Any biographical dictionary of the SS has to be approached with a certain amount of caution. There is a sizable industry dedicated to producing books that ignore the many war crimes committed by the Waffen-SS in particular, and I’ve read rather too many biographical dictionaries that fall into that camp, focusing on combat performance, awards of medals etc and ignoring the war crimes. Fortunately this book doesn’t fall into that camp,
I must admit I don’t understand the interest some people have in the details of the various awards issued by the Third Reich, and quite a bit of space is wasted here giving those lists, especially as this essentially trivial information is presented in an extra large font. One could make an argument in favour of detailing when they joined the Nazi party to give some context to their political views, but not the rest of it. There is a lot of information to pack into this book, so wasting space on the award of the SS Honour Ring or the many levels of the Knight’s Cross seems a shame.
On occasion the tone slips a little. Perhaps the most obvious example is the description of the escape of the convicted mass murder Herbert Kappler in 1980 as an ‘hilarious incident’ – this was a man who had ordered the murder of 335 Italian civilians in Rome. Some of the Waffen-SS men appear to have been chosen purely because of some military exploit (such as Hans Hirning), and don’t really qualify as either leading members of the SS or significant figures.
However in general this is a solid study of the leading figures of one of the most appalling organisations in Human history. The biographies are supported by an appendix that gives brief details of the most important of the concentration and death camps, with the generally accepted figures for the number of deaths at many of them. This sort of book demonstrates the dreadful scale and variety of atrocities committed by the people detailed within, from running the extermination camps in which the ‘Final Solution’ was put into practice, running the vast slave labour army that fuelled the Nazi economy and the murders of civilians and POWs on every front where the Waffen-SS was to be found.
Author: Christopher Ailsby