by Richard M. Clement, Jr.
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.
has their favorite veteran, and the [former]
soldier in this interview is one of my
favorites. I have a couple other
gentlemen to talk to, but this one is my
favorite. Mr. Melker and I talked on
July 25th, 1993, and I taped most of the
conversation. Writing this down was
not as easy as I thought it would be, since
he would go off on tangents during the
conversation. After a few unsuccessful
attempts at rearranging our conversation, I
finally decided to write it down pretty much
as he dictated to me. Editors note:
with permission of the author, we have
omitted sections which pertain to the
history and movements of the 68th Division,
since these are a matter of record.
was your name and what was your unit?
My name is Hans Melker and I was a
member of the 1st Company, Infanterie
Regiment 169. We are part of the 68th
Division. Our emblem was a bear!
you a member of the Hitler Youth?
Yes, but not by choice. Until
about 1938 I guess, I was a member of a
hiking club. With this group I hiked
and repaired religious shrines in the woods.
Then, our group became part of the Hitler
Youth. My parents were very upset, you
see they were very religious and kind people
and the Hitler Youth had a reputation for
fighting and being military. But it
was hard for boys to resist. It was
very large and did exciting things.
After all, what boy does not like to play
army? We learned to shoot and use
military radios and use maps. They
would have competitions between the various
groups and military exercises. Then I
went into the Reichs Arbeits Dienst.
With them, we built dams to stop landslides.
Then I went into the Heer, or German
Army. It was mandatory service,
everyone had to go. I went in October,
your basic training.
It was not a whole lot different than
the routines we had in HJ camps or in the
RAD. We were already used to the
military life. My parents were happier
when I was taken in the Army than I was when
I was in the HJ. They worried about me
in the HJ, but the Army had been around
forever and had a reputation for high moral
standards. My parents were good
people, they wrote to me almost every day
and were always sending me things which they
could have used themselves. My mother
must have spent many hours knitting me
scarves, gloves, hats. I am ashamed to
admit that I almost never wore a thing that
she sent me. I usually got along with
what the Army gave me and traded my mother's
gifts away. Of course I never told
her. And I didn't write them back very
often. I would get their letters,
sometimes big bundles of them, and they
would be sad, saying that they worried about
me so much (when he went to the front) and
why did I not write? It wasn't because
I did not have the time, I was just a stupid
kid. My parents were such good
something happen to your parents?
They were in a bombing raid. They
were in a shelter when a bomb hit it and it
collapsed. My mother was in a hospital
for almost a month but she finally passed
away. But our house was still standing
at the end of the war, it was in a suburb of
Berlin called Babelsburg. My Kompanieführer
(company leader) told me my parents had been
killed. Suddenly I felt very alone.
And I never appreciated them when they were
sorry, these memories must be painful.
I think about my parents and the war all
the time. I don't think that Americans
realized how much we really suffered.
Americans will say "Those Nazis got
everything they deserved." Yes,
Germany did some cruel things but my
parent's only crime was that they did not
turn against their government. You
read a lot about Americans who see people
being murdered before their very eyes and
then not doing a thing. I wonder if
the same people who feel that Germany was
being punished would agree with it if the
police came and shot not only the murderers
but also the people who saw it happen?
Oh no, they would come up with reasons like
"they were afraid", or "it
was none of their business", or that
the person who was killed probably had it
coming to them because they were involved in
drugs or had the wrong sort of friends.
This is [hypocrisy]. And to distract
people from the crime of bombing civilians,
they have turned those bomber crews into
heroes. Who is now going to question
the rightness of the bombing? Because
those bombers were heroes! They could
not be wrong! Ah! But you want to hear
about my Dienstzeit. What do you want
you spent most of your time on the Eastern
Except for training and leave, I spent all
of my time at the Ostfront.
1943 and part of 1944. We were
fighting the Soviet Union. We usually
called them "Ivan" or the
"enemy" or "Bolsheviks".
You read that German soldiers were sent to
the Ostfront as a punishment. This is
not true because most German soldiers went
to the Ostfront at one time or another, and
many of them never went anywhere else.
For years, that was the only big campaign we
had going. You can never forget
Russia. It is very large and very
rustic. But Ivan was a terrible enemy.
