Interview with Ernst Krag, Battalion Commander of the 2. SS-Panzer Division 'Das Reich' and winner of the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, June 1989, Germany.

Thanks for meeting with me. I would like to ask about your time during the Second World War, and what interested you to join the SS?

Ernst: I joined the SS in 1935, coming late, compared to others. I admired what the SS stood for, a rebirth of Germanic heritage and a deep love of our folk. The SS was to be a vanguard for the new Germany to address the terrible carnage caused by the first war through healthy births, and to lead Germany to a healthy National Socialist future. The Reichsführer-SS Himmler helped create an organization built on love, trust, honor and duty. I wanted to be a part of this elite group; even though good jobs were plentiful in Germany, I chose to serve my nation and its people. In the SS, a strong focus was put on health, healthy eating and lifestyle choices. Smoking and alcohol were seen as vices that were harmful. We were given vitamins to supplement what our diets lacked. The SS were to be role models for our young to follow.

In our barracks, there were no locks, trust was paramount. We exercised every day, staying at ideal weights. We went into our communities helping the widowed and the poor. Himmler always wanted his SS at the forefront of helping the winter help charity for Christmas. We made toys, gave out food and helped the old with chores; that was the SS.

What was the feeling like when Germany went to war?

Ernst: Mixed feelings. Most Germans knew what war meant and wanted nothing to do with another European war. We were all aware there were pressing issues with Poland along the border, and the mistreatment of Germans living in seized territory. I personally met Volksdeutsche who were forced out of their homes by Polish authorities and forced to seek refuge in Germany. All because they chose to remain Germans, just like the Poles wanted to remain Poles under our past control. Poland had a greater hand in causing the war than historians care to study, and add Allied interference and treachery, it made a conflict inevitable as Poland refused to negotiate or reign in the extreme nationalists. I admired Poland for its defense against the Bolshevik hordes in 1920 and for promoting Christian culture while under Jewish attack. However, their careless tactics and threats made me understand the problem had to be faced with toughness and resolve; our leaders did what they had to do to secure peace.

Therefore, in conclusion to your question, we were not happy and cheering like in the first war, Germany was subdued and saddened that it came to this, however we also knew Poland was provoking us like a thief hiding behind bullies that would protect them. We understood that all the Führer had done was work to secure Germany's place, and wanted our people reunited into one Nation.

Did you ever meet Himmler?

Ernst:Of course, when I was commissioned as an officer, he made it a point to greet most every class. I was very impressed with his vision and dedication. He took a stake in how we were doing and making sure our needs and the needs of our families were being met during wartime. Some claim today they did not like him, but I only have positive comments and memories regarding the Reichsführer-SS.

What do you remember about the campaign against the west?

Ernst: That was my first true taste of combat, it was very quick. Most Germans feared that we would be bogged down as in the first war, but [Heinz] Guderian and the Blitzkrieg wreaked havoc on the Allied armies. Once we achieved the breakthrough at Sedan [in the Ardennes/northeastern France], it opened the way for us. The Allies were quite surprised and fell back in disorder. I remember speaking to a few prisoners and they were all surprised at the speed of our advance. I met a British officer from Kent who was quite curious about the SS runes we wore; I spoke to him and told him about our deep honor for our ancestors and culture. He was very agreeable, and it was sad we had to fight. I was in a headquarters signals unit, so it gave me time to meet and talk to prisoners going to the rear. All prisoners I met were very good men and it was sad that we had to meet this way. The only time I saw any bad behavior was from the colored soldiers the French brought in. We saw evidence of many crimes, from shooting German prisoners, to rape of French women. I personally saw evidence of this. The French even executed a few who were caught.

I was awarded my Iron Cross for actions during these battles, and it felt very satisfying to have achieved such a quick and complete victory, the only discontent was stopping our attacks on Dunkirk to allow Tommy to get back to their island. I am convinced this was done by the Führer to allow further peace negotiations and to show Britain we did not want to fight them; what a huge mistake that was.

[Above: Ernst Krag (2nd from left) with comrades.]

