Posted on February 19th, 2017 by:

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When Heinrich Steinmeier died at age 90,  he made one final trip to Scotland to have his ashes spread over the land that captured his heart as a young man. In life, he had regularly sent packages of toys and chocolates to the Scottish village of Comrie to the many friends he made there. In death, he gave everything he had to the tiny village: his life savings and even his home. Steinmeier loved the Scots and Scotland, it was a love affair that began in 1944 when Steinmeier was 19 and a member of Hitler’s dreaded Waffen-SS.

Heinrich Steinmeier SS

Heinrich Steinmeier in SS uniform and after the war. (picture via

When Heinrich Steinmeier was a child, Adolf Hitler was the savior of Germany. The Nazi leader brought work and bread to the people and young boys like Heinrich flocked to the cause, ready to serve their Führer in any way demanded of them. Under the Nazi’s, Heinrich’s father found work and could feed his family again. Heinrich found purpose and camaraderie in the Hitler Youth, the Nazi indoctrinated version of the boy scouts. When World War Two broke out, Heinrich’s father, a World War One veteran, was called back into service and was killed in action. Heinrich wanted to fight for his country as well and tried to enlist at 16. He wanted to be elite, he wanted to join the Waffen-SS, the men known for fighting the hardest and taking the most casualties. At 16, Heinrich was told he was too young. He waited another year and enlisted at age 17. He was assigned to the 12th SS Panzer Division named the “HitlerJugend” because it was comprised mostly of teenage boys who had been members of the Hitler Youth.

Heinrich first saw action in Normandy against the British and Canadian forces. The 12th SS Panzer Division gained a reputation for ferocity and brutality during the Normandy Campaign, committing massacres of French civilians and Canadian prisoners of war.

On August 28, 1944, Steinmeyer found himself hiding in a hole with another 18 year old SS man when a Scottish armored vehicle drove up demanding the surrender of German soldiers ahead of Steinmeier. When the Germans did not surrender they were shot. Realizing the situation was hopeless, Steinmeier and his comrade chose to surrender. When Steinmeier was made to empty his pockets by his captors, he produced two apples. Instead of taking them, the Scottish soldier told him to keep them as he would need them. This act of kindness was only a prelude his life being saved many times by the Scots.

Taken to the Seine river to be sent back through Allied lines, Steinmeier and his comrade were spat on and attacked by a group of knife wielding elderly French women. The Scottish guards fended off the women again and again until the ferry came and took the SS men away. On the voyage from France to England, the two SS men were put with other German soldiers. Some of the men guarding them were Poles who noticed the SS runes on their collar. The Poles, approached, flashed pocket knives and said they would slit their throats. Seeing that the teens were being bothered, the Scottish guards on the ship took the two SS men to their quarters and gave them food and big jackets to sleep on. Steinmeier was sure that if this had not happened he and his comrade would not have survived the journey.

In England, the two SS men came under threat again from their Polish guards only to be taken into the Scottish guard’s quarters. The Scots did the same thing for them on the train ride to the prison camp in Scotland. Steinmeier felt lucky he was guarded by Scots as he heard other British soldiers felt it was better to kill SS men.

As an SS man, Steinmeier received the classification of category “C” prisoner, reserved for what were considered hard-line Nazi’s. He was briefly sent to Perthshire in a small camp by Crieff before being transported to Cultybraggan. Cultybraggan was a camp set up for people deemed dangerous and fanatical Nazis. Steinmeier was held at Cultybraggan from September 1944 to June 1945. From there he was sent to Watten, Caithness, another maximum security Nazi camp.

The Scottish colonel in charge of Caithness was kind to the prisoners and fed them well. There was a Christian young men’s group that gave tea to prisoners free of charge. After the war, Steinmeier was sent to another camp in Ladybank, Fife, where he was allowed to go out to work on the local farms. The warmth of the people left a lasting impression on Steinmeier, who had not expected any kindness from an enemy country, especially to an SS man.

Steinmeier remembers:

“The family had two farms: Turret Farm and Greenside Farm. They used to give us half a crown each night, even though they didn’t have to pay us anything. Each night we also got a big slice of home-made cake and some meat. One day I asked the family if I could change my coins into a ten-shilling note. We weren’t allowed any Scottish money, so I wanted to hide it. The wife asked me why I wanted the money and I said I wanted to buy a pair of shoes. She asked me what size I was. The next day she went to Leven and bought the shoes plus socks plus shoe polish, and she didn’t want any money. Then, when I told her that there was a food shortage in Germany, she sent three food parcels to my mother to help her. They were incredibly kind people.”

After the war, Steinmeier and other Nazi prisoners were shown footage of the Nazi atrocities and concentration camps. Like many of the men watching, he found it hard to believe and thought it was faked by the Allies. He remembers other Nazi POW’s that were watching laughed and were taken outside by the British and made to do exercise as punishment. Steinmeier himself found it hard to understand or believe the full extent of the atrocities even when he returned to Germany in the 1970s. Later in life, he said he realized the truth and how bad it was.

When German soldiers were repatriated in 1948, Steinmeier decided to stay in Scotland. He worked on a farm and lived in a hostel with 30 other Germans. Steinmeier came to appreciate the Scots people in his village more when the mother of his Scottish girlfriend made false accusations on him.

“She went to a policeman and tried to get me kicked out of the place for giving a Nazi salute, which was untrue. She also said I was unrepentant. But the farmer defended me and said that if I hadn’t been an honest man then I would not have been working for him.”

Steinmeier grew to love the town of Comrie where he lived and worked. He returned to Germany in the 1970’s by the request of his mother who died soon after he moved back. Steinmeier felt that if it were not for his mother’s request, he would have stayed in Scotland. He made regular trips back and kept in touch with friends there for the rest of his life. The people he met during and after the war made such a wonderful impression on him that he decided to leave his life savings and house to the elderly people of Comrie, the people who had made friends with him when he was young.

Steinmeier’s will read: “I would like to express my gratitude to the people of Scotland for the kindness and generosity that I have experienced in Scotland during my imprisonment of war and hereafter.”

His will specifically stated that the money from the sale of his house and other possessions was to be used for “elderly people”.

When Steinmeier died at the age of 90 in 2014 his ashes were scattered in the hills above the camp where he had been held. In 2016, his bequest of £384,000 (Euro 457,180) was gifted to the village’s local community trust, then sent to a special Heinrich Steinmeier Legacy Fund, set up by Comrie Development Trust as a separate account.

The trust is to be “used exclusively to provide for local developments for older people, suggested by older people”.

For Further Readings See:

Soldiers of Germania – The European volunteers of the Waffen SS

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  • Bill Getz says:

    Any German age 15 or more (arbitrary) knew exactly what was going on in Germany when they saw their shop keepers and other Jewish residents marched out of their villages and towns and put on trains. Any member of the Waffen SS participated in some of the horror reigned down on the French. A guilty conscious is not assuaged by claiming “I knew nothing” of Sgt. Schultz in the Great Escape and by giving compensation to the Scots. Steinmier was a Nazi. I will never forgive them.

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