Thursday, December 22, 2011

Himmler’s Forgotten Slovakian SS Project

In his ambition to expand his black guards manpower, Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler targeting Independent Slovakia—a Nazi satellite state which had been created in March 1939. Beside his attempt to mobilized Slovakian Volksdeutsche into Waffen-SS, Himmler also tried to attract Slovakian ethnic volunteers to join his private army.  

The idea comes from Günther Pancke, the head of the RuSHA, who developed a plan that envisaged a fusing of the Slovakian population with the local Volkdeutsche. In Pancke’s view, after the removal of Jews and Gypsies, as well as the ‘exclusion’ of the population of Hungarian origin, amounting to around 500,000 people, it would be possible to win back this territory completely for German ethnicity, particularly if, in addition, some 100,000 Volkdeutsche families were settled there. 

Thus, in March 1940 the SS began to set about forming elite from the Hlinka Guards,  Slovakia's paramilitary organization and state police. Like theirs SS counterpart, Hlinka Guards members wore black uniform. 

Himmler sent SS-Sturmbannführer Viktor Nageler to Slovakia in the summer of 1940 to assess volunteers for the Guard in accordance with ‘racial’ principles under a guise as an adviser to the Hlinka Guard. Between November 1940 and January 1941 the Danube SS recruitment office carried out an assessment, disguised as a medical examination, of a total of 4,694 men. More than half of the candidates proved to be ‘suitable’; 40 per cent were even ‘eligible for the SS’. 

Nageler later started to create an elite unit from the members of the Guard, the so-called Wehrmannschaften (defence teams), who were envisaged as in the future helping the SS to integrate Slovakia into a greater Germanic empire. Although the implementation of such ideas would have damaged in the long term the privileged position the Volksdeutsche was claiming for itself in Slovakia, this was a project with which Himmler sympathized. 

Nageler himself told Himmler on 14 June 1941 that with his creation of a cadre within the Hlinka Guard, he was aiming to ensure that ‘in the event of a change in the form of government he would have a suitable leadership available’. Reichsführer SS adopted Nageler to assimilating young Slovaks through service in the SS project in October 1941 and immediately issued detailed instructions for the recruitment of Slovaks. They should be ‘subject racially to the strictest Germanic criteria’. 

On 1 September 1942 Himmler appointed Nageler his special representative for the recruitment of volunteers in Slovakia. In fact, from January 1943 onwards, with the support of the Slovak government, several thousand men were to be ‘recruited’ for the Waffen-SS, sometimes under considerable pressure. However, majority of them came from among the Slovakian Volkdeutsche German minority and Himmler’s idea of ‘Germanizing’ a Slovak elite through service in the SS as dropped.

The failure of his Slovak’s Waffen-SS project didn’t stopped Himmler to use the Hlinka Guard for his other purposes. Since 1941, Hlinka Guard shock troops (known as Pohotovostné oddiely Hlinkovej gardy, or POHG) were trained in Germany. A small group of them, the most radical element in the guard that called Náš Boj (Our Struggle), operated under SS auspices. After the anti-Nazi Slovak National Uprising in August 1944, the SS could took over and shaped the Hlinka Guard to suit its own purposes. They also employed the POHG mainly against partisans and Jews.