Recruitment for and Entry into the Waffen-SS [the Fighting SS]

Stickel, Klaus, Mitteilungsblatt des Bessarabiendeutschen Vereins, September, 2012, 18-20.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO.

Translator’s Note: In the German text it is not entirely clear which parts of this article are actual quotes from a cited book and which parts are original writing by Klaus Stickel. I assume all those paragraphs begun and ended by Klaus Stickel with quotation marks were excerpted from the book. – AH

Recruitment for the Waffen-SS was conducted even before the general resettlement [1940].
“SS Brigade Leader Gottlob Berger, leader of the [Troop] Replenishment Staff in the SS-HQ since 1939, who was the actual founder of the SS, had a son-in-law, Andreas Schmidt, who was in charge of looking after the ethnic German population in Romania.”

“Schmidt, an ultra-Nazi and the prototype of the immature, young fanatic, drunk with the cult of Hitler, promised his father-in-law to make sure that the Waffen-SS would have entree to Romania’s Germans. During the spring of 1940, Schmidt’s and Berger’s honchos were able to smuggle 1,000 ethnic Germans (some camouflaged as migrant workers) out of Romania, even though Romanian authorities were on guard against military-eligible, able-bodied young men deserting the country for foreign armies. Berger’s reaction at this success in Romania was so enthusiastic that in July, 1940 he suggested to Himmler that he consider steering toward the Waffen-SS those among 1.5 million ethnic Germans of Southeastern Europe who were able to serve in the military—‘with or without the help of those foreign governments.’” (From Höhne, Heinz, Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf [Order under the Skull and Crossbones], p. 425.)

“During the spring of 1941 Himmler defined once and for all what he meant by the term Waffen-SS. Up to that time he had deferred to the definition used by the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht, who recognized as Waffen-SS only actual fighting groups, their deployed units, the Totenkopf troops [Skull and Crossbones] and the three Junker schools [SS officer training schools]. In a directive issued by the Office of the High Command, 179 specific units and service groups of the Schutzstaffel [SS] were listed and were declared to be part of the Waffen-SS. These now also included units taking care of concentration camps, their administrative staffs, and the Totenkopf guard units.”

“Concentration camp guards were henceforth counted as members of the Waffen-SS. They had the same kind of pay books and wore the same kind of uniforms as the actual Waffen-SS, whose fighting units fought at the front and were not part of the system of terror perpetrated by the Concentration Camp Imperium. Yet those SS henchmen had one thing in common with the SS fighting soldiers: the High Command was responsible for arming and military-style training of the guard troops, and any transfer from one concentration camp into another henceforth had to be approved by the Waffen-SS leadership.” (Ibid, p. 430.)

Those few Bessarabians who voluntarily opted for the Waffen-SS knew, or were able to find out, what kind of troops they were expending their enthusiasm for. They were young, uncritical, idealistic, and enthusiastic over Germany and German victories. For many, the reality of war would make for a terrible awakening.

Entry into the Waffen-SS
In the June, 2012 issue of the Mitteilungsblatt I described how and why my father, Emil Stickel personally volunteered for the Waffen-SS. In the following, he describes (his own words) how he was accepted into it and he provides details about the basic training he underwent.

On January 3, 1941 I (Emil Stickel) was assigned to the Waffen-SS Division “Totenkopf” [literally, “Death’s Head,” equivalent to Skull and Crossbones. – Tr.], and in Stralsund on the Baltic Sea I entered the required three-month basic training. But first we Bessarabians were officially naturalized. During a festive act, our battalion commander conveyed German citizenship upon us and handed out the official naturalization certificates. At that time I met Arnold Necker, who had traveled in the same train with me. He, because he was of smaller stature, was assigned to a third group, I to the first. We lined up in front of the uniform store, handed in our black SS uniforms and received the green uniforms of the Waffen-SS. The belt buckle carried the inscription “Our Honor Means Loyalty.”

We were very happy finally to be members of the Waffen-SS. How ambitious and motivated we were! Constantly hammered into us was the slogan “We are going to make the best soldiers in the world out of you! We are the elite!” We Bessarabians were indeed ambitious. Together, in one single company, we were eager to show the Germans from the Reich, who liked to call us “Booty Germans,” that we ethnic Germans were as good as they were, if not better.

