Interview with Knight's Cross winner Karl-Heinz Boska, SS-Obersturmführer and Adjutant of the 2. SS-Panzer Division 'Das Reich'. Boska was also the winner of the coveted Honor Roll Clasp award. Kiel, Germany, 1990.

It is nice meeting you finally, as discussed, I would like to ask you a few questions regarding your service. My first one is why did you choose the SS as the branch to serve in?

Karl: Jawohl [yes indeed] my American friend, as you request. I started my career in the Hitler Youth, here in Kiel, running all over this city. From an early age we were taught the highest deed a citizen can give is his service to the people. This came in the form of military service, RAD [Reichsarbeitsdienst, or Reich Labor Service] service, or state service. It was drilled into us to give ourselves to Germany and our people. A slogan we use to say is, "You are nothing, but your people are everything." It meant to take away the selfish attitudes and make one appreciate everyone in our nation, regardless of class. The very poor child was just as deserving of a chance as a wealthy one. From the Hitler Youth I was selected to attend the very prestigious NAPOLA [Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten, or National-Political Education-Institutes, known as Napolas for short] School in Plon, these were hard to get into. They prepared one for state service or to achieve leadership positions within the party. You could easily get into the SS with a diploma from one of these schools.

I had seen the SS men marching in parades and doing special guard duty and thought I should be a part of this elite group of men. I had instructors at school that held SS memberships and of course they sang the praises of the SS, making me more interested. I spoke to a recruiter and applied for admission; I was very happy to be selected. After my schooling I was placed into the SS-VT and started training as a soldier in the military arm of the SS. It was the natural path for someone like me; I was a believer in the movement and wanted to be a part of something special. The SS was very hard to get into, only the best in Germany were ever accepted, until the war started.

How did you feel when war was declared?

Karl: Well, we did not declare war, that was the English and French. We launched an attack on Poland to stop the border incursions that they vehemently say never happened. I knew people who were victims of these attacks by criminals, and I know they are not lying. As far as how I felt, I must confess I was a little anxious as many of us felt Germany was treated very unfairly after the first war. We had large chunks of land taken which included a few million Germans. We wanted it back and a chance to regain our status as a European leader. Of course, no one else in Europe wanted this, but it was fair to have an equal footing for all nations not just the winners of the war. Polish arrogance and hatred, which culminated with mistreatment of Germans stuck in Poland, and border attacks. Germany could not stand by and let this happen, no nation would. I would read that Germans who were driving from the Reich into Prussia would sometimes be attacked by bandits and robbed, yet the police would do nothing. They acted as if they deserved it. I remember hearing of a family who was murdered because they tried returning to their seized home to collect some heirlooms. You could say many Germans of my time did not care to have a war with England, but for Poland and France there was anger that only war could solve. Many were glad we were going after Poland; it was an act of revenge for the 20 years of Polish attacks on German territory, citizens, and culture.

I understand you served in the SS-VT during the French campaign, how did you come to be a Panzer soldier?

Karl: Yes, I was first in the motorcycle reconnaissance for the French battles. We scouted out the roads and terrain ahead of our unit so they could advance. We were often the first ones to see, and be seen by, the enemy and we had high loss rates in the beginning. Once, with my comrades, we rounded a tight bend and went smack into a French anti-tank trap. They opened up on us with all barrels. We had to use the Luftwaffe to silence the defenders, but I was lucky to have escaped that one. I should have stopped when I saw a blue-coated soldier running in the woods, but I was very inexperienced then. Another time we came into a town with white flags everywhere and the French opened fire on us; these were Negro troops, who had no discipline. In spite of this branch being very dangerous, it had a special spirit, we felt free while riding. We worked at our own pace and could go very slow or very fast. We were the first to make contact with civilians who would give us odd looks but were mostly friendly.

