Red Cross, Black Swastika

A busy winter scene at a railway station somewhere in the sprawling Third Reich. Troops from a cavalry unit stand around while women from the Deutches Rotes Kreuz (DRK; German Red Cross) are preparing to serve something hot, perhaps coffee or soup. In the background, railway employees walk with snow shovels over their shoulders. The soldiers are probably on their way to the Eastern Front, a journey that usually took several days, sometimes waiting on railway sidings for other trains to pass, and then the dangerous travel through partisan-infested areas. The DRK, as one of the auxiliary organizations helping the Wehrmacht, was there to offer relief.

Instituted in 1864 , the DRK was a voluntary civil assistance organization that was officially acknowledged by the Geneva Convention in 1929. One of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles prevented the DRK from having any involvement in military matters, but with the Nazi rise to power in 1933, the DRK, like most other organizations in the Third Reich, was nazified (those that weren’t were prohibited). Leftist and Jewish members and staff were kicked out, and those who remained were expected to conform to Nazi ideology. After the defeat of Germany, the DRK was outlawed like all other Nazi organizations, and had to start afresh. The German Red Cross of today has nothing to do with the doings of the DRK of 1933-45.

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Bring out the barrel

I wonder what’s in that barrel… A peaceful scene with a wintry backdrop, probably late in the winter of 1941-42. The icy barrel is placed on a small sled pulled by a hardy horse. Three German soldiers, one holding a single ski pole, are accompanied by two “Hiwis”. A “Hiwi”, which is short for Hilfswilliger (voluntary assistant), was a Soviet civilian or prisoner of war who had been enlisted or volunteered to assist the German Army. The one in the center of the photo wears overalls and valenki felt boots, while the other appears to wear a mix of military and civilian clothing. His armband has the text Im Dienst der Deutschen Wehrmacht (“In service of the German Armed Forces”) printed on it. This armband was introduced on 1 October 1941 for wear by non-German civilians serving the Wehrmacht and Soviet auxiliaries when not in uniform. If the Hiwis survived the war, they were probably sentenced for treason and sent to the gulag, from which they weren’t released until 1955.

Working girl

A Jungführerin of the Reichsarbeitsdienst der weiblichen Jugend (RAD/wJ, Female Youth National Labor Service) with her floppy hat and swastika-adorned brooch. At the same time that the RAD was officially established in July, 1934, it was also divided into separate sections for males and for females. The Reichsarbeitdienst Männer, or RAD/M, was set up for men, and the Reichsarbeitdienst der weiblichen Jugend, or RAD/wJ, for females. All young women between 18 and 21 years of age were expected to serve. For women the period of service had been six months since 1939, but this was often extended by an emergency service obligation. In July 1941, the service was extended by a further six months to twelve months, extended to 18 months in April 1944, and finally made indefinite in November 1944. The extra (wo)manpower gained by the extended service term of 1944 was mainly used for anti-aircraft defense.

The female RAD replaced male agricultural workers as they entered Wehrmacht service, but they also joined the workforce in offices, in the armaments industry, and in public transport. Their main tasks were to assist peasant families with childcare and as teachers or nurses, or to work in the household, in the field, or taking care of farm animals, milking cows, and so on.

The daily routine, with its detailed schedules, left the members of the RAD/wJ with little time at their own disposal and resembled that of the soldiers: not counting the lunch break, the work hours amounted to about 76 hours per week. Also, the evenings were usually planned, and with no time for activities outside of the camp; this required special permission, as in the case of the military. The RAD completely replaced the existing social environment. Thus, a collective identity was to be developed in the new “community”, indoctrinating the RAD/wJ members into the Nazi state.

Women were also able to serve as Wehrmachthelferinnen (Army female auxiliaries), like telephone operators (“Blitzmädel“). To this end, the period of service was extended by six months. From 1944 the RAD/wJ was also used for the operation of anti-aircraft searchlights in support of anti-aircraft guns and Luftwaffe nightfighter units.

The manpower shortages required that women served, just like in many other countries affected by the war. For the Nazis, women were mainly to be mothers and to take care of the household. The war production relied on slave and forced labor, which often resulted in sabotaged munitions and other war materiél. Had German women been employed earlier, the war industry might’ve run smoother.

Dressed for work

…or perhaps overdressed. With the Nazi fascination with uniforms, it seemed like half of Germany was dressed in one uniform or other. This Feldmeister (rank equal to an army second lieutenant) wears the earth-brown uniform of the Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD; National Labor Service). The breast pocket is adorned with the Reich Sports Badge and the SA (Sturmabteilung) Sports Badge, while a NSDAP (Nazi party) members’ pin is worn by the tie knot. He carries a hanger – a heavy knife – the grip covered with deer antler and the blade etched with the RAD motto “Arbeit adelt” (“work ennobles”). The sleeve patch over the swastika armband has the number “44”, which means that he belongs to the 44th Arbeitsgruppe in Arbeitsgau IV (Pommern-Ost – Eastern Pomerania). An Arbeitsgruppe was made up from 1,200 to 1,800 men, eight of which made up an Arbeitsgau.

