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.
Scharnowski was born in 1927 in Brandenburg.
Although his name is decidedly non-German,
he insisted that he was as German as
Bismarck; his family originated in Russia
but moved to the Berlin area before
Napoleonic times. His father died in
Sweden in 1929 and his mother was a house
cleaner. Drafted in the fall of 1944
when he was still only 17, he was housed in
a Spandau barracks for about a week or
so before being put on a train bound for a
training camp somewhere to the southeast.
The train was attacked by aircraft and he
was seriously wounded, thus putting him hors
de combat for the rest of the war.
He was on a hospital train at war's end,
captured by the British. This is his
interview, conducted at his home in 1983:
me about the Army.
We should start at the beginning.
I got my draft notice in the mail, I was
only 17, it was in October or November of
1944, I think it was November. It
wasn't any big surprise, they announced
earlier that they were calling up the class
of 1927, that meant the boys born in 1927.
I was supposed to report to the Kaserne
(barracks) by 16 Uhr. That's
the way we Germans told time at home, you
call it military time, but we always used
it. 16 Uhr was 4 PM. We had...
did you get to the barracks? On a
train, a bus?
No, it wasn't that far. We didn't
own a car, not many people did back then.
I would have taken my bicycle, but what
would I have done with it when I got there?
I walked. I had my little carboard
suitcase, and I walked. I showed my
papers to the guard at the Tor (gate)
and he directed me to an office where...
showed him your papers? Your ID?
Ah yes, I remember the Wehrpaß, it was
a little book that they gave you when you
went for your physical for your (draft
classification and registration). No,
I showed him my orders that I got in the
mail. He directed me to an office
where a non-commissioned officer checked me
in and gave me a room number and a locker
rank non-com? Was he the Spieß?
I don't remember, I know he was a
non-com because he had the lace here (on the
collar) and here (on the shoulder boards)
and the Spieß would have lace here
(on the cuffs) too. All of us boys
knew the ranks! But I don't remember
what he was, anyway, I went to my room,
number 19. There was another boy in
there, he was a Prussian named Willi
something or other, no he was from Pommern,
another one was Prussian. Then we...
many were in the room?
When they all got there, maybe a
half-dozen, no there was at least eight.
Double-decker beds, each of us had a wooden
locker and a chair with no back so we had to
sit up straight on it. We cleaned the
hell out of that room. We were all
boys, one night we had a broom fight, you
know how boys are. Somebody hit the
wall with his broom handle and a chunk of
plaster fell off, my God, we thought we were
all dead. (Laughter) We filled
the hole with soap, they never noticed.
was the Stubenalteste?
Ah ha, I remember that. But what
did we call him... Stuben... Stubendiener
(room servant), or something like that.
One person would be responsible for fetching
the linens, making sure that the lights were
turned off, beds made, shutters closed, all
that. It was a real pain in the ass,
we had the same thing in the HJ. I
don't remember who was the Stubenalteste, I
know it wasn't me. You know, we had
these big wooden shutters over the windows
that had to be closed against aircraft
seeing the light from the barracks.
You could actually get a court martial if
you didn't shut these shutters.
did you get your uniform and equipment?
I don't remember, maybe that first day,
or was it the next day? We went into
this dark room, they gave us a tent strip
and told us to spread it out. Then
they came and threw all this stuff on it.
Clothes and everything. We didn't try
anything on at all, and it was so dark that
I don't know how they knew what size we
were. Anyway, after some trading
around back in our room, we managed to get
suited up pretty well. Except for
Willi, who was sort of stout, we told him he
looked like a boiled sausage about to pop
its skin. (Laughs) I think
about equipment? Rifle, pack, canteen,
No, no rifle. A lot of other
stuff, I can't remember everything. A
pack like that (pointing at the WWII US Army
musette bag that I carried my books and
didn't know that the Germans used packs like
Not exactly like that, but not
the fur covered ones like most soldiers got.
Ours was all cloth, a cloth bag with straps,
like the Russian Knapsack. We got the
tent strip, like I told you. It was a
triangle with (camouflage) on it, you could
wear it like a coat, wrap it around you and
button it up. We had something like it
in the HJ, except it wasn't (camouflaged).
about an Erkennungsmarke, or a Soldbuch?
Yes, I must have had one, but I don't
remember anything about them.
do you remember about your instructors?
I don't remember much about them, but I
remember this one guy, he was also some sort
of non-com, he only had one eye and some
very bad scars on his face. I don't
believe they should have thrown somebody
like that in with us. It made us think
about what could happen to us.'
did you feel about the situation? I
mean, about the way the war was going.
