Theodor Oberländer

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Theodor Oberländer
Federal Minister for Displaced Persons, Refugees and Victims of War
In office
Preceded by Hans Lukaschek
Succeeded by Hans-Joachim von Merkatz
Member of Parliament
In office
Member of Parliament
In office
Member of Parliament
Bavaria Bavaria
In office
Personal details
Nationality German
Political party Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP)
All-German Bloc/League of Expellees and Deprived of Rights (GB/BHE)
Christian Democratic Union (CDU)

Theodor Oberländer (1 May 1905 – 4 May 1998) was an Ostforschung scientist, Nazi officer and German politician.

Before World War II, he devised plans aimed against the Jewish and Polish populations in territories that were to be conquered by Nazi Germany. During the war he supported the ethnic cleansing policies of the Nazis and after the invasion of the Soviet Union, served as a contact officer with Nazi collaborators on the Eastern Front.

After the war, he served as Federal Minister for Displaced Persons, Refugees and Victims of War in the Second and Third Cabinets of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer from 1953 to 1960, and as a Member of the Bundestag from 1953 to 1961 and from 1963 to 1965, during which time he represented Hildesheim from 1957 to 1961. Oberländer initially represented the All-German Bloc/League of Expellees and Deprived of Rights and served as its chairman from 1954 to 1955. In 1956 he became a member of the Christian Democratic Union. Before he entered federal politics, he served as a member of the Parliament of Bavaria from 1950 to 1953 and as Secretary of State for Refugee Affairs in the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior from 1951 to 1953.


Before World War II

Oberländer was born in Meiningen, Duchy of Saxe-Meiningen, part of the German Empire in 1905. At the age of 18, he participated in Adolf Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, Bavaria, in 1923 during the existence of the Weimar Republic. After joining the Nazis in 1933, he became a senior SA commander and leader of an NSDAP district.[1] Oberländer obtained a doctorate in Agricultural Sciences and wrote several books about the need for German intervention in the agricultural systems of Poland and the Soviet Union, which he considered "un-economic".

Oberländer became a member of the NSDAP in 1933. He became a professor at the University of Greifswald, where he was at the forefront of making the university and the Province of Pomerania "judenfrei" (free of Jews).[citation needed] On 4 August 1935, he became an assistant to Gauleiter Erich Koch, under whose authority he started to gather information about non-German minorities in East Prussia. A significant role in this process was played by the "Bund Deutscher Osten" (BDO - "League for a German East"), which advocated radical Germanization of the eastern provinces and the elimination of the Polish language in Masuria. The language's traditional usage in the Protestant churches of the Masurians was outlawed in November 1939, with the Lutheran Prussian Church leadership acquiescing in December.

In March 1935, he attended a meeting of professors, scholars and NSDAP training specialists dedicated to the study of the "East" where he focused his essays on what he described as "border struggle" with Poland.[2] The meeting was divided into two groups:”base” and "front”.[2] The "base" included 58 professors, lecturers and research assistants, the "front" was made up of political functionaries, seven training specialists of the NSDAP, the Hitler Youth, three heads of Reichsarbeitsdiensts, two teachers and two civil servants.[2] It was Oberländer who introduced the 72 participants on the first day and set for them the task to study the "border struggle" against Poland.[2] Attacking Poland, he advocated fighting the Polish minority in Nazi Germany and demanded that social relationships between Germans and Polish immigrants be prohibited.[2] Oberländer implied that Poland was not capable of sociopolitical and agrarian reforms due to the fact that it was not a "racially homogenous" nation state.[2] He dismissed the population of Polish cities as "transplanted rubes".[2] Sharing Hitler's views, Oberländer believed that the treaties regarding the East, like the German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact, were only conditional, and that Ostforschung studies should go on as usual "so that after ten years we have everything ready that we could need in any given circumstances".[3] Continuing his studies on the rural population of Poland he noted in his works that "Poland has eight million inhabitants too many".[3] Reflecting on the temporary lack of possibility of open war in the East, Oberländer wrote the following: "The struggle for ethnicity is nothing other than the continuation of war by other means under the cover of peace. Not a fight with gas, grenades, and machine-guns, but a fight about homes, farms, schools and the souls of children, a struggle whose end, unlike in war, is not foreseeable as long as the insane principle of the nationalism of the state dominates the Eastern region, a struggle which goes on with one aim:extermination!"[3] Other features of Oberländer's thoughts concentrated on depicting Jews as carriers of communism, and the benefits of peasant antisemitism to German goals in Central and Eastern Europe.[3] His preparatory work in the BDO involved monitoring over 1,200,000 Poles living in Germany, with a card-name index of untrustworthy Poles and Germans living in the borderlands, and proposals to Germanise Polish place, street, and family names.[3]

