[CP-List] Of Lamas and Nazis: The SS in Tibet--1938-39
Jeffrey St. Clair email@example.com
Mon, 19 Mar 2001 08:08:37 -0800
Hitler and the Himalayas The SS Mission to Tibet 1938-39 ALEX McKAY Of all the exotic images that the West has ever projected onto Tibet, that of the Nazi expedition, and its search for the pure remnants of the Aryan race, remains the most bizarre. On the nineteenth of January, 1939, five members of the Waffen-SS, Heinrich Himmler's feared Nazi shock troops, passed through the ancient, arched gateway that led into the sacred city of Lhasa. Like many Europeans, they carried with them idealized and unrealistic views of Tibet, projecting, as Orville Schell remarks in his book Virtual Tibet, "a fabulous skein of fantasy around this distant, unknown land." The projections of the Nazi expedition, however, did not include the now familiar search for Shangri-La, the hidden land in which a uniquely perfect and peaceful social system held a blueprint to counter the transgressions that plague the rest of humankind. Rather, the perfection sought by the Nazis was an idea of racial perfection that would justify their views on world history and German supremacy.
What brings about this odd juxtaposition of Tibetan lamas and SS officers on the eve of World War II is a strange story of secret societies, occultism, racial pseudo-science, and political intrigue. They were, in fact, on a diplomatic and quasi-scientific mission to establish relations between Nazi Germany and Tibet and to search for lost remnants of an imagined Aryan race hidden somewhere on the Tibetan plateau. As such, they were a far-flung expression of Hitler's most paranoid and bizarre theories on ethnicity and domination. And while the Tibetans were completely unaware of Hitler's racist agenda, the 1939 mission to Tibet remains a cautionary tale about how foreign ideas, symbols, and terminology can be horribly misused. Some Nazi militarists imagined Tibet as a potential base for attacking British India, and hoped that this mission would lead to some form of alliance with the Tibetans. In that they were partly successful. The mission was received by the Reting Regent (who had led Tibet since the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama in 1933), and it did succeed in persuading the Regent to correspond with Adolf Hitler. But the Germans were also interested in Tibet for another reason. Nazi leaders such as Heinrich Himmler believed that Tibet might harbor the last of the original Aryan tribes, the legendary forefathers of the German race, whose leaders possessed supernatural powers that the Nazis could use to conquer the world. This was the age of European expansion, and numerous theories provided ideological justification for imperialism and colonialism. In Germany the idea of an Aryan or "master" race found resonance with rabid nationalism, the idea of the German superman distilled from the philosophy of friedrich Nietzsche, and Wagner's operatic celebrations of Nordic sagas and Teutonic mythology. Long before the 1939 mission to Tibet, the Nazis had borrowed Asian symbols and language and used them for their own ends. A number of prominent articles of Nazi rhetoric and symbolism originated in the language and religions of Asia. The term "Aryan", for example, comes from the Sanskrit word arya, meaning noble. In the Vedas, the most ancient Hindu scriptures, the term describes a race of light-skinned people from Central Asia who conquered and subjugated the darker-skinned (or Dravidian) peoples of the Indian subcontinent. Linguistic evidence does support the multidirectional migration of a central Asian people, now referred to as Indo-Europeans, into much of India and Europe at some point between 2000 and 1500 B.C.E., although it is unclear whether these Indo-Europeans were identical with the Aryans of the Vedas. So much for responsible scholarship. In the hands of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European jingoists and occultists such as Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, these ideas about Indo-Europeans and light-skinned Aryans were transformed into a twisted myth of Nordic and later exclusively German racial superiority. The German identification with the Indo-Europeans and Aryans of the second millennium B.C.E. gave historical precedence to Germany's imperial "place in the sun" and the idea that ethnic Germans were racially entitled to conquest and mastery. It also aided in fomenting anti-Semitism and xenophobia, as Jews, Gypsies, and other minorities did not share in the Aryan German's perceived heritage as members of a dominant race. Ideas about an Aryan or master race began to appear in the popular media in the late nineteenth century. In the 1890s, E. B. Lytton, a Rosicrucian, wrote a best-selling novel around the idea of a cosmic energy (particularly strong in the female sex), which he called "Vril." Later he wrote of a Vril society, consisting of a race of super-beings that would emerge from their underground hiding-places to rule the world. His fantasies coincided with a great interest in the occult, particularly among the upper classes, with numerous secret societies founded to propagate these ideas. They ranged from those devoted to the Holy Grail to those who followed the sex and drugs mysticism of Alastair Crowley, and many seem to have had a vague affinity for Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. Members of the German SS expedition. Inner circle, left to right: Krause, Wienert, Beger, Geer, Schaefer. photo courtesy Alex McKay General Haushofer, a follower of Gurdjieff and later one of Hitler's main patrons, founded one such society. Its aim was to explore the origins of the Aryan race, and Haushofer named it the Vril Society, after Lytton's fictional creation. Its members practiced meditation to awaken the powers of Vril, the feminine cosmic energy. The Vril Society claimed to have links to Tibetan masters, apparently drawing on the ideas of Madame Blavatsky, the Theosophist who claimed to be in telepathic contact with spiritual masters in Tibet. In Germany, this blend of ancient myths and nineteenth-century scientific theories began to evolve into a belief that the Germans were the purest manifestation of the inherently superior Aryan race, whose destiny was to rule the world. These ideas were given scientific weight by ill-founded theories of eugenics and racist ethnography. Around 1919, the Vril Society gave way to the Thule Society (Thule Gesellschaft), which was founded in Munich by Baron Rudolf von Sebottendorf, a follower of Blavatsky. The Thule Society drew on the traditions of various orders such as the Jesuits, the Knights Templar, the Order of the Golden Dawn, and the Sufis. It promoted the myth of Thule, a legendary island in the frozen northlands that had been the home of a master race, the original Aryans. As in the legend of Atlantis (with which it is sometimes identified), the inhabitants of Thule were forced to flee from some catastrophe that destroyed their world. But the survivors had retained their magical powers and were hidden from the world, perhaps in secret tunnels in