe were not at all involved in the kidnap were shot dead by the SS at the roadside near to the kidnap point, see memorial.
What happened to Kämpfe has never been made clear, Canou said in 1953 that he had handed the officer over to his chief (who was Georges Guingouin) and never saw him again. What seems certain though is that Kämpfe was killed at or near to Breuilaufa about 7 miles north of Oradour-sur-Glane, just off the N141: see map. Whether his killing was due to a cold-blooded 'execution' by the Resistance, or as a result of an escape attempt is not known. The exact time of death is also unknown, but the date on his gravestone is given as being 10th June 1944: see grave.
See Dramatis Personae for more details.
Heinrich Bernhard Lammerding was born on 27th August 1905 in Dortmund, son of the architect Heinz Lammerding and his wife Gertrud. There is no mention in his records of either brothers or sisters and since such mention was normal, I conclude that he was an only child. There has been some confusion about whether his first name was Heinrich or Heinz, but the family firm's website today (in 2009) does show it as being Heinrich, as does the signature on his statement regarding Oradour made at Dortmund in 1962.
Lammerding was from an affluent background, his father was certainly financially well-off at the time of his birth, but this did not last and following the death of Heinz senior in 1927 his son had to suspend studies because of "financial difficulties". There is not much supporting data in the records, but it seems that the high rate of inflation under the Weimar Republic between 1923-24 followed by the great depression of 1929 (following the Stock Market crash in America) were the probable reasons for directing the young Heinz into the Nazi Party and the SA (Sturm Abteilung, or Storm Troops), both of which he joined on 18th October 1931. Thus it can be seen that Lammerding was attracted into the Nazi Party well before it came into power and so could not be accused of sitting on the fence and waiting to see how things turned out in the elections.
Lammerding had to take employment in the construction trade in Dortmund in order to earn enough money to allow him to continue his studies. Finally he was able to attend the technical collage in Brunswick and gained the Degree of Civil Engineering on 12th November 1932. Lammerding was now a qualified civil engineer and initially worked in the private construction industry taking time off to attend various SA and Nazi courses until he joined the SS full time in its Pioneering section at Leisnig in Saxony on 1st April 1935.
The first assessment on Lammerding on 1st July 1935, just two months after joining the SS, was non too flattering and concluded that he was, "not yet fully suitable to be a leader" and that, "he lacks any soldierly crispness". At this time Lammerding was not quite 30 years old and married but without any children. Interestingly for such a keen Nazi, his wife was not a Party member (Adolf Diekmann's wife was) and as far as I have been able to discover she never joined.
The second assessment on 25th June 1936 shows a dramatic improvement, in just under a year Lammerding went from being someone "not yet fully suitable to be a leader" to, "fully suitable to be a company leader" and with a "keen and assured manner when in the lead". Something obviously happened, I don't know what, but from now on all his assessments were to be very favourable.
The third assessment on 29th September 1940 from the Totenkopf Division declared that he was "a person whose company is sought" and that he was "anytime ready to fight ruthlessly for the Führer and his concept". He was also "a born leader" who was "not to be imagined away from the Totenkopf Division". This eulogy was signed by Theodor Eicke the commanding general and a fanatical Nazi, who in fact had been the first inspector of concentration camps after they were begun in 1933.
Eicke's recommendation for the award of the German Cross in Gold dated 12th December 1941 makes it clear that Lammerding was not lacking in physical courage or any ability to think clearly under fire. This is particularly interesting because some authors have claimed that he was a colourless personality, promoted beyond his ability, yet the above documents show only positive leadership qualities.
The award of the Knight'sCross to Lammerding in May 1944 yet again shows that he was a brave and resourceful leader of men. It is noteworthy that this award was for action in Russia which was basically defensive in nature. Although the press-note date was 1st May 1944, the action described took place from the 18th February over a period of a week or so. Shortly after this event Lammerding was promoted to Brigadeführer and left Battle Group Das Reich in Russia, handing over command of it to Otto Weidinger. He travelled to southern France so as to take command of Das Reich Division itself.
Note that according to some sources Lammerding was awarded his Knight's Cross for anti-partisan work in Russia, but according to his SS records this is entirely untrue. He did serve some time as the chief of staff to Obergruppenführer Bach-Zelewski who was in charge of anti-partisan activity, but this was only between 1st August 1943 and his move to Battle Group Das Reich in December 1943. Interestingly this appointment to Bach-Zelewski was at Himmler's personal insistence and against some minor objections from his staff.