They would kill our wounded and sometimes
not take any prisoners. There are many
good Russian people, I know that. We
had a Russian who drove our ZugWagen
or unit wagon. He also helped the
cooks. One time the cook was very
upset, because our Russian had found this
wounded Russian soldier not far from the
kitchen and was amusing himself by splashing
boiling water over him! The cook
wanted to shoot our Russian. When we
got mad at this guy, we would threaten to
give him a big medal and send him back to
his own side; this usually made him break
down! But I guess he behaved himself
after that because he was with us for a long
you get any decorations? What was your
Yes, I got decorations. I got the
Iron Cross, I wore the ribbon in my
buttonhole. The Infanteriesturmabzeichen,
this was a medal you got if you made so many
successful attacks on the enemy. A verwundetenabzeichen
for being wounded. You wore these on
your left pocket. We called them Blech.
This means sheet metal trinkets! Some
of the officers had lots of Blech.
I shouldn't mislead you, we were actually
very proud of our medals. I know old
American GIs who have their medals in a
frame in their living rooms. Can you
see me with my medals in a frame? And
then in walks my newspaper boy.
"Where did you get those, Mr. Melker?"
And I say: Hey kid, I was the bravest Nazi
soldier that ever lived! Ha ha ha ha.
I was a Gefreiter. This was one
rank above private. I'll never forget,
after I got my lung-wound, they sent me back
to Germany. They gave me my wound
medal in the hospital, made a big deal about
it in front of a whole tour of Hitler Youth.
They said what an honor it was to be wounded
for the Fatherland, and wounds were
honorable, things like that. Later on,
one of these boys came up and asked me where
I was wounded. I told him my privates
were blown off. You should have seen
the look on his face! Ha ha ha.
did you do to win the Iron Cross?
I was carrying a message to one of the Zugführers
when I saw Russians in a destroyed house.
I ran back and told my leader and he sent me
back with some men and a machine gunner to
take care of it. It was nothing very
brave. My job was to carry messages to
the other commanders, I had a belt pouch to
carry the messages in. I would hide
this pouch in my jacket because if Ivan saw
it, he would know I was either an officer or
a messenger and make a target of me.
your uniform and equipment.
OK. We had these real long shirts
that we called "louse houses".
We would cut pieces off the bottoms to clean
our guns. Green wool pants, and a
jacket to match, it had two small pockets up
here (on the chest), and two big ones down
here (on the hips). During training we
had to keep these pockets flat, so we
couldn't put very much in them. But in
Russia, we stuffed them with all kinds of
things. We didn't carry our packs so
you had to carry things where you could.
We had a helmet that we painted our name
inside in big white letters. This was
so we could read them in bad light. It
is not a good thing to be trying on everyone
else's helmet when the shells start falling
on your group! We had both shoes and
boots. I sold my shoes to the unit
shoemaker. He had a regular business
selling soldier's shoes to the civilians.
He would buy your shoes and give you a
little slip of paper saying that your shoes
were being fixed. In the German Army,
you were responsible for every little thing
they gave you. If you didn't have
everything you were supposed to have, you
got in trouble. If you wore out your
socks, you had better fix them or pack them
away, because you couldn't throw them away.
you wear socks of Fußlappen?
Fußlappen! (Laughs) Oh yes, I
forgot about those. You wrapped them
on your feet like this. First you
stand on them so your foot and heel point
towards the corners. (motions on the
floor). Then you fold the toe up, then
wrap up this side, then the other side
(wraps up an invisible Fußlappen). I
wore out my socks and never had the patience
to fix them. I gave the little sewing
kit that my mother sent me to my best
friend. I always traded off the nice
homemade socks that my mother sent me.
I traded them off for tobacco, food,
magazines, things like that. I still
feel bad about that. My mother used to
sew my name into the things that she would
send me. The other soldiers would say,
I wished my mother would do that for me.
One pair of socks she sent me wound up on a
soldier from another company. He got
his chest and head blown off. On his
feet were my mother's socks with my name on
them. The commander came to our
sergeant to ask them if I was missing.
Of course I wasn't. I usually got
along with just the Fußlappen except in
the winter. They were harder to wear
out, all you had to do was turn them so your
heel was in a different spot every time.
We also called cooked cabbage Fußlappen
because it was flat and smelled so bad!
your field rations.
Our food was cooked in a trailer we
called a Gulaschkanone (goulash
cannon!) and carried up in backpacks or we
lined up at the trailer and they ladled it
into our pots. We got bread, soup,
cabbage and meat, goulash.
anyone in your unit have lice?
Yes, because come of the Russian
buildings we slept in were full of them.
Our medical people were always powdering
these places, but the lice were there
anyway. Most of the time it was better
to get wet and sleep outside. You do
not need to be dirty to get lice. Just
because we got lice did not mean we were
dirty. We were as clean as possible.