Tibet, where they might be contacted and subsequently bestow their powers on their Aryan descendants. Such ideas might have remained harmless, but the Thule Society added a strong right-wing, anti-Semitic political ideology to the Vril Society mythology. They formed an active opposition to the local Socialist government in Munich and engaged in street battles and political assassinations. As their symbol, along with the dagger and the oak leaves, they adopted the swastika, which had been used by earlier German neo-pagan groups. The appeal of the swastika symbol to the Thule Society seems to have been largely in its dramatic strength rather than its cultural or mystical significance. They believed it was an original Aryan symbol, although it was actually used by numerous unconnected cultures throughout history. Beyond the adoption of the swastika, it is difficult to judge the extent to which either Tibet or Buddhism played a part in Thule Society ideology Vril Society founder General Haushofer, who remained active in the Thule Society, had been a German military attache in Japan. There he may have acquired some knowledge of Zen Buddhism, which was then the dominant faith among the Japanese military. Other Thule Society members, however, could only have read early German studies of Buddhism, and those studies tended to construct the idea of a pure, original Buddhism that had been lost, and a degenerate Buddhism that survived, much polluted by primitive local beliefs. It seems that Buddhism was little more than a poorly understood and exotic element in the Society's loose collection of beliefs, and had little real influence on the Thule ideology. But Tibet occupied a much stronger position in their mythology, being imagined as the likely home of the survivors of the mythic Thule race. Here an SS anthropologist measures a Tibetan woman's head. Some German scientists believed that Aryan features were reflected in the dimensions of the skull. (C)Transmit Films GMBH The importance of the Thule Society can be seen from the fact that its members included Nazi leaders Rudolf Hess (Hitler's deputy), Heinrich Himmler, and almost certainly Hitler himself. But while Hitler was at least nominally a Catholic, Himmler enthusiastically embraced the aims and beliefs of the Thule Society. He adopted a range of neo-pagan ideas and believed himself to be a reincarnation of a tenth-century Germanic king. Himmler seems to have been strongly attracted to the possibility that Tibet might prove to be the refuge of the original Aryans and their superhuman powers. By the time Hitler wrote Mein Kampf in the 1920s, the myth of the Aryan race was fully developed. In Chapter XI, "Race and People," he expressed concern over what he perceived as the mixing of pure Aryan blood with that of inferior peoples. In his view, the pure Aryan Germanic races had been corrupted by prolonged contact with Jewish people. He lamented that northern Europe had been "Judaized" and that the German's originally pure blood had been tainted by prolonged contact with Jewish people, who, he claimed, lie "in wait for hours on end, satanically glaring at and spying on the unsuspicious girl whom he plans to seduce, adulterating her blood and removing her from the bosom of her people." For Hitler, the only solution to this mingling of Aryan and Jewish blood was for the tainted Germans to find the wellsprings of Aryan blood. It may happen that in the course of history such a people will come into contact a second time, and even oftener, with the original founders of their culture and may not even remember that distant association. A new cultural wave flows in and lasts until the blood of its standard-bearers becomes once again adulterated by intermixture with the originally conquered race. In the search for "contact a second time" with the Aryans, Tibet-long isolated, mysterious, and remote-seemed a likely candidate.
The following is paraphrased, edited and abridged from Bartleby's.
Egypt is a nominally-independent former British colony, still dominated by British interests. Independence was unilaterally granted by Great Britain on Feb 28, 1922, with certain important exceptions, including control over Egyptian foreign affairs and defense, the Suez Canal, and the Sudan. The British also insisted on the maintenance of the Capitulations, the system of special laws and courts that applied to foreigners. Into the late 1930s, these four reservations proved a constant source of irritation to Anglo-Egyptian relations. Because the declaration was a unilateral act and because it did not really provide Egypt with full independence, the Egyptian leadership never really accepted it.
In 1936, the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty abolished the Capitulations and removed direct British interference in foreign affairs and defense. The British garrison of 10,000 men in the Canal Zone was allowed to stay another 20 years, and the British kept the right to use Egyptian facilities in the event of war. No agreement was reached on the status of the Sudan, but Egyptian troops were allowed to return there. Egypt was furthermore to be admitted to the League of Nations. This was still seen as a compromise short of true independence, and so the new treaty merely inflamed the politicians' preoccupation with Anglo-Egyptian relations.
In 1920, the population stood at about 13 million, over 90 percent of whom were Sunni Muslims. About one-quarter of the inhabitants resided in cities and large towns. The biggest cities were Cairo (900,000) and Alexandria (500,000).
The economy remains largely agricultural. Foreign export is dominated by cotton -- as much as 70% of total exports. Some growth of light industries such as textiles and food processing occurred during the 1930s.
Since independence, Egypt is nominally a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament. However, the king (since 1936, King Faruq) has frequently abused his power, dismissing popularly elected governments and nominating minority cabinets in their place. This has often come with the support, or indeed the insistence, of the British.
Political life is dominated by a class of large landholders who shuffle governments among themselves. The nationalist Wafd has been the most important party and enjoyed the greatest popularity as well as the only true grassroots organization in the country. There are a number of lesser establishment parties, including the People's Party, the strikingly-named Sa'dist Party, the Independent Wafd, the Liberal Constitutional Party, and the Union Party. More serious opposition, though, came from less conventional parties, namely the Young Egypt Party (1936) and, above all, the Muslim Brotherhood (1928).
The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in 1928 in Ismailiyya by Hasan al-Banna. The organization began as a religious and educational society that sponsored public meetings and lectures on Islam. In general, its program stressed the need to defend Islam from corrupting forces and outside threats (e.g., missionary activity), and to reform Egyptian society and politics according to Islamic principles.
