Theodor Eicke

Theodor Eicke ( Hampont , 1 Alsace-Lorraine , German Empire , (now France ), 17 of October of 1892 – near Orel , Soviet Union , 26 of February of 1943 ) was a Nazi leader known for his fanaticism and brutal effectiveness in Administration of concentration camps through the SS-Totenkopfverbände , and having participated with Michel Lippert in the murder of Ernst Röhm during Long Knives Night .

He held the position of SS- Obergruppenführer , commanded the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf of the Waffen-SS and was one of those responsible for the creation and organization of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany .


Early life

Eicke was born in Hampont, near Château-Salins , in the French Lorraine that then comprised of the German Empire , 17 of October of 1892 . His father was stationmaster. 2 After attending school until the age of 17, he enlisted as a volunteer of the 23rd Bavarian Infantry Regiment . Later, during the First World War , he was paid in the 3rd Regiment of Bavarian infantry until 1916 , when he became part of the 22nd Bavarian Infantry Regiment.

He was decorated with the Iron Cross , 2 but he had no hope of finding work after the end of the war, so he returned to his studies in Ilmenau , hometown of his wife, but left in 1920 to make a career in the police .

His project failed, two due not only to their lack of schooling, but also their hatred of the Weimar Republic and his repeated appearances in political and violent demonstrations, banned police officers. In 1923 , he was finally hired by IG Farben , 2 where he quickly became the head of internal security.

From 1928 to 1933

In December of 1928 , Eicke registered at the same time in the National Socialist Workers’ Party and in the Sturmabteilung (SA), abandoning it in 1930 to happen to the SS . His qualities as a recruiter, of which he later demonstrated in the Waffen-SS , made him stand out, especially for his contribution to organize the SS in Bavaria . In 1931 , Heinrich Himmler elevated him to the position of Standartenführer .

His political activities drew attention to such an extent that Eicke was dismissed by IG Farben in 1932 . 2

He was suspected of preparing bomb attacks against Bavarian political opponents, and was sentenced in July 1932 to two years in prison. Thanks to the protection of the Minister of Justice, Franz Gürtner , 3 escaped conviction and, following instructions from Heinrich Himmler, took refuge in Italy to occupy a camp for SS fugitives. 2

Participation in the SS and the concentration camps

Eicke returned to Germany in March of 1933 , after the ascent to the power of Adolf Hitler .

In June 1933, he was appointed commander of the Dachau concentration camp by Himmler, 4 where at that time 2,000 prisoners were found. 5 Heimmediately formed the basis of the Nazi concentration system, particularly as regards the blind obedience of the guardians to the orders, and the system of vigilance, discipline and punishment of the detainees, whose purpose was to “destroy psychological, moral And physically the prisoners. ” 6 With Pope Eicke , a nickname given by the camp guardians, 7 he moved from the undisciplined brutality of the SA to the planned terror of the SS . Their findings caused an impression on Himmler, who named SS- Brigadeführer the 30 as January as 1934 .

Eicke gave proof of anti-Semitism and radical anti-Bolshevism . He proclaimed “his hatred against everything that is not German or National Socialist .” 8 He imposed on the guardians a blind and unconditional obedience to him, as a leader of the camp, but also towards the SS and the Führer . These “qualities” impressed Heinrich Himmler, who named the 4 of July of 1934 inspector of the concentration camps and commander of the Totenkopfverbände ( Inspekteur des Konzentrationslager und Führer des SS Totenkopfverbände ). 9 As inspector of the camps, he depended on the Reich Central Security Office headed by Reinhard Heydrich , and more particularly the Gestapo ; As commander of the Totenkopfverbände , left the headquarters of the SS – the SS-Hauptamt – and began to receive orders directly from Himmler. 10

Eicke also participated in the Night of the Long Knives : with some guardians carefully chosen from the Dachau concentration camp, he helped Sepp Dietrich , commander of the SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler , to imprison the main leaders of the SA .

This time, the 1 of July of 1934 , he proved his total fidelity to Himmler and Hitler taking part in the murder of Ernst Rohm . 11 Being involved in this murder earned him promotion to SS- Gruppenführer , which placed him in the second rank within the SS hierarchy. 12

In his role as inspector of concentration camps, Eicke undertook a deep reorganization, completed in 1939 . At the beginning of 1935 , it suppressed the small concentration camps to keep only six of them, that concentrated to near 3,500 detainees, among which was Dachau . From 1936 , he extended the concentration system with the creation of Sachsenhausen , Buchenwald (in 1937 ), Flossenbürg (in 1938 ), followed by the subsequent Anschluss , Mauthausen (also in 1938) and later by the Ravensbrück women’s camp , Already in 1939 . 13 The organization and administration of all the camps was modeled on the Dachau model and except for this field, all former concentration camps were closed down.

Since 1936 , Eicke has promoted detention and internment in the fields of new categories of detainees who had no connection with opponents of the regime, ie beggars, criminals, recidivists in small crimes, drunks, unemployed professionals, vagabonds, gypsies and Custodians of religious sects. 14 He fought for the expansion of existing camps and the construction of new detention centers, which he intended to use as a deposit of servile labor. 14

The reorganization by Eicke and the use of the detainees as forced laborers made concentration camps one of the most powerful instruments of the SS. In 1940, control of the concentration system was entrusted to the SS-Wirtschafts und Verwaltungshauptamt , one of the central offices of the SS ( SS-Hauptamt ), directed by Oswald Pohl and directly dependent on Heinrich Himmler .

