Voices from the past: A little Lebensborn story

After my release from the Fallingbostel internment camp on 30 October 1947, I tried to get a foothold in Hamburg and found accommodation with my comrade and friend Sepp Mahl. On 24 December 1947, I had an invitation to spend Christmas with the family of my fatherly friend and camp mate Hans Dorß in E. in the district of Uelzen.
I sat in a compartment on the train to Uelzen, which was almost empty for that time. But it was, after all, Christmas Eve. From Winsen, there was only one very attractive and elegantly dressed lady, in her mid-30s, in the compartment. The train and the compartment were cold, as was usual at the time. I was wearing my old uniform coat, which had not yet been dyed despite the order from the Control Council, and the unbleached spot on the left sleeve showed which troop I had belonged to.
The lady, we hadn’t exchanged a word until then, took a small suitcase and unpacked wonderful things, cakes and biscuits. With a „Here you go!“ she handed me a bag of pastries to help myself. But on the spur of the moment, I declined so as not to deprive her of her treasures. But she insisted on sharing with me because she still had enough. I didn’t need to be told twice and helped myself.
That broke the ice and she asked me with a glance at my coat if I had just come from captivity and from where. When I mentioned the internment camp, she immediately said: „Aha, Waffen-SS! Have you been an officer?“ „No,“ I replied, „not quite, but SS-Junker.“ [NCO] „Yes,“ she said, „you were great guys, but you were always privileged. – „True enough,“ I said, „especially with missions where it was always ferrous and a high blood toll had to be paid.“
And she again: „Yes, I suppose so, but I mean with convalescent homes and so on, because I’m a doctor and I know this.“ I could only answer that I was aware of this, but that I had never seen such a home, that they were for severely injured comrades.
But she had another counter-argument. „But your Lebensborn, that was something for elite soldiers.“ I told her I didn’t know what she meant. We had all been members of the Lebensborn e. V., had had to pay an amount from our salaries, which I don’t even know how much it was, and apart from that, this institution had run a number of maternity homes, also for unmarried mothers.
But she did not let up. „But please, those were breeding centres to which you were assigned.“ I was speechless, because in those days manners were not yet as loose as they are today, for a lady to speak so openly. I was annoyed and sharply rejected this insinuation, because I had never heard of such smut. For, even if the famous „no. 1 topic“ was not the no. 1 topic in camp – that was the food – never once had one of the comrades of all ranks ever said anything about it or even hinted at it.
But she again: „I know better than that. One of my acquaintances told me himself that after recovering from a wound he was sent to one of the SS homes, where he was allowed to choose a blond beauty and fathered a child with her.“
Full of anger I replied: „Then your acquaintance was a teller of bawdy fairy tales and not an SS leader.“ And she: „I didn’t say that, he wasn’t an SS leader, but a major in the Panzer troop.“ Now, to get back at her, I said: „Yes, see, if you had been nicer to him, he wouldn’t have signed up for such a tough ‚mission‘. Surely you only offered him ‚Christmas cookies‘, too!“ To my surprise, she was not upset.
Uelzen was reached, I had to get ready. She just said: „Pity, I would have liked to talk to you some more.“ – At this, she had a strange glint in her eyes.

(Günter Adam: „Ich habe meine Pflicht erfüllt!“)


Let me confess that when I first read this chapter, I was not entirely sure the story was true. It read more like a reaction to persistent rumours and „bawdy tales“ circulating about Lebensborn at the time the author wrote his book. I mean, I had watched the movie Of Pure Blood many years ago, based on Marc Hillel and Clarissa Henry’s book Au nom de la race (Of Pure Blood / Children of the SS) from the late 1970s, and I was aware that most of the „smut“ had been debunked by now. But frankly, I wasn’t sure how well Lebensborn was actually known back in the day and what stories circulated about it for this encounter to have happened. However, I have since learned better!

Even during the Nazi era, there were speculations and rumours about the origins of the Lebensborn children. After all, they were considered „Aryan“ through and through, and their parents had been selected according to the „strict hereditary-biological selection principle of the Schutzstaffel“, as a Lebensborn information brochure explained. Didn’t this suggest that the SS also played a role in the creation of these children? […] It cannot be any other way: The Lebensborn homes must have been „high-end brothels“ where the „breeding bulls of the SS“ – expressions that were already circulating in the Nazi era – were brought together with selected girls and women in order to produce offspring for the „Aryan elite“.
It has long since been proven that no such practice was carried out in the Lebensborn homes. What made and still makes the idea so attractive that it still haunts people’s minds and provokes curious questions? The connection between power and innocence that is inherent in the image of the black-uniformed SS men and the blond girls – whereby the emphasis is on girls, and the women involved are often considered to be girlishly naïve. Is it the constellation: Beauty and the Beast? An allegory that stands here for the German people and fascism? Or the assumed connection between „sex and crime“?
Perhaps there is also an inkling that the desire for a perfect child, whose „doability“ seems to be getting closer today, has a precursor here – a precursor that provides the example of abuse at the same time.
The image of the black-uniformed men and the blond girls who produced „Aryan offspring“ on command in luxurious houses lives on with astonishing tenacity. Again and again I have experienced that women and men hold on to this idea with great vehemence and downright refuse to give it up. Yet their basis of information and argumentation is often narrow: a novel they read many years ago, an old feature film, a history book that deals with the Lebensborn on half a page. Or a rumour that parents or grandparents told them about…

(Dorothee Schmitz-Köster: „Deutsche Mutter, bist du bereit…“)

If you ask me: it’s the sexual angle, pure and simple. And yes, I fully expect there to be some porn based on it – which I resolutely refuse to look into. (Urgh!) But I was surprised to learn that a German movie that dealt with the topic was released in 1961(!), followed by vehement protests, lawsuits, damaged property and screenings under police protection. As Schmitz-Köster so nicely wrote: „Today, such reactions would be interpreted as a success, back then they were a scandal.“ Also, today the film is available on Amazon Prime Video… (You can find my thoughts on it in the comments.)

Two German fighter pilots took off during the invasion: „Pips“ Priller and his „Katschmarek“ – alone against all

At 4 a.m. on 6 June 1944, „D-Day“ began, the Allied landing operation in Normandy for which 3.5 million soldiers, 12837 aircraft, 3500 cargo sailors and more than 5000 ships had been mobilised. The success of the „invasion“, an operational and logistical tour de force, depended on Allied air superiority over Western Europe, which made any major movements by the Wehrmacht impossible by day and reduced the coastal fortifications of the „Atlantic Wall“ to rubble for the most part even before the first Anglo-American soldier reached solid ground.
What did the German air force have to counter the 10743 sorties of the Allied air fleets on the morning of 6 June? In the first hours of the beginning defensive battle, exactly two (!) German fighter pilots were available. These were the Commodore of Fighter Wing 26, Lieutenant Colonel Josef „Pips“ Priller, an ace with 96 aerial victories at the time, and his wingman, Sergeant Heinz Wordarczyk. The squadron’s fighter groups had been transferred to airfields further east immediately before, against the will of their commanding officer, on orders from the air fleet, in order to avoid the constant fighter-bomber attacks. Priller’s comment: „When the Yanks come, I guess we’re supposed to hold them off by ourselves?“ And so, at the airbase near Lille, two Focke-Wulf 190s, ready for take-off, stand all alone, while the two pilots sit with a bottle of cognac, „almost crying with rage“ (Priller) at the impotence of the Luftwaffe.
When the alarm came early in the morning that „something was going on“ at the canal, the ears of the „General Staffer“ at the other end of the line smoked from Priller’s reply. Nevertheless, the two climb into their planes and fly towards the La Havre battle area, with an Allied fighter screen of several hundred aircraft above them. The sight of the huge armada took both German fighter pilots‘ breath away, but the soldiers and sailors on the Allied ships were equally stunned when two lone German fighters came swooping out of the clouds with their guns firing non-stop. Regardless of the numerous tethered balloons attached to the floating units for protection against low-level attacks, „Pips“ Priller and his wingman dive through between the steel cables and are already roaring over the „Sword“ beachhead when all the anti-aircraft guns of the invasion fleet open fire.
The impression this desperate action made on the enemy is shown by the words of sailor Robert Dowie on HMS Dunbar: „Germans or not, good luck to you. You fellows have guts!“*
Indeed, the two miraculously return home in one piece. In 1961, they received a late tribute from their former opponents when their daring mission was highlighted in the US monumental film „The Longest Day“.

(Jägerblatt, Vol. XLIII, no. 3 (July/August 1994), reprinted from Luftwaffe, no. 7/94)

—————————
* Re-translated from the German. I don’t have the original quote at hand. Please leave a comment if you can help me out!

Voices from the past

As I announced in the Törni series, I’m going to post three more texts translated from Günter Adam’s book that I hope you’ll find interesting. To give the whole thing some structure, I’ve decided to introduce a new category for those and any future posts of the kind, „Voices from the past“. I’ve also added the already published „This Major is okay…“ about Josef Gangl’s last days as told by Erich Blechschmidt to it.

Lauri Törni in Germany 1945 – Outtakes: Riikka Ojanperä, and a visit from the beyond

For instance, the victor also says to the vanquished: „Submit!“ In this word lies the meaning: „Surrender yourself to me unconditionally so that I may deal with you as I see fit, even over life and death!“
But in this the victor acts wrongly; for even in victory man has to conform strictly to the Laws of God. Otherwise with every neglect of them he makes himself guilty before the Lord. The reciprocal action will then strike him without fail! This applies to the individual as well as to entire peoples!
(Abd-ru-shin: In the Light of Truth – Grail Message, lecture „Submission“)

 

This part of the Törni series will be a little different and does not have much to do with Lauri Törni’s time in Germany at all. But I had wanted to do a piece on it for quite some time, so why not now?
As some of my readers know, I am a follower of the Grail Message by Abd-ru-shin. As such, I was very glad to learn of those aspects of Lauri Törni’s story that others might consider a bit… esoteric?
It all started with a passage in Cleverley’s book Born a Soldier:

Finally, Thorne’s only great love: the beautiful Marja Kops who finally left Sweden with the belief that she would never see Larry again. In Spain, she raised her own family, but never forgot the powerful personality she would have married. Following Thorne’s death, she wrote her cousin Riikka Ojanperä: „Do you know that Larry appeared to me twice after the mid-1960’s? He sat on my bedside and we talked together.“

An article from 29 September 2015 in Ilta-Sanomie, „Lauri Törni rakastui kunnolla vain kerran, mutta onnellinen tarina päättyi erittäin lyhyeen“, made it clear that those two visits had occurred in lucid dreams.
Now, some, I am sure, will just skip over that bit and move on. I, on the other hand, believe every word of it. This is one of the most common ways the departed communicate with us, as the ever rational, ever suspicious daytime consciousness is partly inactive during sleep.

I do not subscribe to Kallonen’s sob story of star-crossed lovers. Törni made a choice, whatever his feelings, reasonings and circumstances might have been. He was a certain type of man, and I can understand, without condemning or condoning. In fact, I suspect Marja Kops had a lucky escape. But I also believe Törni did have feelings for her. That certain type of man does not exactly act logically in those things. Abandoning her was an unresolved matter in his life, perhaps a deep regret or feeling of guilt that he took with him into the beyond. And so he sought out Marja after his death.

