This 1991 interview was done in Essen, Germany with Simon-Karl (last name not given), from the 10th Panzer Division, and then the LSSAH as an anti-tank soldier. The 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler or SS Division Leibstandarte, abbreviated as LSSAH, found its beginning as Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard, responsible for guarding the Führer's person, offices, and residences. It was initially the size of a regiment, but eventually grew into an elite division-sized unit. It fought from the beginning of WWII in Poland, all the way until the glorious and bloody end. Simon-Karl saw action in Poland, France and Greece.

[Above: Symbol of the 10th Panzer Division]

Thank you for letting me write down some of your words. As we spoke before I know you have an interesting history. Can I have you start by telling me about the prewar years, what you did and how you came to be in the army?

Simon: Yes my good sir. To start, I was born in Danzig in 1917 and my father was in the first war, fighting in the east. He fell in the war in 1918 but left my mother money so that we could survive. My mother worked as a cheese maker, so we always had good cheeses to eat when times were tough. We moved to Berlin in 1934 due to her getting a much higher paying job in the new government overseeing cheese purity and production. We lived not far from the train station so we could travel freely on her work pass since she had to go around the Reich. She was remarried in 1935 to a very interesting man who was an old fighter in the SA; he would keep me up at night telling me about the street fights with the red Front. He proudly wore the honor chevron for old fighters and golden party pin.

I liked hearing these stories as a teen growing up. He fought in the Berlin SA in Sturm 5, and would say he relished ripping down red posters and if they were glued up then they burnt them off at night. They were a small force in a sea of reds, but they prevailed by always being German and helping the people. The Jewish police chief hated them and had his cronies always harassing and arresting them, which the people saw was very unfair. He had a nasty slash on his side where he was stabbed and gashed by a red mob. I can tell you stories he told me about what the reds did to any supporter of the Führer in the beginning. It was not easy being a National Socialist in Berlin in the early days. One of his comrades was beaten so badly he was in the hospital for a year, and the Führer came to visit him. I saw photos of this visit.

The reds used many dirty tricks, and threw bricks, bottles, rocks, glass and excrement on the men as they marched. Yet more and more [National Socialists] joined to fight them. The reds thought they could intimidate them to go away, but the opposite happened. More Germans heard the Führer and knew he was right. By 1933 the streets had been cleared of the reds, and a new dawn came to us. No more did we see their signs and cries of “Down with Religion”, “No Borders”, or “Everything for Moscow.” When I turned 18 I did two things, one was to enlist in the black SS and the other was to fulfill my service time by joining the army. Since the SS fulfilled the military requirement I was paid to go through basic training.

I adapted to military life well and it was agreed I would serve one year then return to the SS as a courier driver assigned to the office for Germans abroad, or VOMI. I started this position in 1937 and was made a full member of the SS and awarded the black service dagger.

I wore the black SS uniform back then; I took the oath to the Führer on the 9th of November. Those were good times for me then. I served in this office until August of 1939 when I was recalled to duty and joined an anti-tank section. This was later attached to what became the 10th Panzer Division.

Can I ask you what the Germans Abroad office was all about?

Simon: Yes, VOMI was an office to mainly work with the Germans who had been trapped in Poland and Czechoslovakia. These were citizens who were ripped away from their homeland without a vote, and forced to be ruled by a foreign nation. For most of these Germans life went on and they adapted and needed no help. For others, and this was tens of thousands of them, it was different. In parts of these countries there was jealousy and hatred of the Germans. After all we had maintained these lands for several generations. The Germans had built cultural treasures, and brought the German livelihood to these areas. As retribution they were kept out of good jobs, or silently boycotted. Many became poor and destitute due to the hatred and indifference of their new rulers.

The Czechs were bad, but the Poles were the worst. To them the new citizens had to pay for the past and some had their land and property seized for taxes. Others had to be subjected to shunning and attacks. They were seen as second class citizens in their former land. The Poles put on a mask that all was well and fair, but the people fled by the thousands to the Reich. That spoke thunderously, and they told of the assaults, rapes, and persecution.

My office was formed to give aid to them and to see to their needs. Also to send any needed materials to anywhere in the world Germans were. It was in 1938 that we started to take in refugees from both Poland and Czechoslovakia. These poor people told of very bad abuse at the hands of these people.

I drove our section leader at times and I would hear him speak about cases of abuse and theft. Hearing these I had sympathy for the new refugees coming home to the Reich. We had to find them homes, food and work. Many were craftsmen so they fit in anywhere as their trades were much needed.

