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Selbstschutz ( ) stands for two organisations: it was (1) a name used by a number of paramilitary organisations created by ethnic Germans in Central Europe and (2) is a name for self-defence measures and units in ethnic German, Austrian, and Swiss civil defence.

Para-military organisation

Selbstschutz as a para-military organisation was formed both after World War I in territories inhabited by Germans outside of Germany before the beginning of World War II; notably in Polandmarker, the Free City of Danzigmarker and Czechoslovakiamarker by ethnic Germans who were citizens of these countries. The first incarnation of the organisation was aimed at keeping Polish inhabited territories within Germany, while later was known for its widespread involvement in atrocities.

In 1921, units of Selbstschutz took part in the fights against the Third Silesian Uprising. In 1938, a campaign was started by local Selbstschutz in the Czechoslovakianmarker Sudetenland in order to subjugate the local Czechs prior to the Munich Conference. During the Invasion of Poland of 1939, a number of similar units operating in Poland and led by volunteers trained in Nazi Germany were officially merged into one organization. The unit took part in fighting as a Fifth Column, and then served as the auxiliary force of the Gestapomarker and SSmarker during the early stages of the occupation of Poland. Numbering 82,000 men on November 26, 1939, the unit was disbanded and the majority of its members joined the German SS or Gestapo by the spring of the following year.

Inter-war years

In Silesia, Selbstschutz militia were active on the German side of the Polish/German conflicts in the area. In 1921, its organized units resisted the Polish rebellion in the Third Silesian Uprising; which was aimed at seceding Upper Silesia from Germany.

Mennonite units

Russian Mennonite young men in Ukraine from Molotschnamarker and to a lesser extent Chortitzamarker formed Selbstschutz units through influence of the German occupation forces at the end of World War I. Before the end of the occupation, German soldiers supervised the creation of several Selbstschutz units, leaving guns, ammunition, and a few officers to command the groups. Together with a neighboring Lutheran colony, the young men from Molotschna formed twenty companies totaling 2700 infantry and 300 cavalry, which, during the Russian Civil War, held back the forces of anarchist Nestor Makhno until March 1919. When the Red Army combined with Makhno, the self-defense group was forced to retreat and disband. This attempt to defend the villages departed from the Mennonite's traditional teaching of nonresistance and was disapproved by many colonists. However, in the absence of effective governmental authority and when faced with the horrific atrocities committed by anarchist partisans, many others came to believe in the necessity of self defence. Later church conferences and delegations officially condemned this action as a "grave mistake".

World War II

The Selbstschutz were reintroduced during the late 1930s in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Selbstschutz activists worked to indoctrinate ethnic Germans and commit acts of terrorism against the Czech population in the Sudetenland.

In the interwar period German minority organizations in Poland such as Jungdeutsche Partei, Deutsche Vereinigung, Deutscher Volksbund and Deutscher Volksverband actively cooperated with Nazi Germany through espionage, sabotage, provocations and political indoctrination. They maintained close contact and were directed by NSDAP, Auslandsorganisation, Gestapomarker, SDmarker and Abwehr. It is estimated that 25% of the German minority in Poland were members of these organisations.

By October 1938, SD agents were organizing Selbstschutz in Poland. Ethnic Germans with Polish citizenship were trained in the Third Reich in various sabotage methods and guerilla tactics.

Even before the war, Selbstschutz activists from Poland helped to organize lists of Poles who later were to be arrested or executed in Operation Tannenberg.

With the beginning of the Invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, Selbstschutz units engaged in hostility towards the Polish population and military, and performed sabotage operations helping the German attack on the Polish state.In mid-September, the chaotic and autonomous activities of this organization were coordinated by SSmarker officers. Gustav Berger was placed in charge of the organization and district commanders in occupied zones made by the German army were put in place — West Prussia, Upper Silesia and Warthegau.

While the SS leadership was limited to overseeing the operations, local units remained under the control of ethnic Germans who had proven their commitment at the beginning of the war.

