Interview with Knight's Cross winner SS-Sturmbannführer Ernst-Johann Tetsch of the 10. SS-Panzer Division 'Frundsberg', Major of the Schutzpolizei and staff member of RuSHA (The SS Race and Settlement Main Office), Landau, 1988.

Thanks for meeting with me, as mentioned I would like to start by asking what attracted you to join the SS?

Ernst: Yes of course, I wanted to be a policeman when I was a youngster, and I learned that being in the SS helped your chances greatly. Himmler was in charge of both the SS and police. I was not one of the old guard, but I was an early SS man after Hitler came to power. The more I read about the SS and Himmler, the more I liked what was said. The SS was a special clique of like-minded men who wanted to secure a future for the Germanic peoples. Many Germans at the time did not quite understand the purpose we had, except guarding the Führer. A main point of our beliefs was racial hygiene. To keep a race pure and healthy leads to a better future for all in the race. We wanted our most pure to have abundant children, and the genetically weak not be encouraged to breed. It weeds out the unfit, so that the healthy are given a bright future, like nature intended.

Today our enemies use this against us, forgetting even their own nations did these things as well. They advocate for the genetically ill to have as many children as possible, giving them aid while making it hard for healthy couples to do the same. Our enemies know what they are doing, and since 1945 there is no one to stop them. I was out for dinner once and overheard someone say behind my back, "what good is the black SS?" I confronted him, and told him a great damage has been promoted for many years on our people and we are overseeing the correction and rebirth. If you do not care about German blood, at least be silent and get out of our way. My number was 199 968, you never forget your number, it is like a birthday. I also joined the NSDAP as it helped one's career; it is hard to say that today. I was accepted into the black SS and given the chance to prove my worth as a leader. I was selected to report to the first officer class at the Braunschweig SS leadership school. I knew the SS was the right choice for me, I also started the process of applying to be a policeman, for which my time in the SS counted towards requirements they wanted. I had all the support I needed from my unit and party comrades. By 1937 I was both an officer in the SS and served in the police.

Did you ever meet Himmler?

Ernst: Yes, of course. He was ever-present with us; when an officer school graduated a class, he always presented the SS sword. He was often invited for dinner parties, or he hosted parties for us. It was a big night when the SS-VT [SS-Verfügungstruppe, or 'SS Support Troops'] held a dance, the ladies put on their best dresses and heels. I also saw him at sports event for the SS; he was an avid athlete, and liked to show off that in spite of being older, he could still keep up with the younger guys. He brought Gudrun [his daughter] to one of these I remember, she was running alongside the track while a race was going on, trying to keep up. I remember him being very friendly, and quite frank; he said what was on his mind. I served on the staff of RuSHA [Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt der SS, or SS Race and Settlement Main Office] and he took a vested interest in our office. He would offer advice and seek input on racial matters often. Race was a great concern for him, he was eager to learn more about our origins and what makes us, as a race, so different to the other races that only have dark eyes. He was very fixated on Germany's past, and what made this such a great and strong land. He awarded me this ring [SS-Ehrenring, or SS Honor Ring], which shows our symbols of a great and victorious life that all should strive for. At the top, you see the Totenkopf, which represents your willingness to give your life to your people if need be. Like 1 John 3:16, there is no greater love than to give your life for your people; we lived this daily.

Can I ask you what the RuSHA was created for?

Ernst: Absolutely, it was a large office that had several functions. The main one of course was the racial health of Germany. [Walther] Darré and Himmler saw that in the entire western world a decline was happening, they believed it was due to a Jewish plan. This decline was racial and was being brought about by the encouragement of race mixing. In the Germanic nations especially, Marxists and Jewish academics wanted workers from Africa, Arabia, and the East brought in. They fought for laws abolishing any racial separation and encouraged mixed relationships with propaganda. This was happening in the French controlled Saar, they stationed Africans there and delighted in seeing German women, who were starving, fall prey. Laws were enforced to stop all resentment of this. From Arab invasions that tainted Europe's bloodlines, to the Jews of the east who flooded into Germany, unmixed blood was being threatened. Some saw this very far back and wrote about the dangers, Himmler was well aware of this, and created the RuSHA to help stop it.

To correct the genetic decline, SS laws were put in place whereby to be married, the spouse had to prove her racial purity showing no mixed blood for several generations. To be admitted to the SS, the SS man had to go through the same test. Free classes were offered to the couple to show how to have a happy marriage and how to deal with problems. A happy home for children was the priority. This office also helped SS families adopt children who were voluntarily given up for one reason or another. The goal was to always make sure an SS family had any support that was needed to be happy and safeguarded. The Lebensborn homes were part of this office too, wives and unwed women who were pregnant could come free of charge to have the baby, and it was a quiet resort setting. During the Polish crisis the office oversaw the evacuation of Germans who were fleeing Polish persecution in 1938-1939. Many needed help, as they left everything behind. Later the office helped them reclaim land taken by the Poles. I ran into some men during my time in the east who were aiding the German communities who had settled in Russia hundreds of years ago. It was a very good office that had a very important job in the new era. Making sure the important bloodlines of Germany and Europe were safeguarded and promoted. Nothing sinister, evil, or ungodly, as the enemy claims. It is very misunderstood today, even though many nations adopted the same standards back then.

