Der Spiegel 12/21/2013

“Murder in the Crimea,” DER SPIEGEL, 12/21/2013

Professor Grimmer-Solem’s Holocaust scholarship discussed by the German news weekly DER SPIEGEL

Professor Erik Grimmer-Solem’s historical scholarship was discussed at length by Klaus Wiegrefe in a recent issue of Germany’s largest-circulation newsweekly, DER SPIEGELAs reported by the magazine, Prof. Grimmer-Solem uncovered evidence that a general currently honored as an anti-Nazi by the German Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) was involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity during the German invasion of Ukraine in 1941. In an article published in the prestigious military history journal Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Prof. Grimmer-Solem revealed the close cooperation between units of the Wehrmacht commanded by General Hans von Sponeck and the SS in atrocities committed against Jews in southern Ukraine and Crimea between June and December 1941. Currently, a German Air Force base in Germersheim and streets in Bremen and Germersheim have been named in honor of General von Sponeck. Memorials to him have likewise been erected in these and other cities in Germany.  DER SPIEGEL‘s investigations revealed that an internal inquiry about von Sponeck’s alleged war crimes was conducted by a major in the German Air Force in 2004 and found unambiguous evidence of these crimes, urging the Air Force to rename the base in Germersheim. This report was never made public and its recommendations were not followed by the German Ministry of Defense. DER SPIEGEL argues that the revelations by Prof. Grimmer-Solem open up an overdue debate about the appropriateness of honoring such compromised generals in the German military.

Professor Grimmer-Solem became interested in Hans von Sponeck because he has been celebrated as an example of moral courage: the general was court-martialed and imprisoned for his refusal to follow Hitler’s orders during a major Soviet counteroffensive on the Crimean peninsula in December 1941. Defying orders to stand his ground at all costs, General von Sponeck withdrew his troops from Kerch, thereby saving the lives of many thousands of his soldiers. Sponeck was sentenced to death for this act of disobedience but had his sentence reduced to imprisonment in the fortress prison Germersheim. There is also a personal connection: Prof. Grimmer-Solem’s own grandfather, Dr. Odd Solem, was a member of the Norwegian resistance who was arrested by the Gestapo during the German occupation of Norway in the summer of 1940. He and two other Norwegians were sentenced to death by a German military tribunal in August 1940 but also had their sentences reduced to prison terms in Germersheim. As it turned out, Sponeck and Solem became friends while in prison together between 1942 and 1944. While Sponeck was executed on orders of Heinrich Himmler following the failed assassination attempt on Hitler in July 1944, Solem and the other prisoners narrowly escaped an SS execution squad in April 1945 and survived the war. Prof. Grimmer-Solem had heard many stories told by family members about General von Sponeck, who was much admired for the kindness he had shown his grandfather and for his heroism. Curiosity about von Sponeck’s military career led Prof. Grimmer-Solem to a more detailed investigation of Sponeck’s actions during the invasion of the Soviet Union and then to the discovery of von Sponeck’s participation in war crimes.