Hitler's Police Battalions
Enforcing Racial War in the East
Modern War Studies
Sales Date: May 27, 2005
346 Pages, 6.13 x 9.25 in
- Published: May 2005
- Published: May 2018
When the German Wehrmacht swarmed across Eastern Europe, an elite corps followed close at its heels. Along with the SS and Gestapo, the Ordnungspolizei, or Uniformed Police, played a central role in Nazi genocide that until now has been generally neglected by historians of the war.
Beginning with the invasion of Poland, the Uniformed Police were charged with following the army to curb resistance, pacify the countryside, patrol Jewish ghettos, and generally maintain order in the conquered territories. Edward Westermann examines how this force emerged as a primary instrument of annihilation, responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of the Third Reich’s political and racial enemies. In Hitler’s Police Battalions he reveals how the institutional mindset of these “ordinary policemen” allowed them to commit atrocities without a second thought.
To uncover the story of how the German national police were fashioned into a corps of political soldiers, Westermann reveals initiatives pursued before the war by Heinrich Himmler and Kurt Daluege to create a culture within the existing police forces that fostered anti-Semitism and anti-Communism as institutional norms. Challenging prevailing interpretations of German culture, Westermann draws on extensive archival research—including the testimony of former policemen—to illuminate this transformation and the callous organizational culture that emerged.
Purged of dissidents, indoctrinated to idolize Hitler, and trained in military combat, these police battalions—often numbering several hundred men—repeatedly conducted actions against Jews, Slavs, gypsies, asocials, and other groups on their own initiative, even when they had the choice not to. In addition to documenting these atrocities, Westermann examines cooperation between the Ordnungspolizei and the SS and Gestapo, and the close relationship between police and Wehrmacht in the conduct of the anti-partisan campaign of annihilation.
Throughout, Westermann stresses the importance of ideological indoctrination and organizational initiatives within specific groups. It was the organizational culture of the Uniformed Police, he maintains, and not German culture in general that led these men to commit genocide. Hitler’s Police Battalions provides the most complete and comprehensive study to date of this neglected branch of Himmler’s SS and Police empire and adds a new dimension to our understanding of the Holocaust and the war on the Eastern front.
“Seminal. Westermann forcefully argues that it was the organizational culture of the uniformed police rather than German national culture that prepared them for their role in genocide. . . . A highly readable work for specialists, graduate students, and general readers alike.”—Holocaust and Genocide Studies
“Westermann adds another important piece to our growing understanding of how Nazi racial policy was implemented. . . . Illustrates the premeditated intent and success of SS leaders such as Heinrich Himmler and Kurt Daluege in transforming the men of the uniformed police into ‘political soldiers’ of the Nazi state.”—America Historical Review
“An excellent complement to—and extension of—the work begun by Christopher Browning on German police battalions [and] a well-written addition to the corpus of literature on Germany and the war, especially on the Eastern Front. It is essential for any student of that theater, and of German occupation policies.”—World War II
“A thoroughly objective account of one more cog in Hitler’s killing machine.”—German Studies Review
“The is the first truly comprehensive analysis of how the German police came to be transformed into an essentially militarized murder machine in the service of National Socialist ideology. An outstanding work of scrupulous research, profound insight, and balanced judgment.”—Gerhard L. Weinberg, author of A World at Arms
“An important study that helps us understand the institutional dynamics of Nazi mass murder and how ideology is transformed into action.”—Christopher R. Browning, author of Ordinary Men and The Origins of the Final Solution
“A superbly written work that takes us inside the Nazi mind.”—Donald M. McKale, author of Hitler's Shadow War
“Destined to become a classic in the field of Holocaust Studies.”—Alexander B. Rossino, author of Hitler Strikes Poland
List of Illustrations
1. Taking Charge of the Police
2. Building a Martial Identity
3. Instilling the SS Ethic
4. Baptism of Fire
5. Crusade in the East
6. The Face of Occupation