In 1932, the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood moved to Cairo. By the late 1930s, it had become increasingly involved in Egyptian and Arab politics. Openly proclaiming an anti-Zionist and anti-British platform, the Brotherhood sent aid to Palestine and plotted during World War II with anti-British politicians. By the late 1940s, the Brotherhood had become one of the most powerful political organizations in the country.
In 1933, Ahmad Husayn created the Young Egypt Party (Misr al-Fatat), which became a full-fledged political organization in 1936. It favored aggressive state activity in economic development and rapid expansion of the armed forces. The party's ideology originally emphasized Egyptian nationalism, but switched to more Islamic themes after it was renamed the Nationalist Islamic Party (1940). The party exercised its strongest appeal in Cairo and the surrounding suburbs, where more than half its members lived.
The party organized many of its young members into paramilitary squads, known as the Green Shirts, who became notorious for their hooliganism. On the political scene, such behavior was hardly isolated. The rival Wafd Party assembled its own bands of thugs, the Blue Shirts, who engaged in many of the same violent and lawless practices.
Howard Carter's expedition discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamen near Luxor in 1922.
"Layla", the first full-length film in the Arab world, was produced in 1927. The first talking movie appeared in 1932. The first Arab movie studio, Studio Misr, was founded in 1934, and Egypt immediately assumed cinematic leadership of the Arab world.
Sept 3. Following the invasion of Poland, Egypt severs relations with Germany, but remains neutral.
Oct 19. Turkey signs treaty of alliance with Britain and France, but spends much of the war struggling to keep out of the fighting.
June 10. Italy declares war on France and Britain.
Aug 6. Italian forces invade British Somaliland from Italian East Africa, (Ethiopia) completing conquest by Aug 19.
Sept 13-15. Italian army invades Egypt from Libya.
Dec. 1. British launch surprise counterattack against Italians from Mersa Matruh, to which they had retreated, imperial troops outflanked the Italians, captured 1,000 prisoners, and advanced so rapidly that they were in Sidi Barrani and had begun the invasion of Libya by Dec. 12.
To the outside world, the SS was the upper-class, elite institution of the Nazi party. Historical accounts describe the SS as attracting a "better sort of people" and as being the "most respectable of the Party organizations." (That last quote is by the Archbishop of Freiburg, by the way.) Many Germans saw the Weimar Republic as evidence of what happens when the natural elite is not recognized and given their natural place of power, and so the idea of an institutionalized organization of "superior" people excited feelings of envy and admiration rather than derision.
This was especially true because Himmler was a master at presenting this image of the SS in romantic terms near and dear to the German heart. The uniform of the SS officer is either admired or ironically mocked, but keep in mind that it was expressly designed to instill fear and admiration into the viewer --- and it was very effective. Entirely black and silver, it also incorporated various occult symbols into a complex display of rank and status.
Ironically for an institution founded on the corruption of big business, Himmler flung the doors of the SS wide for the German upper classes. He needed money and prestige for his fledgling institution, and those could only be had by from the old money, the businessmen, and the noble families. By 1933, almost one in five SS-Obergruppenfuhrer (generals) of the SS had the "von-" prefix to their name. (The prefix indicates noble status.) For Brigadefuhrers (mj-gen), this was about one in seven. For Standartedfuhrers (colonels), about one in twelve. For the general population, one in 134. The rolls of the SS included Dukes, several Counts, and a Prince. The rank of honorary commander (which is what Klaus is) was bestowed upon high-level industrialists, diplomats, scientists, and Party and government officials (some of whom wanted to kill Himmler personally). Many of the Equestrian Societies (important country-club like organizations for the rural elite) were incorporated into the SS wholesale.
As opposed to this elite leadership, the rest of the SS came from the middle and lower classes. The administrators and middle managers of the SS came from the universities, sons of the middle class. Many joined for status or to avoid the combat positions of the SA. Most had university educations. This class of recruit might be an administrator in one of the various departments, or high in the management of one of the WHVA industries. The men of the SS, the grunts, came from the farming classes, peasants who could no longer make a living off the land. These recruits usually had no education whatsoever. This class usually found itself in a Waffen-SS unit or a concentration camp guard (though the bright could enroll in SS-cadet academies and become officers.)
Himmler's publicity campaign worked. Dozens of bankers and industrialists joined "Friends of the SS" committees and donated money in exchange for honorary memberships. (Also as a way of bribing the Nazi Party. The SS was seen as the go-to organization if you wanted the Nazi Party to -not- confiscate or commandeer your industry for the war effort.) Members of these committees included the Chairman of IG Farben, the President of the Reichbank, and the Chairman of Vereinigte Stahlwerke. Millions of RM were poured into a special Reichbank account. Less wealthy applicants could become "sponsoring" members of the SS. In 1934, there were over 342,000 such "sponsors" contributing 581,000RM.
The image of the SS as noble elite extended beyond mere dress. To give one example, the SS revived the long-forgotten practice of duels. Actually, this example is instructive: While Heydrich (the second-in-command after Himmler) was winning fencing tournements, Himmler was drafting the regulations for duels of honor. Heydrich was everything Himmler was not: tall, fair, handsome, charming, and charismatic. Himmler was actually physically unremarkable, with a soft face hidden behind glasses. It is easy to underestimate Himmler, however. While Heydrich brought verve to the part and the enthusiasm that gave birth to the Final Solution, it was Himmler that turned a 300-man brute squad into a million-man network of terror and oppression. Those who dismissed Himmler as a mere accountant or bureaucrat often were taught differently with a bullet. And he managed to do this while maintaining in the public eye the image of the SS as the new chivalrous order of knighthood.
Himmler created three signs of favor within the SS. The lowest was a death's-head ring. The next was a ceremonial dagger, usually awarded only to officers. The last was a coat of arms, drawn up by the Abnernerbe specifically for the so-favored. Himmler considered these twelve men to be his knights, and had plans to create a new `round table' with them. Over the course of the war, he spent over 13,000,000RM to have a castle restored for his use. He drew up plans for occult rituals to be help there wherein he and his knights would meditate and commune with the dead. Fantastic ceremonies were sketched out for their eventual cremation and burial in the castle's lowest chambers.