Selbstschutz also organized concentration camps for Poles. Occasionally they were founded on places where Wehrmacht or German police units established camps. There were 19 such camps in the following places: Bydgoszcz (Bromberg), Brodnicamarker (Strasburg), Chełmnomarker (Kulm), Dorposz Szlacheckimarker, Kamień Krajeńskimarker, Karolewo, Lipno (Lippe), Łobżenicamarker, Nakłomarker (Nakel), Nowy Wiecmarker (near Skarszewmarker), Nowe (over Vistula), Piastoszynmarker, Płutowo, Sępolnomarker, Krajeńskie, Solec Kujawskimarker (Schulitz), Tucholamarker (Tuchel), Wąbrzeźnomarker (Briesen), Wolentalmarker (near Skórcza), Wyrzyskmarker (Wirsitz).The majority of the Poles imprisoned in those camps (consisting of men, women and youth) were murdered in cruel ways.

Polish intelligentsia, nationalists, Catholic priests, Jews, Roma, and even Catholic Germans, ethnic Germans married to Poles, and everybody who had been denounced by at least two Volksdeutsche, were gathered in camps either for execution or deportation. In addition to that, the organization worked together with the Einsatzgruppenmarker, the mobile killing units of the SS.

Polish historians estimated that the majority of approximately 50,000 Poles killed in the early days of the German occupation were victims of Selbstschutz.

By 5 October 1939, in West Prussia alone, Selbstschutz under the command of Ludolf von Alvensleben were 17,667 men strong, and had already executed 4,247 Poles, while Alvensleben complained to Selbstschutz officers that too few Poles had been shot. (German officers had reported that only a fraction of Poles had been "destroyed" in the region with the total number of those executed in West Prussia during this action being about 20,000.One Selbstschutz commander, Wilhelm Richardt, said in Karolewo (Karlhof) camp that he did not want to build big camps for Poles and feed them, and that it was an honour for Poles to fertilize the German soil with their corpses There was little opposition or lack of enthusiasm for activities of Selbstschutz among those involved in the action. There was even a case where a Selbstschutz commander was relieved after he failed to account for all the Poles that were required, and it was found that he executed "only" 300 Poles.

The total number of Selbstschutz members in Poland is estimated at 82,000.

The organization was ordered to be dissolved on 26 November 1939, yet this process continued until the spring of 1940. Among the reasons for this order were cases of extreme corruption, disorderly behaviour and conflicts with other organizations as well as excessive use of force.

The existence of a large paramilitary organization of ethnic Germans with Polish citizenship that helped in the German war against Poland and engaged in widespread massacres of Poles served as one of the reasons for the expulsion of Germans after the war.


"People executed by shooting were finished by blows from shovels, or by beating with rifles, sometimes they were even buried alive.
Mothers were forced to place their children in mass graves where they were shot together afterwards.
Before executions women and girls were raped.(...) [Those atrocities] evoked horror even in Germans, including some soldiers who were terrified at what they saw in the camps."
A short description of Selbstschutz operations from Polish State Museum of Stutthofmarker

Estonian Omakaitse

Estonian Omakaitse (Home Guard) was a unique civil defense organisation in the German-occupied Eastern Europe. In Latvia, which otherwise had a common fate with Estonia, there was no organisation of this kind.

Pro-democracy Southern Estonian partisan units disbanded on 29 July 1941 at the orders of the German Army Group North. On voluntary basis, the formations were yet again summoned on 2 August 1941 under the name of Estonian Omakaitse. Members were initially selected from the closest circle of friends. Later, candidate members were asked to sign a declaration that they were not members of a Communist organisation. Estonian Omakaitse relied on the former regulations of Estonian Defence League and Estonian Army, insofar as they were consistent with the laws of German occupation. The tasks of the Omakaitse were as follows:

1) defence of the coast and borders;

2) fight against parachutists, sabotage, and espionage;

3) guarding militarily important objects;

4) fight against Communism;

5) assistance to Estonian Auxiliary Police and guaranteeing the general safety of the citizens;

6) providing assistance in case of large-scale accidents (fires, floods, diseases, etc.);

7) providing military training for its members and other loyal citizens;

8) deepening and preserving the patriotic and national feelings of citizens.