In the middle of 1937, Oberländer formulated a "divide and conquer" strategy for Poland.[2] Within Poland, ethnic groups were to be directed into fighting with each other in order to prepare the ground for German rule.[2] The Poles were to be steered away from opposing Germans and guided into confrontation with Russians and Jews.[2] Oberländer additionally called for elimination of "assimilated Jewry" which in his view carried "communist ideas".[2] Polish peasants were to be "taught" that they benefit from German "law".[2] In order to win over Poles to the side of German hegemony in Europe, Oberländer proposed that they share in the theft of Jewish property.[2] Around 3.5 million Polish Jews and 1.5 million people who were considered "assimilated Jews" were to be deprived of all of their rights.[2] He is considered by some historians to be among the academics who laid the intellectual foundation for the Final Solution.[4]

By 1937, Oberländer, however, started to lose influence in the Nazi party as his views on the treatment of the Polish population (but not the Jewish question) were losing out to more hardline positions[2] and his personal conflict with Erich Koch.[5] As a result he had lost his position in East Prussia and within the BDO by 1938.[2] From 1 April 1938, he worked as Professor of History at University of Greifswald.[3]

In 1939, Oberländer moved to work in Abwehrstelle Breslau; one of the main centers of sabotage and diversion organised by the Nazis that conducted operations against Poland. At the same time, his work concerned issues connected to Ukraine and the Sudetes region and he had contacts with Osteuropa Institut located in Breslau (Wrocław).[6]

World War II

In 1940, Oberländer endorsed the ethnic cleansing of the Polish population,[7] and, in 1941, wrote in the German magazine Deutsche Monatshefte: "We have the best soldier in the world who re-conquered German soil in the East. There is no bigger responsibility than educating this colonist to be the best on earth and to secure the living space for all time to come" Oberländer's words echoed the views of Heinrich Himmler, who envisioned settling former soldiers, armed with weapons and ploughs in the East, not just pure peasants.[8] During 1940 he moved to the University of Prague, after which he became active in Ukraine, where he was used by Nazi Germany's military as an expert on "ethnic psychology".[3]

When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Oberländer became an advising officer of the Nachtigall Battalion (a Ukrainian battalion of Wehrmacht) which occupied Lvov in the Ukraine. The participation of the Battalion in The Lvov Civilian Massacre of 1941 has since been subject to controversy, and Oberländer himself was accused after the war of participating in the events.

In January 1942, he sent a report on the situation in the Ukraine in which he wrote that success lay in "winning over the masses and pitilessly exterminating partisans as deleterious to the people".[3] He later became the leader of the mixed German and Caucasian Sonderverband Bergmann, which was active in anti-partisan warfare. Both army groups were later claimed to have participated in war crimes. Oberländer's involvement in the Eastern front would lead to the Oberländer case at the end of the 1950s.[1] In 1943, he was dismissed from the Wehrmacht due to political conflict with his superiors and returned to Prague. In 1944, he joined the staff of Andrey Vlasov's Russian Liberation Army.[1] He was taken prisoner of war by the United States Army in 1945.

After World War II

During his imprisonment, the U.S military secret service appreciated Oberländer's expertise in eastern European matters, and he went through the denazification process with relative ease.[4] After the war Oberländer claimed that he had criticised Nazi policies and personally only wanted German hegemony over Slavic peoples in which they would have "some respect" and were "treated reasonably humanely".[1]