Himmler believed in communing with the past leaders of Germany, and believed himself to be able to call them up at will. He thought himself the reincarnation or heir of Heinrich I (835-936), and believed that Heinrich I spoke to him when he was half asleep. He founded the "Society for Preservation and Promotion of German Cultural Monuments" (which did just that) and the Abnernerbe. He created new yule-tide, solstice, marriage and birth ceremonies for the new Germano-pagan state. Christian priests were to be expelled from society.
The SS was consciously and intensionally patterned after the Jesuits. Fanatical devotion to Hitler replaced fanatical devotion to the Pope, and the Reichfuhrer-SS replaced the Father Superior. Both organizations granted fantastic privileges to thier members, were above temporal/secular jurisdiction, and instilled blind obedience to the leader (Pope/Fuhrer). Like the Jesuits, the SS required their applicants to undergo extensive and grueling training before being allowed to take the "kith and kin" oaths of membership. (Unlike the Jesuits, the SS applied racial filtering based on physical appearance.) There was even a "catechism" they needed to learn.
There were two things that Himmler would not tolerate in his troops: a drop of Jewish blood, and homosexuality. As Colin mentioned, all SS members were required to prove an ancestry free of Jews for themselves and their wives back to 1800 (1750 for officers). Any member who found a drop of Jewish blood in their veins had to report it and request release. If found out, they were expelled. (If in the lower ranks; this was occasionally waived for the generals.) In some cases, marriages were forbidden when the RuSHA found Jewish ancestors in the bride's family tree.
Even long time, high-level members were expelled over homosexual encounters, and in 1937 Himmler signed an order instructing homosexuals in the SS to be turned over to the courts. Considering that the SS was officially above the law and a state unto itself, Himmler was instructing that homosexuals were retroactively never members of the SS. Also, after serving their prison sentence, such never-members of the SS were to be "sent on my instructions to a concentration camp and shot while attempting to escape."
For the record, I am making none of this up.
It is 8 January, 1940, and the war continues in the bitter cold of Finland. The Finnish celebrate their first victory over the starved and freezing Russian troops.
It is 10 January, 1940, and a German plane crash-lands in Belgium. Papers recovered from one of the passengers turn out to be the plans for a German invasion of Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. The invasion is scheduled to begin 14 January.
It is 9 February, 1940, and the Russian forces in Finland launch a fresh offensive. The Allied forces debate sending aid to the Finnish. On 17 February, Russian troops break the Mannerheim line. The better-trained and -equipped Finnish forces are broken by 16 days of continuous bombing and retreat to a secondary line 10 miles back.
It is 10 February, 1940, and the Reich Protector of Bohemia-Movaria orders all Jewish-owned business to close down. Jews are also ordered to sell all jewelry, gold, platinum, silver, and works of art.
It is 4pm, 22 February, 1940, and Buddhists the world over touch their foreheads to the floor while facing Lhasa. The new Dali Lama, a five-year old boy, has been enthroned.
It is 15 March, 1940, and after holding out for three and a half months, Finland finally capitulates and signs a pact with Moscow.
It is 9 April, 1940, and Germany claims its share of Scandinavia. Denmark and Norway are attacked by second-rate Nazi *reservists*. Denmark falls in *24 hours*. Olso is taken in four days, and fighting moves to the mountains. Naval battle rages in the North Sea. The Allied troops counterattack on the Norwegian coast on the 19th of April but are repelled by the 30th, leaving the Norwegian resistance to fight to good fight on their own.
It is midnight, that same day (30 April, 1940). After spending the day forcing Jewish women to dance naked and burning down the synagogue, the SS seals off the Warsaw ghetto. 160,000 people are forced into 32,000 one-room apartments, only 700 of which have running water.
Ten days pass.
It is 10 May, 1940, and the German assault is unleashed to the west. The Blitzkreig --- the lightning-fast assault by bombers from the air, tanks from the ground, and paratroopers all around --- tears through Holland and Belgium like tissue paper. Holland falls in 4 days. Belgium loses 75 of their land in that time. The remaining Belgium forces, along with the 500,000 British soldiers currently on the north coast of France, are surrounded on all sides and backed up against the freezing waters of the Channel. France, shocked by the complete irrelevance of the Maginot Line, prepare for a German assault into the heart of their country.
Ten months after their invasion of Poland, half of Europe lies under the control of the Swastika. Austria was absorbed without a murmur. Czechoslovakia, betrayed by the British, was sacrificed to Hitler's ambition. Poland was divided between Russia and Germany like a roast pig. Denmark and Norway fell without barely scratching the massive German war machine, and the combined forces of the Dutch, Belgium and British forces now lie cornered and vulnerable. France, it seems to everyone but the French, must fall shortly. When that happens, almost every country west of the Danube (except Britain) will live under a Fascist regime, while everyone east of the Danube lives and dies by Stalin's whim.
It is 25 May 1940, and you all receive a telegram. You're needed.
What is the SS? The SS was primarily the instrument through which the Nazi racial doctrine was implemented and enforced. Led by the empire-building Himmler, it took on other select tasks (such as fighting the war). However, it is best understood as a reflection of the Nazi party's desires and views of itself.
Here's what I've been able to find so far.
As I've mentioned before, the SS started as Hitler's personal bodyguard. At the time of the abortive Nov 1923 Beer-Hall Putch, the `Stosstropp Hitler' had some 50 members. At that time, they were a special division of the Rohm's Sturmabteilungen (the SA, or the storm-troopers), the Nazi Party's private army of 3000 men. After Hitler was released from prison in December 1924, he reformed them into the Schutzstaffeln. Himmler joined at this point and received membership number 168. At the 1925 Party jamboree (forerunner to the massive Rallies at Nuremburg) the SS received the `bloodflag' (flag stained with the gore from the Putch) from Hitler himself in recognition of their efforts on that day.