This guy could probably look forward to sit out the war in relative safety, tasked with training new RAD recruits before they went on to military service. As the war progressed and the situation at the fronts became more desperate, several RAD units found themselves deployed from rear-line support to more direct combat. With little or no combat training, most of them fared poorly. So, did the guy above end up at the front, or did he have connections that saved him from the fate of millions of his compatriots? The Eastern Pomerania location is bad news, as that area was overrun by the Red Army. Unless he changed to civilian clothing, or made his way west, the future looked grim…

Drive to the East

At first glance, this photo might be mistaken as being of an SS soldier.  The collar tabs and the sleeve eagle look like those of the Waffen-SS. This isn’t the case, though. In keeping with the motor transport theme set by the previous two posts, the guy in the pic is a member of the Nationalsozialistisches Kraftfahrkorps (National Socialist Motor Corps). The NSKK was a paramilitary organization within the Nazi Party, and served as a training organization, mainly instructing members in the operation and maintenance of motorcycles and cars, and providing drivers for Party officials. With the outbreak of WW2, NSKK members were recruited to serve in the transport corps of various German military branches, since they possessed knowledge of motorized transport, a useful skill when the bulk of German ground forces relied on horses. The NSKK was used to transport German Army troops, supplies and ammunition. By the time WW2 began, the NSKK had already trained some 200,000 men at its 21 training facilities.

The man in the photo is an NSKK-Rottenführer, which is the equivalent of a lance corporal. On the back of the photo it’s noted: “Jalta / Krim Juli 1943”. Given the Crimea location taken together with the collar tab which says “Sp”, it can be concluded that he is a member of Transportbrigade Speer, which followed Army Group South, providing infrastructural backup and supplies. It was organized in 1942, and had almost 50,000 vehicles and comprised about 70,000 men. Members of the Transportbrigade Speer wore either the gray-blue uniform of the Luftwaffe or the brown uniform of Speer’s staff (like the man in the photo). As with all other Nazi organizations, the NSKK was disbanded in May 1945.

Picnic in wartime

Thursday 8th June 1944, outside Turin, Italy. An SS-Untersturmführer (Lieutenant, standing) and a Fallschirmjäger (sitting in front of him) enjoy a day out together with a couple of Wehrmachthelferinnen (female Army auxiliaries), two civilian women and a little girl. The woman in the floral pattern dress (probably the mother of the girl) has donned the SS officer’s peaked cap, the silver death’s head glinting in the sun. It looks idyllic, but the people in the photo don’t know that there’s just eleven months left of the war. On 4 June, Allied troops captured Rome, and two days later Allied forces landed in Normandy. The Third Reich is crumbling around them, but perhaps they think that the vengance weapons or some other miracle the propaganda talks about will turn the tide of the war.

The female auxiliaries wear the lightning emblem of the signals troops on the sleeves of their white dresses, identifying them as telephone or radio operators. Over half a million German women served as auxiliaries for shorter or longer periods during the war, more than half of them as volunteers, the rest as conscripts. Those in signals capacity were known as “Blitzmädel“, “lightning-girls”, because of the signals troops patch. Other served as Flakhelferinnen (female anti-aircraft auxiliaries), manning searchlights, rangefinders, listening equipment, and even AA guns. It isn’t known how many women were killed while in service of the Wehrmacht.

Totally RAD

An Arbeitsmann from the Schleswig-Holstein Arbeitsgau, 76. Arbeitsgruppe, 3. Abteilung, stands among the dunes of the German North Sea coast. He wears the brown uniform of the Reichsarbeitsdienst, the State Labor Service. Basing RAD on earlier labor organizations, the Nazis made service compulsory and nationwide. Every man aged 18 to 25 had to serve for six months before they were called up for army service. Before the war, the RAD was mostly deployed in agricultural and similar projects in Germany. While not a part of the Wehrmacht as such, once WW2 began, the RAD supported the army in many capacities, like building fortifications and airfields, laying minefields, repairing roads, loading and unloading supplies, etc, from Norway to the Mediterranian Sea. Later in the war they were even deployed as troops, but with minimal military training, they didn’t do well.

By organizing the RAD, the Nazi government achieved several goals. They got a useful workforce, the men got used to work as a unit (if they hadn’t been in the Hitlerjugend already), and they were subjected to more indoctrination. The RAD was another aspect of the totalitarian state.