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The SANI Impression
By Marcus Jurado, edited by Jonathan Bocek


There is very little known about the German Sanitater; however it is possible to piece together some information to better aid us in the understanding and representation of these brave men. Surprisingly the German Sani faced many different challenges when compared to his G.I. counterparts. These differences began quite early in the war with the invasion of Russia. 

(SANI ATTENDING TO THE WOUNDED ON THE BATTLEFIELD)

While on the Ostfront the German Sani was given no quarter. Although they were given permission to wear the Red Cross and therefore protected under that symbol, the Russian military rarely respected the rules set forth by the Geneva Convention. Under the Geneva Convention anyone wearing the Red Cross is to be respected as a non-combatant and spared hostilities (see Article 6 of the Geneva Convention below). 

This leads us to our first misinterpretation of the German Sanitater. Many impressions are put forth that portray a Sani covered with Red Crosses; Stalhelms, armbands and vests. But this may not be the best picture of a Sanitater on the Ostfront. The Russians saw the Sani in a very different light, they viewed him as yet another German invader and therefore they instead opened fire on the Sani freely. Note the fate of this medical division on the Ostfront at Stalingrad:

ďAlong with the combat troops, all the divisionís medical units and other medical services were crushed, scattered, surrounded and captured. Yet doctors and medics, the personnel of the main bandaging stations and hospitals, gave their services as long as they could and helped wherever it was possible. They rescued and treated the wounded, even under the worst conditions, gave first aid to the slightly wounded, treated the badly wounded and remained with them until the Russians came. From them, too, nothing further was heard (Buchner, p. 75).Ē

Circumstances like these prompt many Sanis to refrain from wearing any medical identification at all. Many Saniís have been noted to comment that the white background that the Red Cross is attached to made too good of a target for Russian fire. This may be why there are so few pictures of identifiable Saniís on the Ostfront. It is especially rare to see Red Cross painted Stalhelms on the Ostront. 

(M-35 Stalhelm WITH RED CROSS MARKINGS)

Thus, a better Sanitater impression for the Ostfront might be one with minimal visual medical identification.

(SANI ON THE OSTRONT WITH ONLY AN ARMBAND FOR IDENTIFICATION)

The Russian behavior towards medical staff on the Ostfront led to another common misinterpretation. Many reenactors get very worked up when they see a Sanitater carrying a weapon. One must keep in mind that the medical corps was viewed as a combatant by the Werhmacht and therefore received combatant training. They were also issued weapons just like their Heer brothers. Medical units were not only issued p-38ís but K-98ís, MP-40ís and MGís in order to defend themselves (Editor's note: While this is historically true, the most common "personal" weapon of the average sanitater  assigned to a combat unit would be that of a p-38 or nothing at all). So it was not uncommon at all to see Sanitaters carrying weapons. So it is very important that we keep in mind that the common Sani was trained just like the rest of the Werhmacht and thus was a viable soldaten. 

But what about the Geneva Convention, didnít it forbid the carrying of weapons by medical personnel? Absolutely not! Germany was a member of the Geneva Convention from the original signings, so therefore knew the directives quite well, and abided by them in every capacity. It is in fact stated very clearly within the document that captured hospitals or medical units found with weapons are specifically NOT to be penalized for it. 

Of most importance to the reenactor are the following articles. In Chapter II of the Geneva Convention of 1929 Article 8 states: A sanitary formation (medical) or establishment shall not be deprived of the protection of Article 6 by the fact:

1) that the personnel of the formation or establishment is ARMED AND USES ITS ARMS IN SELF-DEFENSE OR IN DEFENSE OF ITS WOUNDED AND SICK;
2) that in the absence of armed hospital attendants the formation is guarded by an ARMED DETACHMENT OR BY SENTINELS;
3) that hand firearms or ammunition taken from the wounded and sick and not yet turned over to the proper authorities are found in the formation or establishment;
4) that there is found in the formation or establishment personnel or materiel of the veterinary service which does not integrally belong to it
 

(AN ARMED SANI: NOTE THE P-38 ON HIS BELT)

Article 6, to which is being alluded to above, states that "Mobile sanitary formations, i.e., those which are intended to accompany armies in the field and the fixed establishments belonging to the sanitary service shall be protected and respected by the belligerents." This of course being the article that the Soviet Union was violating on a consistent basis by opening fire on the German Sanitater.

(ANOTHER AMRED SANI: NOTE THE SANI OBSERVING IN THE BACKGROUND HAS HIS K-98 POUCHES)

What is most important to note is that the Geneva Convention never states that the Sani is a ďnon-combatantĒ and therefore may not carry a weapon. The notion that a member of the medical corps may not be armed is in fact an American interpretation of the document, but is not stated anywhere within the Geneva Convention.

As noted above, the medical companies of the Werhmacht were issued weapons, including MGís. They went so far as to even attach MG squads to medical companies for protection. Unfortunately many allied powers saw the armed German Sanitater as a poser, hiding under the Red Cross for tactical purposes, and often shot them.

(YET ANOTHER ARMED SANI: NOTE THE SANI AIDING THE PATIENT HAS A P-38 HOLSTER AT HIS SIDE)

In summary, as a result of hostilities aimed at the Sanitater while on the Ostfront, very few wore more than an armband identifying them as medical personnel. Was it possible that some wore Red Cross marked stalhelms and vests, probably, but not common. Additionally, the Sanitater was often seen as an armed combatant on the Ostfront, and to a lesser degree on the western front. A good Sani impression should take these factors into account. And next time someone challenges you about carrying a weapon while under the Red Cross, simply refer to Chapter II, Article 8. Nothing is better than having your facts! 

(SANI TREATING THE WOUNED)

 


 
Sources:

- Geneva Convention, 1929
- Yahoogroups: 1S-Kompanie: German WWII Medical Reenactors
-

Buchner, A. (1999). The German Army Medical Corps in World War II:  A Photo Chronicle. Atglen , Pa :  Schiffer Military History

- Photos from: www.wwiidaybyday.com

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