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August 31, 2010

jack-booted thugs

Filed under: Dachau, TV shows, World War II — Tags: , , , , , — furtherglory @ 12:17 pm

The ultimate insult is to call someone a “jack-booted thug.”  Last night, as I was watching a re-run of the Seinfeld TV show, I heard Kramer tell Jerry Seinfeld that mail carriers who had delivered unwanted Pottery Barn catalogs to his mail box were “jack-booted thugs.”  Jerry didn’t ask Kramer what he meant by that term; as everyone knows, “jack-booted thugs” is a reference to the Nazis, who were the worst!  The worst, Jerry, the worst!  But were the Nazis bad because they wore Jack boots, or are jack boots bad because the Nazis wore them?   

SS soldiers wearing jack boots with their black dress uniforms

I did a google search on the words “jack booted” and found this definition of the term on this website:

Jack booted is a derogatory term used to describe an overly oppressive and authoritarian individual or group, often denotes violent tendencies. Thugs, thus described, are those in the service of an oppressive authoritarian, usually employing violence to achieve his/her/their master’s goals.

On the Wikipedia web site, I found this information:

A jackboot is a combat boot rising to at least mid-calf, with no laces, typically a leather sole with hobnails, and heel irons.The term probably originates from association with the word jack or jerkin, as a common garment worn by the peasantry.

Although jackboots date since before the Napoleon Bonaparte era and are still worn by many United states police officers on motorcycles (motor officers), 20th century jackboots, or the word at least, has been associated with totalitarian motifs.

Notice that neither of these websites define jack boots as denoting a Nazi.  Yet that is always what the term implies.

In the photograph below, the man on the far left is Hauptsturmführer Erich Wasicky, the camp apothecary or chemist at Mauthausen concentration camp. Third from the left is the Camp Commandant, Franz Ziereis; the man on his right is Sturmbannführer Eduard Krebsbach, the Mauthausen camp doctor until June 1943. Ziereis was nicknamed “Baby Face” by the prisoners. Note that all are wearing “jack boots,” the symbol of “Nazi thugs.”

SS officers at the Mauthausen concentration camp wore jack boots

Even some of the female  guards in the concentration camps wore jack boots.  For example, Irma Grese, who is pictured below wearing jack boots.  Irma was convicted and hanged by the British for her crimes at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Would she have been given a lesser sentence if she had not worn jack boots?

Irma Grese, a female concentration camp guard, wearing jack boots

Irma Grese was one of the 80 guards who did not flee before the British liberators arrived at Bergen-Belsen.  No, she met the British soldiers at the entrance to the camp, standing beside the Commandant, and offered her help in cleaning up the mess caused by the typhus epidemic in the camp.  But she made a big mistake — she was wearing jack boots.

Not all of the female concentration camp guards wore jack boots

In the photo above, the tall blonde woman on the left hand side is Herta Bothe.  Note that she is not wearing jack boots.

In many stories about the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, it is mentioned that the Commandant of the  camp offended the American liberators because he was wearing a clean uniform and his jack boots were shined.

In his book Deliverance Day, Michael Selzer wrote that the American liberators marched 122 SS soldiers, who had surrendered at the Dachau Concentration Camp, to a wall and with their hands up, shot them with machine guns. Included among the SS men, according to Selzer’s book, was the alleged Commander of the SS garrison, Lt. Heinrich Skodzensky, who had only moments before surrendered the camp to Colonel Jackson of the 45th Thunderbird division, saying in English, “I am the commanding officer of the guard in the camp, and I herewith surrender the camp to your forces.”

Skodzensky was shot along with the others, dressed in his immaculate black SS uniform, according to Selzer’s account.  The Dachau Memorial Site has no record of Lt. Heinrich Skodzensky in its archives and there is no record of an SS soldier named Heinrich Skodzensky in the Berlin Bundesarchiv. But it doesn’t matter that this story is not true — the point is that jack boots are offensive and can get you killed, especially if the boots are shined.

Robert H. Abzug also wrote in his book Inside the Vicious Heart that the American soldiers were enraged by Skodzensky’s clean uniform and shined boots in these squalid surroundings. However, no records of an SS officer named Skodzensky have ever been found and the story of 122 SS soldiers being shot has never been corroborated by any of the American soldiers who were there.


  1. Jackboots always look really smart and I love wearing boots. What’s the problem with them?

    Comment by emax — July 14, 2012 @ 8:42 am

  2. The Irma Grese photo could have been a Psyche Warfare purposefully bad photo. Not unlike the purposefully bad photos of Ilse Koch. Ben Shepherd discusses propaganda elements in his book on Belsen.

    Comment by Budham — September 1, 2010 @ 8:52 am

    • You could be right. Ilse and Irma were both described as being very beautiful, but their photos don’t show that. Neither of them went into hiding to escape prosecution as war criminals. Were these women stupid, or what?

      Comment by furtherglory — September 1, 2010 @ 10:53 am

      • I don’t think they were stupid. They knew, that they did not commit any war crimes. The old English papers, I believe it was “The Times”, described the events that German troops agreed on temporary truce and the Germans let Tommies to cross the bridge. Bergen-Belsen camp was transferred (TRANSFERRED!)to the Brits. And, apparently, Commandant Kramer and all female personnel volunteered to stay to help with maintaining order and combat the typhus.
        Well, they pay the ultimate price for that. Besides of Irma Grese, two other female attendants were executed: Juana Borman and Elisabeth Volkenrath.

        Comment by Gasan — September 1, 2010 @ 8:15 pm

  3. Why nobody remembers or makes referral to the Soviet NKVD/OGPU/KGB mass murderers, who happened to wear the same type of boots? I am talking about KGB leaders of the 1930′ such as Rapoport, Kogan, Milstein, Frinovskiy, Landrus, Genkin, Grekin, Firin, Mekhlis, and many others who killed millions of people of the USSR.

    Comment by Gasan — August 31, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

  4. It seems like a non-issue. Especially not an issue since the reference to a Skodenzky and the other guards being shot seems to be hearsay and contrived. Some Waffen SS soldiers were summarily executed by Americn troops after the Malmedy massacre, but for the most part all of the SS men take prisoner were treated with dignity and humaneness. To wit, the account of a Waffen SS mountain soldier about his experiences and eventual capture by American forces: Black Edelweiss by Johann Weiss. There is also ample footage of SS men sharing jokes and cigarettes with their American captors.

    Comment by tampalam — August 31, 2010 @ 12:51 pm

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