The Training of A German Soldier During the Second World War

 

††††††††††† After the Germans lost World War I, the Treaty of Versailles, signed June 28, 1919, set the terms and conditions of peace.Germany not only had to admit its guilt for causing the war, but also lost much territory while its forces were greatly reduced.It had to pay an immense amount of compensation for war damage as well.These requirements of Germany agitated and angered its people.They felt bitterness toward those who imposed these terms and felt the want to overpower them.Adolf Hitler was a strong decorated soldier in the first world war with strong right wing beliefs.In the German election of 1933, the Nazi party won the most votes, enabling Adolf Hitler, its leader, to gain power throughout his country.Though he did not win the most popular votes of Germany, many people throughout were eager to put their trust behind a leader to pull them out of their despair.

††††††††††† After Hitler gained control, he set forth many changes among the people of Germany.He focused on creating a master race, especially focusing on the German children.He believed in teaching them the Nazi ideals such as nationalism, obedience and strength.He said, ďThe weak must be chiseled away.I want young men and women who can suffer pain.A young German must be as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Kruppís steel.Ē

††††††††††† At ten years of age, German boys entered the ďDeutsches JungvolkĒ (German Young People), a younger sort of Hitler Youth.At fourteen, they would transfer to the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth), until they were eighteen when they would be drafted in to the army.German girls would enter the Jungmadelbund (League of Young Girls) at ten, then transfer to the Bund Deutscher Madel (League of German Girls) once they turned fourteen where they were taught mostly how to be a good mother.

††††††††††† The Hitler Youth program was based on anti-intellectualism.Outdoor, physical activities took priority over mental development, for obedience and strength was valued more.The boys were taught the evils of the Jews, and nationalism, and the bitterness from the veterans of World War I was carried on to the next generation.Some adults, if now asked, say the Hitler Youth was similar to boy scouts, some say it was harder and more intense than that, however, over all, the boys were all taught skills that both directly or indirectly coincided with fighting in the German Army.

††††††††††† Heinz Briegel was born January 21, 1928 in Stuttgart, Germany.He had two siblings, one brother and one younger sister.Born to fairly poor parents, he learned to work diligently very early in his life, traveling to Bavaria, Germany every summer to work and live on a farm in exchange for food and shelter.Hitler came to power when Heinz was five years old.Once Heinz turned ten, he joined the Junior Hitler Youth which he simply describes as similar to the Boy Scouts of today.Once he turned fourteen, he went into the Hitler Youth, a fairly more serious and older group ranging from boys between fourteen years old and eighteen years old.After Germany had taken over France, Heinzís father was drafted into the army and sent to France to help occupy it.When Heinz was sixteen, he was drafted in to the Anti-Aircraft Unit, a group of young boys whose job was to shoot down enemy planes.After one year with the Anti-Aircraft Unit, Heinz was enlisted into the army in which he stayed until the end of April 1945 when he when he was captured by Allied forces, served as a POW, and then later released, unharmed, after the war ended.

 

 

My name is Heinz Briegel, I was born in Germany a long time ago, but Iíve spent more than half my life in the United States.

 

Where did you live during the Hitler Era?

The Hitler era covers the time period from 1933 until 1945.And I was in Germany during the whole time.When he came to power, I was five years old, and my parents lived in Stuttgart, Germany, a capital city of that region.Of course since I was only five years old when Hitler came to power I wasnít very interested inpolitics at that time, but I was very interested in sports and in 1936, the summer Olympics were held in Berlin and I do remember some of the events there and in particular, I remember the gymnastics.

 

At that time, when you were five, did you feel any effects of Hitler coming to power?

No, what I do know is when Hitler came to power in 1933, my father was unemployed for about a year and half, he was an electrician.After he came to power, jobs started to pick up again.It was one of the things that he was talking about.The unemployment in Germany was 20 percent or more.It all goes back to the end of the first world war when the allied countries imposed rather harsh terms on Germany.The factories were dismantled in Germany and shipped to Russia and built back up again there.Or Germany had to export coal to France without getting paid for it.Or Germany had to export products that it manufactured without getting paid for it all in the name of reparations for the war.The economic downturn was when the government was running out of money and simply started to print money.

 

Which would cause inflation, wouldnít it?

