The panzerace.net website has been running for close to two decades since its first pages were published in the late 1990s, but from time to time visitors may have certain questions to ask about the site, its subject and what motivates it. The purpose of this FAQ page is to provide answers to these common questions; it was created as a direct response to the article published about this website in the Mail Online – the scurrilous Internet arm of the British tabloid publication the Daily Mail.
Those of you who have visited this site over the past dozen or so years – or simply know and understand the subject – may think that some of the questions in this FAQ are comically rhetorical, bordering on the ridiculous; however these are just the sorts of questions I was asked when being interviewed by the Daily Mail journalist who displayed a complete lack of knowledge of the subject matter – well, either that or he was putting on a faux naïve act à la Louis Theroux.
Yes, some people really do ask if the SS chose to have a skull on their cap to look scary – the sort of person who would watch this hilarious Mitchell and Webb sketch as if it were actually true.
What is the purpose of panzerace.net?
The panzerace.net website was initially created as a small portrait of the wartime Panzer Commander Michael Wittmann, and has over time become a thorough and fairly detailed dossier of the man’s life and career. The site serves as archive for information, which can be used by anyone from military historians and model makers through to students of the Second World War.
Is panzerace.net yet another of those sites that lionises the Nazis?
No. panzerace.net, if anything, is fiercely critical of the Nazi regime and its political record. The site has been used as an educational and historical resource by many people around the world, and source material from the site has been used for partworks, historical journals and for the exclusive guides provided with the historically authentic Forces of Valor 1/16 scale Michael Wittmann Tiger tanks. The mission of this site is to inform and educate, not indoctrinate.
Does panzerace.net glorify the wartime record of the Waffen-SS?
The purpose of panzerace.net is to bring the historical record in line with the facts, and its purpose is to provide a balanced portrayal of Michael Wittmann and the role he played as one of the war’s premier tank commanders. While this naturally may suggest a certain sympathy with the Waffen-SS in the context of the current discourse, this is not the intention of the site.
Does panzerace.net have any wider political objectives?
No. The website is an historical resource, and does not promote any political position or persuasion. Those who have visited the site and played a part in either research or the forum and Facebook communities are first and foremost Panzer and armoured warfare enthusiasts. The site is not concerned with politics, but military history.
Is it true that neo-Nazis might take an interest in the subject matter?
Naturally, and it would be foolish to deny this. The subject concerns a figure who fought in one of the many uniforms of Nazi Germany, and as such might be seen as a heroic figure by certain fringe elements. However, this fact has no bearing on the content of the site, which offers no ideological support to such individuals. The site has had help and assistance from people from around the world, and their only thing in common has been a shared interest in military history.
Might some sections of the wider community find some areas of the site offensive?
This is always a risk with any site that discusses a subject that might be described as in some way controversial. The site does not promote any ideology past or present, and its sole purpose is to provide information to those who might be interested in military history in general, and the career of Michael Wittmann in particular. If there are some who may find the subject matter in some way offensive, then it is their democratic right to surf elsewhere and not be offended.
Was Michael Wittmann a war criminal?
This is a loaded question. In the context of the Nuremberg judgement which decreed that the Waffen-SS was a criminal organisation, it could be argued that Michael Wittmann – and every other soldier who fought in the uniform of the Waffen-SS – were war criminals. However, this blanket judgement is part of the reason why I as the author of this website have felt the need to bring history back in line with the facts.
Michael Wittmann was a soldier who excelled on the field of battle, and had no involvement in any shape or form with acts that might have been judged as war crimes. He is as much a war criminal as any other soldier who performed a similar combat role during the Second World War, whether it be the regular German Army or any of the Allied armed forces. The branding of the Waffen-SS as a criminal organisation has been proven to be nonsensical: the American historian George H. Stein’s study of postwar de-Nazification records suggests that ninety-nine percent of all Waffen-SS personnel were not involved in any sort of criminal activity. SS-Hauptsturmführer Michael Wittmann and his fellow Tiger commanders are among this number.
Was Michael Wittmann a Nazi?
