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Konrad


Interview by Jeff Johannes
 

During the time period of 2002 to 2003, I had the opportunity to interview a German Veteran, named Konrad (last name held for privacy purposes) who still resides in Germany.  The interviews took place mostly over the internet (not too bad for 80 plus year old soldier to email, and in English!) and once in person.  Konrad was a member of the “Der Fuhrer Regiment” of the 2nd SS Panzer Division “DAS REICH.”  Konrad provided some interesting details on being a member of one of the most famous Waffen-SS Divisions of WWII. To include, some refreshing honesty about being a Waffen-SS soldier and their equipment. 

Konrad’s family was from in Prussia, but moved to Berlin after WWI.  His father was a member of the Kaisers Guard Regiment and served in WWI.  Konrad was born in the Berlin are known as Friedrichshain.  Following in his father’s tradition, Konrad sought to carry on the tradition by joining an elite regiment.  In 1940, after talking to a co-worker who recently joined the Waffen-SS “Polizei Regiment” (later the 4th SS Division “POLEZEI”), Konrad wanted to follow suit.  At the time, the “new” elite regiments in Germany, where those of the Waffen-SS, and Konrad, growing up as a product of National Socialism, sought enlistment in one of those units.  At this time, there was a call for Germans in Konrad’s age group to be long service volunteers to a state run organization, either a work group (such as the RAD) or a part of the Wehrmacht.  After obtaining permission from his father, Konrad was only 16 years old at the time, Konrad tried out to be a member of the “Der Fuhrer Regiment.”  He recalled he was one of approximately 500 recruits who were enlisting to be a member of this unit.  At this time, membership in the Waffen-SS was very strict, due to certain physical and genealogy attributes.  Konrad stated he was one of only 40 were accepted from his original recruitment pool of 500.

Konrad finished his basic Schutze training in Radolfzell and were then sent to the Netherlands to join the “Der Fuhrer Regiment.”  Konrad was assigned to the Combat Pioneer (Combat Engineer) Platoon, which, at that time, consisted of a sergeant, a lance corporal, and eight other men.  All of them were combat veterans with over two years of service.  Konrad was one of the youngest recruits in the regiment at that time.  His training did not get easier; in fact, he said it became harder once he reported to his unit. 

In June, 1941, Konrad and the rest of the “Der Fuhrer Rgt.” were stationed in a large manor near Lodz, Poland.  Konrad stated that rumors of an invasion of Russia soon became reality as they were briefed on what Russian uniforms, tanks, and equipment looked like.  He and his comrades at that time, believed they were about to embark on a campaign that would take them to Persia and India.  He felt apprehensive since his uncle was captured on the Eastern Front in WWI and did not make it home until 1921 and that was after he escaped from Siberia through to China. 

After the Operation Barbararossa began, Konrad admitted that he and his comrades were very much surprised at how much better Russian equipment was than theirs.  In July, Konrad was promoted to Lance corporal (SS Sturmann) and shortly thereafter received his first wound.  While in a fighting position a mortar round landed nearby received minor shrapnel wounds to his face.  In December, Konrad received his second wound, shrapnel from an artillery round behind his right knee.  This wound lead Konrad to leave the front and be sent back to Poland.  Konrad noted that at this time the weather was getting colder and that things in the rear area were not up to par.  For example, it took him ten day s just to get from the field station to a hospital to Smolensk, Russia.  By this time, his wound became infected with maggots and there were no medical supplies on hand to help, just some brandy to drink.  After arriving in military hospital outside of Warsaw, the medical staff stripped Konrad’s uniform and gave him a bath. This was the first time he shaved and washed up since October and the first time his clothing was replaced. 

In January 1942, Konrad was discharged with 28 days leave to go home to Berlin to visit his family.  When Konrad returned to the Waffen-SS Replacement and Training Battalion after leave, he was diagnosed as still not fit for front line service therefore he was assigned to work in the weapon repair shop and as a part time Sturmpioneer instructor.   