In 1929, Himmler was appointed to Reichfuher-SS, head of the SS. At that point, the SS numbered only 300 men, and was still a sub-section of Rohm's SA. Himmler, however, had a genius for acquiring power (if not exercising it), and the SS had a reputation as the elite corps of the SA, like the Roman Emperor's Ptaetorian Guard. They wore all black, as opposed to the SA's `brown shirts', and came to be known as the `Order of the Death's Head' after the insignia on their caps.
In 1931, SS membership reached five figures, and the SS Race and Resettlement Office was established to do two things: research the ancestry of SS members (and their brides) and to research the ancestry of foreign races to see which might be "Germanized." This is characteristic of purpose that the SS chose for itself: implementation and enforcement of the Nazi racial doctrine. The main force behind this purpose was not Himmler (who was more a bureaucrat that anything else) but his second in command, Reinhard Heydrich. More about him later.
By April, 1932, the SS had 30,000 men and the SA had ten times that. This is before the Hitler was chancellor, remember, and the Nazis were just one party among many. (The best armed, probably.) Then in 1933, the membership exploded. In March, the Nazi party closed membership because it was growing too rapidly. People then joined the still-open auxiliaries (the SA and the SS) so as to get an advantage for when membership opened again.
In June, 1933, Himmler, as Police President of Munich, created the Dachau KZ (concentration camp). This camp became the model for all other KZs of the Reich, though at this point it was reserved for anti-Nazis, professional criminals, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, beggars, prostitutes, and so on. The guards of the camp were from the lowest stratum of the SS, often uneducated, and brutal. They harbored a special hatred for intellectuals, often Jews and people who wore glasses. They rotated between three weeks of harsh military training and one of guard duty in which the watched the executions and whippings along with the prisoners. By autumn 1934, there were eight KZs.
In June 1934, the Night of the Long Knives, a territorial dispute between the SS and the SA erupted into open warfare. Himmler and Goring, threatened by Rohm's ambitions, liquidated all of their SA rivals. The elimination was widespread: regional SS directors were asked for a "death list" of their rivals, too. The killing went on for days. Heydrich (remember him?) expanded the bloodshed from SA rivals to all influential anti-Nazi persons, as well as rivals to Hitler in the Nazi party. And when I say warfare, I mean it. Armored squads drove through the streets of Berlin, and SA fugitives were hunted in the forests for days. After that, Hitler raised the SS to an independent organization and allowed to set up armored units of their own. After that, the SA withered away and was eventually absorbed into the German army.
After that, the SS grew so large that it can only be talked about in pieces. The overall strength of the SS, from what I can glean:
|Year||SS strength||Waffen-SS strength|
The Wirtschafts und Verwaltungs Hauptamp (WVHA, or Economic Administration Main Office) was in charge of SS enterprises founded on concentration camp labor. These included arms production, textile and leather manufacture, food processing, distillation, and so on. By the middle of the war, this little empire had grown to 50 million Reichmark per year.
Just to put this in perspective, the exchange rate back then was roughly 2.5RM = $1. This means that the WVHA was in charge of an industry grossing $20M per year, in -1940- dollars, which is roughly $244M of today's dollars. And the relative sizes and importance of these industries would have been even larger than that figure would indicate, since the size of the German economy was (probably) smaller than America's. (It's hard to get economic data on the Third Reich. All the tables I can find on the web have this big empty spot between 1938 and 1946.)
All concentration camps ended up under the control of the WVHA. This is undoubtedly the division that Klaus deal with. I'm currently doing research into this division.
I don't think I can do justice to this bizarre organization right now. I'll send out another letter soon on this.
The Order of the Death's Head, Heinz Hohne, 1966
Hitler's SS, Richard Grunberger, 1970
Some historical notes on the SS. The upshot is (a) recruits were chosen from the most physically perfect specimens available, ages 17 1/2 to 22; (b) many were ill-educated country boys; (c) they had to prove Germanic roots back to 1800 (officers to 1750); and (d) they had to have been members of the Hitler Youth.
The "Waffen SS" seems to have been the military division of the SS. I confess I'm not quite clear on what the other divisions were called, or how they differed in recruitment, or even if other divisions actually existed.
From Elite Forces of the Third Reich, a military history site, about the Waffen SS:
And here's what looks like an important bit:
The Waffen SS' training methods in the early years, were probably the single most factor that elevated them to elite status with more emphasis placed on physical fitness, weapons training and fieldcraft than their army counterparts who still adhered to the old style of army training. The SS-VT's pioneering training methods were implemented by Hausser and Steiner who placed great emphasis on aggression in the attack.
The Waffen SS, unlike any other army of the day fostered a great camaraderie between officers and NCO's unlike that of the British army who although a formidable fighting force had in place a class divide between officers and men which sometimes nurtured ill-feeling and resentment between the two. Hausser was strictly against this type of class system which was also present in the German army to some degree. All Waffen SS NCO's had to work their way up through the ranks, where they had to spend at least two years and only after being specially selected could they be sent forward to Officer training school. This was all regardless of the candidates class background and up-bringing.
So why did so many men volunteer for the Waffen SS? Although Himmler had overall control of the SS he was more of a hindrance than a help with his ideals on Aryan mysticism, astrology, homeopathy and Eastern conquest, which at the time had nothing to do with Hausser's or Steiner's plans and was a constant source of irritation to them as their intentions were strictly military. Himmler's insistence of selecting only the most physically fit however, meant that the best physical specimens would be selected which turned out to be a distinct advantage. Political motivation does not seem to be the primary reason for joining.
Most recruits were from rural areas of Germany which in the 1930's had meant that they had led a rather simple way of life and had received only a basic education, as opposed to their army counterparts who mostly came from the cities. This proved advantageous to the recruits as they would be used to outdoor life and living off the land which was taught in their training.
