Himmler’s Death Squad | Armorama™

Darren Baker takes a look at an Images of War release from Pen and Sword titled Himmler’s Death Squad.

This is partial text from the full article (usually with photos) at https://armorama.com/news/himmler-s-death-squad

While this not a book I would like to own or even view , may I compliment you Darren on the way you handled this subject - obviously a delicate matter and sadly part of history . Your tact and the articulate manor in which you explained the gruesome content are to be commended.

Thank you it was a challenge to stay on target while avoiding undue offence.

I must agree that this was a very measured and responsible review which did not shrink from highlighting the monstrous crimes committed. As Max Hastings (well known British historian) has stated, Nazism was a unique threat to mankind and had to be engaged - or similar.

I also agree that it is unlikely that anyone will wish to replicate the Einsatzgruppen in miniature; that said, some years ago I modelled in small scale a vignette depicting the Kommandobefehl being enacted against British commandos and SAS. Constructing this was a sobering experience and at times, I found myself wavering, but perhaps it needed to be modelled just, well, because.

History, especially the worst parts, need to or even must be remembered so that we
hopefully can have a chance of NOT repeating them.

Nowadays it is called ‘ethnic cleansing’ and it still happens:

Humans of all shapes, colours, nationalities and religions can be truly evil beings …


Humans with complete control seem to consistently rise to the occasion when it comes to ethnic cleansing. Here in the US I see excerpts of emails describing what the writer plans on doing in town as soon as the “Race War” starts. I think some just harbor those thoughts and feelings and are just waiting on opportunity. When people talk about demons, devils, hauntings and the like, I explain the worst things I know of are committed by humans willingly on other humans.

Yes thanks Darren for a very thoughtful & measured review. It is important to keep this atrocious era alive as an example of how ordinary human beings can be manipulated and brainwashed by what’s now called fake news to commit incomprehensible acts against fellow human beings. For anyone who doesn’t believe it ever happened, or can’t imagine what it was really like to experience it, here’s an excerpt from my wife’s aunt’s testimony, scrawled on scrap paper over decades and found in a box after she died in the late 1990’s, never published anywhere. Like my mother-in-law she survived Auschwitz too, only because she could sew. It’s an imperfect translation from Polish, describing events in south-eastern Poland almost exactly 80 years ago following the start of Operation Barbarossa. It is real…

“When the Russians left and the Germans came, the real suffering started. Ukrainians wanted to ingratiate themselves to Germans because they were promised independence. Ukrainians denounced Poles and Jews and many people were killed. Jews had to bury the victims. Germans gave permission to Ukrainians to kill Jews and the robbery started.

Germans ordered establishment of Judenrat with chairman, secretary etc. All Jews had to wear an armband with blue Star of David and inside written “Jude”. Dr. M. Schall, a lawyer, one of the most respected Jews in Nadworna, became a chairman of Judenrat. (Head of court of law, priest Smaczniak, gave him some poison so in case of need he would be able to shorten his suffering and Dr. Schall used it.) Dr. Schall hired me to be the secretary and the treasurer of the Judenrat. They gave us a tiny office.

Suddenly the German in charge gave an order that all Jews ages 5 and up had to come to the offices of Judenrat to get work ID, for which they had to pay 5 zloty. We had to come to work early to receive the money and to issue the work ID. Whoever didn’t have money to pay, couldn’t get an ID.
Before anyone could enter the office, a small boy ran in and told us that he was on his way with his father to get an ID, when a truck with German soldiers stopped and they caught his father by the beard and they threw him on the truck. His name was Heckerling a well-known citizen of our town.

