Laurence Rees: In the Summer of 1944, Heinz Fiedler was serving as a young radio operator in the Soviet Union with the German Ninth Army, part of Army Group Centre, and he remembers well the level of obedience that his commanders demanded.
Word of Heinz Fiedler: We occasionally received nonsensical orders from the rear, from the division or the army corps. I remember that on one occasion a position was to be regained at any cost, and a young second lieutenant refused to attack again because half of his men had already lost their lives. And they did attack, and they were all just sacrificed. They attacked again and again until the very last one died, and that of course makes you wonder. But those were the men of the General staff. They had their little flags and positioned them on a map. And then they would say, ‘This position must be regained at all costs, whatever sacrifices it involves.’
Laurence Rees: Hitler had ordered that German units create so called fortified places, so that once encircled by the Red Army, they could then fight back. Heinz Fiedler found himself trapped in just such a fortified place at Bobruisk.
Word of Heinz Fiedler: Well, we were encircled, and at the front there were these two tanks which the Russians had buried into the ground with just the turret looking out. I have no idea, I cannot say how they managed to do that. Anyway, they were firing like, like mad, they must have had a huge amount of ammunition. You, you don't feel whether it's hot or cold, light or dark, and, and you don't feel thirst or hunger. It is something akin to, as if you, I don't know, I'm unable to describe it. It's a, some kind of, a… there is such tension. You have to think of the psychological burden on the individuals. I intentionally didn't marry during the war because a widow with children will find it difficult to find another husband, when they already have limited means. But those who were married and had two or three small children at home… to fulfill this order as an integral part of the unit – this psychological burden you cannot measure.
In this situation you think, well, the people in the Führer's headquarters, it's easy for them to talk. Then we did not restrain ourselves from using un-flattering remarks, we were unstinting with them. You half saw yourself as a prisoner of war already, but somewhere, subconsciously, there was still a remnant of hope of being, being able to escape, of some sort of rescue. And I had already learned Russian in case, so that I would somehow be able to make my way through, to the West, towards Germany. On the other hand, there was still this obedience, and nowadays we are accused of having demonstrated blind obedience. But there will never be another army like that. In this world there will never be another army like that German army.
And I remember that, in Russia, one forward observer requested fire onto his own position when the situation had become hopeless. So, rather than falling into Russian hands, he preferred to be killed by the German artillery. Those are the real heroes. Well, and then the final order came saying: ‘Destroy all vehicles! Shoot the horses! Each man take as much hand ammunition and supplies as he can carry! Every man for himself!’ Then just try to save your skin! Some were nervous, no longer in control of themselves, and then the bombers would drop their bombs again and you tried to find a place somewhere into which to duck. We tried to break out but we were getting fired on and then there was panic. An ordinary soldier, a young chap, was lying or sitting there under a birch tree.
There are an enormous amount of birch trees in Russia, you see. He was sitting there and his intestines were spilling out of his body. And he was screaming: ‘Somebody shoot me, somebody shoot me!’ And everybody walked by. I had to stop but I could not shoot him. And then a young second lieutenant from the sappers arrived and delivered the coup de grace with a pistol to his temple. And that’s when I cried bitter tears. I thought to myself, if his mother only knew how her boy ended. Instead all she will receive is a letter from the squadron saying: ‘Your son fell on the field of honour for Great Germany.’ This was the kind of wording the squadron commanders had to send to the bereaved, you see.