The request to Himmler for a Fellowship Camp is one of the strangest documents from this period that I have seen. The idea is obviously a good one, but why did Lammerding feel he had to ask Himmler's permission to do such a thing? He was a commanding SS-General and could organise his men as he wished, there was surely no need to ask anyone else if he could carry out some necessary team-building. I wonder if either this request was in response to a Himmler initiative or some other idea that was doing the rounds at the time? It is possible that Lammerding was trying to attract Himmler's attention and demonstrate his impeccable Nazi credentials, whatever the case the suggestion was agreed.
Lammerding held the post of commander of the 2nd SS-Panzer Division Das Reich from 8th March 1944 until he was wounded during the Normandy battles on 26th July and again after his recovery, from 23rd October to 20th January 1945. He was thus the commander of Das Reich on 10th June 1944 and Sylvester Stadler's immediate superior. This makes him the most senior person locally within the Waffen-SS at the time with responsibility for what happened. His last appointment after leaving Das Reich Division was as commander of the newly formed 38th SS-Genadier Division Nibelungen, a post he held for only a few days from the end of April 1945 to 2nd May.
The last record in his SS file that I have found was dated 23rd April 1945 and was a salary statement. This showed him being paid 4,520 Reichmarks for his salary as a Brigadeführer and covering the period from March to June 1945. Whether he got the money and what he did with it in order to get some benefit from it after the war ended, I do not know. It is very mundane I know, but even as late as the 23rd of April (just 15 days before the German surrender), the minutia of the state went on; order was being maintained and even salaries were being paid.
After the war he returned to his original profession of civil engineer and resisted all attempts to persuade him to go to France and stand trial for the events at Tulle on the 9th June (for which the French condemned him to death in absentia) and of course those at Oradour on the 10th. He died at Bad Tölz in Bavaria in 1971.
See Dramatis Personae for more details.
Sylvester Stadler was born on 30th December 1910 in Fohnsdorf, Austria (about 50 km west of Graz), he was the only one of the men discussed in this chapter to be Austrian by birth, all the others being German. As Adolf Hitler himself was an Austrian, it was fairly predictable that no obstacles were put in the way of his fellow countrymen when they sought to advance themselves in the new Germanic Third Reich that was to last for a thousand years.
He was one of 6 children, but apart from the fact that his father Peter was about 68 and mother Helena 61 when he joined the SS on the 2nd May 1933 as an Anwärter, or Candidate I have no further family details. This is due to a combination of the way he wrote his own résumé, without giving family detail and the accidental nature of preservation of personal records from this era. As stated above Stadler was born on 30th December and in Germany / Austria, New Year's Eve is known as Sylvester (perhaps he was born close to midnight), so it seems that his parents decided to mark the occasion by naming him accordingly.
He was 6ft ½in (184cm) and powerfully built and he used his physique to win the usual SS sports badges in silver, rather than the more normal bronze. One had to be virtually a full time athlete to obtain the gold award, so silver represented a very good standard and demonstrated a degree of dedication.
Like many people of his era Stadler was brought up a Catholic, but changed his faith to that of Gottgläubigkeit at some time between joining the SS in 1934 and the outbreak of war. Apart from Otto Kahn, all the men mentioned in this chapter changed their religious denomination from that in which they had been christened, to Gottgläubigkeit. As a matter of interest Adolf Hitler had been brought up a Catholic and according to his sister Paula, speaking in July 1945, had never left the church.
Stadler was an early Austrian Nazi, as his records make clear, for he had been "Persecuted under Dollfus and Schussnigg" for his political beliefs. His later assessments when he was in the SS and the fact that he was promoted to head the 9th SS-Panzer Division Hohenstaufen make it obvious that his political reliability was not in any doubt. It is worthwhile reading all the entries in the Appendices for Stadler and the other men mentioned in this chapter, so as to get a feel for their political alignment. It is this politicising of the SS that marks them out as being different from other troops and it was this level of political and racial belief that they carried which gives the explanation for the often atrocious way that they behaved. It also gives the explanation for their sometimes chivalrous conduct when dealing with enemy troops whom they considered worthy opponents, the oft quoted example being the treatment of the surrendering British paratroopers at Arnhem.
Stadler began his career in the SS based at Dachau, although as far as I can see he was not part of the concentration camp system. It is striking that many of the early SS recruits passed through Dachau camp and they must all have been aware of what the adjacent concentration camp represented. He proved to be an able and clever student and rose quite rapidly through the ranks as witnessed by his various assessments from that time.
