Interview with German Cross in Gold winner and Company Commander Rudolf Garscha from 2. SS-Panzer Division 'Das Reich', Mintzberg, 1988.

Thanks for meeting me; I would like to just ask a couple of questions of you. Can I ask why you chose the Waffen-SS?

Rudolf: Yes, I understand your friend is called Maria, which was my mother’s name, she made me learn English. Anyway, the SS was for me the best maintained and disciplined organization. I saw the men on parade early on and was taken in by the uniforms and the smart marching they did. They showed off as the best in the Reich, and owed loyalty to only the Führer. It was hard to gain entrance as one had to know someone to help you, or pass all the tough fitness tests. Something worth saying as well is that a German had to be free from any foreign blood in order to be a part of the Korps. This was from Himmler, who wanted to make the SS a model for a new age that he believed was coming. It was to be a racial awakening where the races would understand separation and find peace. We see it as a crazy idea today. To be an SS man back then meant you belonged to the best in the nation, and it came with great respect. We were tough as nails, and always went to the hot spots of the front to put out fires [Das Reich was often sent in to reinforce parts of the front line that were in danger of breaking. They were referred to as firefighters putting out 'fires'.] What a big change, now we must be silent as we are called the nation's criminals.

If I may ask, do you think the criminal accusations against the Waffen-SS are founded?

Rudolf: Of course, they are founded; the tribunals did not just make up the stories from thin air. They researched the claims made by civilians and our enemies and came to a conclusion. Now I know you come recommended by comrades so I can say to you this, the Allies got it wrong. That war was hard and cruel for all involved, we fought at the front and had to fight behind us. There were general orders on how to deal with the unconventional fighters who wore no uniform. In parts of the occupied areas they had small cells that helped them, when found, these were destroyed. Our responses to the partisan war had to be tough and firm, these translated into what the Allies called war crimes. They made legal reprisals illegal after the war and tried us for crimes that were not crimes when committed. If civilians impeded an advance, sabotaged or harassed German units, they could legally be shot.

These same people had relatives who ran to the Allies postwar and told very fanciful stories about what happened. I know of one instance where a partisan was caught planting a mine. He was tried and hung in front of his village, to warn others. The Soviet radio said we wiped out the whole village; this was false. So, while I am very careful with this, I will say that I saw no evidence of illegal acts by my men, or other comrades. As I say, the Allies put together a good case, but it was based on exaggerated testimonies and accusations. Oradour is an example my division was part of that is misrepresented. We faced strong, organized resistance from civilians, who murdered German soldiers. The retribution, as dictated by lawful orders, was to burn down homes, which got out of control due to illegal munitions being stored in them. It was not our intention to have innocents killed, but the misfortune of war struck.

If they were not attacking us and hiding Allied munitions, nothing would have happened to them. While one officer may not have shown restraint and allowed executions without trial, it was not our aim to harm those who did nothing. This seems typical of war crime claims, it was a small, justified incident that was no crime, but made into a crime by the Allies. I will tell you I heard bad things in the east happened due to the many militias the east government allowed. They took terrible retribution on the Jews and ethnic minorities. Woe to any Stalinist they caught; they hated the Bolsheviks, due to the crimes they committed.

[Above: Hungarian officers forming a guard of honor for the German army crossing Budapest to invade Yugoslavia, April 1941. Specifically in this picture we see the wolfsangel rune of 'Das Reich' on the motorcycle sidecar.]

You won the German Cross in Gold, what was that like for you?

Rudolf: This was a very prestigious award back then for the German soldier. Unlike the Imperial days, the Reich's awards could be awarded to any rank. Under Hitler the class hatred that existed for centuries went away. A private or a field marshall could be awarded the German Cross in Gold and Knight's Cross. I was in Heavy Artillery Regiment 2, 4th Company of the 2. SS-Panzer Division Das Reich. We were mobile artillery that often was very close to the front and many times faced down enemy attacks. We could lower the barrel of the Hummel [the Hummel was the German standard heavy self propelled howitzer, featuring a massive 150mm cannon] and fire right into charging lines. Due to the constant contact and success my battery had, I was nominated for the award by our commander. It was approved in April of 1944, right before the action on the invasion front. I was very proud to be given the privilege of wearing this high honor. I received many congratulations from all over.

What was the invasion front like for you?

Rudolf: It was not pleasant as you can imagine. The Allies had total control of the air, and it made any movement risky. I remember always looking up at the skies, our guns had to be covered at all times. Allied counter fire was very good, so when we fired on a target, we had to move to avoid it. They had very good spotters all over. We would say not even a mouse could hide from enemy eyes. Once, while moving through a town, we thought we were hidden, they peppered the whole town with shells of all calibers, destroying many houses. I felt bad to see so much culture being destroyed. We would hide in woods, haystacks, or barns to keep away from towns if we could. Oftentimes the owners were still at home and would yell at us to move away for fear their home would be destroyed. We had to tell them there is a war going on and it is here now, they are in the fighting. This resulted in civilian causalities, but we did try to evacuate them, but many would not listen. Today we are blamed for their deaths, and some are listed as war crimes, but we did not gun down civilians. Many of the civilians seemed very kind and impartial to us. I saw very few instances of resistance actions in France.

I will tell you the Allies stirred up much hate against us after the war; we were quite on good terms with the population. The French are very good people with correct attitudes, the Allies changed them into vengeful mobs. Many of the girls who loved German soldiers were beaten, shaved and abused. We put up a good battle for two months, against the odds. We held a thin line until it was broken in many places, which resulted in our retreat. Many comrades would come to rest in Normandy, and not many from the Fatherland would go visit them. Unlike the Allied soldiers, who received praise at all opportunities.

[Above: Rudolf Garscha, looking as suave as ever. This whole getup of a camouflauge jacket with tie was immensely cool-looking.]

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