Riikka Ojanperä explained their unfinished love story without judgment:

„Marja was supposed to follow him to the US, but Törni had such a terrible time there at first. The great hero was a cleaner and who knows what.“
Törni was not able to enlist in the US Army until 1954. It is said that in the late 1950s he went to Sweden to look for Marja – but to no avail, she was already somewhere else.
„A young, beautiful woman doesn’t wait when she doesn’t know anything about the other.“ Riikka Ojanperä says that she moved to Spain.
Marja married a Spanish doctor and had four children. She never met Törni again.
Lauri Törni disappeared, later found to have died in a helicopter crash during the Vietnam War in 1965.
„Marja told me that Törni appeared to her a couple of times in dreams around that time.“

Riikka Ojanperä was deeply involved in anthroposophy and eurhythmy, which might explain why Marja felt comfortable sharing her ghostly encounter with her. Ojanperä taught and wrote on the Finnish language in the context of Rudolf Steiner’s teachings (another Steiner in the Törni story!). Ulrike Wendt wrote a lovely article about a visit to Ojanperä’s home in the Newsletter from the Section for the Arts of Eurythmy, Speech and Music, Michaelmas 2010, „Eine finnische Studienwoche – Osterbesuch bei Riikka Ojanperä“:

A walk of a few hundred metres lies between Raitila, the small mökki that offers accommodation for 4-6 people, and Untola, the home of Riikka Ojanperä and Johannes Linden. A small Finnish road in rural western Finland. Nature – not „special“ at all, yet rich in experiences: The triangular ice crystals on the puddles in the morning, the thick dew drops on the tips of the spruce needles forming a beautiful pattern. A juniper berry, freshly picked from the bush and chewed – a taste explosion. The trickle of the brook, already heard several metres in front of it, which grows into a real murmur in the course of the thaw. Red granite. Snow turning from dazzling white to brown slush – rubber boots are called for! A delicate mist on Easter morning, wide blueness at dusk. The redness of the birches – a Finnish natural magic that delights, in between the white trunks of the aspens, in infinite delicacy. Pines and spruces, providing green continuity. And like every time, Finnish nature touches me deeply. There are no spectacular rock formations or anything sensational like that, but originality and clarity and always something more around… […]
At Villa Untola, treasures are guarded and given away – to anyone who comes and asks. Enormously informative aspects of tone eurythmy and planetary gestures can be learned there, which can be an enrichment for every eurythmy practitioner – even if they are perhaps not quite as enthusiastic about the Finnish language as I am.
Why did I go to Sauvo in April, at a time when nature in Finland is still rather wintry? It’s simple – later in the year, Riikka Ojanperä no longer has time for courses, because she and her husband Johannes Linden work in agriculture. The two of them have spent years building up a small biodynamic farm, which they still run. In case it is not known: Riikka turned 80 in April, and Johannes is not much younger either. What these two people achieve, what enthusiasm, what deep trust in anthroposophy and the principles stated by „Dr. Steiner“ give them the courage and the energy to still put themselves so intensively into active life, can hardly be grasped.
There are people who stand by them and support Riikka in her work on the book mentioned, some of whom I was able to meet during our study week. But what has not been formed so far is a circle of people who will ensure the continuation of the two’s work. Untola could become a small cultural centre – where else in Finland is there a eurythmy stage built exactly to the scale of the first Goetheanum? With rising seats? And an enchanting veranda that invites both study and dreamy lingering? Where can you find this unique combination of art with biodynamic agriculture? Johannes‘ potatoes taste fantastic, as do the carrots. What endless work it may have been to get the soil this far! What is needed now is a small foundation to carry on the legacy of these two people in a dignified way. And what is further needed are a few people who can get such a foundation off the ground with energy and financial help. It would be a huge loss if this incredible life’s work were to simply fade away!

Now, I don’t know much about anthroposophy, but there are some parallels to the teachings of the Grail Message, and there are many aspects that, I suspect, would have overlapped if Abd-ru-shin had had more time to write about all the topics he planned to write about. The language aspect alone (the Goetheanum published a special issue on it, with a contribution by Riikka Ojanperä) likely would have shown strong parallels.

I can’t find anything on Villa Untola in Sauvo these days, so if anyone has more information, please let me know!

 

But should in future years, within that hero-land,
His exploits fade for memories more royal, –
Should at his name a heart no more with fire expand,
And lonely and unsought, with runes all wasted stand
The grave wherein he sleeps, – this Finn so loyal, –
Still were his praise, his glory, not yet dead;
Then should his spirit sweep the sea, unbidden,
Till proud it reached this land, that him had bred;
Here is he ne’er forgot, here for his folk he bled; –
He here shall live, though there his form be hidden.

(Johan Ludvig Runeberg: The Tales of Ensign Stål, Canto XXXV, Adlercreutz; translated by Clement B. Shaw. Read at Lauri Törni’s obsequies.)


Introduction

Part 1

Outtake: Felix Steiner

Outtake: The Goliath POW camp

Part 2

Part 3

Outtake: Odds and loose ends

More Törni-related blog content:

„Alles, was ich getan habe, geschah zum Wohle meines Landes.“

Operation Swift Strike III

Recovering the remains

Lauri Törni in Germany 1945 – Outtakes: Odds and loose ends

The biggest loose end is, hands down, Felix Steiner. I am very new to the research, but even the incredible experts on Forum der Wehrmacht with years of experience and access to the most obscure sources have not managed to find out where he was captured in the end. But hey, it’s a challenge for researchers to come!

While not my favourite place to do research (it always stresses me out), certainly the best place to start is the Bundesarchiv, or rather archives, plural, as the different departments are situated all over Germany. So of course I looked whether they might actually have a file on Lauri Törni. He was in the Waffen-SS, after all, he was part of Sonderkommando Nord, he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd class. But a quick search turned up nothing. That is not to say there might not be any mention of him, but the files are simply not indexed in such detail. However, a match showed up when I searched for his alias „Lauri Laine“ that he used to get from Finland to Germany. This was intriguing! Since the file in question is still protected by data privacy laws, I wasn’t able to see what it was about, and so I asked at the Bundesarchiv. Turns out, that particular Lauri Laine was born in 1928. The file is held at Koblenz, the civil state archive of the Bundesarchiv, and so would not be where you’d expect Törni’s files to be. Also, apparently, it is a file connected to restitution claims from 1961 to 1965 – I don’t think so. I passed on further research.

The regional archives, museums and historians of Hagenow, Ludwigslust, Pritzwalk, Gorlosen and Kalbe were a different matter, and I am highly indebted to their wonderful personnel for going out of their way to help with my rather unusual questions. Had they ever heard of some travelling Finns in 1945? Did they have any knowledge of Steiner’s whereabouts? Were they able to pinpoint where that (very low res) picture of Steiner and von Mecklenburg was taken by an American photographer? Their expertise was invaluable to my research, and I cannot thank them enough!

Now, a few recommendations for those wishing to dig a little deeper. Aside from the already quoted (mostly German and Finnish) sources in the various blog posts, one book that’s actually available in an English translation is I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB. Volume 2 of the French three-part graphic novel gives a pretty accurate (if very dark) glimpse into what was going on in the province of Mecklenburg at the time Törni was there. You have been warned.
A film that has nothing to do with the events of 1945 but might be of interest to Törni aficionados is the Swedish production Framom främsta linjen (Beyond the Front Line). It’s based on true events and centered on a Swedish-speaking „special operations“ unit in the Continuation War, so basically colleagues of Detachment Törni. A dual-language film – Swedish and Finnish – , it features several characters of Lauri Törni’s story, not least his future mentor Alpo Marttinen of „Marttinen’s men“, wonderfully portrayed by Finnish actor Ilkka Heiskanen. The German DVD comes with English subtitles.
Perry Biddiscombe’s The SS Hunter Battalions gives a good overview of the various resistance movements initiated by SS and Gestapo in allied or occupied countries, among them Sonderkommando Nord, which Lauri Törni was a part of and the reason why he was in Germany in the first place. Törni is mentioned by name in Biddiscombe‘ account, even though the author does not go into the same amount of detail that Pohjonen and Silvennoinen, who focused on Sonderkommando Nord alone instead of the entire European resistance network like Biddiscombe, provide. He also consistently refers to Alarich Bross as „Brohs“.
There are a number of books, both in English and in German, on the 4th SS Police Division with whom Törni, Korpela and Sarasalo fought in the Pritzwalk region.
I’ve quoted from it before, but Peter Wippich’s Der „Kral“ im Kreis Plön about Sperrgebiet F, where Törni and Korpela spent the last leg of their prisoners-of-war phase, is highly recommended to German-speaking readers. In spite of its grim topic, it is not only educational but also entertaining in the rather bizarre dynamics that developed between British overseers, German POWs who also functioned as guards (as well as temporary policemen against marauding DPs in the region), POWs of other nationalities, the civilian population and refugees from the German eastern provinces.

A curious personal connection that came to light through my research: It would appear that my maternal grandfather, too, was a prisoner in the „Kral“. He, too, left Sperrgebiet F early on, but probably legally as part of Operation Barleycorn. All agricultural workers – farmers, farmhands, drivers of agricultural vehicles, blacksmiths and so on – with their place of residence in the British occupation zone were released in the latter half of June 1945 to help combat the severe food shortages. As my grandfather, a farmer, met all the requirements, he would have returned home in late June, early July, which fits family lore.

A Finnish documentary that I came across on YouTube. It deals with the Continuation War in Eastern Lapland and the Finnish-German connections and so sheds light on several aspects of Törni’s story as well. (English subtitles are available.)

I am humbled by how well that alliance and with how little animosity the Lapland War are still widely remembered in Finland. I mean, it wasn’t as if the German government acted out of the goodness of their hearts, it was a tactical decision. (The motives and feelings of the individual soldiers and officers involved were of course a different matter. I have found only respect from German veterans toward their Finnish allies.)

For the future I plan to publish some more translations of, for example, Günter Adam’s writings. While I’m not sure how truthful they are and how much he left out (and there are some things that… well, I find unpleasant), one cannot deny that he had a gift for engaging storytelling. Also, for me it’s always about fairness. You cannot claim to know a story if you haven’t heard all sides, and especially the voices of soldiers of the Waffen-SS have rarely had the chance of being heard. What you make of it in the end, that’s up to you.


Introduction

Part 1

Outtake: Felix Steiner

Outtake: The Goliath POW camp

Part 2

Part 3

Outtake: Riikka Ojanperä, and a visit from the beyond

More Törni-related blog content:

„Alles, was ich getan habe, geschah zum Wohle meines Landes.“

Operation Swift Strike III

Recovering the remains

Lauri Törni in Germany 1945, Part 3: „Food supply almost nil, thus eradication of snails, nettles and other edible and non-edible plants.“

Let’s now take a closer look at two stations on Törni’s tumultuous journey through war-torn Germany that are not as great a mystery as „Hagenaun“ or the search for Felix Steiner.