[Above: Lebensborn homes were a window into tranquility and innocence. The Allies tried to pervert the program after the war, creating bogus charges like usual, but they were so far-fetched that even their kangaroo courts found the outrageous claims to be false.]

I understood you went on to serve in the 'Das Reich' Panzer Regiment, can I ask what tank do you feel was the best?

Ernst: I was in both Tiger and Panther companies. The Panther edges the Tiger for me as it was lighter and had more comfort. The Panzer IV is a close second but the Panther was more roomy and comfortable. It had a special suspension that acted like tires; it was not as bumpy to ride in. Early flaws of them breaking down and catching fire were fixed so that by 1944 it was a much feared and formidable weapon. 'Reich' was early on dependent on weak Panzers like the Panzer II and III to take on the Soviets better armed Panzers. It was so bad that I remember we had to use captured T-34s at one point. The Panzer IV longbarrel was not readily available until 1942, so we had to make do. Ivan really gave us a surprise when we ran into massed T-34 attacks and had not much to stop them with. The bravery of the foot soldier is second to none as they took out one after another with grenades and captured Molotov bombs. When the Panther came we had the edge in any battle, the problem was they broke down or ran out of shells. Kill ratios went way up and in some cases whole brigades were wiped out by just a platoon of Panthers.

A Panther could outdo just about all tanks save for the later Stalin [tank], you had to hit it just right to penetrate. The main gun was ferocious and you had to cup your ears when it went off if not wearing headphones. Now you might think the Tiger was a better Panzer, as it had a bigger gun, but it was not. It was too heavy to maneuver freely and also prone to breaking down. Tiger crews felt pretty safe until late in the war when better Allied weapons came out. The Tiger required a lot of attention when driving, you had to watch that roads or bridges did not collapse, it was very heavy. It did have advantages, like good ventilation and room. The Tiger was also a big propaganda weapon that gave an edge, but only until the enemy figured out how to knock them out. But our kill ratio is unmatched and will probably never be broken.

I have often asked how former soldiers feel about the claims of the SS being a criminal organization. Do you believe any of the accounts given post-war regarding SS crimes?

Ernst: No, and I will share why. War is war, bad things happen all the way around. Some are caused by mistakes, others from bad intelligence, and finally hate. It is ironic to me that the Allies accuse us of hating to the point of killing. This is not so, if anything we fought the war with sadness. I say sadness in that our brothers were turned against us by the propaganda of Jews and warmongers. We had no desire to go to war against anyone, whether it was Poland, France, or above all, Britain. Even in the Soviet Union we fought against the system, not the people, and we warmly welcomed those who came to help us. To show that, there were many units and divisions created from nearly all European peoples who saw the danger and wanted to confront it. We did not fight with hate in our hearts, but our enemies sure did. Hate is what makes you want to destroy cities with women and children, it makes you rape and kill your enemy without mercy.

There might have been single SS men who violated our rules and the rules of war, but it is no reflection of the entire SS. I have grave reservations about all the atrocity stories that are more and more often coming into the media. We gave strict orders in multiple trainings to always be kind and merciful to those innocents who no more wanted war than we did. I still remember the civilians who would come to us to ask for help or to sell items. In Russia we were greeted as liberators and held in high esteem, when we retreated so did entire populations to escape the Soviet system. During Das Reich's return to the east, one of my men saved a Polish child from drowning, she slipped into a canal and he jumped in to pull her out before she went under. We often had to chase children away who wanted to see our weapons and Panzers; it would be too dangerous for them. Even the more well-known crimes that had trials, most all men were eventually freed as it was found out the event was no crime at all. Das Reich had to answer for Oradour, where many people died when a church was caught on fire. It was discovered the fire was caused either by accident, or more than likely an accident with hidden munitions someone set off inside. I knew [Adolf] Diekmann and [Otto] Weidinger both said the same things, no Germans fired machine guns at the people, and the eyewitnesses are lying about that, no explosives were brought into the church. They were hidden in the bell tower by the resistance according to a very rushed French police report, and then either sparks or a resistance member who was trying to fight back set something off.

The main point is that it was not a planned act carried out by sadistic soldiers. They were angry and frustrated by what caused them to be there, and they did exact revenge against illegal fighters, but not innocent civilians. Munitions were hidden all over the town, and when the order was given to burn homes that were guilty, it got out of control, and something set off munitions in the church. Former Das Reich men were welcomed there after the war, the people knew this was no planned killing. At best, it was an accident that no one intended to happen and sparks made it to the church and ignited something bad inside. At worst, a resistance person set off something that quickly engulfed the church. No German soldier set fire to the church, I am convinced of that.

[Above: Ernst Tetsch (right) with SS-Gruppenführer Heinz Lammerding, France, June 1944.]

What was Panzer warfare like for you?

