ϟϟ-Standarte „Totenkopf“ and the Le Paradis massacre

SS-Standarte Totenkopf
SS-Verfügungs-Division (unknown Standarte)
The only documented example of war crimes against the Totenkopf were committed over a span of a few weeks during May-June 1940. The Le Paradis massacre committed by a company of SS-Standarte Totenkopf took place on May 27 1940 during the Battle of France, at a time when the British Expeditionary Force was attempting to retreat through the Pas-de-Calais region during the Battle of Dunkirk. The 14.Kompanie under the command of SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritz Knöchlein executed 97 British prisoners of the Royal Norfolk Regiment at the town of Le Paradis. News of the massacre spread to neighbouring German divisions and General Erich Höpner, commander of the German forces in France, was determined to have Knöchlein dismissed if charges of mistreatment or killing of prisoners could be brought. However none of these investigations were ever successful, possibly because Knöchlein stated that the British had been using dumdum bullets, thus violating the Hague Convention of 1899. In that case, the British soldiers no longer had any rights as prisoners of war, but were illegal combatants who could be treated accordingly. Regardless, many Waffen-SS officers were appalled by the massacre; some reportedly challenged Knöchlein to a duel, although none were ever fought. After World War II, Fritz Knöchlein was located, tried and convicted by a war crimes court. Knöchlein was executed by the British in 1949 in Hamburg. Following the campaign in France, the Totenkopf would be refitted with new personnel, who served with distinction on the Eastern Front. Top image: Clip showing the tactical marking of the Totenkopf. Footage from Die Deutsche Wochenschau. Fair use. Bottom image: Unidentified Grenadiers of the SS-Verfügungs-Division (1940). Photographer: SS-Kriegsberichter Friedrich Zschäckel. Commons: Bundesarchiv.

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