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Karl


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.

As one would expect with any veteran of the Waffen-SS, it took quite a while to get this individual to grant an interview.  When he eventually agreed, however, it proved to be well worth the wait.  "Karl" was intelligent, had a good memory for details, and spoke excellent English.  He also had a very forceful personality which tended to take control of the interview!  He managed to fill a lot of the interview-time with studied comparisons of European liquors and modern politics, but overall the meeting was both enjoyable and educational:

How did you wind up in the SS?
Like many things in life, it was not planned.  During the fifth year of Gymnasium, male students had to pick one of the services to be inducted into.  I chose the Kriegsmarine.  They took me to Hamburg and gave me a ride in a U-Boat and a minesweeper.  A little while after that I was sleeping on the couch in my family's home in Upper Silesia when my father wakes me up saying, "Karl!  They are coming to arrest you!"  He had seen an SS man walking up our walkway, but they were only coming to take me to the induction physical!  This NCO and 3 others escorted 22 of us to our examination.  After graduation, I reported in Breslau.  This was in June of 1944....

First I had basic training, then NCO school, then officer school.  The whole process took 5½ months.  Early in the war it took 2 years to become an SS officer, and the older officers never let us forget it.  But late in the war, it was made much faster.  Basic training lasted about a month, maybe a little longer.  About 2 or 3 months into the schools I went to the front for my "Zwischen-Prüfung".  This is where you went to the front to prove that you had the right stuff.  You were supposed to go for 6 weeks, but I stayed for only 3.  I got training for armored officers in Posen-Treskow.  After a total of 5½ months, I bought my first set of shoulder-boards; they cost me exactly 2 Marks and 80 Pfennig.  My commanding officer presented them to me.

I went to the Ostfront at the end of 1944 and joined the 3rd SS Panzers, I was in the Panzer-Jägers.  We were equipped with Panzers that had no Turm (turret).  Our Divisional name was "Totenkopf", this was from our emblem which was the traditional emblem of the German Cavalry.  Ah!  History has us as criminals, but we were not criminals, we were soldiers!

At the end of the war we tried to surrender to the Americans, but as I was crossing a beet field I was heavily wounded.  The Americans picked me up and took me to the Russians and dumped me off.  I was in Stalin's prisons for a long time.

Did you have any pre-military training?  Were you in the HJ?
Of course I had training, everyone did.  For students like us we had 6 weeks in the summer and 2 weeks skiing in the mountains in the winter.  Training was done in the Wehrertüchigungslager.  This was a military style camp run by the regular army.  The instructors were decorated front-line soldiers.

What can you tell me about your SS training?
When I was at the armor school in Posen, we learned to drive tanks in this Tiger tank that had no Turm (turret).  Our instructor was this mean Hauptsturmführer who was missing an arm.  We called him the "one-armed bandit".  He had five tank destruction strips on his sleeve.  Many of the instructors were invalids, but they were good instructors.  Anyways, he had this metal sign on a stick that was used to signal vehicles in column.  The Hauptsturmführer would use this to whack us on the legs as we drove.  "Turn!"  WHACK!  He was mean.  Well there was this bridge that was just wide enough for a tank with quicksand on both sides.  We were approaching this bridge, and I was just going to pull the Hebel (handle) to make the left turn to get on the bridge.  But the one-armed bandit wacked my knees with that sign and yelled "Right turn!"  When I didn't he hit me again - "Right turn, that's an order!!"  So I pull the right Hebel and the tank goes into the quicksand and started sinking fast.  We students all got out but the one-armed bandit couldn't.  Nobody liked this guy, we thought about letting him go down with the Panzer.  But I threw him my belt and he grabbed it.  I held onto a root or something with one hand and pulled up with the belt.  We all walked back into camp covered with this green slime, but all walked behind him so they would see his mess first.  He never said a word to me because he knew it was his fault.  They had to use this big crane to get the Panzer out.

We had another instructor who was a big healthy guy with no decorations.  He must have had pull because any officer from the front would at least have the Iron Cross Second Class.  He was our instructor for Judo and Polizeigriffe (Police-Holds).  Most of our instructors were decorated invalids.

In the American Army, soldiers can buy luxuries at a "PX".  What was the German equivalent?
We call this stuff "Marketenderwäre".  In our army you didn't have to buy it.  Early in the war, the company Zahlmeister would give out little slips which could be traded for Marketenderwäre.  In permanent camps in the Hinterland it was given out in a "Kantine".  In the field, it would be a "Feldkantine".  In the field, this service would be in a building, tent, or even in the back of a truck.  When you had time, you went there and got the stuff you wanted.  Later in the war they didn't give the slips.  Instead, when you got stuff like soap or cleaning brushes, they would put a stamp in your Soldbuch.  You could buy cigarettes and alcohol - vodka and cognac.  Shoe creme, soap, Scheißpapoer (toilet paper), toothpaste, letter paper, pencils, and so on.  The two most important items were tobacco and alcohol.  Some of the Marketenderwäre were requisitioned from the local area.  You could get your Marketenderwäre even on the last day of the war, even a few days after the war was over!  If this was to happen in America, you would be lucky to get a single cigar a month before the collapse.  The Germans are very efficient.

In fact, in Germany we have a saying - "Ordnung muß sein!" (There must be order!)  They have a big sign with this in a beer hall.  Even in the beer halls, there must be order.  And efficiency.  And be punctual!  We have another saying - "Fünf minuten vor der Zeit, ist Soldatenpunklichkeit." (Five minutes ahead of time is soldierly punctuality.)  When this guy here (our host) came to pick me up, he was only 15 minutes late.  Actually pretty good for a Yankee.  In Germany you can set your watch by the trains....

