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August Weber


Translated 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.

The following interview was assembled from passages used in a German Social Science text-book called "Studien und Texte zur Sozialgeschichte der Literatur (Vol. 37)".  In order to preserve the color and feel of the veteran's recollections, the interview itself is heavily laced with that strange German dialect called Plattdeutsch, exactly as the Hamburg native spoke.  It may have been quaint to a German reader, but a headache for the translator; we have tried to preserve the flavor of the interview without obscuring the meaning.  The interview was conducted in 1978.

August Weber was born in 1920 in Hamburg-St. Georg.  His father was a musician who had been blind since the age of 30.  August attended the Volksschule, was a member of the Sportverein and the Hitler Youth.  He fulfilled his one-year Landjahr obligation.  He was an apprentice machine fitter by trade.

What did you think when the war started?
Oh yeah, we had just got going when unfortunately 1939 came along.  It arrived, and suddenly the war broke out.  I don't know, as I see things today, at least I didn't notice much, you know.  War, war.  There were entire histories - you could learn about Sedan and von Bismarck, all of that.  One could learn about the past in history.  And the wars of 1871 and 1914, you heard plenty about that.  But what was war, really?  So at that particular time it wasn't intimidating for me.  And why war, one naturally asked.  Oh yes, then in '33 we got Adolf, the Nazis, and then we began to hear things like "we must free this, free those now, liberate that", oh, yes.  Hey, I was still young, 19 years old.

Weber belonged to those men who were not immediately called up (his draft classification was "u.k.":), and was employed in an armaments industry.  Of great impart was the fate of a friend who was killed in Poland.  Unlike certain other changes, like food rationing, this death struck home the fact that the war was real.  When Weber was 22, he entered the German Army and sent to Denmark for basic training; it was 1942.  He enjoyed the memories of his 3-month training period, especially with regards to the ration scale when compared with that in Germany.

We would get our mess kits, and get in line - into the kitchen, get mashed potatoes and then, maybe, a bratwurst or goulash or something.  Zoom, zoom: that was the way.  Then we were off to the Kantine (German PX).  Ten Schlagsahnstücke (cream puffs?) which cost 16 Öre, or 1,60 Krone.  Fifteen minutes away, a half-liter of milk cost ,20 Krone.  Everything for 1,80 Krone.  Every ten days we got 20 Krone, which we could exchange.  The rate at the time was one Mark for two Kronen.  And our regular pay - I can't say anymore, what that amounted to.  At least you could save, including the money sent from home once a month and the 10 - day payment, you could save, perhaps, I think 50 or 60 Kronen.  You could get along pretty well, you know.  And 10 cream puffs a day and a half-liter of milk after noon; my how I swelled up, just like a yeast cake.

I mean, it was a wonderful time, for sure, after all there was a war going on and Denmark was an occupied country.  We were constantly allowed to leave the barracks more often, but never alone.  This was during the basic training period - the first six weeks, we couldn't go out at all and had to stay in the barracks.  And the first time out, I remember, we went with an instructor.  And so we went out - we were already 22 years old at the time, after all - for the first time with a Korporal and sneaked into a café.  Ach.  We were glad, when afterwards we were allowed to go out by ourselves.

I was in Odense, where I did basic training, and those Danes in the cafés were not friendly to us if I remember correctly.  Today I understand this.  But at the time, I was a new soldier in training, I did not understand why the people were so unfriendly.

Mrs. Weber: Yes, you were not very welcome.

Yes, but we were told that Denmark was not an enemy country.  That's what I understand.  More of an allied country.  But, it was indeed an occupied country.

Weber's memories of Denmark were filled with thoughts concerning food.  Weber gained 30 lbs in 3 months, and had the opportunity to bring quantities of scarce foodstuffs back to his relatives when he went home to Hamburg on leave:

(The stuff) I dragged out of Denmark, you know!  Ham, cheese, eggs, Danziger Goldwasser (a liquor with small flecks of real gold in it), the liquor, ...ahh!  I couldn't carry it all.  Every 50 meters I had to turn around and retrieve something all the way to the train station.  Yeah, you could bring along whatever you wanted, and could save for.  Oh yeah, and then when I came back here, in 194... when was it?  Yes, I was called up at the end of 1942, so it was 1943,... the beginning of 1943.  Oh yes, they were having quite a time here, believe me, with everything bought on coupons.  So when we bought back a big roll cheese, and a bottle of liquor and another bottle of liquor... I know that I brought all that back.

