From Child To Soldier

Diary of a Young Man Growing Up in Nazi Germany


A number of years ago, when my dad, Marshall, was still living, he received a message at this Web site from a man in Germany named Hans, who had an interesting story to tell. Hans was a German veteran of WW2 who, while only in his mid-teens, served as a member of an anti-aircraft battery. It turns out that he was firing at Allied aircraft at around the same time that my dad was flying as a navigator in such aircraft, and there is a possibility that he may have actually fired at my dad's plane. He and my dad went on to become good friends and exchanged emails on a regular basis until my dad passed away in 2005. I continued to correspond with Hans after my dad's passing, and at one point I asked him whether he would be interested in telling about his experiences during the Nazi period on this Web site. I told him that I had read accounts of wartime experiences in Germany told by adults, but that I had never heard such experiences described by someone who was very young and actually served in the war.

I was pleased that he agreed to share some of his experiences during the Nazi period, and I soon received in the mail a paper document, written in German, discussing key points of his life in chronological order, from his birth in 1927 through his wartime service, which ended in 1945. I converted this paper document into an electronic file in German, and then translated the document into English, with the help of Google Translate and some German that I recalled from my high school German classes, and this translated document appears below. Hans asked that I not include the last names of his family members, since there is apparently still some sensitivity in Germany to events that occurred during the war.

Early Childhood

I was brought into this world on December 18, 1927 at 12:30am, a bitterly cold Sunday morning (0 degrees F, -18 C!). I was born in the house at the corner of Bahnhof-/Brettenerstraße in Eppingen/Baden, Germany, with the help of a midwife. I was the first child of my parents -- Karl, born February 22, 1901, and his wife Wilhelmine, born January 30, 1904 in Munich.

My parents were married on October 2, 1926 in Eppingen. My father Karl, who was the first and only son of my grandfather, Johannes, died in 1982, after a full life, at the age of 81 years. My mother was the daughter of a locksmith, Heinrich, and she died in 1987 at 83 years of age.

My paternal grandfather, an innkeeper who was born in 1858, was very strict. He was strictly a German National, yet very well educated. He kept a diary for 50 years, which I still have today, in which he only recorded the weather and information about his work. Personal information was seldom mentioned. Still I know, thanks to its entries, that I was baptized on January 29, 1928 in the town church in Eppingen.

Since my father worked at the Baden Maschinenfabrik Sebold company in Durlach (known as Karlsruhe today), we moved to a small but nice apartment in Durlach (Karlsruher Allee 15) on July 9, 1928. There I enjoyed a carefree childhood, attending kindergarten at the Lutheran church in Durlach, although I was a rather reluctant child.

On January 30, 1933, the Nazis, under Adolf Hitler, came to power in Germany, and this would have a serious impact on my life.

Primary School

On Easter, 1934, I was enrolled in primary school (the Hindenburg School) in Durlach. The first two years there I was in Miss Zwingert's class, and then through the 4th year I was in Mr. Meyer's class -- he played the violin very well. School gave me no problems, even though I was not an overly zealous student. On reports I had almost all ones, but that would change later.

In August, 1936, the Olympic Games were held in Berlin, which I followed enthusiastically on the radio. Jesse Owens, a black man from the USA, won 4 gold medals, but Hitler refused to shake his hand because he was considered 'racially inferior', which I thought was silly even then.

Joining the Jungvolk organization

In the summer of 1937 I joined the Jungvolk organization, as did all of my peers. This was a youth organization for 10-14 year olds. We were not very political, but had fun with games and similar adventures. I readily joined without any pressure from the leaders of the group, and proudly wore a green and black cord on my uniform. This impressed the girls from the BMD ('Bund Deutscher Mädchen' = 'League of German Girls').

In November, 1937, my sister Karin, whom I loved very much, came into the world. She would later die of diphtheria, at 6 years of age, due to a misdiagnosis by a physician.

On April 20, 1938, I took the entrance examinations for the sixth grade at Markgrafen-Oberschule for boys (today called 'Markgrafen-Gymnasium') in Durlach. There, I had no particular problems and always had good marks.

WW2 begins

On September 1, 1939, a Friday, while we were still on summer vacation, Hitler gave a radio speech with the memorable words: "As of 5:45 we are returning fire" (referring to the German attack on Poland, which marked the beginning of WW2). We are still feeling the consequences of this event today, many years later.

In the fall of 1940 we were able to move to a larger and more comfortable apartment at Blotterstraße 1 in Durlach, where we even had a bath with a coal water heater.

On June 22, 1941, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union and was under the belief that he could defeat the Russians by the fall, but this turned out to be a fatal mistake for this madman. It was a glorious early summer day in Karlsruhe, where I was the champion in the discus throw, with a record distance of 137.63 feet (41.95 meters).

