Interview with Knight's Cross winner and Brigadeführer Gustav Lombard, who commanded various elite divisions including the 8. SS-Division Florian Geyer and the 31. SS-Volunteer Grenadier Division, Ramstein, 1988.

Thanks for meeting with me General, may I ask you about your early life and what brought you to the SS?

Gustav: Yes, I had you vetted with comrades, so we can talk. You may not know it but I lived in the USA and attended college in Wisconsin. I had relatives who were very successful in farming and business. Something funny, at the start of the first war I was arrested, due to being German. It was an exciting early life for me. My brother was close to the actress Carole Lombard, born Peters, we were close friends and she took his name for the stage which was a point of pride for him. I returned to Germany after the war and was lucky to have contacts where I worked for American companies and did very well, when others struggled. The political scene in Germany was unstable and I leaned to the right, as it represented stability and order. I was not too fond of National Socialism at first, as they seemed too Marxist-like and I feared what that meant for a free market. When Hitler was elected my fears were put to rest, as his government had some very bright business minds giving their input. I was so impressed that I joined the party, although quite late, and met many party contacts. I was also put in contact with men of the SS, an organization I really did not understand at first, but after more research asked about joining, as it was very exclusive, with many old guard who were members. The black uniform stood out all over Germany as a representative of an elite group.

I was personally introduced to the Reichsführer-SS Himmler who made a distinct and personal impression on me. My wife was an actress of some fame, and completely enjoyed the many parties and dances that were held by my unit. The early SS was not all parties and dances however, we were a small organization that was detested by many in the army and had growing pains; the army wanted no competition. I was accepted as a SS man and quickly set about seeking promotion. I fully believed the idea of the Reichsführer-SS Himmler's dream of a party vanguard to secure the existence of German culture and blood for all time. We were very precise on who could join, and entrance was very restricted. This was so that only the healthiest form of German genetics would be grouped together to repopulate a decimated gene pool, and to promote a healthy existence for the German people, free from foreign blood. I transferred to the SS-Cavalry Brigade of the SS as a reserve officer, as I was an avid rider and loved animals. This put me in the company of many future SS leaders like Herman Fegelein, Wilhelm Bittrich, and so forth. This was at the start of the war.

Speaking of the war, did you see action in Poland, and what was your impression of the Polish soldier and civilians?

Gustav: Yes, I saw action in Poland, although very limited. The Polish Army was one of Europe's largest and it was not a cakewalk like some historians tend to portray. The Wehrmacht was understrength, undertrained, and under supplied. This is why we suffered such large losses, and I will be the first to say our Luftwaffe saved the campaign. Polish tanks could easily take on our Panzers, and many a Panzer fell. My personal experience was the Polish soldier could be very cruel, after all their fathers, who fought the hordes of the Red Army with fanatical hatred, passed on this hatred to their sons and daughters. We had a hard time with snipers; we would pass a position, secure it, and then take fire from behind. Officers learned to remove insignia as they targeted officers with shiny braiding. One Hauptmann in my company lost his life to a sniper; he was a father of five. The sniper was cut down and the house destroyed in the return fire. Sadly, this was all too common in our fight and not a word is spoken today about their actions that caused such reprisals. The Polish people had much hate in their hearts for Germans, it stems from the centuries of territorial disputes and that Germany has ruled over most of the land in recent history. German units faced armed civilians taking shots at them, and some shot surrendered soldiers and pilots. It was madness, and again I blame this on the wars against the Red Army, they learned to be cruel and take no prisoners, due to how they were treated by the Red Army.

After my brief action at the front I returned to the SS cavalry as part of an occupation troop to hunt stragglers and saboteurs. The people were mostly kind to us and understood we had a job to do; if they stayed out of our way there was no trouble. In addition, we met very friendly people who offered us shelter and aided in fighting recently formed bands of resistance. Many in the Polish Army faded away instead of surrendering and formed resistance groups on the advice of the British. They caused the new occupation government to shut down the schools, and comb through all public officials to root out hostile people who openly advocated keeping the war going. The government in exile took a very active role in keeping the people in a state of war. Urging poisonings, assassinations, attacks, and disobedience. It created in us a sense of distrust and hostility. This is something that never truly went away, even though our leaders did try to create openness to the people and offered concessions to let them know we meant them no harm. By 1940 the schools reopened, with many of the old academics allowed to continue teaching if they agreed to not become political. The Polish government was reformed, albeit under the General Government's watch, and many Polish prisoners were released; many joining us in the fight against Russia, their old nemesis. Many more came to the Reich to work voluntarily for good money, something yet again the history books forget.

[Above: (left) SS knights under the command of Gustav Lombard/The SS Cavalry Brigade, Russia, September 1941. Click to enlarge.]