I never understood the Pollacks, why do this to a people who have shown you they possess brilliance and who have built up any area they are in. If the Pollacks would have treated them all decently there would have been no war, and they may have come to love the new nation. I know some Germans did adapt, and became part of this new land. Some even fought for Poland, but afterward joined us.

Another job we had was resettling these refugees back into their former homes when we liberated the land. In many cases the Poles and Czechs gave their property to their citizens, so we had to remove them so that the rightful owners could have it back. I saw some of this in Czechoslovakia before the war, and know it happened in Poland. Anyone who could show that they were forced off land or lost property had it restored.

Mind you these poor people were just kicked off land in some cases without being paid. So even though the state may have charged innocent people who bought it, it was still stolen and the rightful owners had to be given it back, or be paid. I saw many cases of refugees coming into the Reich right up to August of 1939. When it looked like war would break out I was ordered to be recalled to the army. I joined the 10th Panzer Division in Prussia for action against Poland.

[Above: Symbol of the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler]

What was your experience like in the Polish campaign?

Simon: To start off I was attached to the 24th anti-tank unit and went into Poland from Prussia. I can say I was surprised by how many fortifications we came across, the Poles were prepared for us. The division was a panzer division so it had many of the new panzers, even a few of the new Panzer IV short barrels.

The Poles blew up bridges, and destroyed many places they thought we could later use. This was my first taste of scorched-earth. Woe to any German settlements, they looted and burned them down if they could. I know many Poles were later shot by security forces for taking part in these senseless actions. I personally saw German civilians who had been killed by rage mobs or militias.

The Poles were sneaky fighters that is for sure, they would hide in pockets for us to go by, and then attack us from behind. Even some civilians acted as snipers and shot at us from the woods. We caught one man, and I remember a Lt., who was on the staff who told us to treat him as a legal soldier and send him to the rear.

That same German officer was later killed that same day by one of these attacks. Orders then came out to treat them as bandits to send a message to others. I also can say the Luftwaffe was present here as well; they shot down many enemy planes and gave us air support. The Stuka was effective against strong points or trenches.

As we advanced I remember the mines they laid as well, they put them in clever places to cause bad injuries. I saw a horse step on one with a rider and both died very fast. I thought this was madness. We advanced all the way to Brest-Litovsk, and there would you believe we met the Russians? They invaded Poland, but the Allies did not declare war on them, and in a small sense were our ally.

We had beaten Poland in a very fast time, but they did put up a fight. They had a very large army, which at times bested German units. They had panzers better then ours in some areas. We went into action with our 3.7cm gun and only knocked out the tank with many shots from all the guns concentrating on it. We nicknamed these guns the “doorknocker” since they only let the crew know we were at the door.

You stayed with the 10th Panzer for the French campaign, what was that like?

Simon: Yes, I did. After Poland the units were placed on occupation duty, which meant we had to now help the Poles. We had to help move supplies to help rebuild roads and rails. We gave fuel to the Poles who were trying to get back home. Many were left without a way to feed themselves so we set up kitchens for them, and there were many Jews who came to us for help as well.

I must tell you about this, my friend. It is important you know something about it. When we went into Poland, the Poles attacked the Jews thinking they were allied with the Russians. Many were pulled out of their homes and shot or beaten, some being hung. The Jews came to us to get help and to stop these attacks. It was the SS and security men who stopped these attacks, and helped the Jews. Many were later moved to the ghettos as the Poles did not like them, and a new nationalist party was allowed to come into being who wanted them removed from Poland. We felt sorry for the Jews then, as they looked so dirty and poor. They looked nothing like the Jews in Germany who all lived well-off lives.

German units gave aid to them when they asked. There was no hatred to speak of, only curiosity for a different race. We could tell a few Poles resented this, they gave dirty looks and we forced some to come help build a wall that they tore down. This went on until the beginning of spring. We then were moved into the Trier area.

We knew what it meant, we were preparing for war with France and Britain. We had hoped peace would be found, and that winter was called the sitting war as there was not much fighting. The French did attack German territory and seized a few towns, but were beaten back. I will never forget the training we did in this area; it felt strange to me to be so close to an enemy border.

The panzers did maneuvers, and we would conduct gun shooting drills to get us sharp. We still had the 3.7 which we worried would not stop the better armed French tanks. We were hearing word that Luxembourg was preparing for war, as they knew we had to go though them. They closed their border with Germany. On the 10th of May the action started and I remember it was very early, at 5:30 in the morning we heard the first shots. We were attached to a mobile flak unit, and we had trucks as well. We crossed the border into Luxembourg and had an easy time of it at first. I saw civilians actually waving to us, as if welcoming us and soon we crossed into Belgium, which was calm as well.

