This is a 1989 interview done in Bonn (Bonn is a city on the banks of the Rhine in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia) with Paul Gölz, who was a veteran of the Battle of Normandy.

[Above: Paul Gölz, late in life, at 94 years old. He ended up living in Pleiserhohn, Germany.]

I wanted to ask what brought you to the army, did you volunteer?

Paul: No, I knew I would be drafted eventually, and I turned down volunteering in the SS. My father allowed me to join the Hitler youth and they glorified the SS, encouraging us to enlist as soon as we could. I chose not to as most everyone I knew went to the eastern front including my brother, and I was warned about how bad it was. The army recruiter told me there was a good chance to get occupation duty somewhere calm when I was mailed my notice.

You could say my parents were very fearful for me; my father was a veteran of the first war and saw the horrors of the front. He did not want that for us. I also remember reading the news about how awful the east front was, and my brother said the same things. I remember in 1941, I think it was October, that calls went out to get warm clothes to our soldiers. The Russian winter came much earlier than normal.

My brother and his comrades sent out requests for mittens, furs, and anything to be used to keep warm. The army was hard pressed to get issued winter clothing to the front soldiers in such a short time, winter normally did not start until December. I was reading that in November it was getting way below freezing. Therefore, this fear kept me from enlisting in the SS, when many of my HJ comrades did.

I went into the Wehrmacht in 1943 and did well in my training, but rumors were rife we were going to be used on the east front, many wanted that, but a few like me wanted a regiment on occupation duty. When we were assigned to our regiments, I was starting to feel sick. I had contracted a high fever and diarrhea and was sent to a hospital, as it was serious. This tuned out to be fateful for me as the first regiment I was assigned to went to the east.

You ended up going to France, what was it like?

Paul: It was wonderful. After my hospital stay, I was assigned to the 91st air landing division in grenadier regiment 1057. I had to attend special training related to this type of landing division. When this was done, we were moved close to St. Nazaire where the U-boat bases were. They thought the Allies could attack here to get at the base. We were used to build fortifications and conducted war games.

I remember the weather was very good and we could go sightseeing or relax during our off time. We toured the city, or what was left of it, and surrounding area. It was almost like being on vacation, but occasionally we did see air raids. It was interesting to me that the Allies bombed France almost as much as Germany. One air raid was done on St. Nazaire when I was there and I had to help the civilians, I saw my first dead at this time. The French, who were supposed to be friends with the Allies, died by the tens of thousands. My French friends tell me the newspapers have it wrong when they say the French welcomed the Allies as liberators, not all did due to the bombings. The price was too high for liberation.

How was the relationships with the French people?

Paul: Considering we occupied their country, it was surprisingly good. We had very strict orders that we had to pay for everything we received from the French. We would often go out into the countryside and buy milk, butter, and eggs to supplement our rations, but we always paid well. Our commander did not want any complaints that we cheated or stole from the French. Some of the foreign soldiers did have run-ins with the French police, it was forbidden to catcall women or insult them, and some learned the hard way this was not acceptable under German occupation law.

I came to Normandy in 1944, and the people were even better. The land was mostly farm country, and food was plentiful. I was close to the beach, and it was warming up. We were not allowed to stay in the homes of the French, we had to make camps and live in tents if there were no bunkers. My regiment had a small tent city set up as there were very few bunkers in Normandy.

One soldier in my unit got in trouble for sneaking off to a French family who knew his family. They owned a farm and he would go eat with them often. He was going to be sent to a penal unit for being away from camp, but the family intervened and complained very high up. He was demoted and placed under tent arrest for one week.

Many German soldiers spoke French, and it was easy for us to communicate, and meet French girls. I got to know a farmer and his family well, they would have me over for dinner, and sometimes invite the neighbors daughter who was my age, but we never hit it off. If time permitted, we could help the farmers plant, and clean up their fields. Some worked at milking cows, and brought in extra for us.

Therefore, even though the French were not happy to have us in their country, they never gave any problems and we got along well with them. I do not know of any troubles Germans gave them, but I know the resistance was treated quite badly. The French Milice was active in Normandy after March since there was more activity in this region from allied saboteurs and resistance.

Once the invasion started, you could sense the attitudes were changed, they were less likely to help, lest they be called collaborators. Pamphlets were left lying around warning people not to work with us. The resistance was active in threatening any Frenchmen who aided us, and rumors were they killed a few who did. Even the farmer I was friendly with warned me to not come around once the invasion started as it could get him in trouble, or get me attacked needlessly.

Did you ever see any instances of sabotage?

Paul: I saw no resistance activity that I knew of until the landings started. Then I heard of little things like cutting lines and felling trees. I read today that there was a lot that was happening, but I never saw it, we were in a quiet area with little activity. The Allies did drop flyers urging the French to rise up, but we warned them not to or they could be arrested as spies.

The only damage I saw was the vast bombing raids conducted on the countryside, where some of the homes were hit, killing innocent French civilians whom I felt very sorry for as I felt we were responsible for their fate. I helped clear up some of the damage when it was close by. I was awestruck at the amount of air power the Allies had, and felt that if they did chose to invade here we were in trouble.

What was it like to go through the initial invasion, and how many men were in this area?

Paul: What was it like? It was not a good time, and I can tell you that. I remember we had to go out on the beach in April and May and lay mines called Rommel’s asparagus. We built trenches, and fortified pillboxes. We had a rough and grimy senior NCO who would always say if the invasion happened here, it would be a cakewalk for the Allies. He pushed us hard and was furious that supplies like barbed wire and mines were in short supply. He always complained about how little strength we had to oppose any landing. One comrade complained he bordered on being a defeatist, but he was right, and we knew it.

