Interview with Josef 'Sepp' Naber, Platoon Commander of the 2. SS-Panzer Division 'Das Reich', Munich, 1983.

Thanks for letting me ask you a few questions. Why did you choose the SS for your service time?

Sepp: Being a part of the elite of the state was a point of pride. The Waffen-SS was a branch of the Allgemeine-SS, the fighting arm of it. The best commanders and leaders came to this branch; it was seen as an honor back then. It was like being in a very small club, only the brave and loyal could join. To have been kicked out would mean ruin and shame would follow you; it was that prestigious. I was a simple young man back then; I wanted to make my family proud, and to serve my nation. I thought enlisting into the SS was the right thing to do, and the recruiters were very eager to help in that matter. By recruiters, I am referring to friends who had already joined up. The SS had very strict entrance requirements that were only eased later in the war. You had to be fit, healthy, no criminal record, and be of pure blood. That meant you had no Jewish or non-European bloodlines in your ancestry for 200 years. Himmler made this a rule; he wanted the SS to only have Germanic blood. So I was very pleased when I was accepted into training, I was called a pledge first; you had to complete training before you received any rank. I was very proud to show former classmates that I was accepted into the Waffen-SS.

You went to the tank hunting branch of the Waffen-SS. What was training like?

Sepp: Yes, I was selected to go to Panzerjäger school and to start training. The schools were different from basic training in that you had a lot of free time after the courses. We still got up early, had inspections, and marched, but it was more relaxed. We learned about enemy tanks and how to defeat them. Germany started the war with the small 3.7cm gun; we jokingly called the door-knocker because it was so weak it only let the enemy know you were knocking on their door. We were behind other nations in developing these guns. Later on came the better versions that truly terrorized the enemy. It was so bad in the beginning that Rommel had to use the 8.8cm flak gun to shoot at English tanks in France, to halt attacks. This gave the developers ideas on new, heavier anti-tank platforms, some even were made mobile. I remember we had to use captured tanks to keep up with the enemy. We had to learn every way to stop and destroy an enemy tank; we had to use mines, grenades and anti-tank guns. I remember this training being hard, as it happened in all types of weather. My class had to also learn mobile anti-tank weapons, even Panzers. You learned to become a very good shot, with drill after drill. It was ingrained in us to be able to hit a mouse's ass from 200 metres. We became very good at shooting; my crew won an award in the final stages of training.

You fought on the Eastern Front, what was it like for you?

Sepp: Yes, 'Reich' was there from the beginning. The Eastern Front was very large and I remember it was hard to get supplies on time. The people were friendly I remember, it was not as it is told today. We arrived in towns to cheering faces, who welcomed us as liberators. There was no partisan activity to speak of until late 1942 and 1943, when the Soviets sent organizers behind the lines to agitate the people. I witnessed nothing but friendship and good will with the people. I bet you did not know we had many who helped us fight as well. They flocked to join us, to defeat Stalin. We advanced so far that by December 1941 we could spot the minaret towers in Moscow's square.

Those were hard times for us, I will tell you. We were on the cusp of victory, and then massive waves of soldiers from the east swept into us; we could not hold them.

I remember being tired and worn out, thinking we had done it. It was a very hard campaign in the beginning. They set up line after line that we had to break through. They had some very heavy armor as well, the KV1 [Kliment Voroshilov heavy tank] was one I remember, we were attacked and had to deploy, and it was a chore knocking them out. These beasts came at us, and it took all of our effort to defeat them. We had very good co-operation with the Luftwaffe then, as well as our own spotter plane. We usually received word very early that an attack was coming, or that we were getting ready to make contact with enemy forces. We were able to be victorious in these battles, and many had victory disease, they thought we had done it. The winter attack and the weather threw us back and created pockets of German resistance. The Eastern Front was a mess that winter; it was so bad that we received a medal called the 'frozen meat medal'. I will tell you the history books have it wrong, it is said we were a vaunted army, superior to all and that only the combined might of the 'righteous world' defeated us. The truth is we were scared young men, thrown into a war we did not ask for, and outnumbered in most battles. Our equipment was minimal in the beginning; we often used horses as ways to haul weapons and supplies. This was not a vaunted army out to conquer the world. It was a hastily assembled army trying to keep Germany free from outside plunderers, and the Reds. Division 'Reich' had to be pulled from the front to give us a rebuild, and time to refresh in France.

You won the German Cross in Gold I am told, what did you do to win this?

