Rudolph Salvermoser, A Großdeutschland Veteran
CHAPTER I – INTRODUCTION
The following article is an autobiographical narrative of Rudolph Salvermoser; a WWII German veteran who served with great distinction in the elite Grossdeutschland-Division as a member of the armored company of the Führer-Begleit-Bataillon between 1943 and 1945. This autobiography was compiled by Robert Witter with the direct help of Mr. Salvermoser. It is presented here exclusively for the readers of this site through a special agreement with Mr. Salvermoser – any other use is expressly forbidden.
Within these pages, Mr. Salvermoser recounts how he came to be born in Camden, New Jersey, but grew to manhood as a citizen of Nazi-Germany. He tells of his service in the German Army during the Second World War as a tank crewman fighting the Russians and as a guard of Adolf Hitler at his headquarters in Rastenburg, East Prussia(called Wolf’s Lair or Wolfsschanze); while on the other hand, his postwar endeavors include that of an enlisted member of the American armed forces and dedicated civil servant. Moreover, his reminiscences reveal that despite his past associations, which included membership in the Nazi Party (although this is in fact not entirely accurate as verified by the transcripts of Rudi’s post-war interrogation papers put forth by the Regional Loyalty Board  in 1951 – JP) he is at this writing a highly respected and influential consultant to government officials both foreign and domestic.
Although Mr. Salvermoser’s achievements since the war are considerable, the primary purpose of this article is to focus on his perspectives and experiences as a German citizen during the era of the Third Reich. In an effort to achieve historical accuracy and minimize confusion, Mr. Salvermoser has sought to convey his opinions as they existed during the period covered. Therefore, if the reader detects an apparent admiration for the National Socialist regime, it must be remembered that such was the opinion of a child and adolescent reared in a totalitarian state, and must not be confused with Mr. Salvermoser’s present convictions. Furthermore, since he is relating what he believed to be the truth at the time it occurred, there are instances where his facts may not coincide with historical reality. So as not to distract his audience when obvious inconsistencies occur, and rather than altering the text, footnotes are included to present the most reliable prevalent conception of the subject in question.
CHAPTER II – THE WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME
It was back in 1923, while Germany was experiencing a high rate of inflation, that a friend of my maternal grandfather visited him in the small Bavarian town of Altomünster. Sometime shortly before World War I, the friend had emigrated to the United States and was back now in Altomünster for a short visit.
My mother was only fifteen years old then, but she became fascinated with the idea of accompanying my grandfather’s friend on his return to the United States. Apparently, should she decide to join him, she was to work for the American family that employed my grandfather’s friend and sends some of the money she earned back to her parents in Altomünster. Moreover, since my mother and grandfather could not seem to get along with one another, this plan would provide the ideal opportunity for her to make a new start on her own.
Mother departed Germany in April 1923 and I was born in West Jersey Homeo Hospital (N. R. Ward), in Camden, New Jersey at 4 PM on 7 July 1924. On my birth certificate, my mother’s residence was listed as the Emigration Authority in Gloucester, N.J. Although the circumstances concerning my birth were never fully revealed to me, as was generally the case in those days, I was born out of wedlock and have never known my father. There I was, the infant son of a sixteen-year-old German girl in a foreign land. Since she was both a minor and without any visible means of support, the authorities sent us to Ellis Island for eventual deportation to Germany. We were at Ellis Island for about two months when, Mrs. Moebs, the president of Philadelphia’s Catholic Women’s Society learned of our predicament. She apparently arranged to have my mother and me placed in her custody and for the first year of my life, while my mother was working, I was raised by a Philadelphia family. Later, however, I was placed in St. Vincent’s Catholic Orphanage in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the meantime, my mother became engaged to a young gentleman but, unfortunately for both of them, his family learned of my existence. Being very “religious” people, they refused to permit the marriage unless I was given up for adoption. My grandparents in Altomünster were not even aware of my existence until early 1929 when my mother wrote to them and begged that they raise me so that she could marry her fiancé. They agreed and a few days after my mother married in June 1929, she, Mrs. Moebs, and I set sail for the trip to Germany.
We arrived in Hamburg, Germany and continued by train to Munich and finally by car to my new home in Altomünster. Upon arrival at our final destination, my future family (grandparents, one aunt, and four uncles—one of them being one year younger than I was) held a welcoming reception for us. Nevertheless, here I was, a child of almost five, in a strange country with the burden of being separated from my mother and friends and having to learn another language. I seem to have adjusted well, however, for I have been told that within a month or so of my arrival, I was speaking German with only an occasional lapse into English when the command of my new vocabulary failed me.
Altomünster, founded by the Scottish monk and hermit named Alto in 730A.D. is a small town in the Upper Bavarian highlands (elevation 520 meters) which, during my youth, served as a marketplace for the surrounding villages. The population numbered around twelve hundred and, aside from the two breweries (of which the townspeople were proud), some bakeries, butcher shops, and smithies, there was little else. Located at the end of a railroad spur line which led twenty-five kilometers south to Dachau, Altomünster lies precisely on the imaginary line and about halfway between the cities of Augsburg and Freising. Our town has a very beautiful old baroque church which was built during the years 1763-1773 and has a magnificent steeple that towers seventy-five meters (246 feet) above the ground. Its monastery still stands to this day – despite the carnage of the Second World War. With the exception of the church, the architecture within Altomünster was, in my opinion, rather dull. Most of the dwellings were numerous, small, unremarkable abodes occupied by farmers who owned between five and twenty acres of land. Asphalt roads in this region were unheard of and, with the exception of one or two automobiles, horses provided the usual form of conveyance.
There was a single schoolhouse in town and that consisted of merely four classrooms. Catholic nuns taught all of the girls in the two classrooms upstairs while downstairs, the boys were instructed by “worldly” male teachers. Considering the fact that there were three to four grade levels in each classroom, I still don’t know to this day how we ever managed to learn as much as we did. The key to the answer must have been the teacher’s keen observance of consolidation of instruction and strictly enforced discipline. If I remember correctly, two of the grade levels in each classroom would undergo instruction in a particular subject while the other two grades were occupied with independent study. Naturally, and especially under such conditions, there was no such thing as talking in class or making any unnecessary noise; as a matter of fact, even smiling or making faces at each other was forbidden. For those who broke the rules, discipline was most often maintained by our teacher’s skillful employment of the “Spanish Rod” – a thin, flexible bamboo stick.
Up until l937, I resided with my grandparents, an uncle one year younger than me, two other uncles who were seven and ten years my senior, and an aunt thirteen years older than I. My grandfather was one of the last Küfers (barrel makers) in the whole area and, to the best of my knowledge, at the time of his retirement he may have been the only one in all of Upper Bavaria. Although employed at one of the breweries to mend and repitch beer barrels, most of his time was spent constructing wooden containers(including the so-called “honey barrels” for liquid fertilizer) for the local and regional farmers.
The years I spent in Altomünster was politically turbulent for Germany and my life with my grandparents was both positively and negatively influenced as far as Nazism was concerned. On the one hand, my grandmother was an ardent admirer of the old Bavarian kingdom. As a matter of fact, even during Hitler’s reign, her favorite expression was, “I wish we still had a king!” On the other hand, my grandfather was not exactly what now is considered a “Nazi,” but he agreed with practically everything Hitler did. He definitely had his reasons for doing so for after experiencing the calamitous defeat of the last World War, of which he was a partially disabled veteran, and the chaos during the weak and the ineffectual Weimar Republic, Hitler’s successes came as a welcome relief. When Hitler came along, unemployment vanished, food was plentiful, and the average man – even in Altomünster – had the promise of owning his own car.
I remember my grandmother often made derogatory remarks about Hitler. Phrases like, “I don’t think Hitler is telling us the truth!” and “I think Hitler will get Germany into a war,” were not believed by us of the younger generation. Of course, we knew everything – or at least we thought that we did. My grandfather, despite his obvious support for Hitler, never broached the subject of National Socialism to us. He was tremendously proud of his position as a cashier for the local World War I Veterans’ Club, but although he was a member of the Nazi Party, I cannot recall his ever attending any of their rallies, demonstrations, or the like.
The National Socialist Movement in Altomünster simply became a part of life – not unlike the county or state administration in the United States. I viewed the Party as the official government institution that was accepted by the German people and I didn’t even think to question its legality; it was just there.
Whenever an election was held, it was up to the voters to either agree or disagree with a given measure that Hitler sought. In our town, there seemed invariable to be three “no,” or dissenting votes cast. We were always of the opinion that these three votes were cast by the same people and, since they disagreed, they must have been “communists”. As far as I knew, no measures were ever taken against the three for the entire twelve years of Hitler’s reign. Despite this apparent “leniency” regarding dissension, one incident, which occurred while I lived in Altomünster, stands out as an exception to the rule. The Birgitten Order of nuns from our monastery was, according to the rules of the Church, never allowed to be seen in public. Nevertheless, during one of our elections, the entire Order came forth to cast their votes. No one ever knew why they broke with tradition, but I’m quite certain that they were pressured to do so. Interestingly enough, the results of that ballot revealed that the nuns had voted in favor of the National Socialist proposal for, once again, there were only the ever-present three “no” votes.
Altomünster was not so much pro- or anti-Nazi as it was pro-German. For that matter, the term “Nazi” was not even known to me until after the war was over. Although I was only eight years old when Hitler came to power, I seem to remember that it was heralded as a new beginning for Germany. I don’t recall ever being confronted with any theories of the “German master race,” “sub-humans,” or the like. Naturally, we were exposed to patriotic propaganda in the form of UFA  weekly reports that extolled the virtues of our just war against the English, French, Russian, and Polish aggressors; but in our rural little Roman Catholic community, we didn’t dwell on such topics as the supremacy of one race of people over another.
When I was a youngster, a young person was either a member of the Jungvolk  – up to the age of thirteen or fourteen, or of the Hitlerjugend  – from thirteen to eighteen. Then, as a rule, the “educated” would naturally go on to join the National Socialist Party; this was accepted as just a part of everyday life. The leader of our youth movement, who became our youth group leader before Hitler came to power on January 30, 1933, was also an apprentice teacher and only about ten years older than me. Our group was a subsidiary of the Stahlhelm  organization, but the emphasis was placed on sports and recreation. I think that it belonged to the Social Democrats and was called Scharnhorst, but that didn’t matter to us. In essence, it was an organization comparable to the Boy Scouts for it provided the opportunity for us to get together for games, talks, and singing. One day, around Easter of 1933, while we were on a hiking trip, we were notified that our organization was declared henceforth dissolved. Upon our return to Altomünster, our leader, Mr. Well, simply renamed us Sport und Turn Verein (Sports and Athletic Club) – an athletic group without any party affiliation whatsoever. He deliberately did not use “Hitler” in the title of our organization for it was not politically motivated. About eight months after Hitler became Chancellor, I remember that all of us who had belonged to Scharnhorst and the Sport und Turn Verein were asked to appear at the school one evening with our parents. At this meeting, Mr. Well asked us if we would like to join the Jungvolk and I clearly remember that there was not one among us who didn’t join. Today, there are those who question why we would want to have joined a National Socialist affiliated group. We didn’t join for political reasons, we joined simply for the enjoyment of being together. Kids, regardless of who they are or where they come from, want to be with kids; and a group of kids under the direction of a good and trusted leader will invariably have a good time. I honestly don’t know if Mr. Well had any intention of educating us politically; all I know is this: he genuinely liked children, enjoyed their company, and loved to teach.
Upon my completion of elementary school in April 1937, I entered high school in Freising – located about 45 kilometers east of Altomünster. There I encountered professors who were either (what we called) “200 percent” party members or, and at the other extreme, passively reluctant teachers who went along with the program in order to retain their positions. We students knew who was and who was not “one of them” (a “200 percenter”), but our only concern was whether or not he attacked that which we valued (the Church, for example). If he did, we held such actions against the professor personally; we didn’t perceive his statements as a repetition of the Party doctrine and condemn those who were responsible for it.
