THE SOLDIER AND HIS GUARDIAN ANGEL

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Throughout European history, tradition held that one respected and paid tribute to one’s adversaries. Honour, especially on the field of battle, was considered far nobler than cause which inflamed adversarial combat.

Centuries of martial tradition were trampled into the dust by the military victors of WWII. As a body the Allied armed forces destroyed far more than men, they brought disgrace to 1,000 years and more of European heritage by defaming their fallen foe.

However, tributes to their German foe have made by individual soldiers up to the highest ranks of the Allied Armed Forces. Of thousands of tributes made many of the more fittings, with emphasis on rank, have been published in Witness to History by Mike Walsh (Amazon Books).

Fritz Christen (1921 – 1995) was a decorated soldier of the Totenkopf Division of the Waffen-SS during World War II. Having missed the Polish Campaign, he cut his combat teeth in June 1940 when, to prevent a combined British / French opening of another Western Front, the armed forces of the Reich occupied Vichy France.

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Later, the Totenkopf division was heavily embroiled in combat on the Eastern Front from the first days of Germany’s pre-emptive strike on Bolshevik Occupied Russia, which was launched June 22, 1941.

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In combat, the soldier reflects his childhood, the peaceful times before war becomes the norm for him. The beautiful German women, the military parades, and always in his heart the images of the family back home, emotional rare reunions, and the final reality of being in combat once again.

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On the morning of September 24, 1941, SS-Sturmann Fritz Christen and his anti-tank battery engaged with the Red Army north of the village of Luzhno, a small Russian city situated between St Petersburg and Moscow.

Luzhno

Their small platoon was quickly overwhelmed. His comrades died and Fritz Christen was left alone; just him and the Red Army. While exposed to artillery and small arms fire, Christen manned his 50mm cannon and held on to his position for three days and night without supplies or provisions. When a counterattack by Totenkopf troops recaptured Luzhno, the German infantryman, then just 24-years of age, was credited with having destroyed 13 Soviet tanks during which battles he singlehandedly killed nearly 100 enemy soldiers.

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Fritz Christen in the middle

The rescuing German troops that greeted him were confounded that a single artilleryman could hold his position against hundreds of battle-hardened Red Army troops supported by a formidable armour presence.

For this stunning act of individual bravery, SS-Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke awarded SS-Sturmann Christen with the Iron Cross, First Class and recommended him simultaneously for the Knight’s Cross. Subsequently, Adolf Hitler personally awarded him the highest award of the Reich, making Fritz Christen the first conscript in his division to be given the honour. Christen served with distinction for the remainder of the war.

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In spring 1945, he was captured by the Americans along with the remainder of the dwindling Totenkopf division that surrendered in Czechoslovakia.

The dishonourable American and British military policy were to treat the SS as a criminal organisation. As this was disallowed under the terms of the Geneva Convention the final solution, therefore, was to forcibly transport surrendered German soldiers to the Red Army which was not a signatory to such conventions as the Geneva Convention.

The surrendered troops of the Totenkopf division could expect especially cruel treatment due to their reputation. Soviet-held prisoners of war POWs, especially those from the Waffen-SS, often died in their lengthy captivity.

German prisoners of Berlin 1945.

German prisoners of Berlin 1945.

Christen, along with many of the men in his unit, endured ten years in a Soviet gulag before being returned to Germany in 1955. Fritz died of natural causes on September 24, 1995. It was exactly 54 years since he had had every good reason to believe his life, along with those of his comrades in arms, was about to end. But, the soldier’s guardian angel thought otherwise.

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