Steinecke: Cornerstone of Evil

Paul Steinecke - July 1944, in full SS Death's Head (Totenkopf) uniform
Anke and Paul Steinecke on their wedding day
Walter Steinecke was a dedicated Nazi activist, leader, organizer, member of parliament, and "boss." Paul Steinecke was a proud member of the infamous "Death's Head" (German: "Totenkopf") division of the SS.
Anke Steinecke with husband Paul, on their wedding day. She shared with him more than just a name.

Why Steinecke? What's with this name?

"Steinecke" in the German language means "cornerstone."

Major evil requires many participants. But the "cornerstones" or Steineckes of evil are the critical ingredient in great evils, past and present. It just so happens that in the most notorious evil in living memory, the German machine of hatred, murder, domination, plunder, racism, and "anti-thought" that flourished from the 1930s until defeated in 1945, many of these cornerstone people actually bore the name "Steinecke."

The look of evil

Sometimes evil's apparent - sometimes it isn't. Anke Steinecke's gaze sets off alarms: "Beware and escape this evil woman at full speed (if you can)!" But other evildoers such as Walter Steinecke, or Paul Steinecke as an old man, look just like middle-aged dads or kindly grandpas. Sometimes you can't tell, just by looking.

Hannah Arendt's wrote a book titled Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Some folks have therefore heard the phrase "the banality of evil," but it never caught on, probably because few people know or use the word "banal."

Too bad. It'd be good for people to recognize that evil can appear everyday, respectable, upstanding. The evildoer can seem to be (and even think of themselves as) "just doing their job," "just going along and getting along," and "not making waves," when in fact they're actively furthering evil outcomes. They may get hints, if not from their conscience, then from other persons, that something's wrong in what they're doing. Often the evildoer puts off these hints, relying on well-developed rationalizations, reassuring themselves (if not convincing others) that "what I'm doing is right/OK."

Avoid evil; don't be a Steinecke. Combat evil - oppose the Steinecke

Imagine a good-hearted teen reading literature for the first time, coming aware of history and forces still present in the society and world around them, asking "How can we keep this from happening again?" A classic answer: "Don't be a Hitler." A better answer: "Don't be a Steinecke." Or, "Beware, stay vigilant. Guard against the Steinecke; oppose, battle, attempt to frustrate, disempower, and defeat him or her."

Though very important, neither the people at the very top (like Hitler), nor the people at the bottom, are most important when combatting evil. To most effectively combat evil we should focus on and oppose the Steineckes.

Steineckes and others - evil's context and roles

Unlike cruelty, in which a power relationship is virtually always present, evil doesn't always involve power. Evildoers can trick, deceive, withhold or suppress information, misinform, "maintain a stance" or stick to one single topic (while ignoring/refusing to discuss important related facts, ideas, or considerations), and otherwise represent reality in an incomplete, inaccurate, or slanted way.  Still, once the victim learns what's going on, continued evil relies on power. Without power in the picture, the victim (once aware/informed) could simply walk away from the scene. Power comes in many forms but in modern times the greatest and most common evils occur, and have occurred, inside a legal/governmental framework, in which evildoers follow and enforce a well-thought-out and constructed body of rules and procedures. These famous statements all attest to this:
These are the kinds of things that Steineckes say. There are excellent responses, but they're beyond the scope of this document, which is not intended to argue against evil, but simply to describe, define, and characterize it to some extent.

Conceptions of evil

When Americans think of or discuss "evil," one of two images generally comes to mind.

Personal evil & sin

The first is the Christian conception of sin and "the devil and all his works." Briefly, this conception defines sin as behavior repellent to God and/or "against the rules." Doctrine states that there is a living force of sin embodied in an actual person, being, or entity (the devil) who desires that people do evil, tempts them to do it, and then tortures them for eternity when they do (unless they repent). Though organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church have comprehensive, detailed, well-thought-out, broad-ranging and balanced statements as to what's evil and what isn't, these days in America, when one hears Christians speaking of sin, the topic is most often somehow related to sex.