We went to a unit that examined our lice.
I remember the soldier who took our clothes.
He said, "you filthy swine! You
get lice because you are disgusting slobs!
You must change your underwear every day and
you will not get lice." Someone
threw his dirty uniform in this guys face.
you use captured equipment?
No, not that I can remember. The
Russians were capturing more of our stuff
than we were capturing of theirs. Oh,
sometimes we would take a star off some
Russians hat, but we didn't really go in for
this in a big way.
you issued iron rations?
Yes, you could only eat them if your
officer told you to. It was Zwieback
and Fleischkonserven (canned meat).
Sometimes we would find these little piles
of equipment of men who had been wounded and
sent back. Some of the men would take
the iron rations out of the Brotbeutel
if there were any there and eat them.
I could never do this.
you have a Brotbeutel (breadbag)?
Oh yes, every soldier had one. It
was made of canvas and hung down from your
belt. It also had a cloth strap which
we used for everything except the thing it
was made for [hanging the bag from your
shoulder]. We were supposed to carry
food in this bag but we carried all sorts of
things in it. Like I said, we didn't
carry our packs so we had to carry things
where we could.
you throw away your Gasmask?
No, they checked you for them and you
could get into trouble if you didn't have
one. There was a special Unteroffizier
who checked you for them. I did
not want to get into trouble.
you have a watch?
Yes, a gift from my teacher but I lost
it in the hospital after I was wounded.
Those thieves in the hospital probably stole
it. You would go into the hospital
with all kinds of things, the medics at the
front wouldn't take your stuff. The
next one might be them. When you were
ready to leave, the hospital would give you
just a few things back. When you would
ask them, "where is my
such-and-such," they would say
"What? You didn't have that when you
came in here. You must have lost it
when you were wounded." I also
remember that I had some photographs of dead
Russians, don't know where I got them, I
didn't have a camera. Don't know why I
had them, we could see dead people all the
time. But when I got my stuff back,
the orderly wanted those pictures very bad.
I don't know why, isn't that a little funny.
I gave them to him.
enemy weapons did you fear most?
We feared the Russian Artillery and
rockets. But my biggest fear was a
Mongolian soldier with a bayonet! I
had this childish fear. I could
picture this sinister looking Mongol who was
going to pierce me no matter what. The
thought terrified me.
did you wear your Erkennungsmarke (Dogtag)?
Ha ha, I remember those things!
They gave it to you with a string to hang
around your neck. But it was metal and
it would get cold if I was bending over and
it dangled away from my chest. Then
when I straighten up, ...OOH! AH! CCCCOLD!
So, most of the time I kept it in my paybook
which I carried in my pocket.
you trained in night combat?
Yes, I remember them taking us out at
night, then yelling and throwing grenades
around us to confuse us. It really was
confusing with the flashing and noise.
That's what night combat is - very
confusing. So is day combat, in fact!
a field latrine.
What a question! If you had time,
you took a shovel and dug a little hole.
If you didn't have time, you just found a
spot and did it. The Russians would
drop little papers on us. These were
made of real thin paper and we would use
these as toilet paper. In camps they
would have a regular thing built from poles.
During the winter when we stayed in houses,
there was a sign put up: USE THE LATRINE.
I guess some of the men did not want to go
out in the cold, so they did it inside the
house. The houses did not have
toilets. If they caught you doing it
in a house, you were in big trouble.
I know that the German Army used lots of
them, but I don't remember seeing many in
Russia. The roads were so bad, I don't
see how anyone could have ridden them.
kind of cap did you have?
We had a little cap made like a canoe.
You had to wear it tilted on your head just
so. In 1943 they began to give out
these caps with bills on them but you had to
wear out your first one, which I never did.
We also had these hats sort of like a police
hat with a black plastic bill. They
were smart looking! But we never wore
them in the field. They had a white
stripe around the top. This was the
color of the infantry. The same color
was on our shoulder straps. You could
tell what of soldier a man was by the color
of his shoulder straps. White for
infantry, red for artillery, black for
construction troops. You could also
tell by looking at the man himself. If
he was big with lots of muscles and stone
deaf, he was from the artillery. If he
had clever hands and shifty eyes, he was
from the medical service. If he
strutted like a bully, he was an MP.
If he had lots of bumps on his head and
smelled like petrol, he was a tanker.
If one of his ears was pressed flat to his
head, he was a communications soldier.
The tough ones were the paymasters: they
don't look like soldiers at all! Ha ha
ha ha ha. OK, I'm hungry now, lets