I joined the Hitlerjugend at the same time I entered high school. I don’t recall that anyone pressured me into joining, for it was just taken for granted that when one reached a certain age, one joined. My time in the Hitlerjugend was not spent undergoing political or paramilitary indoctrination. Instead, it was strictly a gathering once a week of boys like me who discussed, among other things, the current political events in Germany – not particularly from the point of view of the “Master Race” over the Jews, but as how events related to our honor, morals, character, and obedience. I am certain that, in a way, these talks were designed to prepare us ideologically to become good soldiers, but I was not aware of it at the time. It just seemed to make good commonsense to me that young people should be allowed to debate the merits of what was considered to be acceptable behavior and civic-mindedness. Contrary to many people’s image of the Hitlerjugend, we were never told to turn against our parents or friends and report them to the police or Gestapo  for infractions against the Third Reich. Such behavior may not have been the rule throughout our nation, but I cannot recall such incidents during my youth.
While in the Hitler Jugend, I remember that my biggest dream was to attend one of those massive Party rallies in Nuremberg. My friends and I only saw them on the newsreels, but I believe that it was the dream of many young boys to want to participate in the events – what with the flags, uniforms, and all that. I once attended a Hitlerjugend Lager (Hitler Youth Camp) for two weeks out of one of my summer vacations. Once again, it was not unlike what an American youngster would do in an average Boy Scout camp; we hiked, sang, told stories and (occasionally) drilled. If during this time, we received any sort of political or ideological indoctrination, it must have been so subtle that it escaped our attention.
When I was about fifteen years old, I was home on vacation from high school when there was a call for all young men between the ages of fifteen and seventeen to report to one of the brewery’s meeting room in Altomünster. As it turned out, the Waffen SS  called the meeting for the purpose of conducting a pre-military physical and mental examination of us. In retrospect, we had the perception that this was done in order to entice the “qualified” young men to consider joining the Waffen SS. Friends of mine and I attended more out of curiosity than anything else, for the ss, as far as we were concerned, was not exactly the most desirable branch of the armed forces. I suppose my personal reasons for disliking them stemmed from their obvious arrogance and bluster; nevertheless, we attended the meeting and submitted to a number of examinations and questions that would categorize us mentally and physically. By chance, I happened to see the paper which summarized their findings and was surprised to learn that I was considered a member of the Nordic Race. This seemed ridiculous to me for I had learned from my biology professor in Freising that I belonged to the Italic, or Old Roman, the race of Germany (according to my physique, dark brown hair, and brown eyes). My friends and I laughed about it and could only wonder how they (the ss) could distort such basic physical data.
Rather than the Nazi Party and its ideology playing an important part in our lives, it was Hitler, Göbbels, Göring, and the rest who influenced us most. We used to listen to their speeches on the radio, see them in newsreels, and read of what they said in the papers. We generally believed what they said despite the discrepancies from one day to the next, and Göbbels, the Minister of Propaganda, was particularly notorious for that. It was our reasoning that, because they were our leaders, they naturally only wanted “the best” for our country and if anyone would lie to us it would have to be the foreigners. One must not forget that we were brought up to believe that everyone else was picking on us. They did it during the First World War and they were doing it again.
The mayor of Altomünster, Mr. Hofberger, was also what was known as the Ortsgruppenleiter of the NSDAP  Ortsgruppenleiter meant that he was the official Nazi political leader, so to speak, of this particular town. Mr. Hofberger was a very close acquaintance of my grandfather, and to my recollection, he was an extremely kind and considerate man who most likely never harmed anyone. If anything, his only crime was his influencing youngsters to join the National Socialist Party. In this respect, I believe the standing of the Ortsgruppenleiter was proportional to the number of members he could recruit for the party. Just before I enlisted in the German Army, Mr. Hofberger informed my grandfather that he wanted to talk to me. Since I was about to enter the armed forces, I suspected that the Mayor simply wanted to wish me good luck and, probably, give me a pep talk. Instead, however, he told me that since I was approaching the age of eighteen, I should consider transferring from the Hitler Youth to the NSDAP. I replied that I would prefer to wait until I returned from the war before seeking membership in the Party. He said he understood, but in the meantime, he would list me as a Parteianwärter (prospective party member). This seemed to placate Mr. Hofberger, but for me, the matter was closed.
Sometime during the late summer or early fall of 1941, just after I turned seventeen, I volunteered for enlistment in the Wehrmacht (German Armed Forces). Probably due to the role they played in the Polish Campaign and their subsequent exposure by the news media, I had finally narrowed my choice of service down to two arms: the Luftwaffe (Air Force) or the Panzer Korps (Tank Corps). The Panzers won out over the Luftwaffe, although it is a little difficult now to establish why I chose the one over the other. I suppose, in the final analysis, that I doubted my abilities (the physical examination for the Luftwaffe was much more strict than that for the Panzers), and chose the easier of the two rather than risk personal defeat my first time out.
There were really two reasons for joining the Armed Forces. The first, and most important, stemmed from my belief that it was my patriotic duty. We of the younger generation fervently believed that the war had been forced upon the German people. It was our duty, above all else, to defend our homeland against the aggressors. As far as we were concerned, once you are engaged in a war, you don’t beg for forgiveness and hope that the war will end. You don’t beg for forgiveness because there is nothing to forgive! Instead, you simply continue to fight the war until you either totally defeat your enemy on the field of combat or they sue for peace. Secondly, I volunteered because many of my older classmates (I was the second youngest in my class) had already joined and I was afraid that I would be among the very few who would still be sitting in the classroom when the war ended. Naturally, when the Not Abitur Decree  was offered to us, I leaped at the offer to both join the Wehrmacht and avoid the agony of the final examinations…
After signing up and stating my preference for the Panzer Korps, it was not until the 10th of December 1941  that I finally had to report to the RAD or Reichsarbeitsdienst (Labor Service) at Fulpmes in the Stubai Valley – south of Innsbruck, Austria. My few months in the Reichsarbeitsdienst  were spent not only on pre-military training, but, as the name implies, on learning about the construction of roads, ditches, canals, and the like. It was not a pleasant task for, among other things, this was during the winter of 1941-42 – one of the coldest in recent history. It was not unusual that for many days the temperature would drop to minus forty degrees Centigrade. In addition to the severe weather, life in the camp was far from enjoyable. Since this period of service also included pre-military training, we were drilled incessantly – not with rifles, however, but with spades. We had to “Present Spades!” instead of “Present Arms!,” and so forth. There was also a great deal of discipline hammered into us. In one respect, it was easier for me to endure than many of the others. By this, I mean the extended period of separation from our homes. Although this was the first time for many of us, I had been away from Altomünster for five years (except for occasional visits) while I attended school in Freising. I suppose the worst episode of this training occurred one day when we received five or six inoculations and then we were immediately forced to drill with our gas masks on. The training cadre chased us around the whole area at “double-time” and often ordered us to fall into a prone position in the deep snow. Inasmuch as we were inexperienced with the use of the gas mask, the mask’s filter would become clogged with snow and result in the partial suffocation of the wearer. After we were chased back to the camp, we were made to stand at attention; and, after some minutes, soldiers began dropping left and right from exhaustion combined with the effect of the shots. When this happened, we were ordered not to break ranks to help our friends, but to “stand in attention until you are ordered to help your comrades!” Those who fainted or simply collapsed from exhaustion were ridiculed by the cadre as being “sissies”. I, fortunately, did not collapse – despite the fact I was on the verge. Instead, I was determined to persevere and, after a certain time, we who remained standing were permitted to help our exhausted comrades to the infirmary.
Finally, sometime in March 1942, I returned home to Altomünster and anxiously awaited notification from the Army regarding my assignment to a military training unit. After waiting what seemed to be an interminable period of time, and having written to the regional Army Headquarters to remind them that I still existed, the letter finally arrived on 16 April 1942. In it, I was ordered to report to the 35th Panzer Regiment in Bamberg, Germany for my training.
CHAPTER III – “You Don’t Think”: Military Training
My military training at Bamberg lasted for approximately six months  – from April to October 1942. The training was divided into two distinct sessions, each one lasting for about three months. The first session was considered the US Army’s version of “boot camp”, or basic training to become soldiers with an emphasis on infantry. The second session dealt with specialized training in tanks. Despite the fact that we had completed the “labor service”, on one occasion during our stay at Bamberg we were detailed to a small village to the north to assist with the harvest. This special duty lasted for one or two weeks and we were returned to our regiment to resume our instruction.
Training in the Wehrmacht was very hard, rigidly organized, and disciplined, with long hours and very little, if any, leisure time. We were not eligible for a pass for the first six weeks and then it was granted only if we could successfully pass our first test at saluting. Naturally, they wouldn’t want us in town and representing the Army if we were unable to at least render a proper salute to our superiors. Another reason, and maybe the main one, may have been to restrict the number of men going into town but, of course, we didn’t consider this at the time. I wanted very much to pass but, apparently, when it became my turn to salute, the angle of my outstretched hand to my temple must have been off by a few degrees. Thus, my weekend was spent around the barracks.
We were occasionally issued rations of cigarettes, alcohol, and the like, but only on a very limited basis. If it happened to be alcohol, we were only permitted to consume it within the confines of our barracks, and, needless to say, no one was allowed out on a pass when the “booze” ration was handed out. I was fortunate to have a very nice platoon sergeant, an Oberfeldwebel (sergeant first class), who gave me the honor of selecting me as his valet. Don’t mistake my statement as being facetious, for at that time it was an honor, for me as well as others, to be chosen for that particular task. Despite the fact that I had enough to do, what with keeping my uniforms pressed and spotless, my boots shined to a high luster, and all the rest – plus doing the same for him, it signified that he thought highly of me (as a good soldier) – enough to be his representative and, quite often, pass on his orders to the platoon.
In addition to our continuous drilling, we were often lectured – though not too often on politics. For that matter, I hardly remember any political lectures, so to speak, although this form of indoctrination may have been mixed in with other topics. Every one of us was instructed in nearly every facet of infantry and armored warfare; not just as a soldier who must know how to fight in the ditch or foxhole, or how to assemble or disassemble a firearm blindfolded, but training in tactics as well. In other words, it was put to us like this: “What would you do now if your platoon leader was killed? What course of action would you undertake? What decisions would you make?” Thinking back, it seems like every recruit was trained as a potential leader – one who could competently assume command should the need arise. Naturally, perhaps the greatest emphasis was placed upon obedience. One was expected to obey an order without delay and without questioning the order. One famous expression of the drill sergeants and corporals were, “You don’t think, you are not a horse and only horses think – because they have bigger heads!” It sounds really funny now, but in those days we heard it over and over again and we just couldn’t question such logic. It seems that logic, most of the time, did not exist in many of the decisions made during training. I think that the main idea was simply to get the recruits to obey without questioning and to do it immediately. We were not to think because there were leaders who were paid to think for us.