The Christian conception of sin is hugely influential in American life but because of the emphasis on spirits and sex, it only goes so far. Along with others, American Christians recognize that non-Christians do exist, as do people with no religion at all. So, from a societal point of view, there needs to be an (other) conception of right versus wrong, or good versus evil, that does not depend on Christian beliefs - that can and does apply to everyone. And though they may not consciously voice this, Christians also generally recognize that some evil does not appear to be powered, motivated, and/or instigated by the devil.

Social evil - atrocities, injustice, oppression - Germany and Nazism

The second image that springs to mind when Americans think of evil is Nazi Germany. Though with time, Americans' grasp of the details starts to fade, most Americans do generally know that a great evil (Germany/Nazism) came to power, and nearly to world dominance, in the last century. The vivid images of German evildoers live on.

This image of evil's distinctly different from the Christian one. Few people (even devout Christians), when attempting to comprehend the Germans' evil thoughts, deeds, and psychic/mental orientation, offer as explanation that "the Germans were serving/obeying the devil."  To most Americans, Christian or not, the idea that the marching German millions, making their elaborate evil designs and pursuing those designs day in, day out, year in, year out, were simply motivated/inhabited by the devil, doing nothing more or less than serving his will, is not a satisfying explanation. American Christians who served in the post-World-War-II reorientation/government of Germany did not imagine this simple solution: all Germans should go to confession, or confess their sins directly to God, and "Hey Presto! Problem solved, let's go home." Folks recognized - this was a different kind of evil.

Though the German embodiment of evil was the standout example, orders of magnitude greater than other more current examples, people recognize that this sort of evil still exists today. One might call it a "social" or "societal" evil because it involves collaboration with others.1

Societal evil is still personal in an important sense. Not everyone in evil days or environments is themselves evil; people still exercise choice. As Goldhagen points out2, Germans in the days of Hitler were able to exercise choice, and did so. Though military service was compulsory, Germans were able to decline participation in evil acts. For example, Germans who opted out of participation in the Einsatzgruppen (literally: "task forces" - typical German euphemism for mobile killing units) were not punished. Almost universally, Germans were not forced to do their evil acts against their will; they chose/agreed to do them. Not every German chose to actively participated in evil. But very many did.

The range of specific German acts of evil is broad, ranging from systematically murdering whole villages, including innocent children, shooting them with rifle and pistol at close range, to "minor" but still clearly evil acts such as suppressing/interfering with people's ability to read, or their access to literature, as for example during the book-burnings of the 1930s. Or for that matter as is done nowadays by Intellectual Monopolists and copyright trolls.

Evil and Roles

Many have contributed to our understanding of societal evil, and to each individual's role within the larger "evil machine."

The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center defines three categories of persons, involved in evil:
  1. Perpetrators
  2. "Upstanders" who resist/combat evil in one way or another
  3. "Bystanders" who allow evil to continue unimpeded
Therapists dealing with drug abuse, domestic violence, and other evils speak of the following roles:
These roles and others are all important in understanding and combatting evil, but the natural first group to ponder, is the evildoers themselves. They can be categorized into three groups:

Top Dogs

Their names are infamous. Hitler. Mao. Stalin. Robespierre. Pol Pot. The biggest of the big, most evil of the evil, big bosses. They stand out as epitomes of evil. Yet to focus on them too intently masks a reality. Hitler (like the others) on his own could have done, and would have been, nothing.

Ira Levin's novel The Boys from Brazil imagined a German plot in which fanatic Germans backed by mad scientists manage to clone about 50 "copies" of Adolf Hitler. They send them out for adoption to households similar to Hitler's and try to tailor the boys' environments so that the combination of "nature and nurture" will produce new Hitlers. The overall goal is to restart the German evil that was defeated in 1945.

