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Egon


Interview by Eric Tobey
 

This interview was taken from the Die Neue Feldpost newsletter & was done so with permission of the publisher.  We would like to thank him for his generosity as well as thank all those who have contributed to this article.  It is with their efforts, we are able to share this valuable research with the rest of you.

The following interview was conducted by Eric Tobey on April 3rd, 1989.  The veteran, who then resided in New Mexico, asked that his full name not be used for fear that knowledge of his war service would hurt his professional relationships.  The actual conversation rambled quite a bit, and the following transcript does not necessarily follow the order in which things were discussed.

Egon, what unit were you in?
I was a telephone-operator in Army Artillery Regiment 260.  The regular cannoneers called us "Strippenzieher" which means something like "line-puller".  We wore a little lighting bolt on our sleeve.

How did you wind up in the Army?
Actually, I thought that I could avoid going.  I always liked machine tools, and as a young man I got an important job making aircraft instrument parts in Stuttgart where my parents lived.  I thought that by having such vital work I could stay out of the Army.  This was in 1942 and nobody had any doubts about what it was like at the front.  But they drafted me anyway.

How old were you when you were drafted?
Hmm, lets see... I was 20 years old.

Were you in the Hitler Youth as a boy?
Sure, almost all the boys were.  Eventually, you had to be by law.  Even before that, in my neighborhood, you were considered either antisocial or a momma's-boy if you weren't in.

Did you enter the RAD (Labor Corps) after the HJ?
No.  I went to work.  Actually, I was working full time while I was in the HJ.  Eventually, we got so busy at the shop that I couldn't afford to attend the HJ functions, so I sort of dropped out.  I guess because I was doing such important work,  they understood.

Tell me about your Army training.
We went to a camp in France for our training, the people there were not very friendly.  I remember that I was always tired, it was very strenuous.  I would get real excited when I got a letter from my parents but then fall asleep half way through reading it.

Where did you go after training?
Russia!  Everybody go to Russia!  I went there in September 1942.  We were stationed at Novgorosk (?).  I was put into a telephone group.  Our leader was an ethnic Pole named Weisskopf.  We all called him "Scheisskopf" (shithead).  We hated him!  He was an asshole.  When he got mad he would start yelling in Polish, which made us laugh.  That would make him madder, but that just made it more impossible to speak German.  My, but he would get frustrated!  It was all very funny.

What happened to him?
He got kicked by a horse.  The cannons were all pulled by horses and one of them bashed him for some reason.  I guess the horses didn't like him either!  (Laughter)  We never saw him again, I guess he was really hurt.

What kind of food would you get in the field?
We got all kinds of food issued to us, most of it was cooked in our rolling stove.  We called this thing a "Futterkanone" (animal-feed cannon).  The cook would make up soups, noodles, stew, oatmeal and stuff like that.  Some of the food came from the local people.  We would get the food either directly from the cook or somebody would bring it out to us in big back-pack thermos cans.  You would put the food in your mess kit and you usually had to eat it all right away or it would freeze solid if you were outside.  I set the whole thing into a fire to thaw it out and forgot about it.  The whole canteen melted, it was only aluminum.  In the German Army you were supposed to take care of your equipment so this didn't go over real well.

Were you ever in a battle?
(Laughs)  Oh yes!  I won lots of them single handed!  I was a German John Wayne!  (Laughter)  Actually, I guess I was in some battles but I didn't see very much because I was scared to death and more interested in saving my hide.  As a communications soldier, I was a little too far back to be shot at, but I was shelled a few times.  Once, I got stuck on an observation post on a little knoll during a Russian attack.  It was pretty interesting to watch until the Ivans figured out that there was something interesting on our knoll and decided to shell it.  None of us was hurt, but it felt like the knoll was in the air a few times and the telephone line was broken in a hundred places.  That was the worst part of my job - fixing broken telephone lines.

Yeah, I can see where this could be a lot of fun, especially under fire.
Ja!  One of the most terrifying experiences of my life occurred when two of us went out to repair a line to an observation post one day.

What happened?
Shortly after a Russian attack, a line went dead.  Me and a soldier named Hofmann were sent out to fix it.  Hofmann was known to be a real cool character, and so we crawled out with him in front.  We were crawling through this brush when Hofmann stops and turns his head to me and smiles.  I smiled back.  He said "I think I know why the line is broken."  I said "how?".  He pointed ahead of him and said "because there is a tank parked on it!".  I said "ours or theirs?".  He said "Theirs!".  He was smiling like it was a big joke.  Then the engine started and I suddenly realized that it was REAL close, only a couple meters away.  Hofmann stopped smiling and said "Lets get out of here".  Seeing Hofmann so scared almost made me faint with fear.  We crawled away as fast as we could, with the tank crashing through the brush behind us.  We got back and our Feldwebel later sent four of us back out but the tank was gone.

What ever happened to Hofmann?
I don't know.

