Interview with German Cross in Gold winner Feldwebel [Staff Sergeant] Ludwig Machek, who served in 5. Kompanie, I. Bataillon, Jäger-Regiment 28, 8. Jäger-Division, Germania Club, 1985.

I understand you were in the Wehrmacht during the war and fought on the east front?

Ludwig: Yes, yes, I was there in the thick of it, what would you like to know?

How did you come to be in the army?

Ludwig: Well there was a war going on and you either joined willingly picking the branch, or the state would choose it for you. I was accepted into the army and was first going to be a mountain fighter as I could ski. They always tried to trick you by asking the men what they were good at. If you said you could fly, bang, you went to the Luftwaffe, if you could work on motors then you went to mechanics school, if you liked skiing then naturally you became a mountain soldier. Of course I jest, as you had to also pass tests to make sure you did have the ability, but you understand what I mean. I ended up being put into the infantry and sent to the east to fight the Soviet Union. We had the misfortune of being on the north front which was very cold, wet, and muddy.

What weapons did they issue you?

Ludwig: I was given the K98 rifle, or Karabiner 98. I had a few of them as in battle they could get dropped, damaged or worn out. The German army was so strict with the issues that they wrote the serial numbers down in our soldbuchs [ID books] that the spiess [German military slang name (literally "spear" for the Company sergeant major in the German Wehrmacht until 1945] would look over and check if they were picky. You had to account for why you did not have the same serial number as recorded during the first issue. Of course the frontline men and officers could care less and threw the regulations out the window, but behind the lines you had to be prepared with a reason. The strict ones would even check your bayonet too. Being a soldier meant everything had to be in order at all times. I also was foolish enough to buy a pistol in Vienna to carry with me, as I thought I would look like a front fighter right away. Little did I know that the battlefields were littered with hundreds of pistols I could have picked up.

I also used a PPSH machine pistol [PPSh-41 was a Soviet submachine gun] for a short time until it became hard to get the ammo for it. It was also said the Soviets shot any soldier caught carrying a captured weapon, or equipment. Many of us later in the war kept our own issues, I did see evidence this was true. I saw three soldiers executed by the Soviets through field glasses. They all had PPSHs and the Soviets ripped them away, and then shot them in the head. I advised my sergeant, who passed it up but nothing could be done to retrieve them. This caused us to want to shoot Soviet prisoners, but cooler heads prevailed.

How did you view the Soviet soldiers?

Ludwig: I saw them as dirty animals; they were uneducated just like the Soviet system wanted. They smelled bad and had a hate in their eyes that we could not understand. We came into Russia in 1941 to destroy an evil system that threatened the world even back then. We expected that the will to fight would not be great. They were either poor uneducated sloths, or they were educated in the Soviet way of thinking and fanatical communists. These were the ones who thought of us as the fascist invader who had to be killed off. We had no love for them and they had no love for us, the fighting was very hard. They often would play dead and shoot us in the back after we passed.

I was wounded like that, we passed a platoon we thought had been shot down and they rose up and opened fire. One of my friends was hit and he lost his arm, I was hit in the back but it went clean through without hitting anything. Those sneaky bastards always had to be watched. I had heard even when captured that they would pull knives or try to get away by force. I guess you could say we respected them as fighters but they really were a lousy bunch. They were prone to commit crimes; this was seen the first days of the war. They shot a Luftwaffe crew who had parachuted, and surrendering soldiers. They behaved badly towards anyone they saw as their enemy, even their own people. They behaved like this because their political officers, many of whom were Jews, made this a war of extermination. We came into Russia to safeguard Europe, and to free the people from communism. The communists were able to convince people we came to kill or enslave them and they fought with hated because of what they were told.

[Above: Did they live? Did they die? We only know one thing: they fought to prevent the catastrophe that is today's world.]

What awards did you earn?

Ludwig: Well, I started off getting the Iron Cross 2nd class, and then was awarded the 1st Class, the Assault Badge, Wound Badge, and the German Cross in Gold.

I understand that was a very high award, how were you awarded this?

Ludwig: Yes, it was just below the Knight's Cross, which I never received but my friend did. It was awarded usually by the division commander, or regimental commander. When I received it it was late in the war, but a formation was still held with military fanfare. After battles were fought and there was a lull is when medals were given. The commander would call a formation and a square was formed. Those receiving an award would step forward and were singled out. A short speech was made, and remarks made on what deed was done to earn the award. After the presentation everyone was dismissed and if drinks were available a small toast was made. Leave often times followed an award but in the end it was usually impossible. Promotions came as well for most soldiers who earned an award. I was a staff sergeant and had men under my command.

What did you do to win the award?

Ludwig: It was for taking part in assaults to retake lost villages. Our leaders had this mentality that if an area was lost, it needed to be taken again if it gave a good point for future attacks. The Soviets would take an area, then rest, and we would attack as quickly as we could. Although the war was in its final months we still believed that somehow we would prevail. Rumors always swirled about new allies, weapons, or negotiations. You know we fought very hard too because we were defending our borders from these beasts. The crimes we saw committed in the east hardened us to fight to the last. We knew what would come if we failed so there was a superhuman effort to stop the red horde. There were many Iron Crosses, German Crosses and Knights Crosses that were awarded in those final months. We would go without sleep if it meant being able to keep the Soviets at bay. My cross came during these times; we were used to plug holes in the lines and to retake lost area. We retook a village that the Soviets ransacked and a family who refused to retreat with the army, perhaps thinking the enemy wasn't that bad, was found dead. They had been shot, the child was shot in the back of the head. I saw that with my own eyes and it burned into my mind.

What did the average soldier think of Hitler and the NSDAP?

Ludwig: I was asked that by my son, and you remind me of him, that is interesting. Today it is a problematic question, where you may not get an honest answer. I will tell you I am an Austrian, and have always felt close with Germany. Many have felt the nations should be united, Hitler made that happen, and the majority of Austrians were thankful. My views on him were he was a great leader; I witnessed the great things he accomplished. Of course we must not praise him today, but back then he was loved. He was our leader, and the leader of the military. As the supreme commander we had to obey anything he commanded. We may not have understood it all but we did our duty to the oath we took.

The frontline soldier always has a sense of disdain for those who are behind the lines but like to act like they are front soldiers. Some of the party liked to put on the dog whenever they could and talk as if they were in the frontlines with us. This caused us to laugh inside, as many were fat and old, in no shape to fight. Of course this was not all, I saw many who were not like this and were not big mouths. In the end many of the Volkssturm were made up of the old who believed in victory. We could not help but to feel sorry for them as they went into battle wearing armbands and civilian clothes. The Soviets shot these men down out of contempt and rarely took them prisoners. I had no love or hate for the party, it was not part of who we were. Hitler on the other hand was our commander and leader and held great respect from most everyone.

'I had a comrade,
You couldn't find a better one.
The drum called to battle,
He walked by my side,
In the same pace and step.

A bullet came a-flying,
Was it aimed for me or you?
He was swept away,
He lies at my feet,
As if he were a part of me.

He reaches out for my hand,
While I was loading.
I cannot hold your hand,
Stay in eternal life
My good comrade!'

--Ich hatt' einen Kameraden (I had a comrade)

[Above: Unit insignia.]

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