This is a 1988 interview done in Nuremberg with Max Holtersdorf, Hitler Youth member and Berlin defender.

Can you tell me about your early life, and what brought you to the Hitler Youth?

Max: Yes, I was born in the year 1928 in Berlin. My father worked on the railroad and my mother tended the home. I came into the Jungfolk in 1937 at age 9 then became a full-fledged HJ in 1943. It was expected that all boys and girls join a youth organization, and many parents encouraged it as it got the kids out of the house for a while and gave parents time to themselves.

Were you forced to join the HJ, or was it your choice?

Max: It is hard to explain. No one was forced to join meaning if you did not want to then that was it. If one did not join, however, your friends and neighbors would be suspicious if your family was anti-Hitler. Berlin was known for the left-over reds who still clung to their ideology while taking advantage of the benefits of NS.

Most all of the boys in my class were members so I of course wanted to fit in, I asked my parents if I could join, and my father said yes, and that I would get a discount on my uniform items, as he knew a friend who worked at one of the shops. I was proud the first day I was allowed to wear my uniform to school.

It was our custom to greet our teacher by standing and give the German greeting, then everyone would greet the Führer, I gave an extra smart greeting this day. There were a few boys in my class, who did want to join, and it was due to religious reasons, but no one picked on them. Nothing was ever said.

What was life like growing up in Berlin when the war started?

Max: Life went on as in peacetime early on, we did know a war was happening until 1940, when the first bombs struck. The first day of the war school was let out; I remember my father being angry, as he did not want to be drafted, and my mother fearful. We listened to the radio, and my father spoke about the treacherous and stubborn Poles, that they would plunge the country into war to keep land stolen from us.

I remember my father was busy, and worked long hours as there were more military trains that had to be directed. We also started having air raid drills, which were very un-popular. My mother also started to watch children of parents who worked, and she was paid money to do so. She watched twins of a party official who would always bring me sweets so it was a nice time.

We lived close to the railhead so there was always fear we could be hit as they were prime targets, in 1940 this came true. It was in April or May, I do not remember, but we were awakened at night by sirens, and then later heard the cracks of the guns. We went to the basement with others, and no sooner did we settle in than bombs fell close by. I was old enough to know the railhead was being bombed.

In our area the first dead were counted, I remember seeing the fire trucks and ambulances bringing the wounded to the hospital. It was due to this that a call went out to evacuate all children from the cities, but this was not implemented until 1943. Since I was in the Jung Volk, we were sent up north to help farmers and do light work. We had a nice hostel set aside for us, built by the RAD. I was assigned to a farm where the farmer was an ex-boxer; he had lots of work out stuff and a ring in his barn.

The older youth took advantage of this and held boxing matches, we were too young to participate, but we were allowed to spar a little under the watchful eyes of our leaders. The war seemed to be going well with a sense of complete victory.

You mentioned you were in the battle of Berlin; can you describe how you ended up fighting?

Max: Yes, I spent most of the time going to school, and helping do work, we were very regimented. We even got to go to Denmark for a sort of vacation, Danish youth came to Germany and we went to Denmark to learn their ways. By late 1943 news from the fronts was not good, and we could see allied bombers in the skies every so often.

My father was killed in 1943 due to a bombing attack, and my mother went to live with her parents in Brandenburg but I was allowed to stay with the Jung Volk and in 1943, I was accepted in the Hitler Youth. By this time, we started to get training that is more military. Soldiers would come to talk to us about the war, and we could shoot guns if we wanted.

We went on hikes, and learned to survive in the wild. We had camps set up all over Germany and would rotate for different duties, one month may be clearing bomb damage at a factory, next month on the beach learning about water, then next month helping farmers with the harvests. We would even learn to interact with the girls in the BDM, we would have joint parties and since I was now 15 girls were on my radar.