According to an interrogation report given by Törni to the Finnish State Police, [he and Korpela] had been held in a prisoner-of-war camp of about 5,000 prisoners for two and a half weeks before being transferred to Lübeck. Fortunately, both were dressed in standard German uniform and could not therefore be identified as SS members. […] In Lübeck, „the various nationalities had been dispersed to different parts of Germany“ and Törni and Korpela had ended up in the vast assembly area of Oldenburg. „The camp area had been extremely large,“ Törni said, „almost the whole province […] had been a prison camp, and there had been 4 or 5 million prisoners of war.“ Because of the vastness of the area, leaving the camp – escaping from prison – was not difficult. Most POWs stayed in the camp because at least it provided food, and many had nowhere else to go.
(Juha Pohjonen & Oula Silvennoinen: Tuntematon Lauri Törni)

This is actually wrong on two accounts. Firstly, Törni and Korpela could be identified as Waffen-SS fairly easily, and the Allies had learned the trick: Members of the SS had their blood type tattooed under their left upper arm. (Not, by the way, on their biceps, as the Törni literature claims, but underneath it.) SS members quickly found out that the Allies had found out, and many cut or scraped away the telltale mark, but the resulting scar betrayed them anyway. However, with tens of thousands of prisoners flooding the system, nobody appears to have bothered to check at this stage.
Secondly, German POWs, at least, did not stay in the camps because they provided food – quite the contrary. As already discussed in the Goliath outtake, food was scarce, especially during the first months of the Allied prison camp system. Rather,

There was no point in escaping for most of them; without release papers (D2-Schein), one received no food stamps, no residence permit and no work permit.

After the Second World War, four British restricted areas in Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein served to intern soldiers of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS. […] The British referred to the prisoners of war as Surrendered Enemy Personnel (SEP). The denial of prisoner of war status, which was contrary to international law, had already been established at the Yalta Conference in December 1943. According to the Hague Land Warfare Regulations and the Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war had the right to immediate release after the end of hostilities and to be cared for in the same way as soldiers of the custodial power. Circumventing these regulations was intended to facilitate the search for war criminals. […] The prisoners were not without rights, but could not invoke the Geneva Convention.
(https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Britische_Sperrgebiete_in_Norddeutschland_nach_dem_Zweiten_Weltkrieg)

Lauri Törni and Solmu Korpela were transferred to Lübeck. There, the POWs were housed in the many barracks in and around town. But with so many prisoners coming in, and Allied troops, displaced persons and refugees needing a place to stay, as well, the situation became problematic very soon.
Alex Hinrichsen, like the Finns, was a prisoner both at Lübeck and later in Holstein:

The „Tommys“ took watches from them, then they marched from the Wehrmeldeamt to Danziger Freiheit and the officers were taken by bus to a large meadow with 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers. For two days Hinrichsen took command of 600 sailors and 100 other soldiers in the Waldersee barracks, a prisoner-of-war camp. There they had formed a committee like a workers‘ and soldiers‘ council and were of the opinion that there were no longer any differences in rank among the prisoners of war. Hinrichsen, however, saw things quite differently. There was „still a strict military discipline“, he wrote, and he made that clear to the sailors. On 6 May, he took command of the Meesen barracks, which were meant for 2,000 men, but were occupied by 5,000 prisoners and had to take on about 1,000 new admissions every day. On 16 May there were already 13,000.
Power failure, lack of water, clogged toilets – Hinrichsen reports on the terrible conditions and, above all, the scarcity of food. The British gave them a quarter of bread and half a tin of corned beef per day, far too little. They had tried to find food everywhere and yet „always lived from hand to mouth, from one day to the next“. […]
On 16 May, the prisoners left the Meesen barracks with 13,000 men, „in rows of six to the motorway and from there in a column of three in the direction of Ahrensbök“. Via Kasseedorf they finally went to the „Kral“, the large internment camp in eastern Holstein. The British had „intended it for about 750,000 German soldiers“. The British-guarded demarcation line ran from Schönberger Strand in an approximate line across Seelenter See, Plön, Eutin and Kasseedorf to Neustädter Bucht, including Fehmarn. Here, too, food and supplies for the prisoners were the biggest problem, writes Hinrichsen.
(https://www.ln-online.de/Thema/K/Grosser-Rueckblick-Der-Zweite-Weltkrieg-im-Norden/Die-letzten-Tage-des-Krieges/Pro-Tag-ein-Viertel-Brot-und-eine-halbe-Dose-Corned-Beef“)

As can be seen from numerous reports, large parts, if not the majority, of all soldiers apparently arrived in the restricted area from Neustadt [in Holstein]. Until the end of June, they were transported there mainly by rail in closed freight cars […] primarily from provisional prison camps in Mecklenburg – always accompanied by the fear, fuelled by the wildest rumours, of being handed over to the Russians by the British. There was great relief when, for example, the position of the sun indicated that the journey was heading west or northwest. Arriving in Neustadt, but also in Eutin or Malente, „supplied“ with a few English biscuits, the often days-long, energy-sapping marches began. Everywhere in the villages, however, drinks were provided, even if it was only water. In most cases, it was not possible to provide the huge columns with food, because at the end of the war even the rural population no longer had large stocks of food. But as far as it was possible, help was given. […]
The then First Lieutenant Hans-Joachim Paris reported that his marching column needed 3 full days for the approximately 30 km route from Neustadt […] to the first destination Lütjenburg. A higher marching performance could not be achieved with the 7 biscuits handed out for the way, especially as there had been no rations during the train journey to Neustadt either. […]
Already in the last weeks of the war, due to the partly chaotic external circumstances, the food supply of the soldiers was no longer guaranteed, with the result that most of them went into captivity already weakened. Before they were transferred to the restricted area F, many of them had already been inadequately fed for days and weeks in British prison camps in Mecklenburg.

Although the behaviour of the British towards the German soldiers was generally described as fair, in some cases there were dishonourable transgressions. For example, it was reported that in one case in Neustadt the German prisoners of war were driven out of the wagons by the British soldiers with whips. […] Very often it is reported that German soldiers were individually „frisked“ […] by the British before they were taken into the restricted area. Unless this had already happened on a previous occasion, anything that looked like valuables, such as watches, wedding rings, special medals, etc., was taken from them, sometimes under threat of violence. A situation that was repeatedly deplored, especially since such behaviour had not been expected from the British.
(Peter Wippich: Der „Kral“ im Kreis Plön)

Wippich’s description is echoed in nearly all eyewitness accounts that I have come across in the past ten years or so. Red Army soldiers‘ hunt for watches has become almost legendary, but Western Allied troops were actually no better. Of course, it always depended on the individual soldier. There are also many accounts of German POWs trading their valuables to US or British guards for food or cigarettes; and Günter Adam even reports on a business venture he and some of his fellow prisoners set up to produce fake gold rings for bartering.

After some time, the swindle was known and we were stuck with the goods. The British called my products „fucking Sandbostel gold“ [after Sandbostel POW camp]. But afterwards the rings were also very popular among our comrades as birthday presents, etc.
(Günter Adam: „Ich habe meine Pflicht erfüllt!“)

Sperrgebiet F, also called „Kral“, Zone F, POW Zone F, Sperrzone F or PW Area F, comprised the entire district of Oldenburg in Holstein (not to be confused with Oldenburg in Lower Saxony), parts of the district of Eutin and parts of the district of Plön. In the early days, an estimated 750,000 soldiers were interned in the restricted area.

Especially in the first months, accommodation was often inadequate. It was not uncommon for the prisoners to have to set up in open fields in holes in the ground or crowd together in stables and barns. Accommodation in houses and on farms was particularly difficult because many had already taken in refugees. Mass accommodation with occupancies of more than 200 people on one farm was not uncommon.
The daily ration of 300 grams of bread and weekly 250 grams of meat corresponded to one third of the ration of a Brit.

(©)

The prisoners were distributed over a large area and had extensive freedom of movement in the restricted zones. The British had withdrawn and limited themselves to occasional patrols. Access to the restricted area was only possible with a pass. The borders were not secured by barbed wire and gates. They were based on the landscape conditions. Main access roads were secured by turnpikes and posts. British and Germans alone or together provided these posts. Secondary roads were made impassable for vehicles. The actual green border was secured by German two-man patrols. The control by the (armed) German Feldjägers was very casual. On the other hand, being caught by the British when crossing the border without a pass could result in a prison sentence of several months. A shoot-to-kill order was in force, but the use of firearms against fugitives was unknown. In June 1945, 5,700 volunteers helped in Wehrmacht police troops. Most of the Feldjägers were housed in permanent quarters; however, better rations were not initially available. The German guard units were also called upon to provide object protection for rations stores, fields ready for harvesting, detention buildings and other facilities. […]

The prisoners were to administer themselves – under British supervision. In controlling, caring for and supplying so many people, the British made pragmatic use of the existing command structures of the Wehrmacht. […] In this grey zone under international law, the German and foreign soldiers had to maintain military hierarchy and discipline.

As far as the orders of their superiors permitted, the soldiers were allowed to move freely outside the nightly curfew hours. The old uniforms with rank insignia, orders and decorations continued to be worn. Only the swastikas had to be removed. Military salutes were compulsory. The soldiers were subject to German disciplinary authority and received military pay.
(https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Britische_Sperrgebiete_in_Norddeutschland_nach_dem_Zweiten_Weltkrieg)

Having Germans guarding Germans – and POWs of other nationalities! – might appear odd, to say the least, but it was far from uncommon. Back in Lübeck, Erich Mende and his fellow officers from the 102nd Infantery Division (who also ended up in the „Kral“) found themselves more or less drafted into the position of camp guards for good reasons:

Accompanied by four British motorcyclists and two other British jeeps, we drove towards the divisional command post in Lübeck without knowing what would happen to the troops. There we were told that we would be driven to the Adolf Hitler Barracks in Lübeck by order of the division general and that we would have the task of taking over the prison camp there and ensuring discipline and order.
The picture of the old Lübeck barracks, still called Adolf Hitler Barracks by the British, was bad. About 2,000 to 3,000 German prisoners-of-war from all parts of the Wehrmacht, colonels without epaulets, officers and non-commissioned officers without medals and rank insignia; a jeering crowd welcomed us, as we still wore our rank insignia and our medals. Some of them had red armbands on. It looked anything but disciplined! Obviously, the signs of disbandment were abhorrent even to the British. For an officer asked us to tell him our wishes as to how we thought this prisoner-of-war camp in Lübeck should be taken over. We explained that we would only be able to take over this camp if our troops, who were still at the River Trave south of Lübeck, joined us, because only in this way would we have the necessary soldiers to restore peace and order here. This was promised […].
Upon arrival at the camp, Colonel Dr. Ludwig ordered his Silesian soldiers to line up and declared that […] he was now appointing his old […] troops as camp police. […]
This appearance and the impression made by the Silesian soldiers in full uniform […] caused a miracle. In no time at all the rioters were silent, the demonstrations ended, the red armbands disappeared. The badges of rank and the epaulettes were eagerly sewn on again […].
(Joachim Schultz-Naumann: Mecklenburg 1945)

While keeping the military hierarchy intact no doubt prevented the overcrowded camps from descending into anarchy and chaos, German guards, no matter how casual, did not go down so well with all prisoners, as Günter Adam remembered from winter 1946:

On the watchtowers we saw new uniforms, if they could be called such at all. Grey windbreakers, our familiar mountain caps. The guard in the walkway between the wires was dressed in the same way. Incredulous, we called out to them, „Are you Germans?“, to which they replied in the affirmative. This hit us like a slap in the face! Outraged, we spat in front of them. Under the leadership of the „general“ we formed a line, marched along the wire and spat in front of each post. It was not so easy to gather so much spit, but we persevered.
(Günter Adam)

Around 2,800 soldiers fled from restricted area F. […]
Volkssturm men, schoolboys (Flakhelfer), female Wehrmacht helpers and paramilitaries (Reich Labour Service), the seriously wounded and the seriously ill had already been released in May 1945. They were followed by soldiers with ties to agriculture if they were not officers and did not belong to the Waffen-SS, the paratroopers or the Gestapo. After that, miners for coal mining and those working in transport occupations were released. Finally, the great masses were released regardless of profession. […] In the search for members of the Waffen-SS, tattoos were checked during the final medical examination. […]
The last prisoners of war (senior officers and members of the Waffen-SS) left Sperrgebiet F on 2 March 1946 and were shipped to a prisoner-of-war camp in Belgium.
(https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Britische_Sperrgebiete_in_Norddeutschland_nach_dem_Zweiten_Weltkrieg. Emphasis mine.)

