Interview with Rudolf von Ribbentrop, former Waffen-SS tank officer and son of foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wiesbaden, Germany, 2002.

[Above: Rudolf von Ribbentrop]

Thank you for meeting with me, I understand you do not meet with historians normally so this is truly a pleasure. May I start by asking you what brought you to the Waffen-SS?

Rudolf: Sure, it is my pleasure to speak to you as you have met other comrades whom give you praise, that you will listen without judgment and want to learn the truth about what we lived through. Therefore, the Waffen-SS, why did I join? The year 1939 was convoluted to say the least. The Führer wanted peace but our situation made it necessary to go to war.

I was a patriotic German and wanted to serve my nation and its interests, I had seen SS men in parades and in the Reich Chancellery so I was impressed with their elite look and avant-garde status as the Führer’s own. I had made up my mind early in my youth that when my time came to enlist I would go to the SS, as I wanted to be in with the elite. I was a bit hesitant however, due to my father’s stature in the Reich government; I did not want it to appear I was being favored so I wanted to prove my worth on my own.

When war broke out I enlisted and was assigned to a unit not related to the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, which I was glad as I did not want to look like I was accepted because of my family name. My goal was to make it to the LAH once I had proven myself, I started at the bottom and worked my way up.

Can I ask if your father ever spoke to you about affairs of the state and particularly Poland?

Rudolf: Yes, he did, we usually ate meals as a family and I was always interested in his work so naturally he would indulge me. He spoke about meeting his counterparts, and their views regarding Germany and the Führer. My mother and father attended many parties given for diplomats and I always admired the suits my father wore, he was always very well dressed. Regarding Poland, I assume you are asking what he knew about the attack, or our relations with the Polish government.

Brian: Yes, both.

Rudolf: Well, as you know, the war with Poland started what we call the Second World War. My father and his staff worked to avoid the war at all costs. I remember him coming home cursing the English, as they were meddling in a dispute between our nations. Poland was the beneficiary of ancestral German lands that the WW1 victors gave them, to create their nation. Poland was not the enemy of Germany; we did not want to fight them. The Führer made it a campaign promise to reunite the lost territory; this was one of the most basic tenants of the NSDAP program. He was successful in brokering the return of the Sudetenland, Memel, and the reunification with Austria. Poland was the last of the issues, and it was made worse by the border incursions that were going on, holdovers from the border wars of the early twenties started by Poland.

My father told me that the Führer wanted a peaceful resolution with Poland at any cost, and the concessions that my father offered Poland were quite liberal. They refused due to England’s goading not to give back territory and that England would stand with Poland if attacked. My father was furious with Beck, as he knew what the outcome could be, Poland stood to make lots of money with trade, and to be given a free passage to the North Sea, among the more notable concessions.

Poland not only had England backing them, but they also had an anti-German faction who actually wanted a war so they could grab more territory they felt cheated out of. I remember my father speaking about this. The attacks on border areas only seemed to prove Poland did not want peace, as they refused to step in to prosecute anyone guilty, I remember from the press, some Germans were killed in these attacks.

My father and his staff worked very hard to achieve peace, but England pushed Poland with false promises to become quite belligerent to Germany. All that my nation asked for was a simple rail and roadway with free passage to link East Prussia. The lands Poland was given could be negotiated with money and trades later on. Everything you are taught today regarding this issue is false; Germany tried hard for peace, but was pushed into a war that soon exploded out of our control.

Do you believe the Gleiwitz raid was real, or a staged event to justify the attack on Poland?

Rudolf: My father remarked little about this. Conventional history says that Alfred Naujocks was given a special mission to take SS men and make it look like an attack by Poland after a short broadcast. Kill a Polish sympathizer who was arrested the day before by the police and put him in a Polish uniform. This, to the uninformed seems like the perfect false flag incident. While we were not there, so we do not know 100%, but I believe the victors used harsh interrogation techniques to make Naujocks concoct this story to make them look like victims of Germany. He made money off this story long after the war, so it was beneficial to him to keep it up, but I believe he lied. Hitler gave Poland parts of Czechoslovakia to placate them, and hoped they would return some German land. My father commented, I remember, that alarms were being sounded regarding the Polish military sending more units to the border, and there was fear they might attack as a way to end the negotiations and take more territory. Their president was not always in control of his military. Therefore, Germany had to prepare for war to counter this. So I believe Gleiwitz was a real Polish attack, led by extreme anti-German forces.