After returning to the 2nd SS Panzer Division “DAS REICH”, Konrad served with the “Der Fuhrer” Regiment throughout 1942.  In February of 1943, Konrad received word that his father passed away and was sent home immediately to console his mother and attend his funeral.  Konrad noted that his superiors in the Waffen-SS, upon notice of his father’s death, immediately pulled him front the front lines and sent him home.  Konrad stated that he believed that the food rations and bombing raids on the home front in Germany lead to his father’s early death.  Konrad added that the night prior to his father’s death, he had a “dream” that his father was at the doorway of his bunker in Russia. 

In late 1943, Konrad received his third wound, in his right leg (Note: because of this wound, to this day Konrad carries a cane to help him walk).  On the hospital train back to Poland, Russian partisans ambushed the train and killed several patients, however, the train managed to continued onto the rear to a Luftwaffe hospital where Konrad was treated.  In January, 1944 after his third medical treatment, Konrad visited his mother living alone in Berlin.  By this time, the city was being devastated by air raids and Konrad helped his mother move out to relatives in Silesia.  After leave Konrad reported to convalescence hospital, where, after treatment, he was pronounced fit for duty.  However, the Waffen-SS ordered him to report to Officer Training in Joesefstadt in the Sudetenland. Konrad was chosen to be a Panzer Grenadier Platoon Leader in the 2nd SS DIV.  Somehow Konrad managed to turn down this promotion and was sent back to his unit as a grenadier.

In July 1944, Konrad finally reported back to the 2nd SSDIV, already heavily engaged in the Normandy campaign (Note: Konrad was not present with the DAS REICH Division during its infamous march from Southern France to Normandy; as previously mentioned he was recovering from his third wound and initially sent to Officer Candidate Training).  During the retreat toward the Seine River in August, Konrad and another comrade became lost for a few days and ended up behind British lines.  Figuring there was no hope of getting back to their unit, they surrounded to a British Medic.  Konrad noted that when he saw the Red Cross armband he felt that he would get safe treatment since the Red Cross armband was not respected on the Eastern Front.  After surrendering, Konrad noted that the British were very nervous about them being Waffen SS and kept a Sten Gun pointed at the back of their heads the whole time.  After arriving back at POW collection point, Konrad said he was well treated and even given tea with milk and sugar.   Konrad ended up being transported to England and serving in a British POW camp.  Konrad eventually was released in 1948.    Like many other German POW’s, Konrad eventually decided to reside in his captors country after the war.  Konrad eventually returned to Germany and settled in the city of Lorch.

What type of training did you receive as a Sturmpioneer (Combat Engineer)?
We were trained as both Infantrymen and as combat engineers.  We had to learn to fire all infantry weapons, 98K, MG34 and MG42, as well as be experts in demolition equipment.  My squad was usually made up of ten men and this squad was usually assigned to an Infantry battalion to support them in combat.

What type of vehicles did you use?
We were supposed to be mounted in halftracks and Opel Blitz trucks.   For the most part of the war, only the first battalion of the “Der Fuhrer” Regiment had halftracks at any given time and the rest of the regiment had trucks.  I must point out; we ended up walking a lot during the war.

Do you have any military items left from your service?
My uniform and equipment was taken away as a POW, even my wristwatch.  All my other military items were destroyed in Berlin.  My mother was sent to a Russian concentration camp because she had a picture of me in my Waffen-SS uniform.  She perished before I could get back home.

The Waffen-SS was unique in its use of camouflage uniforms.  Did you get issued camouflage clothing?
Yes.  The only camouflage clothing that I had was the camouflage smock and helmet cover.  I did not have a smock all the time during the war; however I recall having the helmet covers most of the time.  When we wore the camo smock we usually tied it high around our waist so we had access to our tunic pockets.  I don’t remember seeing too much other types of camouflage clothing in the 2nd SS DIV.   Also, we were always at the end of the supply chain when it came to everything, including uniforms and equipment.  I noticed that the Division staff and Panzer units were given new uniforms and equipment first, and then it would trickle down to those in the Panzergrenadier units; if you were in the truck born units you usually ended up with what was left.  Speaking of uniforms, I also recall that on my field caps, we usually had our Eagle insignia on the side of my various enlisted caps. 