Right!In 1923 prices were going up all the time.At that time, one dollar could buy quadrillions of German marks.So if you wanted to buy a newspaper, you had to pay 200 billion for one newspaper.Things were not worth anything anymore!People were getting paid twice a day and then the wives were going to the factory gates to get the pay and run to the stores to buy whatever they could get because prices kept going up constantly.

 

So Germany really needed a savior to pull them out.

Well that was in 1923 so it still took quite a long time.The name of the party is the National Socialist German Workers Party.The way national is pronounced in German is nazional.And thatís where the term nazi comes from.

 

So for you, nothing personal changed from when you were five until you were ten, correct?

At ten I went into the junior grade of Hitler youth, but also called young folkÖor pimpfÖbut pimpf has such an awkward sound in English.Now my father was not in the party, and I think that was because he didnít want to pay the dues.He would rather smoke cigarettes than pay the dues.And my mother was not in it either.

 

When you went into the Junior Hitler Youth, were you required to go, or was it just something you really looked forward to and wanted to sign up for?

I think I looked forward to it.All of my friends were in the group so I didnít want to be left out.So, I was happy to join and especially I was happy about wearing the uniform which consisted of black shorts in the summer and long pants in the winter and brown shirt and a black kerchief thatyou put around your neck, and it was held together by a knot made out of leather that was hollow and you push the ends of the kerchief in there.

 

Before you went into the group, did you have any friends that werenít allowed to go in?

No, I donít remember anybody who did not go in.I think it was not actually mandatory, if some parents felt very strongly that their boy should not go into the Hitler youth, Iím sure they could have prevented it, but Iím sure the boy would have felt bad.As far as Iím concerned this young Hitler youth was the same as boy scouts.Maybe a little more emphasis on discipline, learning to march, stand at attention, turn right and left, or about face, all those commands we had to learn and what to do.And even how you stand at attention.ďPull in your stomach!Push out your chest!Have your head very rigid!Ē and your middle finger had to be pressed on the seam of your pants.And your toes had to be a 60 degrees or whatever (laughing).

 

Where was this Junior Hitler Youth?

In my hometown.There were various groups.And about 50 guys to each group.

 

After this you went into the Hitler youth?

That was automatic, yes.By that time I was already 14.Of course that was already in 1942 and the war started in 1939, September first.

 

Do you recall any memories of the prosecution [persecution] of Jews?

The only thing I remember is the husband of my fatherís sister.He was Jewish.His name was Eugen Rosenzweig.He was a nice fellow, I had nothing against him.We didnít see him often, but I really donít know what happened to him.We didnít see him anymore.My aunt had an apartment with him, and he was taken away.But we never asked her about him.Iím not exactly sure when he was taken away.

 

Was that odd for you at all?

Well, I wasnít really that close to him, or that aunt at that time.I hadnít seen him that often, but I knew him, and my parents were somewhat poor.My father was the youngest one.And this sister, I think she thought herself better than my father was, so I think they looked down on us.Same with my fatherís other sister.Her husband had a position in the party.And they were better off than we were, so they looked down on us.Later, after the husband had been taken away, then she lived with my grandmother.I liked my grandmother.They lived in an apartment within five minutes from ours.

 

Did you have any prejudice against Jewish people?Were you taught a prejudice?

Yes, uh, Jews were considered to be undesirable, unfriendly, certainly not Germans.Thatís what we learned in Hitler youth.

 

What about when you were growing up as a young kid, before Hitler youth Ė were they just other people or were they not desirable still?

No, they were other people, and I didnít know whether somebody was Catholic or Jewish or Muslim.Religion wasnít really that important.Although when I started school in 1936, we started ever day with a Christian prayer.Now, for example, do you know in your class who is Jewish or what religion they are?

 

No, not at all.So in your culture, at that point, religion wasnít important just like it now itís not important.Now Iím curiousÖhow did the Nazis know which kids were Jewish and which were not?

Well everybody of course had to have identification papers, and on that was your religion, and certainly the city governments knew what religion you were.So uh, as I said, the guy in our class who was Jewish, I didnít know he was Jewish until his father tried to commit suicide.Now of course, later on, during the war, I donít remember when it started, Jews had to wear that yellow arm band with the star of David, and then you knew who was Jewish.I donít remember specifically what I was thinking at that timeÖ.now I would say, itís not right.

