Birthday: October 17, 1892
Died At Age: 50
Sun Sign: Libra
Born Country: France
Born in: Hampont, France
Famous as: Military Officer
children: Hermann Eicke, Irma Leiner
Died on: February 26, 1943
place of death: Kharkiv, Ukraine
Cause of Death: Killed In Action
awards: Iron Cross
Who was Theodor Eicke?
Theodor Eicke was a German military officer and an important SS (Schutzstaffel) functionary. A veteran of the First World War, he could never accept German defeat at the war and developed hatred for the Weimar Republic. Eventually at the age of thirty-six, he joined the Nazi Party and its street organization, Sturmabteilung. Later, he was moved to Schutzstaffel and was put in charge of the Dachau concentration camp. Slowly, he began to gain more power, climbing to the post of Concentration Camps Inspectorate. Over the time, he started developing and expanding the concentration camp system and the norms he evolved was later followed as the standard practice by all the concentration and extermination camps across Nazi Germany. In 1939, he became commander of the SS Division Totenkopf of the Waffen-SS and took part in Battle of France, Operation Barbarossa and Third Battle of Kharkov. He died in action in 1943.
Childhood & Early Years
Theodor Eicke was born on 17 October 1892, in Hampont, now located in the Moselle department of north-eastern France. But at that time, it was known as Hudingen and was part of the German province of Elsass-Lothringen.
Little is known about his early years except that he was raised in a lower-middle class family, which came from the Harz Mountain region of Germany. His father, Heinrich Eicke, was a railhead stationmaster at Hampont. He was also a great patriot.
Born youngest of his parents’ eleven children, Theodor Eicke had his schooling in Hampont. However, he was always an underachiever and left the secondary school in 1909 without finishing his education.
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Theodor Eicke served as a clerk and an assistant paymaster at the 23rd Bavarian Infantry Regiment. He remained with it till 1913, when he was transferred successively to Third Bavarian Infantry Regiment (1913), Twenty-second Bavarian Infantry Regiment (1914-1915), Second Bavarian Foot Artillery Regiment (1916) and Second Army Corp (1917-1918).
During the First World War, he served mostly as the regiment clerk and paymaster. But at times, he also served as a frontline infantryman, taking part in the Lorraine campaign (1914), the First Battle of Ypres (1914) and the Battle of Verdun (1916).
After the First World War, he remained in service of the Weimar Republic for some time, eventually resigning from his position on March 1, 1919. Thereafter, he moved to Ilmenau, where he tried to take up a technical course; but had to abandon it once his savings dried out.
In desperation, he now became a police informer in Ilmenau. Later, however, he received appointment as a regular police personnel, first in Cottbus and then in Weimer and Sorau- Niederlausitz. By then, he had developed a hatred for Weimar Republic, holding the democrats and the leftists responsible for the German defeat in the First World War.
In 1923, he was fired from his job for participating in violent agitations against the Weimar Republic. In the same year, he found employment with IG Farben, a German chemical and pharmaceutical conglomerate in Ludwigshafen, serving the company as a security officer until 1932.
Although Theodor Eicke led more or less a stable life in Ludwigshafen, he could never get over his hatred for the Weimar Republic. Eventually on 1 December, 1928, he joined the Nazi Party. Simultaneously, he also joined the party’s paramilitary street organization, the Sturmabteilung (SA).
On 20 August 1930, he was transferred to the Schutzstaffel (SS). The latter was smaller, but better disciplined group within SA, entrusted with protecting speakers and maintaining order at party rallies.
On 27 November 1930, he was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant and given the command of platoon no. 148 by Heinrich Himmler. Very soon, he started recruiting new members and rising quickly through the ranks he became a colonel on 15 November, 1931.
By early 1932, his political activities cost him his job at IG Farben. In March, he was arrested for conspiring to carry out series of political assassination and sentenced to two years of imprisonment. However, he was set free on the intervention of Bavarian Minister of Justice Franz Gürtner.
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In September 1932, on Himmler’s instruction, Theodor Eicke traveled to Italy, where he was promoted to the post of Senior Colonel and given command over a fugitive camp near Lake Garda. He returned to Germany on 10 March 1933 after Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of the Weimar Republic.
Organizing Concentration Camps
On his return to Germany in March 1933, Theodor Eicke was arrested and put in a mental asylum by his opponent, Joseph Bürckel. Released in June, he was immediately appointed Commandant of the Dachau concentration camp by Himmler.
On 30 January 1934, he was promoted to the post of SS-Brigadeführer (brigadier general). On his request, Himmler also formed a permanent guard unit and put it under Eicke’s direct command.
On 4 July, 1934 as a reward for shooting Ernst Röhm dead, Eicke was officially named Chief of the Inspektion der Konzentrationslager (Concentration Camps Inspectorate or CCI). By 1935, he began to reorganize the camps.
On 29 March 1936, he renamed the guard unit as SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV) and set up unwritten code of conduct for them, which demanded rigid discipline and total obedience. Slowly, he turned it into an elite unit.
Along with reforming the guards, he also evolved a new set of disciplinary regulations for the prisoners, which were far from humane. He introduced forced labor and the prisoners were often brutally punished or even killed for minor offences.
Separate uniforms were also issued to the detainees and guards. While the uniforms for the guards at the camps had a special "death's head" insignia on their collars, the prisoners wore blue and white striped pyjamas, which was later taken up by other camps.
In April 1936, Theodor Eicke was named commander of the SS-Totenkopfverbände. Shortly, a series of concentration camps including Sachsenhausen (1936), Buchenwald (1937) and Ravensbrück (1939) began to be opened under him. In 1938, he relocated his entire staff to Sachsenhausen.
Second World War
As the Second World War erupted in 1939, Eicke was given combat duty, being appointed to the post of the commander of the Waffen-SS. In 1940, his force took part in the campaign against France. During this operation, they killed 97 British prisoners-of-war, thus committing their first war crime.
In 1941, they participated in the invasion of Soviet Union and the capture of Kharkov. Here too they left their brutal imprint, killing captured Russian soldiers and looting Soviet villages. Very soon, they became one of the most effective German formations on the Eastern Front.
Awards & Achievement
Theodor Eicke received several German military awards including Iron Cross, 2nd Class (1914); Iron Cross First Class (1940), (7)Knights Cross (1941) and 88th Oak Leaves (1942).
Personal Life & Legacy
On 26 December 1914, Theodor Eicke married Bertha Schwebel. They had two children; a daughter named Irma, (born 1916) and a son named Hermann (born 1920). Hermann died in action on December 2, 1941.
Theodor Eicke died on 26 February, 1943, when his reconnaissance aircraft was shot down by the Soviets in the vicinity of Lozova, now in Eastern Ukraine. Originally buried in Orelka, Soviet Union, his remains were later moved to Hegewald Cemetery at Zhitomir, Ukraine.