Can I ask about the Jews in Poland, I know lately a lot has been said about actions against them?

Gustav: I cannot say much, but I will say they gave us problems and therefore received harsh responses. We had Poles actively attack Jews, which we had to step in to protect. In addition, when the borders changed, the new governments removed them by force as punishment for past crimes; Jews had very bad reputations for aiding the Soviets early on. This was one reason why so many became partisans after the attack on Russia. Due to the situation in Germany, Jews all over the world viewed us as their enemy, when all we wanted was to be left alone by their parasitic brethren. We had no hatred of the Polish Jews, or any Jews for that matter, but they always seemed to be driven by a hatred of us and used sneaky ways to attack us. The SS is called the villain in the Jewish story, but in truth, we at first had very limited interaction with them. It was not until 1941, when we attacked their red brethren in the USSR that they rose up and became weaponized. Russia snuck many political officers behind our lines to help organize these people and many were Jews themselves. The area called the Pripet Marshes [which historically has served as a natural boundary between Poland and Russia] were the areas of operations, they had dozens of camps and even more hideouts from where they attacked our rear areas. They killed many innocent people who refused to help them.

If I may ask a sensitive question, your defense, as well as many other men, was that you were only following orders so you cannot be held responsible for killing innocents. Do you still believe this is a correct defense?

Gustav: No young man, if I had to do this all over again, I would demand a defense that laid bare the reasons we had to take such measures. We could not challenge the fact that many of the 'witnesses' were communist partisans themselves and were lying about most everything. We fought a terrible foe, who killed anyone who stood in his or her way, innocent or not. We took legal reprisals designed to show force would be met with force. The victors and their hyenas stripped us of any rights and due process, we were guilty until proven innocent, and our defense was not allowed to challenge many points of 'fact'. So, for me, and thousands like me, our only logical defense could only be 'following orders', and we would have been tried and shot ourselves if we did not. I understand, as in the case of my friend [Joachim] Peiper, that some comrades did successfully prove the acts were misrepresented, or an outright lie by the Allies. This was rare however and very hard, but later as the true nature of partisan warfare became clear, many of our men were pardoned and had sentences vastly reduced.

Do not believe the numbers as claimed either, they are grossly overstated I believe. We would only carry out executions as a last resort, or for very severe acts. To give you another example, my unit was responding to an attack on a train. The track had been blown, and two crew members were killed. Our first task was to look for tracks, or a direction of travel. We would enter the closest village and order everyone out, then conduct a search. We separated everyone and offered money for a reward for information on who did the attack; this was very effective as it always led to the guilty. In this case, it was a family and included a 17-year-old who admitted working with partisans and carrying the British explosives with his father. Since they were guilty of murder, they were both shot, and the wife sent away to a labor camp. Most people who were captured were sent away to camps or Italian prisons, not executed. It was only in extreme cases where a village was uncooperative, or collectively guilty that a large-scale reprisal would be carried out, which would include destroying the village to deny it to partisans. I know of this only happening a couple of times. In my area, the partisans were mostly defeated, and their strength broken, but they had [Josip] Tito helping them with reinforcements so they could regroup.

You fought on the Russian Front, how was it compared to Italy?

Gustav: The Russian Front was much larger than Italy and was more fluid. The early Blitzkrieg left large formations of enemy troops who were left for weeks or months before being engaged. That is what my cavalry units were used for, the marshes were a safe haven for tens of thousands of enemy soldiers who made camp and were given aid by the locals. Like I mentioned earlier, Stavka [the Russian high command] took advantage of this and sent in personnel to help lead these groups. They almost immediately started attacking rear supply areas, bridges, and those who worked with us. They once attacked a road crew of ex-prisoners and killed them all, a witness stated they had welcomed them, and were shot as an example to never surrender. We also had to fight the Soviet soldier as well; my brigade was used to stop breakthroughs, as I said, and the front was immense and hard to defend. Even though we were outnumbered and, many times, out-gunned, we successfully stopped the enemy. It took heavy losses, but we had to show iron will; my men understood this, often times fighting until the ammo ran out.

An SS-Scharführer in my company won the Iron Cross for chasing down a T-34 [Soviet medium tank] with his steed, and climbing on board, opening the hatch and throwing in a grenade. He could have been killed, but jumped off the tank, ran to his horse and back to our position before the infantry could get him. This is one of millions of examples of the heroism of the German soldier. We could not hope to stop massed tank attacks, but we sure tried and made them pay for victory. A Cossack unit impressed me; they all carried Molotov cocktails and would ride into the tanks and throw these bombs to disable them. This brings me to something; men of every nation fought with us against the USSR. Volunteers who hated communism and pledged their lives to stamp it out, filled our ranks. Several historians agree with the Soviets that we killed countless civilians as some racial policy; that is nonsense. We had a very good relationship with almost all Russians. They would feed us, give us intelligence on partisans, and shelter us. We had to be careful, as we learned later, that the partisans would attack these people and kill them. While I was in prison in Russia, I met many people who were sent to prison for aiding us. One woman who was a cleaner in our building, had a son who joined a youth organization like the HJ [Hitler Youth], he was taken away and she never heard from him again.

