This is a 1999 interview (in Munich) with Karl-Heinz Euling, member of Totenkopf and Frundsberg divisions and a winner of the Knight's Cross

Herr Euling, what interested you in joining the Waffen SS, and what was your training like?

Karl: I was ten years old when I started following the political situation in Germany; I could not avoid it as my family always spoke about the direction Germany was taking. The Reds had made a concerted effort to turn Germany into a satellite of Russia, which worried most. It was not hard for me to see who was in the right, and who was in the wrong regarding the political situation. I joined the Hitler Youth and never looked back.

In 1938, I finished all my schooling, joined the NSDAP as a supporter, and wanted to join the SS; it was seen as the most elite formation of the NSDAP. I passed my entrance exams and after a night out with my friends dancing and drinking, I reported for duty. I was assigned to the Totenkopf Standarte Brandenburg. Training started from the moment we entered the barracks. Training in the SS was different from the other services. There was not a lot of yelling and screaming it was more “it’s your duty to perform this drill” rather than screaming “run you pig, run”, our instructors wanted to build and teach instead of tear down.

We had to rise early, go to bed early, eat well, run, march, run some more, march some more, and finally study military law and strategy. Politics were discussed as well as current news, but most focus was military drill and discipline. Later in training, we had weekends free to roam around, and heaven help the man who was late for roll call after an evening out. Our officers treated us as men, and comrades, they regularly ate and visited with us.

I would like to dispel a myth that many historians like to tell. The Waffen SS did not use “live fire exercises” on us as if we were reckless fanatics. I feel some like to portray us as being super human, which we were not, or war lovers, which we were not. The only time real bullets were used was later on for certain types of training, and it was closely watched, you would crawl low on your stomach while an enemy weapon was fired to simulate real combat.

As an American, I have always been taught the deaths head symbol of the SS is testament of the evil intentions that Himmler created the SS for. It looks sinister and satanic, can you explain why this was your symbol?

Karl: (Laughs) that is not surprising as most Americans are ignorant of their European Germanic history. Since early times the death’s head has been used for many things, but I will focus on the military side, as it is more apropos. In the armies of old the death’s head was used to show that men were prepared to fight to the death, guided by the spirts of their fallen comrades. In recent times, the more elite units like Hussars, guards units, and many others adopted this symbol, in most every European army. Prussia used it very often and it became a symbol of esprit de corps, the Kaiser Reich used it, Freikorps units, and this is probably where RFSS Himmler decided to adopt this symbol for what was to be the very elite of the party. There is nothing sinister about it, it is a time-honored tradition for military forces, and even your “Jolly Rogers” use it today on their fighter jets. It has adopted many meanings as of today “Death before dishonor”, “Fight to the end”, “Fear not Death”, and many others. Are all armies satanic who use it? It has nothing to do with evil, only our enemies and the ignorant push that non-sense. To us it meant honoring our ancestors with loyalty until death, which would strike fear in those opposing us.

You were in Poland with Totenkopf, what was it like?

Karl: We knew something was brewing with Poland, German radio told us that ever since the border wars, some Poles had continued to attack Germans on German territory, killing some. This was common knowledge. Issued ammunition, extra rations and moved into staging areas, rumors we would attack Poland were rampart. Our officers met with us and told us plainly we may go to war, and that we must adhere to the rules of war regarding prisoners and civilians. They advised us to be careful at what we shot at, watch for the farmers who would be in their fields, and children playing.

The Polish army had become one of Europe’s largest, ever since they defeated the Reds they were brimming with confidence. We found maps and propaganda pamphlets on prisoners that showed the new Polish border stopped right at Berlin after they beat us. I remember recalling how the western part of Poland was very German-like and tidy, then the farther east we moved it was more desolate. We were disheartened to learn we were being used as a mopping up force instead of front line combat.

The reason was the Blitzkrieg tactics bypassed large numbers of enemy soldiers, so other units had to deal with them. TK came across some treacherous Polish units who were sending men out dressed in civilian clothes to try to get away, problem was they were still armed and engaged in fighting. When we caught these men, they could not be treated as soldiers as they broke rules, and killed our soldiers. This sadly was common in the area TK was in, and gave our detractors reason to accuse us of war crimes.

We dealt with sabotage, soldiers that would hide in a town, fire on us as we passed, and then play civilian when we searched for them. Some in the towns would hide these men, knowing what that meant. I remember a scene in which a Polish mob was ransacking a synagogue and had killed some Jews before we arrived and we prevented any further killings. Yes, a deaths head unit saved Jews from being beaten by an anti-Jewish mob.

