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Old April 24th, 2012, 05:41 PM   #1

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German World War II Veterans


This is not a matter I have heard much about - how were/are German veterans of this War treated? Are their efforts during the War honored, or largely forgotten? How vocal have German veterans been about their experiences and their perspectives of the War?

Of course on one hand, German soldiers in WWII were fighting for a government and a cause modern Germany does not embrace, but in the War's closing months they also fought to defend their homeland. I would imagine many people - German or otherwise - would feel torn about the issue of how to (and whether or not to) recognize these men.
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Old April 25th, 2012, 02:18 AM   #2

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A very interesting question, as I knew many veterans here and this has been a big topic here several years ago when the "Wehrmachtsaustellung" showed crimes of the Wehrmacht during the war.

The usual German point of view is, that they do not earn any respect. It always was very difficult for them, for many reasons;

Directly after the war, many people saw the homecoming veterans as losers and blamed them for losing the war.
Later, in the 60s where people startet to change their point of view and ask questions about how things could have gone so far, they were rather treated as accomplices of the Nazis.

Even today, if somebody is known to be soldier of the Wehrmacht in these days, he will always stand under general suspicion.

When new ships or other military units are created, they are only rarely named after WWII veterans; more often than not a discussion is started whether the titular saint was a war criminal or not.
In the 70s, a destroyer was named after Erwin Rommel, which was the reason for a discussion, too, although Rommel even refused the order to kill jewish prisoners of war.

On the other hand, many of the old generals were very useful when building up the new Bundeswehr in the 50s., for example Erich von Manstein who was an inofficial consultant in these years.

For many families it always was a theme better not to talk about. Who knows, perhaps the own husband or father has been a war criminal and killed women and children?

So it was better for most people not to ask about their past in russia or elsewhere.

In the years after the war everybody knew that the SS did most of the crimes, so it was easy to avert suspicion from the normal soldiers.
But as the educational advertising made progress, it became clear that there have been many "normal" german soldiers who were part of crimes, too.

Today most Germans get rather angry when speaking of the war, because the Nazi crimes have been so large that naturally nobody wants having to do with it anymore.
And I can understand that very well as I was born long time after the war and thus don't feel more or less responsible for what has happened as any other human in the world - as long as we all now that something like this shall never happen again.

My own grandfathers were not involved in the war very much;
The Father of my mother was too young until 1945 (he was 17 then and has not been recruited to the "Volkssturm") and my father's father was sailor on a minesweeper boat.

Cheers, Alex

Last edited by Alex74; April 25th, 2012 at 02:25 AM.
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Old April 25th, 2012, 02:23 AM   #3

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Thank you for the very interesting post Alex and welcome to Historum.
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Old April 25th, 2012, 06:25 AM   #4

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Great post Alex. Thank you very much.

I have often wondered how Wehrmacht veterans were treated in the GDR after the war. Given the mobilization of Germany, one would think that a substantial number of them returned to their homes in what would become the GDR. Were they "punished" by the new regime? Presumably the veterans would make excellent leaders in the Nationale Volksarmee, just as they did in the Bundeswehr. And yet, given the political influences often associated with the armed forces of the GDR, perhaps not.
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Old April 25th, 2012, 07:34 AM   #5

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Great post Alex. Thank you very much.

I have often wondered how Wehrmacht veterans were treated in the GDR after the war. Given the mobilization of Germany, one would think that a substantial number of them returned to their homes in what would become the GDR. Were they "punished" by the new regime? Presumably the veterans would make excellent leaders in the Nationale Volksarmee, just as they did in the Bundeswehr. And yet, given the political influences often associated with the armed forces of the GDR, perhaps not.
stalin made his views on the GDR clear when after the war he said "Hitlers coma and go yet germans remain"
from what i hear most germans were treated fine as the soviets want to build a good relationship with them, after all they were there first line of defence in any attack by NATO.

i believe that all german veterans deserve recognition as well and many went through a hell more terrible then any of us here can imagine. undoubtedly crimes were committed and as Alex puts it you can never be sure of a person when they say they were in the wehrmacht. yet they were human beings as well and many certainly tried desperately to hold on to there humanity in face of the horror that was happening all around them yet there still others who gave into there base instincts. there are a lot of german war memoirs available and i always find then far more interesting then any allied ones just because of the moral questions that the writer raises as he tries to just survive in a brutal war.
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Old April 25th, 2012, 07:53 AM   #6

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.........................


i believe that all german veterans deserve recognition as well and many went through a hell more terrible then any of us here can imagine. undoubtedly crimes were committed and as Alex puts it you can never be sure of a person when they say they were in the wehrmacht. yet they were human beings as well and many certainly tried desperately to hold on to there humanity in face of the horror that was happening all around them yet there still others who gave into there base instincts. ..................
I would agree and none of us can really say how we would have behave it we lived in those times, I often hear say that they would be in the resistence etc but that not using context.

Bert Trautman openly admits that he was a Nazi a tall blonde outstanding sportsman, allowed to leave school at 14 for the Hitler Youth where he spent his time at sports and 'education' and basically being told how bloody wonderful he was what young man isn't going to be one.

He become a paratrooper and is in a great deal of action but doesn't admit any 'questionable' actions (does say he saw one I think) but did he? maybe maybe not, his unit went in 1000 stong and just over a hundred came out.

