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Free French "War Crimes"?


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#1 Mehar

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 02:46 AM

I've been reading a few stories over the past few months about certain Free French "war crimes" during World War 2. I'm putting "war crimes" in quotation because it has been a source of controversy in a few threads recently, essentially what I'm asking is if the French were ever called to task about what they had done during the war.

The first example I remember is "secret camps" the French had in the African theater, they would house German and Italian prisoners with inhumane conditions. Infact, one example I read about the camp was only liberated because a American general found it by mistake.

Another example is the execution without trial of French S.S. forces, this one might be open to debate but the first example might be a bit more "clear cut".

#2 Triple C

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 04:30 AM

I won't be surprised if they were, the Germans occupied their country and were extremely ruthless in suppressing resistance. The German Army treated partisans very badly and retaliated partisan attacks by abusing civilians; the partisans showed no mercy in return. To me, French SS troopers are traitors to their fatherland and the French had every right to deal them as such.

#3 TiredOldSoldier

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 08:36 AM

The beaviour of French colonial troops in Italy towards a civilian population that was not "enemy" in 1944 was bad, not on SS level but closer to eastern front standards than to western Europe. Apparently the French officers didn't do much to restrain the troops. AFAIK there were no trials, the problem was fixed when the units were re-assignined to Anvil-Dragoon though the mountain trained troops would have probably been more useful in Italy than southern France.

#4 Mehar

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 03:09 PM

I won't be surprised if they were, the Germans occupied their country and were extremely ruthless in suppressing resistance. The German Army treated partisans very badly and retaliated partisan attacks by abusing civilians; the partisans showed no mercy in return. To me, French SS troopers are traitors to their fatherland and the French had every right to deal them as such.


To the Germans at least (and perhaps everywhere at the time) Partisans were not covered by the laws of soldiers or civilians since they would be in a "middle ground" state, on the Eastern Front at least the only thing was death. I'm going by examples I found in The Forgotten Soldier but in some cases the partisans would blend in with civilians, usually refuges following a German convoy and shoot soldiers when they weren't aware prompting the Germans in their confusion to "find the responsible".

That may have been such but is everyone not entitled to a trial, even for treason? Some were killed but other (in particular those who had trials) were given labor sentences

The beaviour of French colonial troops in Italy towards a civilian population that was not "enemy" in 1944 was bad, not on SS level but closer to eastern front standards than to western Europe. Apparently the French officers didn't do much to restrain the troops. AFAIK there were no trials, the problem was fixed when the units were re-assignined to Anvil-Dragoon though the mountain trained troops would have probably been more useful in Italy than southern France.


Sorry, what's "Anvil-Dragoon"?

If no trials took place, should they have taken place? Or were the French so "unknown" during the war that people decided to "forget" in a sense? I found the original article regarding the camps if anyone is interested.

Hans Klein Recalls His Time in Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps » HistoryNet

#5 Triple C

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 03:42 PM

To the Germans at least (and perhaps everywhere at the time) Partisans were not covered by the laws of soldiers or civilians since they would be in a "middle ground" state, on the Eastern Front at least the only thing was death. I'm going by examples I found in The Forgotten Soldier but in some cases the partisans would blend in with civilians, usually refuges following a German convoy and shoot soldiers when they weren't aware prompting the Germans in their confusion to "find the responsible".


All that is true. However, Germany was in flagrant violation of multiple peace treaties just for being on French soil. And the Germans did play fast and loose with their definition of partisan activity; the taking and killing of civilian hostages certainly would not encourage merciful behavior from the resistance when the tables are turned.

As for right to fair trial--that's internal affairs, but maybe I am a hard-nosed realist that way.

Sorry, what's "Anvil-Dragoon"?


Anvil was the original codename for Dragoon, the amphibious attack against S. France.