Eicke’s uncompromising attitude and his determination to exploit the labor force of the concentration camps to the maximum had a huge influence on the personnel of the camps. The permanent indoctrination and brutality of Eicke himself prevented any sense of humanity in the guardians: Eicke wanted to suppress in the SS all feeling of pity towards the inmates. His speeches, the orders in which he insisted on the criminal and dangerous character of the activity of the internees, could not be without effect.

A controlled and disciplined violence and cruelty, a perfectly organized system of dread, was practiced in all camps, which continued after Eicke’s departure. In particular, he trained field commanders such as Rudolf Höß at Auschwitz , Franz Ziereis at Mauthausen and Karl Otto Koch at Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald .

Eicke, however, seemed to be appreciated by his subordinates, which probably explains his nickname. According to Wolfgang Sofsky , he systematically developed a politics of compadre, in opposition to the military traditions he detested: Eicke asked his men to study, he merged the officers ‘and officers’ dining room, he protected his men, even in the case of Which violated a rule, unless they expressed a sense of piety towards the detainees; He sought human contact with his men, outside his frequent inspection magazines and in the absence of his superiors. 15 When the guards stopped an inmate after an attempt to escape, Eicke asked that they be avoided to undergo an interrogation, so as not to disturb them . 16

The Totenkopf Division

It was under the command of Eicke in 1939 that the transformation of the SS-Totenkopfverbände , that is to say, of the personnel of the concentration camps, with a view to turning them into units able to fight in the front, constituting the 3ª Division SS Totenkopf . Since taking office, he has mobilized all his contacts within the SS to ensure a good equipment for his division, particularly in terms of anti-tank weapons, to motorize it and equip it with a reconnaissance group. 17

From this moment, Eicke began a new race and had no more responsibilities in the organization of the concentration camps. Richard Glücks succeeded him as inspector of the fields, under the direction of Oswald Pohl .

He changed roles, but his convictions remained the same. A professed anti-Catholic, he succeeded in persuading a whole company of his division in 1940 to renounce the Christian religion, by an administrative court. 18 He scrupulously scrupulously respected the drastic recruitment criteria of the Waffen-SS , without hesitation to reject candidates who, apparently accepted, considered that they did not have the physical, moral or racial norms apt for the SS. 19 He also rejects that his officers leave the Totenkopf division to reinforce other units. twenty

In the course of the war, Eicke and his division were distinguished by their brutality and the large number of war crimes committed.

At the time of the Polish invasion , three regiments of the Totenkopf unit ( Oberbayern , Brandenburg and Thüringen ) followed the German troops to “detain the newly arrived refugees and harass the elements hostile to the regime, The Franco- Masons , the Jews , the Communists , the intellectuals, the clergy and the aristocracy. ” 21 The brutality of the unit Totenkopf and the large number of killings carried out by the division were strongly criticized by the general of the Wehrmacht , Johannes Blaskowitz : “The feelings of the troops to the SS and police range from repulsion And hatred.All soldiers are treated with disgust and repugnance for the crimes committed in Poland . ” 22

During the Battle of France , the division Totenkopf perpetrated the Slaughter of Le Paradis , the 27 of maypole of 1940 , during which he was killed almost a hundred British prisoners in northern France by order of Lieutenant Fritz Knöchlein , then sentenced to Death and executed by war crimes after the end of the War , 23 in addition to the summary execution of Senegalese and Moroccan troops , who tried to surrender . 2. 3

At the start of Operation Barbarossa , Eicke insisted that his division be equipped with military trucks designed for the transport of troops, rather than the various vehicles that were granted. In his own words: “We can not carry out any war in the East with this kind of vehicles.” 24 His insistence helped him obtain such vehicles. Before starting the operation, he gathered his officers repeatedly “to show the fight that he would oppose the National Socialism to Bolshevism Jew.” 25 In fact, this division was the most ruthless of all present on the Russian front, and also the most irreducible. 14

In September 1941 , two regiments of the division fled the combat front because of a counteroffensive of Red Army troops , being subjected to severe trials by the Wehrmacht officers. 26 Under the command of Eicke, the division Totenkopf gave proof of unparalleled fanaticism and ferocity advances in 1941 , the summer offensive of 1942 and the conquest of Kharkiv , 27 in the bag Demyansk , etc. He showed remarkable aptitude in the defensive combat against the Red Army. 28 On the Eastern Front , he was guilty of the murder of prisoners and civilians in the Soviet Union and of the destruction and plunder of numerous peoples in Ukraine and / or Belarus. 29 Eicke also enforced an iron discipline, sometimes expeditious, as in the execution of a soldier inciting the mutiny before the verdict was confirmed by the Reichsführung-SS , which immediately led to his dismissal as judge of the division. 30


Shortly after being promoted to Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke died the 26 of February of 1943 , during an aerial reconnaissance to prepare the Third Battle of Kharkov . His plane, a Fieseler Fi 156 , was shot down by the Red Army around Artelnoje. His troops immediately launched an attack to reach the place where the plane crashed and thus recover the body of its commander.

The propaganda raised the figure of a hero in Theodor Eicke. Shortly after his death, one of the regiments of the Totenkopf division was baptized “Theodor Eicke”, name that will raise on the fist, “a rare and hierarchical privilege”. 31 Her military reputation, however, was compromised.

From 1940 , in the Battle of France , the attitude of Eicke – for whom the losses did not matter – began to be object of criticism of the Wehrmacht officials, surprised by the number of dead and wounded in the ranks of the division Totenkopf . 32 These criticisms were renewed on the occasion of the Barbarroja operation : from June 1941 to March 1942 , the division lost 12,000 men, initially with a total of 17,000. 33