The descriptions given below are from necessity of space somewhat limited; for further reading see the bibliography. The translations of German and French terms are my own and I think accurately convey the spirit of the original. Only those aspects of the Nazi era affecting the events at Oradour-sur-Glane are mentioned, as this is not intended to be an exhaustive glossary of the years 1933-1945.
The Reichs of Germany
The Politics and armed forces of The Third Reich
The SS and their role in The Third Reich
Racial beliefs of The Third Reich
The French Resistance, Resistants and Maquisards
Overseas Resistance Organisations
The First Reich was originally called Das Stauferreich (The Staufer Empire) and took its name from Stammburg Hoenstaufen in Swabia. It existed from 1138 to 1254 and was geographically much larger than the latter two and included the northern half of present-day Italy, but not Poland. The best known ruler of the Stauferreich was Frederick I, also known as Barbarossa (Red Beard), whose name was chosen by Hitler as the code name for the invasion of Russia in 1941.
The Second Reich was called Das Deutsche Reich (The German Empire) and was the result of the unification of Germany under the political leadership of Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor. By this time all of Italy had been lost, but part of present day Poland was in the Empire and it existed in this form between 1871 to 1919.
The Third Reich was called Das Dritte Reich. Das Dritte Reich translates literally as, ‘The Third Empire’ and it grew from being just Germany alone, to its maximum geographical extent during the years of Nazi power between 1933 to 1945. It is interesting to note that both geographically and chronologically The Third Reich was both smaller and shorter lived than the previous two versions. I do not know why it is known in English by its half-translated form of, 'The Third Reich'.
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Nazi is an abbreviation of, ‘National-Sozialistische- (Deutsche-Arbeiter-Partei)’ (NSDAP) which means, ‘German National Socialist Workers Party’. The party was founded by Anton Drexler and Karl Harrer in 1919, as the, ‘Deutsche-Arbeiter-Partei’ or ‘German Workers Party’, but was taken over by Hitler in 1920 and the name changed to reflect his political beliefs.
Der Führer, as a title
Wehrmacht literally means, ‘Armed Forces’ and the term covered the whole of the military forces of the Third Reich, not just the Army.
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The SS was formed to take the role of Hitler’s Praetorian Guard. The full story of their history from inception in 1925 up to 1945 is both long and complex. Very briefly it can be said that the SS was divided into two main sections, the Allgemine-SS and the Waffen-SS. An outline of the two groups is given below and the SS rank structure can be seen by taking this link.
Waffen means, ‘Armed’ and SS is the normal abbreviation for, Schutzstaffel, meaning literally, ‘Protection Squad’. It does not mean, ‘Secret Service’, or ‘Special Service’ or any other such fanciful name. The whole term thus means, ‘Armed Protection Squad’. The Waffen-SS were the political soldiers of the Third Reich. They fought alongside the normal Wehrmacht Heer (Army) soldiers, but considered themselves to be an elite volunteer unit of committed German and Austrian National Socialists. As the war ground on and with the expansion of the SS, the entry criteria were relaxed. Eventually both non-Germanic volunteers as well as conscripts had to be used in order to make up the numbers.
Allgemeine means, ‘General’ in the non-military sense. The whole term thus means, ‘General Protection Squad’. The Allgemeine-SS were not fighting soldiers, but covered a vast range of duties, apart from the running of the concentration camps. For example they were involved in the production of food and drink, publishing and other non-warlike activities. They also had close economic links with a large part of German Industry through the Freundeskreis Reichsführer-SS, the 'Circle of Friends of the Empire Leader of the SS'.
Gestapo is an abbreviation of, ‘Geheime Staats Polizei’, meaning, ‘Secret State Police’, they were the best known and most feared part of the Allgemeine-SS.
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The Aryan or ‘Master Race’ was an integral part of Nazi philosophy and belief. The term Aryan was coined by Professor Friedrich Max Müller in about 1860 to cover the language group known up to then as, ‘Indo-European’. He was totally against its use to denote racial groupings, "I have declared again and again that if I say Aryans, I mean neither blood nor bones, nor hair nor skull: I mean simply those who speak an Aryan language". Nevertheless the term became synonymous with race in the minds of the Nazis and was taken to mean nobility of blood and a superior race: ‘The Master Race’. As a matter of note, Germany, Austria, England, The USA and the Scandinavian countries were held to be Aryan (except for the Jews therein), whilst countries such as France and Wales were deemed ‘Celtic’ and Russia and the East in general were held to be ‘Mongoloid’. This racial belief eventually became state policy and illogical and unscientific as it was, it was used to direct the course of The Third Reich right up to its eventual downfall. It is absolutely vital for any understanding of Hitler's Germany to realise that it was from beginning to end a fervently racist state, with at its core a belief in Aryan superiority over other peoples.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines Jew as; "One of the Hebrew or Jewish people, or one who professes Judaism". It is worth repeating that the original Hebrew people were of a Semitic origin and are kin to the present day Arabs. Judaism originated in the area known today as Israel, as did Christianity and was exported from there in antiquity, as was Christianity. Recent scientific work on the inheritance of the 'Y' (male) chromosome has shown a strong link from present day Jewish communities in Europe back to the Semitic peoples of the Middle East in antiquity. The simple explanation for this phenomena is that following the Diaspora in 586 BC, Jews with their strong sense of religion, culture and family ties tended to stick together in communities for mutual support. Marriage within this relatively small group preserved the appearance of the Y chromosome; in effect the male line. The conclusion from this is that many present day Jews are (or can trace their lineage as being) descended from the original Jews of Israel. This should not cause too much of a surprise as just about everyone alive today has the potential to trace their genetic ancestry back to Africa and the emergence of the human species What this finding does mean however, is that Hitler did have a point. The European Jews were (and still are) something of a separate group, genetically at least, from the general population of the countries in which they lived.
