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Musicology and mass execution

During World War II, the famous German musicologist Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht belonged to the Feldgendarmerie division 683, which committed horrific murders on the Crimean peninsular. By Boris von Haken

In Simferopol the capital of the Crimean peninsular, one of the largest mass executions of Jews during the World War II in the Southern Soviet Union began on 9 December 1941. In the days beforehand, the Jews had been rounded up into a number of the city's buildings. Believing that they were to be resettled, they were then marched to the former headquarters of the Communist Party in the centre of Simferopol.

They were transported in a convoy of trucks to the execution site, a tank trench left over by the Red Army, approximately 11 km outside the city. There they were driven though a double lineup of sentry guards. They were made to remove their shoes, men were separated from women and children.

At the next station, the victims were forced to remove their outer clothing. And finally they reached the grave: small Erschießungskommandos or shooting units of no more than 12 men, each with an extra rifleman armed with a machine gun standing among them, opened fire with various degrees of accuracy, and anyone who was still alive at the end or tried to play dead, was killed with the so-called coup de grace. A Jewish Arbeitskommando standing in the grave was then forced to stack the corpses to make room for more bodies, which were being driven up relentlessly. On this and three further days, the 11, 12 and 13 December, at least 14,000 Jews were murdered in this way. It is no longer possible to establish the exact number because the killers did not bother to count: the point of the mass execution being to eradicate the Jews completely.

This crime in Simferopol, together with other similar mass executions, marked the early phase of the Holocaust, which at this point was not anonymous, mechanised annihilation, but actual killing in which victim and perpetrator were directly confronted with one another.

Various units were assigned to the operation. The process, which was at once collective and based on the division of labour, and in which all positions were in constant rotation, was obviously intended to vindicate the perpetrators. Feelings of individual guilt and responsibility could potentially be made to disappear within a large collective of perpetrators. However the perpetrators of this crime could be identified later. The investigation files of various German public prosecutors (easily accessible today for purposes of historical research in the Federal Archive in Ludwigsburg) make it possible to reconstruct these events, even if in many cases the investigations never led to actual trials.

Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht (more here) was born on 5 January 1919, and grew up in a small village in the Thuringian Forest. He completed his Arbitur, the German school-leaving exams, in 1937. In the winter semester of 1937/38 he began his teaching studies and on day one, signed up with the National Socialist German Students' League. He was also a member of the Hitler Youth beyond the obligatory period. In 1939 he was drafted into the Wehrmacht, three months later he was a soldier in a Feldgendarmerie unit, which was involved in murdering Jews. Four years after the end of the war, he started his university career on the basis of false biographical information. In 1961 he was made Professor of Musicology in Freiburg. He lived there until retirement in 1987. Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht died on 30 August 1999.

One of the soldiers who took part in this mass crime was the then 22-year old music student Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht. As a member of the motorised Feldgendarmerie division 683, he was involved at every level, at every stage of the murder of the Jews in Simferopol. Eggebrecht's biography is typical of the time in many respects. He grew up in the small town of Schleusingen, on the edge of the Thuringian Forest, where his father had been stationed as priest and superintendent.

Siegfried Eggebrecht, a prominent army chaplain in the First World War, had been a far-right sympathiser even in the Weimar Republic, he was a member of the League of Frontline Soldiers and, like many other Protestant priests, joined German Christian Movement in 1933. His son Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht was also quick to involve himself in the Nazi movement.

On the day he started his studies at the teacher training college in Hirschberg, he signed up to the National Socialist German Students' League. He was also active as a musical advisor to the Hitler Youth and served as a youth worker in the college's Hitler Youth organisation. With the outbreak of war he interrupted his studies, and in February 1940, he was sent to a Feldgendarmerie division, according to the files of the "Deutsche Dienstelle"

Investigative files of the public prosecutor's department in Munich from 1964 substantiate this. They also contain interrogation records in which a soldier from the Feldgendarmerie division 683 lists the names of comrades from the 3rd platoon of the 2nd company. "Heiner Eggebrecht", the second name on the list, "must have come from Thuringia, his father was a priest there." "Heiner" was Eggebrecht's nickname in the Wehrmacht and later at university. It was this statement that allowed me to identify Eggebrecht reliably.

The Feldgendarmerie oversaw law enforcement and security operations for the Wehrmacht and was assigned as a rear response force. Besides traffic regulation and securing the flow of supplies, its job was to maintain military discipline – which meant, in the case of this unit, primarily tracking down deserters. It was also responsible for so-called security operations involving the hostile civilian population: this included anti-partisan duties as well as counter espionage, and prevention of sabotage and subversion.    

The composition of the Feldgendarmerie divisions corresponded with these functions. Half of all divisions were recruited from the civilian police. In this particular case, the police were recruited in Berlin's Blücher police barracks. So there was a direct personnel connection to the Ornungspolizei which Heinrich Himmler, as head of the German police, founded in 1936. All leading positions in the Feldgendamerie had to be filled by members of the police force. This meant that Eggebrecht's direct superior was the Kompanieführer Joachim Siedel, who was a professional policeman as well as an SS officer with the rank of Haupsturmführer.

