Boek

Armando en Hans Sleutelaar

De SS’ers

Dutch Volunteers in the Second World War

If you want to study the enemy, you have to listen to him first

In May 1967, the publishing house De Bezige Bij – founded in 1942 by members of the Resistance – published The SS Men: Dutch Volunteers in the Second World War. The steel-grey cover and stark visual design emphasized the grim factuality of the subject matter: interviews with eight Dutch nationals who had joined the SS of their own free will. Their words were reproduced without commentary, as continuous statements.

This book remains one of the few publications, in the Netherlands or anywhere else, in which former SS members disclose their inner worlds to the general public. Unlike the postwar judicial proceedings – from the Nuremberg tribunals to the trial of Adolf Eichmann – where high-ranking Nazis had given false testimony in hopes of saving their skin, The SS Men presents the foot soldiers of fascism. The book provides a glimpse of the inner lives of Waffen-SS soldiers. That makes it an important work, but also a shocking one.

When it hit the shelves in 1967, it unleashed strong emotions among readers and reviewers. It was called ‘a dangerous book, because the SS volunteers have the opportunity to unload all the excuses they’ve thought up over the years.’ Critics also described it as ‘Nazi propaganda, pure and simple’ and ‘a book put together with skill but lacking in a sense of responsibility.’ But it was also recognised as a ‘sinister book that had to be published.’

But the book is also significant as an expression of the spirit of the sixties. In the cultural transformation of that decade, the book’s editors, Armando and Sleutelaar, played key roles. Their work as journalists was inspired by New Journalism, which blurred the boundaries between evocative literary sketches and documentary reporting. They had grown up with the war, and this reverberated in their adaptations of the interviews of former SS volunteers, which have a raw, horrifying poetic force.

In short, The SS Men marks the crossroads of the struggle with the impact of the Second World War, the cultural and artistic experiments of a new generation, and the historical study of the perpetrators of Nazism, the atrocities of the Second World War, and the persecution and genocide of European Jews. This encounter between the legacy of the Holocaust, sixties counterculture, and documentary history makes Voices of the SS a unique and disturbing literary creation.

Eight long as-told-to accounts. When it was first published in 1967, the book caused a storm of protest – people felt it gave the SS members being interviewed the chance to exonerate themselves. When you read the book, however, you will see that none of them were in it simply to whitewash their past. In fact, Armando and Sleutelaar’s curiosity – their main motivation for writing this book – serves as a correction of history.

Joost de Vries, author

21

Picture it: a battlefield with ten thousand dead bodies.
Russian and German.
Followed by a tank battle.
And when that tank battle’s over, and you have to cross one of those battlefields!…
What kind of chaos do you think you’d see there?
I don’t need to describe it for you.
If you kept thinking about that forever…
You can’t.
I saw it often enough. Tank assault. The wounded. The dead. Advance again. Through that sludge. You had to advance after all! You had to seek cover in that sludge of bodies! Do you understand? Sometimes you pulled a bunch of bodies together to serve as cover. You pulled three or four together and got down behind them. On the front that’s completely normal.

I’ve seen a lot of war movies since. If they really showed a war movie like it was in reality… we’d never have another war. But then they’d need to show movies like it is in a war. And not leave anything out. Then we’d never have another war. Nobody would want another war. Nobody! But they don’t show the reality. They can’t show it. They can’t!

I was in the Battle of Narva. A friend of mine died. Piet de W. He died close by me. I met someone else I knew there, someone who came from the same town as me. His brother was in the SS too. He lost an arm. Frozen off. That was in the rear at Narva.
About four days of attacks, then a tank assault. On the Russian and German sides, at least thirty thousand died during those assaults. Thirty thousand. In one battle.
When the tank assault came, nothing had been cleared away. Not the wounded either. They were still lying there. The Russian tanks were forced back, so you crossed the same battlefield again, where you’d just been. Because the Germans got the chance to force back the Russian tanks. So us infantry crossed again. That same battlefield, where the normal battle had been fought before. Imagine the chaos!

(Excerpt translated by David Colmer)

Vertalingen

Armando

Armando (1929-2018) was both a writer and one of the Netherlands’ most important post-war artists. Born in Amsterdam, he lived in Amersfoort during World War Two, growing up in the vicinity of the infamous Amersfoort concentration camp. By his own account, this kindled his enduring fascination…

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Hans Sleutelaar

Poet and journalist Hans Sleutelaar (1935-2020) was part of the ‘New Poetry’ movement. He co-founded the literary magazine gard sivik and its successor De Nieuwe Stijl, together with Cornelis Vaandrager, Hans Verhagen and Armando. In 2016 he was awarded the Anna Blaman Prize.…

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Details

De SS’ers (1967). Non-fictie, 474 pagina's.

Sample translation available

Ido de Haan, Professor of Political History at Utrecht University, has written an English introduction for an international readership.

Thema's: WOII

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