A present day Jew is a member of the Jewish religious faith; it is not a racial grouping. It is worth re-stating that just as there never was an Aryan race, but there are Aryan languages, there has never been a separate Jewish race, but there is a Jewish religion and an Israeli state. Anyone can become a Jew, just as anyone can become a Christian or a Muslim. To the Nazis however the Jews were a racial group, bent on the corruption and downfall of the non-Jewish world. They were regarded as the enemy within and from January 1942 onwards, it was state policy to destroy them throughout the Third Reich (see the copy of the Wannsee Conference minutes for more details).
As a last word on this subject of race and inherited characteristics, it is noteworthy that the distribution of blood group types amongst the population of southern England follows the spread of the various invading forces over the last two thousand years. No one is to my knowledge suggesting that someone with blood group A, is any less 'English' than a person with group 'O' blood (the original Celts were mostly group O).
I am going to leave the subject at this point, as this is a website with an historical theme, not a tutorial in genetics.
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The French Resistance was a loose term used to describe all organised opposition to German rule in France from 1940 to 1945. ‘Résistant’ and ‘Maquisard’ were used to describe anyone taking part in resistance activity. It is worth remembering that the Resistance was not a single united group under a common leadership, it was, especially in the beginning, a chaotic affair. Only after 1942 was there some semblance of order and even then there were two main groups, as described below.
The FFI (Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur), also sometimes known as the AS (Armée Secrète). This was the title given by the Free French authorities in Britain to all Résistants in France that owed allegiance to General de Gaulle. The FFI represented about two thirds of the total of all Résistants. For the most part they did not actively engage the German forces during the occupation, but rather acted in an information-gathering role, relaying intelligence back to their headquarters in London. This changed when the allies landed in Normandy on D-Day, 6 June 1944, when the FFI rose to commit many acts of sabotage in the rear areas.
The Francs Tireurs et Partisans (FTP), also called the Francs Tireurs et Partisans Français (FTPF)
The FTP were the communist resistance fighters, they were much more active in actively opposing the Germans than the FFI in the years prior to D-Day. The FTP comprised about one third of all Résistants in France and were notorious for their ruthlessness in dealing with anyone who was perceived to be a threat to their security. They only co-operated with the FFI out of necessity, usually so as to get access to arms and other supplies air-dropped from Britain. They took little or no notice of instructions emanating from London, following instead their own political leaders.
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The Special Operations Executive (SOE)
The SOE was the British group that ran a network of agents in the occupied territories and whose F (French) section was headquartered at 35 Baker Street London. They helped to organise the Resistance into an effective force, largely by the supply of arms and agents. It may come, as a surprise to learn that SOE’s largest operation was in Yugoslavia, not France, where with Marshal Tito, they were virtually running a full-scale war against the Germans.
The Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
The OSS was the American version of the SOE and although it was disbanded after the war, it was in effect the forerunner of the modern CIA. The French section of the OSS was, like that of the SOE, based in London. It seems most unwise, looking back from the present day, to have had two separate (albeit) allied networks working towards a common goal. There must have been at least some duplication of effort and mutual interference between the OSS and SOE, not to mention the problem of security.
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Vichy France (The Free Zone)
Vichy France took its name from the Spa town of Vichy. It was here that the collaborationist government of Marshal Pétain had its headquarters from 1940 until 1944. When France was liberated following the D-Day landings in Normandy (see Zone Map) the Vichy government was deemed never to have existed and the seat of power moved back to Paris.
Milice Française (the Milice, members were called, Milicien)
The title means, French Militia and they served as plainclothes security forces throughout the Free Zone. They were the creation of Joseph Darnand in 1943 and were formed by members of the Service d'Ordre Légionnaire, which had in its turn been recruited the year before from right wing members of the Légion Française des Combattants. Collaboration with the Germans in hunting down Jews and the Resistance has made them and their leader a part of French history that most French people today wish had never happened. They were an extreme right wing group who were noted for their brutality and according to a recent (French) history they were as numerous as the Resistance in 1944. This last sentence needs re-stating, it means that in 1944 there were at least as many Frenchmen fighting with the Germans against the Resistance, as were in the Resistance itself.
Service de Travail Obligatoire (STO)
The STO was possibly the biggest single recruiting factor for the French Resistance throughout the war years. It was a system by which young French men were obliged to go and work in Germany and take the place of civilians who had been drafted into the armed forces. It was extremely unpopular and when it was made compulsory in February 1943, by the French Prime Minister Pierre Laval, it provided a huge boost to the resistance forces. It is true that many young men preferred to hide in the countryside without any intention of taking up arms, simply so as to avoid the STO draft. However many found their way into the armed struggle, especially after the allied invasion began on 6 June 1944.
Groupes Mobiles de Réserve (GMR)
The GMR were a Vichy invention and were used as a kind of paramilitary police force, many of whom changed sides after D-Day. They were as their name implies a mobile force that could rapidly deploy to where they were most needed. Most of their activities were against Jews, Freemasons, communists and members of the Resistance.
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© Michael Williams: revised March 2014