- The Making of an SS Killer: The Life of Colonel Alfred Filbert, 1905–1990 by Alex J. Kay
In The Making of an SS Killer, Alex J. Kay provides an astonishingly well-sourced and detailed account of the life of SS Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) Alfred Filbert, the first commander of Einsatzkommando 9, which killed over 18,000 Jews in Lithuania and Belorussia. Kay notes that "of the seventy-five men who commanded one of these groups or commandos in the German-occupied Soviet territories during the years 1941–1944, biographies exist for merely three of them" (p. 2). His choice of Alfred Filbert recommends itself for several reasons. Filbert directly oversaw the crucial transition to total genocide in late July 1941 as a mid-level perpetrator, in fact "the first commander to also murder women and children" (p. 3). Ironically, although Filbert ended the war with the same rank as Adolf Eichmann, he was dogged throughout his career by the fact that his brother Otto was in a concentration camp for "treachery" (p. 37). Finally, Filbert's postwar trajectory was strangely public: tried, convicted, and released early, he went on to star in a film that "addressed the continuity of Nazi biographies in the Federal Republic of Germany" (p. 3) and was cast as himself. Filbert exited the war unrepentant: the same self-promoting, self-absorbed bigot who originally entered the Nazi Party. Kay's study shows that fitting perpetrators into single categories of motivation is too imprecise: in perhaps most cases several motives were at work.
Alfred Filbert was born into a Rhenish military family and spent his first six years in an infantry garrison, though unlike his father, he was too young to fight in the Great War. The French occupation of the Rhineland for much of the 1920s likely inspired Filbert's resentment as a young man. He studied law in Heidelberg, receiving mediocre grades and fraternity dueling scars. His time there coincided with that of future Einsatzgruppe A commander Heinz Jost, also a member of the Alemannia fraternity. Thus, from his student days Filbert was lodged in a nationalist and antisemitic milieu.
Filbert joined the SS in August 1932. Here he met with the approval of his superiors. In 1933 in Giessen, where Filbert was then studying law, his path intersected again with Heinz Jost. Jost was poised to begin his SD career at the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) in Berlin. This was Filbert's conduit to that power center, where he took up his own station under Jost in the SD (Security Service) Counterintelligence Office (Amt VI) in 1935. Meanwhile, his Nazi academic chairman conferred on him the Doctorate of Law on the basis of a twenty-page dissertation. He married in 1937, his spouse approved by the SS, and soon fathered the first of two sons. Despite a public reproach by RSHA chief Reinhard Heydrich for the SD's insufficiently-detailed reports from foreign posts, Filbert began the war as an SS Obersturmbannführer in 1939.
Yet that was Filbert's final promotion. Both of his parents had joined the Party in 1933, but Filbert's brother Otto, who had lived for twelve years in the United States, was lukewarm on the [End Page 123] dictatorship. He nevertheless returned to Germany in 1938 and was trapped there when Germany began the war. An incautious comment after the attempted assassination of Hitler on November 8, 1939 ("pity the scoundrel didn't perish") led to Otto's immediate arrest. Himmler intervened to impose indefinite internment in a concentration camp. Mortified, willing to try anything to salvage his career, in 1940 Alfred Filbert unsuccessfully sought to sign up for frontline service in the Waffen-SS. But in March 1941, Filbert learned of the plan to invade the Soviet Union. His original sponsor and boss at SD Counterintelligence, Heinz Jost, had himself become even more professionally sidelined than Filbert, who had begun representing Amt VI in meetings in...