So Törni and Korpela were actually wise to become two of the approximately 2,800 prisoners to escape from the camp. (Author Peter Wippich suspects that, like Törni and Korpela, most escapees were members of the Waffen-SS.) But in addition to the British search for potential war criminals, there was something equally, if not more, dangerous going on in the „Kral“:

Again and again, rumours circulated that the POWs would be handed over to the Russians after all, or that Russians secretly came by ship across the Bay of Lübeck into the restricted area to lure internees into the Soviet-occupied zone with promises of good treatment there. But these had a very real background, because Soviet officers actually did come into the area without the British always knowing about it. On 10 June 1945, Colonel Becker […] reported to the Chill section command in Hasselburg that on 9 June two Red Army officers had appeared at the local command in Kassau with the request to be led to a camp of Russians who had fought on the German side […]. They had received instructions from their military command to take the men in the camp with them. Since the Soviet officers did not want to or could not produce the corresponding permission from the British, the Russian camp inmates were not handed over to them. The interned Russians, moreover, expressed the wish to remain in the (forest) camp […].
The situation was similar in the Bocksbarg wood, north of Rantzau village. About 1,500 soldiers camped there, about 500 of them Lithuanians. One day in summer, the camp was visited by members of the Soviet army, accompanied by armed British, who wanted to pick up the Lithuanians. The Lithuanians, however, strictly and vociferously refused to follow the Russians – apparently with the acquiescence of the British. The Russians had to leave without having achieved anything.
Since the visits of Soviet officers to the restricted area F without the knowledge of the British became more frequent, von Stockhausen’s corps group, among others, received an order from the VIII British Corps in Plön in June 1945 that persons who „apparently in the disguise of officers or soldiers of British allies“ would enter the area without authorisation were to be arrested and taken to the nearest British unit or guard. Quite obviously, the paraphrase „disguise“ was intended to make it less obvious to the German military authorities (and factual wartime enemies) that the British were distrustful of the allied Russians.
(Peter Wippich)

Via Kiel, Lauri Törni and Solmu Korpela managed to make their way homeward.

For a couple of weeks, Törni and Korpela moved northwards from the camp area. After reaching Kiel, they had „met Finnish girls who had brought them food from German ships“. [Probably very welcome after weeks of starving at Hagenow, Lübeck and Sperrgebiet F!] By walking and hitchhiking, the men made their way back to Flensburg, where they met other Neu-Strelitz students. […] Once in Flensburg, Törni and Korpela began to feel safe. They had many acquaintances from Sonderkommando Nord nearby and could rely on them. Georg Hayen, a German military intelligence agent and Sonderkommando officer, accommodated both men in his house […]. On 14 June 1945, Korpela wrote in Georg Hayen’s guest book: „We are sitting here in ‚Papa Hayen’s‘ home, relaxing and waiting for our departure to Finland. I take this opportunity to thank you for all the help you have given us while we are wandering here in a foreign land.“ Below both wrote their names. […] At Flensburg, Törni and Korpela were joined by SS volunteer Alpo Kanerva. After a few weeks of waiting, the trio secretly crossed the Danish border and made their way to the Swedish consulate in Aabenraa.
(Pohjonen & Silvennoinen)


Introduction

Part 1

Outtake: Felix Steiner

Outtake: The Goliath POW camp

Part 2

Outtake: Odds and loose ends

Outtake: Riikka Ojanperä, and a visit from the beyond

More Törni-related blog content:

„Alles, was ich getan habe, geschah zum Wohle meines Landes.“

Operation Swift Strike III

Recovering the remains

Lauri Törni in Germany 1945, Part 2: „The ‚Finnish‘ episode“

It was time for some on-the-ground research. Of course, official files from that chaotic time in Germany rarely exist. Eyewitness accounts, if they exist at all, are hard to find. Some soldiers later wrote down their memories from that time, but they were seldom published, and if they were, it is difficult to know which of the authors was in the right place at the right time. Civilian eyewitnesses had little interaction with individual soldiers passing through. Steiner might have left an impression; two Finns in Wehrmacht uniforms not so much. But there was always a chance. And so I wrote to museums, archives and historians in Pritzwalk and Hagenow to ask if they had ever come across stories about Steiner and/or some Finns in their area. The chances were extremely slim from the beginning. And yet, from Hagenow came – not a definitive confirmation, but something that actually fits Törni’s story.

Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about Finnish soldiers who were taken prisoner here. But the town of Hagenow may well be a possibility. On 2 May 1945, US forces occupied this area – including Hagenow. (for example liberation of the concentration camp Wöbbelin near Ludwigslust). A prisoner-of-war camp (more like a mass camp) was set up on the Hagenow airfield. Liberated concentration camp prisoners and liberated prisoners of war and forced labourers were also housed there. The American occupation lasted until 2 June, when the area was occupied by the British. Soviet occupation followed on 2 July. So the „Finnish“ episode must have taken place here between 3 May (captivity of the Finns) and 2 June (handover to the British) or 2 July (withdrawal of the British).

Which is spot-on. The legends surrounding Törni actually mention the Hagenow airfield! I had ignored it until now as it was part of increasingly fanciful stories about Törni’s last days in the war, but apparently they contained a kernel of truth.

In Tyrkkö’s description, Törni fights his way with the remnants of an unnamed „artillery regiment“ through multiple Soviet blockade rings „to an airfield near where they finally met the British troops“. […] According to Kairinen, Törni and his troops excelled in the fighting east of Berlin „but where eventually forced to surrender to an English unit that was about to arrive at an airfield near Berlin.“ The source of Tyrkkö and Kairinen seems to be the same, perhaps Kairinen’s own account, and the unnamed airfield appears in both as a common detail. […] There is no consensus either on who Törni and Korpela surrendered to, or on what happened to them immediately after their surrender. In Kallonen and Sarjanen’s description, Törni and Korpela end up in captivity at the hands of US troops. In both Tyrkkö’s and Kallonen and Sarjanen’s accounts, the Western Allied forces, the British in Tyrkkö’s case and the Americans in Kallonen and Sarjanen’s, do not immediately accept Törni’s surrender, but ask him to continue fighting the Soviet forces until they can evacuate the airfield. The story reflects National Socialist wishful thinking and the Cold War, not the setting of spring 1945. There is no reason to suppose that the Western Allied soldiers in May 1945 would have been ready to put their enemy ahead of their allies in this way.
(Juha Pohjonen & Oula Silvennoinen: Tuntematon Lauri Törni)

The 2017 one-volume-edition of Kallonen and Sarjanen’s work already contains several corrections from the earlier three-volume-edition, clearly inspired by Pohjonen and Silvennoinen’s criticism.

On 3 May 1945, Törni and his troops were surrounded by Russians near Hagenow airfield. Törni’s platoon once again fought their way out of the siege and came into contact with US paratroopers who held the airfield.
(Kari Kallonen & Petri Sarjanen: Lauri Törni 1919-1965)

It would appear that this episode has been wildly misunderstood until now. Yes, there had been an airfield, and yes, there had been US troops, and yes, British troops had eventually been involved. There might even have been „remnants of an unnamed artillery regiment“, that is, either men from Steiner’s Armeegruppe who travelled with Törni and Korpela or his company of sailors from Mürwik or soldiers from other, scattered units who had banded together for the journey. The elements are all there. But the reality is that, after fighting the Soviets at Pritzwalk, Törni and Korpela had simply tried to make their way home. However, „[after] walking for several days, they were captured by American paratroopers near Hagenaun [Hagenow] on 3 May.“ Given the fact that US forces had only occupied the general area on 2 May, and the airfield in particular either late in the evening of that day (as an Oberleutnant Bühler still managed to take off with his Fw 190 at 8:10 p.m., André Feit & Dieter Bechtold: Die letzte Front) or on 3 May, the camp at Hagenow airfield was likely still in the process of being set up. In fact, it might have been that very activity that Törni and Korpela stumbled into: The airfield was indeed „near Hagenow“.

There were barracks there already, but if the camp was indeed still being set up, it would make sense to hand the two Finns over to the British: There were other small camps in the vicinity of Hagenow.

[…] Törni and Korpela were taken into the custody of the British POW system. According to an interrogation report given by Törni to the Finnish State Police, they had been held in a prisoner-of-war camp of about 5,000 prisoners for two and a half weeks before being transferred to Lübeck.
(Pohjonen & Silvennoinen)

3 May 1945, it should be remembered, is the date Törni gives us. If Sarasalo is correct, it would be around 4 to 6 May. Steiner states that he became a British POW on 3 May. Joachim Schultz-Naumann in Mecklenburg 1945 writes:

Pritzwalk was reached [by the Soviets] on 2 May and the Red Army soldiers met with British Army soldiers at Grabow in Mecklenburg on 3 May.

So Törni, Korpela and Sarasalo would have been at Pritzwalk on 2 May, battling Soviet forces; Sarasalo was captured but escaped during the night, while Törni and Korpela either made their way northwest or straight west, skirting both the British forces at Grabow and the US forces at Ludwigslust. Even fit, lightly travelling soldiers like Törni and Korpela would probably not manage the 60 or so kilometres in a day on foot, and since Törni speaks of walking for „several days“, it is more likely they arrived at Hagenow airfield on 4 May.

Oh, and as to the Hagenau/Hagenow question („au“/“o“), it is pretty clear by this point that Törni never saw a sign spelling out the town’s name. I imagine the Finns or potential German companions asked their American captors where they were. „Hagenow,“ they answered, in the English pronounciation, thus creating confusion for decades to come.

