Theodor Eicke

Theodor Eicke

Infobox Military Person
name=Theodor Eicke
lived=October 17, 1892 - February 26, 1943

caption=Theodor Eicke
placeofbirth=Hudingen (Hampont), Alsace-Lorraine
placeofdeath=near Orelka, Soviet Union
allegiance=flagicon|German Empire German Empire (to 1918)
flagicon|Germany Weimar Republic (to 1933)
flagicon|Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
rank=Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS
commands=3rd. SS-Division "Totenkopf"
battles=World War I
World War II
awards=Ritterkreuz des Eisernes Kreuz mit Eichenlaub

Theodor Eicke (October 17 1892 – February 26, 1943) was a Nazi official, "SS-Obergruppenführer", commander of the SS-Division (mot) "Totenkopf" of the Waffen-SS and one of the key figures in the establishment of concentration camps in Nazi Germany. His Nazi Party number was 114901 and his SS number was 2921. He is most remembered for personally witnessing the execution of SA Chief Ernst Röhm by Michael Lippert following the Night of the Long Knives.

Early Life - World War I

Eicke, the son of a station master, was born in Hudingen (Hampont), near Château-Salins (then in the German province of Elsass-Lothringen) into a lower middle-class family. The youngest of 11 children, he did not do well in school and dropped out at the age of 17 before matriculation. He joined the 23rd Bavarian Infantry Regiment as a volunteer; later on, in World War I, he took the office of paymaster for the 3rd - and, from 1916 on, the 22nd Bavarian Infantry Regiment. Eicke won the Iron Cross, Second Class in 1914 for bravery.

Eicke resigned from the army in 1919, but did not have any prospect of finding work, and he began studying in his wife's hometown Ilmenau. He dropped out of school again in 1920 intending to pursue a police career, initially as an informer and later on as a regular policeman.

After failing, not only due to his lack of a school degree, but also for his fervent hatred of the Weimar Republic and his repeated participation in violent political demonstrations which was not allowed to police officials, he finally managed to find work in 1923 at IG Farben in Ludwigshafen, soon rising to the rank of leader of the company's internal intelligence service.

Rise of the Nazi Party

Eicke's views on the Weimar Republic were very similar to the Nazi Party and so he joined the Nazis and Ernst Röhm's SA on December 1 1928. He left the SA in August 1930 in favour of the SS, where he quickly rose in rank after recruiting new members and building up the SS organization in the Bavarian palatinate. He had been promoted to "SS-Standartenführer" (roughly equivalent to Colonel) by Heinrich Himmler by the end of 1931.

His political activities caught the attention of his employer and in early 1932 he was laid off by IG Farben. At the same time, he was caught preparing bomb attacks on political enemies in Bavaria for which he received a two year prison sentence in July 1932. However, due to protection received from Franz Gürtner, who would later become minister of justice under Adolf Hitler, he was able to escape the sentence and instead fled to Italy on an order from Heinrich Himmler, where he took over responsibility for a camp for exiled SS members.

and concentration camps

Eicke then returned to Germany in March 1933 following Hitler's rise to power. Eicke had political quarrels with "Gauleiter" Joseph Bürckel, who had him arrested and he spent several months in a mental asylum. Himmler eventually had him released in June 1933 and he was made commander of the Dachau concentration camp on June 28 after complaints and criminal proceedings against former commander SS-Sturmbannführer Hilmar Wäckerle following the murder of several detainees.

Promoted on January 30 1934 to "SS-Brigadeführer" (equivalent to Major-general), Eicke took command of Dachau and immediately began new reforms. He reorganized the SS camp, establishing new guarding provisions, which included blind obedience to orders, and tightening disciplinary and punishment regulations for detainees, which were adopted by all concentration camps of the "Third Reich" during the following years.

Eicke's radical anti-semitism and anti-bolshevism as well as his insistence on blind and unconditional obedience towards him as the camp's commander as well as the SS and Hitler made an impression on Himmler. And in May 1934, he was appointed "inspector of concentration camps", a position which he began working in on July 4 1934. Although technically responsible to the "SS-Hauptamt", Eicke in fact reported directly to Heinrich Himmler.Eicke also was involved in the Night of the Long Knives in summer 1934; together with hand-chosen members of the Dachau concentration camp guards, he helped out Sepp Dietrich's "SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitlers" to imprison SA commanders on June 30, and to show his obedience to Himmler and Hitler, he murdered Ernst Röhm together with his adjutant Michel Lippert on July 1 1934, for which he was promoted again to "SS-Gruppenführer". He is also alleged to have had a personal role in the killing of Erich Mühsam.

In his role as the "inspector of concentration camps", Eicke began a large reorganisation of the camps until 1939; this consisted of the dismantling of the smaller camps until August 1937 when only the Dachau concentration camp, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald and Ravensbrück (near Lichtenburg) remained as well as the building of new camps in Austria (e.g. Mauthausen in 1938) and the reformation of the camps' administrations to follow the Dachau concentration camp model.