When I heard this, I knew that my sister and her 3 year-old daughters and my husband went through the fields to friendly Ukrainians to exchange mother’s fur coat for some potatoes. My Mom was alone at home. I put a coat on, I covered the armband and I ran home. On my way I saw a 12 year old Jewish girl shot and killed, lying in a pool of blood and dogs were pulling her. Close to our apartment I saw a young man, dead, as well in pool of blood. I was scared to stop; scared that I would get killed. I hurried to calm my Mom down. Through the window I saw Germans leading whole families, single people, children, old people – towards the Polish church. I called our neighbors and together we blocked our entry door with firewood. We worked hard. Ukrainians tried and Germans tried, but they gave up and they thought no one lived there. After 2PM two young Ukrainians managed to enter to our neighbors and took them all. They yelled to us to dress up in our best clothes because they will send us to work to Germany. Mom took the armband, but they said that it’s not important now. One of these boys worked in lumber mill under my brother-in-law, so I asked him if he knew manager Blumenthal. He started to leave and tried to convince the other one to leave as well, but he didn’t succeed.

They took us to the square next to the Polish church. All the Jews there lay down and without resistance waited. There were women, who just gave birth to babies, but they shot them and they threw the corpses on the trucks and people and took them to a place where ditches already waited for them. Huge grave was prepared and a footbridge on top. People were ordered to undress, fold their clothes nicely and to stand on the footbridge. It was in Bukowinka. Among the victims were two physicians with their families. They had the courage to tell the Germans that they did not win the war yet and they will surely loose it, and they were murdered after these words.

In front of this church they placed a large table and around stood the murderers and when an empty truck arrived, they chased and beat the people onto the truck. This lasted through the night. They brought these victims from the vicinity – the old, the sick, the young, the healthy. They pushed my mother and me as well and we were covered with blood, but I held my Mom with my two hands and I pulled her back. The granddaughter of our butcher said: lets go, why should we watch others being murdered. I answered that we have time for that. She went ahead and she is gone. We, all bruised and bloodied, pushed back. After a few hours, late at night, the main murderer arrived and he said quite loudly that up to this time they killed 5,000. Who had money or gold, he would let them go. There were a few dozens people there. They paid and left through the main street and others killed them there, maybe thinking that they were escaping. In moments like that I had a presence of mind and I approached him and in German I asked him to let my Mom and me go. I gave him ten $20 gold coins, which I had hidden in the lining of my coat. We didn’t have anything more. When I handed this to him, he hit me very hard with the butt of his gun, so I couldn’t see with one eye and five teeth fell out. He let us go. I was bleeding and I hurt, but we didn’t go on the main street. On the side street Ukrainian stopped us and threatened to shoot, because we shouldn’t be alive. I told him that we paid for our lives and we were allowed to go home and if he doesn’t believe us, he should ask. He went to ask and they said yes.

We were barefoot and half naked and we looked like mad people. Mom was completely resigned and she just repeated the names of our father, my sister, her granddaughter, my brothers, my husband and my brother-in-law. I held her hands and I told her that they all wait for us at home. The apartment was completely empty; the family wasn’t there and everything else was already robbed. We decided to sneak out to the fields and to hide there through the night.”

Thank you for keeping her story alive.

Thank you Tim for sharing this . I can’t imagine how horrible these experiences were for many like your wife’s family.

Well, I wasn’t going to but here goes; perhaps it is something that should, from time to time, be modelled. My rendition of a Kommandobefehl being undertaken:

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That’s a daring diorama Brian, although I have the same mixed feelings you mentioned in your first post. On the one hand it could be argued all wars are basically crimes against humanity so why should events like this be omitted? They should also be remembered and taught, even if the lessons of history are seldom learned for long. We don’t seem to have an issue with movies, such as the concluding scenes in The Great Escape which this reminds me of, or Schindler’s List in its entirety for example. On the other hand…difficult – perhaps it’s the nagging feeling that a hobby such as ours risks trivialising the true horrors? I’m really not sure, but I admire your work and intentions.

Thanks Robin & Richard, indeed a survivor’s experience that was so very nearly lost. Her father, mother, eldest sister (& children) and grandparents were all gassed on arrival at Auschwitz in April 1944.

I’m not Jewish so it was very unexpected that my mother-in-law used to tell me things she never told her own children. Piecing together her own tragic anecdotes and following some research, it turned out she was evacuated from Auschwitz (ahead of the Russian advance) and found herself locked in a cattle-car in a siding of Hanover’s main rail station late on the evening of 5th January 1945 – she was still “useful” so had avoided the lethal forced marches. The guards had run off as the air-raid klaxons sounded, and soon after Lancasters from my father’s squadron (504 & several others) rained down bombs on that railhead. Worth pondering the astronomical chances of that coincidence from our respective families’ points of view, and how different the collective outcomes if the bombs had landed differently - our son certainly wouldn’t exist. Instead, other people would exist.

