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German Magazine Glorifies SS, Critics Complain

German-language pulp magazine Der Landser takes its name from a slang expression referring to the ordinary infantryman. If the monthly’s editors had stuck to covering Wehrmacht grunts, they might not be under fire.

Instead, Der Landser’s breathless narratives include the Waffen-SS, and overlook the historical record of that unit—the military arm of a corps that originated as Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguard—and its involvement in the Holocaust. Supposedly factual, the magazine’s articles accentuate the heroic in prose evoking the sensational war stories run by American men’s magazines in the 1950s and 1960s. A typical recent Der Landser story portrays SS troopers swilling wine with Greek villagers. “We conquered them, and they’re still a friendly folk,” one SS character comments.

In a July report, the Simon Wiesenthal Center charged that the magazine, published by German media giant Bauer, “glorifies the Waffen-SS, Nazi war criminals, and the Third Reich” and violates official German bans on Nazi propaganda. Noting that the magazine, sold on newsstands and online, posts fresh articles online weekly, the human rights organization wants Der Landser itself banned. The government of Germany is investigating.

“All Bauer Media Group publications comply with the laws in force in Germany,” said Claudia Bachhausen, director of corporate communications at Bauer. “The laws governing this subject area are extremely strict.” Bachhausen noted that in repeated reviews by Germany’s Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Minors, Der Landser has not triggered objections in more than 25 years. “Bauer Media also voluntarily submits issues of the magazine to examination from a press law perspective,” she added. “The publishing company attaches great importance to ensuring that the magazine neither trivializes nor glorifies Nazi crimes.”

Sociology professor Klaus Geiger of the University of Kassel in the German state of Hessen wrote his 1974 PhD dissertation on Der Landser. The key problem, Geiger told the German international broadcasting company Deutsche Welle, is that the magazine’s content “is a gripping depiction of isolated events taken out of context.” Der Landser offers its mostly male readers, who often sympathize with or are active in Germany’s far right, a falsely heroic portrait, Geiger said.

Peter Conrady, professor emeritus of German literature at Dortmund University, said in the same Deutsche Welle report that despite a published disclaimer insisting the magazine does not glorify war, Der Landser does precisely that. But rather than ban the magazine, he said, Germany should encourage debate over the war’s historical context and realities.

The controversy raises questions about how nations and societies can celebrate their military veterans. Nowhere does that line of inquiry rankle more than in Germany. But the theme has flared in countries worldwide—Japan, Spain, even the United States.

Many Japanese regard Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine the way Americans do Arlington National Cemetery, as a place to honor the nation’s war dead. But neighboring nations bristle when Japanese politicians visit Yasukuni, burial site for thousands of fallen warriors of the Empire, including 14 convicted Class A war criminals.

Likewise, Spain struggles with its Valley of the Fallen, built by Francisco Franco to honor Nationalist comrades who died helping him win the civil war there. Critics say the gigantic memorial glorifies Franco’s brutal dictatorship. And in the American South, displays of the Confederate flag and monuments to Civil War heroes still trigger condemnation for venerating a cause some associate with the effort to preserve the institution of slavery.

Gerhard Weinberg, author of the encyclopedic World War II history A World at Arms, sees nothing wrong with any country remembering fallen soldiers. “If the grandchild of someone who was killed at Okinawa goes to the [Yasukuni] shrine, that wouldn’t upset me,” says Weinberg, who fled Germany as a youth in the 1930s and served in the U.S. Occupation Army in Japan. “And it wouldn’t upset someone in the Philippines or China.”

Weinberg sees Der Landser, which has published thousands of issues since its debut in 1957, as crossing the border in its coverage of the elite, Nazi-riddled Waffen-SS. The July Wiesenthal Center report found that 24 of the 29 SS men the magazine featured had “served in units that participated in Nazi war crimes.” Three of those, given the same heroic treatment in the magazine, are known Nazi war criminals.

Weinberg said he suspects the publisher is deliberately appealing to neo-Nazis and the extreme band of the German nationalist spectrum. He suggests a “partial ban” on Der Landser issues lauding the SS.

“The glorification of individuals who were involved in the most horrendous things is dangerous,” Weinberg says. Especially in Germany, “one needs some caution when a society at one time ran completely amok,” he added.

Hazardous Duty in the Heartland

In 1945, the minesweeper USS narrowly dodged an enemy torpedo Hazard off Okinawa. Now, grounded in Omaha, Nebraska, the decommissioned warship is under siege by scavengers and nature.

