Interview with Anna Junkes, mother of fallen Totenkopf soldier Walter Junkes, Neunkirchen, Saarland, Germany, 1983.

Thanks for meeting with me; can I start by asking what life was like in Germany before the war?

Anna: Yes, I grew up before Hitler came to power and remember going through the first war as a child. I remember the hardships, rationing, and losses. After it was over, the reds tried to take over, and there was violence in the cities. We survived that, then hard times came again, there was no food and jobs were hard to find. By 1933, Germany was struggling to remain a nation, and for the average person life was not horrible, but there was fear and uncertainty. Hitler promised a better time, and way of life. He had a new idea that had never been tried before. Many Germans were reluctant to believe him, but two things were clear, the monarchy was never coming back, and a good number of people were suffering. The immorality that was in the cities concerned most people as well, it needed to stop. The Weimar Republic was not willing to do anything, and indeed had corrupt leaders who encouraged it. Before 1933, crime was bad, suicides were very high, and people were quickly losing faith in God. Only the very wealthy and cunning did well during this period, which is why many turned on the Jews. They made up both groups in an overwhelming number; it was hard for them to hide it. Because of this and the infighting, many started to turn to the NSDAP as the only party who had the will and message to win.

In 1932 we were ready for stability and a cleansing if you will. The party of Hitler was given the majority of the votes, and able to take many seats in the Reichstag. This caused Hindenburg to appoint him chancellor in 1933, and pandemonium broke out all over Germany. I remember seeing the parades and celebrations. Germans were optimistic for what he would do, and he did not disappoint us. Almost overnight Germany began to change, an air of hope swept over the people. The troublemakers all fled or ended up arrested. Crime stopped, finances improved, and work became plentiful and noble again. People were not getting rich, but from where Germany had been, this was a huge change. The economy seemed very fragile for a while, but it was much better than what it had been. I do remember some people were upset taxes went up, but on the other side, this paid for healthcare, education, training, and vacations for all citizens. People also received money to start their own businesses, many small shops and stores sprang up. Under Hitler Germany was peaceful, happy, productive, and friendly. I mean this sincerely; it was a new type of government not seen before. The only unhappy people where those few souls who are always unhappy.

I know it is hard still, but I wanted to ask about your son Walter, who fell during the war. Can I ask why he joined the Waffen-SS?

Anna: Well, he always had his eye on the SS; to him they were a very elite, small force that was specially chosen. He wanted nothing more than to enlist and be a part of this. I remember I had to sign a paper allowing him to join, and he went through all the tests they gave, which found him fit. He was so very proud to wear the uniform with the death's head on the collar. He would love to stroll around with that uniform on while on leave, he received many looks from the single girls. He often blushed. He met his wife during an exhibition sports meet, she was a runner from the BDM [Bund Deutscher Mädel, or League of German Girls] and very beautiful. Her father was a local party official who was a guest judge and my son impressed him. He introduced the two and they hit it off. They wrote each other and he saw her when he could, they then wed in a typical SS wedding, which was attended by his divisional general. He gave them a box of champagne. He was a firm believer in the Führer, and due to this, he studied a lot about National Socialism and its worldview. He always said during the war that he was fighting for a better world for the future to live in. He would write letters and tell us that all of Europe was with them in the east. He was so proud of that, that they were not alone; these were SS units that were non-German.

I understand he fell in battle, can I ask how you found out?

Anna: Yes you can, it was a hard time for us. When a German soldier fell, a letter was sent from the SS main office. They also notified the local district leaders and party representatives. They made sure that they came right after the post girl delivered the letter. They had our priest with them, and knocked on the door. They held my hands and asked if we needed anything. They sat with us, but it was hard to hold back tears. A friend from the women's league came over as well to give me comfort. They understood I needed to mourn and heal so they left very quickly, but let us know the SS takes care of their own, and money and extra rations would be made available if needed. I agonized over his death, and how it happened, I am grateful that his comrade sent a letter to explain what happened. He was charging a machine gun trench, and was hit in the chest and head, dying instantly with no pain. That comforted me, and he died a hero fighting for his comrades and Germany.

They sent back some of his personal effects as well, and I received many letters from the party, and the boys and girls from the youth groups would bring me letters, poems, and cards, especially on mother's day. This gave me comfort to see so many people come to help and offer condolences, but this is the way it was in National Socialist Germany. We had each other, leaned on each other, and cared for each other. Hitler always said the most valuable thing we have is our people. We lived by this. Today they try to make people angry at Hitler due to the deaths; they try to convince us that he was the bad person. It is an insult to all those brave souls who gave their lives for Germany. This nation is becoming more hostile to them, and allows their honor to be trampled on. It makes me so angry that the Allies accuse them of some very bad crimes, while they themselves being criminals.

