WW2 Controversies

|   22 October 2011

In honour I gained them and in honour I will die with them

Dealing with a difficult past…

I’ve just got back from filming in Germany for my next TV series, and was reminded by my cameraman of an incident a few years ago when we were filming an interview with a distinguished former German soldier. He had retired as a General in the Bundeswehr, the post-war German army. He was a pioneering tank commander and had helped develop NATO’s strategy during the 1950s and 60s in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe.

However, I was interested in his career during WW2 when he had taken part in the epic battle of Kursk in 1943 in Western Russia – the largest tank battle in history. But after the interview he showed me his various post-war awards and medals. In his book of certificates were numerous citations from the West German government, the British and the Americans. But as I flipped through the pages I came across a number of other certificates clearly not from the post WW2 era. These ones were headed ‘In Namen des Fuehrers’ (‘In the name of the Fuehrer’) and bore the swastika symbol.

‘You won a great deal of gallantry medals fighting for the Nazis,’ I said.

‘Fighting for Germany,’ he corrected me.

‘And I notice you keep them in the same folder as your post-war awards,’ I said, a little incredulously. He replied with a variant of Nelson’s famous words at the Battle of Trafalgar, which he spoke when warned not to go on deck wearing all his medals since French sharpshooters could easily target him. ‘In honour I gained them,’ said Nelson, ‘and in honour I will die with them.’

Then he looked at me, clearly annoyed. ‘But you know the worst thing,’ he said. ‘Once I was in the Bundeswehr, the West German government wouldn’t let me wear the medals that I won on the Eastern Front during the Second World War! Imagine that!’

I remember I stared back at him for a moment, unable to think of anything appropriate to say.

2 Responses to “In honour I gained them and in honour I will die with them”

  1. Nicked says:

    Maybe he was foolish to think he could wear a defeated nations medals but you cannot blame him for being proud of them. Should you diminish someone’s achievements because they were born German and in the era of the Nazis? When he won them he was on the winning side – and if the nazis had won ……..

  2. I guess I don’t see the issue with wearing a governments medals after that government has fallen. US soldiers still wear the Republic of Vietnam medals, though the issuing government no longer exists. The medals were issued to honor his valor and other achievements. Just because the government isn’t around anymore doesn’t mean his actions didn’t occur.