Sepp: Yes, they are right. I was a fighter at Kursk, Orel, it was our Panzers against theirs. I remember the constant howls of artillery shells and the sounds of engines. This was a very large battle where armor went against armor. We had many rings to overcome, and to add to it, they knew we were coming. You see, there were traitors on the General Staff who were advising the Soviets of all of the Führer's plans, so they knew where to expect attacks. I must tell you; in spite of all this, we almost won the battle. I saw it. We had knocked out thousands of Soviet tanks and guns, destroying whole divisions. We had forced them to retreat and commit reserves that we broke. I saw it. We captured many tanks; we even used T-34 Panzers against their former owners. The fight was ours, but it was called off due to the Italians; you know they cost us the damn war. They forced German intervention in the Balkans, and in Africa.

I felt that Mussolini was power-hungry and only wanted to rebuild the ancient Roman Empire, even if it meant war at a time when war was not needed. The Führer was forced to act, to keep the British out of south Europe. So, because elite SS divisions had to be used in Italy and the Balkans, we lost key strength at Kursk, right when victory seemed assured. So yes, I was awarded the German Cross in Gold for destroying enemy armor and guns. The award was bitter-sweet as it came after the fight, which many of us were bitter that we had to leave the field to a beaten enemy who was on his last legs. Much gratification came with the award, and I was able to go home for a visit, but for me I realized for the first time the war was lost. Seeing the cities bombed showed how vulnerable we were. But we fought on as we knew we faced either victory or destruction. There was no other way with our enemies.

Can I ask how you feel about the claims made against the SS regarding war crimes?

Sepp: Yes, I was there for many battles and I saw things normal young men should never see. I saw my comrades and many friends die, there is nothing glamorous in war, it is dirty, vile, and unmerciful. As I said before, Germany was not the instigator of the war; it was that plutocrat Churchill and his Jew handlers who forced it onto the Führer. From the very beginning we heard cries of foul from the British press, at every battle they claimed German forces did this or that. They made us out to be evil warmongers who used violence as a way to get control. They accused us of shooting Polish priests and children, of raping French women, and stealing Dutch babies. These were all lies from the beginning, and when they won, they got worse. They told fanciful stories of the concentration camps and the Jews. They accused us of shooting prisoners and defenseless civilians. I have been forced to read and watch in the media the sensational stories that people with an axe to grind got to tell.

People are coming out every day it seems with something new, all to beat us Germans down, to make us look like the enemy of the world. The East Germans do not care about this, only Bonn [the capital of West Germany and seat of power] does. We fought for what we believed was right, and I can tell you that we treated our enemies fairly when the fighting was over. Like I said before we were welcomed into Russia, I saw the smiling faces and the kisses the ladies gave us. What do they say today? They say we wanted to enslave them all and kill the weak. They make us out to be some super race of people, which we never claimed to be. We only wanted a better life for our children, and to secure Germany's right to self-determination. The Führer freed us from the plunderers, thieves, and deceivers, many of which happened to be Jews. They will never forgive us, so they seek to make us out to be evil men, because we stood by the Führer's words. We had an oath to uphold as SS men, it goes: 'My Honor is My Loyalty.'

So, to anyone who tells me we committed crimes, I tell them they are believing fantasies and war propaganda, as we did not do any of the acts they claim we did. They even lump the punishment given to partisans, spies, traitors, and saboteurs, as crimes. They did these same acts, but when we did them, it was wrong. I am so sick of the way we, as former SS men, are portrayed and even in the nation we defended no less. The occupation forces have relentlessly badgered our people mentally to hate us. We are not allowed to build monuments to our fallen, but the defilers of German womanhood have many. I will say this, the people that crossed SS units, those that were partisans and their helpers, were dealt with in haste. We had no time for petty fights with ideological enemies. I saw first-hand the way these criminals behaved; in France they took a helper hostage and wanted us to pay them money. They were gangsters, all of them.

Das Reich had to deal with this on the way to the invasion front. They killed many young German soldiers, Helferin [female auxiliaries], and other helpers in cold blood. They took hostages and demanded money or goods for a supposed safe return that never happened. They put our leaders in positions where retaliations had to be carried out to punish the guilty and deter future acts. These were harsh and might have gotten out of control in small cases, but it was the resistance who caused it all. While I am all for reconciliation and healing after 40 years, I cannot tolerate a one-sided charge of crimes. I believe nothing our former enemies say regarding the conduct of German soldiers.

Do you have any regrets being a part of the Waffen-SS?

Sepp: No, none, and I never will, I served with the best and most elite men the world has ever seen. Our enemies may have beaten some into submission and lying confessions where they brought dishonor to themselves, this can be forgiven. I will say we stand as comrades till the end of time.

[Above: Somewhere on the Eastern Front. A Leichter Panzerspähwagen Sd.Kfz. 221 (light reconnaissance vehicle) of the 2nd SS Panzer Division 'Das Reich'.]

[Above: The knights of National Socialism. The bearers of the sun and the wielder of its light.]

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