[Above: Police sports shirt eagle. Click to enlarge.]

      Interview with German Cross in Gold winner Hauptmann Hellmuth Vogel, Battalion Commander of 4. SS-Polizei Division, Heidelberg, 1988.

Thanks for agreeing to talk to me. I would like to first ask what your reasoning for joining the Waffen-SS was?

Hellmuth: Quite technically I was not a member of the Waffen-SS at first, I was a police officer and before that, a soldier in the army. So, you understand I went into the army in 1934, April to be precise. With the election of Hitler, the armed forces were going through a rebirth. Versailles limited what weapons Germany could possess and how many men could serve. I served my time in the artillery, and once my fulfilment was up, I decided to join the police. I was assigned to Leipzig in various roles and taught for the army on and off as well. I liked being active and taught sports for a while to make sure our men were kept in the best shape. It was not until the war was underway that I was called to volunteer for a police regiment that Himmler had ordered. It was to be a frontline combat unit, used to not only fight, but to establish order. We were not the SS then, we wore our police insignia and used police ranks.

It is true the police were part of the SS as a whole, but the SS was political and the police were part of the state. However, there were many policemen who also held SS membership, they wore runes on their tunic pocket [note picture above, the police officer on the far left has the runes]. You could be both in the SS and hold another job. Therefore in 1940, I was sent to the newly formed police regiment, and prepared for the war. I also was to become an SS man with number 405 837, I was not one of the early members.

[Above: SS runes to be placed under the pocket, as discussed above.]

Can I ask why you think Germany went to war?

Hellmuth: Yes, it all goes back to before the first war and Versailles. After the Armistice, the treaty forced Germany to be the aggressor and to accept all blame for the war. It made Germany a lesser power in Europe, and the Entente [WWI term for the Allies] the winners. They dictated how Germany traded and how we could react to threats. It made Germany a second-rate nation in a group we once had a great voice in. This is why so many hated the treaty, and the Führer made the promise he would get us out of it. In this, he kept his word, even though it literally ended up putting us right back into the same war, only continued in 1939. Poland had no respect for Germany, they did not want to acknowledge our borders, and in fact they attacked parts of our land right after the treaty was signed. Go back to the Kaiser period, because in his memoirs [originally released in 1922], he states he was in the same situation as the Führer. The Entente wanted full power in Europe and did not want a strong Germany.

In 1939 they used Poland as an excuse to start the war again, as Germany was starting to get very strong and influential. In spite of all the Führer's requests to disarm and reduce weapons, the Allies refused. They wanted to be the head, keep their colonies, and control trade and finance in Europe. They goaded Poland to not negotiate, even when our people were being abused and attacked, much like in 1914; they encouraged the Tsar [Nikolai II Romanov] and Serbia to take a hostile attitude to the Kaiser. Germany was literally fighting for our right to exist in Europe and to have a voice in our destiny. This was the real reason for war; it had nothing to do with, "looking east", or lebensraum. The fake stories of Gleiwitz [the Gleiwitz Incident, as it is known, was an attack on a radio station in Germany near the Polish/German border on the night of August 31, 1939-Ed.] were put in place by the Allies, using terrified prisoners like [Alfred Helmut] Naujoks to again make it seem like Germany was an out-of-control aggressor who had to be stopped by the civilized world. [For clarification, the Allies circulated stories that Germany committed a 'false flag' for justification to attack Poland. Author and researcher Jak Mallmann-Showell's investigation however found that 'Naujocks's claims as to his actions at the Gleiwitz radio station may have been a fabrication to curry special handling by the Allies after the war'.-Ed.]

Nothing is further from the truth; I personally spoke with refugees that testified about the conditions former German citizens faced in Poland. Land seizures, attacks, and threats were ignored by the state. We even had isolated attacks on border areas by rogue Polish soldiers and militias, which are forgotten today. Much like the Sudetenland issues, the Führer had no choice but to respond in kind and end the threats and attacks. I will tell you also from speaking with the men who were there, Poland was no pushover. They were prepared for war, and many actually wanted to fight Germany. We were an old enemy to them, and they wanted to settle scores. Today the world speaks of Germany as if we were a superpower geared to take over the world; nothing was further from the truth. We were understrength, underequipped, and unprepared. We won due to sheer will, and we had a better air force, which had training in Spain. We took heavy losses in Poland; I had a friend who died in a Panzer I, he was hit by a superior Polish tank. Poland had better equipment and weapons than we did in some cases, their tanks could easily knock ours out, luckily they were not led well.

