Wehrbauer (German pronunciation: [ˈveːɐ̯ˌbaʊ.ɐ], defensive peasant), plural Wehrbauern, is a German term for settlers living on the borders of a realm, who were tasked with holding back foreign invaders until the arrival of proper military reinforcements. In turn they were granted special liberties. Wehrbauern were mainly used on the eastern fringes of the Holy Roman Empire and later Austria-Hungary in order to slow down attacks by the Ottoman Empire. This historic term was disinterred and used by the Nazis in WWII.
The deployment of "Wehrbauern" is first recorded by the Byzantine Empire which in the 7th century sought to defend itself with local settlers, then called Stratioti (soldiers) against eastern and southern attacks.
The Habsburg use of "Wehrbauern" was the Military Frontier established by Ferdinand I in the 16th century which was placed under the jurisdiction of the Croatian Sabor and Croatian Ban since it was carved out of Croatian territory. It acted as a Cordon sanitaire against Ottoman incursions. By the 19h century it was rendered obsolete by with the establishment of standing armies and was subsequently dissolved.
When, during the 30 Years War, battles and raids were common all throughout its land, the Holy Roman Empire had to make greater use of Wehrbauern in other regions of the empire as well.
In the 20th century, the term re-emerged and was used by the Nazi SS to refer to soldiers designated as settlers for the lands conquered during the German invasions of Poland and the Soviet Union.
The SS Wehrbauern
The concept predated the Nazis, with the Artaman League sending urban children to the countryside not only for the experience, but as a core of Wehrbauern.
The Nazi goal of colonizing the conquered East in accordance with Hitler's Lebensraum ideology was to be achieved through these soldier peasants, who were planned to act as both colonists and soldiers, defending the new German colonies from the surrounding Slavic population in the cases of insurgency. They would be charged not with extending civilization, but preventing it from arising outside their settlements. Any such civilization, being non-German, would be a challenge to Germany. A historical comparison was drawn to the Ordensburgen of the medieval German military orders, which were established to fortify territory against the pagan Baltic natives.
Beginning in 1938 the SS intensified the ideological indoctrination of the Hitler Youth Land Service (HJ-Landdienst). It promulgated its ideal of the German Wehrbauer. Special high schools were created under SS control to form a Nazi agrarian elite that was trained according to the principle of "blood and soil."
The SS plan for genocide and colonization of the territories of the Soviet Union was titled Generalplan Ost (English: Master Plan East). This plan projected the settlement of 10 million racially valuable "Germanics" (Germans, Dutch, Flemish, Scandinavians and English) in these territories in a span of 30 years, while circa 30 million Slavs and Balts were either to be assimilated or forcefully transferred to Siberia to make room for the newcomers. Volksdeutsche, such as the Volga Germans would also be transplanted. The German Foreign Ministry however suggested that the racially unwanted population should be instead moved to Madagascar and Central Africa as soon as Germany had recovered its colonies lost in the Treaty of Versailles.
It's the greatest piece of colonization the world will ever have seen linked with a noble and essential task, the protection of the Western world against an eruption from Asia. When he has accomplished that, the name of Adolf Hitler will be the greatest in Germanic history — and he has commissioned me to carry out the task.
From a historical perspective, the SS Wehrbauer concept was a deliberate reference to the model of the Military Frontier held by the Habsburg Empire against the incursions of the Osman Turks. Himmler also believed that during the early migration period and the German eastward expansion of the Middle Ages, the conquering Germanic peasant farmer had, in addition to farming, defended his land with arms; the Wehrbauer model was to revive this custom.
In the General Government (composed entirely of pre-war Polish territory) a number of "settlement areas" (German: Siedlungsgebiet) were to be set up, centered on the six Teilräume ("spatial regions") of Cracow, Warsaw, Lublin, Lviv/Lwów (German: Lemberg), Bialystok, and Litzmannstadt (Lódz). The colonization of the former territories of the USSR was accomplished through the creation of three major "settlement marches" (German: Siedlungsmark), alternatively also called Reichsmarken ("marches of the Reich"). Smaller "settlement points" (German: Siedlungsstützpunkt)., as well as a number of "settlement strings" (German: Siedlungsperlen, literally meaning "settlement pearls") were also to be established in the east.
The settlement marches were to separated from the civil administration of the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories and Reichskommissariats and given to the custody of the Reichsführer-SS, who was to name an SS and Police Leader (German: SS- und Polizeiführer) for the region and also distribute temporary and inheritable fiefs and even permanent land ownership for the settlers.