As with any elite formation, entry into the Leibstandarte was not easy though. Himmler insisted that the candidate be racially pure, that is being of good German stock and able to prove his Germanic roots back to 1800 (officers back to 1750). If it was later discovered that the candidate had Jewish ancestry then he would be thrown out of the Waffen SS. This sometimes infuriated Sepp Dietrich who complained that some first class soldiers were being expelled from his ranks. Also the candidate could have no criminal record, have no history of mental illness and be aged between 17 and a half and 22. Also he hd to be the correct height (5 ft 11 inches) and build with perfect vision, even as far as no filled teeth! Alcoholism was a definite refusal of entry. They could afford to be choosey at that time and besides the Waffen SS was to mirror the master race so candidates had to be physically and mentally perfect. Every candidate had to have been a member of the Hitler Youth and completed their six-months in the R.A.D. (labour corps). However these rules were relaxed slightly when the SS-VT was formed. It is worth noting that very little attention was paid to the recruits educational background. Many recruits had received only a minimum amount of education and were sometimes barely literate or numerate. This did not seem to be a setback as the reasoning was that a good education did not necessarily make a good soldier. This was another bone of contention with the Wehrmacht who were disgusted at the idea of a soldier coming from peasant stock, with no formal education becoming an officer. ... No recruit could join the Waffen SS without first gaining clearance from the local military authority. Himmler and BrigadeFührer Gotlob Berger-head of recruitment for the Waffen SS, side-stepped these restrictions by recruiting from existing police units and the Totenkopfverbande who provided the guards for the concentration camps.
By 1937 the V-SS had grown to three regiments:the Leibstandarte, 1st SS regiment Deutschland, based in München and the 2nd SS regiment Germania based in the Hamburg areas of Rodolszell and Arolsen.
It seems likely the backgrounds of these conquered peoples cannot have been as carefully screened as native German recruits. On the other hand, it seems they'd have more difficulty getting trusted with secret material.
When Western Europe was conquered, BrigadeFührer Gotlob Berger who was head of recruitment for the SS decided to accept volunteers who were racially qualified into the SS. These were so-called "Germanic peoples from the conquered Western European countries such as Danes, Norwegians, Dutch and Belgians as well as other Volksdeutsche from the Balkans and Poland. Recruitment centres were set up in these conquered territories and thousands of volunteers came forward. A training centre was set up in Sennheim in Alscae where these recruits were trained.
Here are the first few paragraphs of The Shadow over Innsmouth, by H. P. Lovecraft. This secret investigation is the proximate cause of the creation of P4 division of the ONI.
During the winter of 1927-28 officials of the Federal government made a strange and secret investigation of certain conditions in the ancient Massachusetts seaport of Innsmouth. The public first learned of it in February, when a vast series of raids and arrests occurred, followed by the deliberate burning and dynamiting - under suitable precautions - of an enormous number of crumbling, worm-eaten, and supposedly empty houses along the abandoned waterfront. Uninquiring souls let this occurrence pass as one of the major clashes in a spasmodic war on liquor.
Keener news-followers, however, wondered at the prodigious number of arrests, the abnormally large force of men used in making them, and the secrecy surrounding the disposal of the prisoners. No trials, or even definite charges were reported; nor were any of the captives seen thereafter in the regular gaols of the nation. There were vague statements about disease and concentration camps, and later about dispersal in various naval and military prisons, but nothing positive ever developed. Innsmouth itself was left almost depopulated, and it is even now only beginning to show signs of a sluggishly revived existence.
Complaints from many liberal organizations were met with long confidential discussions, and representatives were taken on trips to certain camps and prisons. As a result, these societies became surprisingly passive and reticent. Newspaper men were harder to manage, but seemed largely to cooperate with the government in the end. Only one paper - a tabloid always discounted because of its wild policy - mentioned the deep diving submarine that discharged torpedoes downward in the marine abyss just beyond Devil Reef. That item, gathered by chance in a haunt of sailors, seemed indeed rather far-fetched; since the low, black reef lay a full mile and a half out from Innsmouth Harbour.
People around the country and in the nearby towns muttered a great deal among themselves, but said very little to the outer world. They had talked about dying and half-deserted Innsmouth for nearly a century, and nothing new could be wilder or more hideous than what they had whispered and hinted at years before. Many things had taught them secretiveness, and there was no need to exert pressure on them. Besides, they really knew little; for wide salt marshes, desolate and unpeopled, kept neighbors off from Innsmouth on the landward side.
So, I recently realized I am an ignorant American, and don't know anything really about WWII beyond what you can get from Axis and Allies and Casablanca. Specifically, I don't know anything about the SS other then that they wear leather and I think they were Nazis. My big questions: How does one normally join the SS, and what do they do?
The SS started out as Hitler's personal bodyguard when the Nazi party was just beginning. The Nazi party at that time was growing at a phenomenal rate, and the leadership was funneling these new members into paramilitary organizations like the SS and the Stormtroopers.
A little digression here: The best way to explain the sheer preposterousness of the Nazi rise to power, and the role of the SS in it, is through analogy. Imagine if the Republican Party decided to organize its membership into its own private army. The NRA, absorbed into the Party, armed and trained Party members into an actual combat organization that marched through the streets. The Party also developed its own Republican Protective Force (RPF), dedicated to protecting the life of the Party's Leader (Pat Robertson).
Now imagine that the Party gained control of the White House and both houses of Congress through a fair and democratic election. Congress passes a resolution instituting martial law (even though America is not at war) and gives the Leader dictatoral powers. The Leader outlaws other political powers, making America an official Republican State. Elections are suspended. The Supreme Court and Congress are disbanded. The regular military is absorbed into the Republican Army, and the armed forces take oaths of fealty to the Leader personally. The RPF, in an effort to ingratiate itself with the Leader and expand its power, murders in cold blood all high-level Republicans who either appear politically moderate or potential rivals to the Leader.