There was no talking back to our superiors, no “But, sir!” It may have often been carried to the extreme, but the desired end result was achieved. We were conditioned to follow any order and accept that order from our superiors as law. They were always right and we had nothing whatsoever to say about it unless we were the boss. As an example, an episode while I was at Bamberg illustrates my point. Sometime during the late summer or early fall of 1942, while I was still in training, I received a letter from my grandmother which informed me that an elementary school friend of mine had joined the 35th Panzer Regiment. I believe he was in the 4th Company (I was in the 6th). One evening after dinner I made it a point to visit him. I was with another Army friend of mine and we had just entered the barracks of the 4th Company when, all of a sudden, a voice behind us yelled, “Can’t you salute?” We spun around to see a Private First Class of the 4th Company and I replied, “Sir, I did not see you.” He encountered my excuse by saying, “I don’t care, you always have to see. A soldier must always see what’s going on around him”. Standing my ground and, since he was neither an officer nor a noncommissioned officer, I answered, “Sir, I am not from this Company, I am from the 6th and, since I am not one of your soldiers, I am not obliged to salute you!” At that, he grew extremely indignant and said, “That’s what you think!” Afterward, I felt a little uneasy for I knew that I shouldn’t have said what I did, although I was telling the truth. On the other hand, I knew that I was right because just a few days before a lieutenant instructor at one of our lectures informed us of certain rules and regulations in the Army. During that lecture, we learned that we were expected to salute every cadre member of our company from the rank of private up. All officers and non-commissioned officers were always saluted by anyone beneath their rank. In the course of the instruction, the question was raised, “How about if we see the cadre of another company below the rank of Unteroffizier (lance sergeant), do we salute him?” The answer was, “No, of course not!” I thought I was safe until the next day, while on the drill field, I was ordered to report to the First Sergeant of our Company. He informed me that Hauptmann Thümmler, our Company Commander, wanted to see me immediately at Company Headquarters. I put two and two together and knew right away that the Private must have reported me. I went to Headquarters and the Captain promptly said, “Tell me what happened.” After relating the incident to him in my own words, he just looked me straight in the eye and said, “You know you did wrong.” I was shocked at his response but outwardly I said, “No, sir. I don’t think I was wrong, I was only quoting the Lieutenant and I don’t think I misunderstood him”. Before he dismissed me, however, he said, “We will see about that!” That very evening there was a special roll call of the entire Company on the first floor of our barracks. Once the company has fallen in, the Captain informed them of my altercation with the Private from the other Company. “now,” he said, “he who agrees with Recruit Salvermoser- step forward.” There ensued an awful silence in that big barrack as I stood there next to the Captain. My knees were shaking and I couldn’t seem to understand why none of my comrades were moving. They all had attended the same lecture that I had, Didn’t they hear the Lieutenant? I think the Captain was just about to turn to me and say, “See, Salvermoser,” when I began hearing the resounding clicking of heels on the tiled floors and the men in my Company began moving forward. The Captain did not give the entire company the chance to move before he shouted, “Company, dismissed!”
There was an additional aspect to this story. Since I was a graduate of an academic high school, I was qualified to be considered for Officers’ Candidate School. At that time, I wasn’t really interested in taking that step because I realized I was still rather immature and could not imagine myself as a lieutenant leading others into a war when I knew nothing about it myself. The day after the formation, however, the Captain called me to his office again. “Well, Salvermoser,” he said, “of course, you know what this does to you and to your career.” I thought it over for a little while and replied, “I think so, sir; I probably am not qualified to be an officer. “That’s right,” he said, “but I am going to give you another chance. You are a good soldier otherwise, so I’m going to keep you here for a little additional training in your thinking.” You can probably imagine how I felt. Why would I need more training in my thinking when I knew that I was right? By this time, I didn’t even want to think about Officers’ Candidate School – all I wanted was to be allowed to stay with my friends and comrades, in training as well as on the front – the “good people,” the ones I could trust. It wasn’t my choice to make, however, so I simply stood there talking to him respectfully until I was dismissed. From this day, his behavior toward me had changed. before the incident occurred, upon saluting one another, he would say, “Good morning, Salvermoser. How are you?” Now, all that would pass between us would be a curt salute. I expected to be kept behind when all my friends were shipped off to the Front, but I was shocked when I was made an Assistant Cadre, and being promoted to Oberschütze (a grade between recruit and private first class). On the one hand, I was considered as not capable of being a leader, while on the other, I was given the duty of helping the Platoon Leaders drill the new recruits. It makes sense to me now, but all I could think then was that I had to find some way to prove myself so I could join my friends in the action. My chance arrived with the scheduled Company’s tank shoot-out – a gunnery contest in which the tanks would advance upon a target and when they were about600 meters away from it, while still moving, they would begin firing. Each gunner was allowed forty machine gunshots and all the shots had to be fired by the time the moving tank had covered 100 meters. Our Captain was known to be the best shot in the Regiment, but my score that day far exceeded his. Out of my forty shots, 39 struck the target, most of them in the bulls-eye area, and from that point on, his attitude toward me changed remarkably. In fact, he called me out of formation, shook my hand and said loudly enough for all to hear, “Now that’s what I call a good soldier – one who beats my record!” Naturally, it made me feel very good but, in a way, I was glad that I had shown him. Maybe, that’s why I shot so well, I had faith in myself. Yet, on the other hand, I was afraid that he would hold that against me if he proved to be a poor loser. He was not, for following this episode, he once again called me to his office and, this time suggested that I was ready for Officers’ Candidate School. I expressed my gratitude, but I was able to extricate myself from the situation without making any firm commitment either way.
Panzer training was far more demanding than the initial infantry basic training. The more fundamental maneuvers such as getting into and out of the tank – the right way and the fastest way – were practiced over and over again. Without thinking, we could leap unto our tank, squeeze into our compartments, or get out of the vehicle at lightning speed. Such endless repetition may have seemed beyond reason at the time, but the ability to perform such maneuvers, to the point of subconscious reaction, saved many tank crewmen’s lives.
The rigorous day-to-day program deprived us of much of our sleep, but we were healthy, growing young men and it didn’t seem to harm us; in fact, we toughened up and became more and more proud of who we were and what we were doing.
Above all else, our goal was to stay alive and to be victorious. The word “defeat” did not exist for us, it existed only for the enemy because we’ll conquer the enemy, we’ll win the battles, and we’ll be the victors!
CHAPTER IV – Grossdeutschland
Sometime in December 1942, a Major from the Elite Division Grossdeutschland (Greater-Germany)  arrived at Bamberg. We were not told what his mission was but all of the companies, one after another, had to appear before him on the drill field. The Major was accompanied by our Company Commanders and, afterward, our First Sergeants informed a few of us that we must report to a certain room later that evening. When we appeared as instructed we were ordered to go into a room, one at a time. As I walked in, I saw the Major sitting there behind a desk. He asked me my name, what part of Germany I came from, my length of service, and my feelings about the war and about the Führer. My answers apparently met with his approval because the next day I was informed that I was one of the lucky ones to be accepted into Grossdeutschland. I was appointed the team leader of the six of us who was chosen from the Bamberg regiment. Our orders took us first to Berlin, then Cottbus, where the main part of Grossdeutschland was garrisoned, and on to Königsberg in East Prussia. From there, we were taken by trucks, at night, to a town somewhere in the central part of East Prussia. Upon our arrival, we were placed in empty barracks. None of us knew what was going on and we didn’t even know where we were at the time. To compound the mystery, we were not allowed to leave the area except to go to the mess hall and then return directly to our barracks when we were through. This continued for several days with more and more soldiers arriving each day. Naturally, under such circumstances, rumors and questions abounded, but not one of us was able to shed any light on our situation. When our number had finally grown to the strength of a company, we were called into formation, told that we were now members of the Grossdeutschland Division, that it was an honor for us to have been accepted, and that we would be moving to a new location in a short time. As promised, one evening they loaded us aboard closed trucks and sent us on our way. Without knowing where we were going or what we would do when we got there, the trucks slowed and we heard a commanding voice shout, “Halt!” Apparently, we had arrived at a guard gate for in a few moments we were dropped off in front of some fairly primitive-looking wooden barracks. Even then, when we asked a senior member of Grossdeutschland where we were, he turned and said, “You’ll find out soon enough!”
Find out we did, for soon we were informed that we now belonged to the Führerbegleitbataillon (the Führer’s Escort Battalion), which guarded Hitler and his staff. Instead of being thrilled and feeling highly honored, all I could think of was: here I am, still in Germany, and rather than fighting at the front, I’m just doing guard duty. I realized that someone had to do it, but why couldn’t it be someone who, perhaps, couldn’t be employed for Front duty? It was a mixed feeling because I realized it was an honor to be selected for such a task, but it was also a disappointment as well. Soon, however, we were assured that we too would serve at the Front, that in this particular battalion we would serve for a period of time at the Führer’s Headquarters and later rotate to the combat zone. As it turned out, the Führerbegleitbataillon was actually the strength of two – one serving at the Front (usually the Eastern Front), while the other guarded Hitler and his headquarters. The one in combat was personally directed by Hitler. He would determine where his battalion was needed and that was where we were sent. If a critical situation arose, he would send us there to resolve it for he knew that wherever we went we always succeeded. It seemed that no matter where we were assigned on the Eastern Front, we invariably faced the elite Soviet Red Guards rather than some other Russian unit. Where Hitler sent “his” battalion, Stalin would send “his” – just as if the two leaders of their respective nations were playing tin soldiers !
Promotions in the Führerbegleit bataillon were few due to the lower rate of attrition of soldiers wounded or killed in combat. Naturally, if one were assigned to a unit that remained on the Front and was lucky enough to be among those who survived, he stood a far greater chance of moving up through the ranks. In a unit like ours, however, the constant rotation and, consequently fewer casualties, restricted our advancement. During my time in the Wehrmacht, from April 1942 to May 1945, I managed to be promoted to the rank of Unteroffizier. Most likely, had I attended Officers’ Candidate School, I would have become an officer. Nevertheless, my friends who held also high school diplomas seemed to advance at the same rate as I did.
My military occupation specialty was that of a tank gunner. Again, during training, one was not just trained as a gunner, loader, driver, radioman, or tank commander. One was trained especially in one and to a lesser extent in the other four specialties. Naturally, a recruit could not expect to become a tank commander right away, but he was trained in the commander’s duty should the need arise. After one had demonstrated certain aptitudes, for example, good shooting, an ear for morse code, exceptional skill at driving, or being mechanically well-inclined, one was chosen for that particular specialty. I displayed a particular aptitude for gunnery but that was not just aiming and firing. You had to select the type of round required for the target (high explosive, armor-piercing, etc.), estimate the distance to the target, advance the aim to correspond with the speed and direction of the moving target, and for all this, you needed a somewhat analytical mind. Most gunners were chosen in regard to qualifications for potential commanders. Without meaning to brag, I was good enough to be sought out by tank commanders who were in a position to select a gunner. Of course, once you were assigned to a commander and his tank, you normally stayed with him unless he or you were wounded or killed.
We never considered our role as soldiers as “just another job”; it was our duty and honor to be soldiers. We felt we had no other option than be members of the Armed Forces. After all, there was a war, I was just the right age, and I felt like most other young people felt: that the only way to live was to fight for my Fatherland, win the war, and then return in peace to rebuild my country. In the sense that we were dedicated and well-trained, we were professionals. Our capabilities were far superior to those of the Russians. Our Kampfgruppe (task force) alone was able to destroy five Russian tanks for everyone we lost, and I believe that this ratio prevailed throughout the whole Russian Front. Unfortunately for us, however, they probably had ten times as many tanks as we had. It was the quickness of our aim and response and the exactness of our hitting that made us superior. We were undoubtedly better trained and our aiming optics excelled theirs. But our tanks were inferior as far as the thickness of the protective armor, engines too small for the tank’s weight, and narrow tracks (which could not traverse muddy or swampy terrain) were concerned. Otherwise, because of our quickness, good training, and (at least we thought so at the time) our mentality, we always seemed to be superior to the enemy we faced. When I say “we”, I am referring to the members of an elite division; this did not necessarily hold true for all other units along the Eastern Front or the other units within the Wehrmacht as a whole .
During the two campaigns I served on the Eastern Front, I was wounded a total of four times. My first two wounds were received during the winter of 1943-44, around Narva on the Estonia-Russia border. Our tank was assigned to guard a particular area along the edge of a forest. We were patrolling this sector while a Russian 17.2centimeter artillery piece kept firing at us. Our procedure was to move our tank after every second or third impact of a Russian shell. It was during my turn as the observer (I was standing exposed in the turret hatch) that one of their rounds struck directly in front of our tank. The explosion tore off our drive wheel and, thus, disabled our vehicle. Hours later we were towed back to the Battalion Operation’s Post. After dismounting and going into the bunker, I decided to go out again and retrieve my stationary from the tank so I could write a letter or two. Just as I was about to dismount the second time, a Russianmortar round hit right on top of our tank. Naturally, my reaction was to hit the deck, so to speak, when I saw the flash of the exploding shell. Apparently, I wasn’t fast enough this time for shrapnel struck on the right side of my face – although not too seriously. A medic in the bunker simply pulled the exposed shrapnel from my flesh and applied a bandage – some splinters there were embedded in my skin that I carry to this day.
