Book Review – Erwin Bartmann, Für Volk and Führer: The Memoir of a Veteran of the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, (Solihull, UK: Helion & Co., 2013)

Erwin Bartman’s 2013 autobiography covers his early life growing up in 1930s Nazi Germany and his subsequent service in the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LAH) during the Second World War. He joined the LAH in May 1941 and fought with the unit in the Soviet Union and France until he was wounded at the Battle of Kursk in Russia in July 1943. After that, he was an instructor at the LAH’s training and replacement battalion at Spreenhagen.

Bartman’s motivation to enlist in the LAH was a childhood dream. He recalled that ‘as I grew into my teenage years I watched with admiration Hitler’s personal body guard, the Liebstandarte, parade the streets of Berlin. Immaculate in their black uniforms and shining helmets, their ranks marched in precise step – a sight that made my boyish heart race’.[1] Both his parents were party members and were enthusiastic about what Hitler.[2] Finally, Bartman’s family was resolutely anti-communist who believing such people were ‘traitors and hooligans’.[3]

Bartman’s motivation to fight and cope with the stress of active service was shaped by a combination of factors. The LAH set firm norms that dictated his behaviour; Bartman said ‘a Leibstandarte man is trustworthy…He [would]…never steal from his Kamerarden. Loyalty and honour [were the]…guiding principles – at all times.’[4] One LAH men was shot trying to rape a peasant, his body, Bartman noted, ‘left to rot at the side of the road, the dead man was no longer one of us. It was a lesson that required no words of explanation’.[5]

Added to this, LAH officers and NCOs inspired their men and Bartmen and colleagues worked together in ‘small groups held together by immutable bonds of trust and confidence.’[6] Lastly, Bartman had a belief in a ‘guardian angel’ that kept him out of danger.[7]

Unit insignia for 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler

Bartman’s account does not deal with any criminal activity or war crimes committed by the LAH during his service. However, evidence suggests that the LAH had an unenviable record of war crimes.[8] For example, it is estimated that 5,000 prisoners of war were executed by the members of the Division during the war.[9]

The only incident that may be a possible war crime to which he refers is when LAH men were press ganged into hunting Jews down in Rostov on behalf of the SD [Gestapo]. He recalled that was the only incident of ‘dirty work’ that involved his comrades that he claimed to know about.[10] He does not consider the expulsion of Russian peasants from their houses into the cold Russian winter as a crime. He says that this action was ‘harsh’ but ‘they accepted it…without complaint’.[11] However it is highly probable that many of these peasants died from cold without the protection their homes provided them in the depths of winter.[12]

In May 1945, Bartmann was captured by the British and ended up in a POW camp in Scotland. After his release he settled in Edinburgh, marrying a local girl and becoming a baker.[13] While Bartmann fails to mention the war crimes of LAH men and their leaders, his account is refreshing in its honesty. He could not ‘cast aside memories of my youth and the time I spent as a soldier in the Liebstandarte. I look back with pride to the comradeship I shared with my fellow soldiers whose memory will stay with me until I die, a comradeship beyond the aimless youth of today.’[14] The value of the memoir is a portrait of an SS volunteer, their mindset, ideology and motivation.



[1] Erwin Bartmann, Für Volk and Führer: The Memoir of a Veteran of the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, (Solihull, UK: Helion & Co.,2013), p.10.

[2] Ibid., po.16, 17.

[3] Ibid., pp.11, 12.

[4] Ibid., p.29.

[5] Ibid., p.49.

[6] Ibid., pp.42, 125.

[7] Ibid., pp.46-47, 112.

[8] Tim Ripley, SS Steel Storm: Waffen-SS Panzer Battles on the Eastern Front 1943–1945. (Osceola, Wis/USA: MBI Publishing, 2000), p. 73. Susan Zuccotti, Holocaust Odysseys: The Jews of Saint-Martin-Vesubie and Their Flight through France and Italy (New Haven/USA: Yale University Press, 2007), p.123. Danny Parker, Fatal Crossroads: The Untold Story of the Malmédy Massacre at the Battle of the Bulge. (Cambridge, MA/USA: Da Capo, 2014), pp. 356-357.

[9] Howard Margolian, Conduct Unbecoming: The Story of the Murder of Canadian Prisoners of War in Normandy (Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 2010), p.14.

[10] Bartman, p.65.

[11] Ibid., p.74.

[12] See Alex J. Kay and David Stahel, ‘Crimes of the Wehrmacht: A Re-evaluation’, Journal of Perpetrator Research 3.1 (2020), pp.95–127.

[13] Bartmann, p.222.

[14] Ibid., p.223.