His Personnel examination dated 12th January 1934 is basically a medical record which shows some interesting features. For example Stadler had had Measles, which is a serious illness and was quite common amongst children in those pre-immunisation days (Hitler's younger brother Edmund died of it aged 6). He also had quite poor teeth, with a half of his full set either missing, filled or capped, this is not in keeping with the notion of the "master race" of super-fit, supermen. His racial characteristics were judged as being acceptable, even good and mentally he was found to show, "traces of, Schizophrenic behaviour and Manic-depressive behaviour". Stadler is the only person whose records I have seen that shows this diagnosis and I do wonder at it, especially as it does not figure in any further records of his.
His first assessment of 1935 is very brief and is unusual in that it mentions neither race or politics, it is however entirely positive and sets the tone for all future reports. The second assessment of June 1939 shows him at a later stage of development as he is now a signals officer and continuing to make a positive impression. The third assessment of May 1942 shows him as an instructor at Bad Tölz and is the one that describes him as being an "established, fanatical National socialist". He was at Bad Tölz for around 6 months and must have met Adolf Diekmann there, who at this time was the same rank (Hauptsturmführer).
His letter to Himmler in thanks for Himmler's congratulations on Stadler being awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross, shows his delight and high spirits at the conference of the award. It also indicates that it was not unusual for Himmler to write to those of his men who had done "more than great duty" and also that it was quite in order to thank the congratulator (who actually read the note and filed it).
The last assessment shown for Stadler, is that done after he had left Der Führer to take up command of the Hohenstaufen Division. What makes this assessment interesting is that it was completed by Lammerding on 25th June 1944, i.e. two weeks after the events at Oradour. There is not a breath of criticism about Stadler in the assessment over the events of 10th June, in fact he is highly praised, with comments such as, "Mental and physical aptitude above the average ... Appearance and conduct exemplary and soldierly ... Confident National socialist ... For personal aggressive service and successful regimental leadership he has been distinguished with the Oak-Leaves to the Knights-Cross".
On the 10th June 1944 Stadler was the commanding officer of the Der Führer regiment and Adolf Diekmann's immediate superior. According to Otto Weidinger (who was present) Stadler was "shocked ... and shaken to the core" when Diekmann reported to him what he had done at Oradour: but and this is surely significant, he did not suspend Diekmann from duty.
Stadler has enjoyed a good post-war reputation in the west at least, on account of his good treatment of captured American and British prisoners of war, taken during and after the Normandy landings, whilst he was the commander of the Hohenstaufen Division.
Post war he attended university to study management science rather than his initial post-school subject of electrical engineering and after a new career in management, died in 1995 and is buried at the Königsbrunn Friedhof, just south of Augsburg in Germany. It can be seen from the Christian Cross on his headstone, that Stadler went back to his faith and abandoned the Gottgläubigkeit declaration of the Nazi years.
See Dramatis Personae for more details.
Otto Weidinger is a most important character in the story of Oradour, for much of the information concerning the activities of the SS comes directly from him through his various writings such as, Comrades to the End and Tulle and Oradour a Franco-German Tragedy: see Bibliography for more details.
Let me state at the outset that I think that Otto Weidinger is telling the truth, or at least what he believes to be the truth in his various writings. Weidinger was a Waffen-SS man through and through, his books, particularly Comrades to the End glow with pride and a true sense of comradeship for the men he fought with. Naturally he wished to preserve the memory of all that was good and for which any man could take pride in remembering. He was however selective in what he remembered.
Weidinger was born 27th May 1914 in Würtzburg the son of a postal worker, he was 5ft 8in (173.5cm) tall and well built. By the time he left school he had obtained the High School Leaving Certificate and this meant that he could apply for officer training. He entered the SS on 1st July 1933 and was stationed at Dachau, doing his initial training before becoming a guard at the concentration camp there for just over a year. His first service record, a medical report was done at this time.
During his time as a concentration camp guard Weidinger had two short assessments carried out on him which showed that he was starting to develop and lose some of the school-boyishness mentioned in the above medical report. The first such assessment reads rather like a school report, the second competed a month later and recommending his starting officer training (at Braunschweig on 24th April 1935), is also good and emphasises that, "he owns a high sense of duty and possesses a clear-cut view of service". From this I conclude that he had no qualms about what concentration camps were like or what they were used for; namely to contain and punish enemies of the state.
Weidinger passed out of Braunschweig on 31st January 1936 with a good final report which like his medical report above indicates that he was not passionately sport minded, an unusual trait in someone destined for high rank within the Waffen-SS.
After leaving Braunschweig he took up a post with the infantry and continued to impress and make his way in a quiet and unassuming manner up the military ladder. His next assessment was after the war had started and whilst he was serving in the Aufklärungs (reconnaissance) section of the SS-Verfügungsdivision. The assessment was countersigned by Paul Hauser the divisional commander and probably the best known of all the Waffen-SS personalities. In this assessment Weidinger is described as being "a man, who unifies intelligence, attitude, athletic proficiency and educator-abilities in a rare manner" and one whose world view "is established on his own knowledge and personal judgement".