Speaking of confusion: What happened to Felix Steiner? Did Törni, Korpela and Sarasalo meet him at Pritzwalk?
Well, it turns out that it wasn’t at Pritzwalk, but the meeting itself might just be a real possibility. Tucked away innocently inside Joachim Schultz-Naumann’s apparently vastly underrated book, there’s the answer to all the earlier discussions on military forums:

In the last days of April 1945, I was in the small town of Stolpe, not far from Ludwigslust.
General Steiner, in whose units I had participated in the Russian campaign, had fallen out of favour with Hitler. He was deprived of command of his troops. He was a free man, so to speak. An adjutant and two orderly officers were graciously left to him, one of whom was me.
The war was coming to an end with giant strides, and Steiner had only one goal, namely to achieve that the troops in the area north of Berlin could move into the territory of the Western powers shortly before the end of the war, so as not to remain on the Russian side under any circumstances.
How this could best be done was discussed in a hundred talks, but the implementation always seemed uncertain. The decision came sooner than expected. In our quarters in Stolpe we heard the news of Hitler’s death in Berlin on the night of 1 May. The way to a quick decision came the very next morning: we received a call from the commandant’s office in Ludwigslust, which suddenly ended with the words: I have to hang up now, the Americans are coming in. Steiner said to me, „So, now you have to do it. If I know anything about people, the commander, whether he’s a Yank or a Tommy, will take up quarters in your castle, that’s where you have to go.“

The writer of these lines was Friedrich Franz von Mecklenburg, the nominal heir apparent to the throne of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Steiner’s adjutant.

Apart from me, two officers were sent there. At the entrance to the town of Ludwigslust, oversized white signs were set up on both sides of the road, white cloths, stretched square. We had to stop there, the belt and pistol were taken off, and after a short conversation we were loaded into a jeep and two cowboy-like figures drove us into the town. In the middle of town, near the Hotel Fürst Blücher, a lone American soldier in a worn camouflage suit, without a badge, was seen on the street. „That’s the general“ we were instructed, whereupon he got into another jeep and shouted, „Follow me to the Schloss.“
The arrival at the castle was impressive and unforgettable, for the steward and other employees of the house were standing in the doorway as if by chance, as they so often did to welcome my parents.
We went up to a room on the first floor [=second floor by US measuring], where you usually gathered with guests before dinner.
The conversation could begin. But the first words, in English on our side, were immediately interrupted harshly: „You speak German, not English, the interpreter is translating“.
So the unequal interlocutors were: on one side, three more or less minor German officers – and opposite, the victor, General James M. Gavin, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in the Montgomery Army Section.
An attempt was now made to make the general understand what we actually wanted. The goal was a conversation between the commander of the 21st Army, General v. Tippelskirch, and General Gavin about the „insertion“ of the German troops behind the American lines. Of course, it had to be made clear: a surrender if necessary, yes, but at the same time, if possible, not to the Russians.
Gavin was initially extremely cool and insisted on the „unconditional surrender“, which we were of course aware of. But we gradually succeeded in getting his absolute agreement to the meeting with Tippelskirch.

It would appear Steiner’s part in the proceedings has been largely overlooked, to the point where he disappears completely from the records until his arrival at a British POW camp. Though von Mecklenburg states that the meeting between Tippelskirch and Gavin took place a few days later, Tippelskirch surrendered his army formally at 8 p.m. on 2 May (the day of von Mecklenburg’s meeting with Gavin).

General der Infanterie Kurt von Tippelskirch, commander of the Twenty-first Army, complied that afternoon, contacting General Gavin, commander of the 82d Airborne Division, in Ludwigslust. Tippelskirch surrendered his command unconditionally, though in deference to the Russians, Gavin specified that the capitulation was valid only for those troops who passed through Allied lines. […] The next day, 3 May, Tippelskirch himself entered an enclosure of the 82d Airborne Division along with some 140,000 other Germans of the Twenty-first Army […].
(http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-E-Last/USA-E-Last-19.html)

Of course, Steiner wasn’t left with just three officers, he still had the remnants of his ragtag Armeegruppe with him which, from von Mecklenburg’s account, he might or might not have surrendered as part of the 21st Army. Tippelskirch’s (and perhaps Steiner’s) men were interned in a hastily established camp on a field west of Ludwigslust. Now, there were several POW camps in the neighbouring villages; in fact, the entire region of Mecklenburg must have been dotted with those smaller (but daily growing) camps, and I’m not surprised the western Allies finally consolidated them in one huge assigned area in Holstein. (Mecklenburg fell under Soviet rule in summer 1945.)
But remember Steiner’s words about leading his men personally across the Elbe and Elde? Well, it turns out Dömitz is still not out of the running! An employee at the town archive of Ludwigslust who really went out of her way to help with my search for Felix Steiner dug up a source I hadn’t considered: The memoir of Christian Ludwig von Mecklenburg-Schwerin, younger brother of Friedrich Franz.

On the way back from the castle to the small village [Stolpe], he [Friedrich Franz] was captured by American soldiers. Therefore he did not take part in the surrender by General von Tippelskirch, which was signed the next day at my father’s desk in Ludwigslust Castle. He was sent to a prison camp near Dömitz on the Elbe and some time later to the far bank in British captivity […].
(Christian Ludwig Herzog zu Mecklenburg: Erzählungen aus meinem Leben)

So the negotiator was captured, but what about his boss?
Thanks to the phenomenal experts on Forum der Wehrmacht, I learned that the place of Steiner’s capture is named as „Golbosen“ in A. Stephan Hamilton’s The Oder Front 1945. Such a place does not exist. It is either Gorlosen south of Ludwigslust or Gorleben on the far side of the Elbe. The first option sounds more probable, both in name and in terms of travelling distance, but either way it would be incredible if Steiner had indeed managed to get that far without being captured.

There is still the matter of the last photograph of Steiner and von Mecklenburg taken before their captivity (at least that’s what the caption says) that someone had posted on Forum der Wehrmacht. Try as I might, I was unable to pinpoint the street where it was taken (possibly it was redeveloped later), but I finally had success with the photographer. Dorothy Anne „Dottie“ Davis was a Red Cross helper attached to the 82nd Airborne Division and present when the 82nd liberated Wöbbelin concentration camp near Ludwigslust on 2 May 1945.
But after all that I’ve learned, the photo’s caption is completely wrong. The persons depicted appear to be correct, but I had already dismissed a whole chunk of the caption. It reads: „Gen. Steiner and Prince of Mecklenburg before arrest in Berlin May“, probably 1945, but the rest is cut off in the scan. Well, history tells us that Steiner wasn’t in Berlin in May ’45, and the buildings in the photo are clearly not Berlin houses. So it might be Stolpe, if Hamilton’s source is incorrect and von Mecklenburg led his captors to his superior officer. Or it might be Wöbbelin, where Steiner and von Mecklenburg were reunited after their individual capture. The civilian population was ordered to tour the concentration camp after its liberation, and some sources mention that captured German officers were made to do the same. So why not Steiner and von Mecklenburg? It would absolutely make sense: The dead from the concentration camp were buried on the lawn of Ludwigslust Castle where they still rest today, in a very public place. To have von Mecklenburg as both a member of the ducal family in whose neighbourhood the camp was set up as well as a member of the German armed forces (his family actually disinherited him because of his Nazi ties) and Felix Steiner as a Waffen-SS general see the atrocities perpetrated by the regime they, as military men, had upheld, seems exactly the sort of thing Gavin would have ordered. It would also explain Dottie Davis‘ presence. That would mean that the picture was taken after Steiner’s and von Mecklenburg’s capture but before their long-term internment.

It also means that Steiner’s words about leading his soldiers across Elde and Elbe were either meant literally, as in crossing the Elbe to Gorleben and later back again toward, say Lübeck, or figuratively (some crossed the Elde, some the Elbe). As von Mecklenburg noted, „Steiner had only one goal, namely to achieve that the troops in the area north of Berlin could move into the territory of the Western powers“. If Steiner, as Himmler criticized, considered his present and former units „his troops“ and therefore his responsibility, it makes sense.

From all this, it becomes clear that Steiner wasn’t anywhere near Pritzwalk at the beginning of May 1945. Did Törni and his companions actually meet him? It is possible. As Steiner had established his headquarters at Stolpe in the last days of April, they might have learned of it and gone there. But it would appear, although Steiner offered to keep them as guards at HQ, if Sarasalo is to be believed, they were still eager to see some action. They moved on south-eastwards, meeting the advancing Red Army near Pritzwalk on 2 May.
Now, there is almost no information on the fighting itself. For various reasons, as I see it, hardly anybody has bothered to tell the story of the day when the Red Army marched into Pritzwalk. There is one long out-of-print publication by Kurt Schein, Und dann war kein Krieg mehr: Das Ende in Pritzwalk, that I cannot get my hands on, which may or may not include some helpful hints. But Forum der Wehrmacht came to the rescue again with a mix of local knowledge and family history.

In the first days of May, parts of the 4th SS Police Division* drove with armoured reconnaissance vehicles through Pritzwalk in the direction of Wittenberge. In addition, of course, there were huge numbers of scattered Wehrmacht units.
The bulk of the Russian assault groups came from Berlin via Kyritz and moved in the direction of Wittenberge in order to cut off the escaping Wehrmacht units from the Elbe.

Here they stayed on the main roads with tank spearheads and refrained from a broad approach. A coherent resistance was actually no longer expected. In Kyritz, a bridge was blown up to stop the Russian tanks. At a water level of 50-75 cm, they simply drove through the river next to the bridge.

From the Trappenberg near Pritzwalk, the first Russian spearheads coming from Kyritz were fired upon with a machine gun before an immediate retreat.
Very heavy fighting took place in the Wittenberge area. Here, especially the still more or less intact SS units offered stiff resistance to secure the crossing to the other side. The ammunition finds in the Prignitz, which are still abundant today, clearly show that here they only relieved themselves of all ballast in order to retreat more quickly.

At the same time Russian tank spearheads were approaching Pritzwalk from the direction of Wittstock. The SS police units came from the same direction some distance ahead.
At the monastery of Heiligengrabe there was a fierce battle between SS and Russian tank units. As a result, the monastery library went up in flames.

An old army road ran from Wittstock via Heiligengrabe, Wilmersdorf, Alt Krüssow, Beveringen, Kemnitz to Pritzwalk. However, this was only a better service road. Relying on old maps, the Russian tanks marched in single file along this army road. This gave the SS units a good and safe lead, since they used the better country roads.

In anticipation of the Russian invasion, white flags had already been hung in my grandparents‘ village of Alt Krüssow. The SS police units took this as an opportunity to make a brief stop. The commanding officer went to the villagers and angrily said, „Take down the flags, the Russians aren’t here yet.“ Shortly afterwards, however, they were gone again.
In the evening, probably around 7 p.m. on 2 May, the Russian T-34s came into the village via the Heerestraße. In the evening at 8 p.m., the tanks rolled over the provisional tank barriers in Pritzwalk.
(https://www.forum-der-wehrmacht.de/wcf/index.php?user/5158-sg-maik/)

This, without doubt, is the fighting that Törni, Korpela and Sarasalo were involved in. And here, perhaps, is finally the explanation of the Steiner mystery: The 4th SS Police Division had been part of the 11th Panzer Army commanded by Steiner, and parts of it were probably then attached to Steiner’s Armeegruppe. It would appear the three Finns indeed succeeded at meeting „Steiner’s troops“, not Steiner himself, „at a road junction“ and joined up with them. Maybe the 4th even had headquarters of some sort to which Törni and his companions were assigned, and the whole story about Steiner was just a result of poor language skills and misunderstanding. It would certainly fit with both Törni’s and Sarasalo’s account that the fighting near Pritzwalk took place very shortly after they were being assigned to HQ guard.