The book's a good read but many readers comment: "You know, those clones wouldn't really be able to do anything" (such as lead a political movement and take power). People with attitudes and personalities like Hitler's probably exist in the world today. Maybe you've met one or more of them. In a healthy society they're quickly identified as cranks and/or possible dangers, and ignored, discredited, sidelined, and otherwise excluded from the hallways of power.

Of course we must always be on the lookout for potential Hitlers. But the danger represented by, or embodied in, a "top dog," is actually relatively minor. To combat evil most effectively we need to look elsewhere.

Ordinary People

Daniel Goldhagen points out2 that to ask "How did Hitler make the Germans say 'yes'?" is to ask the wrong question. Ordinary Germans did not say "no" because they did not want to say "no." They hated Jews, or disliked them, or felt they'd be better off without them, or at the very minimum, didn't care enough about them to side with them.

Not millions but tens of millions of Germans felt and acted this way. It wasn't Hitler who caused the atrocities (he just spearheaded the project), but the German people themselves. Germans in that day were active, willing, even enthusiastic participants in and promoters of evil.

You could conclude that to combat evil, you need to educate or win over an entire population, or perhaps only 51% of them. This was actually done in post-World War Two Germany; propaganda and education campaigns (including the public trials of the top dogs) convinced some portion of ordinary Germans that what they had done and believed was repugnant, immoral, anti-human and subhuman. They came to reject their own actions and prior beliefs. Or at least pretend they did.

Many people suggest that to combat evil, we must target the behavior &/or attitudes of the general population:
As a matter of practical morality - finding useful lessons - should our greatest worry be about people blindly following explicitly genocidal orders? It might be more to the point to consider how readily we delegate our moral decision-making to respectable authorities - as respectable as a Yale professor in a white laboratory coat - who assure us that however questionable the things we're told to do may seem, they're all in a good cause.3
There's a problem with taking this as a general prescription. It's daunting! Trying to change the minds and hearts of an entire population numbered in the tens or hundreds of millions? You could spend an entire lifetime trying with no discernable result.

The Steineckes

What's vital to the big-time furtherance of evil is neither bosses/top dogs, nor legions of willing drones. Both those ingredients can be present in a society and systematic evil may still not result.

It's the cornerstones of evil, the Steineckes, that tie all the ingredients together and make everything work. If we want to eliminate systematic evil, a very good place to start, is with the Steineckes.

Think for a moment about the architectural image that the word "Steinecke" (cornerstone) implies.

Imagine the top dogs perched way up on top of a mansion, perhaps in a cupola or penthouse.

Imagine the regular people, the ordinary folks, making up the walls. They're the raw material that the building is made of.4

What actually defines the structure - its shape, length, width, height? Says where the walls (the bricks that make up the wall) should go? Really, "makes" the building?

It's the cornerstones, the Steineckes, of course. Without the few thousand critical, all-important Steineckes of evil, people would not be organized to evil. The schemes and directions of the top dogs would never get turned into practical action. Top dogs, being few in number, simply do not have the time (or "bandwidth" as they say in current jargon) to plan, implement, and manage major, systematic evil. Therefore, without the Steineckes, skilled in and dedicated to evil, systematic evil cannot be carried out.

Evil now and evil then

We hope that no evil such as was created and embodied by mid-20th century Germans will ever rise again. Certainly, what the Germans practiced (systematic stupidity and self-congratulation mixed with murderous disregard) was nothing new. The Germans' industrial might was great; so was other nations' inability to accept (and act on) the idea that supposedly civilized people would truly sink to such depths. So the scale of German evil was unusually large. But the elements of evil (such as domination, authoritarianism, and willingness to use force) still exist.

Since the elements of evil still exist, it is good to consider how to keep those elements from being tied together. Evil tends to grow, so how to oppose it most effectively, so it doesn't grow to the point where opposing it becomes an all-important, all-consuming task, overriding all other activity.

Obviously early detection is important. This is never simple, partly because evil isn't always immediately recognizable, and also because evildoers, being creative and inventive, find new ways to exercise themselves.