You fought on the Russian Front, what was your impression of the Russian people and soldiers?

Ernst: Russia is vast and beautiful. I want to emphasize we fought against Bolshevism, not the Russian people. Stalin successfully convinced the people we were fighting them, this was not true, it was Bolshevism we wanted to destroy. Most Russians welcomed us as liberators and willingly helped us fight in any way they could. I was in the artillery by now and endured the long marches moving east. In the beginning, we saw so many prisoners and war material that I believe a case could be made that Stalin was planning an attack on Germany and we hit them before they could attack. Of course, historians mock this idea today, but they were not at the front. Our forces were woefully understrength for this type of war. I saw many units still using horses to pull artillery, there were never enough trucks, even with what we captured in France. Men still marched on foot for hundreds of kilometers. Roads were non-existent; many were mere paths once we entered Russia. One factor hurting us was the railroads, the tracks were not the same size and it took weeks to get this fixed, causing massive delays in supplies reaching us. In the beginning, our unit was short on ammunition so we could only fire a few rounds at a time.

My opinion of the Russian soldier was they were fanatical until killed, wounded, or captured. They had to be, due to the commissars who killed any cowards. In contrast, many Russians owe their lives to the civility of German forces. I was friends with a doctor in the LSSAH [Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler] who was murdered by partisans on his way back to camp from delivering a Russian baby. Most all eastern Europeans I met were good people, even gypsies in the Balkans were friendly to us, we loved to watch their dances, and my men certainly liked the topless shows they did. We did have to watch our possessions around some of them, as thievery has been a charge of their community for centuries.

What about the charges of war crimes and genocide on the Eastern Front, did you see any evidence of that?

Ernst: Normally, I would beg an author to be careful with this question, as it tends to get us in trouble. However, I saw no evidence of any German war crimes. Perhaps a few soldiers lost their cool, but I never saw it. Do not mistake executing criminals who committed murder, to your term genocide.

There is photo evidence that shows Jews and other civilians being killed due to state policy in the east, from what I understand; you disagree?

Ernst: You have to be a critical thinker, which sadly is being lost on today's youth. What do these photos show? They show people being hung, or shot, but you do not know what the story behind it is. Are they being executed just for being Jewish? No, we would never have done that, the problem was that many Jews chose to join the partisan bands and become criminals. They killed soldier and civilian alike, sometimes in very cruel ways, this I saw firsthand. When arrested, they were tried and if pronounced guilty, they were executed, as any nation would do. The police units would hold captured partisans hostages, and if a terror act occurred, they could use these as tools to stop the attacks. I understand this was done very rarely.

I want to say the photos and testimony against us prove nothing to a thinking person. The crimes these partisans committed are swept aside by the victors as justified sabotage; but our response to these acts is made out to be a crime.

What about what happened at Oradour-Sur-Glane [France], was this not a war crime by the men of Das Reich?

Ernst: No, and there was a trial held that exonerated us. All that Oradour is an example of is reckless partisans, and an SS officer who may have exceeded his authority, out of anger and frustration, by burning parts of the town. As for the church, no German soldiers started the fire, setting off all the illegal munitions. The best assumption is partisans either were hiding or snuck into the church, and trying to arm themselves, accidently set off a grenade or explosive. This in turn set off all the other explosives and killed the women and children. The bronze bell [which had melted, proving it was a hotter than normal fire] tells the story of what was inside the church and the intentions of the town's people. The town was fully cooperating with the illegal resistance, and therefore the men, many of whom were deserters and communists, were executed for causing this. They murdered over 100 Germans in this area before we arrived, most having surrendered and then been mutilated, which the partisans seemed to enjoy. While we were trying to reach Normandy, all along the way we had to contend with civilians, emboldened by Allied propaganda, who attempted to slow us down. Many of them were not even French, but Russians, Spaniards, and others who fled to this area and turned it into a communist haven. Therefore, any response by the men of Das Reich was fully justified, considering who was taking up arms against us.

[Above: Suave, handsome, intelligent, brave and daring, Ernst Krag embodied the highest ideals of the SS.]