Also, the RPF begins to round up "criminals" such as the Democrats and Green Party leadership and sends them to prison camps. The Party also declares that non-Protestant Christians (particularly Mormons and Hispanic Catholics) are no longer citizens and are not protected under the law. Shortly after that, the RPF organizes the new holiday of English Language Day, where the public is encouraged to break the windows of stores displaying Spanish-language signs, and to "take the streets" back from Hispanic thugs and drug-dealers. The RPF organizes in each major city an Segregated Zone, roughly six square city blocks, in which these undesirables are forced to live ("for their own protection"). Later, residents of these Segregated Zones are relocated wholesale to RPF-operated "Conversion Camps" and never heard from again.
Needless to say, political dissent in America is a risky proposition. The RPF has long since absorbed the CIA, the FBI, DEA, all state law-enforcement agencies and the "real" secret service. (The DIA and other purely military intelligence organizations, on the other hand, are left alone due to territorial squabbles.) The resources of these agencies is turned, in large part, to squashing dissent and rooting out non-citizen undesirables.
Most of this has been taking place out of the public eye. Newspapers print exactly what the Republican Party tells them to publish, and Mr. and Mrs. White Suburban America are inundated with messages that Everything is Just Fine. The RPF has also been developing an image as clean-cut, honest, well-scrubbed, all-American boys. The RPF actively seeks exposure in the public eye by prominent placement of its agents at social events. Bill Gates and Kevin Costner are given honorary agent-ship, along with several other prominent businessmen and celebrities. RPF Agents accompany Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman to the Oscars, and soon no social gala is complete without a few RPF Agents as escorts or window-dressing. RPF Agent, along with astronaut and fireman, become the profession that every little boy and girl dreams of, and young people apply en masse. The RPF, however, selects only the elite and most fanatic, after a thorough investigation to ensure that the applicant has only a purely Baptist or Fundamentalist lineage. The schools are of course run according to a Republican-approved curriculum, and the RPF even goes so far as to set up special academies of its own. The Boy Scouts is turned into the Republican Youth Corps.
A few minor fire-fights (which turn out to have been staged) between the US border Border Guard and Mexican aliens trying to enter the country are used as a pretext to invade Mexico. Mexico is defeated in roughly two weeks. The RPF organizes "cleaning crews"(composed of RPF agents) to operate just behind the rapidly-moving front line. The sole purpose of these cleaning crews are to round up Catholics trapped on now-American territory and kill them. Later, the effectiveness of the cleaning crews are estimated at roughly 450 Catholics killed per Agent (for a total of well over a million Catholics killed).
The RPF also organizes combat battalions of its own, which gain notoriety as vicious soldiers who show no mercy and obey orders at all costs. The RPF also forms anti-resistance squads that seek out the remnants of the Mexican resistance and resistance sympathizers. Suspected resistors and sympathizers are, of course, rounded up and shot in the back of the head. No trial, just a mass grave that the victims were forced to dig for themselves in a field somewhere. When the American-appointed Governor of Tiajuana is assassinated by a young man from the village of San Serbano, the RPF destroys it. Every man, woman and child in San Serbano is killed.
And so on.
Fantasy? No. This is exactly what happened. The SS was Hitler's bodyguard squad waaaaay back at the beginning, did take over all domestic and political intelligence, were in charge of the administration and organization of the Final Solution, came up with the idea of the Final Solution, werethe most vicious soldiers of battlefield, were in charge of hunting down and killing French, Czech and Polish partisans, did have battalions solely for finding and killing Jews found in newly-conquered Russian territory, and so on. They were the most fanatic followers of Hitler to be found anywhere.
On the other hand, it is hard to know exactly how much of this was known to the public at the time. It turns out to not be unreasonable that the German populace had no clear idea of the KZs (concentration camps), since all German media was under Nazi control. It is clear, though, that the SS's public face was that of the German elite. They were respected for their integrity and lack of corruption, generally admired, and to be an officer in the SS was the aspiration of an entire generation of German youth. There is no reason that your character would know about any of the atrocities listed above (or rather, their Nazi equivalents) if he didn't want to know. But you (Pete) should know that from a historical perspective, the SS was more or less pure evil.
So, here are some American events of 1939 I've been able to piece together from the net. It's kind of random -- f'rinstance, apparently nothing happened in March -- but non-war-related history stuff is pretty sketchy out there. Ah well. If there was any major topic of discussion for the year other than concern over worsening events in Europe, these reviews don't mention it. The essential debate to have an opinion on is Isolationists vs Interventionists.
http://www.bartleby.com/67/2208.html http://xroads.virginia.edu/~1930s2/Time/frames.htm http://www.flyingclippers.com/timeline.html
It is 1919, and the most hellish war the world has ever seen has drawn to a close. An entire generation of young men have been sacrificed on the bloody altars of Plague, Nerve Gas, Trench Warfare, and most of all, Politics. In Louis XIV's palace, the Big Four sign a piece of paper. Peace and prosperity return.
It is 1923, and Germany lies exhausted and drained, broken by the punitive terms of the Versailles Treaty. The mark is worth less then one one-hundredth of a cent; children use bundles of bills as building blocks in the street. A frustrated painter rises to the top of an obscure political party and launches a revolution from a beer-hall. He fails, and spends the next two years recounting His Struggle from his prison cell.
It is 1928, and the representatives of 15 countries, including Germany, Italy, Japan, France, Britain, and the United States, sign the Kellogg-Briand Pact. War is made illegal. The pact is soon accepted by every major country in the world.
It is 1929, and a bad day on the stock market becomes a world-wide depression that casts millions into abject poverty. America demands repayment of war loans from Britain and France, and pressures Germany for payment of reparations. Britain and France respond by... pressing Germany for payment of reparations.