On March 29, 1942, I was confirmed in the Lutheran Church in Durlach. The meat served on that occasion was the holiday roast that I got in Heidelberg from my aunt Hilda, who was the wife of a butcher there. Everything was rationed in the war, especially meat.

Joining the Flieger-HJ

Because of a disagreement that I had with a leader of the Jungvolk, I left that organization and joined the Flieger-HJ (Flyers-HJ or Hitler Youth Flyers), although I was not an ardent Nazi. I flew gliders in Heidelsheim, Bruchsal, and I took the A and B tests on the SG 38 glider.

In the summer of 1942, I reported to the Bann 109 Karlsruhe at Kinderlandverschickungslager in Bonndorf in the Black Forest, but it turned out there was no room for me there. A position as a replacement was then offered to me at a so-called Osteinsatz in the then Generalgouvernement (occupied Poland). After intense debate at home, especially with my mother since I was only 14½ years old, I went east by train from Karlsruhe with another fellow on August 1, 1942. The first stop was Vienna, Austria, then a part of the German Reich, where we arrived at an arsenal at South Station and spent the night.

Vienna was at that time still a peaceful and interesting city, and we explored the length and breadth of it. The next day, we travelled from South Station through the Protectorate of Bohemia/Moravia across Lundenburg, Moravian-Ostrava to Krakow in occupied Poland.

At each station stop, one of us was responsible for filling the water bottles, because it was very hot. At the stop in Ostrava, Moravian, just after midnight, it was my turn to fill the bottles. Everyone was asleep, and, while wearing only shorts and sandals, I went to the well with about 20 water bottles to fill. When I returned to the station platform carrying the bottles of water, I saw only the red tail lights of the train leaving the station. There I stood, half naked, without any papers, in a foreign country at the age of 14, and so I went to the train station headquarters. At first they wanted to arrest me, but after they understood me, they told me that the train was only being switched to another track.

Arrival at Bochnia

The next day we arrived in Krakow, Poland, and had to report to the leadership of the local branch of the Hitler Youth, where we were divided into individual groups of 4 persons and sent to different locations. My group was sent to Bochnia, a small town of 20,000 inhabitants, 25 miles (40 km) east of Krakow. There we were housed in a large school, which was seized to be used as a military hospital for the German army, but at that time it was still completely empty. Through the Polish mayor, we made contact with the ethnic Germans, who enjoyed great privileges over the Polish people and even over the people of the German Reich, with such advantages as double food rations.

We gathered together the ethnic German boys, appointed one of them, who spoke German to some extent, as youth leader, and told them something about National Socialism and our great leader, Adolf Hitler, because that was our "job". In the courtyard of the school, we built a small playground with a jump pit, and played sports there with the boys. We originally planned to build the playground together with the ethnic Germans, but were quickly informed that, as the "master race", we should have Jews do the work. In Bochnia there existed, at that time, a large Jewish community that lived in a ghetto, which was created under the Poles.

You must realize that the Poles themselves were extremely anti-Semitic. The Jews had their own administration, with police in uniform and armed with batons. The reason I mention this now is because of what happened on the morning of August 20, 1942. We were awakened in the middle of the night by gunfire that came from the Jewish ghetto. We ran there, but were driven back by SS troops who had surrounded the ghetto, even though we were wearing our HJ ('Hitler-Jugend' = 'Hitler Youth') uniforms. The following morning, the ghetto was "cleared out", as the Nazis put it. The Jews, about 2,000 men, women, old people and even babies, were rounded up and guarded, by their own police officers, in the yard of a former Polish military barracks. I still have photos of it. After 3 days, the Jews were forced into freight rail cars, in scorching heat, and they departed. The SS people told us that the able-bodied men would go to the Eastern Front as laborers for the army, and women and children would go to humane camps in Germany. In fact, as I know now, they were ultimately gassed in the Belzec concentration camp. After this happened, my attitude toward National Socialism (Nazism) became more critical than the prevailing attitude of the majority of Germans at that time. I was absolutely no resistance fighter -- I was too cowardly -- but I always slipped the Jews who worked with us something to eat, in spite of the objections of my friends, who said that if I continued to feed the "Jewish pigs", they would report me to the authorities.

To this day, I have not forgotten the time that I spent in Poland as a young man, and sometimes it makes me ashamed to be a German.

I returned to Germany, and in April, 1943, in Heidelsheim, I took the glider pilot test B on a SG 38 "boat" to become a flight instructor for the Flieger-HJ. On April 20, 1943 (Adolf Hitler's birthday) I was appointed Sergeant in the Flieger-HJ, which made me very proud.