#6 Skipper

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 04:04 PM

Any army killed enemies without trial , so did the FFI and they were dammned right to do so, if I had caught the bastard who had tortured my friends , relatives etc.. I would have done just the same. This may be debatable but this was just the case and must be seen with WWII eyes not 2009 ones. yes SS were killed by the FFI. SS were also killed by Russians and by Americans. Above all let us not forget that the SS did not care much about the Geneva Convention, yet they would flee the Resistance and surrender to Regular troops and suddenly would remember the Convention existed. A bit easy in my opinion.
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#7 Mehar

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 04:19 PM

All that is true. However, Germany was in flagrant violation of multiple peace treaties just for being on French soil. And the Germans did play fast and loose with their definition of partisan activity; the taking and killing of civilian hostages certainly would not encourage merciful behavior from the resistance when the tables are turned.

As for right to fair trial--that's internal affairs, but maybe I am a hard-nosed realist that way.



Anvil was the original codename for Dragoon, the amphibious attack against S. France.


Good points, overall, it's hard to judge partisans because their is so much grey area with the whole meaning behind them. Some partisans committed horrific atrocities against dead soldiers (again, I refer to The Forgotten Soldier account during the retreat), others may have just simply fought like a soldier would have.

How would Operation Dragoon deal with the "bad bunch"?

Any army killed enemies without trial , so did the FFI and they were dammned right to do so, if I had caught the bastard who had tortured my friends , relatives etc.. I would have done just the same. This may be debatable but this was just the case and must be seen with WWII eyes not 2009 ones. yes SS were killed by the FFI. SS were also killed by Russians and by Americans. Above all let us not forget that the SS did not care much about the Geneva Convention, yet they would flee the Resistance and surrender to Regular troops and suddenly would remember the Convention existed. A bit easy in my opinion.


Without investigation, how would you know who was indeed guilty and who was innocent? There are plenty of cases where S.S. members were found to be not guilty, returned home, and lived their lives, there are also others who lived in doubt.

#8 Skipper

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 04:39 PM

Oh please, Investigation on the front in the middle of a fight ? . As I told you must consider this topic with 1945 eyes, not with a 2009 mentality. As to pows, Every nation killed pows . Maybe you should ask this question to a Russian who found his starving friends in a Stalag or to an American after Malmedy? I really wonder what they would have done with the "poor innocent SS"... they could have caught when facing the true aspect of SS war crimes .

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#9 TiredOldSoldier

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 06:36 PM

Oh please, Investigation on the front in the middle of a fight ?


While "investigation in the middle of a fight" is absurd dealing with execesses as soon as possible is a necessity, otherwise you will soon have the situation spiraling out of control as each side "reacts" to real or perceived enemy "crimes".
All sides commited some atrocities, but bringing the culprits from the allied side to justice is a political impossibility (it would be hugely unpopular) , this makes going after the axis "small fish" not look like justice to me.

Anvil/Dragoon were the landings to free southern France, it's unlikely that French troops would commit excesses against French civilians.

Partisans are a very grey area, how should a soldier react when a comrade is killed by a man without a uniform who then hides amongst the civilians? The few treaties that addressed the subject were designed to discourage partisan activity while at the same time limiting the reaction of the military. Too bad they didn't work, in reality many countries did their best to encourage partisan activity.
Today we have a very similar problem with "terrorists" and "collateral damage" and are still unable to find a solution that feels right.

Edited by TiredOldSoldier, 25 October 2009 - 06:53 PM.

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#10 Skipper

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 07:09 PM

Good analysis TiredOldSoldier I couldn't have said it better. Just one thing: civilians were killed too and some by soldiers from their own country , whehter they be militians, Resistants or regulars.

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#11 Mehar

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 07:19 PM

Oh please, Investigation on the front in the middle of a fight ? . As I told you must consider this topic with 1945 eyes, not with a 2009 mentality. As to pows, Every nation killed pows . Maybe you should ask this question to a Russian who found his starving friends in a Stalag or to an American after Malmedy? I really wonder what they would have done with the "poor innocent SS"... they could have caught when facing the true aspect of SS war crimes .