Oberländer again became active in German politics, first in the liberal Free Democratic Party, then in the Bloc of Refugees and Expellees (GB/BHE)(despite the fact that he himself was not expelled), where he would become a prominent figure alongside another ex-Nazi Waldemar Kraft who had previously been interned for two years for his wartime activities in occupied Poland[9] The BHE itself was connected in various ways to the Nazis, as it openly tried to win over former NSDAP members angry at denazification, calling their crimes to be only "uncritical belief in Germany's future".[9] The party classified those Nazis on a par with war-damaged as fellow victims.[9] The fact that it selected as its leaders two ex-Nazis, who had taken part in the expulsion of non-Germans and expropiation of their property severely undermined German complaints about their situation.[10] Oberländer joined the Adenauer government of West Germany in 1953 as Minister for Refugees and Expellees.[4] His appointment prompted negative press coverage and made details of his Nazi past known.[4] But despite the fact that he nominated several former Nazis as co-workers, the criticism soon died down.[4] Adenauer in particular was keen on getting the BHE on board, as, with its support, he controlled a two-thirds majority in parliament.[4] Adenauer knew very well that Oberländer was a former National Socialist and admitted he has a "very brown past”[1]

In 1956, when Oberländer tried to visit his former Nazi co-workers, who were still serving time in Landsberg prison, the foreign minister of Germany vetoed the trip, fearing international consequences, nevertheless, despite hindrances, Oberländer still tried to support far right groups.[11] Oberländer left the GB/BHE for the centrist Christian Democratic Union in 1956 when it broke with Adenauer. Adenauer himself continued to support him, as a matter of principle.[4] In the fall of 1959, the Eastern Bloc unleashed a coordinated campaign against the presence of Nazis in the West German government, which included Oberländer. He was accused of participating in the Lvov Massacre.[4] Previously, he had been able to remain active in politics despite the accusations, but the situation this time became more unfavourable, and some of his fellow CDU colleagues pushed for him to resign for the good of the government and country.[4] While many in West Germany did not believe the accusations of war crimes, it was clear that Oberländer had been an enthusiastic Nazi;[4] due to the fact that the West German community had reinvented its image as a community of innocent bystanders during the Second World War, Oberländer's past was considered a liability.[4]

KGB document from the campaign against Oberländer and Ukrainian Nachtigall (1959).[12]

In 1960, Oberländer was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment by an East German court, for his alleged involvement in the Lviv massacre in 1941. In January 1960 during discussions with 3,000 students of University of Cologne Adenauer was faced with protests against the continued presence of Oberländer in the German government.[1] In response, Adenauer stated that Oberländer was a Nazi but "never did anything dishonourable".[1] Despite Adenauer's protection, Oberländer became a heavy burden on the German government in May 1960[1] and finally was forced to resign from the government, but not because of his past but due to the fact that he politically represented no value that was worth the trouble.[4]

Oberländer nevertheless continued efforts to influence the German public, and in 1962 published an article in Der Stahlhelm, an organ of the former Frontsoldaten.[3] In it, he repeated claims about a "revolutionary war" in which he accused the "dictatorship in the East" of conducting an offensive revolution against the West, in which there was "no beginning", and no movement of troops, but which was led by "infiltration and publicism" as well as "espionage".[3] He denounced any possibility of "coexistence" between East and West and blamed such ideas on a "rootless intelligentsia";[3] Oberländer wrote "to appease the enemy" was "to further world revolution".[3] Historian Michael Burleigh notes that the idea that the "unfree" perhaps didn't wanted to be "liberated" by the likes of Oberländer and his "Bund der Frontsoldaten” (who passed that way twenty years ago)-did not occur to him.[3] In 1986, Oberländer received the Bavarian Order of Merit from the state of Bavaria. The GDR conviction of Oberländer was declared null and void by the Berlin Kammergericht in 1993.[citation needed] At the end of his life, Oberländer became involved in anti-immigration politics.

A new case was opened against Oberländer in 1996 in which he was charged with the unlawful killing of a civilian in Kislovodsk in 1942 during his Bergmann leadership.[13] This time it involved an interrogation of a female teacher, who was whipped and after refusing to talk about suspected partisan activity shot in the breast by Oberländer, who left her to die. Oberländer called those allegations "Soviet lies". Theodor Oberländer died in Bonn in 1998. He is the father of Professor Erwin Oberländer, a noted expert on Eastern European history, and the grandfather of Christian Oberländer, Professor of Japanese Studies.[citation needed]



