The black and white photograph shows a military parade by the soldiers of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division in the streets of the city of Oradea. The soldiers walk in rows of three. All are wearing uniforms and helmets. Some houses can be seen in the background.
20 April 1944. Members of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division on parade in the streets of Oradea (Romania). © Archivio Priv. Nils Olger, Vienna

16. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division "Reichsführer-SS"

In autumn 1943, the SS-Panzergrenadier Division ‘Reichsführer-SS’ was formed from existing units that had already fought on the Eastern Front and served as guards in Concentration camps. Their leaders and NCOs were schooled in applying brutal, impersonal violence. The remaining soldiers were very young, often fanatic but inexperienced SS volunteers and recruits from Southern Germany, Austria, and the German-speaking minorities in Southeast Europe and Alsace.

In June 1944, the division engaged in bloody fighting with the American forces, suffering heavy losses, especially the Reconnaissance battalion led by SS-Sturmbannführer Walter Reder. Later in the war, Reder’s battalion committed multiple massacres in Versilia and the Apennines, in Valla, Vinca, and Monte Sole. Additionally the II Battalion of SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 35, under the command of Anton Galler, perpetrated the massacre in Sant'Anna di Stazzema. In total, approximately 2,000 civilians were murdered by the division.

Armed force
SS-Gruppenführer Max Simon (3 Oct. 1943-15 Oct. 1944)
SS-Brigadeführer Otto Baum (24 Oct. 1944-8 May 1945)
Years of service
3 Oct. 1943 – 8 May 1945
Eastern Front
Occupation of Italy (1943-45)
Confirmed Massacres

Pisa, San Rossore, Lago di Massaciuccoli, Sant'Anna di Stazzema, Bardine di San Terenzo e Valla, Castelpoggio, Vinca, Laiano di Filettole, Camaiore, Massa, Bergiola Foscalina, Fosse del Frigido, Monte Sole, Casalecchio di Reno, San Cesario sul Panaro, Vignola.

This black-and-white photograph shows the 12 division commanders of the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division "Reichsführer-SS", in the garden of their headquarters in Mongardino (Sasso Marconi) in November 1944. All the men are wearing uniforms, but no caps. They are facing each other in what appears to be an informal conversation. Those photographed include Otto Baum, Walter Reder and Helmut Looß.
Unit commanders of the 16. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division 'Reichsführer-SS' photographed at the Mongardino (Sasso Marconi) headquarters in November 1944. Notice Otto Baum in the centre, Walter Reder (third from the left) and Helmut Looß (third from the right). © Archivio privato

Organization and war experience

  • This black and white picture shows a platoon of the reconnaissance battalion of the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division in uniform on a sports field in Oradea (Romania), 20 April 1944. The men are standing in long rows behind each other. A large house can be seen in the background.
    Sports field in Oradea (Romania), 20 April 1944. A platoon of the reconnaissance battalion of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division. © private archive Nils Olger, Vienna
  • A group of five officers of the reconnaissance battalion on a walk in the main square of Oradea (today Romania) in the late spring of 1944. They include Max Saalfrank, Paul Albers and Ernst Braunschmidt. The men walk side by side in a row across a square surrounded by houses.
    Officers of the reconnaissance battalion on a walk in the main square of Oradea (today Romania) in late spring 1944. Max Saalfrank, Paul Albers and Ernst Braunschmidt are seen in the middle (from left). © private archive Nils Olger, Vienna
  • The black and white photo shows a young officer of the reconnaissance battalion on a white horse. He is wearing his uniform including the cap, on which the skull and crossbones badge of the SS Totenkopf division can be seen. Two houses of a farmstead are visible in the background.
    One of the young officers of the Reconnaissance Department in Hungary in spring 1944. © private archive Nils Olger, Vienna

On the Italian front

The situation in the division sector was chaotic, resulting in increasing disciplinary violations that were punished severely. One of the central elements in SS ideology was training for the most extreme – yet disciplined and impersonal – brutality toward the enemy, but also toward oneself and one’s own soldiers.
  • The black and white photo shows 18 SS men of the reconnaissance battalion in a wooded area, partly standing, partly sitting during a break in the fighting in the Maremma at the end of June 1944. They have found a demijohn with wine, are drinking, smoking and look relaxed. One of them is playing the accordion.
    During a break in the fighting in the Maremma at the end of June 1944, a group of SS men from the reconnaissance battalion found a demijohn with wine. © private archive Nils Olger, Vienna
  • The black and white photo shows a group of soldiers from the reconnaissance battalion walking through a street lined with houses. In front walks a soldier in camouflage, carrying a machine gun and ammunition on his right shoulder and looking into the camera with a slight smile. In the background, some of the soldiers have their shirt sleeves rolled up and their shirts partially unbuttoned.
    On the afternoon of 29 June 1944, a squad of the reconnaissance battalion crosses the centre of Guardistallo. The picture was taken by the battalion's surgeon Olaf Jürgenssen near the town hall. Meanwhile, the newly inscribed plaque at the top left commemorates the victims of the massacre perpetrated by a Luftwaffe artillery unit near the town in the early hours of the same day. © private archive Nils Olger, Vienna
  • The black and white photo shows four soldiers in front of a white house. One of them is sitting in a small vehicle covered in dirt with a spare tyre on the bonnet. Behind him stand the three other soldiers. The one on the far left of the picture is lifting a small dog to the height of the vehicle's bonnet.
    In the village of San Martino di Monte San Pietro (Bologna), the battalion's surgeon Olaf Jürgenssen photographs three non-commissioned officers of the 16th SS Panzergruppenkommando. © private archive Nils Olger, Vienna
After the massacres at Monte Sole, there was less violence against civilians in the division’s area. In autumn 1944, German troops in any case became less brutal in their approach to the anti-partisan fighting. It was by now clear to all soldiers that Germany had lost the war.

The postwar period


Divisionsgeschichtliche Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Truppenkameradschaft der 16. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division ‘Reichsführer-SS’ (eds.), Im gleichen Schritt und Tritt. Die Geschichte der 16. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division ‘Reichsführer-SS’, Munich, Schild, 1998.

Carlo Gentile, Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS im Partisanenkrieg: Italien 1943-1945, Paderborn, Ferdinand Schöningh, 2012, pp. 201-254.

Carlo Gentile, Zivilisten als Feind: Die 16. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division ‘Reichsführer-SS’ in Italien 1944/45, in: Jan Erik Schulte, Peter Lieb, Bernd Wegner (eds.): Die Waffen-SS. Neue Forschungen, Paderborn, Schöningh, 2014, pp. 302-316.

Andrea Rossi, La SS dopo Marzabotto. La 16ª Divisione SS dopo le stragi del 1944, in: Nuova Storia Contemporanea, 5/2012, pp. 65-73.

Authorship and translation

Autor: Carlo Gentile

Translated from German by: Joel Golb

© Project ‘The Massacres in Occupied Italy (1943-1945): Integrating the Perpetrators’ Memories’


Text: CC BY NC SA 4.0