The best we can do is look to real-life examples. We'll never see their exact like again, but perhaps we can identify some characteristics, so that in the future, when in the presence of evil/evildoers, we can recognize the situation and have some idea of what to do in it.

Following the previous idea that we may most effectively combat evil by combatting the Steineckes of evil, we may examine more closely three instances of real-life Steineckes of evil. These persons actually lived, and actually lived up to their name, being true Steineckes ("cornerstones") of evil.

Recall that people play different roles in their execution of evil. These particular three Steineckes of evil are now gone from the scene, but in their lifetimes, they played three different and critical roles. By examining them as examples or archetypes we can both get an idea of three interlocking roles, and, learn to be on our guard.

The three roles (along with their exemplifiers/instantiators):

Walter Steinecke - The manager/governor

Paul Steinecke - The pointy end of the spear

Anke Steinecke
- The warp of the loom, the background, the reality check/lodestone, the enthusiastic supporter

Without a goodly supply of these Steineckes, the edifice of evil will crumble, never get built in the first place, or be nothing more than a (possibly sickening) bad idea that never got off the ground. Organized evil requires Steineckes; one possibly "most effective way" to resist organized evil is to resist and combat these Steineckes.

Walter Steinecke


Walter Steinecke, (born March 7 1888 in Pützlingen, died 1975) was a dedicated and successful Nazi activist, leader, organizer, member of parliament, and "boss" (with various German-language titles).

It is not known if Steinecke suffered any consequences or remorse for his active service and promotion of evil, in the 30 golden years of life he enjoyed after the fall of the Nazi/German beast he so faithfully served and promoted.

Walter Steinecke's path to evil, like that of most Nazis, began from what Germans of that day and societal climate considered "normal." He attended grammar school at Nordhausen and Erfurt, in 1908 served as a cadet in the first West Prussian Pioneer Battalion No. 17, attended the War College in Engers in 1909, and was promoted to lieutenant in that year. From 1912 to 1924 he trained at the Military Technical Academy in Berlin-Charlottenburg. In the First World War he served in East Prussia, and served in units that attacked and occupied Poland and France. In May 1918 he was awarded the Iron Cross of both classes and before war's end, was promoted to captain.

Those familiar with Hitler's life path may note an eery resemblance to Steinecke's - after his WWI military decoration, apparently earned, from 1919 to 1920 Steinecke studied as a painter and graphic artist in Kassel.

In 1929 Steinecke joined the Nazi Party, jumping on to the bandwagon at an opportune time, when the party's membership was just 130,000. 4 years later (in 1933) membership had risen to 2,000,000, and would eventually rise to 8,000,000.

Though Steinecke did not quite get in on the ground floor, he did pretty well for himself. From all accounts he did well for Nazism also. In 1930 he became head of the local Nazi party chapter in Lemgo, a town in the Lippe territory about halfway between Osnabruck and Hanover. In 1932 he became Bezirksleiter for Lippe, and took over overall organization of the election campaign prior to the elections of January 1933. In these elections Steinecke won a position as MP (Minister of Parliament) in the Reichstag. He took over leadership of the Nazi party bloc, and continued to serve as MP from November 1933 right up until the end of Nazi rule in the spring of 1945.

Steinecke's parliamentary "duties" may be considered a formality (though the position was certainly an "honor" in those days) since the Reichstag was really no more than a rubber stamp. However, Steinecke faithfully served as an active agent of German Nazi evil, forwarding the cause (and maintaining Nazi control) in other ways. From 1933 to 1934 Steinecke was Gaukommissar or District Commissar for Lippe, and Acting Deputy Chair of the Employment Office in Detmold. After 1934, Steinecke was Gauamtsleiter or District Head of Office in the district of North Westphalia.

Steinecke also served the German/Nazi cause in the infamous Storm Troopers (Sturm Abteilung or SA), in which he reached the rank of Sturmbannführer (Major).