Given the high demands of the Waffen-SS, the training was correspondingly tough. The goal was to turn us into soldiers with better than average marching and fighting abilities—a kind of elite military athlete. We were often at the physical limits of our performance potential. Ground training took place in the forenoon, and it was wintertime, making it hard to crawl around in snow and snowy mud. “Up quickly! March!” was the command. “Take cover!”--which meant making a full dive into ice-covered puddles. Our clothing was always completely soaked. We marched up-tempo, against an icy wind coming from the Baltic, for thirty kilometers [18 miles] in four hours, carrying 25 kilograms [circa 60 pounds] of equipment. At that tempo we did not march, we nearly ran the whole time. And then we often heard the command “Put on gas masks!” And, worse, he shouted, “Two, three, a song!” Under our masks, we gasped for air while trying to sing at the same time “Oh, du schöner Westerwald!” [A common folk song praising the charms of the Westerwald Forest – Tr.].

“You call that singing!? All I hear is croaking sounds!” shouted the company boss. We then sped up our run, and suddenly another command: “Cover!” Out of a full run, we fell flat onto the ground. And then, of course, “Everyone up!” Back up and lined up once more, we continued our up-tempo marching.

Coming back to the barracks we were, as in every evening, completely exhausted. But I was still excited, highly motivated, and I had the ambition to be the first to reach the goal. At times I overexerted myself, was at the end of my strength, my heart racing, muscles and limbs aching, lungs burning with each breath, close to choking. Still, my ambition and my goal and will to be among the best kept driving me onward and to get even more out of myself. “No, you must keep going!” I would hammer into my brain whenever I was close to breaking down.

It was inhumanly hard. We cursed that it was all just mistreatment.

On another evening after we had come back totally exhausted from ground training, Anton Gräβle, whose locker was next to mine, said, “Emil, did you ever imagine it was going to be this hard?”

I took off my wet uniform and put my jacket on a hanger: “No, I had not imagined it to be this bad.”

He dropped onto his cot and said: “I am amazed that I can still take it! You know how they say, ‘what doesn’t kill us will make us even tougher!’ They’re right!”

Our group leader came by and told us, “Men, this is not meant as chicanery. You’ll need this training when you’re deployed.”

After returning to the barracks after a particularly hard day, our company commander told us, “Sweat saves blood. Someday you’ll be glad to have received this kind of training. We must be better and perform better than the enemy, and only then can we say, ‘Give death and take death—that’s our motto!’”

We worked on perfecting the use of the carbine, the pistol and hand grenade. During close-combat training we were taught how to kill with a knife, bayonet and collapsible spade. We learned how to break the enemy’s neck with our bare hands. Again and again we fought each other to master, in our sleep, all holds and to defend against them.

Along with our military training we received indoctrination on the National Socialist ideology and on the superiority of the Aryan race and its destiny for conquering the world for a Thousand Year Reich. Further topics were the conspiracy of World Jewry, and others such as Volk [The People] and Raum [living space].

I did not question the indoctrination during our training. Whenever—which was often—a particular doctrine was in crass opposition to my Christian values, I simply noted it. I considered party ideology just like a course of study that I needed to master if I was to make progress--like a soldier simply learning a certain poem by heart—and I committed everything to memory so that I would always be able to have the right answer for questions and exams.

Some topics from the propaganda seemed to make sense to me, such as the superiority of the Aryan race. In Vishniovka I had grown up in a village with a 65 % majority population of ethnic Germans, while the other 35 % were comprised of Romanians, Bulgarians, Russians, Moldovans, and Jews.  Looking at the condition of any specific property in the village, it was always obvious which belonged to a member of a specific ethnic group. Day laborers and others who worked for us were usually Romanians or Moldovans who lived from hand to mouth and could never get ahead. My experiences in the Romanian army, an organization dominated by corruption, also confirmed my ideological impressions for me.

In the yard of our barracks, groups of gaunt-looking detainees under guard maintained the greenery. Every time I passed such a group, an overseer shouted, “Hats off!” The men in striped garb would jump to their feet, tear their caps off their shave heads, stand at attention and stare down to the ground. And after I had passed them, the command was, “Hats on!” I found this to be odd, and it made me feel uncomfortable.

