Count Christian Frederick von Schalburg born in Ukraine on 15 April 1906. His father, August Theodor Schalburg, was a Danish landowner and director of several dairy plants in Siberia while his mother, Elena Vasiljevna, was a Ukrainian. He grew up to a large extent in a German-Danish-Ukrainian community and learned to speak fluent Russian. He later joined the Czarist cadet corps, but fled the country with his family after the Bolshevik takeover.
Taking refuge in Denmark, von Schalburg enlisted in Den Kongelige Livgarde (Royal Life Guard) and worked his way up to the rank of Captain. He married with Helle von Schalburg and has a son, Alex. In fact, his marriage with a member of German nobility gave him an opportunity to add the ‘von’ title to his name. In the late 1930s von Schalburg was attracted to the Danish National Socialist Workers Party (DNSAP) and served as the leader of its youth branch—a move that cost him his position in the Den Kongelige Livgarde because his superior described him as “unstable and for the army possibly a dangerous man.” Frustrated and thought himself as a victim of Jewish slander, when the Russo-Finnish War broke, he organized a Danish volunteer battalion to fight on the side of the Finns. It had barely entered the country in March 1940, when Finland forced to capitulate. In deep frustration, he and other volunteers returned to Denmark.
After the German occupation of Denmark in April 1940, von Schalburg became one of the first volunteers for the new SS-Standarte ‘Nordland’. He was later aattended training at an SS Officers Academy in Germany from November 17, 1940 to December 10, 1940. He subsequently serves as ‘Wiking’ divisional O1 (a position for prospective General Staff trainees).
During the first nine months in Russia, he came under fire many times and led kampfgruppen in several engagements. Since von Schalburg spoke fluent Russian, he actually served more like the Ic, or Intelligence Officer. While his post was O1, he in practice made himself useful on the staff by carrying out various other tasks such as interrogating prisoners and serving as the unofficial spokesman for the Scandinavian volunteers in the division. As a result he was quickly awarded both classes of the Iron Cross as well as a high Danish medal for bravery. The ‘Wiking’ commander, SS-Gruppenführer Felix Steiner, considered him one of the most capable, intelligent and totally courageous men in the division.
When the Russo-German war broke, the Danish Government formed a volunteer formation as theirs military contribution to the war with Russia. Named as ‘Frikorps Danmark’, the Danish War Ministry selected a senior artillery officer, Lieutenant Colonel Christian Peter Kryssing to command the unit. A fierce anti-communist, however, Kryssing was also a known Danish nationalist and patriot. Soon he clashed with his German commanding-officer and removed from the command as a result. The SS-FHA later named von Schalburg as his successor to lead the ‘Frikorps Danmark’.
The SS gave von Schalburg this command mostly because of his political reliability and willingness to provide his corps with the required ideological training. Starting immediately, von Schalburg, now an SS-Sturmbannführer, initiated a rigorous of combat readiness training, complete with integrated heavy weapons utilization and defensive improvisation techniques. Evenings were given over to discussing military problems and Kriegspiel (war game) outings in the sand tables. As part of his responsibility for the unit's training, he introduced lessons in German and Russian for his men. Von Schalburg selected the 2nd Company commander, a fanatical Nazi SS-Hauptsturmführer Knud Borge Martinsen as his protégé and second-in-command.
On 8 May 1942 von Schalburg and his men were flown by Luftwaffe into the Demyansk Pocket to reinforce the surrounded German troops in the area. On 2 June 1942, von Schalburg initiated the first offensive operation of Frikorps Danmark. In an attempt to monitor the progress of the battle, against the advice of a company commander, von Schalburg advanced towards the front line. But he stepped on a mine and was moments later killed by shrapnel from a Russian shell.
His poor judgment, which paid dearly by his own life, could indicate that he may not have been a competent commander. It must, however, be noted that in the SS this behavior was not uncommon and that the losses of commanders in the SS were exceptionally high, including von Schalburg's successor who fell just two days after arriving at the corps.
A day after his death, Schalburg's body was transported in a coffin draped in Dannebrog to the cemetery of the corps located in the small village Biakovo in the Demyansk area. Regimental commander Becker from SS Division ‘Totenkopf’ spoke at the funeral. On the same day (but effective June 1) Reichsführer SS Himmler posthumously promoted von Schalburg to SS-Obersturmbannführer. A Danish medal, the Schalburg Cross was named after von Schalburg. His widow founded Schalburgs mindefond (memorial fund), which sent packages to Danish volunteers on the Eastern Front.
Aside from gloriously memorials, there were also some darkest pages to memorized von Schalburg death. Von Schalburg was a popular commander among his subordinates. Thus, his death apparently enraged his men. A Danish officer wrote home “no prisoners were taken” on the day of von Schalburg death. Later, his protégé and successor as Frikorps Danmark commander, Knud Borge Martinsen, formed an infamous Schalburg Korpset which mainly served against Danish guerillas. The unit brutality against their compatriots created a new term with bad meaning in Danish vocabulary, schalburgtage, which mean “to kill, rob, and destroy”.
Copyright © Nino Oktorino 2008