German Waffen-SS general. Born in Hampont in Alsace (then in Germany) on 17 October 1892, Theodor Eicke fought in World War I, rising to subpaymaster. After the war, he joined the border police and served in the Freikorps before entering the police force in Thuringia in 1920. Active in right-wing politics, Eicke joined the National Socialist Party in December 1928. He initially achieved prominence in Adolf Hitler's Third Reich as a member of the Schutzstaffel (SS), serving as commandant of the Dachau concentration camp in 1933 and 1934 and as inspector of concentration camps and leader of SS guards formations between 1934 and 1939. Eicke played a leading role in the Blood Purge of the party, when he and a subordinate shot to death storm troop (Sturmabteilungen, or SA) leader Ernst Röhm on 1 July 1934. Eicke set ruthless standards in the concentration camps, warning guards that they would be punished for showing any compassion for the inmates. He centralized SS control over all concentration camps in the Reich, established uniform regulations for the treatment of inmates, and organized the elite guard formations known as the Totenkopfverb?nde (Death's Head units). He also oversaw their expansion into five battalions, which became the Obeybayern, Brandenburg, and Thuringian Regiments. With the beginning of World War II, he formed the SS-Totenkopf Death's Head unit for service in Poland.
In November 1939, Eicke took command of the first SS-Totenkopf division, a motorized unit and one of three original Waffen-SS (fighting SS) divisions. He personally led it in combat in both France and the Soviet Union. Brutal, fanatical, and violently anti-Semitic, Eicke molded the Death's Head Division in his own image, a development that helps explain both its military effectiveness and its perpetration of numerous atrocities. His unit committed the first SS atrocity in France—the 27 May 1940 murder of 100 British prisoners of war at Le Paradis. In Operation barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, his division served with Army Group North. Eicke died when an aircraft in which he was flying was shot down behind Soviet lines in Michailovka, Ukraine, on 26 February 1943.
Bruce J. DeHart
Mitcham, Samuel W., and Gene Mueller. Hitler's Commanders: Officers of the Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, and Waffen SS. Lanham, MD: Scarborough House, 1992.; Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The S.S. Death's Head Division, 1933–1945. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.