Was this the worst experience of the war for you?
The worst?  Hmm.  (Thinks for a few minutes)  I helped after a bomber attack in Stuttgart... no, that was not the worst either.  The worst thing was when we had a fight with some Russian infiltrators.  Not a very big event, but bad memories...

(This was all he would say at that point about this affair, but later he was persuaded to recount the following story):

Me and my friend had driven back with a Russian wagon to a town-depot to get something or other.  Here we were commandeered by an officer to deal with some "partisans".  We, along with some other unfortunate guys were loaded into some trucks and driven over some terrible roads for maybe a half hour.  The ride itself nearly did us in - it nearly shook me to pieces.  They had these Russians trapped in a creek bed and a wood lot.  There were some dead or wounded Germans in the ditch along the road and some others laying in the field between the road and the creek.  A group of us was sent crawling down a ditch that led to the creek.  But another group must have gotten into the creek from another direction because heavy shooting started before we ever got into the creek.  By the time we got in there, it was all over.  About a half dozen Ivans were standing in the freezing water with there hands up, and maybe another half dozen laying in the water.  They were not partisans because they had full Russian army uniforms on, you know, with the padded suits and helmets and all.  There was a police officer there was really angry and kept calling them bandits.  Then I think a long burst of machine gun fire came from the woodlot and someone was screaming in there too.  One of our prisoners started wailing and the police officer shot him with his pistol - BAM - just like that.  Then there was a lot of shooting and the whole bunch was just rubbed out.  The whole thing happened real fast.  I never fired a bullet, I never had time.  My friend later came up to me and said "wait until we tell the guys what we did!", like it was a big game.  Some of the soldiers took pictures of the scene.  I left in a big hurry.  Somebody took our wagon, so we had to walk all the way back to the battery.  My friend talked about it all the way.  I felt drunk.

What did the rest of the guys think when you told them?
I don't remember, but you have to remember, we were really hardened by the war.  Later, I told my father about this and all he said was "that's war!".

What sort of weapon were you issued?
A rifle, we had to carry it everywhere.  Sometimes we would get our hands on grenades, but we just used to set them off for the fun of it!

What kind of rifle was it?
I don't know, it was just a rifle.

Was souvenir hunting popular with your unit?
No, not like I understand it was in the U.S. Army.  We only picked up what we could use, and what had value for our commanders like letters or maps.  Some guys wore Russian fur hats; they were warmer than what we got.  Same with their boots.  I traded a book to an engineer once for a Russian tent section.  I was going to have our unit tailor make me a pair of pants from them like some of the other guys had, but I was gone by the time he could finish the job.

Did you get mail on a regular basis?
Oh, yes, all the time!  (Laughs)  We called getting yelled at "getting mail" (Post bekommen).  Yes, we did get letters and packages from home, but not always regularly.

How were you sheltered in the field?  Did you make tents from your Zeltbahns?
The only time I think I saw a tent made from our camouflaged ponchos was in training camp.  We lived in dugouts or Russian buildings.  Most of my Russia-time was in the cold weather, but I suppose that in the warmer weather, soldiers would camp in their holes or under the open sky.  We mostly lived in dugouts which were a hole in the ground covered with logs or boards and dirt.  Some dugouts had stoves in them.  Some were heated with these little oil heaters - it was funny because you could tell which dugouts were heated with these things because their occupants would all have black faces from the fumes those things gave off.

How did you end your Army service?
I was riding with some other guys in this French truck in early April of 1943.  The driver was terrified of Partisans so he was driving like a maniac.  The truck slid on the mud on a turn and hit a tree.  I broke my hip along with some other parts.  The next thing I know, some Russian civilians were loading me onto a sled.  This hurt so bad that I yelled like thunder.  It was raining.  They pulled me into a shed and tried to comfort me but I was in a lot of pain.  Then some German medical people came and loaded me into an ambulance and took me to the hospital.

Then you were discharged?
No.  I never did quite heal up quite right, this limp I have now was a lot worse back then.  But men were in short supply so they sent me to work in a depot outside of Stuttgart.  I did office work.  There was a lot of bomber attacks during this period, and we certainly did work up a lot of hate for the Americans and British for their bombing.  Good thing a bomber airman never parachuted near me, I probably would have killed him.  Anyway, the officer in the depot was a good man and let us all go just before the French came.  I guess he didn't see the sense in all us heroes winding up in a POW camp.  I had a few anxious moments with some cops on the way home, but made it there alright.  I acted so crippled that authorities never bothered me.  I guess I was a good actor.

How do you view the war and your service time now?
Having been a German soldier doesn't really bother me as much as it seems to bother people.  After all, I put the uniform on because I had to, and I don't have any guilt because there is nobody's blood on my hands.  Maybe I'd feel different if I'd killed somebody.  I did my duty for my country.  Although I must admit that I had a lot of admiration for Adolf Hitler just like most everybody else, at least up until close to the end, I was serving my country, not Hitler.  Those were certainly historic days, and sometimes I'm glad that I did something in them.

Would you do it over again?
(Laughing)  You kidding?  I'd go to Switzerland!

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