The front had suddenly moved under Russian pressure and [Törni] and Korpela had decided to leave the vicinity of the front, but at [Pritzwalk] they had come into combat with Russian troops and the latter had broken through the German front, but [Törni] and his comrade had managed to escape through the woods.

Törni and Korpela, but most of all the captured Sarasalo were actually very lucky, as evidenced by Sarasalo’s own account („Sarasalo watched as a Russian officer demanded that a German sergeant tear off his SS emblems. The German refused, and he along with 20 other German soldiers were pulled aside and machine-gunned“) and by the user on Forum der Wehrmacht:

Until the fall of communism, many individual graves of German soldiers were found in the woods between Pritzwalk and Wittstock. Prisoners were probably not taken in the last phase and every soldier was shot on the spot.
In the past few years, the soldiers have been reburied.

One of these young soldiers who was shot was a 17-year-old who had wandered into the village after becoming separated from his unit. The inhabitants wanted to hide him, but he wanted to return to his homeland of Saxony. He went into the forest and tried to pull a bicycle off one of the Russian trucks that had been piled up there en masse. He didn’t get far. As far as we know, they used him for target practice.


* One unit of the 4th that has been explicitly named is the Schirmer Brigade. (Wilhelm Tieke: Das Ende zwischen Oder und Elbe)


Introduction

Part 1

Outtake: Felix Steiner

Outtake: The Goliath POW camp

Part 3

Outtake: Odds and loose ends

Outtake: Riikka Ojanperä, and a visit from the beyond

More Törni-related blog content:

„Alles, was ich getan habe, geschah zum Wohle meines Landes.“

Operation Swift Strike III

Recovering the remains

Lauri Törni in Germany 1945 – Outtakes: The Goliath POW camp at Kalbe

From the end of April 1945 until 1 July 1945, the fenced-in area of the Goliath transmitter served as a prison camp for German soldiers who were captured by the Americans. About 85,000 Germans are said to have lain here on the meadow grounds. Conditions in the camp were catastrophic, especially in the early days. There was no food, only some water; nettles and sorrel were delicacies. A few still had their „iron ration“ or some crispbread. Only gradually were small quantities given out. Potatoes and bread were brought in from all over the area, but with so many prisoners there was little for the individual.
It was reported that women from the surrounding villages went to the Goliath with handcarts full of mashed potatoes or turnips, often with a small child by the hand. Many simply wanted to help, and some of them usually had their father, husband, brother, son or uncle in mind. It was a case of, if I help here, maybe someone will also help my loved ones wherever they are. Solidarity was very important at that time.
Great care was taken to maintain hygiene. If this was not observed, the meagre daily rations were withheld. The first step was delousing in Red Cross tents, which was sometimes repeated several times. Latrines were set up for each section (100 men), which were about two spade holes wide, about half a metre deep and several metres long. After defecation, the latrine had to be covered immediately with earth. Later, chlorinated lime was given out to cover it. […] A German camp police was responsible for ensuring that these measures were observed. In this way, contagious diseases were largely avoided. Since most of the prisoners no longer had tents, they had to lie under the open sky. All the bushes and trees that still existed inside the camp fence had disappeared within a short time. They served as a base when lying down or as firewood.
Former SS soldiers were guarded separately behind barbed wire. Although the mood in the camp was not rosy for most prisoners, there were some who recorded camp life or wrote poems about it. During his internment, a trumpeter blew his bugle from the transmitter mast every evening at 10 p.m. for the last post. […]
As early as mid-May, labour crews were formed, which were mainly deployed in agriculture in the surrounding villages, this also served to better supply the prisoners with food.
At the same time the release began, the prisoners were brought in groups of 200 men to the release camp at the Kalbenser Trocknung. Since the release of the prisoners until 1 July 1945 could not be guaranteed, a few days before this date the transport of most of the prisoners began in long columns in open or tarpaulin-covered trucks, in day and night operations in the direction of Lower Saxony (British occupation zone). On 1 July 1945, Soviet soldiers and officers moved into Kalbe, also occupied the Goliath compound and took over the remaining prisoners. Some prisoners had voluntarily remained in the camp, wishing to be released into the Russian occupation zone. Documents exist according to which the last prisoners were not released until the beginning of September 1945.
(http://www.kalbe-milde.de/gol.php?pid=gol_4.php)

It has to be said that the Goliath camp was, all in all, exemplary for the times. Food was scarce in all POW camps, not to mention for most of the civilian population throughout Europe. The fact that the locals were allowed to provide the prisoners with food was not a given; in some other camps, they were actually turned away by the guards.
Conditions in POW camps depended to a large extend on who was running them, and also where they were situated. Goliath camp sat squarely in rural German territory, and apparently the US authorities in charge played firmly by the rules. They were not vicious or vindictive toward their charges – a marked difference to, for example, some camps on the western border of Germany or in formerly occupied countries. The food and housing situation was the same everywhere as there simply weren’t enough facilities to hold the huge number of POWs. Infrastructure had been destroyed. Cities lay in ruins. Considering the massive problems facing the occupying forces, the authorities at Goliath did everything right. They made use of all resources to provide food; they paid attention to hygiene; and they were quick to realise that sending the prisoners out to work was actually the only solution making sense: Why would you keep tens of thousands of hungry, bored men in cramped conditions when they could help on the surrounding farms where hands were badly needed? Again, I cannot help but draw comparisons to other, infamous camps where the prisoners were left for months to basically starve instead of either putting them to work or letting them go free so they could at least provide their own food and help with the rebuilding. That was either a result of bureaucracy, incompetence, or vindictiveness.
The Goliath authorities were also way ahead of the terms of the Geneva Convention by starting to release their prisoners in May 1945. (It probably had to do with the upcoming transfer of jurisdiction for the area to Soviet authorities.) The latest date of release, September 1945, was still early compared to many other camps, not only Soviet-, but also Western Allied-run ones from where soldiers did not return until more than one, two, five, or in extreme cases ten years after the war’s end.

Photographs: James M. Longacre

As for the Goliath transmitter itself: Before it was dismantled, it was one of the most important radio transmitters in Germany, and there’s even a Törni connection.

With the transmitter, named „Goliath“ because of its size and technical complexity, fixed radio stations of the countries allied with Germany at the time could be reached safely and at any time.
For example, it was used for the Berlin-Tokyo connection because of its constant and absolute operational reliability and was involved in radio communication with the German embassies abroad.
However, it is best known for its radio communication with German submarines on all the world’s oceans. […]
Due to the aforementioned properties of the longitudinal waves, the submarines were able to receive transmissions at shallow depths even under water.
[…] In total, the navy had six main and five reserve transmitters during the war, which broadcast on longitudinal waves. The „Goliath“ was by far the most powerful.
(Friedrich-Wilhelm Schulz: „Funksendestellen in der Altmark“, in Altmark-Blätter, Vol. 10, no. 15 (1999))

So the submarine that brought Törni and Korpela to Germany in the first place possibly utilised Goliath.


Introduction

Part 1

Outtake: Felix Steiner

Part 2

Part 3

Outtake: Odds and loose ends

Outtake: Riikka Ojanperä, and a visit from the beyond

More Törni-related blog content:

„Alles, was ich getan habe, geschah zum Wohle meines Landes.“

Operation Swift Strike III

Recovering the remains

Lauri Törni in Germany 1945 – Outtakes: Felix Steiner (1896-1966)

Regard your soldiers as your children,
and they will follow you into the deepest battles.
Look upon them as your own beloved sons,
and they will stand by you even until death.

Sun Tzu: The Art of War

 

Felix Steiner was indeed a figure well known to Finnish SS volunteers, having commanded the SS Division Wiking, as part of which the Finnish SS battalion had fought. At this point, however, Steiner was no longer the commander of either the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Army Corps, which was made up mainly of foreign SS volunteers, or the 11th SS Panzer Army. Instead, on 21 April 1945, Steiner had taken command of the newly created Army Detachment (Armeeabteilung) Steiner. This was a group of hastily assembled understrength units intended to launch a light offensive against the Soviet forces of Zhukov’s 1st Belorussian Front in order to liberate Berlin from the blockades. However, Steiner, who had his command post near Eberswalde, north-east of Berlin, soon found that he did not have the troops or the armament to carry out the ambitious operation he had planned. Hitler realised the next day that Steiner would not follow the orders he had received.
(Juha Pohjonen & Oula Silvennoinen: Tuntematon Lauri Törni)

Felix Steiner, by all accounts, was revered by his men, and he cared for them. This is perhaps best reflected by the fact that Steiner later wrote two books trying to clear the name of the Waffen-SS and was working on a third (about his beloved Division „Wiking“) when he died in 1966. Whatever else might be said about Steiner and the Waffen-SS, it would appear that at least to his own men, Steiner was a good and considerate commander. If the story of Törni, Korpela and Sarasalo meeting Steiner on their journey toward Berlin is true, they would probably have been made welcome, both with quiet admiration for their foolhardy bravery and a bit of fatherly advice. „That fight is lost, lads. Better come westward with us.“ Offering them a place in his guard was perhaps his attempt of keeping them safe; however, it is equally possible that once he realised how determined they were to fight the Soviet advance, he would have sent them on, maybe even with some men – the prevailing rumour of a „unit“ under Törni’s command. Somebody had to try to hold the line in the east, after all, to allow as many soldiers and civilians as possible to escape to the western Allies.

As ordered, the 300 men lined up as the commander’s car drove up. And then he arrived, our revered „Felix“, as we all called him. After a warm welcome of the whole group, he walked down the ranks to greet everyone personally and say a few words to them. Then he was with me. I make my report. Steiner asks about unit, and being wounded, when and where. […]
Then he said to both of us: „After this, both of you get your luggage and go to my car.“ We can hardly believe it, our revered division commander wants to take us personally to the 13th [Company]. – Well, they’ll be in for a surprise! […]
We collected our luggage and reported to the Oberscharführer, who was driving the Gruppenführer’s Kübelwagen. Together we stowed what little luggage we had, but we didn’t dare get into the Kübel. Then Steiner came with a group of officers who took him to the car. Then to us: „What are you standing around for? Get in the car, I’m taking you to division headquarters as my bodyguard, there you can recuperate for a while.“ We were speechless, I quickly jumped into the car, Werner with his knee wasn’t so quick, the commander saw it and held the car door open for him!
(Günter Adam: „Ich habe meine Pflicht erfüllt!“)

It sounds trite to say that he was like a father to his soldiers, but if this could be said of any officer, it could be said of Felix Steiner! We idolised him and were blindly devoted to him. […]
When he reached me, his stern features lit up into a radiant smile. He had recognised me. And yet it had now been almost a year since I had taken part in a delegation of all ranks of the division that congratulated him at Narva on the occasion of his birthday. In the meantime, he had surely seen countless new faces and yet he recognised me. He called me by name! […] As if I belonged to his closest friends, he asked me the most personal questions, when I had last heard anything from home, how I had got through the last battles and whether I still felt comfortable in the comradeship of the Waffen-SS.
(Erik Wallin, quoted in Waldemar Schütz: General Felix Steiner)

It should be noted that I did not see our revered „Felix“ again until 1953 at the first meeting [of veterans] in Verden an der Aller. Steiner was standing on a street corner, elegantly dressed in a grey suit, surrounded by a circle of comrades. I thought it presumptuous to address him, but greeted him from a short distance. Steiner thanked me, looked at me, held out his hand and said, „Wait a minute, we know each other!“ – And before I could answer, his question came: „Guard unit, [under Unterscharführer] Surgau?“
(Günter Adam)

It’s easy to see how Steiner won the love and loyalty of his men. (In the words of Günter Adam: „We would let ourselves be torn to pieces for ‚our Felix‘.“) Of course, this did not endear him to his higher-ups.

