Herbert Maeger was a young Belgium young man going about his business when he was arrested and blackmailed for something his mother said about the German leadership. Arrested by the Gestapo he was pressed into service for the SS in 1941. Herbert was assigned to the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (German for “Adolf Hitler’s Bodyguard Regiment”) was a unit of the SS. It was a Waffen SS security and combat formation which saw action on both the Eastern and Western fronts during World War II. As its name suggested, the Leibstandarte started life in the early days of the NSDAP as Hitler’s personal, élite bodyguard. As the Waffen SS increased in size throughout the 1930s and into the war years, so the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler evolved into a full-sized panzer division, a detachment of which was always close to Hitler. It went from being “asphalt soldiers” to being one of the most famous military divisions of the war.
Herbert’s story goes into vivid detail on initial training with the SS, which was a harsh, iron sharpens iron, type of environment. His unit was sent to the front and performed like the elite unit everyone expected. He found his way to serve as a driver for his company commander as they saw action in Kharkov. He was transferred to the paramedics for training and sent to officer training. However, someone overheard a negative remark he made, and he was disciplined and assigned to the Penal Battalion, which was a unit of misfits, criminals, and cut throats. While serving here the unit survived the horror of the Halbe pocket. Herbert was captured by the Russians, placed in a prison of war camp and ended up performing medic duties. Herbert struggled through multiple imprisonments and releases that culminated in his search for his identity. Torn between choosing either German or Belgium alliances he ultimately chose Belgium but had to go through the court systems to clear his name.
Herbert’s story of service in the SS is a great portrayal of what it took to serve in that elite kind of unit and survive the battles, and then survive the end of the war. His is not a pleasant story but it is full of life, struggle, overcoming the odds and persevering so that he could live out the rest of his life in peace.
About the author. Herbert Maeger was born at Hergenrath/Eupen in Belgium on 10 November 1922. After release from Soviet captivity in late 1945 he settled in West Germany in the Rheydt area and began pre-clinical training. He obtained German citizenship on 21 June 1971. He was unable to return to Belgium for decades after the war, having been sentenced to life imprisonment in his absence by a military tribunal at Verviers on 19 February 1947 ‘for having borne arms against Belgium’s allies as a member of the Waffen-SS.
Book review by Christopher (Moon) Mullins