The wound didn’t incapacitate me and I thought to myself, “Thank goodness, it was very slight.” It sort of gave me a good feeling that I would receive a Verwundetenabzeichen (“wound badge”, or purple heart) without having to be taken out of action. Yet, here was my proof that I really had served at the Front.
I was wounded for the second time just a few days later. We were participating in a “dry run” maneuver along the Narva Front before a scheduled attack just south of Leningrad. During this maneuver, I was the gunner of an assault gun -a tank from which the turret has been replaced with a rigid superstructure. The tank, although its 75 mm gun is limited to only 24 degrees of lateral movement, had the advantage of a greatly reduced silhouette (a small target) and, since the gun always points forward, the more heavily armored front of the vehicle would be exposed to the enemy. It was getting hot inside the cramped compartment of the tank, so I opened the small steel flap that covers the hole through which the gun optics traverse. I had done this many times before to let fresh air in but, suddenly, I heard the impact of machine gunfire and felt a warm numbness in my head. My loader must have seen it right away for he shouted, “Rudi’s been hit!” The commander told the driver to turn around at once and head back. Later, while talking to my friends, they said that when they first saw me they thought the top of my head had been torn off, what with all the blood. What was puzzling, however, was that I should be wounded when there was no other damage inside our tank. At first, we thought that it must have been a sniper’s round that ricocheted into the vehicle, but later we learned that one of our infantrymen, who was riding on top of our tank, was firing his machine gun when he slipped and fired several rounds which struck the optics plate and entered our compartment. To make matters worse, I was given another tetanus shot by a doctor who was unaware of my receiving a shot just a few days before. My reaction to the second inoculation was rather painful. My whole body began itching, I developed welts and it felt like thousands of bugs were crawling all over me. I received credit for this second wound despite the fact that it was not caused by enemy fire. I was lucky again, for a few days after this incident, my tank hit a mine during the”real” battle for which we practiced.
My third wound occurred during my second front duty, just before the attempt on Hitler’s life on 20 July 1944. This was a tragic event for, once again, it was not caused directly by enemy fire. We were engaged in battle somewhere in Lithuania when one of our rounds of ammunition proved to be a Fehlzünder (dud). When one of around would occasionally fail to fire, such as this one did, our normal procedure was to wait at least seven seconds, unload the defective round, and continue. After waiting a considerable time, our tank commander ordered the shell extracted from the chamber – which the loader did manually. At this instance, all I remember was seeing a bright searing flame. I heard nothing, felt no explosion, and frankly did not know right away what happened. I looked back at our commander and saw him slumped over dead. The driver was coming out of his compartment below mine telling me, “Get out! We’ve been hit!.” I dismounted from the tank as quickly as I could and went behind the tank for cover, followed by the loader and driver. The loader had his arm torn away (right below the shoulder) and when I asked the driver if he had anything with which we could control the bleeding, the wounded man seemed to realize his predicament and began crying, “My arm, my arm, my arm!” Later on, I heard that he became temporarily blind from the flash of the explosion. I, however, was more fortunate. Although I was sent to the field hospital for a few days, my wounds only consisted of some shrapnel in my face (the biggest one was above my right eye) and burns on my right arm and right side of my face – though not very serious. Our commander (a first lieutenant), however, was killed instantly in the explosion. Once again, we did not know right away what happened, but an investigation later determined that it was our Fehlzünder. Apparently, as the loader opened the chamber to extract the round, the slow fuse ignited the dud and it exploded inside our tank.
My fourth and final wound occurred on August 8, 1944, on a beautiful summer day about two miles south of Raseinen, Lithuania. Our tank was detailed to investigate, as the lead tank of the Company, the activities of the Russians in the vicinity of Raseinen. As we pulled up behind some bushes on a hill, I spotted a Russian T-34 tank diagonally crossing the valley in front of us. I had fired my first shot at the Russian tank when, at that instant, I sensed a shiny object approach our tank at a tremendous speed from the direction of eleven o’clock. Describing the event takes time, but this was an instantaneous occurrence. All I knew that danger was approaching and before I could shout, “Aufpassen!” (watch out!), there was a bright flash and then nothing – no sound no following explosion. I subconsciously crawled out of the tank. I regained consciousness when kneeling on the ground behind the tank. I saw my driver, also kneeling, in front of me. “What happened?”, I asked him and he replied, “We got hit!” When I asked him where the other members of our crew were he replied, “They are dead.”As the tank engine finally sputtered and died, I heard a moaning and told the driver, “I think one of them is alive, let’s help.” As we both leaped up onto the rear of the tank, we found the loader alive but he had a gun in his hand and was preparing to shoot himself. This was often the reaction of a tank crew member who, when his tank was hit and he seemed unable to exit the vehicle, he preferred to commit suicide rather than go through the agony of slowly burning to death or to be captured by the Russians. I immediately knocked the weapon out of his hand and told the driver, “Help me pull him out.” We tried but found that we could not budge him for there was considerable debris throughout the tank’s interior which had his legs trapped. At that moment, we heard our commander begin to moan. We moved over to the left side of the tank where we found him as securely caught in the wreckage as the loader. At that moment, Russian machine-gun fire began strafing our disabled vehicle so, following our trained reactions, we jumped off the tank and went behind it. Following this, my eyesight was getting progressively worse, so I asked the driver, “Do you see anything?” – meaning, “Can You still see?” He obviously thought that I was asking him if he saw any Russians for he replied, “No.” Well, I concluded, in that case, I better go back for help, but when I informed of my intentions he said, “You look like a mess, your arms and face!” It was only then that I realized that I was indeed wounded. Both of my arms were burned – the right one so severely that the skin was rolling up. My shirt was completely burned off on the right-hand side, and when I touched my face and head, all I could feel was a gooey mess. Moreover, my hair was totally burned away and blood poured over my face. Considering the extent of my injuries, it was incredible that someone had to tell me that I was wounded before I realized that I was injured! With comprehension came pain and I found that the only way I could relieve the excruciating condition of my arms was to raise them above me. It was like this that I stumbled my way back down the hill, barely able to see the track marks our tank made in the grass, to the gravel pit where help and safety awaited. By this time, all that I could see was a milky blur in front of my eyes, and a voice called out, “who is that?” “Rudi, from Tank541!”, I replied. “Oh, my gosh,” he exclaimed, “Is anybody else alive?” “Yes,” I answered, “the other three are hurt, but we can’t get them out and they need help.” “Alright,” he said, “we are getting help for them!” My sight, by this time, was almost completely gone, so I called out, “I am blind!” “You just stand there, help is coming,” he replied. I was told later that one of the tanks broke away from the battle formation and towed my tank and crew back to safety. I went into unconsciousness for all I remember was that someone was speaking to me while I was lying on a cot most likely on the ground. Whatever he was saying seemed to me incomprehensible. According to my Verwundetenkarte (a tag with medical and other information that accompanies the wounded soldier), I was given the Last Rites by the Chaplain. My loader’s and my conditions were considered grave enough that they had given us up as beyond help and, expecting us two to die shortly, they left us in the Field Hospital rather than ship us back to Germany. After about two weeks during which time I was still unconscious, my health began to improve and I recall gaining consciousness just as I was being unloaded from the troop train in Dresden, Germany.
Before the battle that nearly took my life, we were informed of a new Russian tank, the Josef Stalin III, that weighed forty-six tons and fired 122 mm projectiles. Because of its thick (120 mm), sloping armor, our 75 mm rounds would simply bounce off its skin unless we hit it from the side at a very close range. When I fired at the T-34 in the valley, I wasn’t aware that there were a number of those monsters waiting two kilometers away at the edge of the forest. No sooner had I pulled the trigger than the Russian behemoth began firing. For once, the Russians struck our tank with their first round. The projectile hit our vehicle between the barrel and the barrel sleeve of our cannon. It tore our cannon off where it struck and, incredibly, entered the exposed chamber where it detonated, causing our loaded round to detonate as well. This tremendous explosion caused our waiting rounds, though not the magazine, to instantly explode as well. Eyewitnesses stated that our welded assault gun’s armored roof was propelled from its position by a sheet of flame that rose about 100 meters into the air. I am sure this must have been an exaggeration, the force necessary to wrench that massive steel roof away from our tank and fling it through the air had to be considerable. Apparently, my training in mounting and dismounting in Bamberg as well as in Rastenburg paid off for I must have subconsciously crawled off the tank and sought cover behind it. Since our assault gun was totally destroyed and our crew miraculously lived through the ordeal, it became known as the “Miracle Tank of the Eastern Front.” Our driver, who had survived the incident relatively unscathed, would not talk for five days. He had withdrawn into a world all his own, so I was told. He eventually snapped out of it and was assigned to drive another tank. On his first day back at the Front, he was driving his tank across a wooden bridge when it collapsed beneath him. Fortunately for the other crew members, they were sitting on the outside of the vehicle; but the driver was in his compartment at the front of the tank. When the tank crashed through the bridge it turned upside down and entered the water below. The only fatality was my driver, who drowned while trapped in the sunken wreckage.
For having been wounded four separate times, I received the Verwundeten Abzeichen in silver. This badge was issued to any soldier who suffered more than three wounds, or for the loss of a hand, foot, eye, or complete deafness. Additionally, I was awarded the Panzerkampf Abzeichen (tank assault badge) for having participated in at least three successful tank engagements. This could also be awarded for tank action against antitank actions. The third and most prestigious decoration awarded to me was the Eisernes Kreuz II Klasse (Iron Cross Second Class). This medal was given for bravery beyond the call of duty and quite an honor if the recipient (such as I) was below the rank of Unteroffizier. I was recommended for the Iron Cross 1st Class but was for some reason denied the honor. My awards, however, basically stemmed from my having destroyed a total of six Russian tanks – two of them on separate occasions and the other four in a single-tank battle. The destruction of the last four occurred one day when approximately twenty Russian tanks attempted to breach our lines near Narva, Estonia. Somehow, I managed to smash all four in a matter of minutes, while another one of our tanks obliterated two in the same period of time. Meanwhile, our 88 mm antiaircraft/antitank battery succeeded in destroying four additional Russian tanks. Upon losing ten tanks out of their original complement of twenty, the remaining Russians withdrew into the woods. There were other incidents, many of them leading up to the statement that I had described personal bravery and dedication to my comrades, that (combined) led to my receiving the award.
During the Ardennes’ Offensive (Battle of the Bulge), I was stationed in Prüm, which was right in front of the V-1 launch sites . V-1s were also known as the Eifelschreck (terror of the Eifel mountains) because when they were first used, they did not always fly directly to their targets. Instead, they would quite often turn around in-flight and explode around the Eifel. The V-1s aimed for the Ardennes Front usually flew over the house we stayed in (in Prüm) and, since they were barely ten meters above the house, it was considerably disconcerting. I’ll never forget the terrible roar – it sounded (we always said) like Russian tanks going over. Our Kampfgruppe (Kampfgruppe Remer – named for its commander was honored by a speech from Major General Remer just before the Offensive began. “Soldiers,” he said, “this is the most important battle the German soldier has fought during the whole war. If this battle is lost, the war will be lost!” Later after the battle was lost, of course, you did not dare quote the General.