My politics are centre/left but if I was born in the 'wrong' time in Germany I strongly suspect I would have been a Nazi-- son of a public official (who was also an ex-soldier) ruined by the hyper-inflation? mildly patriotic--- angered by the 'unjust' Treaty of Versaillies--- love history so simply dis-believing of Germans defeat 'stab in the back' theories far more comfortable.
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Old April 25th, 2012, 08:23 AM   #7

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I would agree and none of us can really say how we would have behave it we lived in those times, I often hear say that they would be in the resistence etc but that not using context.

Bert Trautman openly admits that he was a Nazi a tall blonde outstanding sportsman, allowed to leave school at 14 for the Hitler Youth where he spent his time at sports and 'education' and basically being told how bloody wonderful he was what young man isn't going to be one.

He become a paratrooper and is in a great deal of action but doesn't admit any 'questionable' actions (does say he saw one I think) but did he? maybe maybe not, his unit went in 1000 stong and just over a hundred came out.

My politics are centre/left but if I was born in the 'wrong' time in Germany I strongly suspect I would have been a Nazi-- son of a public official (who was also an ex-soldier) ruined by the hyper-inflation? mildly patriotic--- angered by the 'unjust' Treaty of Versaillies--- love history so simply dis-believing of Germans defeat 'stab in the back' theories far more comfortable.
My grandfather (who passed away several years ago), fought in the US army air force in the Pacific during WWII. He was part of an anti-aircraft crew that would protect forward bases on islands that the army air force used to bomb Japanese targets. He would also service the bombers when they returned.

Although the war fighting that he experienced was not on-the-ground and personal (he would fire at Japanese planes when they attacked the bases), he was open about the fact that it was common practice with most American soldiers in the Pacific during WWII that they would not take Japanese prisoners. They would simply kill them.

Did he ever take part in that personally? I don't know. But I know he lost several very good friends who were killed in bombing missions or attacks on those bases. I also know that he lost a good friend of his who was a Marine that he knew back in California (which is where he was based before being deployed). I find it really hard to judge and question the motives of young kids, essentially, being thrown into that kind of hell.
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Old April 25th, 2012, 08:23 AM   #8

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Originally Posted by Kevinmeath View Post
I would agree and none of us can really say how we would have behave it we lived in those times, I often hear say that they would be in the resistence etc but that not using context.

Bert Trautman openly admits that he was a Nazi a tall blonde outstanding sportsman, allowed to leave school at 14 for the Hitler Youth where he spent his time at sports and 'education' and basically being told how bloody wonderful he was what young man isn't going to be one.

He become a paratrooper and is in a great deal of action but doesn't admit any 'questionable' actions (does say he saw one I think) but did he? maybe maybe not, his unit went in 1000 stong and just over a hundred came out.

My politics are centre/left but if I was born in the 'wrong' time in Germany I strongly suspect I would have been a Nazi-- son of a public official (who was also an ex-soldier) ruined by the hyper-inflation? mildly patriotic--- angered by the 'unjust' Treaty of Versaillies--- love history so simply dis-believing of Germans defeat 'stab in the back' theories far more comfortable.
very nicely put and it is i think unrealistic when people say today that had they been there at the time they would have been in the resistance. being a sucker for anything military related i can imagine myself being very proud to be called up and then wear the german uniform. none of us can say for sure how we would have acted in a similar situation but i would hope that i would keep to my morals yet self preservation can push you to do anything at times. lets not forget as well just how brutal the war in russia was, any man who has served there long enough would give in to the brutality at some point, how do you think you would feel as a german soldier to one day come across the mutilated remains of german prisoners, from what i gather of veteran accounts it was the fear of capture that terrified most.

Gunter Koschorrek in his war memorial 'Blood Red Snow' gives an interesting description of this paradox when he describes a scene after a red army attack in which bodies lie all around them. one of the german soldiers who he refers to as 'the black sargent' because of how dirt encrusted he is gos around holding his MP40 to the wounded and kills them. Gunter is horrified by such coldness and angrily asks "why don't we takes prisoners" the black sargent just looks at him like he had said somthing disgusting and says "go ahead,but they think there being coy playing dead, the moment you go to pick up any of them they drop a grenade or fire at you and kill several men, i've seen it happen myself". Gunter admitted there may have been a sick logic to his argument yet he could still never agree with it and claims he never killed anyone outside combat even on partisan duty in italy one officer had ordered him and a friend to go and execute two captured partisans. they brought them around to a clearing and then fired there rifles into the air, the partisans got the message and ran.

you can find individual stories like that all through the war so any generalization of them all being 'nazi scum' is just wrong. there actions in russia were also not unique as post colonial conflicts and the war in vietnam shows when soldiers are fighting against an enemy they perceive as barbourus and savage massacres will usually follow. many stories of american war crimes in vietnam sound like they came right out of the eastern front.
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Old April 25th, 2012, 09:25 AM   #9

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I've noticed the general consensus of Allied WWII vets is that they fought for their country. What Grant said about the Confederates is apt here too: "They fought braverly for their cause, even though that cause was the most barbarous ever."(or something along those lines)
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Old April 25th, 2012, 10:29 AM   #10

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I agree with the previous posters. If we blame all Germans equally for the evils of Nazism we are engaging in the application of collective guilt, a nazi concept if ever there was one.
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