He also did not like that we had to post signs to warn the French of the mines, and off limit areas were to protect them. It told the enemy where our defenses were and helped the paratroopers avoid the minefields once they landed. The resistance and allied agents had no trouble marking them down as we made it very easy to see.

I would say the area I was in had under one thousand soldiers spread over 10km. In theory, we should have had several thousand men protecting the beaches. We were understrength, and the regiments assigned were so scattered, mine was over 9 km apart in some areas. I heard one historian say that we faced the invasion with only a few hundred men on the beach, I would agree with this.

This included some Russians who surprisingly came over to our side to help fight after being captured. Sadly, most all of these foreign soldiers were sent back to Stalin who had them killed after they surrendered. Most foreign units were thought of as second rate, but did cause the Allies causalities.

We also had a Fallschirmjäger regiment attached to us, with [Friedrich August Freiherr] von der Heydte leading. This was an elite formation and gave us comfort knowing they were with us. There also was a small panzer regiment with French ranks, but they were well behind the front, like most German units. The idea was to rush them wherever the landings happened so they were kept several km back, which proved a fatal decision for us. All the SS division were far from the beaches also, with their armor, which could have proved decisive. It is safe to say a very small initial force opposed the beach landings.

The night of the landings, our commander placed us on a heightened alert. We had to do outdoor guard duty, which the early morning of June 6 I was on a four-hour shift. I was angry as earlier that day I had to help repair damaged fortifications, so I was tired. I started hearing many plane engines, which were in the distance, and flak guns could be heard firing and I saw their tracers.

I saw flares in the far distance too, I was on a hill overlooking the countryside, and I thought either this is the invasion, or at the least, something like Dieppe. My regiment was placed on battle alert and we were given battle rations, which we hated, and extra ammo. I started hearing sporadic gunfire also, but radios were surprisingly silent. We had no idea what was happening.

By the time dawn broke, it was a surreal scene, naval guns started firing early in the morning, and the ground was shaking beneath my feet. Planes were flying around looking for targets behind us, and our small force was matching this with very limited, small caliber cannon fire. The noise was deafening as shell after shell and bomb and bomb was raining down on the lines behind the beach.

We were getting conflicting orders, one was to attack the beachhead, and another countered it with moving to Sainte-Mère-Église where American paratroopers landed. We set off as a loose unit, and quickly learned to stay separated as planes strafed us. I remember seeing the first enemy dead, he lay in a field, which was behind us, and he looked odd with his face painted black. He looked to have died from his chute not opening properly.

Hidden soldiers fired on my unit, and we returned fire forcing their eventual surrender. We had orders to protect and treat surrendered soldiers well, not stealing from them or hitting them. I watched them being marched to the rear to a collection camp. It was a small victory, but I had the feeling we were outnumbered, and no reinforcements were coming. I was angry that our Luftwaffe was nowhere to be seen, but the Allies seemed everywhere.

We were situated in defensive positions in the Carentan area, and were attacked by the Americans in our rear and front, this broke us, and we yielded areas to the Americans, falling back. We conducted small-scale attacks on them when we could. One day we shot at a column that had armor with it. This was foolish as they stopped and engaged us, forcing a retreat under intense fire that included artillery.

It was during this battle I was resting in a field and was surprised by Americans who snuck through our nonexistent lines. I was frozen by fear, and could not fire. They aimed weapons at me and told me to put my hands up; I did this and stood up. This was the end of the war for me.

How were you treated by the Allies, some Germans claim they were abused?

Paul: I was treated very well, and was most impressed. At first it was not so good, I was pushed around and my belongings taken. We had a long forced march with no food or water. We were marched to the beach, and put on a ship taking us to England. They gave us lots of food and many felt sorry for us, they just did not seem like the enemy. I was sent to Scotland, then over to America, where I enjoyed good food, and coca cola, a drink I enjoyed back home when I could go to town to buy it.

Some German soldiers were not treated well, if they took anything from an American, they were shot on sight. Luckily, I had no interest in taking souvenirs, as most Germans did not. A few did, and if they were caught with them, they paid a price. I saw a few who looked to have suffered that fate.

The Americans treated us very well, we were able to play sports, read, and watch movies. The Red Cross was present too, giving us mail. We did hear that some soldiers were being executed if Germany executed American soldiers. Luckily, this never happened. I will say at war’s end our treatment changed. When the camps were liberated, we were forced to watch the allied movies, and woe to anyone who did not believe what they saw. One soldier said it was all lies and not to believe any of it, he received no food for a while. We were made to feel ashamed for being German.

Held for a couple of years I was then allowed to return home. The Poles, who seized everything we owned, had expelled my family from our home. They did this to most all Germans living in this area, it is not talked about today, but it was Europe’s greatest mass expulsion. Likely, well over a million Germans were forced out of lands they settled centuries ago. This occurred in many eastern countries, and if they refused, they were killed.

My father heard that Poles had shot our neighbors, who were an elderly couple, since they could not leave. Their only son had died on the railroad due to a bombing attack so they had no help. Sadly, this was played out in many European nations. These innocent civilians were not party members or fanatical Nazis. Their only crime was being German. That is what makes it so hard to comprehend; we are told we did the same, which was wrong and that is why the war started. Then the victors turn around, allowed, and promoted the same thing they condemned us for.

[Above: A young Paul Gölz, the war still ahead of him.]

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