One Man Fought for Germany in 4 Wars on 3 Continents and Helped Create the Nazi Party

The Nazi elite in 1930. Epp stands to Hitler’s left. Tumblr

In the coming years the Nazi share of the vote in Germany expanded steadily, positioning Hitler to be appointed Chancellor and leading to his seizure of power. Once in power, Hitler rewarded Epp for his contribution to the development of the Party by naming him Governor of Bavaria. In his capacity as Governor he oversaw the creation of the Dachau concentration camp. He also had the power to select the heads of the Munich police as well as the Munich political police. He chose Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich respectively for these jobs.

Owing to his high profile and his service in the colonies, Epp took on an additional responsibility in 1936 as the leader of the Reich Colonial League. Though the Reich Colonial League’s initial mission was to encourage the reacquisition of German colonies in Africa, it would be repurposed once the Second World War began. Hitler’s vision for the East bore the imprint of Germany’s colonial past. The conception of Lebensraum, or living space, that he had laid out in Mein Kampf imagined that the East might be colonized by clearing of its peoples and filling up with German settlers.

Shortly before Germany invaded the Soviet Union the German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels contacted Epp, instructing him to alter the mission of the Reich Colonial League. Instead of pushing for the return of German colonies in Africa, the League was to focus its efforts on the East. He was also to comb through the League’s membership in search of volunteers who were willing to make the trek east to establish new German settlements in former Soviet territory. After the invasion recruits from the League would follow on the heels of the German Wehrmacht to make their claims.

The turning point in the East came with the Battle of Stalingrad. Following the German defeat there the Nazi regime abandoned its project for creating a “New Order” in the conquered territories. Settlement activity stopped, Goebbels instructed his Propaganda Ministry to cease its discussion of colonization, and the Reich Colonial League was disbanded. Epp fell out of favor and, while he remained Governor of Bavaria, he had little remaining influence. In the final month of the war Epp was arrested for a suspected affiliation with an anti-Nazi Bavarian separatist movement.

Epp’s lose association with a resistance movement may well have cost him his life had the war not come to an end shortly after his arrest. As a consequence of the stress of the German collapse and his incarceration Epp began experiencing heart problems and was hospitalized after the Allies arrived. He was identified in the hospital, and shortly thereafter was taken into American custody in Munich. Epp was scheduled to stand trial at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity, but he died in his cell before facing justice.

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