After completion of training, Weber was sent to the Eastern Front, probably assigned to the 30th Infantry Division.  The following were his impressions of his trip to the front:

Then I had become a soldier and went to Russia.  It was 1943... I really have to think about this.  Was it October of 1942, or March of 1943?  I can't say for sure.

It's not important.
So anyway, I went to Russia.  It took seven days.  It was probably the hardest time in my life up to that point.  Seven days you know, in a cattle car, doors closed, only straw inside.

And cold...
Yes, well... we had a stove.  These railroad cars were all made with a stove inside and a smokestack going out but the doors were always open a bit.  And we went deeper and deeper into Russia - it must have been February of 1943.  It was cold, ice-cold in Russia, ice-cold.  This is a very unpleasant memory.

...yes, then came summer, and that was a little more fun for me.  We went to Staraja-Russa and into rest positions.  Here the Russians were holed up, and we Germans were holed up too.  There had always been fighting in Staraja-Russa... first them, then us.  And then we holed up, in 1943.  And we stayed there for half or three-quarters of a year.  And it was really peaceful and nice.  You know, as if the war wasn't going on - so the land was magnificent.  We ate, smoked, and drank.  So it was real nice.  And now and then there was a little bit of shooting.  I didn't... you won't believe it... I didn't see a single Russian in these 9 months.  But where someone was always shooting, so I also fired: "they must be over there", and we shot back.  But never saw a Russian.  Never saw one.

Oh yeah, then one day in 1943 the Russians started in with their Stalinorgeln (rocket launchers), and we knew what was up.  The attack was coming.  And Trommelfeuer (barrage) fell on our position for 4 or 5 hours.

I must say that I am not, shall we say, a strong believer.  You know, my parents were evangelists, and I am too... my parents were very, ah, shall we say gottgläubig (strongly Christian).  More than we are.  Maybe conditioned that way.  I was raised gottgläubig as a child anyway.  We said our prayer every night before we went to bed.  But in the war we got a little hardened, and didn't care to believe anymore, simply because we saw too much misery.  We didn't believe that such a god would let this happen, if he really ruled.  Anyhow, I must say again, as long as we have come to it, that that's the way some felt, who were afraid.  That's the way it must have been anyway.  You see, the people who felt this way were afraid.  And everyone who had this fear, everyone that I knew, also became casualties.  One of these was also my Gewehrführer (gun commander, at the time, Weber was on a heavy MG) and Schütze Eins (gunner).  I was already a Gefreiter, and had a heavy machine gun.  When I was on watch, there was shooting.  The other guy pulled his head down, not me, I never lowered my head.  I had an inner peace to everything.  So I wasn't jumpy, no fear of anything.  Yes, and those who had the fear, or those who had a premonition that something was going to happen, they also became casualties.

Of course, I know that I wasn't a hero.  I only got the Iron Cross, Second Class, Assault badge, and wound badge.  But you know, it was almost a sport for me.  Once, when we had to make an attack and everyone was still down under cover, I was thinking to myself: man, why aren't they coming up now?  Then I go up, get on a gun, and fire away.  Then the Hauptmann says "come back down, Weber!"  I had to go back down.  I'm thinking man, why don't they get their asses up and make the attack now?

So I will only say that I never had the fear that something could happen to me.  Consequently I didn't see everything in such a horrible light.  On the other hand, looking back at it, it was really frightful, it was terrible.  When I think about it, those things... it all started, as I said, in Staraja-Russia, at first it wasn't bad.  It was actually splendid, I'd like to say.  But then, when the retreat started and you would see the dead all over... here were guts hanging out, this one missing an arm, and they... they cried our "Kamerad, help", and you could not help, because nothing would have helped.  So you had to move on.  I remember an officer lying there...

