In 1909, when he was 17, he entered the guttural, drill-sharp barrack routine of the German Imperial Army. Then came the four grey years of World War I. After that Germany was a shambles of street fighting, depression, inflation. For flat-nosed, flabby-faced Theodor Eicke, the world was horrible; the only meaning in it was to claw his way over the others and reach the top of the muck heap.

Eicke joined Hitler in 1921, became Standartenjiihrer of the Palatinate Storm Troops. Later he helped found the fanatically brutal, black-shirted SS. In 1932, when he was caught trying to...

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