On 15 July, the Omakaitse had 10,200 members, on 1 December 1941, 40,599 members. Until the mobilisations of February 1944, the membership was roughly around 40,000. Appr. 1000–1200 men of the Omakaitse (2.5–3%) were directly involved in criminal acts, taking part in the round-up, guarding or killing of 400–1000 Roma people and 6000 Jews in the concentration camps of Pskov region of Russia and Jägala, Vaivara, Kloogamarker, and Lagedi camps in Estonia. Guarded among others by the few percent of the Omakaitse, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war died in Estonia, part of them because of neglect and mistreatment and part executed.

Estonian Omakaitse remained a voluntary territorial defence organisation until 2 October 1943, when the Estonian puppet government ('Self-Administration') issued a "Regulation About Calling Male Population to Home Guard Service". It became compulsory for men aged 17–45 to become members of the Omakaitse. The regulation on 29 January 1944 made membership of the Omakaitse obligatory for males aged 17–60 and not affected by general mobilisation. The combat battalions consisted in men who either for health reasons or for their age were not mobilised into the German Armed Forces. The men were mostly wearing civilian clothes, but were obliged to wear armbands with distinctive insignia. Their training was incomplete and they were armed with old British, German and Russian rifles and light and heavy machine guns from World War I. Therefore the Omakaitse territorial battalions were deployed to Lake Peipusmarker coast guard duties and insignificant sectors of the front. However, in the defence of the Väike Emajõgimarker river line against the Soviet Tartu Offensivemarker in August–September and the Riga Offensive in September 1944, some of the battalions became involved in serious combat operations. When the Army Group North started to withdraw from mainland Estoniamarker, most of the members of the Omakaitse returned to their homes. However, the members, who got evacuated to Germany, were sent to the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS .

Civil defense organisation

Selbstschutz can be defined as the local self-help of the civil population and of local and national institutions and infrastructures against air raids and catastrophes. The term was coined in the 1920s and was widely used in the 1930s as part of the German preparations for the Second World War.

The German Selbstschutz was part of a comprehensive system of air-raid protection conceived by the German government and which covered the civil population, industry and public administrations.

There are several forms of Selbstschutz:- the Selbstschutz of the local population, organised by air wardens and forming small first intervention squads,- the Selbstschutz of infrastructures (railways, post and telecommunications, waterways, police, SS) and of public bureaucracies (ministry of finance, for instance),- the Werkluftschutz of private industry.All forms of Selbstschutz became eventually mandatory, at latest with the start of the war in 1939.

Besides its official function, air-raid protection, the Selbstschutz and its organisation, the Reichsluftschutzbund, had additional functions:- mentally and practically preparing the German population for war,- fostering the feeling of belongingness (Volksgemeinschaft),- controlling the political opinion (through the air-wardens) in the city wards,- security: collaborating with the local police and the Gestapo.

After the end of World War II the organisation was dissolved.

With the Cold War and concomitant German rearmement a new Selbstschutz organisation was created, denazified, based on the experiences of its forerunner and organised by the Bundesluftschutzverband (BLSV), later rebaptized Bundesverband für den Selbstschutz (BVS). One of its major activities were the training of the civil population in first aid, or the propaganda for constructing air-raid shelters. In Western Germany in the 1980s, standard telephone directories included a page with instruction from the BVS how to protect yourself in catastrophes and in case of attacks.

With the end of the Cold War the BVS was dissolved in 1997

See also



  • "The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942" Christopher R. Browning, University of Nebraska Press
  • "Germany and Eastern Europe: Cultural Identities and Cultural Differences", Keith Bullivant, Geoffrey Giles, Walter Pap
  • "Selbstschutz im Luftschutz. Eine Anweisung für jedermann über Schutz und Verhalten bei Fliegerangriffen". E. Ohlenhof, H. von Mutius, Berlin-Wilmersdorf: Selbstschutz Verlag, s.d. [circa], 1925.

External links

against catastrophes by the Selbstschutz service of the Munich Fire Brigade

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