Once we moved into France the fighting picked up and I started to see the results of war. We had caught the enemy by surprise; they expected an attack more to the north. The best divisions were now aiming toward Paris. The Allies started to shift forces to hit us, but it was too late for them. There were a few big armor battles, where the better French tanks were only stopped by Stukas and flak guns.

We pushed the allies back, and took many prisoners. We would stop and talk to them, Belgium, French, and British, and sometimes share a drink. We never treated them as our enemy, and when the weapons were down, they were friends. We had split them, and now we held a ring, and moved into the Dunkirk area. It was with confusion that German units paused while the Allies evacuated. I must tell you this one. It was a very nice day and my crew got lost and drove past Calais until coming under fire outside Dunkirk. We drove closer towards the beach to hide and could see the big ships taking on soldiers, and nothing was stopping them. The Luftwaffe was paused, and so were ground units. We made our way back to our lines and reported to the commander that the enemy had massed ships taking them off the beaches. He just said the Führer sent orders that all offensive actions are paused in the area for a few days. We were angry and thought this was insane to let them go.

My time ended in Southern France when they surrendered. We were again on occupation duty, which was spent helping French refugees returning home. We had to help repair things war destroyed. The French blew up many of their bridges, to slow us but they did not do scorched earth. This was a blessing as it was easy on the civilians.

It was the opposite of Poland, the weather was warm and we had time to go sightseeing. I also was told I would be released from my duty as some were being demobilized. This gave me an idea about joining the SS again, but this time the Waffen-SS.

How did you come up with joining the Waffen-SS? How did you get into the LSSAH?

Simon: Well, I will tell you and say this. I did not find the early armed SS men appealing, I thought they were overstepping the army. I concentrated more on my office duties and passed up chances to serve in the SS VT and do training. I knew comrades who went in and loved it, but for me the army was the only true bearer of arms for the Reich.

That changed when I was in Calais, I ran into a comrade who was in the LAH, and he talked about the hard fights they had and that they had been victorious over the English. I also met an English prisoner they had in tow, which they were taking him to be checked over. My friend spoke English and I understood some of what he said. He said the LAH was some of the best troops he had seen.

My comrade advised me to join them when my service time was over. It just so happened that I was demobilized in September of 1940 so I went to ask about volunteering for the LAH, and of course, had my friend to help. The LAH was stationed in Metz for occupation duty and I came to visit.

I was accepted and ordered to report for training; of course I had to go to the Lichterfelde barracks to do the paperwork. I went off to training for NCOs as my army rank was given credit for time served and the SS promoted me to Scharfuhrer. I completed my training and reported for duty in February of 1941, just in time for the war against Greece.

The LAH was on maneuvers as it was now a division, and many new soldiers had joined or been moved. The training was meant to test unity and cohesion in combat. We had courses where the trainers would fire live weapons to simulate combat; they would throw smoke grenades and fire at us, of course from a safe distance so not to hit anyone.

There was no anti-tank unit in the LAH yet I do not believe, I was placed under Meyer's command in the recon unit. I spend the next two months in training learning how the recon vehicles worked and operated. The LAH was becoming more organized, and effective. Dietrich was everywhere overseeing what we were doing, how we did it, and if we could improve.

[Above: Kurt 'Panzer' Meyer]

I was reprimanded once for driving a vehicle too fast and wrecking it. I was placed under arrest for a weekend, and denied a pass to the town. This taught me to be sharp with the 231 and to never take my eye off the road. My commander made me a sign saying “wood eye be alert”. We all knew something was coming against the Balkans, and we learned of Mussolini’s failure, and the British landing. We knew it would soon be time to fight again; we just wanted to be done and return home.

What was your experience in the Greek campaign?

Simon: The LAH moved into the north of Greece, and we ran into many Greeks who welcomed us, which was a surprise. However as we moved deeper into the land we came up against the British and Greek armies. They were dug into positions in the hills and held the high ground.

Many frontal attacks were launched, led by Meyer, there is a famous photo taken of him here. Fritz Witt lost his brother during an incredibly hard attack but we had no time to mourn as we had to keep going. I remember there was one obstacle after another.

