by Eric Tobey
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.
following interview is a compilation of
numerous conversations which took place
between January and June of 1992. My
introduction to this individual occurred in
an interesting way: one day, while talking
with a number of machinists in the shop
where I worked, someone mentioned that I
spoke German. Another machinist
beckoned to a small-statured man nearby and
told me that this man also spoke the
language. The small man approached
wearing the broad grin which I would later
automatically associate with him. He
was introduced as Steve (really Stephan)
Kurylla, and when I asked him "Sind
Sie Deutsch?", he replied "Nein,
Ukrainische." (No, Ukranian)
He said this in a sort of comic-opera voice
which made everyone laugh. When I
asked him where he learned German, he
replied "In Deutschland! Ich wohne
im Deutschland!" (In Germany! I
live in Germany!) Again, everyone
laughed, and he quickly followed with "Ich
arbeite im Deutschland." (I work in
Germany.) Again, laughter. Then
he said in a quieter voice, "Ich kämpfe
für Deutschland..." (I fight for
Germany). What followed over the
months was a sometimes torturous exchange of
information as he spoke five different
languages (Ukrainian, Russian, Polish,
German, and English) with English being the
worst. I often got the impression that
during his wartime experience he was totally
overwhelmed with what was going on and
sometimes unable to completely understand
what was happening at the time. I
suppose this was a common situation for many
of the foreign members of the Wehrmacht.
Nevertheless, his story is an interesting
document of a "Foreign Volunteer."
was born in 1926 and raised on a farm not
far from the city of Lwow (now L'vov) in
what is now the Ukraine but was then Poland.
This area of Eastern Europe was also known
as "Galacia". His childhood
was so full of conflict that when asked to
relate his "wartime" experiences,
he actually began his story when he was a
boy! There were troubles with the
Poles, and trouble with the Jewish
merchants. Stephan described how his
family and neighbors would walk over 10
kilometers into town to sell their eggs at
market and the only offers they would get
due to the impoverished economy would be
from the Jewish merchants. The prices
offered were usually extremely low.
Without anyone else making purchases,
however, the farmers were either forced to
sell cheap or throw the eggs into the ditch
on the walk home. Frustration grew
into hatred, and after a while it became
impossible to sell product to the Jewish
merchants at all - if you did, other
Ukrainians would beat you up. In
retaliation for what they saw as unfair
interference in business affairs, groups of
Jews would ambush Ukrainians as they went to
the Ukrainian Youth Organization.
Stephan was one of the unfortunates who was
ambushed and beat up as he became caught up
in this circle of hate.
group of people much disliked by Stephan was
the Russians. When talking of Russians
he would constantly refer to the deliberate
blockade and starvation of millions of
Soviet Ukrainians in the 1930s by the Soviet
Government. This was an event of which
I had never heard of until meeting Stephan,
but which has a lot of meaning
for some Ukrainians.
September of 1939, the Germans invaded
Poland. Stephan's entire family except
for himself and his grandmother moved into
the forest for safety. Stephan was
left behind to look after the farm and his
grandmother was too old to live in the
woods. The sound of battle could be
heard in the distance, and one day while
Stephan was working in the farmyard an
artillery shell whizzed in and landed on one
of their farm tools. The explosion
blew off a corner of their stable and sent
shrapnel whizzing around his head, and
thereby provided a baptism of fire before he
actually put on a uniform. Stephan was
actually happy that the Germans were coming
- it seems that the Galacian Ukrainians
didn't like the Poles either.
Stephan's father, however, was a realist and
told Stephan that wars were bad things and
little good ever comes from them.
Stephan was young, inexperienced, and
remained optimistic. A little later,
Soviet Ukrainian soldiers came to the area
as occupation troops; this area of Poland
was taken over by the Russians per a
German-Soviet pact. Given the amount
of dislike Stephan had for the Russians,
this was definitely not what Stephan had
hoped for, even if the Soviet troops were
passed, and in the summer of 1941 war came
again. This time the Germans were
attacking the Russians. During the
early part of this campaign, Stephan was
watching German and Soviet planes dog
fighting in the sky above the farm. A
Soviet plane broke off and dove towards the
field from where Stephan watched.
