WEREWOLVES

Blood & Honour

Nazi Guerillas in Post War Germany

The Werewolves were originally organised by the SS and the Hitler Youth as a diversionary operation on the fringes of the Third Reich, which were occupied by the Western Allies and the Soviets in the autumn of 1944. Some 5,000 -- 6,000 recruits were raised by the winter of 1944-45, but numbers rose considerably in the following spring when the Nazi Party and the Propaganda Ministry launched a popular call to arms, beseeching everybody in the occupied areas -- even women and children -- to launch themselves upon the enemy. In typical Nazi fashion, this expansion was not co-ordinated by the relevant bodies, which were instead involved in a bureaucratic war among themselves over control of the project. The result was that the movement functioned on two largely unrelated levels: the first as a real force of specially trained SS, Hitler Youth and Nazi Party guerrillas; the second as an outlet for casual violence by fanatics.

The Werewolves specialised in ambushes and sniping, and took the lives of many Allied and Soviet soldiers and officers -- perhaps even that of the first Soviet commandant of Berlin, General N.E. Berzarin, who was rumoured to have been waylaid in Charlottenburg during an incident in June 1945. Buildings housing Allied and Soviet staffs were favourite targets for Werewolf bombings; an explosion in the Bremen police headquarters, also in June 1945, killed five Americans and thirty-nine Germans. Techniques for harassing the occupiers were given widespread publicity through Werewolf leaflets and radio propaganda, and long after May 1945 the sabotage methods promoted by the Werewolves were still being used against the occupying powers.

Although the Werewolves originally limited themselves to guerrilla warfare with the invading armies, they soon began to undertake scorched-earth measures and vigilante actions against German 'collaborators' or 'defeatists'. They damaged Germany's economic infrastructure, already battered by Allied bombing and ground fighting, and tried to prevent anything of value from falling into enemy hands. Attempts to blow up factories, power plants or waterworks occasionally provoked melees between Werewolves and desperate German workers trying to save the physical basis of their employment, particularly in the Ruhr and Upper Silesia.

Several sprees of vandalism through stocks of art and antiques, stored by the Berlin Museum in a flak tower at Friedrichshain, caused millions of dollars worth of damage and cultural losses of inestimable value. In addition, vigilante attacks caused the deaths of a number of small-town mayors and, in late March 1945, a Werewolf paratroop squad assassinated the Lord Mayor of Aachen, Dr Franz Oppenhoff, probably the most prominent German statesman to have emerged in the occupied fringes over the winter of 1944-45. This spate of killings, part of a larger Nazi terror campaign that consumed the Third Reich after the failed anti-Hitler putsch of July 20th, 1944, can be interpreted as a psychological retreat back into opposition, even while Nazi leaders were still clinging to their last few months of power.

Although the Werewolves managed to make themselves a nuisance to small Allied and Soviet units, they failed to stop or delay the invasion and occupation of Germany, and did not succeed in rousing the population into widespread opposition to the new order. The SS and Hitler Youth organisations at the core of the Werewolf movement were poorly led, short of supplies and weapons, and crippled by infighting. Their mandate was a conservative one of tactical harassment, at least until the final days of the war, and even when they did begin to envision the possibility of an underground resistance that could survive the Third Reich's collapse, they had to contend with widespread civilian war-weariness and fear of enemy reprisals. In Western Germany, no one wanted to do anything that would diminish the pace of Anglo-American advance and possibly thereby allow the Red Army to push further westward.

Despite its failure, however, the Werewolf project had a huge impact, widening the psychological and spiritual gap between Germans and their occupiers. Werewolf killings and intimidation of 'collaborators' scared almost everybody, giving German civilians a clear glimpse into the nihilistic heart of Nazism. It was difficult for people working under threat of such violence to devote themselves unreservedly to the initial tasks of reconstruction. Worse still, the Allies and Soviets reacted to the movement with extremely tough controls, curtailing the right of assembly of German civilians. Challenges of any sort were met by collective reprisals -- especially on the part of the Soviets and the French. In a few cases the occupiers even shot hostages and cleared out towns where instances of sabotage occurred. It was standard practice for the Soviets to destroy whole communities if they faced a single act of resistance. In the eastern fringes of the 'Greater Reich', now annexed by the Poles and the Czechoslovaks, Werewolf harassment handed the new authorities an excuse to rush the deportations of millions of ethnic Germans to occupied Germany.

Such policies were understandable, but they created an unbridgeable gulf between the German people and the occupation forces who had pledged to impose essential reforms. It was hard, in such conditions, for the occupiers to encourage reform, and even harder to persuade the Germans that it was necessary.

By the time that this rough opposition to the occupation had started to soften, the Cold War was under way and reform became equally difficult to implement. As a result, both German states created in 1949 were not so dissimilar to their predecessor as might have been hoped, and changes in attitudes and institutions developed only slowly. Thanks partly to the Werewolves there was no German revolution in 1945, either imposed from above or generated from below.