What did you usually carry in your tunic pockets?
Our pockets were always stuff with what we needed to survive on the front.  We often did not go into combat with full gear so we usually stuffed our tunic pockets with ammunition and food.  Speaking of tunics, I rarely was issued a new one, for example I wore the same one from 1941 the start of the Russian campaign until the I was wounded in October where it was thrown away due to all the lice.  It was rare to get a complete new uniform while on the front.

What equipment did you carry in the field?
When I first started the war, I was MG No.2 and I usually carried two boxes of ammunition and two spare barrel carriers.  Later, when I became a squad leader I carried the MP40.  Every time I went to the front or on a mission, I would leave everything behind that made noise.  We often left behind our gas mask containers and breadbags.  All this equipment was left behind on our trucks or halftracks.

Who was the type of men that made up your unit?
As the war began we are all supposed to the best of Germany.  We had to go through a lot to make it into the ranks.  However, as they war progressed we started to get men who no longer volunteered but were mostly drafted or transferred in form another service, such as the Navy or Luftwaffe.  In 1943, we received a large number of recruits from Alsaace-Lorraine area, as well as from Strasburg and Vogesen.  These men spoke German and French.  We tried to keep the 1st companies staffed by German veterans and usually placed these new recruits in a secondary or third companies and usually in support battalions as well.  We just felt it was better to get our experienced men up in the units that usually went into action first.

What were your rations like?
Each company had a field kitchen mounted on a 3 ton truck.  We were always supplied at least one warm meal a day which usually consisted of either stew or soup.  We would also receive an ersatz type coffee which called, “Mugkefuck.” It consisted of roasted barley which was grounded and turned into coffee.  We also received a third of a loaf of bread from the division bakery.  Sometimes we would get sausage and jam with our bread.  While on the front lines we usually received our rations either at night or early in the mornings.
 

In December, 2002, Konrad, on one of his trips to the US, had the opportunity to visit a WWII Reenactment that took place in Lowell, Indiana.  The author was present and made the following observations of Konrad: 

- Upon arrival, Konrad was amazed to see, once again, German soldiers in the field, especially Waffen-SS.  He stated that he has not seen anything like this since the war. 

- Konrad, who walked with a cane due to his wound on the Russian front, managed to get a spring in his step as he approached the event and started observing recreated WWII soldiers. 

- Konrad stated that the German troops were the most well equipped he as “ever seen;” he was joking that the WWII German reenactors had EVERY piece of gear issued.  Konrad stated that he never saw any German soldier having all their gear at once, especially in the field.  He also noted that he hardly ever saw Winter Parka’s, both Heer and Waffen-SS, which were being worn by reeanctors.  He noted that the Waffen-SS reeanctors wore wearing camouflage items he has never seen issued during his service.

- Konrad, upon borrowing a 98k, was still able to conduct a very sharp and crisp manual of arms.  Was quite amazing to see an 80 year old Vet able to sling and carry a rifle like he was on the parade ground.

- A crowd of reeanctors crowded around Konrad, to hear his stories (a German vet, especially an Eastern Front vet from the Waffen-SS, is very rare).  Konrad jokingly “cursed” the American reenactors for having some many planes during the Normandy campaign.  Konrad stated, to them, that it was impossible to do anything during the daylight hours because of all the American planes.

- When presented with an MP40, he stated that he and his comrades would often throw those away in favor of the Russian PPSH machine gun.
 

Konrad had one final statement he wanted to share, and that after all he has been through in WWII, he would never wish that his grandson or anyone’s son would ever have to experience a war.  He would do everything in his power to prevent his grandchildren from fighting in a war.

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