Hitler’s For­eign Exe­cu­tion­ers: Europe’s Dirty Secret

Christo­pher Hale
  • Review
By – January 11, 2012

Christo­pher Hale, author of Himmler’s Cru­sade (2003), and a tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary-mak­er, advances our knowl­edge of the non-Ger­man per­pe­tra­tors of geno­cide who aid­ed the Nazis dur­ing the Holo­caust. Now, in his prodi­gious­ly researched book, Hale chal­lenges Goldhagen’s argu­ment by rais­ing the ques­tion of how Germany’s exter­mi­na­to­ry anti-Semi­tism accounts for the mass killing of Jews by the nation­als of Croa­t­ia, Roma­nia, the Baltic states, Belorus­sia, and the Ukraine, let alone Hitler’s will­ing exe­cu­tion­ers in Bel­gium, France, the Nether­lands, and Bosn­ian Mus­lim con­tin­gents in the Waf­fen SS. Hitler’s For­eign Exe­cu­tion­ers describes the col­lab­o­ra­tion of local non-Ger­man mili­tias through­out Europe in the bru­tal mas­sacres of Jews, as well as in the depor­ta­tion of Jews to the death camps. The author con­cludes that these non-Ger­man men and women were also Hitler’s will­ing executioners.

Once the Nazis invad­ed the Sovi­et Union in June 1941, the ene­my was not viewed as a hos­tile armed force but as uphold­ers of the Russ­ian-Bol­she­vik-Jew­ish sys­tem, and Jews were the ene­my sim­ply because they were Jews; their mur­der was jus­ti­fied because their exis­tence threat­ened the well-being of the Reich. This type of ratio­nal­iza­tion also char­ac­ter­ized the Roman­ian mas­sacre of Jews but for a dif­fer­ent rea­son; they per­ceived Jews as threat­en­ing a Roma­nia for Roma­ni­ans. The same held for many Rus­sians, Croa­t­ians, Lithua­ni­ans, Lat­vians, Esto­ni­ans, and most bru­tal­ly among Ukraini­ans. Hale notes that the for­eign vol­un­teers who joined the var­i­ous agen­cies of the Reich clear­ly under­stood the ethics” of the Ger­man war — Jew­ish women and chil­dren were not viewed as col­lat­er­al dam­age in the war against Jew­ish-Bol­she­vism,” but were delib­er­ate tar­gets for annihilation. 

Hale, who researched archives through­out Europe and used first-hand tes­ti­mo­ny, esti­mates that near­ly half a mil­lion Euro­peans and more than a mil­lion Sovi­et cit­i­zens enlist­ed in the armed forces of the Third Reich to fight a dead­ly cru­sade against a myth­ic Jew­ish-Bol­she­vism. Although Hitler fought his war to cre­ate an Aryan empire in the East, this objec­tive was not shared by the non-Aryan con­tin­gents who fought the war against the Sovi­et Union. What they did have in com­mon with Nazi Ger­many was their hatred of the Jews, thus mak­ing them both Hitler’s accom­plices and his will­ing executioners.

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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