[Above: Day of German Police, 1941. 'SS Mann Deine Ehre Heisst Treue!' (SS Man Your Honor Means Loyalty!).]

You fought on the Eastern Front, what was it like for you?

Hellmuth: It was vast, pretty, and very cold. I remember that winter of 1941/1942. We were advancing very good, beating the Bolshevists in every battle. They had so many supply depots, created for their thrust west, that it helped us. You should have seen the vast amounts of food and fuel they stored away. Supply was stretched thin, so this helped greatly. I remember being tired, our animals were too, but we kept going. Our objective was to bypass Leningrad, go past Moscow, and then swing south to seal the city. Winter came early, I remember, and some units did not have all their cold weather gear. It was the fault of the baggage trains and their General Quartermaster, but luckily not many had this problem. I remember the homeland had to send help in the form of clothing and winter items. Not only did we have the weather to deal with, but Stalin sent fresh divisions at us as well. If only we could have bombed the rail bridges far to the east, we could have slowed them. They came at our lines in wave after wave, in some areas they broke the battle line and drove it back many kilometers. I started my time with a nice summer of victory after victory, and ended the year with a nasty surprise. Our lines were finally stabilized by January, but we took heavy losses.

How do you remember the Russian people?

Hellmuth: Oh, they were very gracious and kind. In most all areas they saw us as their liberators. They were happy to be done with Stalin; he was hated by those who stayed back and did not retreat, especially the Ukrainians. I met many families along my path, and they were happy to care for us as we paused. They always offered food, what little they had, but since we usually had a cooking train behind us, we would bring up the cooks, stay the night and feed everyone. For them it was the first time tasting German food. I have photos of many of these stops showing the good attitude of all. I cannot believe the reports of German soldiers abusing these people, there would be no reason. Some were utilized for labor allocation, but it was voluntary, unless an emergency, and they were well paid. Many times, if there was a need for help, the people willingly came to aid us. I remember once a trench needed dug and young boys asked if they could help us, they liked to be thought of as part of the army. We allowed it as there was no harm in it and took up a collection to give them a little something. Today they would be called slave workers. I rarely saw any instances of misconduct with German soldiers. One funny story was a soldier was AWOL and the old family who was keeping him explained they insisted he stay as he was sick, and they wanted to make him better. I also had a soldier who stole a violin from a family, and they reported him for the theft. However, after investigating, he took it to have it repaired as a surprise for the man who once was in a Russian symphony. His tactic may not have been ideal, but it shows that Germans did not treat the civilians as slaves or inferior, these claims are false and enemy propaganda.

You were awarded the German Cross in Gold, can I ask how you earned such a high award?

Hellmuth: Yes, this award is testament to my men also; one man does not deserve the glory when others made it happen. My artillery unit was on the Lake Ilmen [a large lake in northwestern Russia] front in 1942, and we faced heavy enemy attacks. These oftentimes broke through the main battle lines and threatened the rear. Oftentimes the artillery had to be used to great stress to slow these thrusts. On a few occasions I had to take one gun and use it as direct fire on advancing enemy, which broke them. This is while the other guns had to keep up fire on the other attacks. We used fused rounds with shrapnel to inflict the most damage; this was very effective in breaking their attack. There was one time that stands out to me more than any other, it was in late January or early February 1942, and the enemy broke the line. I had to use my men as infantry to hold the line, we were cool as ice. They plastered us with fire, yet we held on and defeated their many attacks.

My men were able to use the guns to really hurt the enemy the whole time we were in action. The only times we couldn't was when we ran out of shells. I believe I was a good officer, and I never asked my men to do something I would not do. That was one trait of the Waffen-SS that was exemplary, there was no class division. What I mean is that an SS officer lived with his men, got to know them, and respected them. The army was not that way; if you were an officer then you lived a better life, separate from your men. In the SS we were all equals, some just had the call to lead. As you say it was a very high award, and I am proud of this achievement, but you must know that during these battles my men won many Iron Crosses. This is testament to their courage and fortitude in battle. They stood together, trusting each other, and caused the enemy severe losses.

[Above: Men of the 4. SS-Polizei Division in sports shirts bearing the green eagle seen above.]

What was it like being a police officer in the Third Reich?