What was it like to fight in Normandy?

Ernst: To me it was frustrating. We arrived late, trying to stop the invasion that we all knew was coming. To this day, I still believe some in the army did not want to win and made very bad decisions to rob us of victory. The Allies had complete control of the skies and any movement was very hard. Our reconnaissance units came under attack well before Normandy by P47 fighters. Once engaged, any breakthroughs we could achieve were pushed back by the vast amount of artillery the Allies expended. We knew we were beat in the first month when we failed to push to the beaches, but we had to keep fighting for our people. Das Reich and my reconnaissance units fought very hard, and with honor, but against the superior forces of the enemy we had no chance. My Stugs [Sturmgeschütz assault gun] could take on most Allied armor, and have 20-1 kill ratios, but the sheer overwhelming numbers defeated us. Due to air superiority, we lacked every type of supply from fuel to food. Often times the civilians would offer food to us since they saw we had none. I would like to add that the behavior of our enemies was atrocious; they killed countless civilians due to their reckless bombardments, and then blamed us for the deaths. The civilians were surprisingly very friendly to us, and we to them, even though they knew the Allies were trying to 'liberate' them.

I do not want to sound like I am condemning them all, but the Allies, in their quest to 'liberate Europe', killed many innocent people. They shot German soldiers who were surrendering or surrendered, looted, raped, and needlessly destroyed towns. I watched a Norman village get leveled because they thought we occupied it but were too lazy to check. I saw the survivors flee towards our lines after it was over. A French grandmother brought her 16-year-old granddaughter to our medical unit, who was raped by an Allied soldier and she wanted help. We had to brush her off as we had a battle to fight, so we sent her rearward to a French hospital and told her to inform the local police. More than once I saw Allied planes strafe towns killing civilians. I read recently in Der Spiegel a story about civilians being executed by SS men. I would surmise they were killed by strafing, and it was easier to lay blame on the 'evil' SS. My men should never have seen such things, 18 and 19 yearolds needed to be in university or doing trades, not witnessing cruelty and needless destruction. The Allied actions made us fight like devils and cost them very dearly for every inch they took.

Can I ask when you personally realized the war was lost?

Ernst: Well, most Germans would tell you it was when America entered the war, and we understood the vast capabilities of your nation. At the same time, our armed forces were small, and just coming into their own. We had impressive victories that stunned even ourselves. I did not feel we would lose until the Ardennes Offensive [or as American propaganda called 'The Battle of the Bulge', trying to downplay its embarrassing near-success]. I believed somehow, there would be a break in the Allies; perhaps the western allies would see the dangers of communism. By 1945, I finally saw the war for what it was, a united front to destroy the ideas that were a threat to Communism and world Jewry. Even in certain defeat, the SS man stood faithful, not shirking from duties, and facing death with a zeal of knowing we were right, but facing fate.

You were in the Panzer arm, what was your impression of Allied arms versus German?

Ernst: I was not technically in the Panzer arm, I was in the artillery, and a Sturmgeschütz should be considered mobile artillery tank hunters. Germany produced some very good arms and some very bad. There is today a great fascination in German Panzers, and a myth has formed that we had the greatest, which supports the idea that under Hitler we geared up for war and conquest, so he gave us the best weapons of war. This is not true. Germany was not made ready for war until 1943, and the Panther and Tiger had so many issues that most losses were due to breakdowns. Allied arms were just as good, perhaps even better, but I believe we had better trained crews who were motivated by a firm belief in what we were fighting for. That is why some units had very high kill ratios. The Stugs should have been given a greater priority, as kill ratios were very good and due to their low profiles, we were harder to see and hit. The problem was if we were hit, most all Allied arms and anti-tank guns could take one out.

[Above: Krag 'assaulted' by a wild German Shepherd.]

[Above: From left to right: Hermann Bolte, Friedrich-Wilhelm Graun, Ernst Krag, Wolfgang Otto and Hartmut Braun.]

[Above: Ernst Krag, an aged hero whose time will one day come.]

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