From Mr Ernest Hall
Sir, - In his report concerning the liquidation of the Warsaw
26 April), Gavin Drake writes: "It is considered politically
correct to think about ordinary Germans as victims of Hitler's Nazi
ideology and regime. But not in Warsaw. Too many Germans were
involved to put the blame on an extremist minority."
I spent the final 18 months of the Second World War as an
"other-ranks" prisoner-of-war in a small (only 30 prisoners)
working camp, or Arbeitskommando, in Zittau, in eastern
Germany. There was an Unteroffizier (corporal) in charge,
and the guards were ordinary soldiers like ourselves, neither the
brutal bullies nor the mindless automatons of fiction. Once we had
a basic knowledge of German, they talked freely to us when they
felt that it was safe to do so.
One of them, Otto Rosenstück, told me that he had been one of
the German soldiers who had taken part in that action. It had, he
told me, changed his whole attitude towards the war and towards the
Nazi regime. He had been deeply ashamed. But what should he have
done, and what would we have done under similar circumstances?
He was a young married man with a young son - a toddler aged
about 18 months. Should he have made a futile protest, and, by
doing so, made martyrs not just of himself, but of his wife and
son? He did what, I think, many of us would have under those
circumstances: did as little as he could get away with, and was
thankful when he was posted elsewhere - to the Eastern Front, in
his case. There, he lost all his toes from frostbite, and, because
he could no longer march properly, was assigned to guarding us.
There is, I think, a Native American proverb: "Don't criticise
one of your fellow-men until you have walked a mile in his
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