Ernst: It was dirty, loud, and uncomfortable most times. I came to the Panzers when Germany had new and better weapons to fight Ivan. I was trained on the Tiger and Panther, the Panther being more comfortable but the Tiger having the better gun. Ivan feared our Panzers and often ran when we attacked, the problem was they had far more than we did, and anti-tank guns. We would attack, breakthrough, and then face a massed Pak [anti-tank gun] front with T-34s. We were both the crew and mechanics as well, if at the front we had a damaged track or engine, we had to fix it quickly. Mines were a constant threat as Ivan could easily sneak men dressed in German uniforms behind our lines and plant them. Even the Tiger feared mines, as they could blow off a track or wheel with no problem. At least we could still stay in the fight and keep shooting.

Germany had the best optics, so we often could shoot first and more accurately. We spent many hours on the range practicing moving and firing. My crews and I became very good at this and won many a battle. I hold the higher class of the Panzer badge [Panzer Assault Badge in Silver for 25 engagements] and the Iron Cross, which is testament to the battles we were in. I can say we were often outnumbered and that is why our kill numbers are high. Ivan had an inexhaustible supply of armor, both American and their own. We had one engagement where we faced Shermans, Crusaders, Lees, T-34s, and T-26s, all at once. The Allies kept Russia in the war in 1943, they were on their last leg, but fortune did not favor us.

Do you feel there is one battle that if Germany won, the war was won?

Ernst: Oh, that is hard. I would dare say Orel Kursk; Stalin was at his end by the summer of 1943, and we could all feel it. Stalingrad was a lucky turn for him that did rejuvenate the Red Army for a short period. By Orel Kursk, desertions were up again and the Luftwaffe held command in the sky where they had presence. Das Reich had great success during the battle forcing our way through the rings, and Stalin knew we were coming. The reserves of the guards were committed and their carcasses lay everywhere. For some reason the Führer stopped the attack, I believe due to bad Generals who were cowards, and that cost us. If we could have kept it up, we would have broken their back and Stalin would have asked for terms. We already cut off most of his food and were bleeding him dry, we rebuilt the factories destroyed during their scorched earth actions and were starting to be able to use them. Millions were aiding us to overthrow Bolshevism.

1943 was our year; even though we had lost territory, we still held the initiative in the east. If Orel Kursk was our victory, it would have forced peace to break out, as Britain was struggling as well. After this loss, everything changed, the Allies held the initiative and started pushing us back. We still had much fight left, but the idea of victory was less and less with each passing day, after this battle.

[Above: A grainy window into a fading golden age. Men of 'Frundsberg' at an award ceremony in the field.]

Tetsch's Knight's Cross recommendation:

'I recommend SS-Sturmbannführer Ernst Tetsch, commander of the I./SS-Pz.Rgt. 10, for the award of the Knight's Cross to the Iron Cross:

On the 18.02.1945 the enemy launched an attack following strong fire preparation from anti-tank guns, mortars, tanks and aircraft. Under the ongoing cover of this fire, they launched a regimental sized infantry assault from the south, southeast and east against the village of Muscherin, a place of vital importance for the Division's bridgehead at Blumberg-Muscherin-Sallentin.

SS-Sturmbannführer Tetsch and his Panther Abteilung were deployed along the whole position, with the task of holding Muscherin. Thanks to his clear and energetic leadership, as well as his constant intervention at the hotspots of the fighting, the Abteilung (along with the Panzer IV group of SS-Obersturmführer Quandel) provided the backbone of the German frontline. Constantly operating outside his command post while actively leading his men, he gave all the defenders a personal example of the steadfastness of an SS leader and was the soul of the resistance. In addition, he called upon his technical officer, administrative officer, communication platoon commander and Kraderkunderzugführer to assist him in an improvised manner. They helped by overseeing weaker sectors of the frontline or assembling leaderless troops into alarm units.

Furthermore he stood in the place of the commander of the whole Kampfgruppe on those occasions when he left for Hill 55 or Sallentin, taking control of the combined-arms unit whenever this happened.

SS-Sturmbannführer Tetsch consequently had a major role in the defense of Muscherin and significantly contributed to the fact that the armored group of the Division was able to withdraw during the night as planned. The enemy suffered high losses during the battle.

SS-Sturmbannführer Tetsch is an irreproachable, knightly SS leader and commander and is by virtue of his personality worthy of wearing the Knight's Cross.

He displayed his outstanding leadership qualities multiple times during the fighting around Muscherin. This was also the case during the combat in the Upper Rhine area, specifically in the area Hagenau-Bischweiler-Drusenheim-Herlisheim, where he led his Abteilung with distinction in both attack and defense. In earlier campaigns he led a Tiger Kompanie and a captured-Panzer Abteilung while serving with the Panzer Regiment of the 'Das Reich' Division during the defensive battles of the 1942/43 winter and Operation Citadel. He was heavily wounded in battle during this time, and following his recovery he continues to lead as of today despite a shattered right shoulder.'

[Above: Here is a modern 1/16 scale figure of SS-Sturmbannführer Tetsch.]

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