American soldiers know how to parry

Wolfgang Herchner: Escape from dictatorship into captivity

This entry comes from Wolfgang Herchner (* 1928) from Hamburg, July 2002:


In April 1945 the train had come from Rendsburg to the vicinity of Ludwigslust when American low-flying aircraft shot our locomotive to pieces. Frightened and frightened, about 150 "soldiers" - all around 16 or 17 years old - climbed out of the compartments and eyed the sky suspiciously. It stayed calm. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a lieutenant and his sergeant major, both suntanned in their Afrikacorps uniforms, stood in front of them. "Where are your superiors?" They asked us, with a stunned, incredulous look at the crowd of pale youngsters. "They left us at some train station on the way to change to the train going north, which happened to stop on the siding." "We can't let the boys run into Russian machine-gun fire," said the lieutenant, started to line up, counted and ran with us into the nearest forest for cover.

"If we want to go to the Americans, we can only march at night because of the low-flying planes," he said to us, "rest a little, we will start after sunset". We trusted him immediately and blindly. We had somebody again to give orders, because we were good at obeying. They had given us the habit of taking initiative ourselves, following the motto: "Don't think, just parry"!

In the pitch black night we set out, one behind the other in a row, the next one behind and offset on the other side of the street. That was a precautionary measure because of the low-flying attacks. In the Hitler Youth I had trained as a field clerk, i.e. medical training, and now had to march as a medic at the head, behind the lieutenant. I had the usual first aid kit in the two bum bags. Medical care for soldiers was greatly simplified at the time: pain above the navel was treated with aspirin, those below it with castor oil and the rest with plasters.

With night marches of 30-60 kilometers we moved back and forth through Brandenburg between the fronts. We tried to find a way through to the west. Occasionally escaped prisoners of war, Russians and Poles, fired at us from the woods to the left and right of the path without injuring anyone. Eventually we found an abandoned arsenal somewhere. Now we could shoot back. They had given me a bazooka. I couldn't handle that thing any more than most of my comrades could handle their brand new gas rifles, but at least we could pretend now.

For the two weeks of our odyssey of almost 400 kilometers, on foot, with weapons and knapsacks, we had a sandwich, half a pound of butter and a small sausage as food. Our clothes were the labor service uniforms. Many had no stockings and instead wore footrests. Wrapping these unsavory items of clothing around your feet before the march so that they did not pinch or chafe was an art not all mastered. After our nightly forced marches, I was allowed to treat blisters on my feet that I never saw again afterwards. The boys even survived my treatment. During the entire march, no one gave up at all. The constant military and sporting drill in previous years had made us tough and tough.

The night of May 7th to 8th was crisp and clear with stars. The distant thunder of guns seemed to be getting closer and closer. The fire-breathing Russian tanks crawled behind us on the horizon, like eerie beetles, in front of us the Americans were waiting to meet. The fear of being taken prisoner of war by Russia made us go on with our last exertion at dawn. We had already done 40 kilometers. Not far from us, other units hurried west, also the fear on the neck.

The more chewed than spoken "Come on boys" sounded like music to our ears. We had reached the Americans 20 minutes before the allied fronts were united. Colored US soldiers monitored the handover of weapons. Up to now we only knew negroes from films and books, now they were standing in front of us with the machine pistol under their arm ready to fire. Everyone threw on the big pile what they were carrying, rifles, bayonets, ammunition and pistols. I was just about to get rid of my bazooka in the same way when a colored GI jumped at me and shouted with a horrified expression on his face: "Hold it, easy - be careful"! Delicately, like a midwife a newborn baby, he took the bazooka from me and placed it gently on the floor a little further away. I got the explanation for this strange behavior later. The day before, the Germans had thrown everything in the big pile as instructed, and a bazooka went off and turned an American transport vehicle into a heap of rubble. The blacks were simply afraid, and rightly so, as I have to admit!

We suddenly felt what it is like to be without fear of Russian captivity, Polish snipers or the machine guns of the low-flying aircraft. The surrender should have represented a kind of liberation for us, we were certainly relieved, but not liberated. Now we had to experience firsthand the shame of being a prisoner of war, that is, a loser. This role was new to us. We were taught to be the invincible winners.

We were cheated of everything, our childhood, our belief in the German people, their leaders, their victorious army and the infallibility of their officers portrayed as heroes. Abused as cannon fodder, abandoned by superiors, deprived of all ideals, hungry and exhausted, we were now in the power of our former enemies. We felt humiliated, burned out and now also guilty of the mass murders of the Nazis, which were revealed to us for the first time in their monstrous proportions. Our faith had been miserably mischievous. How we managed it in the end, we - at least I - no longer know. Nobody cared about the psyche at that time anyway. Survival was now more important to us than anything else. We were drawn into the collective guilt of the Germans, which was valid for the whole world. As a citizen of our country, I had to bear that, and it was and is still clear to me today. But did I or did I have to apologize to someone then or now? I don't know for what, and certainly not with whom.

The "guilt" of my generation, recognizable to me, is to have taken to heart what we were taught from childhood as the only truth, namely to believe in the F├╝hrer and the fatherland, to serve them as soldiers and to defend them, or be it with our life. After all, we had to suffer very hard and long for this error. Is that why I still see myself today as a former Nazi?

The alleged gullibility of my generation has been criticized often and at length. The commitment of young people at home and at the front, the hardships and hardships associated with it, were commented, if at all, at best with a shake of the head. "Cowardly followers, cadaver obedience and lack of self-courage were the attributes for us young people at that time, at least from those who had" always been able to foresee the whole development ". Perhaps this view is still held today. But critics of this kind should know that courage to rebel against the ruling Nazi caste was tantamount to a death sentence and that young people wanted to live, just like youth today.

In addition to faith, idealism and enthusiasm, we have been deprived of something irretrievably precious, namely a sheltered childhood and a carefree youth. We are a generation betrayed!

The knowledge from the past makes it impossible for me to understand both neo-Nazis and other radicals of religious or political stripes at all,

God protect us from them