French men and women in the German Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS during the Second World War
by Arthur Koehl
It is hard to quantify the cost of war on a population. Destructions, civilian and military casualties, refugees and number of people displaced, violations of human rights and civil liberties are all factors that need to be taken into account when trying to establish the impact of any conflict within a country. The scope if this project fits within this framework; it is limited however to statistics on military casualties. The project seeks to determine total deaths and when and in which theatre of war the losses occurred. Our objectives are multiple. First, we want to compare the number of casualties among the Malgre-Nous with the corresponding number of casualties within the German armies, for the period 1943 to 1945, both globally, and divided over the different fronts of the war. Our interest is to see if there were significant differences that could be connected to preferential treatment of the Malgré Nous among German troups, and / or to deliberate choices of the German High Command when it comes to assigning the Malgré Nous on specific assignments. Second, we establish a timeline for when the Malgré Nous casualties occurred, and mapped those on the dynamic maps of the different fronts of the war. Such a visualization provides a better representation of the progressionof the war and its impact on a specific group of soldiers that numbers only cannot convey. More personal accounts of the war and its consequences on the Malgré Nous and today's perception of their experiences will be provided in the Memoir section and in the Discussion section of this project, respectively.
Our major sources of data on the Malgré Nous come from the databases that were set up by the mission "Memory" of the region "Grand Est" of France. 1 Those databases contain the names and biography of the Alsatian and Mosellan victims during the second World War, including those that were enrolled against their will in the German Armies, namely the Malgré Nous. More specifically, we scraped the data corresponding to the Malgré Nous from the Western Archives section of the Memoires 2. More information on this database is given in the Methods section. In November 2016, we built ou own database based on 23623 records from that database. Each record includes information such as name, date and place of birth, date and place of disparition, as well as the reason for the disparition. Data are often incomplete. 21877 of those records contain information on the date of disparition. In parallel, we were able to geo-locate the place of disparition for 10150 of those records. Details on the procedure and code we have used for geocoding is available in the Methods section.
Statistics on German World War II military casualties are divergent and contradictory. The primary source of data are usually the wartime military casualty figures compiled by German High Command. However, a recent study by the German historian Rüdiger Overmans found that those German High Command statistics are not reliable 3. Here we rely on Overmans's estimates, as they resemble most with the data we have on the Malgré Nous. Overmans's estimates involved taking a statistical sample of the confidential German military personnel records. This sample consisted of 4,844 personnel dead or missing in military service during the war. Data derived from this sample are available in Rüdiger Overmans's book 3 and on Wikipedia 4. It should be noted that we do not claim here that those data are more reliable than those from the German High Command.
The conscription of the Malgré Nous led to a complex situation for all parties concerned, from judicial, social, and personal point of views. Prior to 1942 and the decrees enforcing the draft in the German armies of all young Alsatians and Mosellans, The Germans had encountered little success in attracting support from the populations living in Alsace and Moselle. There was a strong feeling of belonging to France within those populations. By making the draft compulsory, the Germans expected ALsatians to welcome being forced . Many Malgré Nous however deserted the German Army or fled in order to join the French Resistance or escape to Switzerland (figures of up to 40,000 of such deserters have been proposed >). Those that deserted however ran the risk of having their families displaced on the Eastern borders of the German Reich, or even sent to concentration camps, mainly Natzweiler-Struthof, near the village of Natzwiller in Alsace. It is usually accepted that it is this fear of repraisal against their families that lead 130,000 young Alsatians and Mosellans to be drafted in the German armies between 1942 and 1944. How did the German Military High Command however dealt with those draftees? On one hand, they had a high demands of troups on the multiple fronts of the conflicts, mostly on the Eastern Front, while on the other hand they did have trust issues with the forced draftees that may decide to desert at any time. To attempt to answer those questions, we compared the number of casualties in the German Armies (included the forced draftees) and among the Malgré Nous, both as a function of time during the War, and broken down into the multiple fronts of the War. Results are provided in Figure 1 and Figure 2, respectively.
Figure 1: Casualties among the Malgré Nous (in blue) and among the German army (in red) during the period 1943-1945.