The other half of the Feldgendarmerie division was recruited through the Wehrmacht. In line with the police service, the recruits had to fulfil specific standards. They had to show "unconditional political reliability" and were subject to "strict standards"; all prospective Feldgendarmes were required to have already demonstrated that they were suitable to become non-commissioned officers, voluntary enrolments were preferred.

The elite nature of the Gendarmerie made it an unsurprising choice for a young academic of pronounced Nazi orientation. The ranks of Feldgendarmerie division 683 included the later head of the Goethe Institute, a budding opera singer and a gold medal gymnast in the Olympic Games of 1936.

The division was initially stationed in France, and in September 1940, it was transferred to Krakow.  Eggebrecht was only there for a brief period, having been granted study leave in November, when he returned for a semester at the Berlin University. In April 1941, the Feldgendarmerie division was transferred to the small Romanian town of Targu Frumos, where Eggebrecht rejoined his unit.

The Feldgendarmerie division was part of the 11th army, which was stationed in allied Romania prior to the attack on the Soviet Union. The Feldgendarmes were directly assigned to the army's high command as mobile, fast-response troops for security assignment of all kinds. Also stationed in Targu Frumos was an Einsatzgruppe of the Sicherheitspolitzei, the security police and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the security service, which reported directly to the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office). The 11th Army was attached to Einsatzgruppe D under the command of Otto Ohlendorf and his adjutant Heinz Schubert. The cooperation between these two organisations, as well as the cooperation between SS and Wehrmacht, would be critical to the murder of the Jews in the rear of the 11th Army.

On 30 June 1941, seven days after the launch of the attack, the Feldgendarmerie division was ordered to march after the 11th Army's combat troops at an appropriate distance. The aim of this operation was to capture the Crimean peninsular. On 14 November 1941, the unit reached Simferopol. Two Feldgendarmerie companies, who now numbered a mere 150 men, stayed behind in Simferopol. Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht was attached to the 2nd Company, whose quarters were in Rosa-Luxemburg Street 2, in a former Soviet NKVD building in the centre of town.

As soon as it reached Simferopol, the Wehrmacht began its economic plundering of the Jews. The Jews were also forbidden to shop in public markets, a rule which was enforced by the Feldgendarmerie. For the Wehrmacht, it was a matter of course that the Jews would starve as a result. By this point the military administration had already decided that all the Jews in Simferopol should be executed as swiftly as possible by Einsatzgruppe D. This did not happen according to plan because the Einsatzgruppe in Simferopol was down to 80 men and lacked the necessary transportation.

The driving force behind the murder was the Oberquartiermeister of the 11th Army, Friedrich Wilhelm Hauck who, together with Otto Ohlendorf, agreed that it should be a joint effort by the Wehrmacht and Einsatzgruppen. On Hauck's specific orders, the two Feldgendermerie companies were also deployed, and they lined up without exception. Not one man refused to obey orders or reported in sick.

The Feldgendarmes performed various functions in this mass murder: they were on guard as the victims were rounded up in the city and loaded into trucks; they organised the transport and formed blockades at the execution site. Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht was standing, on at least one occasion, in the so-called guard of honour through which the victims were forced to walk through on the way to their execution. This took place under extremely violent circumstances: the Jews were beaten with whips and iron rods, and the Feldgendarmie also used German shepherd dogs. Anyone who tried to escape or who put up any resistance was killed instantly.

As soon as the executions were over, Otto Ohlendorf reported enthusiastically that all Jews in Crimea had been eradicated.  In actual fact, the Einsatztruppen and the Feldgendarmerie were involved in a long list of further killings, which went on in the area around Simferopol. It was not until July 1942, after the capture of fort Sevastopol by the 11th Army, that the Feldgendarmerie division was pulled out of Crimea.

Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht was, like many Felgendarmes, assigned to fighting troops. He survived the end of the war badly wounded and was decorated with two Iron Crosses in a Wehrmacht hospital. He soon returned to the life he had been leading before the war. By the autumn of 1945, he had returned to the Music School in Weimar to resumes his studies, he was awarded his doctorate at the University of Jena and took on an assistant position at the Institute for Musicology at East Berlin University. He never had to undergo any de-Nazification programmes. At the start of his academic career Eggebrecht lied about his past.

All the forms he filled out contain false information, both regarding his activities in the Nazi organisations prior to the war, as well as his membership in the Felgendarmerie division 683 during the war. In his application for the assistant position in Berlin, he answered point 7 in the staff application form "Did you serve in the army?" with "anti-tank unit then infantry". Eggebrecht wanted to ensure that his past would not interfere with a promising career.


This article originally appeared in Die Zeit, on 20.12.2009.

Boris von Haken is a musicologist and historian. His book "Holocaust und Musikwissenschaft" (Holocaust and musicology) is coming out this spring. It deals with the case of one of Germany's most prominent musicologists, Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht.

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