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Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death's Head Division, 1933-1945 Paperback – January 1, 1979

4.6 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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"Sydnor has managed to assemble a painstakingly detailed and annotated account that is at the same time an interest-holding horror story."--Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (January 1, 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691100756
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691100753
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,947,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Soldiers of Destruction is a scholarly examination of the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf, perhaps the most controversial of all the SS divisions. Charles Sydnor does an excellent job of tracing the origins of Totenkopf from its origins in the concentration camp system to crack fighting unit.
Perhaps the one personality who permeated the division was Theodor Eicke, the first commander of Totenkopf and its major personality whose influence was felt even after his death in combat in 1943. Eicke's struggles with Himmler and the Wehrmacht to gain respect and much needed supplies as well as the various machinations within Nazi Germany's hierarchy are well detailed. Eicke was to the Totenkopf what Sepp Dietrich was to the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler and Paul Hausser to the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich: a father figure revered and respected by his men, but also feared (Eicke often punished his men by sending them to the camps as inmates but made sure his men had enough rations and winter clothing in Russia).
The Totenkopf Division fought primarily on the Eastern Front and gained a reputation as steadfast in defense. While the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler and Das Reich divisions were the spearheads of the Waffen-SS and took the forefront in the attack, it was the Totenkopf that held the line in Russia and gained respect from notable army generals such as Erich von Manstein and Maximilian Von Weichs.
Even with its enviable reputation in battle, the Totenkopf was a unit of contradictions.
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With "Soldiers of Destruction", Sydnor has managed to write a military account of the infamous SS Death's Head Division that is both lively and engrossing. Sydnor delves into the history of the division, their actions in combat and their involvement in the concentration camp system. He does all this without getting bogged down in statistics (like so many other books on the Wermacht or SS). He does however, provide massive amounts of footnotes for those who wish to do further research.
The writing style is smooth and engaging, and I found myself completely engrossed in the book. My only complaint about "Soldiers of Destruction" is the heavy-hand Sydnor blankets over the Totenkopf Division. As you read along you'll find that Sydnor has a seemingly great amount of respect and awe for the fighting capabilities of the SS, but he almost always counters his praise with derogatory mention of their fanaticism and loyalty to National Socialist ideology; two factors that molded them into what they were. You get the sense he feels obligated to negate their achievements.
That aside, Sydnor does a great job of bringing the Division to life. You'll feel as though you know the commanders and soldiers personally.
The subject matter of this book is not for everyone. The SS Totenkopf Division personified Himmler's absolute ideal of the SS. It could be argued that they were the most politically indoctrinated of all the SS divisions. They were brutally efficient soldiers who were indifferent to hardship. Defeat was an unacceptable option for Totenkopf soldiers in combat. It is no wonder that on several occasions the division fought until almost total decimation. Victory of annihilation was the order of the day.
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Dr. Syndor presents us with what appears to be an academically honest, truthful account of the development of the SS Totenkopf division. He traces its indisputable origins from the concentration camp system into an elite Waffen SS combat Division.
Syndor captures the facts regarding the effect that Theodor Eicke had on creating the division from his hand picked staffs in the concentration system. Thus creating a combat division led and manned by individuals already hardened to cruelty to the "enemy behind the wire". Syndor presents a detailed account of Eicke's rise through the concentration camp system, his immense political connections, the origins of the Totenkopf division under Eicke's guidance.
The author is clearly impressed by the combat performance of the Waffen SS and the Totenkopf division in particular; however, he presents facts and adequate footnotes for anyone to investigate. The truth speaks for itself, the Waffen SS, with the esprit of the troops and the political indoctrination, were elite combat units. They fought at times to the last man and withstood hardships and casualty rates beyond what most other troops would endure. They also committed acts that carried the political will of the Fuhrer and the Reichsfuhrer SS to the occupied territories and the front.
This is NOT an apologist's book about the Waffen SS, nor does it state that every SS trooper was a criminal. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between. It does paint the SS and the Waffen SS as the criminal organizations that they were. It also details the combat performance of this elite combat unit. The last half of the book is sketchier on details of the Totenkopf's combat records, but this was due to the loss of many of those detailed records to the war waged upon Germany.
This is an excellent book, my only criticism is that it does not have enough photo's and statistics (specifically, after action reports).
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