I told my eldest brother’s father-in-law of this discovery in 2013 shortly before he died. After a long silence he told me how he had been the sole survivor of his Halifax that exploded in mid-air on that very same raid – I hadn’t mentioned the date but he told me immediately & I later confirmed he was correct from his service record. He survived the long fall with a smouldering tangled parachute because he landed in a very deep snow-drift (breaking an ankle), and then narrowly avoided being lynched. Had it been otherwise my nephew & niece likewise would not exist.

Take from all that what you wish, I don’t think I’ll ever quite finish processing it.


Truly amazing coincidences.

Well, thanks Tim. I made it way back when not long after I’d been re-reading accounts of the Cockleshell Heroes (Op Frankton) and also the ill-fated attack on the Norwegian plants (Op Freshman). Of course, the British powers that be had no idea of the existence of the Commando Order, so these soldiers went on to attack and met a lethal end. I had also been reading at the same time Max Hastings’ Das Reich, which devotes a whole chapter to the Bulbasket operation; again, a disaster - though it is revealing in that it transpires that if deemed necessary, the SAS themselves were instructed not to take prisoners.

As with most of my models I tried to imagine how it all went down, utilizing where I thought it appropriate, my own military experience, not least in the administrative field (let’s face it, the 3rd Reich loved paperwork, which of course, was also their undoing at Nuremburg, including for Jodl, who issued the Commando order; serve him bloody well right). So, I sort of conceived it like this:

SAS/Commando handed over at point of capture to the SD; temporarily incarcerated pending a fairly swift process, probably interrogated, but then the admin would be set in motion. I envisage that the local SD/Gestapo did not have access to any military resources of their own so it could have gone like this: SD telephone the local military unit in whatever Wehrkreis or occupied bit of wherever, in this case perhaps, a Waffen SS Training and Replacement Battalion. “Oberscharfuehrer Schmidt here from Koblenz SD. Is that you Klaus? Great. Any chance you can help me out? I need a truck and a couple of blokes for a Special Action. Yeah, the day after tomorrow would be fine; oh, and if the blokes have been in the East it might help matters. Yeah, I’ll get a transport requisition form to you this afternoon.” So, the paperwork goes off; the Training Battalion detail off a couple of soldiers (hardened Corporals perhaps who’ve seen a bit of action in Russia), the Training Battalion MT SNCO identifies a truck to be made ready, ensures that the bill for the fuel is sent to the SD, and copies in the local Gestapo who are to be informed of all such “Special Actions”.

48 hours later, the soldiers are put on board a truck, manacled, with their small packs or whatever possessions they have and told they’re off to a POW camp. An SD Warrant Officer sits up front with a Waffen SS driver, and the remaining SD man and a Waffen SS Corporal sit in the back with the POWs. A Gestapo Citroen follows as they are there to document the “execution”. The truck turns off into a wooded area, and shortly stops; the prisoners are told it’s for a pee-break. They jump down, one of them leaving his beret behind on the truck. They are lined up, and then I suspect the penny drops. The Waffen SS soldiers provide a small cordon in case the POWs try and make a break for it; the SD move swiftly into position, the Gestapo watch. There’s a shovel leaning against the tailboard.

And you know, even in making this, it was bloody grim; I just thought it needed doing. I showed it at a couple of shows, but being such small scale, I’m not too sure the viewing public twigged what was going down. Someone asked “Is that what I think it is?” - all well and good; a lady passing by opined “What lovely trees” (groan).

Perhaps my imaginary conversation between 2 SNCOs belittles such monstrous crimes but I hope not; the idea was just to reflect the admin required for murder; what some philosopher somewhere I recall, identified as the “banality of evil”.

I’m not too sure if I’ll ever tackle anything quite like this again.

