Karl Juesten
Karl Juesten

Interview recorded:

Lage(Lippe), NRW, Germany


In August 1943 you were conscripted to the Reichsarbeitsdienst(labour service). What was the course of events?

I had completed the last year at the town’s school, which was turned into a grammar school after the war. But the lessons were given like at a grammar school. That’s why I would have had to go to Mülheim/Ruhr after four years of war. And that was ruled out for me, 10 kilometres each way from Essen/Kettwig and back.

At the graduation ceremony the headmaster, who had always been a Nazi, encouraged me to join the Waffen-SS as I could get a good training there. Soldiers could study engineering like in today’s army. Those were just pretexts. I was, as a result of my upbringing, very much against the political situation of the time. I was 17, had just graduated and was then conscripted to the Reichsarbeitsdienst.

When I was conscripted, I was based in a work-camp in Burg-Niedergenmünden near Gießen.

There they didn’t really harass us, but gave us a military education. First we used spades, but several weeks later the spades were put aside and we were given rifles. In Gießen the training took 6 to 8 weeks and then we were transported to Boulogne-sur-mer near Calais, France, where we were used to build bunkers for the F-weapon.

In the mornings we went to the building site, it probably was a quarry or a gravel pit, I can’t remember that so well. Anyway, it was in a trough, that’s where the bunkers were built. This went on for about 9 months until the Allied Forces landed in Cherbourg. Shortly after that we fled from there. Till that time we kept working on those bunkers, the Nazis still believing something coming from England could be shot down. I suppose the bunkers were never actually deployed. On our flight we headed for Belgium where there where partisans and shootings everywhere. I was wounded and taken to hospital in Utrecht, Holland. There were alarms and air attacks, England being the runway for bomber units lay right in front of our doorstep, up there in northern France and Holland. There was permanent action from the airforce.

After eight days of being in hospital I was taken by train to Ibbenbühren near Münster, where I convalesced. In my opinion this was only possible thanks to a Christian, a religious family that was liberal in its attitudes which coincided with my upbringing in Öfte/Ketwig. There I didn’t grow up among lots of Nazis and I had always been a kind of person who kept his thoughts to himself. Not everybody was able to do that unfortunately.

Lots of people believed in what was being propagated. Apart from that I had an uncle who was against the Nazis and who had always told me stories. So it wasn’t that difficult for me to understand how to behave in those days. Of course, one could read the names of dead soldiers in the newspaper, which made you realize how much in danger one’s own life was.

There were the bombardments of the big cities by the Allied Forces, but we lived in the country, in the middle of the Ruhr-Area though. That was very lucky for me, but not for others. I never used to be a part of Nazi-circles or felt involved with their ideas. That’s why I wasn’t ever tempted. Luckily, I was at an age where I could understand how to go about regarding me and my family, e.g. never to be thoughtless. My parents kept a low profile, they never said much. The mood was not much in favour of the Hitler regime. But at the age I was in you would have acted similarly. You would have been able to see the situation as clearly as I did and survive. It’s a totally different matter when you have the experience of a long life. But when I was your age [17 years old], it wasn’t that difficult to just let everything wash over oneself.

We never suffered from hunger, at home we had everything because we lived in the country. We had two big gardens , we could produce everything ourselves. We were quite well-off at a time where lots of people had a hard life.

That was my first experience I could make in the first weeks, we still weren’t in France then. I was together with some lads from the Düsseldorf harbour area, who had a communist attitude against national socialism and who were more convinced than I was.

At home we weren’t communists. Among the lads we rooted against communism within the ‘Reichsarbietsdienst’, which I found very interesting. Some of them played the guitar and sang anti-Nazi songs at the work-camp. It made my blood run cold whenever I watched and listened to them. It was so very interesting, I had never experienced that before. They were very much against Naziism.

The command of the work-camp had obviously noticed that there was something wrong as a result of which we were being harassed by having to do extra parading on the parading ground and additional marching. And when we were in France, I had to stand guard with some Joseph Sack. He told me that if we ever came into a situation where would have to shoot, he would shoot in the opposite direction meaning he wanted to shoot at his own officers. I thought that it was easier said than done, up to then I couldn’t imagine it. But he said it, probably because he trusted me, believing that I could read his mind, that I wouldn’t utter anything about him.

If I had done that, he would have been arrested. Somebody who said something like that was in utmost danger to life.

What was it like in France, with the local population?

I’d say the situation was surprisingly relaxed. Of course, France wasn’t exactly on friendly terms with Germany. But between the people I didn’t notice that, e.g. when we went to Paris by train, we wore uniform but without a gun in the holster or in the hand.