Our life in Poland was not all bad, many of the people came out to either welcome us or at least see what we were like. We had good relations with the civilians, we traded food and cigarettes, many older ones remembered the soldiers from the first war with fond memories. One man was boastful in telling us his granddaughter was from a German soldier. We still hated being used as we were, collecting stragglers and fighting small bands who were trying to keep the war going. Lucky for us it was over quick.

You also took part in the war against France and the Low Countries?

Karl: No, I was selected to attend officers training in early 1940 and it went into the start of the western campaign, my unit fought but I did not. I was given leave after training, so it further delayed me from joining my comrades. I did make to the front but by then all was quiet.

What was officer training in the SS like?

Karl: Much like university with a boot camp twist, lots of studying the history of battles, tactics, but the most important was how to be a leader. The training taught us how to deal with battlefield stress, difficult men, insubordination, loss at home, loss of comrades, and to maintain morale without losing discipline. The instructors all had some form of combat experience or relevant leadership experience.

It prepared me for dealing with all the different types of people in the world, during and after the war. I enjoyed this time; I took my studies seriously and enjoyed the talks with the instructor and other candidates. One had to complete all courses and exams with good marks, but to be awarded the sword of the SS was a high honor when done.

You fought on the Russian front, what was it like for you and what do you remember about the invasion?

Karl: I was assigned to a few units right after graduating officer school, I ended up in a motorized infantry unit, which I was not thrilled about, as I wanted a front line combat unit, not mopping up isolated enemy forces. That is exactly what I got stuck doing again. The blitz tactics bypassed large areas of Soviets, and TK and other units had to fight them to get them to surrender.

We started from the south of Poland in July and moved into the south of Ukraine, stuck rounding up stragglers and pockets of resistance. I will comment on one odd encounter with Soviet paratroopers that we encountered. They seemed poorly led but had held out for a month, the officers told interrogators they were preparing for jumps into Poland, but we attacked first. This, along with the vast amount of material of an offensive nature, proved to us Stalin was planning an attack on us, but we struck first.

As we moved further into the Ukraine we saw our first partisans, or I call them criminals, because that is what they chose to do, break the laws of war. An army supply train was hit by a group of 20 if I remember right, they killed the soldiers clearly after they gave up, ransacked them, and a few showed signs of torture. We heard the shots, we were close by, moved toward the area, and immediately took fire, they ran off and we finally trapped them in a village.

They refused calls to surrender, and hid among the villagers, while they fired on us, we did not know this at the time, so we hit the village with mortars and machine gun fire as we saw no villagers we assumed it was abandoned. When the fight was over, we captured seven alive, and were angry that they caused the deaths of many in the village who had nowhere to hide.

We gave them a quick trial, charging them with fighting as criminals, and pronounced a sentence of death. This was hard to do, but the rage at these criminals was great. A survivor from the village said they came around a few times and demanded food, saying they were soldiers who were hiding while attacking our rear. This is the type of warfare we had to deal with, and because many of the ones we captured were fighting as illegal fighters, they were sent to camps most of the time so they could be put to use, or hung/shot if they caused any deaths. This is why so many accused us of crimes; we had to be tough with this type of war.

My unit did very well in combating the enemy behind the main front; we treated the civilians well, often welcomed as liberators. I shared the dwellings of many “enemies” whom we came to respect, and they returned that respect by giving us good meals, and good intelligence about what they heard and saw. Later in the fall, we saw Ukrainian axillaries in action, they moved into Russia with us and they had old scores to settle with their former communist masters.

Any Russian Jew or political leader who fell into their hands was shot on the spot if they proved to be no intelligence value. We were ordered to not interfere with them; we in the SS knew what the Soviet Jews did to these people during the revolution and after, millions were uprooted and killed. This was their time of revenge, we tried to get them to understand you only empower your enemies with harsh reprisals, but they would not listen. We too sought revenge when we caught those who criminally attacked areas behind the front, killing in a cowardly way.

Your unit, and anyone attached to the Totenkopf division, stands accused of committing war crimes on every front you fought on, from Poland, France, and Russia Totenkopf is accused of shooting prisoners, civilians, and killing clergy. Not to mention the Einsatzgruppen and killing of Jews. Can you comment on this?

Karl: I must be careful what I say, you understand, but these accusations come from who? It seems today anyone can make up a story. These accusations come from those who hated us from the very beginning. In regards to the “confessions” some scared or senile soldiers gave, people just do not use their deductive reasoning anymore. There is a fairytale where a person who is sentenced to die keeps telling fantastic stories each day, just to give one more day of life. This was true with many prisoners of the Allies, especially the Russians. Even today, some write memoirs supporting the Allies, but they have to in order to be published, even if it means losing your soul.

