Don’t Shoot Me! I Have An Armband!

This fall 1944 poster is by Mjölnir. The Volksturm was the Nazi attempt to call on the last reserves. Those too young or too old for regular military service were called into service. The caption translates as “For freedom and life.”

In Friday’s post, the 6th poster (also seen on the right) shows members of the Volkssturm, a word which translates as “the People’s Storm.” This militia was comprised of all men between sixteen and sixty who were not already in the armed forces including those with physical handicaps. This was not a volunteer militia. Joining was mandatory. Age limits were stretched on either side and boys as young as twelve ended up in the Volkssturm with men as old as eighty.

In a slap to the Wehrmacht, the Volkssturm actually came under the command of the Nazi Party Gauleiters or regional governors. After the Nazi seizure of power, the states which made up Germany were abolished and the country reorganized into districts. Each district, or Gau, had a Nazi Party governor, the Gauleiter, who held tremendous power.

Uniforms for the Volkssturm were in short supply so each member was given an armband with the words: Deutscher Volkssturm Wehrmacht. While we use “Wehrmacht” as shorthand for the German military in World War Two, it actually translates as “armed forces” or “defense forces.” So the “Wehrmacht” on the arm band signifies these men are armed forces of the German militia and does not imply a connection to the regular German armed forces.

These armbands were necessary because of a touching faith the Germans had in the Geneva Convention of 1929, which governs treatment of prisoners of war. To have the protections accorded to a prisoner of war under the 1929 convention, one must first meet the legal requirements to be deemed a prisoner of war.

The 1929 Convention states:

Article 4 defines prisoners of war to include:

4.1.1 Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict and members of militias of such armed forces. (‘Party’ in this case refers not to a political party but to the “High Contracting Parties;” which are the nations who signed the convention.)

4.1.2 Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, provided that they fulfill all of the following conditions:

*that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
*that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance: (that would refer to the armband)
*that of carrying arms openly;
*that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

Since the Germans had refused to observe the 1929 Convention in their barbaric war in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, it was probably a little much to expect the Soviets to respect an armband for Pete’s sake and they did not.

Berlin is declared a “defense zone” on 1 February 1945. In the first days of April, soldiers of the Volkssturm are being taught to use the Panzerfaust.

The second type of armband was actually more common and given to anyone who was helping the armed forces in any way. This included women who were say, cooking, for groups of soldiers. These armbands said:

“Im Dienst Der Deutchen Wehrmacht” which translates as “In the Service of the German Armed Forces”. Theoretically if one wore this armband, then one was treated as a prisoner of war. The Western Allies usually respected this. As I mentioned, the Soviets ignored it.

These are for sale all over the internet. Millions were manufactured so they aren’t expensive to collect but one probably needs to be an expert in textiles to tell the difference between the real ones and the fakes.

[Images courtesy of Randall Bytwerk at Calvin College and Wikimedia.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:

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