You have to remember, that we were
constantly being prepared for going to war,
since we were little boys. We knew we
were going to be soldiers since we were ten
years old, and we knew that there was bound
to be a war, so we were prepared in our
minds at least. The Hitler Youth was
much like the army, they taught us how to
shoot, throw grenades, make a red Indian
ambush, how to crawl through barbed wire,
all that. We really didn't need much
more training to be real soldiers. And
we didn't think at all about politics.
What boy does? Show me a boy your age
that cares about politics and I'll call him
either a genius or a (nerd). We saw
the Americans, the Tommies, and the Russians
as our enemies, but we didn't know or care
anything about why they were our
enemies. Believe it or not, we didn't
even think about the war situation, I mean,
Germany was clearly losing the war by the
end of 1944, but that didn't bother us a
bit. When I was home, we would listen
to the news reports and realize that it did
not look good, but I was still prepared to
be a soldier... even if it wasn't going to
do any good. Maybe if I was older I
would have felt different... And as
far as Hitler and the Nazis go, well, we
never heard anything except good things
about them, so how were we supposed to feel?
When our cities were being bombed, we blamed
the bombers, not Hitler. That reminds
me of a joke we used to tell. A Hitler
Youth in Berlin lies about his age and gets
into the Army and goes to the front.
He is caught and sent to prison. Not
for lying about his age, but because he was
a coward and went to the front where it was
people have to remember that boys my age
grew up with Hitler; we never knew anything
else, and of course they would never say
anything bad about themselves. Most of
our parents just kept quiet, too. My
mother barely made it through the depression
we had in Germany, anything was better to
her than that. And the only Jews I
knew moved to America when I was a little
boy. The thought that boys could be
held responsible for believing what they did
is ridiculous. Here in the US, you can
actually kill someone if your parents beat
you as a child, but we Germans...
about your Army training?
I didn't get any. Well, yes, they
marched us around some, but we were running
around most of the time, getting shots,
collecting papers, you know, we didn't have
time for anything else. I never got
training? What did you do at the
I was never there.
you got the Verwundetenabzeichen
Yes, I was wounded before I got to the
Patience! Wait a minute! One
day, they gave us a boxed lunch to put in
our packs and we marched down to the rail
station. About a hundred of us.
Got on the train. Open cars and
boxcars. We headed off towards
Frankfurt on the Oder, I think we were going
to another base for further training.
I was in a boxcar and we could hear the
whistles blowing but did not know what it
meant. I remember how confused we all
were, we did not know what was happening.
Some airplanes strafed our train, a bullet
took off this muscle on top of my leg.
What a huge hole, my God, I was terrified.
There was blood everywhere, mine and
others'. The floor of the boxcar had a
solid (quarter of an inch) of it on the
floor. The large shells shot from
airplanes do terrible damage to a human
being. The train was on fire. I
passed out, next thing I know, I'm in a
hospital outside Frankfurt. I asked
the orderly if my leg was gone, I couldn't
lift it up. He answered me in a very
heavy accent, something like, "No, not
gone. Soon rot off, you die."
He laughed at me. What a guy like that
was doing in a hospital, I'll never know.
I told the doctor, I hope he got in trouble.
Anyway, I didn't die, eventually they put me
on a hospital train headed west, the
Russians were coming, it was spring of 1945.
I was hobbling around by then. But
going on another train terrified me, you
know! But the train stopped and stood
still for a whole week, we wandered around
looking for food. Then the British
came. I had a high fever, they put me
in one of their own hospitals, I got out in
August of 1945. I found my mother in a
small town near Magdeburg, we went to
England in 1947. My mom stayed in
England, I came to America. Here you
got your medal after the war?
No, I got it in the hospital. I
don't know what happened to it, it wasn't
very valuable. It was just a little
piece of black-painted tin. It didn't
make my leg feel any better. I
probably gave it to some Tommy.
how long were you in the Army?
Until the end of the war, because I was
still a soldier when I was in the hospital.
But before I was wounded, perhaps two weeks,
I can't remember exactly. So I
wouldn't even say I was in the Army, I
didn't even see the plane that shot me.
Never saw any enemy. Actually, I got
off pretty lucky. Another boy from my
block that went in when I did was killed
that spring by the Russians. I made it
out with just a limp.
about the food you got in the barracks, what
did they give you?
I don't remember what... I ate oatmeal
for the first time. My mother never
made it, said oats were for horses. I
ate it for the first time in the barracks.
I can't remember what else. And I'm
hungry now, Louise, can we have some more
coffee... get out those things you made the