History of War

HITLER'S FOREIGN LEGIONS

Berlin is burning. After more than five years of war, the Nazis’ much-vaunted ‘thousand-year Reich’ is finally coming to an end. But the agony isn’t over quite yet. As the Soviet Red Army inexorably advances into the heart of the city, a few thousand surviving defenders desperately fight on.

One of them – an officer – tries to get a better view of what is happening by climbing up a telegraph pole. Precariously hanging on with one hand while holding his binoculars with the other, he doesn’t see the Soviet marksman who shoots him. His men rush to his aid, but he’s already dead.

As a sign of respect, and despite the chaos around them, they bury him in Plötsensee Cemetery, in a makeshift coffin made from old ammunition crates. The name on the grave marker reads “Per Sørensen” – the dead officer wasn’t German, but hailed from the small parish of Essenbaek in Denmark.

A few days later, it’s all over. Hitler is dead, the guns are finally silent. Among a column of dejected prisoners of war, a drunken Soviet soldier grabs a man out of the line, screaming into his face, “SS!, SS!”. The guards pull him away, only for him to turn back and shoot the prisoner in the head. The column marches on, leaving the corpse where it fell.

This man wasn’t German either; he was French, and his name was Roger Albert-Brunet, a native of Dauphine and a recipient of the Iron Cross First Class.

“AS FOR THE FRENCH, BELGIAN WALLOONS AND SPANISH, THEY WERE ALLOWED TO JOIN THE GERMAN ARMY BUT NOT THE WAFFEN-SS – THEY WEREN’T ‘ARYAN’ ENOUGH”

What were a Dane and a Frenchmen doing defending Berlin at the war’s end? The truth is one of the most fascinating stories of World War II, and one of the least known.

Genesis of the foreign SS legions

When Hitler sent the Wehrmacht to invade and occupy Scandinavia and western Europe in 1940, a new force went with the army, small in number but huge in symbolism: the Waffen, or ‘Armed’ SS. These men weren’t regular soldiers exactly, but were part of something quite different, a military wing of the Nazi Party itself.

Established at first to protect Hitler and other senior Nazis from physical attack during the often-violent street politics of the 1920s and

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