Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Himmler and Vlasov

On 16 September 1944 Himmler, now commander of the Reserve Army, came to an agreement with General Vlasov on the deployment of Russian troops alongside the Wehrmacht. The photograph taken afterwards showing the men shaking hands was purely for show, as in private Himmler had never concealed his contempt for the general.

Prisoners of war were also Himmler’s responsibility as commander of the Reserve Army, though he delegated this area to Berger. Now that Soviet POWs fell within his field of responsibility the Reichsf├╝hrer-SS was once more confronted with an initiative that he had hitherto rejected vehemently, namely, the recruitment of Soviet POWs as a separate auxiliary force of the Wehrmacht. In his speech in Posen on 6 October the previous year he had called General Vlasov, the main advocate of this idea among the Russians, the ‘Russian swine’. In July 1944 he nevertheless decided to cooperate with Vlasov as a result of mediation on the part of Gunter d’Alquen, the editor-in-chief of Das Schwarze Korps and commander of the SS-Standarte for war reporting. That same month, after his first contact with Vlasov, Berger set up a ‘Russian operations centre’, the head of which acted as Himmler’s liaison officer with Vlasov.

On 16 September Himmler received the Russian general personally for talks. At the very beginning of the interview Vlasov raised the matter of Himmler’s theory of subhumans; the latter was evasive and immediately declared himself willing to have the brochure entitled The Subhuman that he had had circulated withdrawn (and indeed, Himmler did shortly after issue an internal instruction for all propaganda against subhumans to be stopped). Himmler and Vlasov agreed to establish a ‘Committee for the Liberation of the Russian Nations’, and Himmler made Erhard Kroeger, former leader of the ethnic German population in Latvia, who had been in command of an Einsatzkommando in 1941, political appointee responsible for the Vlasov initiative and put Gunter d’Alquen in charge of psychological warfare. He then had himself photographed with Vlasov.

Vlasov, whose activities were supported by Ribbentrop and Goebbels, was given the opportunity on 14 November 1944, in a ‘Prague Manifesto’, of issuing a call to liberate his homeland. Meanwhile Himmler cannily had Vlasov’s troops established under the umbrella of the Wehrmacht, by contrast with the Galician or Ukrainian SS volunteer units; he had not revised his position so radically that he was willing to integrate them into his Waffen-SS. In April 1945 Vlasov, who on 28 January 1945 was officially appointed supreme commander of the Russian forces, would have more than 45,000 men at his disposal. As far as the course of the war was concerned that was no longer of any significance.

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