They do have prisons were one can keep people while they wait trial, besides, some of the French S.S. did receive trials, others were simply killed without one for what ever reason. Also keep in mind, these are surrendering POW's who raised the white flag when Germany had either fallen or was about to fall. The Allies did screen almost all German prisoners at the end of the war before allowing the to return home. I am considering this with hindsight in mind, some prisoners were given fair trials at the end of the war, others were simply killed because they said something the French didn't like. (such as the infamous, "why do you wear an American uniform" stand)

Also, the French S.S. by the end of the war did not number in the millions, their were less than 1,000 of them IIRC.

Does that make it justified? What if someone like Oskar Schindler was shot down before he could take out his papers? Similarly, I can make the same arguments about the Axis, how do you think the Germans reacted when they heard of the horror stories taking place within Soviet Concentration camps from an escaped prisoner? Or if Axis forces had found the camps set up by the French, would the Axis still have treated the Allies the same?

While "investigation in the middle of a fight" is absurd dealing with execesses as soon as possible is a necessity, otherwise you will soon have the situation spiraling out of control as each side "reacts" to real or perceived enemy "crimes".
All sides commited some atrocities, but bringing the culprits from the allied side to justice is a political impossibility (it would be hugely unpopular) , this makes going after the axis "small fish" not look like justice to me.

Anvil/Dragoon were the landings to free southern France, it's unlikely that French troops would commit excesses against French civilians.

Partisans are a very grey area, how should a soldier react when a comrade is killed by a man without a uniform who then hides amongst the civilians? The few treaties that addressed the subject were designed to discourage partisan activity while at the same time limiting the reaction of the military. Too bad they didn't work, in reality many countries did their best to encourage partisan activity.
Today we have a very similar problem with "terrorists" and "collateral damage" and are still unable to find a solution that feels right.


Good point, were attempts ever made by survivors of the French actions to see justice? I know "victors justice" was thrown around a few times but not in regards to the French.

#12 TiredOldSoldier

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 08:21 PM

Good point, were attempts ever made by survivors of the French actions to see justice? I know "victors justice" was thrown around a few times but not in regards to the French.


Not as far as I know, as the troops were moved to a different front there was little danger of a repeat episode and there was a war on.
IMO the French colonial troops are a good example of how things can get out of control unless some sort of "justice" draws a clear line between what will be tollerated as "heat of battle" and what will not no matter who is the winning side at the time.
Some unsavory episodes were reported during their use as occupation troops in the Rhineland after WW1, then they where the victims of one of the few POW massacres of the 1940 campaign reportedly "in revenge" for the Rhineland episodes, then their excesses in Italy were tollerated, finally the French civilan settlers suffered from it when many of those same soldiers joined the Algerian revolt.

#13 Skipper

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 09:38 PM

[quote name='Mehar'] others were simply killed because they said something the French didn't like.

QUOTE]


not only because of what they said but because they belonged to a criminal organisation of mass murderers who had killed women and children, hostages, pows, Jews, etc...
I am not saying the SS did not deserve a trial, I however understand those who killed them during the 1944-45 period. It was a time of unstability and I don't think the SS were showing those they caught earlier, the mercy they requested later in the first place

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#14 Mehar

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 11:45 PM

[quote name='TiredOldSoldier']Not as far as I know, as the troops were moved to a different front there was little danger of a repeat episode and there was a war on.
IMO the French colonial troops are a good example of how things can get out of control unless some sort of "justice" draws a clear line between what will be tollerated as "heat of battle" and what will not no matter who is the winning side at the time.
Some unsavory episodes were reported during their use as occupation troops in the Rhineland after WW1, then they where the victims of one of the few POW massacres of the 1940 campaign reportedly "in revenge" for the Rhineland episodes, then their excesses in Italy were tollerated, finally the French civilan settlers suffered from it when many of those same soldiers joined the Algerian revolt.[/QUOTE]

So essentially just a "slap on the wrist, don't do it again" type thing, really strange that no further actions were taken since the Allies did punish some of their own during and partly after the war.

[quote name='Skipper'][quote name='Mehar'] others were simply killed because they said something the French didn't like.