 

Now you stayed in the anti aircraft unit until when?

From 1944 to 1945 so about one year, [when] I was seventeen.

 

After that where did you go?

I went to the military training camp in southern Germany.

 

What was your experience in the training camp?

That was really strict, because they really got us ready to be shipped to the front, so we had to exercise, we had to be ready to fight.

 

So your family was surviving on their own?

Right, right.Now my father was drafted into service around 1940 or so.But he didnít have to do any fighting.He got to France after France had already been occupied by the German forces.Then my brother, who was a year and half older than I was, had also been in the Hitler Youth and then after, I think in 1943, all Germans had to spend one year in what was called the Workers Service, where the young people were shipped all over the country building autobahns, or working on farms, but of course, I was too young.But then in 1943 I was drafted into the Anti-Aircraft Unit, my whole class was.

 

Your whole class of Hitler youth?

Not my whole school class.Well, during summer vacation we had a four week training course in anti aircraft.In my class there were kids born in 1927 and 1928.The ones born in 1927 were kept with the anti aircraft unit after the training course.The ones born in 1928, which included me, were sent back to school.We were drafted at the beginning of 1944.

 

So you were 16 years old at this point?

Yes.

 

Now this was while you were in the Hitler youth?

Yea.Now of course the Hitler youth, I think we met only twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays and only for about two hours or so.I think Saturdays were longer because we didnít have to go to school.

 

Did you learn how to use a gun?

In Hitler youthI think we probably did but we didnít own a gun.I think there was one gun or so for each unit and one of the older guys then demonstrated how to take it apart, put it together again, how to aim and how to shoot.†† But we did not carry a gun.

 

Was it hard work?

No, not really.You had to march and you had to sing, and play war games.We went camping, had political and history lessons, certainly to the extent that Germany is better than any other country and Germany had been wronged after the first world war and Germany deserved a place among all the other nations just like the French or the British.So yea, we were not unhappy about being in the Hitler youth, about being German, we were proud to be German.

 

How long were you in the Hitler youth?

Only from when I was fourteen to sixteen, because at sixteen I was drafted into the anti aircraft unit.

 

Now what is that [anti aircraft unit]?

Thatís shooting at airplanes.Except the guns that we had could shoot about 6000 feet, and the planes were coming at us from 25,000Öso our guns were useless.I remember the attack on the Mercedes factory and our unit, our position, was right across the river up on a hill.So the planes were coming Ė it was a beautiful day, and about 1:00 in the afternoon, they were coming across our positions.And they actually released their bombs before they had come across our positions, we were right on the path.So we could see the planes, we could see the bombs falling downward hitting the factory.

 

And then you tried to shoot at them?

No, we didnít!Because they were at 25,000 feet and our range was 6000, and I mean we didnít try to shoot at bombs.Thatís too difficult!

 

Well what did you do?

Watched.And (laughing) hoped the bombs would not hit our positionsÖit was only about a mile or so.It was a little close!

 

Now your whole class got drafted from school?

Well, instead of summer vacation, we had that training course.And then got sent home again, then in January we were drafted.

 

At this point where did you go?

Stuttgart.These anti aircraft units were stationed all around the city, and we were one of them.Why they gave us these small gunsÖmaybe they expected some attacks from fighter planes that come down closer, but they all were 25 Ė 30,000 feet high.Now our guns were 36 millimeters.Other units had 88 millimeter guns.

 

Why were you given such useless guns then?

No idea.But we still had to remain in our positions.

 

Now you had a brother, and a younger sister, correct?

Yes.

 

What was the role of your younger sister during the war?

Well, they had a separate unit for girls.They had to learn how to sew, knit, be good housewives and be good mothers.

 

At your school, do you remember any other kids taken away?

No, because we were about half and half, Catholics and Lutherans.

 

So it was just that Jews werenít living in your area?

Yes, they were, as a matter of fact, one of our classmates was Jewish, which I didnít actually know, until his father tried to commit suicide. He put a gun in his mouth and shot it in his mouth, and all he ended up accomplishing is getting blind.So thatís what happened to him, but the other guys were Catholic or Lutheran, and I think there was more fighting between them than with Jews.

 

And you donít know what happened to him though?

I donít know what happened to him, no.I think he was a fairly decent school kid.