Eicke's reorganizations and the introduction of forced labour made the camps one of the SS's most powerful tools; this earned him the enmity of (among others) Reinhard Heydrich, who had already unsuccessfully attempted to take control of the Dachau concentration camp in his position as commander of the Bavarian political police. Eicke, with support from Himmler, prevailed, though, asserting that the command structure he had introduced would not only stay until 1945, but also not be responsible to the Gestapo and SD when the office of the inspector of concentration camps was turned into the "Amt D" of the "Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt" under Oswald Pohl in 1940.

It was this and other things that earned Eicke a fearsome reputation even within the SS; he was described as brutal and evil, distrustful, cruel and ambitious, full of hatred for everyone who did not agree with the Nazi ideology.

Eicke's attitude of "inflexible harshness" also influenced the guards in the concentration camps; constant indoctrination removed any compassion for the detainees from the guards and created an atmosphere of controlled, disciplined cruelty that lived on even when Eicke was not involved with the concentration camps anymore. Among those who were influenced by Eicke this way were Rudolf Höß, Franz Ziereis, Karl Otto Koch and Max Kögel.

Totenkopf Division

The success of the "Totenkopf's" sister formations the SS-Infanterie-Regiment (mot) "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler" and the three Standarten of the SS-"Verfügungstruppe" led to Hitler approving Himmler's recommendation for the creation of three Waffen SS-divisions in October 1939.

Eicke's "Totenkopf" units were to form SS-Division "Totenkopf" and Eicke was given command. "Totenkopf" was to become one of the most effective German fighting formations on the Eastern Front, often serving as "Hitler's firemen", rushed to the scene of Soviet breakthroughs.

Eicke's career now deviated from Concentration Camps and he was not involved with the camp service after 1940. His replacement as Inspector of Concentration Camps was Richard Glücks who answered to Oswald Pohl in the SS Office of Economics and Administration.

During the course of the war, Eicke and his division distinguished themselves by an unmatched brutality and several war crimes, including the murder of British POWs in Le Paradis in 1940, the murder of Soviet officers and the plundering and pillaging of several Soviet villages.

The "Totenkopf" continued to show an unmatched fanaticism and ferocity, during the advance in 1941 as well as the summer offensive in 1942, the conquest of Kharkov, the so-called Demyansk Pocket, and the defending of Warsaw and Budapest in early 1945. Eicke was a popular figure among his troops, gaining him the nickname "Papa Eicke".

Eicke himself was killed on February 26, 1943, shortly after being promoted to "SS-Obergruppenführer" (equivalent to full general). While performing a battlefield reconnaissance during the opening stages of the Third Battle of Kharkov, his Fieseler Fi 156 Storch was shot down by Soviet troops near Oryol. His division launched a ferocious attack to secure the crash site and recover their commander's body. Eicke was portrayed in the Axis press as a hero, and soon after his death one of the "Totenkopf's" Infantry regiments received the honorific cuff-title "Theodor Eicke".

Personal life

Eicke married Bertha Schwebel on December 26, 1914. They had two children, Irma born on April 5, 1916 and Hermann, born on May 4, 1920. Hermann Eicke was killed in action on December 2, 1941.

ummary of his military career

Dates of rank

* SS-Mann: July 29, 1930
* SS-Truppführer: August, 1930
* SS-Sturmführer: November 11, 1930
* SS-Sturmbannführer: January 30, 1931
* SS-Standartenführer: November 11, 1931
* SS-Oberführer: October 26, 1932
* SS-Brigadeführer: January 30, 1934
* SS-Gruppenführer: July 11, 1934 und Generaleutnant der Waffen-SS: September, 1941
* SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS: April 20, 1942

Notable decorations

* Eastern Front Medal (1942)
* Iron Cross Second and First (1940) Classes
* Clasp to the Iron Cross Second Class (1940)
* SS-Honour Ring
* Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (1941)
* Oak Leaves (1942)
* Wound Badge in Silver
* Cross of Honor (1934)
* Golden Party Badge (1940)
* Bavarian Military Merit Cross 2nd Class (?) [Eicke was an Unterzahlmeister, assistant paymaster in World War I; this is the class customary for his rank, but sources offer bad translations such as "Bayerische Order of Merit 2. Klasse (WW I)"]
* Braunschweig War Merit Cross Second Class


*cite book|first=Mollo|last= Andrew|title=A Pictorial History of the SS, 1923-1945|id=ISBN 0-8128-2174-2
*cite book|first=Mark C.|last= Yerger|title=Allgemeine-SS|id=ISBN 0-7643-0145-4
*cite book|first=Robin|last=Lumsden|title=The Allgemeine-SS, Vol. 266|Id=ISBN 1-85532-358-3
*cite book|first=Charles W.|last=Sydnor, Jr.|title=Soldiers of Destruction|Id=ISBN 0-691-00853-1

###@@@KEY@@@###succession box
before= SS-Standartenführer Hilmar Wäckerle
after= SS-Oberführer Alexander Reiner
title= Commander of K.L. Dachau
years=June 26, 1933 - July 04, 1934
succession box
after= SS-Obergruppenführer Matthias Kleinheisterkamp
title= Commander of 3. SS-Panzer Division "Totenkopf"
years=November 14, 1939 - July 6, 1941
succession box
before= SS-Obergruppenführer Georg Keppler
after= SS-Obergruppenführer Hermann Prieß
title= Commander of 3. SS-Panzer Division "Totenkopf"
years=September 21, 1941 - February 26, 1943

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