CHAPTER V – “Let Stauffenberg Pass”
On July 20, 1944, when the conspirators attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler at his military headquarters in Rastenburg, East Prussia, I happened to be in a Feld Lazarett (military field hospital) recuperating from my wounds. Most of my information comes from a friend of mine, Heinz Hühnemann, who was stationed at one of the security gates when the explosion occurred. His post was in Sperrkreis I (Security Ring I), which was closer to Hitler’s than the one we normally guarded (Sperrkreis II). He told me that at about one o’clock in the afternoon a terrific explosion went off and a general alarm was sounded. When the explosion occurred, as when anything unexplained happened, there was a general alarm and an immediate doubling of the guard. Since there were only two guard shifts, that meant that all of the guards were placed on duty. Not long after that, Colonel Count von Stauffenberg  approached his gate in a vehicle. Of course, as was the custom, Hühnemann saluted the Colonel and inquired what his business might be. Moreover, the alert was in progress, the Corporal had to say, “I am sorry, Herr Oberst (Colonel), Headquarters is closed. There is a general alarm!” “I know that,” Stauffenberg replied, “but I have important business in Berlin, you must let me pass!”  Rejecting his plea, in a military manner, of course, Hühnemann stated, “I am not allowed to let anyone pass – those are the orders from High Command.”Stauffenberg, he said, was very nervous and again demanded that he be allowed to pass, but Hühnemann simply replied, “In order to let you pass, Herr Oberst, I have to call the Kommandantur (Commandant’s Office) for permission.” “Do so!”, Stauffenbergsaid. The corporal lifted the receiver in his guard hut and was instantly connected to the Kommandantur. He told the party on the other end of the line that Herr Oberst von Stauffenberg requested permission to pass through his gate. There was a momentary silence and then an instruction for the corporal to hold on. After an additional ten or twenty seconds elapsed, the voice came back on the line and said, “Let Colonel von Stauffenberg pass!” At the time, the talk at the Führer Headquarters was that the Kommandantur quickly decided that Stauffenberg’s hasty departure might be somehow connected with the recent explosion. If this was the case, it was reasoned, it would be wiser to allow Stauffenberg to proceed unimpeded to his final destination and, in all probability, lead them to the conspirators. Anyway, the Colonel left and drove to the underground headquarters airfield. The saying those days was that the Gestapo and other security elements of the Reich were instructed to follow Stauffenberg wherever he went and to report his every action. Apparently, Stauffenberg was authorized to depart in his aircraft and, supposedly, reconnaissance planes followed him to Berlin. Therefore, since all of Stauffenberg’s movements were known to the Abwehrdienst (counterespionage service), it was Stauffenberg’s fault for the breakup of the conspiracy. 
Following his failed attempt to assassinate “our” Führer, Stauffenberg was considered a no-good traitor. We viewed him as not only a coward (as he departed the scene right away and gave thus his co-conspirators away), but also one who tried to give away our government and nation. We were under the impression that his immediate flight for Berlin was based on greed – he wanted a piece of the pie before the pie was consumed! To us, it was rather stupid of Stauffenberg to leave the Führer Hauptquartier (Headquarters) right after the explosion occurred. Had he really been sincere about his motives, then why didn’t he stay? Had he risked the danger of remaining behind, he could have become either a live hero in the new Germany or a true martyr for the resistance movement. In the end, however, he was labeled as a dead, evil failure.
On the other hand, Major Remer was painted as the man who had saved Germany from certain destruction. Major Otto Ernst Remer was the Commander of the Berlin Guard Battalion “Grossdeutschland” during the 20 July 1944 assassination attempt, and also we were not aware what exactly he had done, we were told that he had kept his “cool” head, and deserved his promotion to Colonel for he was “the only one in the whole Army who prevented a catastrophe in Germany!” Thus, we thought highly of him and were proud when, later, he became the commander of our Kampfgruppe – the one which bore his name. What more, we always bragged about having the youngest General (to which he was promoted soon after the Battle of the Bulge) in the German Army leading us – he was, I believe, but 29 years old at the time.
After this attempt was made on Hitler’s life, Reichsführer S.S. Heinrich Himmler , who always felt that his troops should be the sole guardians of the Führer, called in his men and assigned one of them to each one of us. Himmler had always contended that his S.S. troops were more patriotic, better trained, and more reliable than we; but Hitler invariably refused Himmler’s proposal. When Hitler learned about Himmler’s action, the story goes that he called the Reichsführer to his bunker flew into one of his rages, and ordered the S.S. troops withdrawn immediately. According to our Company Commander, Hitler was supposed to have said, “I do not want your troops, I can depend on my boys!” This, of course, gave our people quite a lift in their morale for we were honored to have our Führer think that highly of the Begleitbataillon.
CHAPTER VI – “I Would Rather Stay Here With My Comrades and Fight the Russians”
In March 1945, I was sent along with a First Lieutenant and a Master Sergeant to Munich. At the time, the Lieutenant seemed to think that he had done me a favor, what with withdrawing me from the Front, but I said to him, “If I had a chance, Herr Leutnant, I would rather stay here with my comrades and fight the Russians.” “Well,” he said, “this cannot be done. Your orders are ready and you are going with us on a very important special mission.” The mission, as I found out later (I was never aware of the details), was to attempt to reorganize the Grossdeutschland Division  and the point of the operation was to be Dachauerstrasse 9 in Munich. I never was told why I was included in this assignment – perhaps the Lieutenant had taken a liking to me and thought that I should be given the chance to get away (I had already been wounded four times by then), or maybe, since I was raised near Munich, I could be useful as a “hamster” (one who collects food from local farmers to supplement food rations – a derogatory term), or perhaps the fact that I still was considered “kampfunfähig” (incapable for combat); or perhaps for all three reasons. Whatever his reasons were, it didn’t really matter for I could not refuse the orders. I was sad to go, even though I later learned that on that same night our Kampfgruppe (combat group) was encircled by the Russians (in Saxony) and almost all of my comrades were either killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. Fate must have wanted me to survive for had I remained, I am sure that I would have been one of those who never returned from the war.
On the 30th of April, the day Hitler committed suicide in his bunker, we were told by radio and newspaper that the Führer had died the “hero’s death” on the front lines in Berlin. Since the Americans were on the outskirts of Munich, our lieutenant decided it was time for us to leave. We took a trolley car to the southeastern outskirts of Munich where the lieutenant left us for a period of time and returned with a rather fancy-looking Mercedes car. From Munich, we traveled northeast to Passau on the Bavarians/Austrian border and then east to Linz, Austria. In Linz, however, we heard the news on the radio that Russian troops were approaching the city from the north . Needless to say, we turned around and headed to Salzburg.
On May 4th, 1945, while in Tyrol, I happened to mention, “Herr Leutnant, I think the war might be lost if it continues the way it does.” He quietly gave me a terrifyingly stern look and replied, “You know, Salvermoser, I will have you court-martialed for that defeatist remark when we reach our destination!” I was startled. Up until very recently I was a believer and I still hoped that Germany could and would win the war – at least I thought that we still had a chance. Still in all, if we had nothing like that so-called “secret weapon” that Hitler was going to employ(when everything else failed and he thought he had to), then it looked like we might be doomed. A few days later, after the end of the hostilities, I told the lieutenant respectfully, “See, sir, I had the right feeling at that time, didn’t I?” He remained silent.
I think that what kept our belief in victory alive for all those years was our youthful ignorance and our firm belief in what Hitler did and said. After all, prior to the war, he was the highly successful leader of our nation, he did all those wonderful things, he never lied to us (so we thought), why should he now? We just couldn’t accept that, after all this effort, the war could be lost. On my visit to Altomünster, sometime in mid-April 1945, I met a friend of mine on the train and he expressed his doubts to me. “Well, Rudi,” he said, what are you going to do when the war is over? You know it’s going to be lost”. “Berthold,” I responded, “don’t talk so stupid. You know we will win the war.” “How?”, said he. “Well,” I said, “the Führer says that we have a special weapon which he will only use when absolutely necessary to save the German people. I don’t think that anyone could lie so much all these years – and we believe in those lies. He must be telling the truth! “Well, Rudi,” he said, “you’ll see. There’s no sense arguing about it. Maybe you’re right, maybe I’m right, we’ll see.” As a matter of fact, just a few weeks ago, when I was on a trip to Germany, I met Berthold at an (Elementary) school reunion. I mentioned the incident to him and he said, “I remember that very well, but, you know, it really didn’t matter at the time anymore. We, deep down, probably all knew it – that this was the end. How could Germany have possibly won the war when the fronts just seem to disappear, and there was no organization anymore? Where would we have gotten the ‘special weapon’ from? Where would we have dropped those ‘special weapons’ upon the enemy to destroy him?” Maybe we were in such a state of mind that we, deep down subconsciously thought: who cares, really, as long as we can live on, build up the country again and start a new life. We just didn’t want to admit defeat to ourselves. I certainly did not want to acknowledge to myself that I didn’t do a good job. I and my friends should have helped win the war. We did our best, but what went wrong? Well, the best was not good enough!
On May 6th, when we were near Zell am See in Tyrol, a German Infantry Officer wearing a white helmet and driving a motorcycle with a white flag affixed to it approached and informed us that we must leave the road immediately and hide behind one of the hay storage shacks in the field. Not long afterward we saw a convoy approach which consisted of American Jeeps, German motorcycles with German officers with white helmets and flags, and a number of three-quarter-ton American Army trucks with machine guns and white flags mounted on top of them. To me, that finally signaled the end of the war. I don’t recall where we spent the night, but in the morning we proceeded in our vehicle toward the west. On our journey, we approached some American Military Police who stopped and informed us that we were prisoners now of the U.S. Army and that the war was over -the armistice has been signed. We were ordered to follow one of them and he led us into a small forest and showed us where we would stay. Amazingly enough, we were not asked to surrender our weapons. Upon our arrival at the spot, the M.P. had led us to, we discovered a sizable assemblage of German tents and soldiers, many of whom wore the distinctive Grossdeutschland cuff band. How we managed to meet up with our unit – and I believe that it was the very unit which the Lieutenant was detailed to reorganize – God only knows. I don’t believe I ever asked him (I probably didn’t really care at the time) and, what’s more, you never ask a German officer a dumb question.
Anyway, here we were with the remnants of Grossdeutschland, right beside the American 45th Infantry Division. I could not figure out why the Americans treated us so cordially and respectfully. I always thought when a soldier surrendered to the enemy, the first thing he did was to deliver his weapons to his captors. This was not the case, however, so I could only speculate on their reasons for allowing us to remain armed. Earlier, while we were still on the road from Linz, we met several German infantrymen who were toting their weapons and headed east. We stopped and asked them where they were going, that the Russians were coming and, if they were looking for their unit, they could come with us. “No,” they replied, “we are going east to fight the Russians because the Americans are going to aid us!” Our lieutenant thought that this was ridiculous because it was highly unlikely that an enemy would turn around and, after beating you, would help you fight their own allies. Knowing this, it struck me that, perhaps, this was the reason for our remaining armed. Maybe the Americans are simply biding their time because they think we are the ones who will be sent east again to fight the Russians. 
Whatever their reasons, two days later, on May 9th, we were told that the Russians and the Germans had signed an armistice, and the war in Germany was finally over. We were instructed to fall in and deliver all our weapons over to the American forces. At the same time, our battalion commander, a major, was told that each company could retain six sidearms to be carried by the officers of the unit. A short time later, we were moved to a little village called Hof, just outside Brixen i. Tal, Austria. We were assigned to the village and told not to leave, and our Major was compelled to give his personal word of honor that he would do his utmost to prevent the escape of any of his soldiers. Furthermore, he was told that life had to go on as if there was no war and there was still a German Army – one that demanded the same discipline as before. After completing our move to Hof, without American guards, I was appointed by the Major to be his orderly. Our people were to remain in a meadow almost directly in the middle of the village and since we had no tents or other forms of shelter except for a loft above a stable next to the meadow, we were fortunate that for the three weeks we were there, it was the uninterrupted beautiful weather. In conjunction with my duties as the Major’s orderly, I was selected as his official interpreter. An American second lieutenant was assigned as the liaison officer between us and the U.S. Army unit stationed nearby. He would visit us once a day, usually sometime in the mid-morning, just to chat for a while with our Major (through me)and asked at times if we needed any aid or if anyone was sick. From one of these informal meetings, I learned that we were treated especially well because our unit (I don’t recall if this applied to all of Grossdeutschland or just the Begleitbataillon) was on the American “white list”. Supposedly, this so-called “white list” named those units of the German military forces who were in no way connected with the perpetration of atrocities; thus, we were granted preferential treatment by our captors. As a matter of fact, we were even allowed to continue to wear our medals and any part of our uniforms that displayed the swastika – breast and hat eagles, belt buckles, etc.