[QUOTE]


not only because of what they said but because they belonged to a criminal organisation of mass murderers who had killed women and children, hostages, pows, Jews, etc...
I am not saying the SS did not deserve a trial, I however understand those who killed them during the 1944-45 period. It was a time of unstability and I don't think the SS were showing those they caught earlier, the mercy they requested later in the first place[/QUOTE][/QUOTE]

You could be a member of the S.S. but that doesn't mean you were automatically a war criminal. There are cases where S.S. men were not guilty of any crime and allowed to return to civillian life after the war. Without a proper trial and evidence being put forth it's hard to put labels on someone. Did everyone killed without trial deserve to be so? It's hard to say.

Edit: I'm not saying only the French were killing S.S. members, I simply used it as a secondary example along with the one about the camps since the conditions described are on par with those seen in the U.S.S.R., Nazi Germany, etc.

Edited by Mehar, 25 October 2009 - 11:52 PM.


#15 Triple C

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Posted 26 October 2009 - 12:18 AM

Edit: I'm not saying only the French were killing S.S. members, I simply used it as a secondary example along with the one about the camps since the conditions described are on par with those seen in the U.S.S.R., Nazi Germany, etc.[/QUOTE]

You have raised many valid points. I think I can say that not all SS troopers executed deserved it. However, 1940s is not 2009. There was a sense of collective responsibility, especially when martial honor is in question, and a vindictiveness that very few of us might be able to comprehend because we did not fight those brutal wars and we did not have to see our friends murdered or our homes flattened.

I seem to recall that I have read that link before. To be honest, while the conditions of Mr. Kleins camp was criminal and some form of punishment should have been brought upon those responsible, it paled in comparison with either the USSR gullags and was insignificant compared to German political concentration camps where they put Jews, dissidents and Red Army POWs.

#16 Mehar

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Posted 26 October 2009 - 02:43 AM

[quote name='Triple C']Edit: I'm not saying only the French were killing S.S. members, I simply used it as a secondary example along with the one about the camps since the conditions described are on par with those seen in the U.S.S.R., Nazi Germany, etc.[/QUOTE]

You have raised many valid points. I think I can say that not all SS troopers executed deserved it. However, 1940s is not 2009. There was a sense of collective responsibility, especially when martial honor is in question, and a vindictiveness that very few of us might be able to comprehend because we did not fight those brutal wars and we did not have to see our friends murdered or our homes flattened.

I seem to recall that I have read that link before. To be honest, while the conditions of Mr. Kleins camp was criminal and some form of punishment should have been brought upon those responsible, it paled in comparison with either the USSR gullags and was insignificant compared to German political concentration camps where they put Jews, dissidents and Red Army POWs.[/QUOTE]

Thank you for the compliment! :)

I assume these camps must have been well known since the Germans liberated from that camp were described as suffering from the "French diseases" when American doctors looked at them. This is of course in reference to starvation and not the STD.

Out of curiosity, does anyone know the name of the camp or similar camps Hans Klein and his fellow prisoners were liberated from?

#17 Skipper

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Posted 26 October 2009 - 09:27 AM

Comparing the French pow camps to Gulags and German death camps is both outrageous and revisionism.
I agree some Germans suffered from their pow status and not only in French camps (you should read about the allied camps on the Rhine river for instance) but their fate has NOTHING comparable with Gulags, Concentration camps and German Pow camps for Russians.

Thousands of Germans stayed in France after the war after their so called "ill treatment", what did they expect: a 5 star Hilton hotel? Yes pows were hungry, of course they were, but so were their guardians. the entire country had food tickets until 1949..... and why feed pows when there wasn't enough food for their own children?

My own neigbour is the son of one these pows. Whe he arrived in his camp in Northern France, the guards said, "go to the beach find the mines, after all you were the ones who put them there". From time to time accidents happened and people were killed, but his dad was so fairly treated that he decided to stay in 1948. The French would offer former pows jobs to the extend that many never returned to Germany and some made their family come over too. (see pasted document from my collection )

Posted Image

I am aware of the fact that some Goumiers raped women in Italy and I fully condemn this , but when mentionning these facts, they should be compared to other armies and you should compare what is comparable. If not your statements are incomplete and biased. Besides Comparing Stalins and Hitler's camps with French pows camps is simply not serious.

