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PoW’s conversation about Warsaw Ghetto

03 May 2013


From Mr Ernest Hall

Sir, - In his report concerning the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto (News, 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 moccasins."

88 Dudley Road
Clacton-on-Sea CO15 3DJ

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