As a mere afterthought, I suppose the modelling imperative is to model what the hell we like! We, after all, mostly, model/replicate aspects of history; if some of those aspects are unpalatable, then so what? perhaps they need doing - a bit more often?

Over to anyone else who wishes to chip in.

Like many modelers I am a history buff - WWII in general and aviation in particular and the aviation part seems to focus even farther towards the Pacific theatre and Japanese aircraft .
I have had others question the subjects I model and wonder if it doesn’t “ glorify war “.
My response is that most of us with these interests likely have a broader understanding of the factors that come together to create these horrific events and therefore may be in a better position to see that they don’t happen again . Events like World Wars don’t come from a vacuum.
It may be a cliche but still valid- “ Those that don’t remember their history are condemned to repeat it “


Richard, I suspect you’re probably right in that most modellers have some awareness of history and the kits they make - in other words the hobby strikes a chord eg say, the Battle of Britain, “therefore I’d love to make a Spitfire” sort of thing.

I do remember back when I tackled my Kommandobefehl dio, that I was in a way driven to it by espying just too many bloody Tigers on the display tables; I’m sure I was wrong in thinking like that, not of course, that it meant that Tiger modellers were Nazi apologists; far from it. perhaps they just liked the tank! But I thought - as an amateur historian - I might just try and set a modelling depiction (of a barbarous event) in context a bit and sort of subliminally remind those (that saw it) “This is really what a monstrous regime was all about” but then, I’m equally sure, I’m in danger of politicizing the hobby - let alone overthinking everything!

I think you did exactly right by adding a tiny bit of counterbalance to all the Tigers and stuff.
Some model builder here in Sweden commented that Germany had the coolest/best tanks, ships and aircraft and the best soldiers.
I said ‘Oh yeah??’ and mentioned that Germany lost two world wars …
Sometimes all the fascination with German stuff gets a tiny bit too much and then a dio like yours resets the balance a tiny bit.

This is, IMHO, one of the best images of the war on the eastern front. In my eyes it shows the very grim reality of that part of the war. No glory, no medals, no fancy uniforms, no nothing except a very small human caught up in the war and the cold.

I saw this, or a very similar, photo in a book about WW II, this copy is from Alamy, I found it by asking google about ‘dead soldier frozen snow’

Robin - thanks for your support - as always(!)

I think as long as there are modellers who provide such balance then we’re probably heading in the right direction. Tim Martin’s Anthropoid springs to mind. I suppose it all comes down to ethics; should, in fact, ethical considerations apply to what is, after all, only a hobby? I suspect not. It is just that - a hobby. If say, someone wishes to model a KZ scene, the so be it (again, it’s a counter to all those Tigers(!)), or even, perish the thought, an Einsatzkommando, either in action, or say, just having a cigarette after a hard day’s work? To me, in a way, it doesn’t matter - at least the modeller bothered to model something different.

I suppose that’s where my Kommandobefehl came in.

Robin yes I think I know the photo that Alamy one reminded you of, it’s a still from a Soviet clip showing some bodies near the airport at Stalingrad, similar pose but in the other one it almost looks like he’s riding a bike lying down - bizarre how a corpse ended up frozen solid in such a position.

I’m with Brian about whether to portray certain aspects of war – clearly the vast majority of modellers avoid the worst & understandably so. But like him I sometimes find it tiresome to see yet another depiction of sanitised warfare as though it’s some kind of Cowboys & Indians game. I’m just as guilty, so in a fit of ultra-realism a few years ago I did this partisan aftermath…

At the time (2017) I was concerned not to offend the forum owners so I first asked if I could show them; in the end we agreed I’d provide a link to where these & other images were stored. Anyone could click the link so it wasn’t exactly censorship. I’ve been watching Erik’s current “The Spaghetti Massacre” in the Diorama forum and there seems to be no such sensitivity these days. At least my images are contained in this thread about Einsatzgruppen, anyone choosing to read it ought to have been prepared for anything. Is it glorifying War any more or less than a perfectly weathered Tiger?

For me it’s a conundrum, we here all find weapons of war totally fascinating, yet if confronted in real life with what they do to human beings I’d bet most of us would vomit.