Also quoting Klein is ok, but why does nobody quote the memoirs of Germans who were happy to have made it to French camps rather than other nationalities. If some of you speak French (they are German sources and may exist in German too) , I would be more than happy to share those references.
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#18 Mehar

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Posted 26 October 2009 - 09:07 PM

Comparing the French pow camps to Gulags and German death camps is both outrageous and revisionism.
I agree some Germans suffered from their pow status and not only in French camps (you should read about the allied camps on the Rhine river for instance) but their fate has NOTHING comparable with Gulags, Concentration camps and German Pow camps for Russians.

Thousands of Germans stayed in France after the war after their so called "ill treatment", what did they expect: a 5 star Hilton hotel? Yes pows were hungry, of course they were, but so were their guardians. the entire country had food tickets until 1949..... and why feed pows when there wasn't enough food for their own children?

My own neigbour is the son of one these pows. Whe he arrived in his camp in Northern France, the guards said, "go to the beach find the mines, after all you were the ones who put them there". From time to time accidents happened and people were killed, but his dad was so fairly treated that he decided to stay in 1948. The French would offer former pows jobs to the extend that many never returned to Germany and some made their family come over too. (see pasted document from my collection )

Posted Image

I am aware of the fact that some Goumiers raped women in Italy and I fully condemn this , but when mentionning these facts, they should be compared to other armies and you should compare what is comparable. If not your statements are incomplete and biased. Besides Comparing Stalins and Hitler's camps with French pows camps is simply not serious.

Also quoting Klein is ok, but why does nobody quote the memoirs of Germans who were happy to have made it to French camps rather than other nationalities. If some of you speak French (they are German sources and may exist in German too) , I would be more than happy to share those references.


No one knew about these camps, not even the other Allies, the Free French Forces had also failed to register their POW's with organizations like the Red Cross, the POW's were essentially invisible hence were subject to all sorts of things.

In this particular instance I highly doubt the French were drinking water from gasoline tanks with no organization, rationing 12-13 loafs of bread among hundreds of thousands, or watching their own men die or move in pain when doctors were on hand and able to help but given orders not to. Had the POW's been registered food, medical, etc shipments from the Red Cross could have helped both parties to a certain extent.

For this specific example, Klein claims they did not object to clearing the mines placed by their German comrades. The problem is maps existed which told them where the mines were making it easier and reducing injuries, casualties, etc. Also, in the camps you mentioned, were the soldiers given tools to help them disarm the mines?

Suppose for a second that this was the only camp of its kind and the rest were run normally. If 9 of the 10 camps report back with good conditions should the one camp run in such a manner not be forced answer because it was not in the majority? The Germans who ran their POW camps well were not punished, but those that did not were punished either by the Axis or Allies.

I disagree, whether one person suffered or 100, those who caused such things to happen should be called to question. Comparing crimes is ok, but what's the point? At most it would just help people sleep at night knowing what they did wasn't as bad as the next guy, but victims are victims and should not be used as an excuse to not warrant any sort of a investigation.

Also, I'm not criticizing the French, Allies, Axis, etc as a whole, just those who many have done things they shouldn't have.

#19 Skipper

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Posted 26 October 2009 - 09:44 PM

[quote name='Mehar']
Comparing crimes is ok, but what's the point? At most it would just help people sleep at night knowing what they did wasn't as bad as the next guy, but victims are victims and should not be used as an excuse to not warrant any sort of a investigation.
QUOTE]

We agree on this aspect,

Some things were acceptable those days , including having pows digging out mines in the sand with their hands. Maps existed , unless they had been burnt by the Germans themselves. And my neigbour's father had no tools to dig out the mines, he just did and because he did a good job and risked his life , he got respected too, then he had a better job in a farm and later in garage until his release.