Near the end of the third week, the American lieutenant showed up one morning with some disturbing news. According to him, the French had officially demanded that we are turned over to them for immediate shipment to France. Apparently, the French intended to use us as forced labor but, the Lieutenant conveyed that the American authorities would do their best to prevent this from happening. He went on to say that in the first place, we were captured by the Americans, not by the French; and secondly, since we were on the “white list”, they did not want to see us humiliated. “Be assured,” he said, “you will hear from us soon about the outcome of our negotiations.” A day or two later, in the middle of the night, someone knocked on the kitchen door in the house where the Major and I stayed. The caller was the American liaison officer who woke me up and said, “Tell the Major to get everybody ready in five minutes. There will be a caravan of U.S. Army trucks coming and you are to mount immediately. Everyone must be accounted for and you will receive further information later.” By that time, the Major had awakened and entered my room, so I promptly relayed the message to him. He instructed me to rouse everyone and to spread the word. Not long after that (between two and three o’clock in the morning) the American trucks arrived and we loaded up. We didn’t know where we were going; all we knew was that we were headed east and that meant “No France!”. We crossed the German border sometime between five and six A.M. and headed north/northwest toward Munich. Finally, the convoy came to a halt about ten to fifteen miles east of Munich, in a town called Poing.
While at Poing, we were again told that all activities should continue just the way they had at Hof. About two weeks after the arrival in Poing, I was instructed to prepare an alphabetical list of all the prisoners in our unit so that they could be sent to the First U.S. Army Headquarters’ prisoner-of-war camp in Bad Aibling for discharge. Since my last name begins with an “S” and I wanted to make certain that all of the others were taken care of, I was one of the last to leave. Once I arrived in Bad Aibling, however, it took three additional days of waiting before my discharge was completed.
During all the time of waiting, first in the forest outside of Zell am See, then Hof, Poing, and finally Bad Aibling, I cannot recall that at any time we discussed our defeat. We were probably just glad that we were alive, in fairly good health, and not in the hands of the Russians or the French.
Speaking of the Russians, although I never considered them to be”sub-humans”, their conduct on the Eastern Front led my friends and me to regard them as overly cruel people. While the war still raged, I happened to come across a very good friend of mine one day. His body lay covered up outside of a Lazarett. He had been fatally shot but the enemy had obviously clubbed him on the head many, many times with the butt of a rifle. On another occasion, during a battle that involved hand-to-hand combat, a comrade of mine was bayoneted not once, but over twenty times. Still another incident comes to my mind as evidence of their brutality. During one of their attacks, I happened to be looking through my tank’s forty-powered optical viewfinder when I spotted a wounded German soldier a few hundred feet away trying to crawl back to our lines. Suddenly a Russian soldier leaped up from his position behind a tree and repeatedly stabbed the German, killing him rather than taking him prisoner. Bearing incidents like these in mind, it’s not surprising that any German soldier would hate even the thought of being left lying wounded or being captured by the Russians, for their chances of survival were practically nil.
We considered our previous state of war with the Americans as a tragically unfortunate situation, but now that the war had ended, we were convinced that everything should eventually turn out alright. The announcement of war with the United States came as a shock to my friends and me. I remember that I never expected that Germany would go to war against the Americans for, after all, why would they want to fight with us? We hadn’t done anything to them, so we believed. We were initially (on 1 September 1939) only defending ourselves against “Polish aggression”, the English and French decided to help the Poles and declared war on us. What’s more, we were told that something like thirty percent of the population of the United States consisted of “German-blood” people – naturally, they wouldn’t want to fight us!
The day of my discharge from American captivity and from the German Army arrived. One of the requirements for completing our discharge process was to fill out a questionnaire regarding our past. I suddenly became quite apprehensive when I realized that I was going to have to reveal my place of birth. I asked the German major who was sitting next to me if I should tell the truth – that I was born in Camden, New Jersey.”What the hell were you doing in the German Army?”, he asked. “That’s a long story – what do you think would happen to me if they found out?” “Youngman”, he said, “Don’t worry about it. They are not going to execute you because of it. Just tell them the whole story the way it happened. Americans are known to be fair people.” The way it turned out, I was never questioned at the discharge center and, after it was all over, I wondered if they really read all the answers or simply concerned themselves with what units we had belonged to. Once our discharge was completed, we were supposed to draw food ration for our march home; however, it would have taken me out of the direct route to Altomünster, so I forwent drawing the ration. In my case, I expected to be traveling for some time because Altomünster lay about one hundred kilometers away and we were not allowed to be on the road after curfew . I joined a group of fellow former prisoners who were discharged at the same time as I and we set off on our journey, Since we were all in a hurry to get home, we didn’t bother to pick up our rations for this would have required that we walk clear across the camp (a few kilometers each way), and valuable time would have been lost. We left the camp as a group of five and after a while, one after another broke away to pursue his own destination. Finally, I was alone as I marched through Poing, Munich, Dachau, and home.
As far as postwar de-Nazification was concerned, mine began and ended with the questionnaire at Bad Aibling. I never had to appear as a defendant before a Spruchkammer (de-Nazification court), but I was called as a witness in the trial against my ex-youth leader and teacher, Mr. Well (1932-1937). Mr. Well later became a Bannführer(comparable to either an army’s company or battalion commander) in the Hitler Youth and, as such, he was suspected of being an ardent Nazi. I remember that the charges against him struck me as ridiculous for every one of them was blown out of proportion. The other witnesses in the room were mostly farmers and their wives whose children had, at one time or another, belonged to Mr. Well’s youth groups. Although they were generally people whose education was not beyond elementary school, they all wanted to stand by Mr. Well because he was respected in the community by young and old alike. Naturally, there were those who didn’t like Mr. Well, but no one is loved by all.
It turned out that the court considered me its Hauptzeuge (chief witness), but all I did was tell the truth regarding how we felt about Mr. Well. One of the accusations against him concerned the charge that he was supposed to have told us not to obey our parents, to inform on them if they did or said anything against the Third Reich or the Führer, and urge us not to attend church. In reply, I told the three judges that this was sheer nonsense, that he was an educator who loved children (he and his wife had fifteen children of their own), and only wanted what was best for them. As a fact, he insisted that we obey our parents and drilled into us the family value and, if they wanted us in Church, that’s where we must go! Our youth meetings occurred on Sunday at 10:00 AM, but church services were held from 6:00 AM with a total of four or five services – so we could easily attend both without conflict.
As it turned out (for, later on, Mr. Well let me read excerpts from the court transcript), I must have convinced the authorities that Mr. Well was simply a good teacher and never thought to influence us what was either moral or ethical. The eventual findings of the court placed Mr. Well in the category of Mitläufer (follower), whereas on October 2, 1946, the result of my questionnaire categorized me as “Nichtbetroffen” (not associated with any guilt) – probably due to my young age.
The whole de-Nazification process, I’ve heard in these postwar years, was a farce. The Allies began by declaring all Germans guilty, then turned around and cleared nearly everyone . The de-Nazification courts were never really recognized as being”legal”, but this was considered a part of life that a defeated nation must put up with . Naturally, there was a great number of “angels” when the war was over -people who claimed to have opposed Hitler and all that he stood for. All of a sudden, there were no “Nazis” to be found, but, then again, who was a Nazi? Was it one who committed a crime against humanity, or was it an active party member, or just anyone who shouted, “Sieg Heil!” or Heil Hitler!”.
In my hometown, everyone knew everyone else and didn’t really care whether they belonged to the Party or not. They only cared if an ex-Party member happened to be a villainous person as well and then he would have been disliked regardless of his former affiliations. As it so happened, everyone in Altomünster helped each other clear his or her name. After all, they were neighbors before Hitler came along and they were still neighbors now that he was gone. It’s not that they really lied about the past for there was practically nothing to lie about. They were still the same people as before: simple, honest, and patriotic. If they had supported the Third Reich it was because they trusted their Führer and believed that what he told them was the truth. After over a decade of believing the truth to be one thing and then be told a completely different version, it is not surprising that many of us were highly cautious of the Allies’ stories of German aggression and guilt. We knew that our newspapers and radio broadcasts were censored by the American Military Government so why should we be expected to accept their version as the “real” truth? It wasn’t that long ago that the “infamous” Third Reich put Germany on the Map. Everyone was employed, the nation was prospering, and even the common laborer could expect to own his own home, automobile, and go vacationing each year under the Kraft Durch Freude (Strength-Through-Joy) program . Given these circumstances, it is not at all surprising that the process of re-educating Germany was difficult.
Today, whenever anyone asks me why we did not oppose Hitler, my answer must be, “We just didn’t know what was going on.” In the late 1940s and early1950s, people would simply stare at me and ask how that was possible. Not all Germans agreed with everything Hitler did, but we were not informed about the atrocities perpetrated by the few, or the reasons behind one nation declaring war against another -at least the true reasons. The English and French newscasts were considered unreliable because, naturally, they could not be expected to be concerned with Germany’s best interests.
Thinking back, what most Germans objected to was not the trials at Nürnberg, but the fact that the Russians were sitting there as prosecutors. We all knew that Russia was equally as guilty as Germany for didn’t the Russians invade Finland, the Baltic States, and Poland, and didn’t they massacre the Polish Officer Corps in the forest of Katyn . Why, then, should they be allowed to sit in judgment of us when they also should be judged? Meanwhile, they took what they wanted – the three Baltic States, parts of Finland, and parts of Romania, Czechoslovakia, and about half of Poland.
As a returning veteran, I was treated well by my countrymen but it was a more or less low-keyed, somber affair. No one seemed to talk about the war in those days, just as in the prison camp, we were content to be at peace and not in the hands of the Russians or the French. While the “non-fraternization law” was in effect, the members of the Allied Forces were forbidden to associate with any German and, with a few exceptions, the only vehicles you would see on the road were those of the military occupation force. While on the trek from Bad Aibling to Altomünster, I never encountered any hostile feelings from the farmers we begged food from or people we met along the way. Our usual conversations dealt with what unit we belonged to, whether we knew so-and-so, or if we happened to meet a missing son, brother, or father along the way. It seemed that nearly everyone was desperate for any news about an absent relative who had served in the war.
There were never any recriminations leveled against me but as I entered my hometown, I somehow hoped that no one would recognize me. I was deeply tanned from those three weeks in Austria and I wore a pair of sunglasses to further my disguise. Nevertheless, as I approached the Market Square, a few girls from my neighborhood spotted me and rushed over to give me some flowers. I was afraid that this might cause trouble, for the occupational forces had declared a law against giving flowers, welcoming committees, or ceremonies of any kind to returning German soldiers. I was frantic and pleading with the girls to desist when, from about a hundred feet behind me, a voice with an American accent called out, “Soldat!” I turned around and there, behind the window of the brewery office, stood an American major. I was greatly surprised when he asked, not ordered, me to approach him. He looked me over and said, “I am not quite certain, but is your uniform Panzer or S.S.?” I was certainly relieved that this was his only concern and told him, “This is a Panzer uniform, sir, the S.S. have their unit symbol on the right lapel, whereas the Panzer uniform displays a skull and crossbones on both right and left lapels.” “Oh, yes,” he said, “I apologize. Do you have your discharge papers?” After glancing over them (they were written in both German and English), he stated, “Oh, you were discharged at Bad Aibling and born in America! We have to talk about that sometime.” He told me that I could keep the flowers and from that point, we hit it off pretty well. I was to see him later under other, more social, circumstances and, as a matter of fact since he was the Military Governor of our town, my neighbors considered me their unofficial liaison with the Major. Once again, after three and one-half years, I was just “Rudi” – annex-soldier who had done his best but now was a civilian.