[Above: Rudolf von Ribbentrop]

What do you remember about the start of the war? What was the mood?

Rudolf: The mood was somber and anxious on many levels, but Germany also had its pro war factions as well. Many WW1 veterans wished to right the wrongs with England and France that they felt existed. They were quietly happy, my father and the Führer were not in this group. They knew what war meant and only went into it as a last option to protect German nationals from persecution, and our border.

I remember going to enlist at the Deutschland recruiting office, an old man said to me “you are going off to avenge your fathers, make us proud.” My mood was one of curiosity and trepidation at the same time. We were angry Poland would not reign in its warmongers and curb the border intrusions. As the terrible situation was made clear regarding the Germans in Poland, we understood the attack on Poland was necessary. The war declaration by the government of Great Britain was concerning to us all and made no sense, we now know the USA was involved, via clandestine offers to push both Poland and Britain to fight.

What do you remember about training in the Waffen-SS?

Rudolf: It all started with physical exams to make sure one was fit for training. I had to do blood tests and special fitness exams, politics had nothing to do with training. My training regiment was Deutschland and men from all over the Reich were in this regiment. Our instructors were older NCOs and some had first war experience, but they told us not all tactics from the first would apply to this new type of war. It did not leave a good feeling to me that we were experiments so to speak.

My comrades knew whom I was, so naturally they would ask questions regarding the bigger picture of the war and when my father thought it would end, and could he get the English to surrender. I was careful with what I said as I didn’t want to disappoint them, but my father was one who felt we would be hard-pressed to win total victory unless several things fell into place. He believed we could sue for peace with both nations intact, if we agreed to a few concessions.

We were up at 5 a.m. and ran after stretching and doing physical training. Our daily regimen was exercise, drill, cleaning, and tactics. At the end of the day we could relax, and sometimes our trainers would come and speak with us. We would talk about politics, the world situation, and the war. This training went on for a little more than a month, and then I was sent to the protectorate (Bohemia and Moravia) for occupation duty and further training. We drilled constantly, always had to maintain equipment, and helped the civilian population as needed, mostly helping farmers with their harvest.

I will tell you, and you may already know, the training in the SS was different from the army in that our leaders treated us as equal comrades, not as animals needing to be broken. We had much respect for them, and they respected us. This was a core tenant of the SS, everyone was deserving of respect and treated equally. I remember the people in the protectorate were very kind to us; the stories about them being fearful and harassed, made after the war, are not true and likely spread by communists.

You saw action in the west against France, what was that like?

Rudolf: After duties in the protectorate, my unit was moved to the Reich’s border and we knew what lay in store. We understood we were either going to defend against an Allied attack on the Reich or were going to lead an attack on the Allies. The weather was clear and warm for the most part, and we practiced maneuvers daily. We also would go on patrols to various villages. I met a family who came from an area then occupied by the French since 1939. We promised to liberate their home, and the daughter asked us not to destroy her room full of Steiff bears.

I saw our Luftwaffe overhead often, practicing and keeping enemy bombers away. For the first time I saw panzers on maneuvers and was hooked by the black uniforms and spirit of the crews. They truly liked being with these new "steads". I spoke to them when I could to learn more of their operation. I was allowed to ride inside a tank and even though it was cramped, I knew I wanted to be a panzer crew member.