[…] Steiner increasingly aroused the suspicion of Himmler and other senior SS leaders: Steiner had put too much focus on his own person and had seen the corps as his personal challenge, even speaking of „his troops“, Himmler disapproved. Likewise, the Reichsführer-SS knew about the constant mockery of his person in the casinos of the [Division] „Wiking“, which Steiner did not intervene against. SS-Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger, head of the SS-Hauptamt, summed up in July 1943 that Steiner „simply cannot be taught“.
(Chris Helmecke: „Der Sturmsoldat“, in: Geschichte der Waffen-SS, Teil 4: 1945. Clausewitz Spezial)

Franz Riedweg recalled that stubborn, independent streak more nicely in his speech at Steiner’s funeral: „We all know that […] Felix Steiner has never been a convenient subordinate, and we openly state today that he has not always been the most convenient superior either.“ A trait that Steiner shared with a certain younger Finnish officer…

Steiner was also rather modern in his ideas of warfare which favoured well-trained teams assembled for specific tasks over large armies. Not quite special forces yet, but moving in that direction. There is a story about the first presentation of Steiner’s new style of combat to Hitler – who was bewildered, though impressed in the end.

[…] Steiner recognised that tactics which statically directed mass units in a war of material were bound to fail, whereas offensive operations by smaller, well-equipped assault battalions brought success. This experience shaped Steiner’s future thinking about military training. […] He placed great emphasis on shock troop training for his soldiers. Instead of barrack yard drills, the focus was on physically demanding combat exercises. […] „Sweat spares blood“ was Steiner’s motto; his goal was to develop a „storm trooper“ highly capable of fighting.
(Chris Helmecke)

One cannot help but feel Steiner would have done well in the US Army himself.
I wonder if Felix Steiner and Lauri Törni ever met after the war, especially in the late 1950s, when both were living in Bavaria. The chances aren’t great, but who knows? By some coincidence, they also died within less than a year from one another, Törni in October 1965, Steiner in May 1966.

Steiner’s grave (someone please correct me if I’m mistaken or just plain blind) appears to no longer exist by this point. It is still listed on Find A Grave, but when I went to Munich a few days ago, I could not find it on the plot named. There are a couple of new graves, and there are the broken foundations of where a headstone used to be. From the photos on Find A Grave, it could be the right place. (The bushes are taller now.) In absence of anything definitive, I chose to pay my respects there. I left some flowers – white and blue of course, the colours of both Finland and Bavaria! – and took one of the headstone shards as a memento.
Is it overkill, by the way, that the street that led me from the train station toward the cemetery is named Wikingerstraße?


Introduction

Part 1

Outtake: The Goliath POW camp

Part 2

Part 3

Outtake: Odds and loose ends

Outtake: Riikka Ojanperä, and a visit from the beyond

More Törni-related blog content:

„Alles, was ich getan habe, geschah zum Wohle meines Landes.“

Operation Swift Strike III

Recovering the remains

Lauri Törni in Germany 1945, Part 1: „I hesitate to get into the mess that is Felix Steiner.“

According to Törni’s own interrogation report, Cellarius had also suggested to Törni and Korpela that they should go to Norway, but „they had both refused to go there because they were determined to go the German front to fight with the German forces“. According to Törni, Cellarius had agreed to this and had written a letter of recommendation for them. Movement from Flensburg to the front was really happening in those days. The remaining major bases of the German Navy were in northern Germany, and the Navy still had thousands of men fit for the front. To help his Führer, who was surrounded in the Reich’s capital, the German naval commander, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, sent a total of more than 10,000 naval troops armed only with small arms and infantry on 19 and 25 April towards Berlin. […] It is possible that Törni’s departure from Flensburg actually took place, as he himself had said, at the head of a detachment of „marines“ sent to battle. Törni certainly had solid infantry combat experience. But it is difficult to imagine how a man with no knowledge of the language could have led his German subordinates in any meaningful way. It seems that, although the departure may have been nominally at the head of a military unit, Törni and his men soon split up.
(Juha Pohjonen & Oula Silvennoinen: Tuntematon Lauri Törni)

Lauri Törni had been with Sonderkommando Nord since January 1945, first at Heringsdorf, then at Mürwik (home of the Naval School), a district of Flensburg. It was his second stay in Germany, after 1941 when he travelled there as part of the „Freiwilligen Nordost“ (Volunteers North-East) which were integrated into Waffen-SS Division „Wiking“, thus technically making Törni a member of the Waffen-SS, even though he never took part in any fighting with „Wiking“ and returned to Finland after only a few weeks. It is important to keep in mind, however, that he still not only got the uniform and rank to go with his Waffen-SS membership but also the telltale tattoo of his blood type on the inside of his left upper arm.

Through the connections made during that time he was able to return to Germany in 1945 and work with SS/Gestapo-run Sonderkommando Nord until operations fell apart along with Nazi reign.
That part of Törni’s second stay in Germany was uneventful and has been described fairly accurately by his biographers – though I highly recommend Pohjonen and Silvennoinen’s book for all the important background information that other authors have conveniently left out. Perry Biddiscombe’s The SS Hunter Battalions also gives a good overview of the operation (and is available in English).
However, it is Törni’s time after Sonderkommando Nord that still remains a mystery, and I am grateful to Juha Pohjonen and Oula Silvennoinen for clearing at least part of a path through the jungle of contradictory, highly imaginative accounts.

So when did Törni leave Flensburg? According to Heimo Ropponen’s account, the departure took place as early as 24 April. Niilo Lappalainen, on the other hand, says that he met Törni after his departure at Flensburg railway station on 27 April 1945. […] For a few more days there was a German-controlled corridor from Flensburg towards the capital. Western Allied troops were still behind the Elbe. In the east, Konstantin Rokossovsky’s 2nd Belorussian Front had begun its attack across the Oder on 20 April. By 27 April, the Soviet forces had only managed to capture Stettin at the mouth of the Oder and advance to the Prenzlau-Angermünde plain north-east of Berlin. On the very next morning, 28 April, Soviet armoured columns entered Neubrandenburg and the breakthrough began to expand rapidly. […] Berlin itself was surrounded, but there was still a wide corridor leading towards the city and the Red Army that surrounded it, via Lübeck, Schwerin, Ludwigslust and Pritzwalk. And it was into this corridor that Törni, Korpela and Sarasalo were now also pushed on their way to the „Eastern Front“, which was surging westwards at an accelerating rate.
Soon afterwards, the corridor closed behind Törni and his companions. On 29 April, the British attack from the bridgehead east of the Elbe quickly led to a deep breakthrough. By 2 May, Lübeck, Schwerin and Wismar were in Allied hands […].
In two different works, Kari Kallonen and Petri Sarjanen present two different accounts of the end of the war for Törni. The earlier one is based on Ali Alava’s book Erikoisosasto Pohjoinen, and on the memoirs of an eyewitness, former SS-Untersturmführer Juhani Sarasalo. The later version also relies on the memoirs of former SS volunteer Kalevi Rantanen and Niilo Lappalainen’s description of the incident, published in 1998. Rantanen has nothing new to tell us about Törni’s life. In this respect, the description is based on the work of Niilo Lappalainen, who was himself an eyewitness to the events, which in turn is also based on Sarasalo’s account. Sarasalo is apparently the last of all those interviewed for the book to have a first-hand observation of Törni, and Lappalainen’s account, based on his description, must therefore be regarded as the most authentic.
In Lappalainen’s description, Törni, suffering from a lack of activity, began to miss the front in the late days of April 1945. The intention was to try to join the SS Division Steiner, commanded by SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner, former commander of SS Division Wiking. After receiving permission, Törni and Solmu Korpela set off for the final European battle of the Second World War […]. On 3 May 1945, they succeeded in meeting Steiner’s troops and were assigned to his headquarters‘ guard. Shortly afterwards, contact was made with advancing Soviet troops and their tanks at Pritzwalk, north-west of Berlin. In the ensuing clash, the guard unit is broken up and Törni and Korpela disappear from the last witness.
(Juha Pohjonen & Oula Silvennoinen)

Six days later, at a road junction in northern Germany, Thorne, Korpela, and Sarasalo finally found Steiner. However, just as they were being assigned to a headquarters‘ guard unit, a lead party of the Soviet advance came into view. In the confusion that followed, Sarasalo was separated from Thorne and Korpela and taken prisoner. Sarasalo watched as a Russian officer demanded that a German sergeant tear off his SS emblems. The German refused, and he along with 20 other German soldiers were pulled aside and machine-gunned. Sarasalo escaped that night and eventually made his way to Hamburg and from there back to Finland.
(J. Michael Cleverley: Born a Soldier)

While I don’t think Sarasalo got the date right (we’ll come to that in a moment), it is exactly the scene after his capture that makes me pretty certain his account is all in all correct. I’ve come across incidents just like that numerous times in my past and present research.

So if we take the information given by Törni himself and Niilo Lappalainen about the last military expedition of Törni, Korpela and Sarasalo as the most authentic that can be said about Törni’s movements, it seems that Törni left Flensburg only on 27 April and then headed along the still open corridor, not towards the Western Allies, but towards Berlin, which was still fighting. On the roads of northern Germany, there were masses of refugees with their packs, carts and bicycles, as well as military columns of exhausted men who had lost their will to win and their will to fight, often wounded, without weapons, ammunition or vehicles. Crushing, overwhelming numbers of foes awaited both in front and behind, the skies threatened by total Allied air superiority. […] Perhaps it was indeed, mainly by lucky chance, that Törni met the westward retreating Steiner in the early days of May in the area north-west of Berlin still under German control. […] [Törni] himself gave a very mild account of his activities in the last days of the war to a State Police interrogator: After receiving German military uniforms and arms, they had searched for a long time for General Steiner’s headquarters. The front had suddenly moved under Russian pressure and [Törni] and Korpela had decided to leave the vicinity of the front, but at [Pritzwalk] they had come into combat with Russian troops and the latter had broken through the German front, but [Törni] and his comrade had managed to escape through the woods. After walking for several days, they were captured by American paratroopers near Hagenaun […] on 3 May.
(Pohjonen & Silvennoinen)

And here we have several contradictions. Pohjonen and Silvennoinen identified two possible places as „Hagenaun“, Hagenau near Kalbe or Hagenow in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, of which they consider the latter the more likely candidate, and after looking at the map I agree. For:

[…] Törni and Korpela were taken into the custody of the British POW system. According to an interrogation report given by Törni to the Finnish State Police, they had been held in a prisoner-of-war camp of about 5,000 prisoners for two and a half weeks before being transferred to Lübeck. Fortunately, both were dressed in standard German [=Wehrmacht] uniform and could not therefore be identified as SS members.
(ibd.)