At this point, our host brings out a package of German pipe tobacco from his collection and shows it to him:

Ah, yes!  This tobacco must have been sold as Marketenderwäre during the war!  You see this stamp on the tax sticker?  It says "Steuerbegunstigt", which means that there was no tax to be paid on it because it was sold to soldiers.

What were "Iron Rations" like?
They were only supposed to be eaten upon order, like when you were cut off.  But we ate them a lot.  There was canned meat, it was ground pork.  It was excellent!  I wish I could get some now!  Heated up, it was very good, it was well spiced.  There was also canned ham, but the ground pork was the best.  There was also chocolate for survival and Zwieback which is like a big cracker.

Do you remember any of the songs you sang?
Yes, yes!  We sang all the time!  We sang Der Blaue Dragoner... (and he begins to sing the song...)... and Panzerlied... (he sings this one too, and when I join in he begins to direct me like a conductor!)  Oh yes, the Panzerlied.  We sang it in training and in the field too.  It came from the Afrika Korps, thats why the lines say "...in the cold of night, heat of day, dust on our faces, " and so on.

We also sang a lot of Navy songs, its true, like "Wir fahren gegen England" and "Der Tag war grau, der Tag war schwer"... (he begins to sing again).

We didn't sing the Horst Wessel Lied, that was a party song.  A Nazi party song.  We didn't sing it.

How about this one... "Siehst du im Osten das Morgen Rot"... (more singing)...

(Finally interrupting) - ... How about Skat?  Did you play...
No, wait!!  I have more songs!  We sang the Grenadier Song.. (begins to sing again).

We also sang the SS song (singing again)... "wenn alle untreu werden...."  Sometimes we changed the words to songs, like this one where there was something about longing to being the "neue Zeit" (new times), we put in "alte Weib".  So we longed to be in the "old lady!"  Ha, Ha, ha!  "Weib" is a coarse word for wife or woman, its not very nice.  Ah yes, we would spice up the words to some songs.  We were young and romantic.

There was a song called "Lili Marlene" that was sung all the time.  Soldatensender opened and closed their radio program with it.

Lots of songs were about the "Heimat".  Nobody ever translates this word correctly.  It always comes out as "homeland".  This is incorrect.  There is a very important difference between these two.  Heimat is your home region or community, but not really your hometown, either.  Your Heimat would be called the "Southern Tiers" I think.  Your Vaterland would be the U.S.  There was also another word - "Hinterland".  This was not necessarily Germany, it could mean Poland or Czechoslovakia.

How about the card game Skat?  Did you play this?
Yes, it was a common game, I still remember how to play.  But we would not say "play" Skat.  We would say "Skat klopfen" (pound Skat).

Did you ever collect souvenirs?
We didn't have time to pick up souvenirs, we were too busy fighting!  We did use some Russian equipment.  After our tank-destroyers ran out of gas, I took over a Battalion Infantry Platoon.  These groups were made from tank-destroyer men with no tank-destroyers, tank men with no tanks, and guys like that.  My platoon sergeant says to me - "Untersturmführer..." you see, we could say that in the Waffen SS.  You could call your superior by just his rank or even his first name.  In the Army you would have to say "Herr Leutnant" but not in the SS.  We used "du" instead of "Sie".  We had Kameradschaft in the SS!  Anyway, my platoon sergeant says - "Untersturmführer, throw away that Spielzeug (play-toy)", ...he meant my German machine pistol..., "...and I will give you a weapon that is reliable!"  Then he hands me this Russian machine pistol.  We called them "Finka" like the Russian soldiers did.  I think this name came from the war in Finland.  You see, the German machine pistol was a well made weapon, but get some sand in the thing and bye bye!!  The Russian gun had this wobbly Schloß (bolt) and looked like something some village blacksmith would have made.  But it worked!  One of our men demonstrated once by throwing handfuls of dirt into the Schloß of one of them, and it still fired!

Which were more popular, Footwraps or socks?
The Fußlappen were squares of cloth that you wrapped over your socks to keep your boots on better.  You wore them with your Marschstiefel (Jackboots) or as we called them "Knobelbecher" (dice shakers).  We did not wear them with our Schnurschuhe (low-quarters) and Gamaschen (gaiters - he pronounced it like kah-mah-shen).  Americans would call this lace-up footwear "boots", but in Germany, if it had laces, it was called "Schuhe".  (This is not totally correct.  Paratrooper boots were called "Fallschirmjägerstiefel".)  I don't think that the Fußlappen were supposed to be worn by themselves, although units would wear just the Fußlappen if their socks wore out.

What decorations did you receive?
I got an Sturmabzeichen, Wound Medal I got from a Katyusha rocket fragment that still rests against a major nerve, and the Iron Cross First and Second Class.  I don't remember what I did to get the Second Class Cross, my God, they even gave it to Hitler Youths who just stayed at their posts during an air raid.  It is interesting how I got the First Class Cross.  I was out of shells for my tank.  The Russians had overrun this big pile of our shells and you could actually see this pile only a kilometer or so behind the Russian battle-line.  So I ordered my driver to drive for it, and we drove through the Russian lines to get the ammunition.  When we got there we loaded all we could and then drove back to our lines.  Somebody who saw me do this told somebody else, and I got the First Class Iron Cross.  It was not bravery, if I was my commanding officer and knew what I know now, I would have had myself court-martialed.  All I did was endanger my tank and my crew.  I don't remember how much fire we took when we did it.

I have been told that one nickname that Army troops had for the SS soldiers was "Herrenmensch".  What do you know of this?
Ach!  This was never applied to SS soldiers!  It applied to the Party!  Herrenmensch means something like "Lordly one".  You see, the Herrenmensch were supposed to rule over the Untermensch and rule Europe.  This was a party idea.  This was not a very nice word for anyone, either.

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