In 1942 he had been back at Braunschweig (Brunswick) as an instructor for nearly a year and based at Belsen camp, yet another indication that he personally must have been fully aware of the concentration camp system in Germany itself. It is noteworthy that Weidinger's assessments to date have not mentioned his racial appearance, or commented overmuch on his ideological alignment. I read into this that he was a fully acceptable member of the Waffen-SS, but not one who's ideology was especially well-developed, fanatical or comment-worthy, unlike Sylvester Stadler who was an "established, fanatical National socialist", or Adolf Diekmann who was, "a convinced National Socialist", or Heinrich Lammerding who was, "ready anytime to fight ruthlessly for the Führer and his concept".
The date of the assessment from the Paris school for Panzer Troops (Panzer Grenadiers) shows that he and Adolf Diekmann knew each other before they met again in Der Führer, as Diekmann was on the same course: see entry above for Diekmann.
The résumé of (I think) December 1943 is somewhat unusual in that it is typed, unsigned and also undated, but does contain a good account of his career up to then. After he left Braunschweig on 1st June 1943 Weidinger remained on front line duty until the end of the war, with Der Führer, firstly as the commander of the section left behind in Russia and after 14th June 1944 as the regimental commander.
The last assessment that is shown here for him is dated 25th June 1944 and was completed by Lammerding, who also did Sylvester Stadler's on the same day. By this time Weidinger had been promoted to lead Der Führer and Stadler had left to lead the Hohenstaufen Division. The assessment is as good a one as you would expect under the circumstances and contains phrases such as: "Pronounced soldierly appearance, very popular and respected, anchored firmly in National Socialism, promises to become an excellent regimental commander". It is worth realising that much of Lammerding's own future military reputation would rest on the performance of his junior officers, so he was not going to say that Weidinger was any good, unless he genuinely believed it.
The nomination for the Oak Leaves for Weidinger's Knight's Cross shows that not only was he a competent soldier, he was a brave one also. In fact, two days before the end of the war, he was to be awarded the Swords in addition to the Oak Leaves for his Knight's Cross. Lammerding wrote the citation for the Oak Leaves, but he did not personally witness the action that led up to the award as he was on sick leave following a wounding in the Normandy battles.
Weidinger led the remains of Der Führer into captivity at the end of the war and was himself held as a prisoner of war in France until 1951. He underwent a trial there on the sole charge of 'belonging to the SS, an illegal organisation', he was found not guilty and shortly afterwards released. Following his return to Germany he continued to occupy himself post war, with looking after comrades less fortunate than himself and only announced that the regiment had ceased to exist when the last prisoner of war was released on 17th April 1959. Since that date he became the chronicler of both the Der Führer Regiment and Das Reich Division. He has written numerous books and newspaper articles explaining the actions of the units with which he was involved and especially those concerning the events at Tulle and Oradour. He died in 1990 and is buried at Aalen.
See Dramatis Personae for more details.
Printed in Das Schwarze Korps 24-August-1944: ('Das Schwarze Korps' (The Black Corps) was the SS newspaper.)
On the 29th June my dearly loved husband, the faithfully caring father of both his children, our promising youngest son, dear brother, son-in-law and brother-in-law fell in the heavy fighting in Normandy at the head of his battalion, in the firm belief of victory.
SS-Sturmbannführer and Battalion Commander
Possessor of the Iron Cross 2nd Class and 1st Class. The Wound Badge and the War Service Cross 2nd Class with swords.
29 years of age.
Doctor Hedi Diekmann, née Meindl, with their sons Rainer and Uwe, Heinrich Diekmann and his wife Anna, née Mohr, Bruno Meindl and his wife Hedwig, née Nagle; his siblings, brother-in-law and sisters-in-law.
27 Adolf-Hitler-Strasse, Elbogen by Karlsbad; Bayreuth, and Neuhammer at Karlsbad, in July 1944.
See picture of Diekmann's grave at La Cambe, Normandy, France.
What the above obituary notice illustrates, is that no matter what you the reader may think, or what judgement the court of history may pass on Adolf Diekmann, he was loved and missed by his family.
In its way this obituary summarises the loss and tragedy of war. A well loved husband, father, son, and brother was killed, but before he died, he in his turn had killed many other equally well loved members of other families. Different circumstances with the same result.
© Michael Williams: 29th November 2000
... revision Thursday, 25 August 2022