Sunday, February 21, 2010

Swiss Volunteers in the Waffen SS

Switzerland was a strict neutral during World War II. However, as a loose confederation which consisted of three major ethnicities (French, Germans, and Italians), Swiss population were always sensitive to sympathy and solidarities attraction from abroad. So closeness cultural and economical relationship between Germany and Swiss German-speakers made the Nazis not only had a plan to incorporate German majorities areas in northern Switzerland, but also acted as they already annexed the area.

Among native Swiss there were at least 12 pro-Nazi organizations, which during theirs peaks have 40,000 followers. Most important among them were Dr. Ernst Biedermann’s National Front and Dr. Arthur Fonjallaz’s Faschistische Bewegung der Schweiz. Against the Swiss government wishes, some of Nazi sympathizers among theirs citizen, between 700 and 2000 men, actually volunteer for service within the German Wehrmacht and other Nazi services during World War II. Majority of them served in the Waffen-SS.

Most Swiss who served the Third Reich were German speakers who felt a kinship with Germany (many in fact had lived/studied in Germany before or during the war, and held or sought German citizenship). However, there were some French and Italian speaking communities from the country who also joined the Waffen-SS. An example is a SS ‘Charlemagne’ Division officer named Jean-Marie Stehli. The other one was an Italian speaker volunteer named Bruno Tissi who served in the Italian 29.Waffen-Grenadier Division der SS as an interpreter. The most highly decorated Swiss officer in the Waffen-SS had an Italian name, Eugen Corrodi. A German Cross in Gold winner, SS-Oberführer Corrodi used the pseudonym "von Elfenau" while in German service.

There never was a Swiss unit in the Waffen-SS. Most Swiss volunteers in the Himmler’s private army, 290 men, served in the ‘Nord’ Division, probably because they were presumed to be familiar with mountain terrain. In this unit, 62 of them were in 2./SS-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 6. The reason for their use as recce soldiers was due to the fact they had all received an exceptional good education, and thus compared to Volksdeutsche were more spirited. Since early 1943, Swiss officers (professionals and recent Bad Tölz graduates) were mainly used to fill out positions in the III. (germanisches) SS-Panzerkorps, especially Brigade ‘Nederland’. After the war, some of Swiss nationals who served in the Waffen-SS were sentenced in prison by Swiss military tribunals. At least one of volunteers, the Knight's Cross nominee SS-Untersturmführer Peter Renold, is known to have fought with the French Foreign Legion in Indochina to avoid being sent to Switzerland to face a trial.

Copyright © 2010 by Nino Oktorino

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