Role and Type

Walter Steinecke's the professional manager that no large organization can do without. Jillions of small details need to be handled and decided; jillions of tasks and actions need to be carried out, to accomplish anything big.

Organized evil requires skilled and dedicated Steineckes such as Walter, willing to advance both their career and the evil organization of which they're part.

Paul Steinecke

Hauptsturmführer Paul Steinecke served proudly, effectively, and with distinction in perhaps the most evil and dreaded of all German organizations: the "Totenkopf" or "Death's Head" division of the Waffen-SS, from June 1937 until the end of World War II, with a break when he attended the SS-Junkerschule Braunschweig in 1942-43. Among Steinecke's other titles and positions he was "first assistant division operations officer."  Steinecke quite possible escaped death when he got away from his division as or after it surrendered and was turned over from the Americans to the Russians in July 1944 (the Russians did not treat captured SS well).  After World War II ended, Paul lived until 1992, apparently enjoying a good life and retirement. That he was proud of his activities is incontrovertible; Steinecke was the leader of the Totenkopf division veterans association for many years and managed the project of writing the 8-volume division history, "Soldaten Kämpfer Kameraden."

To catalog all of Steinecke's evil acts would probably require reading that history, but of course, being written by Steinecke himself and his fellows, one would expect whitewashing, hand-waving, and glossing-over. He was certainly knee-deep, if not neck-deep, in the blood of innocents. It's known, for example that Steinecke's division escorted the Einsatzgruppe A (specifically tasked with murdering all Jews) to Leningrad.5 And the timing of Steinecke's service would indicate that he may probably have started out/served as a concentration camp guard.6 Whether Steinecke himself ever actually pulled the trigger on innocents may not be known (or admitted), however, from all appearances he certainly was ready to:

Paul Steinecke (center, wearing pistol) in July 1941
Paul Steinecke armed with pistol by car

Paul Steinecke (left) giving "Heil Hitler" salute, October 1944
Paul Steinecke giving Heil Hitler salute

Paul Steinecke (next to right) chatting with General von Lüdwitz (at right), October 10, 1944
Paul Steinecke with General von Lüdwitz

Role and Type

Paul Steinecke's the clearest, most obvious cornerstone of evil; recognizable (and horrific) on sight. He's the "pointy end of the spear" - the active, on-the-spot agent of evil who personally and actually carries out the individual evil acts and programs. Willing to escort genocidal murderers to their victims (if not actually murder them himself), guard concentration camps, proudly salute and implement evil, hobnob with generals.

Organized evil requires skilled and dedicated Steineckes such as Paul, willing to use (and advance) their positions to carry out the most loathsome evil deeds.

Anke Steinecke


Anke Steinecke (also known as "Anneke" and/or "Annelies" - all are diminutive versions of the name "Anne"), married Paul Steinecke in December 1943; during but towards the end of his 8 years of service in the Totenkopf division. At that point, knowledge of his division's activities was common and widespread (though due to its odious nature, tacit). Anke Steinecke knew who and what she was marrying and did so willingly.

Anke Steinecke with husband Paul on their wedding day
Anke and Paul Steinecke on their wedding day

How do we know that? Well of course we can't be certain - who knows what's in the mind and heart of a new bride, or what factors might have figured in her choice of mate? Anke's photograph certainly looks like she's fully on board the "project of evil" - one can certainly imagine her wearing that same cold, supremely self-superior and confident unfeeling smile, while watching her husband execute Russian Jews7 (or perhaps "merely" escort them to their deaths, or their killers to them) - but perhaps this is just hindsight. Better evidence consists of Anke Steinecke's behavior after the war.

