Winning: Where Nazi Storm Troopers are Heroes

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November 21, 2005: Who won World War II? Silly question, of course. We all know that the Allies won, and the Nazis lost. Or did they? For example, why are all those monuments going up in eastern Europe, honoring dead SS (elite Nazi combat troops) soldiers. What's going on here? It's not World War II being rewritten, just remembered.  

During World War II, the Germans recruited local allies whenever possible. Usually, these recruits were those who hated, other ethnic or religious groups in the neighborhood, more than the Germans. Many of these allied units were recruited into the SS, since the Germans treated rebellion harshly (what we would today call atrocities), and the SS specialized in atrocious behavior. The SS also had snappy uniforms, and a reputation for being a tough outfit. They were tough, but they were much hated as well, and as the victorious Russian armies rolled through Eastern Europe, they killed any SS troops they could find. Prisoners were not taken when it came to the SS. The Russians declared any SS troops, German or otherwise, to be very-bad-people. No monuments for these folks. No sir. 

However, half a century later, the Russians are gone from Eastern Europe, and most Eastern Europeans are glad to see them go. And in many of these countries, the guys who joined the SS during World War II, to fight the Russians or other enemies (usually neighbors), were always considered national heroes. So in countries like Croatia, Bosnia, and the Baltic States, memorials are going up to the men who died fighting for the SS against the hated Russians (or sundry local foes.) All of this is not a sudden surge in support for the SS, but an example of how strongly people feel about their own local heroes. These nationalistic feelings were suppressed, for nearly half a century, by communist dictatorships that firmly supported Russian distaste for the SS (a side effect of the SS atrocities in Russia during the war.) These local SS troops were more frequently used for anti-partisan operations, where the enemy was a familiar enemy, namely someone you had been fighting for generations, if not centuries. The Croat and Bosnian SS troopers were turned loose on Serbs, the Estonians were fighting Russians, and so on with other SS units from all over Europe. The situation in Western Europe is different. Without four decades of communist dictatorship to unify the people, the SS dead from Western Europe are not hailed as national heroes. But as you go east, things change. Just as all politics is local, so are standards for who qualifies as a war hero.

 

 

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