It is January 30, 1933, and Hitler is elected Chancellor of Germany. It is February, 1933, and Hitler outlaws the German Communist Party and arrests their leaders. A new prison camp in Dachau is constructed for their confinement. It is April, 1933, and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei receives 43% of the vote. It is May, 1933, and the Nazi Party organizes book-burnings; thousands burn anti-German books. It is July, 1933, and trade unions are abolished along with all other political parties. America sleeps; Europe watches uneasily but lacks the resolve or interest to interfere.
It is June, 1934, and the Schutzstaffeln --- originally Hitler's bodyguard contingent, now numbering in the thousands --- coldly murder potential rivals to Hitler in the Nazi party. No one outside of Germany notices.
It is September, 1935, and the Nuremberg Race laws turn paranoid delusions into statute. Jews are stripped of their rights as human beings. No one outside of Germany notices.
It is October, 1935, and Italian troops invade Ethiopia. The impotent League of Nations lodges a protest --- after the invasion has finished. Mussolini announces a "Rome-Berlin Axis" around which Europe revolves.
It is March, 1936, and German solders return to the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland. The terms of the Versailles Treaty are broken, giving France the right to invade. France, not wishing to provoke a war, declines.
It is July, 1937, and a clash of Japanese and Chinese solders outside Peking becomes a full-scale Japanese assault. It is December, 1937, and the Japanese take the Chinese city of Nanking. 250,000 men, women and children are slaughtered in a bloodbath that lasts days. America, slumbering and stumbling under the weight of its own troubles, limits itself to sharp denunciations. The war between Japan and the forces of Chaing Kai-chek continues for several year, worrying no one.
It is March, 1938, and Germany announces their intention to unify all of the Germanic peoples under one state. Austria is absorbed into Germany without a shot being fired. It is October, 1938, and Germany invade the Sudetenland, citing persecution of Germanic Czechs.
It is November 9, 1938, the Night of Broken Glass. Thousands of Jewish storefronts are smashed, thousand of synagogues are brunt, and hundreds of Jews are killed. 30,000 Jews are arrested and sent to camps. Afterwards, Jews are forced to clean the mess and to pay a $400,000,000 fine. No one outside of Germany notices.
It is March, 1939, and Germany takes the rest of Czechoslovakia. The world holds its breath.
It is August, 1939, and Russia signs a non-aggression pact with Germany. It is September, 1939, and Germany invades Poland. Poland collapses under the lightning-fast German advance. Britain, France, Australia, and New Zealand declare war on Germany. Russia appears to demand its share as it invaded Poland two weeks later; Poland is divided between the two invading armies. Britain lands troops on the north of France, but the Allies fight the "phony war" solely with strongly-worded proclamations.
It is November, 1939, and Hitler escapes an assassination attempt miraculously unharmed.
It is December 24, 1939, and you receive a telegram. You have one week to get to Portland, Maine.
As colin roald gently murmured:
Has anyone written characters, yet? My understanding is that we are to be members of an OSS special forces unit in Germany sometime before the United States has actually declared war.Yes, eventually. However, you will be civilians or regular army officers at the beginning of the game; the prelude will be your induction into the OSS. (Well, technically, the ONI, Office of Naval Intelligence. The OSS wasn't formed until shortly after Pearl Harbor. But that's neither here nor there.)
Yes, you will an OSS team sent into Germany before the declaration of war of December 11, 1941. However, it is very very very unlikely that you will be a combat unit. The OSS was a intelligence organization, and it's very hard to get good intelligence while in uniform and lugging big guns around. Much better to be able to slip into the culture, mingle with important people at swank parties, and talk them into trusting you. Or blackmailing them. Or going underground to make contact with the resistance movements, or whatever.
The point is, this kind of espionage is all about two things: the people skills, and the tradecraft. Figuring out what kind of intelligence would be most useful, figuring out who would have access to it, figuring out how to get access to those people, figuring out which ones of them could be undermined or swayed, figuring out how best to sway them, etc. All people skills. Then there's figuring out how they can get the intel to you, how to tell if counter-intelligence is on to you, figuring out how to compartmentalize your network so that one breach doesn't sink the whole thing, figuring out how to get the intel to the boys back home, figuring out a new cover when the old one is blown, figuring out how to get new forged papers or forging them yourself, etc. --- all tradecraft.
This is not to say that guns won't come into play, but you won't be a commando unit. Interesting note: when OSS units were dropped into Germany they always had pistols with them. However, they were just for difficulties encountered at landing; they were supposed to be buried with the parachutes at the landing site. (Of course, this directive wasn't always obeyed.)
So, when drawing up your characters, think about the kind of person the ONI/OSS would be looking for. Tradecraft, they can teach. People skills, they can't. Also, they can't teach specialized skills that would be known to forgers, cat bunglers, impostors, con men, and safe crackers. Lastly, they cannot teach dedication to a cause. They would only be interested in you if you have a good reason for wanting to do it --- a reason that will sustain you through long lonely months and years of daily life-threatening danger in enemy territory, cut off from home and without any hope of rescue.
Historically, the OSS was staffed roughly 50/50 with amazingly intelligent and capable officers of both genders, and useless deadwood of both genders. Because it was more than a bit of an old-boys club, it tended to recruit from Ivy League colleges (and from Wall Street law firms, interestingly enough). It also scoured the office corps of the armed forces looking for anyone that seemed to have an aptitude for espionage. And in my setting, unlike real life, they also searched the prison population for forgers, con men, etc. who seemed willing to serve their country.
So that should give you some ideas for character backgrounds. Again, draw up your characters as they would be --before-- being inducted by the ONI. Don't worry about espionage-specific skills; I will give those skills to you between the prelude and first arc to represent your training. Oh, and it will probably become very important to know some European language and be able to live inconspicuously in Europe. You may want to be a refugee or immigrant of some kind, or have spend your childhood in Europe.
Lastly, your character will be asked before their induction if they would be willing to die for their country. They must have a good reason for saying "yes."
Until then, pleasant dreams.