On May 10 we moved forward against the Allies and met very stiff resistance within a week. We were hitting the main body and our inexperience showed right away. Traffic jams, accidents, and conflicting orders caused casualties and delays. Our officers were frantically working to fix our issues. We came under attack from French fighters, and then an armored attack tore into the army unit on our flank. Panzers raced into the fray, along with the Luftwaffe, and stopped the Allied attack, restoring order. I saw my first prisoner, an Englishmen was being searched after his recon unit was destroyed, he was dazed but I still tried to talk to him and I recounted to him my time in London. We got along quite well and exchanged information so we could stay in touch after the war. He sure did not seem like the enemy to me, but the war was young and had not turned hateful yet.

We slowly moved into small towns and had to clear them. I still remember the fearful looks of the civilians and the clogged roads with debris from those fleeing war. After the first full week we could tell the Allies had been broken in the south, and our columns moved quicker. There were the occasional stands by Allied units, especially the Tommies, but we raced through town after town. We were hearing reports of heavy fighting to the south, but the bulk of the Allied armies were trapped.

We were pushing on towards Dunkirk when I was wounded for the first time. I was taken from the field and sent to a rear field hospital to be cared for by a very pretty blonde nurse named Annaliese. By the time I was healed the western campaign was winding down. We had a very good outlook on the war now, it appeared Britain was finished. I was promoted and received the EK II class (Iron Cross 2nd class). I felt like this soldier life was meant for me, and I had proven that I was a leader of men.

[Above: A wounded Rudolf von Ribbentrop and Max Wünsche near Norrey-en-Bessin.]

Do you know anything about war crimes during the western campaign?

Rudolf: I never saw anything like a war crime happen, we went out of our way to take prisoners and to avoid civilian casualties. Before the start of the battle our commanding officer gave a speech in which he said the world would be watching us, we must fight hard, but also be merciful to the civilians who were victims in this. I only saw prisoners treated with utmost respect and kindness. It was not an SS or Wehrmacht policy to harm prisoners or civilians. So either something caused a temporary breakdown in discipline in a few soldiers, which would have been severe, or the Allies are lying regarding us killing innocents. I suspect the victors took small incidences, that were rare, and turned them into something it was not. They have had 70 years to perfect their stories to make it appear we routinely killed anyone who opposed us or fought us too stubbornly.

You fought on the Eastern Front, what was your opinion of the Russian soldier?

Rudolf: The Russian soldier was defending his homeland; I will not call them Bolshevists as many hated the idea and came over to help us. The government of Russia was very clever in making the war a "Germany vs. Russia" war, instead of a "Europe vs. Bolshevism" war. We occupied large areas and the civil population treated us as liberators in most areas. The average soldier was fighting us because he was forced to, and told he was defending his home; we did our utmost to show we fought against the system and not the people. The conduct of the Red Army at war's end forever tainted their honor.

I found some soldiers to be very fanatical and cruel, while others were honorable and kind, just like in all armies. The Red Army did have a good amount of Jews in the leadership, particularly the NKVD and political officers, who could be cruel. They were always accused of crimes in their sector when captured. An example of this was my time in Finland with Nord. We counterattacked a position that was overrun a few days earlier by the Russians, we found many Finnish soldiers laid together, and upon examination, they had all been shot while kneeling down.

A captured prisoner was interrogated and he said there had been political officers brought in to restore morale and that they had ordered the killing of any German allies. The following week Nord attacked another position and were lucky to capture one of the political officers while he was trying to get away. He was brought in for interrogation and the other prisoner identified him as having ordered the shootings, so he was turned over to the Finns to be shot.

What is your opinion of the war crimes and genocide claims made against the SS?

Rudolf: It is not just the SS now; the Wehrmacht itself is now accused of illegal killings and genocide, we were in this together so it never should have just been an accusation against the SS. I saw with my own eyes partisans hung and shot, men and women. Those who accuse us of crimes are in two categories, the ones who purposefully exaggerate and lie, or those who do not truly understand the laws of war and the nature of partisan warfare. We were under strict orders to adhere to the laws of war, contrary to what historians write today. During the war I saw very little of this, so my thoughts are that even partisan activity is overblown. Most all areas I was in were very quiet regarding partisan attacks. I denounce any atrocity, no matter who committed it, but I can say with a clean conscience that we never knowingly killed innocents; we went out of the way to take prisoners, and protect property.

