Hiwi ([ˈhiːviː]), the German abbreviation of the word Hilfswilliger or, in English, auxiliary volunteer, designated, during World War II, a member of different kinds of voluntary auxiliary forces made up of recruits indigenous to the territories of Eastern Europe occupied by Nazi Germany.[1] Adolf Hitler reluctantly agreed to allow recruitment of Soviet citizens in the Rear Areas during Operation Barbarossa.[2] In a short period of time, many of them were moved to combat units.

Auxiliary volunteer
Hilfswilliger, Hiwi
Russia, January 1942, two former Soviet soldiers in the German Wehrmacht army, decorated with the General Assault Badge
CountryOccupied Soviet Union, Eastern Front (World War II), occupied Poland
AllegianceNazi Germany
Branch Wehrmacht
TypeAuxiliary forces
Size600,000 (in 1944)
Nickname(s)Hiwi, Askari

Overview Edit

Hiwis comprised 50% of the 2nd Panzer Army's 134th Infantry Division in late 1942, while the 6th Army at the Battle of Stalingrad was composed of 25% Hiwis.[2] By 1944, their numbers had grown to 600,000. Both men and women were recruited. Veteran Hiwis were practically indistinguishable from regular German troops, and often served in entire company strengths.[2][3]

Between September 1941 and July 1944 the SS employed thousands of collaborationist auxiliary police recruited as Hiwis directly from the Soviet POW camps. After training, they were deployed for service with Nazi Germany, in the General Government, and the occupied East.[4]

In one instance, the German SS and police inducted, processed, and trained 5,082 Hiwi guards before the end of 1944 at the SS training camp division of the Trawniki concentration camp set up in the village of Trawniki southeast of Lublin. They were known as the "Trawniki men" (German: Trawnikimänner) and were former Soviet citizens, mostly Ukrainians. Trawnikis were sent to all major killing sites of the "Final Solution", which was their training's primary purpose. They took an active role in the executions of Jews at Bełżec, Sobibor, Treblinka II, Warsaw (three times), Częstochowa, Lublin, Lvov, Radom, Kraków, Białystok (twice), Majdanek as well as Auschwitz, and Trawniki itself.[5][6][7]

Use of term Edit

SS Trawniki men before the corpses of Jews in the doorway of the Warsaw Ghetto. Photo from Jürgen Stroop Report, May 1943.

The term 'Hiwis' acquired a thoroughly negative meaning during World War II when it entered into several other languages in reference to Ostlegionen as well as volunteers enlisted from occupied territories for service in a number of roles including hands-on shooting actions and guard duties at extermination camps on top of regular military service, drivers, cooks, hospital attendants, ammunition carriers, messengers, sappers, etc.[2][3]

In the context of World War II the term has clear connotations of collaborationism, and in the case of the occupied Soviet territories also of anti-Bolshevism (widely presented as such by the Germans).

German historian Werner Röhr [de] wrote that there were many different reasons why Soviet citizens volunteered.[8] He argues that the issue has to be seen first and foremost with the German Vernichtungskrieg (war of annihilation) policy in mind. For example, volunteering allowed Soviet POWs to get out of the barbaric German POW camp system, giving them a much higher chance of survival. During World War II, Nazi Germany engaged in a policy of deliberate maltreatment of Soviet POWs, in contrast to their treatment of British and American POWs. This resulted in some 3.3 to 3.5 million deaths, or 57% of all Soviet POWs.[9][10][11][12] Therefore it becomes very difficult to differentiate between a genuine desire to volunteer, and seeming to volunteer in the hope of a better chance of surviving the war.

A captured Hiwi told his NKVD interrogators:

Russians in the German Army can be divided into three categories. Firstly, soldiers mobilized by German troops, so-called Cossack sections, which are attached to German divisions. Secondly, Hilfswillige [Voluntary Assistants] made up of local people or Russian prisoners who volunteer, or those Red Army soldiers who desert to join the Germans. This category wears full German uniform, with their own ranks and badges. They eat like German soldiers and they are attached to German regiments. Thirdly, there are Russian prisoners who do the dirty jobs, kitchens, stables and so on. These three categories are treated in different ways, with the best treatment naturally reserved for the volunteers.[13]

Soviet authorities referred to the Hiwis as "former Russians" regardless of the circumstances of their joining or their fate at the hands of the NKVD secret police.[14] After the war, thousands attempted to return to their homes in the USSR. Hundreds were captured and prosecuted, charged with treason and therefore guilty of enlistment from the start of judicial proceedings.[5] Most were sentenced to the Gulag labor camps, and released under the Khrushchev amnesty of 1955.[15]

A captain inspecting auxiliary Eastern troops of the Wehrmacht in Greece, 1943.

