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Interview with a Wehrmacht veteran: Part 6

PK- So were you part of Operation Barbarossa?

WG- Yes, Romania along the Black sea, towards Crimea, you know the peninsula. And there I was wounded the first time, in the fall of ’41.

PK- I hate to use the word, but was that operation relatively easy?

WG- Yeah, we were in Odessa, a big city, a big port, it was empty. All able-bodied men and women were gone. Only old people and children were there. But still, it is frightening. You never know, are they still there? Are they dug in? Somewhere are they going to blow up the next building? You never know in a war. So, along the coast of the Black sea was very little of this, the first resistance was the northern end of the island of Crimea, and that’s where I was wounded. Because they were (inaudible) had supplies for the cities of (inaudible), Yalta is there for instance. Yeah I was wounded and then I was taken back to Germany to the hospital. So that was the first act. Second was towards Stalingrad, and the third time already when the Russians broke through, that was at the Polish-Russian border, when I was wounded here (points to face), that was very bad. I thought I wouldn’t survive. I had seen enough people dead or torn to pieces and I knew that when I have no pain, death approaches. That was very bad. Dislocated, blood all over, bullet hole you can see a little bit here (points to face) in and out there. The jaw was broken, I couldn’t eat for about half a year, only liquid with a rubber tube. And then the jaw is broken, pulled back, and then bone transplant from the hips, and so on, and then I was in a special clinic, and there I thought that’s the end of it. Because I saw the reaction, I had two very good sergeants, they were so able, they started to cry, and I had a hard time too, controlling myself. I said, stop it, you make it only more difficult for myself. I was able to shake hands with my commander, the major, and it was written on his face, he’s going to die. But I didn’t! (laughs) And my colonel practically saved my life, he managed to get a seat in a helicopter from the Russian-Galician border to the University clinic in Galicia, and that practically saved my life. 

 PK- How about after the war?

WG- After the war was no paradise either. Very tough. I always thought that even if we lost the war I still will be able to continue my studies. University study is free in Germany. Medical system is also free since the time of Bismarck. But, it’s very difficult to be accepted. You know very well at the age ten, if you don’t perform in school, you will never make it at the university level. So, the school system is much tougher. It is still like that today, only a little bit different, they divided it into branches. I had the toughest one, I had 8 years of Latin, 6 years of French, 4 years of English. That’s a high school diploma. With that I automatically got 2 years of college credit. That was the one thing, after the war, yes we lose, but somehow I continue my studies, ha ha. In Berlin, the University was controlled by communists. In ’45, so the application, were your parents in the communist party? Yes (laughs). Why or why not? I didn’t fill that in. What was your rank in the army? 1st Lieutenant. How many decorations did you have? I had around 15. Oh, haha, the higher the rank, the bigger the Nazi. So and then he took my application and said, you don’t seem to know that we have now the farmers and the workers Republic and not the old reactionary one. So good-bye. That was a German communist who controlled the German University. But still, then suddenly I found a job, as a teacher of French and history. You know how much I made? 80 marks a week, and it was exactly enough to buy one loaf of bread on the black market. How did I survive? By selling my decorations (laughs) one after another. I go to the American soldiers, here is a Romanian decoration, not 20 cigarettes, but 30 cigarettes. I saved some but I never showed them. You know why? When I taught German literature and French literature, if I say that, half of the class would say, that’s an old Nazi. So I never mentioned it. If they asked me what happened in the war, what was your rank? I said chief potato peeler (laughs). I don’t know what you’re talking about. It hurts. It hurts later too sometimes. In the private school, I failed somebody in French once, and he said “you failed me because I’m a Jew.” Ah listen, no, I have my reason. Did you pass the test? Did you do your homework?


  • Bruno 5 years ago

    Nice work, Patrick! I've just read through the whole series of installments. Did you videotape the interview(s)? You've got an interesting 'oral history' project in the makings here.

  • PK 5 years ago

    Thanks. I actually audiotaped it on one of those little voice recorders. I still have enough left for 3 or 4 more articles. Quite a fascinating experience indeed.