Fascination with the Waffen-SS [the Fighting SS]
Stickel, Klaus, Mitteilungsblatt des Bessarabiendeutschen Vereins, June, 2012, 15-16.
Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO.
In 1940, my father, Emil Stickel, volunteered for the Waffen-SS. He told me how it came to this, and I have recorded it all in the book Im Sturm der Geschichte [In the Storm of History]. The following is an excerpt [in my father’s voice]. - Klaus Stickel.
During the early part of 1939 I had become a member of the Romanian army, but in July of 1940 the situation for us Bessarabian soldiers in the Romanian army became ever more uncertain, and the most incredible rumors were making the rounds.
A week later, while stationed in Temeshvar, in one single move we were not only dismissed from the Romanian army, but also deprived of Romanian citizenship, thus making us stateless persons, and then all Bessarabian soldiers were to be transported back to their homeland.
Herbert and I were standing outside the gate to the barracks, having been forced to give up all of our army equipment and clothing, and next to us stood a bunch of still incredulous comrades without boots and wearing nothing but their underwear. Fortunately, the two of us had entered the Romanian cavalry and brought along our own personal uniforms.
“Another hour until we have to be at the rail station,” Herbert said, pointing to the church steeple clock. “Let’s celebrate with a pitcher of wine. What do you think?”
“Good enough reason. You’re right, let’s go to the railway station pub.”
The place was rather lively. We found a table with a window facing a railroad platform. The waiter came by. “A pitcher of wine and two mugs,” said Herbert. Outside a train was about to take off, the locomotive hissing loudly, and people carrying suitcases were scurrying past the window. The waiter brought our order, Herbert poured, he lifted his mug and said “To what should we drink?”
I lifted mine and said, “To Bessarabia!” and we clinked.
“Yes, to Bessarabia! Soon we’ll be home.”
It was time for our departure, and hundreds of dismissed soldiers wearing more or less sufficient clothing were standing around, irresolute, hesitant. To our surprise, we suddenly heard over the loudspeaker that we were not going home and instead were being transported, under German guard, to Kronsberg in Siebernbürgen. “Well, not home,” said Herbert disappointedly, took his backpack and, like all the others, pressed on into a railroad car. We took our places, waited, and after some time the train finally began to roll.
A pact between Germany and the Soviet Union had been agreed to by which the ethnic German population in Bessarabia was to be resettled elsewhere. The process was to begin in mid-September and conclude by November 15 of 1940. The handling of all resettlement activities was placed into the hands of the SS. Its Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle [abbreviated as VoMi, theLiaison Office for Ethnic Germans. – Tr.] organized the transport and cared for the resettlers in receiving (or transition) camps. Concurrently, there was a campaign to recruit men for the Waffen-SS [Fighting SS].
The Waffen-SS had scored big successes in the Western campaign in 1940. In a national address on July 19, 1940 Hitler praised the deployment of the “brave divisions and various other units of the Waffen-SS.” The Wehrmacht itself [the German Army] had thereby acquired unwelcome competition. And it tried to keep it in check with administrative ploys. Although the Supreme Command tolerated active recruitment of volunteers for the Waffen-SS, it reserved the first right to keep any recruits for itself. It permitted only a third of the volunteers to be candidates for the Waffen-SS, leaving the latter just barely able to maintain its strength. To circumvent this dilemma, Himmler [chief SS commander – Tr.] established a “Command Post for Military Leadership of the Waffen-SS,” which he made responsible for supplying replacement troops. This command post immediately began to recruit among the youth not yet grabbed up by the Wehrmacht, especially ethnic Germans in Hungary, the Baltic, and Romania—before any of those fit for military duty ever entered the Reich. (Compare Höhne, Heinz, Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf [Order under the Skull and Crossbones], pp. 424 ff.)
Upon arriving in Kronstadt we were divided into groups of a hundred each. We spent the night in a vacated school at the edge of the city. The following morning the medical examinations began. This was followed by a recruitment session held by the Waffen-SS. Most of us volunteers were actually declared medically ineligible and sent off to Bavaria. Herbert had failed the written test, and Jakob was deemed too small and, besides, he had black hair. Those who were declared eligible, including myself, were allowed to seek entry to the Waffen-SS.
Presentations given to us about this particular corps filled us with great enthusiasm. It was trumpeted as being the spearhead for Hitler, and only the very best could ever hope to fulfill its high demands.
“And you have the opportunity to belong,” exclaimed the officer in black uniform who had given the presentation. “Do you want to stay with us and be among the best soldiers in the world and, in the meantime, assist with the resettlement of your ethnic comrades?”
Clearly this was our desire. The prospect of belonging to the elite unit, the Waffen-SS, was like a dream and, in addition, we were being offered a princely salary. Naturally, all of us decided to participate and, just like everyone else, I volunteered immediately. The next day we received black uniforms with high riding boots, and we were assigned to the Resettlement Commission. Soon after that we rode a train to the Danube harbor city of Galatz [Romanian name: Galati – Tr], where the resettlement camp was located.
