- Auswärts eingesetzt: Bremer Polizeibataillone und der Holocaust by Karl Schneider
This big, detailed, and carefully footnoted book analyzes two police battalions recruited in Bremen and very deeply involved in the Holocaust. The author traces the history of the Bremen police force in its various formations through the Weimar years, the Nazi peacetime and wartime, and the postwar era. Illustrated with numerous pictures of contemporary events and individual members of the police, the book is based on an extraordinary effort to retrieve information about an element in the history of Bremen that had been systematically and deliberately pushed aside. The story makes neither pleasant nor easy reading, but it certainly needed to be told.
The Introduction engages the reasons for the lengthy delay in the Hansa city’s facing up to this portion of its past, and the problems encountered in preparing this study. Two aspects of the chapter on the Weimar period deserve special mention. As the author shows later in explaining how easily the Bremen police officers and men turned to National Socialism, the city’s police were basically opposed to the Republic from the beginning and recruited those who shared that view. The other point of significance is that a substantial portion of the police was already militarized and quite intentionally so. Many of the men lived in barracks and trained in military formations and exercises with a high proportion having been soldiers in the war. As more joined in the Nazi years, this arrangement for a large segment of the police force was maintained, effectively integrating it into the German armed forces.
After detailing the changes and problems of the militarized portion of the Bremen police in the years 1933–1937, the author describes its role in the annexation of Austria, the occupation of the Sudeten area, and the seizure of the rest of Czechoslovakia. This is the beginning of a pattern of employment outside Bremen with ever more looting, violence, and drinking, until Police Battalion 105 lost one of its members to alcohol during the occupation of Norway. By that time foreigners and Germans from outside Germany were being enlisted in the Bremen police, although there is no reference to how the people in the city reacted to Ukrainian policemen. The unit, assigned away from its home city, had had a great deal of military training, had received some of the equipment it needed, and had had its ideological inclinations reinforced by further indoctrination.
In preparation for the invasion of the Soviet Union, the unit was sent by train from Norway across Sweden and back to Germany. Assigned to a security division [End Page 488] under German Army Group North, the 105th followed the advance into the Baltic states and received its introduction into the Holocaust in Lithuania, followed by moves through Latvia and Estonia to the siege of Leningrad. In this process the men become accustomed to the killing of large numbers of civilians, including many Jews, whether by locals, the Einsatzgruppen, or themselves. They also guarded Soviet POWs and at times drove them ahead as “Minentreter” to explode any mines—presumably another way to reinforce their self-perception as culturally superior.
In June 1942 the 105th was transferred to the German-occupied Netherlands. They were expected to behave here better than in the Soviet territories, though the locals apparently did not see that. The unit worked with the Dutch police, which was far more numerous, a point of significance when it comes to cooperation in rounding up Jews for deportation and death. A major responsibility of members of the 105th was escort duty on trains carrying Jews from the Westerbork camp, where they had been assembled, to Auschwitz. The book includes considerable detail on the fate of Dutch Jews, and places the battalion’s actions in this context. Imprisoned briefly after the surrender, members returned to Bremen, where many survived official de-Nazification and went on to assist in the de facto “re-Nazification” of the local administration and police.
The other police battalion Schneider reviews is the 303rd, established in...