We were a group of men who feared nothing, and liked excitement at a high level. This is why when the 'Reich' Division was formed they plucked many of us to go to Panzer school. I was eager to go as I had marveled at the Panzers dashing through Poland and in France. We were able to exchange our field grey uniforms for black, we looked magnificent. The girls certainly gave us double looks as well, the black stood out as elite, bold, daring, and dashing. You add on the Sigrunen and Totenkopf and it was the best uniform of the whole war. I remember sitting in my first Panzer, it was a Panzer II and very cramped. By 1941 we had the Panzer III and the IV, which was better at defeating enemy tanks which were much better than our early Panzers.

[Above: Karl-Heinz Boska.]

You won the Knight's Cross for service on the Russian Front, can I ask under what circumstances you were awarded this high award?

Karl: Jawohl, I was with the 6th Company of SS Panzer Regiment two at this time. We were guarding the flanks of Wehrmacht units and I wanted to take a few Panzers out to train and also look around. At this time, I saw through my glasses many Ivans moving into attack positions directly facing our HQ, which no one seemed to notice. I knew we had to do something, even without our infantry, so I ordered a forward march and we charged into the mass of attackers like knights of old. All barrels fired and became red hot, this alerted our comrades who came to life. We faced Pak [anti-tank] guns and artillery, which were promptly knocked out, causing Ivan heavy losses. We kept up this attack until they were beaten back, then I ordered us to move into their front, where we destroyed more Pak fronts. The losses were very heavy; I saw dead everywhere and smoke from set-off shells.

If I remember there were over 300 dead that we counted, and many knocked out or captured guns. I remember seeing many prisoners too, who helped us plan a counter-attack in a critical area later. I must tell you also our medics, who were SS men, treated all the wounded without care of uniform. I saw one of my men give a blood transfusion to a badly wounded Russian, who would have died otherwise. We are not the bad guys the press says that we are. What might surprise you also is that we did all this in the Panzer IV which was not that heavily armed compared to the Panther and Tiger who could withstand most hits. Lucky for us Ivan could not aim well. After this action, [Walter] Krüger demanded I be put up for the award and it came as a surprise to me as I was only doing what a soldier does, looking for a chance to beat his enemy.

Can I ask your opinion on the accusations regarding war crimes committed by the SS?

Karl: I do not put much belief in the many stories that the winners tell. They have had many years, and many liars to work out their version of events. If, and I stress if, the SS did the terrible things that the enemy claims I would be ashamed. I am a soldier, not a murderer, and would never stand for my men behaving that way. The Russians make very wild claims to the point of absurdity, yet German historians eat the stories up. The western allies are slightly more reserved, but still tell stories of us killing civilians and babies. I certainly never saw this and would have protested with the pistol. The worst thing I saw our forces do was execute bandits who were caught after ambushing an Wehrmacht patrol and killing them all in a bestial way. This band included a woman, who was caught with the soldiers' rings and wallets. They were all pronounced bandits, and promptly shot for the illegal murder of the soldiers.

No one in their right mind would think of these despicable people as victims and heroes, yet we are forced to praise them. The poor boys they killed in cold blood get nothing but a letter home saying their grave is no longer known. The Soviets destroyed every German cemetery they could find. We did not do that to theirs, we took every practical action to show respect and to later make it easy for their dead to be identified. We did not make them lavish cemeteries like we did for our men, but we did show them respect. With the fall of the Soviets, we will be able to find these old locations and hopefully someday they may be restored to honor the countless soldiers who still lie in foreign soil. I am warmed to know that there are people who go looking for our missing, and every so often they find them. A few years ago Michael Wittmann was found with his crew in Normandy. A Jabo [American fighter plane] got him in the end; he was a great Panzer ace who was an example to all of us. He was in a Tiger and achieved a great score, even against the western allies. So be very careful about the war crime stories you hear about us, many are just not true, and some are creations of very sick minds.

How did the war end for you?