Called up to man an anti-aircraft battery

My ninth grade class, at the high school for boys in Durlach, ended on July 6, 1943, and on July 15 we were called up, while still practically children, by the air force auxiliary to man an 88 mm anti-aircraft battery at Grötzingen. We had pretty tough training, the summer was very hot, and we sweated quite a bit. After basic training, we then had training on the weapon itself. We were told that we were needed because of a shortage of manpower due to the recent disaster for the Nazis at Stalingrad, in Russia. Without praising ourselves too much, we felt that we were a more than adequate replacement, because we were very motivated and we foolishly thought that we were heroes. I had received a dozen letters from friends at the school for girls in Durlach, but unfortunately they were purely platonic. We added an 'LH' to the Air Force eagle on the breast of our uniform. The LH stood for Luftwaffenhelfer (Air Force helper or assistant), however we often humorously interpreted the LH to stand for 'Lieferwagen-Heizer' (truck heater) or even worse 'Letzte Hoffnung' (last hope). In September and October of 1943, we were in Seemoos at Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance, where we shot for practice at Dornier aircraft that flew over land, but, using the mirror image method, we actually shot over the lake. The practices were photographed and analyzed. The head of the operation was a major Sauter, who was, in civilian life, a mathematics professor at the Technical University of Munich. He used to say: 'The air force helpers close their eyes and open their assholes'. That's how it was back then. We had a great time and had the afternoons free to go to Friedrichshafen, where we found a pub whose hostess considered us to be her boys and always gave us mussels filled with potatoes.

Our anti-aircraft battery 2/458 then moved to Karlsruhe-Rüppurr. On December 28, 1943, I was admitted to the hospital at an orphanage in Karlsruhe, suffering from a diphtherial infection in my throat, and I was in quarantine there until January 14, 1944. Before that, I had infected my good friend Hans Dörrmann, who was much worse off than I was and needed a tracheotomy.

On February 15, 1944, I volunteered for the Air Force Reserve as KV (Kriegsverwendungsfähig = war experienced). I wanted to avoid being drafted into the Waffen-SS.

A difficult experience for me was the death of my beloved little sister Karin, who died of diphtheria, at the age of 6, on April 2, 1944 in Heidelberg. I probably infected her, without realizing that I could.

On April 25, 1944 we survived a heavy night attack by the RAF in Hagsfeld, near Karlsruhe, but this attack left us terribly frightened.

On May 1, 1944, I was promoted to Luftwaffen-Oberhelfer (Air Force senior helper or assistant).

D-Day invasion

I can still remember when, on June 6, 1944, the radio reported that the invasion by the Allies had begun in Normandy. We were well aware, as of that time, that it was the beginning of the end for the Third Reich. Our motto, from that time on, was: 'Always act as heroes, but survive, if possible', which was not always so easy. Another motto: 'Better five minutes as a coward than to be dead forever'. I was fortunate enough to survive the war, for which I am forever grateful.

On July 4, 1944, I received my last certificate in the position Egelsee, Durlach-Aue with 'satisfactory'.

On July 20,1944, there was an unsuccessful attempt on Hitler's life, which was, in my opinion, unfortunately very amateurishly planned and carried out (by Stauffenberg, Beck, Fellgiebel). I doubted very much that these were the right people for the job.

On July 25,1944, our anti-aircraft battery was moved, under cover of darkness, to Altenburg/Thuringia. We were quartered there in a village called Münsa, but we saw no action there (typical bad planning). In any case, we had a great time, because the people there had never experienced a quartering before, and totally spoiled us. The female village beauties were especially devoted to us, but it was all very harmless.

Protecting the Leuna Works

On August 20, 1944, our battery was moved to Zeitz/Wildenborn. There we installed a large 36-gun battery of 88 mm guns in a harvested field. We were to protect the Leuna Works, which created synthetic fuels from lignite (coal) for the army, using the so-called Fischer-Tropsch process, which created the fuel under great pressure and temperature at exorbitant cost. The U.S. Eighth Air Force (The Mighty Eighth) came every 3 to 4 weeks with 1000 bombers (B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators) and destroyed the plants completely. With the help of thousands of forced laborers, the plants were all rebuilt. Once the first products began leaving a newly-rebuilt factory, the attacks started all over again. We lived in tents which held 10 men, but one could only stand upright in the middle and everything was very primitive and dirty. We shot down some B-17s but remained quite casual. Although we were still practically children, we were pretty callous. Today we would probably say: 'Cool'.

Working as a guard in Stuttgart

On October 10, 1944, I was discharged as LWH (Luftwaffen-Oberhelfer) in Zeitz and was drafted by the RAD (Reichsarbeitsdienst = Reich Labor Service). I went with my friend Hans Dörrmann to Vaihingen/Enz near Stuttgart. We arrived 10 days later, on October 20, and were received in a very unfriendly manner. As "old veterans" we had the hang of things, but they wanted to treat us like high schoolers, which wasn't appropriate because of our experience. Because of this blunt treatment in the cold and wet November of 1944, I was not happy there and I instead applied for a job in Stuttgart as a guard. I was accepted for the position, against the strongest competition.