Figure 1 illustrated a remarkable similarity between evolutions of the numbers of casualties between 1943 and 1945 for the German Armies and the Malgré Nous. Data for the German armies include the Wehrmacht, Waffen SS, Austrians, conscripted ethnic Germans (including the Malgré Nous), Volkssturm, and other paramilitary forces. 3 Data for the Malgré Nous include 21877 ALsatians and Mosellans for which the date of disparition is known. 1 We did remove however those whose place of disparition was either Tambov or Kirsanov, as those correspond to prisoner camps in Russia. The ratio between the two scales (blue for the Malgré Nous and red for the German armies) is approximately 3%. Both curves show significant increase in the numbers of casualties during the period June-July 1944 and in January 1945. The first peak (summer 1944) corresponds to the formation of the Western front with the attack on Normandy on the Western side of France on June 6th, 1944, and to the offensive of the Russians on White Russia. The second peak (beginning of 1945) corresponds to the battle of the bulge in Belgium on the Western Front, and to the rapid advance of the Russian army through Poland and Eastern Germany. The high level of casualties in January 1943 in the German army that is not observed among the Malgré Nous most likely corresponds to the end of the battle of Stalingrad, lost by the Germans, in which the Malgré Nous were not involved.
Figure 2: Casualties among the Malgré Nous and the German armies over the different fronts of the war. Both Western and Eastern front refer to the period up to December 31 1944, while Germany (1945) refers to the final stages of the war, following the invasion fo Germany from both Western and Eastern front.
In Figure 2, we show the proportions of casualties over the main fronts of the Second World Wars, both for the German Armies and for the Malgré Nous. The common knowledge is that the Malgré Nous were mainly dispatched to help on the Eastern Front. Our data support this claim. Indeed, most of the Malgré casualties occurred at the Eastern Front, with a higher proportion than in the German Armies (80% to 60%, respectively). In parallel, smaller fractions of the Malgré Nous died on the Western Front, or in Germany during 1945, in comparison to overall German casualties. Both observations are not surprising. It is expected that the German High Command did not trust the Malgré Nous in the battles in France in 1944, and German soldiers were defending their homeland in 1945. Interestingly, there were proportionally as many casualties among the Malgré Nous than within the German army as a whoe on the smaller fronts of the conflict, including in Scandinavia.
Clearly, the data shown in Figures 1 and 2 support the fact that overall, the Malgré Nous went through the same war experiences as the German, being neither more nor less protected or exposed on the battlefield.
The maps used for presenting the involvment of the Malgré Nous on the Eastern and Western fronts of the war in Europe are derived from The Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to May 15 1945. 7 This Atlas was produced for the Chief of Staff of the United States Army in 1945. It shows the front lines of World War II in two-week steps between 1 July 1943 and 15 May 1945. Those maps were preprocessed so that it was possible to overlay the places of disparitions of the 10,150 Malgré Nous for which this information was available (see the Methods section for a description of the processes that are involved). Note that those casualties were both direct (on the front), and indirect, including Malgré Nous that died in field hospitals. We removed victims that died in Tambov and Kirsanov (the hospital near Tambov); it is however possible that there were casualties from other internment camps.
Each map shows the current state of the front line at that date, and the positions (blue dots) of all new Malgré Nous casualties recorded in the two weeks that precede the date. The size of the blue dot is proportional to the number of Malgré Nous that died at the corresponding spot.
Continue to the next section: Mapping Memoirs
"Victimes alsaciennes de la Second Guerre Mondiale" (French: Alsatian victims of the second World War), maintained by the Region Grand Est, France.
Archives Occidentales(French: Western archives), from the Region Grand Est, France.
Rüdiger Overmans (2000). "Deutsche militärische Verluste im Zweiten Weltkrieg. Oldenbourg ISBN 3-486-56531-1
In his defense memoir from 1945 (available in French and German here), Gauleiter Robert Wagner, who was in charge of Alsace during the War, clearly stated that young Alsatians feared the reaction of their families if they were to draft voluntary, and would therefore happily join the German army if they were forced.
D. Kaplan and G. Herb (2008). "Nations and Nationalism: a Global Historical Overview". Volume 4. ANC Clio. p. 1508. ISBN 978-1-85109-907-8.