How did the Nazis recruit soldiers

Interview with Nazi criminal: "I have no regrets!"

Status: 11/29/2018 11:00 a.m.
by Robert Bongen, Julian Feldmann, Fabienne Hurst, Andrej Reisin

The night of April 1 to April 2, 1944, changed the small northern French village of Ascq (near Lille) forever. The French Resistance then carried out an attack on a German army platoon. But this was not a supply train, but full of 400 Waffen-SS men who were to be relocated from Belgium to Normandy. Only a few freight cars were derailed in the attack, but no one was injured, according to the report, only material damage was reported.

But the SS men of the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitler Youth" still exercised bloody "retaliation". The young soldiers of the unit were recruited from the Hitler Youth and therefore gave it their name. The officers, on the other hand, came from the elite troops of the 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler". One of them was Unterscharfuhrer Karl M., who, with his 21 years of age and experience on the Eastern Front, was already considered an old hand among men, most of whom were 19 and younger. However, their average age did not prevent the troops from raging in the small town.

The father never came back

Rolande Bonte (née Couque) was ten years old at the time, now she is 85. "I was already sleeping in our children's room when I suddenly heard noise from the stairs," she says, pointing to the stairwell with her hand. She still lives in her parents' house, which is in the street by the train station, directly across from the tracks. The Germans take their father with them, the then 31-year-old railway worker Clovis Couque. She never saw him again. The SS men drove him and dozens of other villagers to the train station - all of them unarmed civilians, between 15 and 75 years old. In the end, 86 people were murdered, including Rolande Bonte's father.

Even the armed forces were appalled

According to the historian Jens Westermeier, who investigated the massacre, those who were apprehended on the tracks were illuminated with flashlights and shot, anyone who was still moving was shot in the head from close range. In total, the SS murderers marched through the village at least four times - and shot men at random on the street. A patrol from the German military police finally put an end to the hustle and bustle, which even the Wehrmacht seemed too bestial.

Lies and legends

In an interview with Panorama, Karl M. claims that he did not shoot anyone himself, but was only responsible for arresting the French. However, he regards the shootings as legal and justifies this with an alleged attempt to escape: "If I arrest the men, then I am responsible for them. And if they run away, I have the right to shoot them."

Immediately after the massacre, the SS was not at a loss for this excuse. Right down to the wording, it resembles the legend that a commander of M.'s troops, the SS-Obersturmbannführer and General Staff Officer Hubert Meyer, said in his memoir: "Nobody was injured or killed in this search operation. As some of the arrested tried to escape, the guard opened fire. "

Historians, French eyewitnesses and the judiciary are on the other hand certain: It was one of the criminal acts of retaliation for which this unit of the Waffen SS was notorious. By the end of the war, she committed numerous other atrocities in northern France.

No further prosecution possible

The German authorities had only started investigating Karl M. in 2015 on suspicion of being an accessory to murder. However, the public prosecutor in Celle dropped the case in March 2018. According to the public prosecutor, "nobody should be punished twice for the same act". This principle also applies in the Schengen area of ​​the EU "if an accused has been convicted in France and this judgment can no longer be enforced according to the law of the country in which the sentence was placed, i.e. French law".

Karl M. had been sentenced to death in absentia in 1949 for his involvement in the Ascq massacre. However, the sentence was never carried out - and is now statute-barred in France. According to the authorities, this means that M. cannot be charged again in Germany either. Karl M. has not spent a day in prison because of the massacre.

Hero in neo-Nazi circles

M., who voluntarily joined the Waffen SS, seems to have retained his worldview from that time: to this day he does not believe that Germany started the Second World War and denies Nazi crimes. From his point of view, the Holocaust did not exist. When asked about the millions of murdered Jews, M .: "We didn't have that many Jews back then. That has already been refuted. I recently read somewhere that this number that is being published is not true. I think so 'not all of that anymore. "

The now 96-year-old recently appeared in front of a neo-Nazi audience as a "contemporary witness" and is revered as a role model. According to panorama research, Karl M. appeared at NPD federal vice Thorsten Heise in Freterrode, Thuringia, at a "contemporary witness lecture" at the beginning of November. In front of around 100 right-wing extremists, M. spoke about his experiences with the Waffen SS. He had to sign dozens of photos of himself there for the audience, says the 96-year-old in an interview with Panorama. For the scene on the right, M. is a hero. He now receives mail with autograph requests almost every day.

The relatives of the Ascq murder victims are shocked that Karl M. is walking freely in Germany, can no longer be prosecuted - and is even revered by right-wing extremists. Rolande Bonte said in an interview with Panorama: "I don't understand that it is easy to find such people or defend them. The SS man will not change anymore. But you have to make sure that he does not infect others with his ideas. So that himself never repeat something like that again. "