So in November, 1944, I moved to Olgastraße in Stuttgart and became a guard in a feudal villa. We had wonderful warm beds, good food, and we worked for 24 hours and then had 24 hours off. What more could one want? In the casino, where we could stay at night, I heard Glenn Miller's music on the radio for the first time, in a BBC broadcast to the German Army. I was thrilled, even though I had heard that one could suffer the death penalty just for listening to an enemy station. Since then I have been a great fan of Big Band music.

While I was a guard in Stuttgart, I had some remarkable experiences that I will, however, not mention here.

On December 8, 1944, I was released from the RAD and waited for my invitation to the Air Force, where I had volunteered to avoid being drafted into the Waffen SS. I went back to my mother's home in Eppingen and waited for my call. I had registered with the WBK (Wehrbezirkskommando = military detachment) in Karlsruhe, but by February, 1945, after not hearing from them, I turned to the WBK in Heidelberg, because I was ashamed to be a young man sitting at home. There, I was told that I would hear from them in the next few days, which thankfully never occurred due to the dissolution of the detachment.

French occupation

On April 4, 1945, French troops occupied Eppingen, although we had been expecting the Americans. The troops took me with them, because they thought I was a partisan. I was very lucky; otherwise, I would have probably been shot. I only know that I was totally struck by the physical superiority of our former enemies, and it made clear to me what I already knew -- that we could not win the war. I was locked up in a former RAD compound in Kandei and was not treated very well by our current friends, the Grande Nation (France). We got almost nothing to eat and were harassed and beaten to the ground: "My father was killed by the SS, my mother was killed by the SS" they would say. We were treated in the same manner as the French resistance was treated by the SS, even though many French people prospered under Nazi occupation.

I was lucky to be dismissed by the French at the end of the war, May 8, 1945, and was able to return to Eppingen, because I claimed to have experience as a farmer. I had to cross the Rhine and was given a pass to do so. A friend and I stayed overnight in the old city of Karlsruhe, which was celebrating the victory over Nazi Germany with all night fireworks and drinking. The next day, May 9, 1945, we walked the 28 miles (45 km) to Eppingen. Shortly before reaching Eppingen, I took off my shoes, because I had terrible blisters, and I ran the rest of the way barefoot and arrived at my mother's house shortly before curfew time. Since she had not known where I was, she was very happy to see me and made me a sumptuous meal of fried potatoes and fried egg. I immediately devoured the meal and then threw it all up, because I was not used to eating fat. I recovered well in Eppingen, with good food and drink. Then one day I got a message from the French occupation authorities, saying that I should report to their headquarters the next morning to receive valid discharge papers. It said that I should report to Karlsruhe, then still in the French occupation zone, to get the papers.

That made me very suspicious, so I walked at night through the fog to nearby Gemmingen and stayed at a shelter for farm workers there. Gemmingen was in the American occupation zone and the GIs were very friendly, especially since I spoke a little English.

American occupation

In July, 1945, the Americans took charge in Eppingen, and soon I was assigned to lifeguard duty at the pool in Eppingen, together with Edmund Kiehnle (later a city architect in Eppingen). This was a very nice time, especially since the Americans were very decent and I got many perks, such as food, drink, cigarettes, etc.

I would like to tell one story: At the swimming pool we had a 3-meter wooden springboard, which was rather rotten. As an overweight American (the chef of the pioneer unit) jumped off the board, it broke off and dropped him into the water on his back. I jumped into the pool and saved him. I jokingly told him, 'You be sure that we get a new board soon.' The next day they brought in a thick oak board with a coir runner. When asked what they paid for it, they said 'nothing'. Unknown to us, they had paid 200 Reichsmarks to the Hecker Sawmill for the board.

At that time I knew more English than I had previously learned in school. I had an acquaintance at the pool -- he was a captain and a reverend (pastor) of a church in Los Angeles -- and he taught me a lot of English. He provided me with the U.S. military newspaper 'Stars and Stripes', the 'Saturday Evening Post' magazine, etc., which helped me to learn a lot. I also had plenty of corned beef, Palmolive soap, chewing gum and cigarettes. My salary was less than 400 Reichsmarks per month.

The lifeguard job ended in late September, and in October, 1945, I was hired by the Eppingen city government as a forest worker. We worked in the Eppingen city forest as amateurs, and were quite ineffective. Our daily output was approximately .5 fathom (= 3 cubic feet) of timber. Our earnings were regularly "drunk" on the way home at the 'Villa Waldech'. All in all, it was a beautiful and fairly carefree time.

Since I had always sought a technical career, I started to work, in the cold winter of 1945-46, in Eppingen as an intern at an engineering firm owned by relatives of my mother.

[ Top ]

[ Home ] | [ Journals and Photos ] | [ Site Index ] | [ Site Search ] | [ Leave Message ]