Meanwhile, they made me a Zugmelder (platoon messenger).  First I was only a platoon messenger.  That was in Staraja-Russia.  And then I was a Kompaniemelder (company messenger), and after that a battalion messenger.  So I slowly advanced myself.  But it was, I feel, more dangerous as a messenger.  And I always saw a lot more.  I felt safer up at the very front than a ways back with Company (HQ).  Or... well, Company wasn't that far back.  It was only 50 meters back.  If you imagine the front as a line - the forward trenches, that's what we called the front.  And we had bunkers there.  The platoon leader was also up there in a bunker.  But the company CO, a Leutnant or Oberleutnant, was 50 or a hundred meters back.  Battalion was 500 meters farther back.  Yeah, and I was on these routes all the way from battalion to the front, as a messenger.  At first I was a little flattered: as a messenger, first to the commander, then on to regiment, and always farther back.  But it wasn't a fun time, you know, I often got lost, I must truthfully say.  This is despite what everyone thinks now, that I am a person with a good sense of direction, which I still have today.  Sometimes it is so obvious where you are, I would like to say, "Man, you'll never manage.  Where are you now?"  But try to imagine: woods everywhere, pitch-black night.  Two, three, four places to go: "oh yes, they are over there right now, over by the weird fir tree.  Turn around, you have to go there.  Or, here is a detachment, so you have to go there, too."  And then I finally arrive at battalion or regiment to make my report.  I had to work in two directions, you know... from battalion to regiment, and from battalion forward to company.  Once going forward, then back again.

And later, as I remember it, when we had re-entrenched, I had to go through it all again.  Over a sketch in a bunker... "these guys are right here, Mr. Weber," ...what's this Mr. Weber? ...it was Gefreiter, anyway... "they are here in this sector... and these are in that sector"  "Yes, yes"  "Listen now, you go there... you have to..."  "Yes".  And then it is dark.  Now I take off.  Thank God, it's not as dark as the first time.  There are a few stars out.  But I never had a fear of being shot at.  Not even when I saw other people hurt or when it thundered.  I never was afraid of that.  But when I was all alone in the woods, when it was dark, and when I had to go out... then I was afraid, oddly enough.  I was not afraid of being shot down or that something was going to happen to me.  But I had this fear, so I guess something or other snapped.  So before I went I always had a little case of cold feet.

Oh yeah... I was a (battalion) messenger.  And on a message trip I was wounded.  I was forward at company, and then I was supposed to report back to battalion.  An Ari-Überfall (artillery barrage) came down, and we threw ourselves to the ground.  And in that instant that I threw myself down, I felt like something was sticking in my back.  The shell came through the woods, we were in the woods, you see.  Then I wanted to stand up, and at first I couldn't get any air.  Then I was able to go 50 meters, then 100 meters, and then I couldn't breathe anymore.  I had myself carried back to battalion, and by then I was nearly gone.  Then I was taken in a Sanka-Wagen (ambulance) and given a shot.

I woke up again in the Hauptverbandplatz (regimental dressing station).  I had a sucking lung wound and a thigh wound.

Which did you feel... the lung or leg wound?
Right when I was wounded, neither one in particular.

...you perceived nothing in particular.
Not at first, somewhat later.  I woke up and the effects of the first morphine shot had worn off.  Then I had pain.  Then I had...

More pain in your leg, or your lung?
In the lungs.  I didn't realize I had one in the leg at all.  I was told about it before I felt it.  There was a hole in the lung.  It was always like this: ha--a--a--a, it was always like this, you know.  And the leg I didn't know about.  I was in the Hauptverbandplatz, sitting up, then I hollered and got another shot.  You know, morphine must be a devil's tool.  It is wonderful, but must be a devil's tool.  I was so badly wounded that I couldn't stand up.  Next we were lying in a large assembly hall, I remember.  And then there was another room, that was the operating room.  We were lying close together.  It was a school or something.  There were a hundred men there, all wounded, one hollering as much as another.  There was straw on the floor with a wool blanket on top of that, with us on top of it all.  And I think that I received and old field bed because I was hollering for the lack of air.  They sat me up.  When I lay down, I hollered, and when I was upright I could get more air.  I remember this quite clearly.