Hellmuth: It was a fulfilling job, if not slightly boring. There was not a lot of crime in Germany. We were used to ensure protection of the people and property. The only people we ever had problems with were the career criminals, who were mainly old communists. Our laws were changed in 1935 where we would end their crime sprees with very long prison sentences. We caught one family, with ties to the [Benjamin "Bugsy"] Siegel crime family in America, with theft and fraud. They would burn down a business they owned for the insurance money, claiming it was an accident. Because they were Jewish, they were sent away to prison, and then moved into the work camps during the war. The reason we had very little crime is because we dealt with criminals quite harshly and sterilized the career ones, so they could not pass on bad genes. This is quite controversial today, but is a basic tenant of Europeans, we have not tolerated crime, and if we ever do, we are finished. Of course, we had to deal with the same petty crimes, like stealing, but the state gave power for many agencies to get involved to understand why someone took something. Was there a need, lack of money, or just for fun? If need and money were the issue then they got the help they needed, and a stern talking to. Stealing from the community you lived in and depended on was a big deal, trust in your people is a must. If someone stole because they enjoyed crime, there was no use for them until they reformed. They were put away and put through trainings to help them understand crime is a sin against the people of whom you are a part of.

Can I ask your thoughts on the partisans and the crimes that the Waffen-SS is said to have committed?

Hellmuth: To call them partisans is wrong, they were criminals who knowingly chose to become terrorists to inflict damage on German forces and property. They killed wounded and rear area personnel, that included women. They were neither patriots nor soldiers; their only moniker was a hatred of National Socialism, Germany, and our allies. They admit this in their letters, and because they willingly broke the laws that forbade their actions, they were treated as common criminals and in some cases hung. If they fell into the hands of local militia working to fight them, they were sometimes shot. I must say that in many of the cases I have seen and studied, Jews made up some of the ranks of the bandits. This was true in Poland, Russia, Greece and Italy. They often times were turned over to local police who shot them, or they went to camps if their crime was not related to sabotage or murder.

If we caught someone who was accused and found guilty of the deliberate murder of German forces, or civilians, we formed firing squads and shot them. There was no tolerance for the evil they committed. Here is an example I remember; a Volks German [Volksdeutsche] who flew the German flag in Russia was killed by a pro-Soviet. The killer was turned in and after being identified by the victim's wife, who swore under oath she witnessed the crime, he was shot. Remember this; many of us cannot openly tell our stories, we must remain silent while the others get to tell theirs. We were sometimes harsh with the bandits, their families, and anyone who aided them. In the type of war we fought, we had to be. I will end this by saying I served alongside very good men, in particular men from Latvia who we fought alongside. We were united as brothers against a common foe that was a threat to us all. We understood if we lost, our enemies would have the world in their hands, and our peoples would suffer. We fought the enemy hard, and sometimes had to be as ruthless as they were.

That does not make us bad men, or criminals, only their words do that. The entire Waffen-SS was labeled as a criminal organization, yet in the truth we were soldiers of honor who showed great mercy and compassion to our enemies. Because we were an elite group loyal to the Führer and Himmler, they make us as the force of evil who served only to kill and persecute.

[Above: The sacred grave of a knight of the SS in the 4. SS-Polizei Division.]

[Above: Young and handsome and with spirit and intellect to match, so many young men gave their lives to stop the madness which engulfs this world today. Here is a young warrior of the 4. SS-Polizei Division. Note the small SS runes under his pocket, signifying his membership in the SS.]

~~ * ~~

'Finally, there was an almost universal disregard on the part of the guerrilla [partisan] forces, particularly the communists, for the accepted customs and usages of war.
Hospitals, ambulance convoys, and hospital trains, lacking any protection but the small arms carried by officers and enlisted orderlies, were easy targets to attack and particularly inviting,
since the guerrillas suffered from a chronic shortage of medical supplies. The sick and wounded would be slain in their beds,
the medical stores looted, and on occasion captured doctors and other medical personnel would be carried along and forced to care for sick and wounded guerrillas.
The shortage of clothing and the necessity of obtaining uniforms for purposes of disguise soon made the stripping of all corpses a common practice,
and extremists among the irregulars would mutilate both living and dead in exacting personal vengeance.
These acts of terrorism incurred savage retaliation by the Germans and their allies, and increased the fury of the struggle.'

-Dept of the Army Pamphlet, No 20-243, 'German Anti-Guerrilla Operations in the Balkans', 1954.

Back to Interviews