Suddenly, bullets began to strike up puffs
of dirt around him, so he jumped behind a
nearby railroad embankment for cover.
A short time after this, the Germans
1942, Italian troops occupied his town.
A bunch of them raped and killed a young
Ukrainian girl, for which the local men
kidnapped and executed a number of Italian
soldiers. They hung them from
telephone poles in full equipment, including
their rifles slung across their chests.
The local German command did nothing.
The local German officer, named August, was
a decent man and was well liked by the
locals. He appeared to agree with the
Ukrainians. He said, "It's not
our fault what the Italians did here.
That's between you and them."
1943, relations were becoming strained
between the Ukrainians and Germans, and
Ukrainian partisans began to manifest
themselves. Still, as far as
resistance warfare goes, the incidents
Stephan describes were surprisingly mild
compared with the violence documented in
other areas. The Ukrainians would
ambush German convoys and take their
vehicles and weapons, but not kill anyone
unless they had to. The Germans would
come into the village on foot saying "Ukrainisch
Partisanen gut. Karbiner genommen,
Waffen genommen, aber nicht schiessen. Sehr
gut!" (Ukrainian partisans good.
Took rifle, took weapons, but did not shoot.
father collected all his farm manure in a
big pit near one of the farm-roads. A
very lengthy rainy spell not only topped off
this pit with water but also made the road
very slippery. Along came a German
motorcycle with 3 soldiers on it when the
vehicle slid on the road and disappeared
into the manure pit with its passengers.
The soldiers came to the farmhouse swearing
at the Ukrainian partisans who they were
sure built such a trap - "Verdammte
Ukrainische Partisanen!!" The
Kurylla family had to help clean off the
furious and smelly soldiers but laughed
about the incident for months.
also said that the local Partisans would
"beat up" those who would not do
certain things for them. It was because of
this that one day Stephan and a friend had
to steal some weapons from a German truck
which was parked in town. The youths
took the stolen items to a house in town and
while his friend was playing with a German
pistol it went off, and the bullet passed
over Stephan's chest. Although
unwounded, Stephan was furious because it
ruined his newest suit. Meanwhile, a
German soldier out on the street heard the
shot and came to investigate. The two
young men climbed out a rear window and ran
into the woods.
the early part of 1943, the Germans began to
recruit Ukrainians for their armed forces.
Gradually, they began to use stronger and
stronger means of persuasion to entice
volunteers. To the Ukrainians who did
Germans promised to use them only on the
Eastern Front against the Russians.
Given the dislike some Ukrainians had for
the Russians, this proved to be enough
motivation for some. Others were
convinced that they were fighting for an
independent Ukraine. Stephan, however,
wanted to stay out of the war and when asked
to provide some mandatory information on
himself in early 1943, he managed to change
the birth date on his Polish papers from
1926 to 1928. For the time being, this
made him too young for the recruiters to be
interested in him. One reason he gave
for wanting to stay out of the war was the
usage which many people felt that the
Ukrainian volunteer units would get under
the Germans. It seems that the SS was
responsible for raising these units, and
since the SS had a somewhat seedy reputation
in the eyes of Stephan's family, they felt
sure that these SS volunteers would not be
employed in the best situations.
early in 1944, the Germans began recruiting
units of young Ukrainian men to serve as Luftwaffe
Flakhilfer Freiwillige, or Luftwaffe
Flak-Helper Volunteers. Since he was
sure that eventually he would have to go and
since this looked like a pretty safe job, he
once described his view of those days as
"like a dream", with many things
all run together in his memory. Some
details of his service were as follows: In
either May or June of 1944 he went to a few
weeks of training outside Warsaw. He
remembers Warsaw as a beautiful city.
