Hitler’s reign might have ended in 1945 but we still study about him in our history textbooks and have at least a little knowledge about him and his atrocities. We also know that during the World War II, the Wehrmacht, the German army, waged war against Western Europe and Russia, conquering almost every country they came across in Europe. On the 6th of June 1944, the allied invasion of Normandy (D-Day) began, pushing back the Wehrmacht from France little by little.
What struck me few days back was that no such honour was given to the German soldiers who fought against the allies and died fighting. Sure, it is true that they killed many people, Jews and others, but only because they were ordered to do so. If they did not follow the orders, they might have been court-marshalled or even killed. These Wehrmacht, SS, SA troops in the German army had families as well, just like the allied soldiers. Many of them followed orders blindly, believing that they were protecting their country, believing that they could win. Even though they had doubts in their hearts, they ignored it and followed orders.
Many of the German soldiers are fine example of humanity. The Commander of the German Twelfth Army, Walther Wenck, during the Battle of Berlin had helped several civilians (estimated to be about a quarter million) to provide refuge to them East of the Elbe River, as the civilians fled the approaching Soviet forces. He ordered his soldiers to help the civilians as well as soldiers of the ninth army evacuate. Still, these men were not honoured.
Another notable example is a German pilot, Luftwaffe pilot Franz Stigler, who once helped his enemy. A B-17 bomber commanded by 2nd Lt Charles Brown was severely damaged by German fighters. Franz Stigler had the opportunity to shoot down the crippled bomber he did not do so. Though the damaged bomber’s airframe Stigler was able to see the injured and incapacitated crew. To the American pilot’s surprise, Stigler did not open fire on the crippled bomber. He recalled the words of one of his commanding officers, “If I ever see or hear of you shooting at a man in a parachute, I will shoot you myself.” Stigler later commented, “To me, it was just like they were in a parachute. I saw them and I couldn’t shoot them down.” Twice Stigler tried to signal Brown to land at a German airfield and surrender or go to neutral Sweden where the crew would receive medical treatment and remain for the rest of the war. But Brown did not understand what Stigler was trying to say and flew on. Stigler flew in a formation along the bomber so the German anti-aircraft guns wouldn’t shoot it down. When he ensured that the bomber was out of German airspace, Stigler departed with a salute (only to be reunited with Brown much later). This is honour in the sky. However, people like him are not honoured because people see all of them as evil.
Germany itself wants to forget anything related to Hitler and that is completely understandable. Nobody wants to remember a dictator who ultimately brought ruin to their country. But in the process, they forget those soldiers too. They deserve such respect too. They (the soldiers) could have just given up fighting and surrendered to the allies. But they decided to fight till the very last breath, to fight for Germany and protect what they believed was right. Even then their fighting was not recognised, neither was their courage or bravery. They had been labelled evil by everyone, but everyone forgot although German, they were still soldiers, doing their duty as ordered to!
Class XI C (Science Stream)
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