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#20 Totenkopf

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Posted 26 October 2009 - 10:00 PM

When a partisan kills an SS soldier and then blends into the crowd of innocents, they should expect no less then brutal retaliation. In France the SS didnt simply wander the countryside killing civilians at will; we should remember that the whole of France was riddled with Partisans all over the place. We can condemn such killings but as Skipper said we must look at this with eyes during the war:


It could easily be justified that the SS would kill 5 civilians for every German soldier killed by a partisan. Why not? The cowards killed their comrades and didnt show their face; they will be held responsible for the deaths of their brethren in return. Keep in mind that that is from an SS soldier's supposed point of view.


IIRC in some smaller towns the Germans would make known that "For every one of mine that dies 10 of yours will" This can explain that some small towns were relatively quiet compared to others.
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#21 Skipper

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Posted 26 October 2009 - 10:10 PM

I have examples of 50 hostages shot for every German killed

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#22 Mehar

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Posted 26 October 2009 - 10:58 PM

[quote name='Skipper'][quote name='Mehar']
Comparing crimes is ok, but what's the point? At most it would just help people sleep at night knowing what they did wasn't as bad as the next guy, but victims are victims and should not be used as an excuse to not warrant any sort of a investigation.
QUOTE]

We agree on this aspect,

Some things were acceptable those days , including having pows digging out mines in the sand with their hands. Maps existed , unless they had been burnt by the Germans themselves. And my neigbour's father had no tools to dig out the mines, he just did and because he did a good job and risked his life , he got respected too, then he had a better job in a farm and later in garage until his release.[/QUOTE]

In Mr. Klein's camp the maps did indeed exist, the French didn't let them use the maps. I assume the conditions in your neighbor's dad's camp were better than those describe by Klein?

I just looked up the use of prisoners to do labor such as clearing mine fields, it seems to be a pretty heavily debated topic. Even further, the Disarmed Enemy Forces and similar programs used to classify German soldiers at the end of the war is under controversy. Axis forces also had POW labor camps IIRC, how were those evaluated? I know the Japanese camps that used POW labor in extreme forms/conditions were considered criminal as they should have been.

[quote name='Totenkopf']When a partisan kills an SS soldier and then blends into the crowd of innocents, they should expect no less then brutal retaliation. In France the SS didnt simply wander the countryside killing civilians at will; we should remember that the whole of France was riddled with Partisans all over the place. We can condemn such killings but as Skipper said we must look at this with eyes during the war:


It could easily be justified that the SS would kill 5 civilians for every German soldier killed by a partisan. Why not? The cowards killed their comrades and didnt show their face; they will be held responsible for the deaths of their brethren in return. Keep in mind that that is from an SS soldier's supposed point of view.


IIRC in some smaller towns the Germans would make known that "For every one of mine that dies 10 of yours will" This can explain that some small towns were relatively quiet compared to others.[/QUOTE]

Partisians had done some pretty nasty things to civillians as well, I don't think very many of them were called to task after the war.

#23 PzJgr

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Posted 26 October 2009 - 11:25 PM

Oh please, Investigation on the front in the middle of a fight ? . As I told you must consider this topic with 1945 eyes, not with a 2009 mentality. As to pows, Every nation killed pows . Maybe you should ask this question to a Russian who found his starving friends in a Stalag or to an American after Malmedy? I really wonder what they would have done with the "poor innocent SS"... they could have caught when facing the true aspect of SS war crimes .


I was going to jump in but Skipper does have a point. Also, I believe in the saying "you reap what you sow" and the Germans harvested what they had sown in the 6 years of war.
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#24 Mehar

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Posted 27 October 2009 - 12:37 AM

I was going to jump in but Skipper does have a point. Also, I believe in the saying "you reap what you sow" and the Germans harvested what they had sown in the 6 years of war.


Have you read the following responses? Pretty much sums up my thoughts unless a new angle is brought up.

What's on your mind, the more the merrier. :)




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