After this, he was sent to a number of
different Flak units where he and the other
Flak Helpers performed menial tasks like
painting equipment, camouflaging ammunition,
and minding the telephone. The only
unit Stephan could remember by name was Flak
Batterie 647. He was with this
unit the longest and recalled that the guns
were very large. Part of 1944 was
spent as part of a Flak unit engaged in the
defense of a Lwow bridge against Soviet
aircraft. According to Stephan,
although the Soviets made repeated attempts
to bomb this bridge, they never managed to
bring it down. Late that summer he was
involved in some anti-tank combat as they
retreated from the city. After this
retreat he was sent to Dresden in Germany.
Everything was fairly quiet until one night
there was a bomb raid. Stephan had to
help load bodies onto trucks. His
descriptions of this experience were truly
depressing for him: limp bodies with heads
swinging freely and tongues sticking out;
women and children of all ages. The
next day they were on a train when someone
(Air-Raid!!) and they leapt from the train.
The train was on a large bridge at the time
and a bomb hit part of the superstructure.
The Wachtmeister in charge of the group was
killed: Stephan saw his head fly one way and
his boots the other. Stephan was
wounded in the back by a rock chip as he
dove to the tracks. 15 other men
simply disappeared in the blast.
spent the next month or so in the hospital,
where they gave him a medal for being
wounded. When he got out of the
hospital, he was sent for infantry training.
He believes this happened around March of
1945, and his major recollection of this
training was crawling so much that he wore
the skin off his knees and elbows.
Because of a natural mechanical aptitude, he
was trained as "MG Schütze Eins",
or MG gunner. Next he was sent to the
front and remembers confused period of
running, digging, crawling, and being
scared. One incident he remembers
which occurred during this time involved a
bridge packed with refugees which was
overtaken by a Red Army tank unit. The
Soviets did not even slow down: some people
jumped off the bridge, and the rest were
either machine-gunned or run down.
Finally pulled out of the front at the end
of April, he found himself in a piece of
woods where the Germans were grouping men to
send back to the front to oppose the
Russians. Luckily, Stephan fell in
with a wily Wachmeister who got them on the
wrong train; the train he got them on was
headed west instead of east.
They were all still on the train when the
war ended two weeks later and they
surrendered to the Americans.
was sent to a POW camp where on some days
the rations were one plate of potatoes and a
small can of meat for every 100 men.
Stephan believes that the German civilians
were responsible for feeding the prisoners
in this camp, and what they were doing was
keeping the good U.S. supplied food for
themselves and feeding the POWs from their
own meager stock. Eventually, Stephan
managed to secure a job with the US
Occupation Army and got out of the camp.
He lived for a time in Germany and then
Belgium before emigrating to the US.
interesting comments on his German service
would include the following:
It seemed that he was always saluting
people. He thinks he saluted so much
that this was the cause of problems leading
to shoulder surgery in the 1980s. He
says "And if you don't do the Heil
Hitler, they kick your ass!"
towards Ukrainian Soldiers:
It seems that in general, the Germans
liked the Ukrainians. When they
noticed the slavic accent, they would ask
"Was sind Sie?" (What are
you?). When they were told, they would
say something like "Ach so!
Ukrainisch gut!" (I see!
He remembers two very well: "Der
Blaue Dragoner" and "Marianka."
(The second song may be Ukrainian) His
most pleasurable memories of the war was the
way they would all get cleaned up, go out
and sing, drink beer, and chase the Fräuleins.
"The Germans had big ones, but
the Russians had even bigger ones!"
He also remembers a Russian tank being shot
in the front but it kept going with the crew
dead until it fell into the Bug River.
When shown an assortment of Wehrmacht
gear, he remembered seeing Zeltbahns,
although he stated that he was never issued
one. He said that the German soldiers
got most of the good equipment, and the
foreign volunteers got either second-best or
did without. Most of the time he was
sheltered in barracks or houses, and when he
was forced to be outside in the rain he
"just got wet". Once he
found a strip of black oilcloth in the
linings of a cupboard in an abandoned house
and draped it over his shoulders to keep the
rain off. It worked fine until the
Wachmeister saw it and made Stephan throw it
away. "Better to get soaked
than look like a gypsy!" the NCO
In his words: "Everybody going
to the front is big talker, talk like hero.
But when you really there and the bullets
are going by your head, you scared shitless,
I don't care how brave you are."