Oh yes, I came through thanks to morphine.  And when I hollered, I got a shot... what was I supposed to know about morphine?  I knew basically nothing.  I knew more after the doctor told me.  It had to be a devil's tool.  The second shot, yes, the second one I got in the Hauptverbandplatz.  I came around for the first time then, they were working on me: "...lung wound, nope, we can't do anything about that.  But down here... we want to extract that one."  No, I was not even aware.  And then they pulled the splinter out...

You were not aware due to the morphine?
Yes, exactly.  And they pulled it out.  I had another one in my lower leg, only a small fragment.  They pulled that one out, too, I wasn't even aware.

That was only a flesh wound, one that healed fast?
Only a flesh wound.  And the lung wound, it was because of that one that I was sent back.  And then even farther back - I don't know.  I was wounded in Estonia, you see.

In the Baltic States.
So it was during the retreat.

It was 1944 already.
Already 1944.  I got on a ship in Pernau.  Emergency disembarkation at Danzig-Neufahrwasser.  I had to be operated on.

At least, as I have said, morphine must be a devil's tool.  I had those two shots, and when I was on the steamship I hollered for another.  I had two before.  And then we came...

But you were in pain?
When the effects of the first two shots...

...wore off?
...wore off, then I was in pain.  But wore yet was this lack of air.

Yes, that's clear.  You wanted the pain to go away.  For this reason.  But I don't think you were addicted after two shots.
I know, yes.

You already know, yes.
I know, yes.  But the craving was there.  I had the feeling that the pain was not so great when I was wounded and also when I got back to battalion HQ... it was bearable until I got the first shot.  I was short of breath.  They put an adhesive bandage on my back to seal off the air.  It would not allow air to pass through the wound.  It was only a small wound, however.  It was only as big as a fingernail, like your little fingernail.  It was a shell fragment.

Yes... it was already out by then?
Nah, it was still in the lung.

Ach... is it in there today?
It is still there.  It was in the lung, and I must say, it was more of an inconvenience than a pain, because I could not breathe deeply.

It seems to have been a mistake to give you morphine.
Yeah, they heard me moaning...hah-a-aah-ach-ha-a, and then saw the wound, then gave me a shot.  Therefore, at the main dressing station, I would have been able to stand up.  I would have been able to stand, run back home, or could run back to the front.  I have that feeling about this.  Then, with the lung wound, I was ordered farther back, to Pernau where I was put on a ship, and got underway.  I only remember the part about being underway.  I was hollering for another shot.  Then the doctor came by and he thought, I think, that I was talking in a feverish delirium.  I don't know, perhaps I did have a fever.  I can't say for sure today.  I do know that I wanted another shot.  "I gave you a couple pills." he said.  I said "the pills don't help.  You can keep them, save them.  What am I supposed to do about this shit?"  Then he says to me, "don't talk so much."  "I'll talk as much as I want to," or something like that.  I can only remember so much.

And then I was taken off in Danzig-Neufahrwasser in an emergency disembarkation.  There were Sanka-Wagen to spare.  They were loaded.  And I clearly remember the mad drive to another place.  I was on a bench.  I couldn't lay down, only sit up, so I could breathe.

That hurt again.
That hurt and I hollered.  Then I was happy as were unloaded - I can't remember if it was a hospital or a church.  It was set up as a hospital, anyway.  And then I knew I was being carried up the steps... it must have been a school.  We got up there, and I sat up so I could breathe.  And then I was in the OR, in a hall, there were a lot of doctors there.  I says, "Hach, Herr Doctor, give me a shot, give me a shot."  "Yo, yo, my boy.  You'll get a shot soon, you'll get one soon.  We'll see to it."  Then I was put on a table, and held fast... whether it was two doctors or two nurses, I don't know anymore.  Then I got a shot in the arm.  "And now, you will feel a peck in your lung."  And then I was pierced.  And it was horrible, believe me.  Without anesthesia, like you get today.  Today it is painless.  But it was not painless for me.  They stuck a syringe into me, it was half as big around as your little finger.  They stuck me three times, between the ribs, and three times I screamed.  I remember that exactly.  And they drained off the blood that collected in my lung.  There was, I don't remember, 200cc of blood and everything that had bled into my lung.  They drained it.