We stayed segregated, and the older boys were warned no sneaking into the girl’s camp, but a few did to spy or play tricks. It was a sort of rite of passage to go and sneak in their camp, and we often times would leave something out of sort where they would know we did it. They repaid us as well, it was a good time, but our leaders let us know they had their limits to their looking the other way.

This went on until late 1944, by then our world was turning bleak, many had lost parents, and ached to get into the fight. The Waffen SS had recruited boys to fill a division, but I was too young, the minimum was 17 with a parent’s permission. Other boys left to go home to be with family, but my mother knew I was safe, and was busy raising my baby sister who came shortly after my father died.

We learned the Führer had called all able-bodied men to action, and we were sort of pushed into defending Berlin. My unit was close to Berlin, in December of 44, and we now had an older ex-army soldier who was in charge. He expressed an interest in fighting, and said the Russians would soon be at our doorstep.

He started getting us assignments close to the city, we would help put together small parts for factories that were bombed, and tried to keep warm. By March 1945, we were told the Volksturm was being created to fight. By the end of March, I could hear the distant guns of the front. It was surreal.

What was the battle of Berlin like?

Max: It was exciting from a teenager’s perspective, but I should have been terrified. I met a girl who was a nurse in training, they were stationed by Wannsee, and we talked as often as we could. She was terrified at what soldiers were saying about the Russians, it was there I received my first kiss and love letter as a sendoff gift. She was very pretty and made me blush.

We were armed with whatever our leader could find us. I was lucky to be given a beat up MP-40 and was taught how to load and fire it. They stressed safety as this thing could miss fire if bumped wrong. I felt invincible however as it was a machine gun. After our short few days of training, we were sent to the front in mid-April. I could not believe my eyes at what Berlin had been turned into, a heap of ruins.

Our first position was close to the main Jewish hospital, I remember one of the doctors came out and asked us to move as he had many patients and wanted to spare them if we were attacked. This seemed strange to us, but the hospital was only lightly damaged. I saw some concentration camp inmates inside, and learned sick prisoners were housed in this hospital. The Russians fired artillery day and night, I remember sleeping was very hard, and I was trained, along with others, on the new panzerfaust.

I never did get to use it but many others had success knocking out Russian tanks. Many Berliners had left the city, but there were still plenty around. While we awaited the enemy, I was surprised to see people going out, getting food and water. One women came to us and gave us a cake she baked, saying she was bored. It was very good and took our minds off the war for a minute.

It was in late April I finally got to fire a shot at the enemy, they attacked our block, and we hit them with 30 or so barrels. We dropped close to a whole platoon; it felt good to get back at the enemy. They pulled back and then shelled the whole area, and then we found out families were hiding in the basements. A father came out and begged us to leave so the building would be sparred.

We did retreat as our ammo had mostly been used up in this brief fight. The artillery had stopped so we moved back; it was during this that I first took notice of the dead. They were all around, soldier and civilian. We were mixed into a group of Polish speaking soldiers who were retreating also, but only to new positions, they told us to keep moving back we were in their way. I also saw some of the SS soldiers who spoke French and they looked very battle worn. I wanted to move back to Wannsee to see my new girlfriend, and I suggested this, as I felt we would be safer.

An SS officer came to us and ordered our group to keep moving to the west, he said the battle was over and we needed to save as many young and civilians as we could. He ordered our group to follow him, so we did. He held the Iron Cross, and seemed very sure of himself. I asked if we could go to Wannsee, and when he found out an aid station was there he agreed.

We made or way there by May 1 I believe but it was gone, she was nowhere to be seen. He said she might have retreated earlier to surrender to the Americans. We walked with a large group of soldiers and civilians until we came to the Elbe, there we crossed and were immediately taken prisoner. I was very young, and I remember being asked if I was forced to fight, I felt they were looking for a yes, so I said yes, and they immediately released me after about one week.

I was able to make my way to my mother, and lucky for her the Russians had not come by. We started hearing about the terrible things they did and we were glad we survived. I was able to meet my girlfriend again in 1946 and she went on to become my wife in 1950.

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