CHAPTER VII – “Due for a Change”
When I finally arrived in the United States on April 29, 1948, there was very little I could do. Although I studied English for five years in high school, it was written rather than the spoken language and that was nearly seven years before. A German friend of my family secured employment for me in the General Hospital in Philadelphia (Byberry), Pennsylvania, but that was not my idea of a lifelong career. Instead, I wanted to begin a challenging profession and see the world. As a graduate of a German academic high school, I had the equivalent of a degree in junior college, but my inadequate knowledge of the English language was going to hold me back.
After discussing the situation with my friend, I decided to join the U.S. Armed Forces. He pointed out to me that I might most likely be drafted since I was an American citizen and since at that time the draft law was in effect. Here would be an ideal opportunity for me to fulfill my obligations as an American citizen and learn the language and customs as well. Upon arriving at the recruiting office in downtown Philadelphia, I elected to try the Naval office first. I thought I had had enough of the Army and tanks, so I felt that I was due for a change. You can just imagine the look on the Navy recruiter’s face when I began speaking to him in my heavily accented(German/Oxford-English) attempt at English! “Are you an American citizen?”, he asked. “Yes, sir,” I responded. “By what rights?”, he inquired. “Well,” said I, “I was born across the river in Camden, New Jersey, raised in Germany, and just returned as a repatriated U.S. citizen a few weeks ago. I would like to join the Navy.” He decided that my English wasn’t good enough to pass the entrance examination so I asked him what he would recommend. He suggested that I go next door to the Army, for their examinations “are much easier than ours!” I took his advice(after all, it didn’t really matter – Navy or Army), explained my story to the Army recruiter, took their examination, and was sworn immediately. I didn’t realize, because of the language barrier, that I was accepted until I saw everyone raise his hand to take the oath. I was given a few days of leave-in-advance to straighten out my affairs and was told to report to Fort Dix, New Jersey. All in all, I felt I had made the right decision. Aside from learning the language, I would be afforded the opportunity of proving myself as a citizen of the United States and not just an ex-Nazi-German soldier.
I have never regretted having joined the U.S. Army and, with very few exceptions, everyone treated me quite well. On only two occasions did I suffer any animosity for my past. The first incident involved a soldier who resented sleeping in the same squad room with an ex-“Nazi soldier”. The second, while drunk, refused to sit next to me. These were only minor incidents and easily overlooked.
While at Fort Dix, I passed the A.G.T. (Army General Test) and the Officer’s Candidate School examinations with flying colors. Soon afterward, my company commander called me into his office and told me that I am qualified he would recommend it to attend Officer’s Candidate School. I hesitated to commit myself because of the obvious drawbacks: my accent and my past. When I revealed my concern to him, he said, “Salvermoser, we Americans forgive and forget. You were a German and you served well in the German Army. Don’t think so negatively; you are now an American and you shall be treated as one!” That made me feel good, for until then, I really didn’t understand the American way of life. Nevertheless, I chose not to attend O.C.S. until my command of English had improved. The Captain appointed me assistant squad leader despite my remonstration regarding that position as well. Furthermore, when I reiterated that my English was not up to the task, he replied, “I have taken care of that; opposite your squad is an assistant squad leader who is Pennsylvania Dutch. He is an ex-Navy guy and he’ll teach you the proper ‘American’ language and the ‘G.I. slang’ as well”.
My biggest surprise came when, just before basic training was over, we were consulted regarding the selection of occupation in the Army. Unlike the German Army, we could choose the type of job we wanted. I originally signed up for mechanized cavalry, expecting that my experience in tanks could be put to good use. Instead, however, I was interviewed by a sergeant who, in turn, transferred me to another sergeant who spoke beautiful German. After inquiring where he learned to speak German that well, he told me that his father, who was a member of the American occupation forces in the Rhineland after World War I, met and married a German “Fräulein”. According to the sergeant, my tests revealed that I had an aptitude for mathematics and logic; therefore, I should consider becoming a surveyor, or better yet, a Survey Computation Specialist. I readily agreed with his suggestion.
Following my graduation from basic training, I transferred to the U.S.Army Topographic School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Apparently, because I did well in my courses I was assigned to remain at the school as an instructor in topographic computing. Upon hearing of my assignment, I sought out the captain in charge of the Computing School and inquired if my orders could be changed. I really wanted an overseas assignment (Join the Army and see the world was my saying). Furthermore, despite my abilities in the classroom, I attempted to explain to him, my English was barely comprehensible and I could not understand how I would be able to teach if I could not communicate well. He convinced me that, since the orders were published they could not be changed; however, he approved my request to attend the Surveying School for further training. While going to the Surveying School, I familiarized myself with the master lesson plans of the Computing School to improve my knowledge of the subjects as well as of the surveying terms. I, of course, complied with my orders and was teaching at Fort Belvoir when the United States became embroiled in the war in Korea. I felt that I could do more for my country if I were doing what I knew best – tank warfare. There existed a regulation in the Army that if a soldier was better qualified in an M.O.S. (military occupation specialty), than that to which he was presently assigned, he could request a change in his M.O.S. and, if the circumstances were true, he would be reassigned. I filled out the required form, listed all my training and experience as a tank crewman versus that of a Topographic Survey Computer instructor, and waited. It was not until weeks later that I finally asked my company commander if he had received any news regarding my request for a change in my M.O.S. “Oh, yes,” he said, “that one. Well, I tore it up. I thought you were much more important here than in Mechanized Cavalry.” It made me angry that he had done this, but I calmly replied, “Sir, I really want to volunteer for Korea!” “You are doing a fine job here,” he said, “we’ll talk about this later”. In the meantime, a high-priority levy came out looking for qualified surveyors and computers to serve in the 29th Topographic Survey Battalion in the Philippines. If I couldn’t serve my country in combat, then I could at least serve it where I was needed. I signed up without delay and in July 1951 I was transferred to Cavite in the Philippines and assigned as the battalion’s chief computer. A few months later, I was promoted to Operations Sergeant and Chief Surveyor of the 29th Engineer (Topographic)Battalion. I remained there until April 1952 when, after having served ten additional months in my enlistment (the “Truman year” ), I was discharged from the Armed Forces in Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.
While in the U.S. Army, I observed that one could easily get ahead if one just worked hard and demonstrated that he was a good and dependable soldier. In my case, here I was, an ex-enemy soldier and, in six years after the war has ended, I was a Sergeant First Class in the American Army. During the fourth year of my enlistment, I was offered a promotion to Warrant Officer but I turned this down in lieu of pursuing a civilian career.
Upon shedding my uniform for the last time, I looked up my former commanding officer of the Topographic School to find out what he would recommend as a future civilian career. He secured for me the position of a cartographic aid in the Pacific Section of the Foreign Control Branch of the Geodetic Division of the Army Map Service (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).
During 1952-1953, I attended night classes at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. In August 1954, I took a leave of absence so that I could attend the Technische Hochschule in Munich, Germany (under the G.I. Bill). By the way, I was the first “US American” student enrolled at this University. I returned in 1956 to the Army Map Service and was assigned as a Geodesist in the Americas Division of the Geodesy Department. In 1957, the Chief of the Surveys Division asked me if I would be interested in going overseas to assist the Project Engineer of the Geodetic Survey of Iran and, at the same time, train as his understudy for the purpose of eventually heading this and a similar project later on. I accepted and, after serving in Iran from early 1957 to the end of 1958, I returned to Washington, D.C. From there, I worked in the Marshall Islands from January to May 1959 and, once again, returned to Washington – this time for the purpose of marriage. Between 1959 and 1964, I served on various assignments in astronomic and geodetic surveys in such places as Greenland, Italy, and Libya. In 1964, I became the project engineer of the BC-4 Satellite Tracking Project, a post that took me on inspection tours (and to provide on-the-job training) throughout the United States and the Middle East.
Naturally, since I held various positions that were considered sensitive to security, I was investigated by the government prior to receiving my secret, top-secret, and even higher security clearances. Upon my application for regaining my American citizenship at the end of the war, I underwent an intensive investigation by the CIC(Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps). I learned of the extent of the later investigations for my various clearances only when I returned on short visits to Germany and my family and friends happened to mention that certain individuals had, on occasion, sought them out to inquire about my past.
It came quite as a shock to me when, in 1957, I was notified by confidential mail from the U.S. Government Loyalty Board  that I should explain why I never mentioned on any questionnaire that I was once a member of the Nazi Party. The letter listed my Party membership number somewhere above nine million and, if I so desired, I could appear before the Board in person to explain my story. This news (about my Party membership) surprised me but, upon reflection, I assumed that the former Mayor of Altomünster must have registered me as a Party member upon reaching the age of eighteen. He probably thought that he was doing me a favor at the time and, of course, it would have been in his own interest also. An additional party member from his town could only advance his esteem in the eyes of his party bosses and the Reich.
I promptly replied to the Loyalty’s Board inquiry and requested that I be permitted to speak in person on my behalf. A few months later, however, I was declared “loyal to the United States”, and notified that a personal appearance would not be necessary.
I became Chief of the Geodetic Survey Branch in 1966 and, in 1967, I was appointed Assistant Chief of the Field Surveys Division – Department of Geodesy. In 1969, I applied for and was accepted as Chief of the White Sands Missile Range Geodetic Support Activity at White Sands, New Mexico. In 1976, I returned to Washington, D.C., and served as a Physical Scientist in the Geoscience Division (later known as the Techniques Office of the Department of Geodesy) until my retirement on July 4, 1980.
Since 1980 I have worked intermittently for the Defense Mapping Agency, Department of Geodesy, and the Geodetic Survey Squadron in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
In July of 1999, Rudi celebrated his 75th birthday and is currently living a happy and healthy retirement.
 UFA (Universum Film, A. G.). The merger of German Film Companies into one cohesive, manageable industry. The above reference might be compared to a Nationalist Socialist version of the American Movietone News.
 Jungvolk (Young People). A pre-Hitler Youth organization for boys.
 Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth). A National Socialist organization for boys. For a detailed account, see H. W. Koch’s The Hitler Youth; Origins and Development 1922-45.
 Stahlhelm (Steel Helmet). Nationalist veterans organization.
 Scharnhorst (also known as Scharnhorstjugend) was not a Socialist group but rather the youth branch of the right-wing veteran’s organization, the Stahlhelm.
 Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei – Secret State Police).
 Waffen SS (Armed SS), the military arm of the SS (Schutzstaffel – Protection Echelon); for further information read Heinz Hohne’s The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. The author must have been at least 16 years old because the Waffen SS was not organized until 1940.
 NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei – National Socialist German Workers’ Party); Political party of the Third Reich
 Not Abitur (literally: emergency high school diploma), an emergency release of students to replenish the depleted ranks of the Armed Forces.
 Ironically, December 10, 1941 – in Germany – was the day that Germany declared war on the United States
 Reichsarbeitsdienst was a compulsory period of labor service to the Reich for both males and females, usually commencing on or about their 18th birthday
 Although the duration of training varied for most services, “armored personnel received twenty-one weeks basic training throughout the war”. Martin van Creveld, Fighting Power; German and U. S.Army Performance, p. 73.
 “As an elite unit, with the honor of providing the guard for Hitler’s Headquarters among its other duties, the ‘Grossdeutschland’ received priority in the allocation of new vehicles, equipment, and clothing, while as a large volunteer force, its officers and men developed a strong pride and esprit de corps which served them well on the offensive and helped preserve discipline in the last desperate days of the war when other units around them were cracking under the immense strain of the massive Soviet onslaught. Fully motorized, with a compliment of tanks and other armored fighting vehicles equivalent to that of a full-fledged Panzer Division, the “Grossdeutschland” was a highly mobile formation ideally suited to the very fast-moving and fluid warfare in Russia.,” page 3, Bruce Quarrie, Panzer-Grenadier Division “Grossdeutschland”, Squadron/Signal Publications, London, 1977.