Karl: I was made a prisoner by the British, and I must say I was treated fairly. At war's end many were ashamed at what they turned Germany into. I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of many of these types, one even shared with me in private he was with [Oswald] Mosley before the war. The SS was an enigma to our foes and some really took an interest in learning the truth from us. Some did not care, and of course wartime propaganda ate them up, these types would abuse us, spit on us, and attack us. As you know, many Germans died after the war due to mistreatment and expulsions, so many did not have it good like me. I must admit I was punched a couple times, but they were reprimanded. I found the British to be more our brothers than enemies, Himmler believed so as well. There were even some Brits who served in the SS, but that is kept quiet. I was angry that I was kept for a few years after the war, which was against the conventions. I was in the end just happy to survive, when so many did not. I am grateful the British did not abuse us and actually were very gentlemanly when asking questions or seeking information. It is hard to look upon them as enemies and it is sad that we had to fight fellow Europeans as upright as the British. They had a warmonger for a leader who destroyed their empire; Britain is a shell of its former self, just as the Führer said would happen.

[Above: Karl-Heinz Boska.]

Boska's Knight's Cross recommendation:

'SS-Obersturmführer Boska is an outstanding leader who has mastered several difficult situations while always leading his subordinated Panzers with great prudence.

On the 09.11.1943 he and his Zug received the mission of standing by in the Schewtschenkiwka area in order to defend against enemy armored attacks in the sector of the Grenadier-Regiment 344.

At 05:00 on the 10.11.1943 Boska drove up to and beyond the frontline near Schewtschenkiwka his 5 operational Panzer IVs. He wished to orient his commanders as to the terrain and simultaneously reconnoiter opposite Bolschaja Grab.

After Boska had driven a few hundred metres beyond the frontline he spotted an enemy infantry attack being launched from Bolschaja Grab in the direction of the eastern part of Stepanowka. Although the Russian attacking spearheads were already 200 metres before friendly lines there was no indication that the friendly infantry had spotted the enemy.

Recognizing the danger, Boska made the independent decision to attack from the march into the enemy's right flank and thereby unhinge the totally surprised enemy. Boska's Zug went on to almost totally destroy the enemy force located on flat fields during the course of a battle that lasted over 2 hours. The enemy left behind 380 dead and numerous heavy weapons on the battlefield (see list). The prisoners captured here provided valuable statements for the leadership.

Utilizing this success, Boska then pursued the last fleeing hostile elements back to the edge of Bolschaja Grab. Here he entered into a major firefight with 7 enemy anti-tank guns that had been brought into position in the meantime. These were also destroyed with coordinated fire, and he then engaged the newly appearing infantry. 2 of the deployed anti-tank guns were captured and brought back. Boska then pulled back from the enemy, having lost none of his own Panzers.

During the night of the 09./10.11.1943 the Russians broke through the right wing of the 75. Infanterie-Division with a tank brigade, and by the morning of the next day they stood in Ssolimonki with 16 tanks and 2 infantry companies. This attack, in conjunction with the enemy regimental-sized attack that had been beaten back by Boska, was intended to lead to the encirclement of the 75. Infanterie-Division and create the necessary conditions for an advance against Bjela Zerkoff. But the situation was instead ultimately resolved in our favor thanks to the clear, swift and independent action by Boska, who also showed outstanding bravery during his attack. His intervention prevented a consequently unavoidable enemy thrust against Bjela Zerkoff. The broken-in enemy tanks and infantry were eventually destroyed by the handful of available reserves who were now free to act in this way thanks to Boska's successful riposte.

Successes of Boska's operation:

63 prisoners,
380 dead,
5 anti-tank guns (7.62 cm) destroyed,
2 anti-tank guns (7.62 cm) captured,
3 anti-tank rifles destroyed,
100 rifles destroyed.

Submitted on December 4th 1943.
Preliminary document and decoration on December 24th 1943 to Panzer AOK 4.'

[Above: Dashing and daring Karl-Heinz Boska. In the National Socialists we find the rare alchemy of physical beauty, high intelligence and creativity, willingness to self-sacrifice and remarkable daring.]

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