American intelligence officer Frank Manuel began seeing the image close to the top of World Battle II, etched throughout white partitions within the Franconia area of Germany: a straight vertical line intersected by a horizontal line with a hook on the top. “Most members of the Counter Intelligence Corps have been of the opinion that it was merely a unexpectedly drawn swastika,” Manuel wrote in a memoir. However Manuel knew in any other case. To him, the mark referred to the Werewolves, German guerrilla fighters ready “to strike down the remoted soldier in his jeep, the MP on patrol, the idiot who goes a-courting after darkish, the Yankee braggart who takes a again street.”
Within the ultimate months of World Battle II, because the Allied troops pushed deeper into Nazi Germany and the Soviet Pink Military pinned the German army on the Japanese entrance, Hitler and his most senior officers regarded to any final resort to maintain their ideology alive. Out of desperation, they turned to the supernatural for inspiration, creating two separate lupine actions: one, an official group of paramilitary troopers; the opposite, an advert hoc ensemble of partisan fighters. Although neither achieved any monumental beneficial properties, each proved the effectiveness of propaganda in sowing terror and demoralizing occupying troopers.
From the beginning of the warfare, Hitler pulled from Germanic folklore and occult legends to complement Nazi pageantry. Excessive-level Nazis researched every little thing from the Holy Grail to witchcraft, as historian Eric Kurlander describes in his e book, Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural Historical past of the Third Reich. Amongst these mythological fascinations have been werewolves. “In line with some nineteenth and early twentieth century German folklorists, werewolves represented flawed, however well-meaning characters who could also be bestial however are tied to the woods, the blood, the soil,” Kurlander says. “They represented German power and purity towards interlopers.”
It was a picture Hitler harnessed repeatedly, from the identify of one in every of his Japanese entrance headquarters—the Wolf’s Lair—to the implementation of “Operation Werewolf,” an October 1944 plan for Nazi SS lieutenants Adolf Prützmann and Otto Skorzeny to infiltrate Allied camps and sabotage provide traces with a paramilitary group. Skorzeny had already proved the worth of such a specialised strike in 1943, when he efficiently led a small group of commandoes to rescue Benito Mussolini from a jail in Italy.
“The unique technique in 1944-5 was to not win the warfare by guerrilla operations, however merely to stem the tide, delaying the enemy lengthy sufficient to permit for a political settlement favorable to Germany,” writes historian Perry Biddiscombe in Werwolf! The Historical past of the Nationwide Socialist Guerrilla Motion, 1944-46. However that plan failed, partly due to confusion over the place the group’s orders got here from inside the chaotic Nazi paperwork, and likewise as a result of the army’s provides have been dwindling.
The second try at recruiting “werewolves” got here from Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels—and this time it was extra profitable. Starting early in 1945, nationwide radio broadcasts urged German civilians to affix the Werewolf motion, combating the Allies and any German collaborators who welcomed the enemy into their properties. One feminine broadcaster proclaimed, “I’m so savage, I’m stuffed with rage, Lily the Werewolf is my identify. I chunk, I eat, I’m not tame. My werewolf tooth chunk the enemy.”
Whereas most German civilians have been too exhausted by years of warfare to hassle becoming a member of this fanatical campaign, holdouts remained throughout the nation. Snipers often fired on Allied troopers, assassins killed a number of German mayors working with the Allied occupiers, and residents saved caches of weapons in forests and close to villages. Though Normal George Patton claimed “this risk of werewolves and homicide was bunk,” the American media and the army took the specter of partisan fighters severely. One U.S. intelligence report from Might 1945 asserted, “The Werewolf group is just not a delusion.” Some American authorities noticed the bands of guerrilla fighters as “one of many biggest threats to safety in each the American and Allied Zones of Occupation,” writes historian Stephen Fritz in Endkampf: Troopers, Civilians, and the Demise of the Third Reich.
Newspapers ran headlines like “Fury of Nazi ‘Werewolves’ to Be Unleashed on Invaders” and wrote in regards to the military of civilians who would “frighten away the conquerors of the Third Reich earlier than they’ve time to style the sweets of victory.” An orientation movie screened for GIs in 1945 warned towards fraternizing with enemy civilians, whereas the printed “Pocket Information for Germany” emphasised the necessity for warning when coping with youngsters. Troopers on the bottom reacted strongly to even a touch of subterfuge: In June 1945 two German youngsters, Heinz Petry and Josef Schroner, have been executed by an American firing squad for espionage towards the U.S. army.
Whereas the werewolf propaganda achieved Goebbels’ objective of intimidating Allied forces, it did little to assist German residents. “It stoked fears, lied in regards to the scenario and lured many to combat for a misplaced trigger,” wrote historian Christina von Hodenberg by electronic mail. “The Werewolf marketing campaign endangered these German residents who welcomed the Western occupiers and have been lively within the native antifascist teams on the warfare’s finish.”
Native acts of terror continued by means of 1947 and Biddiscombe estimates that a number of thousand casualties possible resulted from Werewolf exercise, both instantly or from reprisal killings. However as Germany slowly returned to stability, fewer and fewer partisan assaults passed off. Inside a couple of years, the Nazi werewolves have been not more than a wierd reminiscence left from the a lot bigger nightmare of the warfare.
“It’s fascinating to me that even when every little thing is coming down round them, the Nazis resort to a supernatural, mythological trope with the intention to outline their last-ditch efforts,” says Kurlander. To him, it suits into the bigger sample of Hitler’s obsession with the occult, the hope for unimaginable weapons and last-minute miracles.
Nonetheless little impact the werewolves could have had on the German warfare effort, they by no means disappeared fully from the minds of the American media and politicians. In line with von Hodenberg, “In American in style tradition, the picture of the Nazi and the werewolf usually merged. This was taken up by the Bush administration throughout the Iraq Battle, when Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush himself repeatedly in contrast insurgents in Iraq to werewolves, and the occupation of Iraq to the occupation of Germany in 1945.” Even right now, analysts have used the Nazi werewolves as a comparability for ISIS fighters.
For Kurlander, the longevity of the Nazi werewolf within the warfare years belongs to the identical eager for delusion and magical pondering that Hitler and the Nazis employed. Individuals don’t essentially wish to flip to science and empiricism for solutions—they need mysticism to elucidate issues away. “It’s very seductive to view the world that manner.”
Lorraine Boissoneault is a contributing author to SmithsonianMag.com masking historical past and archaeology. She has beforehand written for The Atlantic, Salon, Nautilus and others and is the writer of The Final Voyageurs: Retracing La Salle’s Journey Throughout America.