Then they stuck an adhesive bandage on me and I says "Herr Doctor, the shot..."  "You already got one, yes, you get another one.  It will work."  and he gave me another one.  Then I was carried back into the hospital and into a room.  And now I waited... "A shot now, must be now...", I had got two earlier, and now another two.  And I was thinking "another is coming now.  It was so beautiful.  Man, then you go far away," and so on.  And I waited and waited, but none came.  Then on the next day, I was feeling a little better.  Then the Chief Surgeon came in on his rounds, and read my chart and saw that I was from Hamburg.  "Hey, Hamburger, how's it going?"  "Ach," I said, "Herr Doctor, the shot that you gave me was worthless."  "Why's that?"  "Both of the other ones were so marvelous, that I wasn't aware of a thing.  But I had pain until this morning."  "I see, how about right now?"  "Ach, no.  The pain is better now.  I am breathing better."  That was because the blood which had been building up and blocking off the air was gone.  "Yes," he said, "my boy, if I had given you one more shot (of morphine), you would have been addicted, believe me."  So gentle, like a father, he was certainly old enough.  Like a father.  You know, I was... how old was I?  24 years old, yes it was 1944.  He was like a father to me.  "Yes, I think you were already a little addicted.  Where did you get the shots?"  "All right, I got one when I was there, one when I got there, and one from you."  Yes, he says, "but the one you got from me was something else."

Weber was then transferred to a Genesenden Kompanie (convalescent company) located in Lübeck.  The following recollection dates from this period:

Meanwhile, I landed in an officer's mess... yes, I wasn't giving out food to the peons below, but to the officers above.  But what do you know, they acted just like the peons when they wanted seconds.  "Ach, Herr Weber, do you have any more?"  "Ach, Oberst, I can't do that now."  Or, "Herr Hauptmann, I can't do that now, everyone is sitting out there.  Come back in half an hour."  They were young lads, not much older than I.  We gave food to the officers we were fond of.  But the loud ones... I think that the kitchen above was better than the one below for the Landser.

The (officer's) mess was somewhat better to begin with.
Look at this way: (in the barracks), imagine that the kitchens are connected with a big hose, so that everything that was cooked was exactly the same.  But in the Gulaschkanone (field kitchen), you couldn't cook a hundred or two hundred liters at once.  In the Gulaschkanone, maybe only 20 or 30 liters.  A hundred liters would take 4 or 5 Gulaschkanonen.  So everyone did not eat from one trough.  And so the officers always get the best...

And then more on officers:

...we got a new commander.  Both legs had been amputated.  He wore a Knight's Cross, I think...

How did he get along, without both legs?
And without a cane.  He walked on two prostheses.  Knight's Cross, German Cross, Silver wound badge, Infantry Assault... he had everything there was to have.  But when he came around and had something to say... what a voice, believe me!

Was he a General, or what?
No, he was an Oberst (Colonel).  Hmmm!

And you liked him?
Yes, it was something... anyway, when he was around.  When it came to the others, I never had much respect, so if I saw one, I saluted like this (he demonstrates).  Not much respect, no feeling.  Once I got myself stopped: "Here, come over here!  Can't you salute properly?"  so when I passed one of these guys, you know, I saluted properly, even if I did not want to.  But when he came around, well, you pulled yourself up inside, snapped your hand to your head, you know, and saluted zackig (smartly).  It was wonderful, you know, to hear him speak.

He probably would not have done anything, if you had given him the false salute.  He would not have gotten upset.  He would have...
No, absolutely not!  We had an incident, you know, so I got to know what a wonderful person and soldier he really was.  He was a soldier through and through, he had absolutely nothing to do with politics and absolutely nothing to do with the Nazis.  He was a wonderful person, was a swell, swell, guy.  Yes, we had this one affair, when the war was almost over.  It was maybe 4 weeks before the end of the war, when a bunch of SS came in on us.  There were maybe 3 or 4 officers with them, they made themselves right at home in the officer's mess upstairs (where Weber worked).  I had no idea what these SS officers had in mind, why such high officers would come in here.  "What is there to eat around here?  Come over here!  What do you have to eat?"  They were insolent.  There was perhaps seven or eight of them in all.  I later heard that one of them was Himmler's brother.  Brother or step-brother, I don't know.  They came in and sat down, and we had to serve them.  They wanted to stay in our barracks.