Anke Steinecke was a leading and active proponent of, and held office in, the Totenkopf division's veterans association. Paul said of her that she knew more about the Waffen-SS than he did.8 She was not just "Paul's sidekick" - after he died, she co-founded the Freundeskreis Paul Steinecke ("Circle of friends of Paul Steinecke"), a split from the regular Totenkopf veteran's association. It was an active and productive group: among other things, Anke Steinecke and her friends published a 60-page newsletter several times a year - no mean feat. Note its motto "Wie ein fels im meer" ("Like a rock in the sea"):

Cover of publication produced by Anke Steinecke in honor
of her husband Paul's activities and fellows
Anke and Paul Steinecke on their wedding day

"Like a rock in the sea" - a true Steinecke to the very end (Anke Steinecke produced the above publication in the 1990s). Everything we know of Anke Steinecke's involvement with evil says that she enthusiastically and actively supported it (and her husband in it) to the maximum extent she was able.

Role and Type

Germany in those days was certainly authoritarian and the attitude that women's place was with/in "Kinder, Küche, Kirche" ("children, kitchen, church") widespread. Just as certainly, many women didn't meekly retire to play submissive wallflower roles.

The role of women in the days before the "second wave" of women's liberation (in the 1960s and 1970s) is not easy to discuss, and nowadays is getting hard to actively imagine. Old sayings such as "Behind every successful man there's a good woman" not only sound quaint, but are hard to interpret, given modern realities. Yet there is (or was) truth to that and similar sayings.

Without living in that day and place much of what we can know about Anke Steinecke's role in evil must be speculative. However, here are some things we do know:
  • Men did love their wives and chose them partly for their personalities and compatibility.
  • Even authoritarian men did care for their wives, and were well aware of their wives' feelings, attitudes, and opinions. They may have had a dismissive or patronizing attitude toward them ("That's just like a woman") but they kept them in mind. Even if a husband's response to his wife's opinion was to shout (or slap) it and her down, he was aware of it.
  • Many wives did avail themselves of the ancient "communication strategies" of nagging and "going on."
  • There were in those days many strong, powerful women who did stand up for themselves (and Anke Steinecke by all appearances and evidence was one such).
In short, women in that day and place did have opinions, and men/their husbands were aware of them and did take them into consideration. Saying such as "Women were the warp upon which the fabric of society was woven" sound like cliches but hold a lot of truth.

Consider an event that happened in Germany in 1919; the granting of women the right to vote.  Often overlooked is the question "Who was it that did the granting?" The answer, of course, is "men." No man, in granting women this right, was outvoted by women. They were convinced, not coerced or forced, largely by women themselves.

Summarizing Anke Steinecke's role as woman and as active accomplice, we may conclude that "What women want/think" did matter in those days. Anke Steinecke, by supporting her husband in his furtherance and delivery of evil, formed the background, the reality check, the "lodestone" that men do and did pay attention to, and were affected by. Documented instances of German women standing against the Nazi party, and succeeding, do exist.9 Unfortunately as the record shows, Anke Steinecke did the opposite, supporting evil and her husband in it. Judging from the historical record, it seems unlikely that Anke would have attempted to sow any doubts in Paul's mind (or heart) about his actions or career.

Organized evil requires skilled and dedicated Steineckes such as Anke: willingly standing with and for their partners, validating their beliefs and actions, reassuring by word and deed "you're on the right track - you're doing fine."


1Of course, even in the context of "social" or "societal" evil, individuals must and do choose to do evil. However, they may be "choosing under duress" - a fascinating topic but beyond the scope of this article.

2Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, published 1997

3Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life. Chapter: "Recent Years" (Page 245)

4This of course is not at all an original image: "All you are, is just another brick in the wall" - Pink Floyd

5 Many sources, including

6 One hesitates to cite Wikipedia as a reference but in this case, as may be seen by this article's citations (and general histories of the Totenkopf division), it's accurate.

7 Goldhagen (ibid) cites well-documented cases of wives taking a "vacation" to accompany and observe their executioner husbands at work/in the act.

8 See and following/associated pages.

9 For example, approximately 600 non-Jewish wives protested legislation that would have exterminated their Jewish husbands. Their protests succeeded and these Jewish men survived the war. (ibid Goldhagen)