There we observed how smoothly the organization of the resettlement was proceeding, and we were impressed by the discipline of the soldiers involved in it. We just could not cease being astounded – after all, we were familiar only with the sloppiness and inefficiency of the Romanian army.
To be accepted into the Waffen-SS was the only goal each one of us was determined to reach. We were getting close, we now had the black uniform, and if we would prove ourselves and fulfilled the tasks assigned to us not only well, but very well, it should all work out.
Immediately I was given a task that made real demands on me and filled me with enthusiasm. It awakened my ambition to belong to the best of the best, and that was the goal I wanted to reach.
The camp had been established at the Galatz airport and consisted of large tents holding around two hundred persons each. Three other soldiers and I were responsible for one of the tents. We were to take care of arrivals and to assign them to their sleeping spots. The initial wave of resettlers consisted solely of women and children, whom we had to register and whose next destination we had to to record to make sure that families could be reunited at a later time. Each morning at seven we were assigned our orders. Organized into blocks, we stood at attention while the camp director announced the tasks for the day.
At the beginning of the resettlement process, a total of 93,329 ethnic Germans were living in Bessarabia. In waves they all gradually arrived at our camp in Galatz, where they were assigned to transition camps in Germany. Every one of them, man or woman, old or young, was given a tattoo under the arm indicating their personal blood type.
The first wave of arriving buses brought in women and children. They would stay only two or three days before being transported further on the Danube to Prahova in Yugoslavia.
I accompanied the first wave of resettlers to the harbor, and after everyone was safely on board I went to the central administration office to get the resettler list for the Albota district. Vishniovka would not receive its turn until three weeks later, and Mama and Berta would be part of its second transport.
By the end of November, the resettlement process was complete, and by mid-December the Galatz camp was disassembled. We folded the sleeping cots and took down the tents. Of whatever materiel that was left behind—horse-drawn wagons, wood, impermissible baggage—much was picked up by a unit of the Banat Schwabians, and everything else was burned. By the time we left the camp site, nothing pointed to the fact that here there once had been a tent city that held thousands of people.
Next we went through our second sorting process. The third was to be in Berlin.
This was a purely medical examination to check the heart, circulation, stress factors, reflexes, etc. Only those who were in optimal health would be accepted. And it would take two days before the results would be announced.
“I hope it’ll all work out,” said Andreas Kugele excitedly as we were standing in formation. We were indeed accepted, so yet another hurdle was crossed, and we were one step closer to our goal. Via Hungary and Austria, we traveled by train to Berlin, where we moved into vacated barracks in Schönweide. The day after our arrival the next wave of examinations began, these with an emphasis on racial purity. They were conducted by members of the Race and Settlement Department in Berlin.
Only racially pure Aryans were accepted into the Waffen-SS. Our first task was to put together the so-called Proof of Aryanism, including a family tree going back to1799, to demonstrate that no Slavic or even Jewish blood was flowing in our veins. Then followed a physical examination, conducted purely for racial characteristics.
Placed under SS-Reichs-leader Heinrich Himmler, who was born in 1900 and was a breeder of chickens prior to his Nazi career, were the Gestapo [secret police], the security police, the SD [security services organization], the General SS, and the Waffen-SS. After Hitler he was the most powerful man in the German Reich. At his behest, Hauptsturmführer [literally, “main storm leader,” a rank equivalent to army captain – Tr.] Prof. Dr. Bruno K. Schulz had put together a set of racial characteristics to be used as criteria for acceptance into the Waffen-SS Himmler himself demanded the following prerequisites for acceptance:
“In no case must an SS-man lack a proportionally formed body on which, for example, the lower legs are in the wrong proportion relative to the upper legs. Whenever the lower legs and upper legs are entirely disproportional with the upper body, the desired proportional form does not exist, unless the candidates can prove that, despite unsatisfactory physique, the way they carry themselves demonstrates that they are Nordic human beings. Equally important is that the candidate does not comport himself like a servile being, but that his gait, his hands--in short, everything truly corresponds to what we consider as ideal.”
The doctors of the Commission used compasses to examine the proportionality of limbs, entered the resulting measurements in tables, checked the head, the nose and the way the ear was formed, checked the eyes and compared hair color with specific parts on a table of hues. These examinations took up an entire day, with the results to be announced the following day. We were hoping and dreading. Our goal of being part of the elite was very close.
Then came the line-up outside the barracks during which the results would be announced. A senior lieutenant read in alphabetical order the names of those candidates who were accepted. When he came to the letter K, the name of my friend Andreas Kugele was missing. Knowing that Andreas was not accepted, my optimism was shaken and I awaited with dread rhe letter S. However, the name “Stickel, Emil” was not missing after all. I had made it, and my joy was without limit. Just like all the others who did not make it, Andreas cried like a baby and remained inconsolable for some time.
“Man, Emil!” he said after he got himself calmed down, “You were really lucky! How great it would have been had we both been part of this bunch.” He hugged me and said, “Still, I am glad and I am happy for you.” What could I say to console him?
And all we others, those who had been accepted into the Waffen-SS—oh, how proud we were!
Our appreciation is extend to Alex Herzog for translation and for Nancy Herzog for editing this article.