Hans-Christian Harten, Himmlers Lehrer. Die

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Hans-Christian Harten, Himmlers Lehrer. Die
Francia­Recensio 2016/1
19.‒21. Jahrhundert ‒ Époque contemporaine
Hans­Christian Harten, Himmlers Lehrer. Die Weltanschauliche Schulung in der SS 1933–1945, Paderborn, München, Wien, Zürich (Ferdinand Schöningh) 2014, 707 S., ISBN 978­3­506­76644­1, EUR 78,00.
rezensiert von/compte rendu rédigé par
Jürgen Matthäus, Washington DC
In today’s public perception, no image of Nazism is as prevalent and as closely associated with the perpetration of mass violence as that of the black­uniformed stormtrooper. Starting with a small group of early Hitler­followers, the SS expanded massively. By the end of the war, it comprised close to a million men and several thousand women, most in the military ranks of the Waffen­SS; together with the German police, Himmler’s officers were to safeguard Nazi rule in the Reich as well as in occupied countries. Since the mid­1990s, scholarship has offered deep insights into the key role the SS played – not only in Berlin’s central offices, but also at the periphery – in atrocities against those perceived as »enemies of the Reich«, first and foremost by executing the »final solution of the Jewish question«. All the more surprising, then, that so far few studies have addressed the shaping of SS­men into »political soldiers« and genocidaires. Hans­Christian Harten’s »Himmlers Lehrer« offers important insights into this crucial topic. Focusing on the core institution (Allgemeine SS) and the Waffen­SS (a planned second volume will address the police and SD), the author outlines the evolution of ideological training since 1933 (chapter 1), its application to German and non­German Waffen­SS units during the war (chapters 2 and 3), the media and methods used (chapter 4), and socialization patterns of training officers based on the careers of more than 3000 SS­teachers (chapter 5). Despite the fragmentation of archival records, the book presents a stupendous amount of material in the form of biographic synopses, collated documents, and statistical data on pedagogical planning, didactic means, and material content. Through in­depth reconstruction of the personnel, institutions, and tools involved, Harten not only highlights the increasingly important integrative functions that ideological training fulfilled, but also points to its central role in cultivating an elitist esprit de corps, fostering violent activism, and, towards war’s end, counterbalancing the mental effects of military defeat. The expansion in the spectrum of SS­tasks after 1933, from manning concentration camps to surveillance, police and military tasks, called for commitment, ruthlessness, and initiative on the part of members – traits Himmler could take for granted in his old officer guard, but felt he had to instill and cultivate in the growing ranks of newcomers. By 1937 a foundational »Grundschulung« had emerged; devised by educators in the burgeoning Schulungsamt with a heavy focus on Nazism’s foes (»Gegnerkunde«), it gave structure to the incipient training system first throughout the Reich and later Lizenzhinweis: Dieser Beitrag unterliegt der Creative­Commons­Lizenz Namensnennung­Keine kommerzielle Nutzung­Keine Bearbeitung (CC­BY­NC­ND), darf also unter diesen Bedingungen elektronisch benutzt, übermittelt, ausgedruckt und zum Download bereitgestellt werden. Den Text der Lizenz erreichen Sie hier: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by­nc­nd/4.0/
in occupied Europe. Harten provides strong evidence for the degree to which SS­teachers formed a fairly coherent group around a core of early Nazified, academically trained, career­oriented, and highly activist professionals. Eschewing the blunt tools of mindless military drill, these men adopted a modern pedagogical approach aimed at nurturing positive learning experiences and group­bonding as the most efficient means for creating determined fighters in the war against the Reich’s internal and external enemies. In training manuals, reading materials, and classroom presentations, the specter of »the Jew« as polar opposite to the Aryan ideal type and as deadly political enemy loomed large. During the war, this binary code was adapted to match as well as foster the indigenous antisemitism of Ukrainians, Muslims, and other non­Germans recruited into the Waffen­SS (p. 412, 415–419). How well this message complemented the escalation of violent measures Himmler’s men adopted in addressing the »Jewish question« is attested to in some unit records, most notably regarding the notorious SS­cavalry brigade that in the summer of 1941 helped pass the threshold towards mass murder in the occupied Soviet Union (p. 233–251, 255–265).
The book presents the richest compendium to date on pedagogical aspirations and techniques applied to ideological schooling in Himmler’s apparatus. Written guidelines, reports, and other Nazi documents can help, but also hinder our perception of historic reality; in this respect, studying »weltanschauliche Schulung« in the SS poses the same challenges as assessing the actual strength of the Volksgemeinschaft­myth propagated by the regime. As documents never »speak for themselves«, source criticism is indispensable. The biographic data Harten painstakingly compiles draw heavily on SS­records prone to the embellishment of Nazi credentials on the one hand and obfuscation regarding involvement in atrocities on the other, as in the case of Paul Zapp, one of the authors of training guidelines whose role as commander of an Einsatzgruppe sub­unit (Sonderkommando 11a) in 1941 and later as Security Police commander in Simferopol goes unmentioned. What the book describes as extracts from the diary of Richard Walter Darré, the spiritus rector behind early SS­training, are in fact edited notes compiled after the war by one of his cronies while the original diary has been destroyed. Many paper plans devised by SS­trainers remained just that; conversely, the book neglects some important teaching tools: Harten stresses the SS­educators’ goal of creating a distinct attitude and posture (»Haltung«), but presents no visual material (the only photograph in the book is the one on the cover). The importance of non­cognitive training techniques in the form of festive and similar experiential events favored by Himmler gets a mention without being explicated. The massive amount of data presented by Harten calls for adequate contextualization, both in terms of broader SS­history and Nazi policy as well as textual analysis and interpretation; yet the book leaves the reader with little guidance. Frequent digressions into topical minutiae, organizational details, biographic synopses, and long document excerpts prevent a coherent narrative from evolving. Despite these shortcomings, the author raises important questions: How effective was ideological training in creating homogeneity within an increasingly heterogeneous force? Did structured indoctrination trigger Lizenzhinweis: Dieser Beitrag unterliegt der Creative­Commons­Lizenz Namensnennung­Keine kommerzielle Nutzung­Keine Bearbeitung (CC­BY­NC­ND), darf also unter diesen Bedingungen elektronisch benutzt, übermittelt, ausgedruckt und zum Download bereitgestellt werden. Den Text der Lizenz erreichen Sie hier: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by­nc­nd/4.0/
or just accompany the transformation of Himmler’s apparatus into a genocidal machine? To what degree did attempts at fostering empowerment, self­reliance, and activism in the SS contribute to the radicalizing dynamic of Nazi violence? Harten has promised to reflect on meaning, impact, and consequences of »weltanschauliche Schulung« in his follow­up volume to »Himmlers Lehrer«; for the time being, the connection between the teaching of hate and the execution of murderous policy in the SS remains an under­studied topic.
Lizenzhinweis: Dieser Beitrag unterliegt der Creative­Commons­Lizenz Namensnennung­Keine kommerzielle Nutzung­Keine Bearbeitung (CC­BY­NC­ND), darf also unter diesen Bedingungen elektronisch benutzt, übermittelt, ausgedruckt und zum Download bereitgestellt werden. Den Text der Lizenz erreichen Sie hier: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by­nc­nd/4.0/