We had nothing to do with removing Jews, I only had good memories of interacting with them. Once in Poland, we stopped in a largely Jewish hamlet for rest and were treated very well, we traded and paid for food. The world I lived in is far different from what the victors told and continue to tell people to write about. We were kind to the civilian population, whether it was French, Russian, Polish, Italian, or anyone else, the last thing we wanted to do was terrorize people.

The private photos we took tell the story of how it truly was, not everyone liked us, but we had a neutral relationship with civilians at the least. I have photos of Gypsies throwing us a dinner party and parading bare-breasted to mildly tempt the temptable. At the same time, we were supposed to be rounding them up for extermination. The same in France, locals hosted parties for the LAH and many men had French girlfriends, but yet we were cruel slave masters lording over the people.

You were assigned to the Panzer Regiment of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, was this due to your father since this was a high honor?

Rudolf: No, absolutely not. My father and I agreed he would have no bearing on my military service, he wanted me to follow him into state service, but I wanted to fight. I had proven myself on the field of battle, won the respect of my comrades, earned the right to attend officer school, fought well in Finland, and after being wounded again was asked to help staff a new unit, in the Führer's own. I was finally in the Panzer arm; I missed my comrades in Nord, but was excited for this new adventure.

[Above: Rudolf von Ribbentrop with his sister and father in the warm glow of Adolf Hitler's attention.]

What was your first panzer engagement?

Rudolf: I spent all of 1942 either in hospital or in panzer training, it was not until February 1943 that I saw action. It was very cold, and on the outskirts of Kharkov. I was commander of a Panzer IV and was tasked with blunting a Soviet attempt to surround the city, we were face-to-face with a superior force of T34s, but we knocked many out and put the rest to flight. I had a very good gunner who could aim and shoot very fast. I asked my crew to be very brave and focused, and they did not let me down. The LAH was able to push back the Soviet divisions attempting to reinforce the city.

I remember there was war material everywhere, knocked out tanks, trucks, cars, and every other means of transportation. The prisoners we took were well-dressed and now had an air of contempt, unlike the early ones who were glad to surrender. They had just defeated the 6th Army (a field army unit of the German Wehrmacht) and recovered a large swath of land, they were full of confidence and drunk on hatred. They were motivated by the propaganda of Ehrenburg who was telling them we killed everyone and everything in our path. Countless Russians came to the Reich to work as paid workers; these people were labeled as killed by us when the areas were recaptured.

The soldiers were fed stories of how we killed any surrendering soldiers, raped the women, gassed the old, and sold the young as slaves for the “Master Race”. This caused many enflamed Russians to exact what they believed to be revenge for these perceived crimes. We saw many instances of murdered soldiers and civilians all around Kharkov once liberated. During this battle Russian tank tactics were poor. They had so many tanks that they used an en masse attack plan, thinking the more they attacked with, the chances of victory were higher. This was proven correct in the end, as we were overwhelmed by 10-1 odds very often and ran out of ammunition before retreating.

We were awestruck at the material capabilities the Russians had at their disposal. My father said the Abwehr and general staff misled the Führer in regards to Russia’s strength, using the phrase of "kicking in the door and the whole house will collapse". It is no doubt we would have fought, as many believed Russia was planning an attack also, but the Führer hit first. if he would have been told the truth maybe he would have used much more strength at the start.

The generals and Abwehr caused countless deaths, yet today they give interviews and write memoirs smugly saying Hitler was unbalanced and refused to listen to sound military advice. We on the battlefield had to live through the bad decisions they made, and in the end they get to call us fanatics and criminals.

You fought in Normandy against the western allies, what was your experience?

Rudolf: I learned on the Eastern Front that our armed forces were not the juggernaut that our propaganda made us out to be. This was multiplied in the west. We may have had a few superior weapons, higher morals, and strong faith in our cause, but the Allies vastly outnumbered us and showed why control of the seas and skies would win the war. All we could try to do was bleed them to the peace table, but they had far more men and resources than we could dream of, Normandy was a disaster for us.