In a time span of 25 years the populations of Ingria (German: Ingermanland), the Memel-Narew region (i.e. the district of Bialystok and Western Lithuania), and the southern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula (to be renamed Gotengau after the former Germanic tribe) were to become at least 50% German.
In addition to the settlement marches, 36 settlement points were planned to be established. The population of these points was to be circa 20–30% German. Marking the center of each point was to be a planned German city of c. 20,000 inhabitants, which was to be surrounded by closely located German villages in a 5–10 km radius. The villages were to secure the German control of all major road and railroad nodes.
The planned Breitspurbahn
rail network, with three proposed eastward railheads deep within Russian territory.
The settlement strings were to be located along the routes Cracow-Lviv-Zhitomir-Kiev, Leningrad-Mogilev-Kiev, and Zhitomir-Vinnitsa-Odessa (note however that Odessa was awarded to Romania in the course of Operation Barbarossa). These would be connected by a major autobahn system, along the roadbeds of which new German cities were planned to be built roughly every 100 kilometres. Further extensions were projected towards the Don and the Volga, and eventually towards the Ural mountains. Plans for the extreme broad-gauge Breitspurbahn railway network proposed by the Nazis envisioned these railways having extensions running as far east as Kazan, Stalingrad and Baku as possible railheads, as another conceivable set of "strings" along which to place settlements.
The soldier peasants would mainly be front-line veterans of the SS and members of the Allgemeine-SS, who were to be supplied with weaponry for the armed defense of their respective communities. In October 1939, Himmler stated that the German settlements in Poland would be divided between different German cultural and linguistic groups such as Swabians, Franconians, Westphalians and Lower Saxons.
The foundation of the settlements was to be funded by the compulsory savings of the individual SS men. Each settlement was to be planned in advance (Soviet villages emptied of their previous inhabitants were to be destroyed) and was to comprise 30–40 farms, each 121.5 hectares (300 acres); a NSDAP party headquarters; a manor-house for the SS or party leader; an agricultural instruction center; a house for a community nurse; and a cinema. The houses of the settlement were to be built "as in the old days", two or three stone courses thick. Baths and showers were to be available in every house.
The exact amount of weaponry delivered to each individual soldier peasant was also calculated. The manor was planned to be occupied by a SS or NSDAP leader of merit, chosen by his qualities as a man and a soldier: this individual was to be the Leader (German: Leiter) of the settlement, acting on the administrative side as a Burgomeister and on the Party side as the political leader of the local group, effectively combining the jurisdictions of the Party and the State. He was also to act as the military commander of a company-sized force consisting of the community's peasants, their sons and laborers.
Unlike Medieval farming villages, the Wehrbauer communities were planned to not have any churches. Himmler stated that if the clergy were to acquire money to construct churches on their own in these settlements, the SS would later take the buildings over and transform them into "Germanic holy places".
During one of his many private dinner monologues, Hitler presented his vision of the soldier peasant. After twelve years of military service, soldiers from peasant families were to be given completely equipped farms located in the conquered East. The last two years of the military service would be focused on agricultural education. The soldier was not to be allowed to marry a townswoman, but only a peasant woman who, if possible, had not begun to live in a town with him. This would enable them to live the blood and soil principles of Nazi Germany. Also, it would be conducive to large families. Thus, Hitler stated "we shall again find in the countryside the blessing of numerous families. Whereas the present law of rural inheritance dispossesses the younger sons, in future every peasant's son will be sure of having his patch of ground." Hitler also believed that former non-commissioned officers would make ideal teachers for the primary schools of these Utopian communities. Although Himmler wanted these settlements to be totally agrarian, Hitler planned to introduce certain types of small-scale industry to them. At the time of his 54th birthday, the Führer had a discussion with Albert Speer and Karl-Otto Saur on a design he had personally drawn for a six-person bunker that was to be used in the Atlantic Wall, featuring machine guns, an anti-tank gun, and flame throwers — this design was also to be used for defense purposes at Germany's "ultimate eastern border deep within Russia" where the easternmost Wehrbauer "settlement-pearl" villages would likely have been placed — if the Axis had completely defeated the Soviets, there might have existed the possibility of either only any remnant Soviet forces, or the northwesterly mainland Siberian-located extremities of Imperial Japan's Co-Prosperity Sphere territories, going eastwards beyond such a frontier.
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