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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 executing SA Chief Ernst Röhm following the Night of the Long Knives.
Early Life - World War I
Eicke, the son of a station master, was born in Hampont, near Château-Salins (then in the German province of Lorraine) on October 17, 1892. The youngest of 11 children, he dropped out of school at the age of 17. 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.
Despite having won an Iron Cross during World War I, Eicke nevertheless did not have any prospect of finding work after the end of the war 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
Staying politically active, Eicke joined the NSDAP 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.
SS and Concentration Camps
Eicke then returned to Germany in March 1933 following Hitler's rise to power; after political quarrels with Gauleiter Joseph Bürckel and spending several months in a mental asylum, he was remembered by Himmler in June 1933 and 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 reforms, 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 Adolf 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 personel 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 plagued by his exuberant ambitions, 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
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.
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.
Theodor 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.
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.
Summary of his military career
1 : 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)
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