I was transferred to the Hitlerjugend Division as I was a tested, and now highly decorated officer, to train young men who should never have been put in a position to fight. These young men stood up against older, hardened men, and soon earned a reputation as hard fighters. Normandy was a tough fight from the beginning, initially we were able to push the Canadians back with only a piecemeal force, but once we got close to the coast the naval guns forced our attack back.

It took 2 months of tough fighting to break the Hitlerjugend lines, and it cost a lot of Allied blood. My command was very successful in holding our lines and breaking Allied assaults, in spite of constant air, naval, and artillery attacks. Our panzer mechanics did a superhuman feat in working round the clock to recover and repair vehicles.

I felt morally guilty seeing so much of the Normandy landscape being destroyed, but we had to fight where the Allies chose to attack. We took care not to fortify villages unless we had to, to spare them, but the Allies ignored this, bombing and shelling everything. I would like to speak about the topic of atrocities the Hitlerjugend is accused of committing. The Allies accused us of killing unarmed French civilians; this is not true. An example: we came upon a French farm where some civilians had been killed, it was clear they had been caught in the open during a firefight. The home was burnt, so I imagine they panicked and ran out, only to be met with gunfire and mortars. From whom I can only guess, as we were always forced to conserve ammunition I doubt it was German forces.

We ordered French refugees to help us bury them, but I could tell by the look on their faces they thought we did this. The exact same thing happened in a church, hidden civilians caught in battle, this time attacked by fighters as their town was being bombed. We also saw German soldiers among the dead, so they were sheltering together, but as Germans buried the dead, the onlookers would have been easily influenced when Allied investigators talked to them. We would never have stooped so low to kill civilians unless they attacked us first. However, I understand how it looked in the eyes of the French, as we had to deal with the aftermath of the reckless attacks by the Allies. It was then easy for them to blame German forces for crimes.

Do you believe the Allies were justified in hanging your father?

Rudolf: Young man, if anyone at the trials was innocent, it was my father! The tribunals were show trials, masked as fair and balanced examples of Allied humanity. My father was a diplomat; he worked for unity and peace all the way to the end, always loyal to Germany. I believe, but cannot legally say in my own country today, he knew too much. He had knowledge of the secret conversations of the Allied leaders, state secrets that show the Allies wanted war at any cost and refused very sensible peace offers by the Führer. One day I will write a book detailing what I can say in his defense.

In 1942 I know he was on the brink of getting Stalin to sue for peace, in bringing Turkey in on our side, of asking the Führer to be careful at offending British sensibilities regarding India and Palestine in the hopes they will see the war was not about them. He was on the brink of getting Japan to attack Russia as well, but they felt slighted by Germany for helping China early on. The war was a waste and my father worked to end it, to no avail.

I know he felt defeated by late 1943, as the bombing of Germany had hardened the hearts of our leaders and they wanted nothing but total victory or defeat, the same for the Allies. Many claim today that he was a failure and lackey of the Führer; some say the Führer hated him. All this is false and just chest-thumping by those trying to whitewash their failures and Allied accusations.

He died a martyr for peace and one day the world will know this. He was no criminal, he dealt honestly with his counterparts, and sadly, his worst enemies were in our own government. He felt we had spies deep down, working to deceive the Fuhrer and informing our enemies of internal affairs. He commented to me about the White Rose group he had been made aware of. These students, who on the surface looked like concerned Germans who opposed the tough rules and loss of rights that wartime imposed, deep down were Marxist sympathizers. They worked with enemy agents to hinder our war effort and hid behind German intellectualism and Christianity to make their actions seem reasonable.

Today they are forced on us as heroes, but only because the victors tell us they are. If they were in any other nation during wartime and printed what they did, at the very least they would have gone to prison. Germany was fighting for its life, and everyone had a duty to aid in that fight. They chose to aid our enemies and believe the propaganda the Allied radio broadcasts spewed. With misguided minds, they acted on Allied misinformation and paid with their lives.

[Above: Joachim von Ribbentrop]

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