Tormented and tortured during our POW time, many would agree to anything just to stop it. I knew SS men who were sentenced to death, told the victors whatever they wanted to hear, no matter how ridiculous the stories are, just to stay alive one more day. These stories sadly made it into court testimony and the history books. It would appear all we did during our quiet time was hunt Jews and play evil games with them while we tried to eradicate them. According to the Russians, we raped everyone, even corpses, we killed babies while laughing, sometimes drunkenly ripping them out of the womb. A story I read recently about a Jewish child in Paris eating an apple while walking with her mother, when a SS man shot the mom just to have the apple and then raped the child. Or how about this, the panzer unit from the LSSAH, took babies from a Belgium orphanage and ran over them to lube the tracks. What non-sense.

I am dumbfounded by all the allegations against us that are preached as cold, hard truths. All the while, the vast crimes committed against us go unheard and researched. We will stand before our supreme judge with a clear conscience and be called blameless. The forces of darkness won the war, not the righteous as they claim.

You were in Holland during the Market Garden battles, what was it like for you?

Karl: Later in the war, I was transferred to Frundsberg, which I was proud of. I was now in a frontline panzer division that saw combat. After trying to repulse the allied onslaught in Normandy FB was forced out of the line to reorganize, or rebuild is a better term. The overwhelming superiority of the Allies was too much for us in the end. I was assigned to a panzer grenadier regiment, I fit right in as I was already a combat decorated officer. The vast allied artillery and air power made it hard for anything to move in Normandy, but FB did have some local success against the British. My boys showed tommy how to fight, even being outgunned and outnumbered. However sheer numbers wore us down in the end.

In August '44, we were a shadow of our former selves, and pulled out of the line to reorganize in Holland. A nice area to be in for my boys, friendly people, good food, and pretty girls who loved to dance. Monday thru Friday, we cleaned weapons and equipment, and repaired ourselves, but the weekends were spent mingling with the locals. September 17th our rest was interrupted by a sky full of planes and parachutes.

General Bittrich remarked in awe about the vast amount of planes the Allies had, and that if we only had half of that strength we would do well. Reports started coming in that allied paratroopers were dropping all over Holland, and right in my divisions sector. My unit was sent to the area around Nijmegen, it was easy to see the Allies wanted to capture the bridges, but we were forbidden to blown them.

We immediately started engaging Americans and blunted their attacks with our small force. I will state that the Allies bombed Nijmegen earlier, killing hundreds, and we were hesitant to use their homes as cover, there were hardly any German units inside the city, and a few NSB men went in to fight at the mayor’s request. I believe he wanted to show that the Dutch were fighting the Allies as well. The Allies had no problem throwing mortar shells and machine gun fire into the homes of civilians, killing many. Our medics had their hands full treating wounded civilians for the town.

The battle was a small victory for us, as we stopped the allied attack before Arnhem, and even though outnumbered, held the XXX corps from reaching their objective. I want to tell you also, I saw with my own eyes the Americans shoot two uniformed NSB members after they surrendered. I ordered a sharp shooter to try to hit the soldiers that did this but he was unsuccessful as they were far away. Allied planes attacked us recklessly and shot up an area where civilians were clearly marked with a red cross, killing many.

You won the Knight's Cross for your action in Normandy and Nijmegen.

Karl: Yes, I was sent to a combat unit after being on the staff of our panzer corps, and saw heavy fighting in Normandy, and then I had a hand in the defense around Nijmegen. My men were very hard fighters, so my success as an officer is owed to them. It was my men whom I wore the decoration for, as it was their sacrifice that earned this.

The Allies tried to surround my battle unit, but my officers and I were able to lead a breakout and in turn surrounded them forcing a surrender, or retreat. We held off a vastly superior force with a loose knit, motley crew of wounded soldiers, reservists, and some weary SS men. This was testament to the fighting spirit of the German soldier.

When did you see the war was lost? In addition, do you think Germany ever had a chance to win?

Karl- I studied history enough to know anything could happen at any time, so while Germany was clearly in trouble by late 1944, there was still hope for some type of negotiated peace. To me the war was not truly lost until after the Ardennes offensive. When we failed to break open the front and divide the Allies, I knew we had lost.

It is always easy to be an armchair general and second-guess decisions. The way I see it here is how we could have won. Some fronts we had to fight on, like Norway, Low Countries, Balkans, and Russia. Africa was a waste. We could have used the troops in Africa for Russia, invaded in May, took Moscow and severed the rail lines, and using greater forces on the North front to stop American aid. For Britain, we should have kept up the bombing of airfields to keep them off balance.

If we could have beaten Russia, we then could have turned our attention to Britain and America, focusing on U-boat construction to sink the convoys. The sad fact is that Germany was not prepared for war. Poland was a good example, sure, we beat them, but they had better equipment and their army was large and well-motivated, it was harder than historians admit. The Führer did not want war, but the Allies forced issues to spiral out of his control, where we were fighting the whole world, and only geared up to fight in 1943.

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