 “With the exception of a couple of small detached units which fought in the West after D-Day, the Grossdeutschland Division was occupied throughout the war on the Russian Front, where it was employed chiefly as a motorized “fire brigade” wherever the fighting was hottest and most desperate.”, Bruce Quarrie, Panzer-Grenadier Division “Grossdeutschland”, Squadron/Signal Publications, London,1977.
 Due to the fact that losses on the Eastern Front can only be approximated, it is difficult to accurately assess the martial expertise of the Soviet Army, for the bulk of available records only state that the Russians suffered far more casualties than the Germans. Colonel (Ret.) Trevor N. Dupuy conducted a comprehensive statistical study of randomly selected battles on the Western Front and came to the conclusion that the “record shows that the Germans consistently outfought the far numerous Allied Armies that eventually defeated them… On a man-to-man basis, the German ground soldiers consistently inflicted casualties at about 50 percent higher rate than they incurred from the opposing British and American troops under all circumstances. This was true when they were attacking and when they were defending, when they had a local numerical superiority, and when, as was usually the case, they were outnumbered, when they had air-superiority and when they did not when they won and when they lost. “Martin van Crevald, Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance,1939-1945. (Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1982, p.6).
 The V-1 was a “major German rocket weapon…The Luftwaffe’s flying bomb. Launched by catapult, the V-1 was powered by a petrol-fuel pulse-jet motor which was extremely simple in design and manufacture. The V-1 was, in essence, a small pilotless aircraft 27 feet long, weighing two tons, and carrying 1870 pounds of high-explosive in its nose. After launch, it reached a height of between 1000 and 7000 feet and proceeded at a cruising speed mph over a maximum range of 180 miles (later extended to 250 miles). Distance and directions were predetermined by means of a propeller mechanism which, once it had completed a specific number of revolutions, would cut the engine, thus causing the V-1 to dive steeply toward its target.”, p.207, Robert Cecil, Hitler’s War Machine, Chartwell Books, Inc., New York, 1975.
 Colonel Claus Graf von Stauffenberg, the man who personally placed the bomb beneath Hitler’s conference table, was Chief of Staff of the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Army (Colonel-General Fromm).
 According to Hitler’s Personal Security by Peter Hoffman (MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1979), p. 249, “His ‘disguise’ helped Stauffenberg to get through the two checkpoints. At the Sperrkreis I checkpoint, he bluffed his way through, saying something about ‘Führer’s orders’ and highest urgency; the guards (Führer Begleitbataillon and Reichs Sicherheitsdienst – Reich Security Service) should not have allowed him through, having heard the explosion, but they did. At Wache Süd (southern guardhouse), at the other gate, the difficulties were considerable. The gate was closed, obstacles had been placed in the roadway, and the military guard refused to let anyone through. Stauffenberg went into the guardhouse and telephoned to one of the HQ Commandant’s officers (Möllendorf)whom he knew and whom he had seen at breakfast in the morning; Möllendorf ordered the guard to let Stauffenberg pass.”
 Stauffenberg had naturally been missed after the explosion but at first, the confusion was too great for anyone to draw any conclusions. Sometime before 2:00 PM, Sander (Colonel, Senior Signals Officer at the Headquarters) went back to the briefing hut to get an idea of the repair problem on the signals installations there. He found that Sergeant-Major Adam was still there, although he had really nothing to do. This Sander pointed asperity but Adam had something to report. He was one of those men who observe everything whether it is their business or not and are determined to put their discoveries to good use. He now told Sander that Stauffenberg must be the assassin since he left in a hurry without his briefcase, cap, or belt. Adam…went to Martin Bormann with his tale and Bormann took him to Hitler. Adam’s information soon proved to be accurate. The zealous soldier was promoted, granted a reward of 20,000 Marks, and given a house in Berlin. Steps to apprehend Stauffenberg were therefore set in the train between 2:00 and 3:00 PM.”, pp. 409-410, Peter Hoffmann, The History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945 (The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1977).
 Remer was not the only one who kept his cool head, but he was in a key position to avert a crisis and, once he learned that the Führer had survived the plot, he acted with resolve. Initially, he was ordered by his commander – General von Hase, Commandant of the Berlin Garrison (a conspirator) to cordon off the government quarter of Berlin because Hitler had been murdered by the ss. Later, however, from a phone call in Propaganda Minister Göbbels’ office, Hitler gave Remer “complete authorization to ensure the security of the government”. John Toland, Adolf Hitler, p. 806.
 Commander-in-Chief of the entire SS.
 As part of the German Ninth Army in East Prussia, the main part of Grossdeutschland was surrounded and destroyed by vastly numerically superior Russian forces in the latter part of March 1945. Only a very few were able to effect an escape from the Soviet massacre. For further details, see Jurgen Thornwald’s Defeat in the East, Bantam Books, Inc., New York, 1980.
 Although the Russians advanced as far west as St.Pölten, Austria, it was Patton’s Third Army that entered and occupied Linz. Brigadier Peter Young, Atlas of the Second World War (Paragon Books, New York, 1974), p. 220.
 On May 4, Grand Admiral Dönitz (as Hitler’s successor) finalized the surrender of the German Forces in Holland, Denmark, and North Germany. Salzburg was taken by the U.S. Forces, while other American units were pushing into Czechoslovakia. Soviet forces were met by American and British forces at the river Elbe. There was nowhere left for (what remained of) the German Army to go. Thus, what Mr. Salvermoser thought and said at that time may be considered extreme in understatement.
 “In 1943, there were already Allied speculations about using Hitler’s war machine to help halt a possible Russian advance in Europe, but all evidence indicates that the crucial step from speculation to action was made by Great Britain and not the United States.” Arthur L. Smith, Churchill’s German Army: Wartime Strategy and Cold War Politics, 1943-1947 (Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, CA, 1977), p. 22.
 “Americans, fearful of nonexistent guerrilla ‘werewolves’, ordered extreme curfews as soon as they arrived, allowing Germans as little as one hour daily outside their homes. Germans were not to travel more than a few kilometers, although millions were left far from home by the war..”, p.157, Edward N. Peterson, The American Occupation of Germany; Retreat to Victory, Wayne State University Press, Detroit,1977.
 Operating under the “collective guilt” point of view, the Allies harassed hundreds of thousands of suspected “nazis”. Nevertheless, “when tribunals started in 1947, five-sixths of the prisoners were put in the least serious ‘follower’ category, and one-half would not have been interned at all had there been a hearing before their arrests.”p.147, Edward N. Peterson, The American Occupation of Germany: Retreat to Victory, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1977.
 “German public opinion meanwhile became steadily more critical. Some 57 percent of those polled in 1946 were satisfied with de-Nazification procedures, but only 32 percent in 1948 and 17 percent by 1949. In 1953, only 17 percent thought de-Nazification had generally fulfilled its purposes, 23 percent considered it wrongly executed, and 40 percent thought it harmful.” Edward N. Peterson, ibid, p.153.
 “The Strength-Through-Joy organization, for all the jokes its name invited, was one of the regime’s most popular. It was a branch of the German Labor Front, the official Nazi organization that had to replace the former labor unions outlawed by the Nazis. Strength-Through-Joy offered cheap theater tickets, tried to promote more attractive surroundings in shops and factories, and above all arranged inexpensive vacation trips to places hitherto as inaccessible and exotic to the ordinary German wage earner as the Baltic, the coast of Norway, or the Mediterranean. It ran its own fleet of ships, owned a large resort hotel on the island of Rügen, and provided a week in Norway for $12.50, and two weeks in the Alps for $15.00.” pgs. 176-177, Joachim Remak, The Nazi Years: A Documentary History, Prentice Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1969.
 “The (Germans) saw (the Nuremberg trials) as an act of revenge inflicted by the victors on the vanquished, and whatever signs of impartiality the court displayed were canceled out in the German mind by the fact that Soviet judges were participating along with the British, the Americans, and the French.” H. Stuart Hughes, Contemporary Europe: A History (Prentice Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1981), p. 405.
 Non-fraternization was established on a governmental level at the Quebec Conference of the Allies in 1944. It was “partly an answer to a security question based on the assumption that there would be a long resistance. It was also designed to protect the GIs from German propaganda and to convince the Germans of their defeat.”, p.154, Edward N. Peterson, op., cit.
 The “Truman year” was the addition of twelve months of active duty applied to all American servicemen during the Korean war; that is, twelve months beyond their previous obligation.
 During the “Red Scare”, President Truman (in 1947)” signed an executive order initiating a drastic government loyalty program. It provided for the investigation of every federal employee from atomic scientists engaged in super-secret research to janitors in the least strategic of government agencies. If an investigation turned up ‘reasonable grounds to suspect disloyalty’, the employee was subject to dismissal.”, p. 154, Alonzo L. Hamby, The Imperial Years: The U.S.Since 1934, Weybright and Talley, New York, 1976.
Cecil, Robert. Hitler’s War Machine. New York: Chartwell Books, Inc., 1975
Hamby, Alonzo. The Imperial Years: The U.S. Since1934. New York: Weybright and Tally, 1976.
Hitler’s Personal Security. Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T.Press, 1979.
Höhne, Heinz. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s S.S., New York: Ballentine books, 1969.
Hughes, H. Stuart. Contemporary Europe: A History. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1981.
Koch, H. W. The Hitler Youth; Origins and Development,1922-1945. New York: Stein and Day, 1976.
Peterson, Edward N. The American Occupation of Germany: Retreat to Victory. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977.
Quarrie, Bruce. Panzer-Grenadier Division “Grossdeutschland”. London: Squadron/Signal Publications, 1977.
Remak, Joachim. The Nazi Years: A Documentary History. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.
Smith, Arthur L. Churchill’s German Army: Wartime Strategy and Cold War Politics, 1943-1947. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1977.
Thornwald, Jurgen. Defeat in the East. New York: Bantam Books, 1980.
Toland, John. Adolf Hitler. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1976
van Crevald, Martin. Fighting Power: German and U.S.Army Performance.
von Senger und Etterlin, F.M. German Tanks of World War II: The Complete
Young, Peter. Atlas of the Second World War. New York: Paragon Books, 1974
Some other works by Robert Witter:
Chain Dogs: The German Army Military Police of World War II.
Published by Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Inc., 1994. ISBN 0-929521-86-2 This book is simply the result of personal research into the subject of World War II Feldgendarmerie. I wanted to know everything there was to learn about the German Army Military Police and, with a lot of luck, and the help of a number of really nice people, I compiled everything I knew on the subject into a book form. A short time after the book was out, Podzun-Pallas Verlag purchased the right tore-publish it under the title: Die Deutsche Militaerpolizei im Zweiten Weltkrieg.
Chain Dogs: The German Army Military Police of World War II, Volume II.
Published by Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Inc., 1996.ISBN 1-57510-013-4After a trip to Germany to personally thank some people who had helped so much with the first book, I returned with a great deal of additional information on the Feldgendarmerie. So much so, in fact, that I wrote a second book that picks up where the first left off.
Small Boats and Large Slow Targets: Oral Histories of United States’ Amphibious Forces Personnel in WWII.
Published by Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Inc., 1998.ISBN 1-57510-043-6From the outset, this book was written in an attempt to give “equal time” to the American Navy personnel who brought our soldiers and marines to enemy beaches in World War II. Everyone has heard about the Marines landing on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, and Iwo Jima, and the soldiers hitting the beaches of North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy, but very little attention has been paid to the sailors who got them there. I wanted their stories to be known.
The Mighty Z.
This book, through personal interviews and original documentation, will (hopefully) tell the story of the World War II US Navy Attack Transport U.S.S. Zeilin(APA-3). I have no idea how it will eventually turn out, for I have written the story as a novel; I have included two fictitious characters who board the ship just before the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands. Through meeting various crew members (who, in fact, actually served aboard the Zeilin)who relate their stories of the Mighty Z, and the duties they perform aboard the ship, the reader will learn the history of the ship from the time she was built until she was scrapped in 1948. If it works out the way I have planned, the reader will actually take an exciting walking-tour of a ship that exists only in memory, photographs, and paper.