Some men are born to a love of violence. Others acquire a taste for it. In wartime many consider it a tool to be put away once victory had been achieved. Never the less, all of those who have experienced it will find they remain marked by it until death. For those of us born to it, even fewer will realize that it is a love that must be contained, hidden, and controlled for otherwise it will destroy us. Like fire, all it knows is that it must burn. Who and what it consumes in the process means nothing to it.
The following story began as a series of interviews I did with a World War II veteran of the German Police whom I met while doing research for a book about the German security troops role in the Holocaust. I called the Goethe Institute in Washington D.C., and asked if they knew of any German war veterans, especially ones that had served in the elite units, who were living in the area and might be willing to reminisce about their experiences in the war on a strictly anonymous basis. I had a pleasant chat with a member of their staff but they were unable to assist me.
I called other German organizations in the United States who I thought might be able to help me, but as soon as I mentioned the war and elite units, I found that a noticeable coolness colored their voices followed by quick close to the conversation. I decided to alter my initial approach by making a point of mentioning at the beginning of the conversation that I was not interested in discussing atrocities or politics. What I was interested in was how the average soldier lived and survived, especially in the hell that was the war in the east. It didn't make any difference in their response to my request for assistance.It had not been a good war and I they were not eager to discuss it.
I had hoped for, but did not expect to find a German Police veteran, and initially I was not disappointed. I did end up conducting a rather long interview with a man who I don’t believe ever saw combat in the war but who was very lonely. Eventually I gave up hope of finding anyone and finished my book using the resources available at the library of the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. Less than a week after I sent the manuscript to the editor I received a phone call from a friend of the person I had originally talked to at the Goethe Institute.
Her Grandfather had not only served with the police on the eastern front but he was interested in talking with me. I was interested, but not as interested as I would have been months earlier. I decided to go ahead and meet with him, but I was fully prepared to drop it if it looked like it was going to be a waste of time. Not surprisingly I found the conversation would only take place if I agreed to a few simple conditions. He would speak with me only if I could promise anonymity by attributing what he told me to a pseudonym, not for his sake, but for his granddaughter. I also could not publish anything we discussed until after his death. This was understandable, as I knew that if he had actually served with a police battalion in the east, then he would still be liable for deportation and trial as a war criminal. Only later, after we had done a number of interviews did I find myself wondering if I had made a deal with the devil.
This manuscript is compendium of our interviews and his autobiography which I received after his death from his granddaughter. The autobiography was almost a thousand pages of handwritten text in Sütterlin script. Entire chapters describing his post-war life in America, once I deciphered them, were later turned over to the FBI’s Serial Crime Unit.
I have translated his prose, which was written in rather stilted German to a more modern style, including using idioms and slang that was not in use at the time. I have written it this way because I believe it will make it easier for those of us born after 1925 to read. The same motivation led me to change the Wehrmacht and SS ranks to their equivalent in the U.S. Army. I have also deleted the tedious anti-Semitic rants. Wherever possible I have blended our interviews in with what I later found written in his autobiography and I have left any discrepancies in the text. I do not doubt the authenticity of his story but I am well aware how age can selectively erase or blur dates and locations.
While I was impressed with his candor, and personally found him to be quite charming. I would occasionally catch a glimpse of the man who lived the story that follows. I believe this world is a far better off place without him. I will not know what conclusions, you the reader will draw about him as a man when you finish reading this story. For myself, I found that it was a pity he did not stop a Russian bullet early on in the war as did so many of his comrades.
May the souls of his many victims, as well as the millions who died as a result of the actions of the German Police Battalions rest in peace.