  • Die agrarische Überbevölkerung Polens, Berlin 1935.
  • Die agrarische Überbevölkerung Ostmitteleuropas, in: Aubin, Hermann u. a. (Hrsg.): Deutsche Ostforschung. Ergebnisse und Aufgaben seit dem ersten Weltkrieg, Bd. 2 (Deutschland und der Osten. Quellen und Forschungen zur Geschichte ihrer Beziehungen, Bd. 21), Leipzig 1943, S. 416 - 427.
  • Der Osten und die deutsche Wehrmacht: sechs Denkschriften aus den Jahren 1941-43 gegen die NS-Kolonialthese. Hrsg. von der Zeitgeschichtlichen Forschungsstelle Ingolstadt. Asendorf, Mut-Verlag. 144 S. In: Zeitgeschichtliche Bibliothek; Bd. 2. ISBN 3-89182-026-7
  • Bayern und sein Flüchtlingsproblem, München 1953. - Die Überwindung der deutschen Not, Darmstadt 1954.
  • Das Weltflüchtlingsproblem: Ein Vortrag gehalten vor dem Rhein-Ruhr-Club am 8. Mai 1959. Sonderausg. des Arbeits- u. Sozialministers des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen. Verleger, Bonn: Bundesministerium f. Vertriebene, Flüchtlinge u. Kriegsgeschädigte. 1959.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 "Konrad Adenauer: A German Politician and Statesman in a Period of War, Revolution and Reconstruction : The Statesman : 1952-1967", Hans Peter-Schwarz pages 91, 432, Berghahn Books 1997
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 German scholars and ethnic cleansing 1919-1945" Ingo Haar, Michael Fahlbusch Berghahn Books 2006 page 10, 12
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 "Germany turns eastwards: a study of Ostforschung in the Third Reich", Michael Burleigh Cambridge University Press, 1988, pages 76 ,144-146, 222, 317-318
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 "In pursuit of German memory: history, television, and politics after Auschwitz", Wulf Kansteiner Ohio University Press; 2006 page 222-224
  5. "Himmler's Auxiliaries: The Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle and the German National Minorities of Europe, 1933-1945"Valdis O. Lumens page 63
  6. "Przeglad Zachodni", volume 16 Instytut Zachodni 1960 page 115
  8. ”SCHWERTE MUSS DER PFLUG FOLGEN: Űber-peasants and National Socialists Settlements in the Occupied Eastern Territories during World War Two”Simone C. De Santiago Ramos, M.S. Thesis Prepared for the Degree of Master of Arts University of Texas page 68
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "Shouldering the Burdens of Defeat: West Germany and the Reconstruction of Social Justice” Michael L. Hughes, The University of North Carolina Press 1999
  10. ”A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II” Gerhard L. Weinberg Cambridge University Press 1995 page 792
  11. "Legacies of Dachau: the uses and abuses of a concentration camp 1933-2001”„ Harold Marcuse Cambridge University Press 2001 page 118
  12. "С целью компрометации Оберлендера и украинских националистов, собранные УКГБ материалы широко использовались в местной и центральной прессе, кинохронике,а также на пресс-конференции в Москве. Кроме этого, были выявлены и соответственно подготовлены свидетели, выступавшие по данному делу на пресс-конференции в Москве и на суде в Берлине.С учетом достигнутых положительных результатов в проведении специальных мероприятий по Оберлендеру, прошу Вас наградитъ нагрудным знаком «Почетный сотрудник Госбезопасности». Объявить благодарность и наградить ценным подарком."[1].(ГДА СБУ фонд 1, опис 4 за 1964 рік, порядковий номер 3, том 5, аркуш 195 Розсекречено: 24/376 від 05.02.2008 р. - original sygnature of document). Another: "Из Москвы тов. Щербак №33988 от 13 ноября 1958 года вх.№15107 копией во Львов сообщил, что установленных очевидцев злодеяний батальона «Нахтигаль» следует подготовить для допроса работниками прокуратуры, о чем будут даны указания прокуратурой СССР. При подготовке к допросам свидетелей следует использовать опубликованные в прессе статьи о преступлениях «Нахтигаля». Работу по установлению других очевидцев злодеяний, их документации и добыче дополнительных материалов продолжить."[2]. ГДА СБУ фонд 1, опис 4 за 1964 рік, порядковий номер 3, том 5, аркуш 86 Розсекречено: 24/376 від 05.02.2008 р. - original sygnature of document.
  13. Der Spiegel 18 / 1996 Kriegsverbrehen. Die Mühlen mahlen langsam


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