Technically speaking, yes. However, unlike the millions of Germans who joined the NSDAP early on, Michael Wittmann was given his membership number (5508244) almost a year after joining the Leibstandarte, suggesting that it was a rubber stamp operation with all upstanding SS members “expected” to be members of the party.
Had Wittmann been an enthusiastic Nazi, he would almost certainly have joined the NSDAP in the early 1930s. At no point is there any record of him commenting on the party in any capacity, and various anecdotes from former comrades and contemporaries suggest that he had no time for politics. Wittmann was first and foremost a professional soldier, an officer who was known and respected by his men as being firmly committed to his uniform and his service, but not at all ideologically motivated.
Was Michael Wittmann known as the “Black Baron”?
No. This is a nickname that appears to have been invented sometime in the mid-2000s, probably by journalists or historians disappointed that Wittmann never had a catchy or awe-inspiring nickname during his career. Wittmann had been described in the SS newspaper Das Schwarze Korps with the rather generic moniker “tank killer” (Panzertöter), but that was about it. To his friends and colleagues, he was simply “Michel”. Unfortunately, the nickname “Black Baron” (which has also been retrospectively translated back into German as der schwarze Baron) is increasingly being passed off as fact.
Some of the items on sale in the shop might be seen as promoting Nazi ideology, such as the symbol of the Totenkopf (“Death’s Head”) on the beer mugs. Might this not be seen as offensive?
The designs on all of these items are the divisional insignia of the seven premier Waffen-SS Panzer divisions, as were seen on the vehicles of those military formations. Naturally, this includes the Totenkopf and the Viking sun wheel symbol which were used by the 3rd and 5th Panzer Divisions respectively.
But might these symbols not be seen by some as offensive?
This is possible, though in much the same way as some people may see the symbols of the Soviet Red Army offensive, an image of Joseph Stalin, Chairman Mao or Che Guevara. It is all a matter of interpretation, and everyone is to some extent usually offended or annoyed by something.
But isn’t the Totenkopf a symbol of death, an overt Nazi symbol that might be used by neo-Nazis?
It is likely that neo-Nazis may make use of the Totenkopf as a symbol that represents their ideals. But in the same way a supporter of Stalin’s genocidal policies might say the same thing about one of the many fashionable articles of clothing adorned with the face of Che Guevara. The point is that neo-Nazis and other extremists will continue to exist even if such items were unavailable.
But isn’t the Totenkopf a hate symbol?
The Totenkopf has been projected as a “hate” symbol due to the lack of education surrounding its history. The SS chose this symbol not because they wanted to have something scary on their headgear, but because it was an age-old, well-established symbol used by military elites. The use of the Totenkopf as a military insignia can be traced back to the early nineteenth century; a derivation is still used today by the Royal Lancers, and before that the Queen’s Royal Lancers, an élite cavalry unit of the British Army.
Why is the symbol of the 5th Panzer Division a Swastika?
The symbol of the 5th SS Panzer Division “Wiking” was the sun wheel, an ancient and folkloric Viking symbol that predated the Nazis. Given the fact that the core of this division were Scandinavians, this symbol was chosen as the divisional insignia.
But isn’t it a hate symbol?
Different symbols have been adopted by different groups, and it doesn’t make any sense to shoulder the responsibility should some individuals choose to abuse them. One might as well take offence at the Lord of the Rings franchise, where a number of “Nazi” runic symbols can be found.
Might neo-Nazis not purchase the Panzer Division merchandise?
I have no doubt that some people who may express interest in these items may harbour certain fringe beliefs; however, in my experience these items have proved to be far more interesting for military enthusiasts. This has been borne out by the fact that the most popular items have been those featuring the simple and otherwise nondescript Leibstandarte key symbol – something which your common or garden neo-Nazi would be ignorant of or indifferent to.
Why can I not purchase any panzerace.net items using PayPal?
Paypal, like its parent company eBay, has a number of policies in place that have determined that items classified as “Nazi memorabilia” and the like are banned. This is why you cannot purchase a politically neutral item like the Michael Wittmann t-shirt or beer mug while at the same time being able to buy a similar item adorned by a grinning Mao Tse-Tung. Try going to eBay and searching for “Mao t-shirt” – you may be unpleasantly surprised at what some fashionable hipsters wear these days.