Dr. Franz Riedweg, the influential Swiss volunteer, presided over the Germanic office in the SS-High Command. After 1943, he served as a surgeon for III (Germanic) SS-Panzer Corps. (Credit: H.T. Nielsen)
Franz Riedweg was the most influential Swiss Nazi. He was the leader of the most prestigious SS assault unit in the country, mustered by Heinrich Himmler as a contingent of the Waffen SS political-military elite in occupied Europe.
For many years, Franz Riedweg was considered a traitor in Switzerland. From Berlin during World War II, he pulled the strings to establish a Swiss SS Germanic office. In his recently published book, A Swiss in the Service of the SS - Franz Riedweg 1907-2005, historian Marco Wyss shows that Riedweg, within the hierarchy of the SS, stood only two steps below Heinrich Himmler and enjoyed extensive powers granted him by his boss.
Riedweg was a hardened Nazi until his death. Among other things, he organized the recruitment and "training" of Waffen SS volunteers, an elite fighting corps of the squad called Schutzstaffel, known by the abbreviation SS in "Germanic" Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, France, the Baltics, Croatia, Hungary and Switzerland.
swissinfo.ch: As frontista* maintained very close relations with representatives of bourgeois right in Switzerland, notably Jean-Marie Musy, Rudolf Minger, Giuseppe Motta and Heinrich Walther, long one of the most influential of the Swiss political scene. Were they not aware of the import of their association with Nazism?
Marco Wyss: On the one hand, many bourgeois politicians were very right-wing, so they could understand the ideas of Riedweg. On the other hand, before 1938, some politicians were not aware of how far the Nazis were willing to go. After 1938, this excuse was not valid, of course.
The bourgeois politicians also used the frontistas for political majorities, especially in the context of the popular vote.
swissinfo.ch: Riedweg was the architect of the voluntary associations of the Waffen-SS, and was part of the political-military elite of a new Europe under German control?
Author Marco Wyss
MW: The hypothesis that his rapid rise is due to marriage to the daughter of Field Marshal von Blomberg, is false, because von Blomberg in 1938 had already lost his post as minister of war in the Reich. The fact that he so quickly became a protégé of Himmler was due to anti-Nazi circles around Musy in Switzerland, first, and Ribbentrop's office in Germany, later.
Germanic student status was not one of the requirements. With a strong political motivation, one could achieve within the SS a position of great power.
swissinfo.ch: As director of the Swiss SS, Riedweg moved into a position very close to Himmler. How far did the influence of Riedweg go at the height of his career in 1942 and early 1943?
MW: It was fairly substantial influence. This resulted from his ability to connect with influential figures from all circles, not only SS but also of the Prussian aristocracy, the NSDAP and the Wehrmacht. He extended the recruitment of volunteers for the SS. The Waffen-SS Germanic occupied countries not Germanic, and extended this work with political content. Direct access to Himmler allowed them to carry out their initiatives.
At the same time, however, Riedweg's power was limited despite leading the SS. He depended on his immediate boss, Obergruppenfuehrer (lieutenant general) Berger, and was not offered the chance to interact always directly with Himmler.
Riedweg in 1938
swissinfo.ch: Was Riedweg aware of Himmler's role in the Holocaust?
MW: He may not have been apprised of everything about it, but 99% had to know. Riedweg moved among the leadership of the SS, and the contact centers of SS Headquarters in Germany regularly drafted reports from occupied countries, dealing, among other things, with the persecution and deportation of Jews from Western Europe eastward.
The concentration camps were overseen by the Totenkopf ("death's head") Order, partly integrated into the Waffen-SS. In addition, Riedweg repeatedly visited the SS troops who fought in the east. He had to know of the Holocaust -- once discussed by Himmler indirectly in his presence. In any case, he was aware of what happened and apparently voiced no objection to the atrocities committed by the Nazis.
swissinfo.ch: By 1943, Riedweg realized that Hitler did not share his vision of a joint Europe under German leadership, as he had imagined. Was he willing to fight on the Eastern Front, to die for his ideals?
MW: No, he was too narcissistic to die as a martyr. It is true that Himmler wanted to ship him to the front, but Riedweg was allowed to transfer to a unit of the Waffen-SS, whose commander he knew well. Riedweg was a physician assigned to the rear, where his life was in less danger.
His pragmatism and opportunism played an important role because Riedweg surely knew that the war was lost, and he would not continue to exercise a leading role in Berlin.
swissinfo.ch: He expressed regret forever after over the extermination of the Jews. In your book, you have tracked Riedweg, how would characterize it, a shift in his "ideals?"
MW: As a young person he had the ideals, as shown by participation in the movement of Coudenhove -- which, incidentally, is still considered one of the fundamental movements toward a United Europe. He gradually worked his way into more extreme right-wing forms until he became a real Nazi whose behavior was inexcusable.
After the war, he never renounced his Nazi affinities. To the contrary, with the new configuration of world powers that emerged during the Cold War, he tried to find a new political home. But Riedweg never questioned his past loyalty to Nazi Germany, even the racial aspect of Nazi ideology. He was an incorrigible Nazi.
swissinfo.ch: In Switzerland, Riedweg was convicted in absentia to 16 years in prison in 1948. Why didn't Switzerland request his extradition? He drew on the influence of some of his protectors, such as Heinrich Walther?
MW: Influence was exerted not only by the Walther, but also by Riedweg's brother, an attorney. In 1950, he requested the granting of a pardon. Moreover, politicians and officials in Bern and a Frölich diplomat in Berlin certainly had some incentive to see to it that Riedweg did not to return to Switzerland, for fear of public statements he might make.
This is only speculative, but the evidence suggests that after the war, when Riedweg was taken prisoner by the British, they would have extradited him if Switzerland had requested it. However, Berne never sought his extradition. This leads us to conclude that certain senior individuals had some interest in not exposing their relationships with Riedweg before or after the war.
* Member of frontismo, a right-wing movement Swiss made in the likeness of German National Socialism.
Renat Kuenzi, swissinfo.ch Renat Kuenzi, swissinfo.ch
Traducción del alemán: Antonio Suárez Varela German translation: Antonio Suarez Varela