Execution of the Leiss family in Sachsenhausen, 1943

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Acolyte
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Execution of the Leiss family in Sachsenhausen, 1943

Post by Acolyte » 08 Jan 2023 23:23

I've recently come across the Wikipedia article on Sippenhaftung (kin liability), which was a legal concept (such as it was) among Germanic peoples in pre-Christian times, and was resurrected in the Nazi era.

Curiously, the article names "only" one particular group as the lethal victims of this concept in Nazi Germany:
Examples of Sippenhaft being used as a threat exist within the Wehrmacht from around 1943. Soldiers accused of having "blood impurities" or soldiers conscripted from outside of Germany also began to have their families threatened and punished with Sippenhaft. An example is the case of Panzergrenadier Wenzeslaus Leiss, who was accused of desertion on the Eastern Front in December 1942. After the Düsseldorf Gestapo discovered supposed Polish links in the Leiss family, in February 1943 his wife, two-year-old daughter, two brothers, sister and brother-in-law were arrested and executed at Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sippenhaft)

According to the monograph Family Punishment in Nazi Germany: Sippenhaft, Terror and Myth, found on Google Books, Leiss had Polish heritage in part and had relatives living in Poland, he and his family was from Krefeld, he served in the 2nd Panzer Division, whose legal section didn't actually provide proof that he was a deserter, and that the execution of the entire family was actually reported and lauded by the local press.

https://books.google.com/books?id=mSFeA ... 22&f=false

In my view, the small amount of information available about this case raises some questions for sure. I can imagine that there were tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of Wehrmacht troops with partially Slavic ancestry, and many of them undoubtedly deserted. Yet I see no evidence that it was routine practice on the part of the Gestapo to round up and execute their entire families. Was this particular case just an isolated one, for whatever reasons?

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Re: Execution of the Leiss family in Sachsenhausen, 1943

Post by Gorque » 09 Jan 2023 02:00

I just read up on the arrest of the family on February 2nd '43 and their execution two days later, shortly after the surrender of the 6th Army. IMHO, there were used as scapegoats in order to deflect some of the blame of the defeat, based merely on the timing of the arrests and the quickness of the executions.

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Re: Execution of the Leiss family in Sachsenhausen, 1943

Post by gebhk » 09 Jan 2023 14:55

It doesn't answer your question alas but, for completeness an estimated 375K Poles (ie of entirely Slavic ancestry by the classifications of the day) alone were forcibly conscripted to serve in the WH during WW2. Polish deserters from the WH formed the single largest source of manpower for the Polish Armed Forces in the West at war's end and there are estimates of around 100K Poles doing a bunk from the WH to join local partisan units and resistance movements throughout Europe. I'm afraid that most histories seem to be long on allegation (Cf Polish Wiki: W tym przypadku represjom podlegali również bliżsi i dalsi członkowie rodzin dezerterów - In this case (ie desertion) close and extended family members of the deserters were subject to persecution) but somewhat short on examples oir statistics. Nevertheless, many personal accounts of Polish conscripts stress that what prevented them from deserting was the fear of repressions (prison, concentration camp) of their loved ones - it is notyable in this context that desertion of Poles from the WH increased significantly as Poland was overrun by the Soviets, putting their nearest and dearest beyond the reach of the German terror apparatus. It was also, not unusual for members of the Polish Armed Forces in the West to keep their personal details secure as far as possible, for fear of German persecution of their families.
Last edited by gebhk on 10 Jan 2023 05:15, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Execution of the Leiss family in Sachsenhausen, 1943

Post by wm » 09 Jan 2023 20:01

In occupied Poland, families of people avoiding arrest (especially of members of the underground) were routinely arrested and maybe even sent to concentration camps.

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Re: Execution of the Leiss family in Sachsenhausen, 1943

Post by Acolyte » 12 Jan 2023 10:56

Gorque wrote:
09 Jan 2023 02:00
I just read up on the arrest of the family on February 2nd '43 and their execution two days later, shortly after the surrender of the 6th Army. IMHO, there were used as scapegoats in order to deflect some of the blame of the defeat, based merely on the timing of the arrests and the quickness of the executions.
Makes sense. Still, I find it odd that only scapegoat is named in this context.

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Re: Execution of the Leiss family in Sachsenhausen, 1943

Post by gebhk » 12 Jan 2023 13:29

Hi Acolyte

You should probably have a look at Robert Loeffel. Family Punishment in Nazi Germany: Sippenhaft, Terror and Myth. It is available online.

AFAIK, unlike in the Soviet Union, the concept of Sippenhaft was never enacted into law. It simply added to the dog's dinner that was the Nazi 'justice system' where punishments for crimes real or imagined were meeted out, by and large on the whim of the relevant functionary (this was discussed at length, inter alia, in the thread on punishments for those harbouring Jews). Also, to say the least, the connection with Sippenhaft was tenuous - the threats that were issued, such as those against the fiancees of serving soldiers and in-laws, had little to do with 'blood-guilt'.

The Leiss case is unusual and Gorque may well be right that the Stalingrad fiasco had something to do with it - not least because despite being invigilated for months with nothing to show for it and, for that matter, the investigation of Leiss's alleged crimes being incomplete (the report from 2 Panzer Division arrived in Krefeld, incidentally reporting nothing new, a few days AFTER the family was already dead) the order to arrest the Leiss family was issued on 2 February, the very day fldm Paulus surendered his army. The vicious murder of the entire family including (very unusually if not uniquely) a babe in arms and a foreign national within hours of arrival at Saschenhausen without even the pretence of a trial suggests (at least to me) a spontaneous act of uncontrolled violence by a person or persons emotionally unhinged, rather than a planned act by the authorities. Even the lunacy unleashed by the 20th July Plot rarely if at all resulted in violence against families on this level. It seems to me that, with the bodies on their hands, the authorities decided to make the best use of them they could but that had not been, perhaps, the plan. This may well explain the uniqueness of this case - I agree that had there been a plan to displace responsibility for the Stalingrad disaster onto 'traitorous elements', more than one act would have been required and, let's face it, some more senior figures (such as Paulus himself for a start - after all both he and his wife were much more 'appropriate' targets!) than a lowly trooper.

Which leads to the final point which is that while in reality there is litle evidence that, aside from the post-Valkyrie mayhem, much of this sort of thing actually took place, it had a massive impact, attested to from many sources, on the psyche of German soldiers. In short the propaganda really worked.

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Re: Execution of the Leiss family in Sachsenhausen, 1943

Post by gebhk » 12 Jan 2023 17:06

Incidentally, the concept in general was certainly not unique to Germany in the middle ages. In England a similar idea made communities liable for fines if crimes occurred in their parishes - on the principle that the community had 'permitted' the law to be broken and to encourage communities to practice preventive policing. In reality, of course, this did little to prevent murders. Indeed the opposite. Because of the potential for hefty fines, murders would be concealed, the bodies often hidden where the devil himself would not find them or moved to another parish (especially if there was bad blood between the relevant parishes) etc. This routinely hampered investigation or made it impossible and, consequently, the probability of literally getting away with murder became greater.

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Re: Execution of the Leiss family in Sachsenhausen, 1943

Post by David Thompson » 12 Jan 2023 18:52

See also "Other" War Crimes -- Kith and Kin Reprisals
http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=14478

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Re: Execution of the Leiss family in Sachsenhausen, 1943

Post by Manisoa » 10 Feb 2023 08:32

A similar concept, based on the assumption that communities had "permitted" lawbreaking to occur in their parishes, resulted in fines for those communities and served as an incentive for preventative police.
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