Hagenau/Kalbe lay firmly in the path of the US Army, with no British units anywhere near. Hagenow, however, was more or less situated in the territory of the British 2nd Army. So if Törni and Korpela had surrendered to US paratroopers (Pohjonen and Silvennoinen name the 82nd Airborne Division, „which by the evening of 2 May was in the Ludwigslust area“, as a possible unit), they would probably have been handed over to the British. Also, for any Finn trying the get home, the north-western route via Hagenow would make much more sense than the south-western route via Hagenau. However, there is a slight twist to that, to which I will return later.

Now. 3 May 1945 appears to have been a busy day, and that’s where I ran into problems. To recap: On 3 May, according to Sarasalo, our Finnish volunteers met Steiner, but a Soviet attack scattered them again. Sarasalo was taken prisoner but managed to escape that night. Törni himself, in the interrogation report quoted by the authors, does not say that he actually met Steiner (even though that claim was made by later biographers). Instead, after the skirmish with the Red Army, he and Korpela walked „for several days“ before being captured by US paratroopers on 3 May. This clearly does not fit together.
So, what could be easier than looking up what Steiner was doing on 3 May?
Turns out, his story of the last days of the war is just as confusing and contradictory as Törni’s!

Excerpt from SS Elite, volume 3:
„…What was left of Steiner’s Army surrendered on 3rd May 1945 to the 2nd British Army, and Steiner became a prisoner-of-war.
(https://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=229298)

*****

I am researching to the question which US-troops captured SS-General Steiner ? Does anyone has a serious source for it? I am thinking that it should be elements of the Ninth Army.

[…]

Here it stated that Steiner surrendered to US-units near the river Elbe. Does anyone have more detailed informations? [=“Am 3. Mai 1945 geriet er an der Elbe in amerikanische Gefangenschaft, aus der er am 27. April 1948 entlassen wurde.“ (http://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de/Personenregister/S/SteinerF-R.htm) ]

[…]

[Link to http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_steiner_felix.html =“Steiner surrendered to the British at Lueneburg on 3 May.“]

[…]

Well Lueneburg is near the Elbe. […]
So it may have been he negotiated with US command but the actual unit he personally surrendered to was British. […]
I may have gotten that reversed Lueneburg spelled with an umlauted u appears to be in Montgomery’s general area and Dempsey’s in particular.

[…]

I am thinking you´re right. Steiner planned to become in contact with Montgomery´s post and so I guess it make sence that he tried to surrender at Lüneburg. Montgomery was at the beginning of may 1945 there.
The map is very interesting ! although I didn´t understand it completely. That´s why it makes the map so interesting: there´s a dashed arrow from the Ninth army dated 19th of April in northeast direction, crossing the river Elbe. It crossed the „British zone“ and this arrow leads just over the region of city Lüneburg. It seemed there was an assault of US-troops. It looks like 12th Army corps, right?

(http://ww2f.com/threads/ss-general-felix-steiner.71056/)

*****

Bezogen auf Felix Steiner – habt Ihr neuere Erkenntnisse zu seiner Gefangennahme am 3. Mai 1945? Bei welcher amerikanischen Einheit ist er in Gefangenschaft gegangen? Wo war er bis 1947 in Gefangenschaft?
Ich habe vor kurzem ein Foto entdeckt, dass kurz vor seiner Gefangennahme von Dotty Davis gemacht wurde. Dieses Bild ist aus einem privaten Fotoalbum, welches Jim Goodspeed aus Kansas abfotografiert hatte. Ich versuch nun eine besser Aufnahme zu bekommen. Auf dem Bild ist er mit seinem Adjudanten von Mecklenburg zu sehrn. Im Hintergrund sind Niedersachenhäuser zu erkennen. Es könnte eine Aufnahme im Süden Mecklenburgs sein bzw. im Wendland.

[…]

Wendland schliss ich aus. Ich denke aber das er zwischen Schwerin und Wittenberge gefangengenommen wurde. Also Prignitz.

(https://www.forum-der-wehrmacht.de/index.php?thread/50369-armee-abteilung-steiner/)

So, 3 May and Lüneburg are named most often, but looking at the discussions, there’s not a single official source listed. Steiner did end up in a British prisoner-of-war camp, that much is documented. The rest might be just speculation and hearsay. Did he surrender to British or US troops? When? Where? The supposed 3 May surrender at Lüneburg was probably confused with something entirely unconnected to Steiner, the German surrender at Lüneburg on 4 May.

It seemed Steiner was a dead end, at least for the time being. Back to the map, back to Pritzwalk and to Hagenow… or was it?
Now, for the non-German speakers among my readers, I need to insert a short lesson on how to pronounce the names in question here. Please bear with me, it’s important.
If you already know how to pronounce „Lauri“ correctly (through, say, Sabaton, or because you’re Finnish), you can skip the first part. In German, as in Finnish, the combination „au“ is pronounced a long, open „ow!“ sound, like in English „now“ or „how“. -> Hagenau
The ending of quite a lot of place names, „-ow“, on the other hand, is pronounced „o“. -> Hagenow.
And this is where things get interesting. According to Törni’s interrogation report, he surrendered to US troops near „Hagenaun“. His interrogator certainly noted down the name from hearing it spoken, as in the case of „Britzvalk“. It’s highly doubtful he knew these places. So the less likely candidate for „Hagenaun“, little Hagenau near Kalbe, southwest and across the River Elbe from Pritzwalk, suddenly becomes the more likely candidate! Unless, of course, Törni never saw „Hagenow“ written and only heard it spoken by US/British troops in the English pronounciation. (This language thing gets more confusing by the minute.)
Realizing the possible importance of the au/ow endings, I looked into the end of the war at both places. There was nothing to be found on the small village of Hagenau, but the nearby town of Kalbe is a very different matter.
On the evening of 11 April 1945, US tanks rolled into Kalbe on their way to the bridge at Tangermünde, and a POW camp was established that, from the end of April to 1 July held about 85,000 prisoners (among them actor Theo Lingen). At the end of June, most prisoners were transferred to Lower Saxony in the British occupation zone. Now this was definitely interesting. So I got in touch with the person behind the website, and he wrote:

3 km north of Kalbe was the Goliath camp, about 80 – 85 000 prisoners. It is known that various nationalities were imprisoned there, Belorussians, Poles, Czechs and Austrians. There was even a group of about 300 members of the Wlassow Army (Russians) who were there because they had fought on the German side. I know nothing about Finns.
Hagenau is a small village about 10-12 km to the north, also near the Milde River.
Kalbe was occupied by the Americans in April, then in May everything was handed over to the British, only the Goliath camp remained in the hands of the Americans. There are many reports from former prisoners, but to my knowledge no Finn has been mentioned.

So were two lonely Finns in Wehrmacht uniforms simply overlooked amidst the masses of POWs? It is quite possible, but does not really tally with Törni’s story – if the report he gave to the Valpo was basically correct. As I understand it, most prisoners at the Goliath camp were scheduled to be released, even if only into British custody, up to 1 July (when Soviet troops took over the camp). Since that schedule was impossible to keep, the aforementioned transfer to Lower Saxony began during the last days of June. By 14 June 1945, however, Törni and Korpela were already in Flensburg, at the house of Georg Hayen, as documented in his guest book.

According to an interrogation report given by Törni to the Finnish State Police, [he and Korpela] had been held in a prisoner-of-war camp of about 5,000 prisoners for two and a half weeks before being transferred to Lübeck. […] In Lübeck, „the various nationalities had been dispersed to different parts of Germany“ and Törni and Korpela had ended up in the vast assembly area of Oldenburg. „The camp area had been extremely large,“ Törni said, „almost the whole province […] had been a prison camp, and there had been 4 or 5 million prisoners of war.“ Because of the vastness of the area, leaving the camp – escaping from prison – was not difficult.
(Pohjonen & Silvennoinen)

So it appears that Hagenow is the right place, after all; unless Törni and Korpela were at Goliath camp only for a short time before being transferred to Lübeck, which seems unlikely given the general operations of the camp.

Being none the wiser, I tried Felix Steiner again – that is, his book Die Armee der Geächteten (The Army of Outcasts). The problem with it, as expected, was that he wrote a book about the Waffen-SS, not an autobiography. As much as was humanly possible, he left himself out of it. His experiences of the last days of the war are not described in any more detail than can be found on Wikipedia and in military forums. Or so I thought. At least Steiner himself, in his CV at the end of the book, noted curtly that he went into British captivity on 3 May. Nothing about his surrender, nothing where or whom to, but at least it was something. And then I went back to the passage of him being stripped of his command for his refusal to relieve Berlin (or die trying), and I did a double-take. There it was, the clue: „This didn’t stop him [=Steiner] from […] personally leading the soldiers entrusted to him back across the Elbe and Elde towards the west.“
Now, I must confess I had never heard of a river called Elde before. Doing a quick Google search, I couldn’t believe my eyes. For the little map on Google’s short summary showed a section of the Elde running right past Ludwigslust (of the 82nd’s position), with Hagenow northwest of it. Did Törni and Korpela actually go west with Steiner and his men?
As usual, the answer is not that simple. Steiner clearly stated „across the Elbe and Elde“. The only place to reasonably cross both rivers within a short span of time is Dömitz. However, the two bridges across the Elbe had been destroyed on 20 April 1945. Either Steiner found a way to cross the Elbe there anyway, or his unit would have first crossed the Elde probably somewhere between Ludwigslust and Dömitz (if we take Pritzwalk as their starting point) and then crossed the Elbe further west of Dömitz. Which, if they made it far enough without running into Allied troops, actually put them right on course for Lüneburg.

So, if Törni and Korpela did accompany Steiner’s ragtag unit, they would most likely have left them after crossing the Elde and attempted to make their way north, towards home. Sarasalo managed it, after all. But they ran into US paratroopers, possibly of the 82nd, near Hagenow and were captured.

Of course, there’s always another possibility. What that is and how the wildest legends surrounding Törni’s last days of WW2 turned out to be surprisingly accurate in places, you’ll learn in Part 2!


Introduction

Outtake: Felix Steiner

Outtake: The Goliath POW camp

Part 2

Part 3

Outtake: Odds and loose ends

Outtake: Riikka Ojanperä, and a visit from the beyond

More Törni-related blog content:

„Alles, was ich getan habe, geschah zum Wohle meines Landes.“

Operation Swift Strike III

Recovering the remains