And then I hear this bupp-pubb, bupp-pubb, on the stairs.  That was our boss.  Two wooden legs.  He was really tough.  And two soldiers, Unteroffiziers, with helmets.

Ah, he had them as bodyguards.
Both of them, both with rifles!  Helmets buckled on, feldmarschmäßig (combat-ready).  Him in the middle.  And he came in.  I can tell you exactly what he said to them.  It got ugly, I tell you!

Even with him there?
Yes.  The SS had not reported in to him.  He was the local commander at the time.  Everything belonged to him.  They had arrived unexpectedly and they said something like "we are commandeering this place" and "we are SS, I am Himmler's step brother", or something like that.  He was something related to Himmler.  And it got ugly.  Our Oberst laid it all out: "Gentlemen, if you don't get out of here..."  He... how did he express himself?  "I am the master of this house.  What I say goes!  And you are now my prisoners!"  And then Himmler's brother said to him, "Don't be stupid!  You can wind up on the gallows!"  Or something like this.  Then our Oberst says to his duo, I don't remember, Gewehr an, or ab, I don't know, something like that.  And they brought up their rifles.  "Gentlemen!  Either you come along, or this will get serious!"  They got up and left.  So he took care of all of them.

He was a person I would have followed through thick and thin, you know.  But these others I met, those shits, not with them.

Not many had what it takes.
What came of all this, we never heard.  It was only 3 or 4 weeks before the end of the war.  But they never showed up in our barracks again.  Apparently they couldn't get their way with him.  Nevertheless, the SS...

He was in the right, though.
He was, yes, he was in the right.  And so we saw no more of the SS in our barracks.  I heard somewhere that that bunch went and commandeered a hotel, or something.

Yeah, I understand.  But they didn't get their way, at any rate.
It was great.  I really remember that one.  I thought, "you shits... first you are so puffed up, then he comes with two soldiers, points the rifles, and you fold up and depart."

Yes, and then the English came.  It was around April of 1945.  The English came quickly, and I will never forget: every morning there was an Appell (inspection) where we had to present ourselves to our surgeon.  And the English were almost here, the enemy was in the Black Forest, over the Elbe, and so on.  The English were very close.  And then, in the middle of the night: "Get up!  You... what do you have?  Get going, out, get out.  You?  Out!  You?  Out!  And you?"  "Punctured lung.  This and that."  "Out!"  "No, Herr Stabsarzt,"  I said.  "What's that?  What's this about not going?"  "Herr Stabsarzt, if I run more than 100 meters now..."  I was prepared with my point... we had been inspected like this repeatedly before, by others.  It was now back to the front - I knew that I did not want to go back to the front.  We realized that it was coming to an end..."

And it was.  The war was coming to an end.
And the war was lost, we all knew it.  The war was lost, but they wanted to send us back in!  In the final hours... and I had the feeling that if I went, that was it.  So I said no.  "Ach, get out!" he says to me.  I said: "I have a punctured lung, and I don't want to be a burden for two other soldiers.  If I run more than 100 meters, I can't breathe!"  I exaggerated a bit.  "And two other guys will have to carry me back to the rear.  Then you won't lose one soldier, you will lose three."  He looked me up and down: "Make a note, professor, report tomorrow morning anyhow."  I would not have told him, how it was in my nature to always be there, even in war, and how I had volunteered for the army... so that if I would have gone, then I would have become a soldier again.  And I had the feeling that I would never see home again.  So I didn't want to be effective anymore.

And on the next day, it was a really great doctor.  I told him what had happened in the barracks.  "Don't worry," he said.  He was an officer, but he had a private practice, and had only been called up as an officer.  "...the war is over for you.  You are fit only for garrison duty (g.v.H.: garnisons verwendungsfähig Heimat) until August 1945.  I'll give you a letter for this."  And he gave a certificate.  I went to the barracks.  The war was over in 6 weeks.

The British came to Lübeck on May 2.  A few days before that, his superior who was as "war weary" as the doctor, in light of the hopeless situation, gave him his discharge papers (Entlassungspapiere).  He also gave him a number of blank discharge certificates that were officially stamped and notarized.  Weber was able to give these necessary papers to other soldiers he met.

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