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  • Wegbereiter der Shoah: Die Waffen-SS, der Kommandostab Reichsführer-SS und die Judenvernichtung 1939–1945
  • Bruce Campbell
Wegbereiter der Shoah: Die Waffen-SS, der Kommandostab Reichsführer-SS und die Judenvernichtung 1939–1945, Martin Cüppers (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2005), 464 pp., €59.90.

Our understanding of the Holocaust has been progressively enriched by recent studies of particular regions and military units during World War II. Martin Cüppers's detailed investigation of the Kommandostab Reichsführer-SS and its [End Page 305] subordinate units serves as a critical examination of the myth that the Waffen-SS were "soldiers like all the others."1 Focusing on the 1st and 2nd SS Infantry Brigades and the SS Cavalry Brigade, Cüppers extensively documents widespread and systematic Waffen-SS involvement in Nazi war crimes.

In the first section, Cüppers covers the creation of the Waffen-SS and the planning of the campaign against the Soviet Union, emphasizing that most of the Waffen-SS units that later came under the Kommandostab's aegis were already experienced and enthusiastic murderers. Some of these units had been deployed in Poland before the Kommandostab was created and had engaged in widespread atrocities against the Polish civilian population—particularly Jews. Cüppers stresses the ideological and racial character of the occupation of Poland and the planning for the attack on the Soviet Union.

In the second part of the book, Cüppers focuses on the social structure and mentality of the Waffen-SS troops under the Kommandostab. His aim in this section is to explain why these men committed mass atrocities, in many cases with extreme brutality and great enthusiasm. Cüppers finds that rather than "ordinary Germans," these were "political soldiers" with a disproportionately high rate of membership in both the SS and the NSDAP. He points out that many of these men volunteered for full-time service in the SS, undergoing further indoctrination in Nazi ideology and the particular SS version of masculinity. The common postwar Befehlsnotstand defense,2 Cüppers categorically insists, simply does not correspond to the available record.

Because Cüppers has limited data at his disposal, his social portrait of the men is less persuasive than it might have been. While we have fairly good information about Waffen-SS officers, social data for the lower ranks—derived mainly from postwar police interrogations that provide such data only arbitrarily—are only partial. Thus, the assertions that the officers came mainly from the middle class or upper class, that the rank and file came from the lower middle or lower classes, and that the "classical industrial proletariat" was signally underrepresented, can be only suggestive. The same is true of Cüppers's insights into the political socialization of the Waffen-SS officers before they joined the Nazi movement: his analysis is provocative, but too brief to be conclusive. More important is his finding that the rank and file consisted disproportionately of ethnic Germans from outside Germany (Volksdeutsche)—though this may be a function of the author's selection of units to be investigated and not characteristic of the entire Waffen-SS. Still, he documents the recruitment of Volksdeutsche in Poland as early as October and November 1939, and the presence of relatively large numbers of Romanian and other Volksdeutsche in the armed SS by spring 1940 (pp. 87–89).

The third section, in which Cüppers analyzes the actions of the troops under the Kommandostab in the first six months of the campaign against the Soviet Union, is the heart of the book. In contrast to other recent studies,3 Cüppers sees the units of the Kommandostab as agents not primarily of economic exploitation, [End Page 306] but rather of ideological or political warfare. In the first six months of the Soviet campaign, he asserts, the three Waffen-SS brigades under the Kommandostab committed mass executions and other atrocities in a widespread and systematic manner. He argues further that this had been their main function from the outset, and that the "anti-partisan battle" was merely a euphemism. Cüppers contends that the troops under the Kommandostab were the first German troops to engage in the systematic mass...


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