[Above: Gustav Lombard being awarded the coveted Knight's Cross, March 10, 1943.]

What was the end of the war like for you?

Gustav: As the front came closer to the Reich borders, we saw combat against well-armed partisans and the Soviets. We had to fight the partisans in our rear and face the Soviets in our front. By March 1945 it was easy to realize the prognosis, and while we still fought like lions, our main goals were to keep the roads open so civilians could evacuate. Mostly non-German units staffed the area of operation I was in, especially in the Balkans, which was a problem in itself, as even our allies fought each other sometimes. The Balkans has always had ethnic problems, and these will explode again if the Soviets ever leave. All of this followed the Front to our doorstep. There were constant small battles against these hordes, and the Soviets many times sat back to let these criminals do their dirty work. I heard many reports coming into my HQ about groups of refugees being attacked, and there was nothing we could do. Most all units were at less than 30% strength and fighting a two-front battle. In Kovel [northwestern Ukraine], for example, we had the Soviets in front trying to surround the city, partisans in our rear and even in the city itself causing havoc.

My units conducted rear guard retreats, trying to usher as many fleeing civilians through the area as we could, but in many ways they hurt us as it was hard to conduct military operations in the midst of so many civilians. My men spent valuable time helping move this mass rather than fighting the enemy, and the partisans would take advantage of this, sneak in and attack while they were disarmed and defenseless. When the end came, I was surprisingly treated well at first, I was a general officer, and Knight's Cross bearer, so that carried some respect with frontline leaders. It was not until the partisans and other pro-Soviet forces started making up false stories about my unit that I was transferred for trial and received poor treatment. I was given 25 years hard labor like a common criminal, was repatriated home in 1955, and then put on trial in my own country. I was found not guilty as back then I could use a better defense and stories about how the partisan war was fought were starting to come out. Some witnesses stepped forward to show I did nothing wrong, and having people executed who violated the rules of war was not a crime.

If you could change one perception of the Waffen-SS, what would it be?

Gustav: It would have to be the idea that we were a criminal group. We were simply German soldiers who heard a higher calling and volunteered to serve our people, just like any other nation's armed forces. We were not evil, and the stories told about us by our enemies were never challenged to see if they were actually true. Anyone who tried to stand up and say this is a lie was called a Nazi and shamed. I am saddened that so many people just believe what they are told by the media, about those who fought for them. They no longer have the intelligence to say, "Perhaps these former enemies are still bearing hate, misunderstanding, and envy, and may not be telling the truth". Everything anti-SS is believed without question.

[Above: This is a letter confirming the award below, signed by Gustav Lombard. It says:

' 1. Sturm
7.SS Reiter-Standarte
Hiermit wird dem
SS-Scharführer Willy Menke
bestätigt, daß er am 12. Dezember 1937 die Prüfung zum
"Reiter-Sportabzeichen" erfolgreich abgelegt hat.

(1. Storm
7.SS Rider Standarte
This is to certify the
SS-Scharführer Willy Menke
that on December 12, 1937, he passed the examination to earn the
"Reiter Sports Badge".')

[Above: German Horseman's Sports Badge (Deutsches Reiterabzeichen).]

[Above: Gustav Lombard.]

  • Gustav Lombard's awards are incredibly impressive. He won a dazzling array of coveted awards. After the war they attempted to smear his good name, saying he was responsibe for tens of thousands of murders. But this turned out to be more Allied lies and he was found innocent.


    Sudetenland Medal
    Iron Cross II. Class - December 15, 1940
    Iron Cross I. Class - September 3, 1941
    German Cross, February 11, 1943
    Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, March 10, 1943
    Allgemeines Sturmabzeichen in Silver (General Assault Badge in Silver)
    Eastern Front Medal
    SA-Sportabzeichen in Bronze (SA Sports Badge in Bronze)
    Ehrendegen des Reichsführers-SS (Honorary Sword of the Reichsführer-SS)
    SS-Ehrenring (SS Honor Ring)
    Bandenkampfabzeichen in Silber (Anti-Partisan Guerrilla Warfare Badge)
    Deutsches Reiterabzeichen in Silber (German Horseman's Sports Badge in Silver)
    SS-Zivilabzeichen (SS Civil Badge stickpin)
    Julleuchter der SS (Yule Lantern)

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