The reliance upon Hiwis exposed a gap between Nazi ideologues and pragmatic German Army commanders. Nazi leaders including Adolf Hitler regarded all Slavs as Untermenschen and therefore of limited value as volunteers also. On the other hand, the manpower was needed,[16] and German Intelligence had recognised the need to divide the Soviet nationals. The contradiction was sometimes disguised by reclassification of Slavs as Cossacks.[17] Colonel Helmuth Groscurth (XI Corps' Chief of Staff) wrote to General Beck:

"It is disturbing that we are forced to strengthen our fighting troops with Russian prisoners of war, who are already being turned into gunners. It's an odd state of affairs that the "Beasts" we have been fighting against are now living with us in closest harmony."[18]

The Hiwis may have constituted one quarter of 6th Army's front-line strength, amounting to over 50,000 Slavic auxiliaries serving with the German troops.[18]

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. ^ Grasmeder, Elizabeth M.F. "Leaning on Legionnaires: Why Modern States Recruit Foreign Soldiers". International Security. Retrieved 30 July 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d Thomas, Nigel (2015). "Eastern Troops. Hilfswillige". Hitler's Russian & Cossack Allies 1941–45. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 13–15, 57. ISBN 978-1472806895.
  3. ^ a b Lee Ready, J. (1987). The Forgotten Axis: Germany's Partners and Foreign Volunteers in World War II. McFarland. pp. 194, 211, 510. ISBN 089950275X.
  4. ^ Browning, Christopher R. (1998) [1992]. Arrival in Poland (PDF). pp. 52, 77, 79, 80. direct download 7.91 MB complete. Also available via PDF cache archived by WebCite. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help); External link in |quote= (help)
  5. ^ a b "Trawniki". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved July 21, 2011.
  6. ^ Mgr Stanisław Jabłoński. "Hitlerowski obóz w Trawnikach". The camp history (in Polish). Trawniki official website. Retrieved 2013-04-30.
  7. ^ Tadeusz Piotrowski (2006). Ukrainian Collaboration. p. 217. ISBN 0786429135. Retrieved 2013-04-30. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  8. ^ Röhr, Werner (1994). Okkupation und Kollaboration. (1938–1945). Beiträge zu Konzepten und Praxis der Kollaboration in der deutschen Okkupationspolitik (Europa unterm Hakenkreuz. Erg.-Bd. 1). Bundesarchiv. Hüthig, Berlin u.a. ISBN 3-8226-2492-6.
  9. ^ Peter Calvocoressi, Guy Wint, Total War – "The total number of prisoners taken by the German armies in the USSR was in the region of 5.5 million. Of these, the astounding number of 3.5 million or more had been lost by the middle of 1944 and the assumption must be that they were either deliberately killed or done to death by criminal negligence. Nearly two million of them died in camps and close on another million disappeared while in military custody either in the USSR or in rear areas; a further quarter of a million disappeared or died in transit between the front and destinations in the rear; another 473,000 died or were killed in military custody in Germany or Poland." They add, "This slaughter of prisoners cannot be accounted for by the peculiar chaos of the war in the east. ... The true cause was the inhuman policy of the Nazis towards the Russians as a people and the acquiescence of army commanders in attitudes and conditions which amounted to a sentence of death on their prisoners."
  10. ^ Christian Streit: Keine Kameraden: Die Wehrmacht und die Sowjetischen Kriegsgefangenen, 1941–1945, Bonn: Dietz (3. Aufl., 1. Aufl. 1978), ISBN 3-8012-5016-4 – "Between 22 June 1941 and the end of the war, roughly 5.7 million members of the Red Army fell into German hands. In January 1945, 930,000 were still in German camps. A million at most had been released, most of whom were so-called ‘volunteers’ (Hilfswillige) for (often compulsory) auxiliary service in the Wehrmacht. Another 500,000, as estimated by the Army High Command, had either fled or been liberated. The remaining 3,300,000 (57.5 percent of the total) had perished."
  11. ^ Nazi persecution of Soviet Prisoners of War United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – "Existing sources suggest that some 5.7 million Soviet army personnel fell into German hands during World War II. As of January 1945, the German army reported that only about 930,000 Soviet POWs remained in German custody. The German army released about one million Soviet POWs as auxiliaries of the German army and the SS. About half a million Soviet POWs had escaped German custody or had been liberated by the Soviet army as it advanced westward through eastern Europe into Germany. The remaining 3.3 million, or about 57 percent of those taken prisoner, were dead by the end of the war."
  12. ^ Jonathan North, Soviet Prisoners of War: Forgotten Nazi Victims of World War II – "Statistics show that out of 5.7 million Soviet soldiers captured between 1941 and 1945, more than 3.5 million died in captivity."
  13. ^ Beevor, Antony (1999). Stalingrad. London: Penguin. pp. 184–185. ISBN 0-14-024985-0. Hiwi.
  14. ^ Beevor, Antony (1999). Stalingrad. London: Penguin. p. 186. ISBN 0-14-024985-0. Hiwi.
  15. ^ Holocaust Encyclopedia. "Trawniki" (GFDL). United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  16. ^ Davies, Norman (2007). Europe at War 1939–1945: No Simple Victory. London: Pan Books. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-330-35212-3.
  17. ^ Beevor, Antony (1999). Stalingrad. London: Penguin. p. 185. ISBN 0-14-024985-0. Hiwi.
  18. ^ a b Beevor, Antony (1999). Stalingrad. London: Penguin. pp. 161, 184. ISBN 0-14-024985-0. Hiwi.

Further reading Edit