A group of Omaha businessmen purchased the Hazard in 1971, installing the vessel as an exhibit at Freedom Park by burying the ship to its waterline. The park, a U.S. Navy museum alongside the Missouri River, is also home to the 1950sera submarine USS Marlin, an A-4D Skyhawk fighter jet and other military aircraft, and a battery of various vintage antiaircraft guns.

In a June 2011 flood, the Missouri inundated Freedom Park, eroding the ground around and beneath the Hazard, careening the vessel. Once the water receded, local authorities padlocked the park and cut off electrical and water service, closing the facility to legitimate visitors. It has remained so since. But thieves, probably infiltrating by boat, have vandalized the Hazard and other exhibits, prying off five propellers and other metal parts, likely sold for scrap or to possibly unwary collectors.

Omaha resident Duane Gallagher, a naval history enthusiast who gave tours of the now-beleaguered minesweeper, blames the protracted park closing on a dispute between the city and owners of a restaurant in the park. “The lawyers wanted the whole area closed,” he says. “Unfortunately, it keeps the good guys out but leaves it open to the bad guys.”

City officials won’t say whether Omaha will reopen Freedom Park. Gallagher and fellow enthusiasts are trying to raise funds to cover the cost of restoring power to the park and reconditioning the Hazard, which he estimates at no more than $40,000.

Hiding in Plain Sight

The past waited until Michael Karkoc was 94 to entangle him. In June, the Associated Press reported that the retired carpenter, a pillar of the Ukrainian community in Minneapolis, had commanded an SS-led unit accused of World War II atrocities. Karkoc could face deportation and prosecution in Germany or Poland if either nation elects to try him on the allegations.

Karkoc’s age underscores the challenge that time’s passage poses to those pursuing justice on behalf of the generations tormented by the Nazi regime. Even the youngest such outlaws are in their 80s.

Efraim Zuroff, a Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center and author of Operation Last Chance: One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi War Criminals to Justice, figures that within three to five years any remaining war criminals will have died.

It’s probably too late to snag the man the Wiesenthal Center puts at the top of its list of uncaught Nazis. Alois Brunner, an aide to Gestapo chief Adolf Eichmann and last seen in 2001, would be 101, Zuroff said. A mark of the urgency came in August, when Laszlo Csatary, 98, died in Budapest awaiting trial on charges of beating Jews at a concentration camp he ran in Slovakia. Sentenced to death in absentia by a Czech court, Csatary hid in Canada until 1997, when that country stripped his citizenship. He went back to Hungary, which indicted him in 2012.

Karkoc may have called attention to himself with a memoir, From Voronezh to the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion. The 1995 Ukrainianlanguage book describes how in 1943 he helped found the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion, which took orders from the SS and is documented to have massacred civilians and helped quash the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

Karkoc’s son said the news service made “a lurid accusation…against an innocent man.” The AP said reporters found no documents showing “that Karkoc had a direct hand in war crimes.”

Flag of His Father

Detective work on both sides of the Pacific sent a wayward Japanese battle flag on its path home.

For 68 years, Herb McDougall, who lives in Elma, Washington, had kept the bloodied banner he retrieved from a cave on Okinawa in 1945. He always meant to return the trophy to the Japanese soldier it belonged to—or to the man’s survivors, if need be.

Earlier this year, McDougall, 87, asked granddaughter Jennifer McDougall, who studied Japanese at college, to search for the original owner. He hoped messages written on the flag by family members before their relation went to war seven decades ago would help.

Jennifer McDougall contacted Aki Suzuki, her language teacher at South Puget Sound Community College. Translating the messages, Suzuki got a “goose bump” when she saw a reference to Tokyo’s Senju neighborhood, where she grew up. She contacted the city’s police department. Using personnel records, police official Nobuya Kogure found Tadataka Hoshi. Hoshi, 71, confirmed that before the war, his father, Toni Hoshi, had been a local police officer. Tadataka Hoshi was 3 years old in June 1945 when his father, 28, died in battle.

Suzuki visited Japan this summer. She brought along the flag, and a note from Herb McDougall reading, “Your possession—never mine.” She presented both to Tadataka Hoshi in a ceremony at the police station. “Mr. Hoshi was very emotional,” Suzuki said. “He had a very hard childhood.” Suzuki said the younger Hoshi feels that having the flag reunites him and his father. Now, he told her, he can “talk with his spirits.”


Originally published in the December 2013 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.