After the war, some of my son's comrades came to visit me to tell stories about Walter, and they told of horrid treatment at the hands of the Allies. I was in some ways glad my son did not live long enough to see what became of his beloved Germany. He was likely spared the mistreatment that many SS men had to endure after the war. One of his comrades showed me his deformed fingers that had been broken by his captors. Some had good treatment, which I am grateful for. My son was a soldier of Germany, and he had great comrades that carried on his memory, I am grateful for that.

[Above: Three internal documents relating to fallen or missing in action soldiers. Click to enlarge and read translations!]

Did Walter ever write about what life was like at the front, and what the enemy was like, and did he say anything about the Russian civilians?

Anna: Yes he did, I have his Feldpost letters. He spoke of the hardships they faced, and that the enemy was very strong, but very stupid in how they fought. He would write that the Russians would attack in mass repeatedly, getting bad losses from small SS units. He was proud of that; they were outnumbered but taking unequal tolls on the enemy. He told me the Russians used illegal means of fighting, banned bullets and tactics. They had commissars who were very cruel to the people and if the SS caught them, they would be turned over to be shot. He was not proud of that but he said they were very cruel and did criminal things. This in turn caused a few SS men to get into trouble for shooting prisoners without a proper trial. They in turn were punished and sent away from the regiment.

He spoke of Russian prisoners and they received the same medical care German soldiers did, and they were always very grateful as their propaganda said they would be shot. He also mentioned to me that many former Russian prisoners worked for them, cooking, repairing, and hauling equipment willingly. He said they were usually dirty and unclean, but many hated Stalin as much as he did so they got along. As far as the civilians, he said they always stayed with them in small huts and they would trade food, and the company doctor would care for them when there was free time. He wrote one letter saying a village they stayed in had a woman who gave birth and the SS doctor delivered the baby. She named the child after the doctor. He never wrote anything bad about the people, they seemed to hate communism and treated the German forces as liberators.

Because of what he wrote and spoke to me personally, I do not believe any of the stories the Russians tell of the alleged mistreatment of their people. I believe they mistreated those who did not comply with them. For those who helped Germany, they were forced to return and Stalin had them all killed. They then just blamed their deaths on German forces. The several million prisoners of war they say died under German care are more likely to have died after the war.

[Above: A Feldpost letter from a SS Totenkopf knight.]

Did you have to endure any bombing raids?

Anna: I worked as a part time auxiliary at the air base, and there were several bombing raids on the Saar, and the larger cities nearby were mostly destroyed. There were many rail yards, factories, and targets for them to hit. We would have to go into shelters when the sirens went off, and the base was attacked a few times. I still remember looking towards the cities and seeing the big billows of smoke rising after the raids. I had friends who lived and worked in them, and worried about them. The worst year was 1944, it seemed almost every day there were planes in the air. They had fighters who were shooting at civilian cars, buses, and even farmers in the field. I read about a farmer who was killed nearby while tilling his field, he had a Russian prisoner who was helping him and he also died. I saw after the war all the destruction in the cities, there was nothing but rubble. 1944 was very bad, as our infrastructure started to fail, blown bridges blocked rivers, and railways were nearly brought to a standstill. Life was getting very hard for us, food, water, and medicines were very hard to come by at times. The party did a good job keeping civilians fed, in spite of all. At war's end it was very bad, so many people were actually happy to see the Allies come as they had food and much needed supplies. They were shocked that so many refused to give any help at first.

We were fortunate that our small town was surrounded by farms, which helped keep everyone fed. The Allies came and ordered us all out, and demanded any National Socialist books, uniforms, photos, and anything showing Hitler must be thrown out in the center of town. I remember seeing them burn books on a scale that was hard to understand. Even old Bibles were burned, as people were so afraid they threw out books without thinking about the title. It is ironic today how they charge the party with book burning, but the Allies burned many times more after the war. They threatened us with prison camps or death if we refused these orders, it was absurd. I hid my son's effects well so that they would not find them. A nasty woman turned me in to the Americans because I had had a son in the SS and I was arrested. Can you imagine a mother being arrested because her fallen son served his nation? They were very rude and rough with me; I was with many other women. They were the wives, mothers, and sisters of party or SS men. Some of the younger girls were in tears after their interrogations, they told of being touched and fondled. Many times these men were Jews who used to live in Germany; they were the ones who often fled when Hitler came. I remember one young girl who was hysterical after being forced to pose for photos naked.

Some of the women united and went to the commander to explain what was happening and that these men were abusing their positions and molesting the young girls. He took this seriously and we did see many of these vermin removed from our camp. One girl hung herself after an interrogation, her friend saying she was raped and could not bear the shame. That was the last straw and spurred us to complain to bring attention to this. This was our fate with the "liberators" of our people. They treated us as criminals and mocked us openly with no decency. Luckily there were some who were decent, and showed mercy. I was released after 2 months and a soldier gave me money and tickets for food. He wished me well, and in broken German said he was sorry for what I had to go through. That was a ray of hope for a better life, which in time came as we rebuilt the nation.

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