Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Mutiny in the Balkans: Croat Volksdeutsche, the Waffen-SS and Motherhood *

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Mutiny in the Balkans: Croat Volksdeutsche, the Waffen-SS and Motherhood *

Article excerpt

In the fall of 1979, the prominent Danube Swabian Friedrich Binder greeted the appearance of Otto Kumm's history of the Seventh SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs-Division--a division overwhelmingly composed of ethnic Germans from the Balkans--with little enthusiasm. He points out that "Vorwarts Prinz Eugen": Geschichte der 7. SS Freiwilligen-Gebirgs-Division "Prinz Eugen" (1) is the work of a German divisional ex-commander and does not reflect the views of Swabians; (2) he states that Kumm's attempt to glorify this division fully misrepresents an ethnic group whose members were the victims of reprisals far greater than any suffered by the Germans of the Third Reich. Reaction to the book will continue to reflect negatively upon the expatriate Swabian community, he claims: "Leider nutzt es uns nichts, wenn wir konstatieren, dass die Landsmannschaft der Donauschwaben mit diesem Buch absolut nichts zu tun hat." (3) He criticises Kumm's historical method of interspersing documentary evidence with "Schwarmereien": as when, for instance, the writer claims that the division offered an imposing image of power and might, or when he reflects upon Himmler's positive view of the Prinz Eugen. (4) Similarly, Binder takes exception to the ex-commander's description of Swabians as "prachtvolle Menschen und Soldaten, aber vollig unmilitarisch in Haltung, Auftreten, Denk--und Sprechweise im altpreussischen Sinne." (5) Swabian recruits, he objects, had no interest in becoming Prussian-style parade soldiers; they were abused and misused. (6)

Binder's response to Kumm's history of a Waffen-SS division composed largely of ethnic Germans feeds into a controversy that has yet to be further examined objectively. To what extent were ethnic Germans the victims of the Third Reich's policy of aggrandisement? To what extent were they active participants and Fascist supporters? The Prinz Eugen Division, in which most Swabians served, has received few praises, apart from Kumm's, of its military conduct. George Stein's classic study of the Waffen-SS summarises the prevailing view:

 
   Perhaps the most shocking evidence against the Waffen SS was presented [in 
   the Nuremberg trials] on behalf of the Yugoslav delegation. It dealt with 
   the criminal activities of the 7th SS Gebirgsdivision "Prinz Eugen" and 
   offered graphic descriptions of the burning of villages, the massacre of 
   their inhabitants, and the torture and murder of captured partisans.... 
   Even evasive witnesses before the International Military Tribunal, like SS 
   Obergruppenfuhrer Paul Hausser, did not seek to deny these crimes but fell 
   back on the excuse that "Prinz Eugen" was composed largely of ethnic 
   Germans from Yugoslavia and that warfare in the Balkans was traditionally 
   brutal. (7) 

Other historians disagree with Stein's assessment, and, indeed, with Hausser's. Hans-Werner Schuster notes that Stein wrote in 1967; since then, he claims, the world has seen the full brutality of guerrilla warfare:

 
   In all diesen Kriegen eskalierte die Gewalt, verrohte der Krieg und die 
   Menschen immer mehr--und immer auf beiden Seiten. Deshalb muss das Urteil 
   von Stein relativiert werden, insbesondere jedoch die `Entschuldigung' von 
   Hausser, denn die Brutalitat der Kriegsfuhrung war die Folge des 
   Partisanenkrieges und hatte sicherlich nur wenig mit dem Balkan und mit den 
   Volksdeutschen zu tun. (8) 

In a similar vein, Johann Bohm goes to great lengths to exculpate the Volksdeutsche. He concludes that ethnic Germans were the victims of Nazi power structures: "Die Opfer von gestern sind die von heute. Den Tatern von gestern ist es gelungen, sich unsichtbar zu machen." (9) Another German-language historian refutes both Schuster's and Bohm's contentions of the ethnic Germans' relative lack of willing involvement. According to Matthias Fiedler, the ethnic Germans of Yugoslavia, more than half of whom did not join the Nazi-headed Kulturbund, (10) were the most indifferent to Germany of all groups of Volksdeutsche, but ironically, they were to suffer the most brutal reprisals of all groups at the hands of Tito's partisans. …

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