In the evening, right after inspection, Anton Gräβle, who was lying on the next cot, asked, “Did you see some detainees?”

“Yes, I noticed them. I wonder why they are being punished.”

“Being in the concentration camp, they must have done something, otherwise they wouldn’t be here. Why should I worry about them?”

We were in Company Two. During the course of training we developed into the best in the battalion. Our commander even allowed us to sing our own Bessarabian folk songs instead of the usual “Westerwald” song.

Whenever a company from the batallion was needed for a parade, it was ours, the Bessarabian one, also called “the handsome one.” How proud we were about that! We all had light-colored hair, not one among us had dark hair, and all of us were quite tall. With my 1.80-meter height [6’ 3”] I was one of the tallest and always stood in the front row.

To be in a parade meant a lot of drills in preparation. We practiced the Stechschritt [goose step] to precision. At each step one leg was stretched and brought up to a horizontal position parallel to the ground, and all 100 of us had to do it precisely together. Even more strenuous was the goose step accompanying a funeral march. A second to get one leg up high, a brief hold, another second to bring that leg down ever so slowly. This drill took up several hours a day, and by the evening we felt like our legs were going to drop off.

The battalion released our specific company to march in major parades. We ambitious Bessarabians marched in precision, without mistakes, which made our commander happy.

Our company was ordered to march in the funeral procession for an SS general. Doing the funeral goose step and saluting was a special honor for us.

Finally, basic training was over, and we were transferred to advanced training to the troop training complex at Stettin.

In the Royal Romanian Cavalry I had already practiced shooting machine guns, so I volunteered for that weapon, although my acquired skills were far from what was required now. We had to master knowledge of the weapon, ballistics, the theory of shooting, and taking apart and putting back together the weapon—blindfolded and against the clock, in the grass and in mud and rain. Woe to anyone if any part was not found immediately! And these were just initial training phases.

On the training ground I had to carry, in addition to normal equipment, a 12-kilogram [ca. 26 pound] machine gun and a few extra magazines. This training was tough and intensive. Collaboration among a weapons team had to be a hundred percent, even during hardest exertion. I had the job as main operator of the machine gun. We practiced a case in which Gräβle, Shooter #2, would roll my corpse away in order to take over the machine gun. He and Shooter #3 normally carried the ammunition boxes.

“On the attack!” the drill instructor shouted. We jumped up and ran. Then, “Positions!” That meant going to the ground from a full run and getting the machine gun into shooting position. The instructor stood near us using a stop watch. If he thought we weren’t fast enough, we repeated it all, and sometimes this continued into the dark of night.

Practicing changes in positioning took on an importance of life and death. During an attack on us, enemy fire would immediately concentrate on our machine gun operators. So we needed to run, take up our positions, shoot and, if the enemy might be coming too close, we needed to change location.
We did these exercises every day, crawled on the ground, and the instructors would shoot just above our heads. “Hopefully they’ll aim properly,” said Anton as the instructors began to fire away. I kept my head down and tried not to think of anything else.

“It’s not the first time they’re doing this!” I replied, but ducked as a bullet landed in front of us. “That was close!” In due time we got used to the whistling sounds of all the shooting.

The tough training was good for us. We learned how to move under fire and to keep our heads low when bullets were whistling around. To balance things out, we took part in competitive sports, boxing, and wrestling. I was really good at wrestling, being able to pin opponents considerably stronger and heavier than I.

By June this phase of training was complete. The twelve best, which included me, were appointed deputy group leaders.

Next we were supposedly being assigned to Finland and the polar sea front against the Russians. From our “Totenkopf” Division and the SS Police Division, Waffen-SS “Fighting Group North” was formed as a constituent unit of the 36th Corps. The commander staged a farewell ceremony on the barracks grounds. The following day in the harbor, he ordered our company to form a circle around himself and told us: “Boys, as a farewell, sing for me your song from Bessarabia!” We sang with utmost fervor, I felt my homeland, thought about Vishniovka, my home village, which it was no longer. I happened to glance at Arnold Necker, who looked directly into my eyes, and nodded lightly. He must also have been thinking about Vishniovka. I had a lump in my throat, and the commander, like the rest of us, was close to tears.

Our appreciation is extend to Alex Herzog for translation and for Nancy Herzog for editing this article.

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