Artillery, Stukas, and our sheer will finally broke open this front, and we then were able to outmaneuver the enemy. It was something of a sight, the Greeks surrendered like true warriors, giving us the Hitler greeting and shouting long live Germany. As you could imagine we were taken aback by this honor, and it was ordered all surrendering Greeks be released to return home. I personally saw many examples of the Greeks behaving with exemplary honor, acting almost like we liberated them.

We arrived in a small hamlet where the British retreated and a woman came out with a white flag frantically calling to us. Inside she had a wounded British soldier. He was promptly given aid, and placed in an ambulance truck to be taken to the field hospital, he shook our hands and said “thank you’ in German. The woman brought us some bread she had baked, which we gladly took. I remember our advance took us through many small hamlets where we were warmly greeted by all. We were careful to show there was no reason to fear German soldiers. The children stood out to me as they came to watch us and one even helped us resupply. We gave him money and chocolate, then we had the whole village come out to us.

Once we broke the British lines we had a straight path to the Peloponnesus and Meyer obtained boats to ferry us over. These Greek men moved with haste as if they were in the fight as well, and wished us a quick victory. It was a very strange war to me then that the populous wished the invader well. But that was the Greek; they were very polite and respectful people.

I brought some photos to show you, here are the children in one town; this is the boy who helped us. This is after he told his friends we were giving out money. The women were more reserved as the mothers knew what charm soldiers have on young ladies. Here is one who did come out to offer hugs and kisses to us. Here is an old man who wanted us to try his tobacco which was very strong, the toughest smoker in the company even coughed with it. So there is that.

Did you end up going to the east for Barbarossa?

Simon: I never made it to the east front I must say. I was given the chance to be attached to the training and outfitting unit of the LAH, and then I was moved over to recruit from the occupied areas. I had to attend training during June of 1941, and then the war in the east started.

I was placed on the staff for the higher SS leader in Holland and helped enlist the volunteers for what was called “The Crusade against Bolshevism,” I met my wife in Rotterdam in 1941. She was a welfare office worker, sent to help the Dutch with the tremendous burdens the war put on them. Germany needed supplies for the east and placed a great demand on Dutch factories. In return, people were sent to help with the welfare needs of the people. A true NS example was set up so that the reds that were hiding could not have fertile ground to cause agitation. The people respected this and I found them to be very friendly and helpful. I really believed we had turned Europe to our side back then.

She was wounded when the British bombed the town, hitting her office and bringing down a wall on her. I just happened to be in the hospital for broken ribs from a fall and she was placed in my ward. We played chess, and did the puzzles together, agreeing to go to movies. Then we decided to marry in 1943, so she was a war bride.

I remember her mother was upset she would marry a soldier; her brother fell in Russia during the first days. I understood her mother did not want her to feel that pain for a husband either. I assured her I had a noncombat role now, and was only in the recruiting and training units from now on.

I was shuffled to other areas as needed, and she was moved to Hamburg after the bombing to help people put their lives back together. Recruiting for the SS regiments took me to Denmark, Norway, Sweden, France, and Spain. My wife came with me to Spain for a ceremony for the Spanish Legion who had returned from the east front. They were all tough fighters who hated the Bolsheviks. Many would later come into the SS as independent volunteers, and had to have our help returning home after the war. Franco was very good to us, and offered aid to many Germans after the war.

So that was the war for me my friend, I was in recruiting, and saved from the front even at the very end. Fate kept me from many bad places, and even at the end I was held for a year, but the Americans, where I was, even allowed my wife to come stay with me for a while in late 1945.

Since I had papers showing I was only a trainer, and not at the fronts when bad things are said to have happened, I was let go. I was not implicated in any crimes in the east, or with any actions towards the Jews so there was no reason to keep me.

Can I ask very quickly what your thoughts are regarding the claims that the SS was guilty of numerous war crimes?

Simon: Well I cannot say for certain for all fronts. What I can tell you is that the fighting I saw was with honor. I saw our men act with civility and humanity towards defeated enemies, and the civilians. I even saw Jews treated well, with respect and empathy. If the fortunes of the war hardened German hearts later I did not see this.

I heard rumors of course about the east, and after the war the Americans showed us all the camp photos and war crime photos. I just do not know, my experience tells me this is war propaganda meant to justify the Allied responses. I cannot believe what the Russians say, it sounds too staged and embellished to fit their agendas.

Who can say really though? There are bad people in every government and country; the Allies surely have blood on their hands too. They bombed allies, killing thousands of Dutch, French, Belgium, and Poles. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Germans killed in the senseless bombing raids. However, you must not have hate for this. We have learned to forgive and forget, we only wish the Allies would do the same.

Back to Interviews