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Ernst Bender's Soldbuch Story
By Eric Tobey


The following was taken from the Die Neue Feldpost newsletter & was done so with permission of the publisher.  We would like to thank him for his generosity as well as thank all those who have contributed to this article.  It is with their efforts, we are able to share this valuable research with the rest of you.

War is tragic.  We know it is because the poets, writers, veterans and victims are constantly telling us so.  But the meaning of "tragedy" comes more into focus when we find it woven into the history of something we research so much that we become almost personally involved.  For instance, after reading about and researching the 272nd Division for literally hundreds of man hours, we get a peek at "tragedy" when we read about the slaughter of two score of 272nd Landser in a bunker in the Siegfried Line, and comprehend the description of the carnage that clean-up crews found inside when it was over.  After all, these guys were from "our" particular piece of WW2, so we may feel a pang of regret when we read about the event as a whole.  However, it becomes almost painful when you can put a name, face, and life story on one of those lifeless bundles that were carried out into the open on that winter day....

It was January of 1945 and the battle for Bunker 24 was over.  A destroyed American tank stood at the entrance of the bunker as sort of a baleful honor guard as a party of somber Feldgrau carry the bodies out of the broken structure.  One of these bodies is laid on the ground and relieved of his Soldbuch and personal effects.  His dogtag is fished out from among layers of clothing and is broken in half.  This little scene was carried out more times between 1939 and 1945 than we can count, but we know this casualty, we know what he looked like when he was alive and vital, and we know the name of the person would mourn him when word of his fate reached home.  This soldier's name was Ernst Bender, and the shock waves of the blast that killed him would eventually carry all the way to Minna, his wife, who was now another victim of World War Two.  This article is a translation of the information in his Soldbuch.

Ernst was born on Oct. 14, 1907, and eventually found his wife in the girl named Minna.  They lived in a place called Staufenberg.  Despite a receding hairline, Ernst was a rather handsome man with a friendly face, 5'-5" tall, with black hair graying at the temples and brown eyes.

In February of 1941, Ernst was drafted into the German Army, and his first post was the 390th Infantry Replacement Battalion.  He was issued a Soldbuch and an aluminum dogtag with the inscription 3./Inf.Ers.Btl.390  "5017" (his tag number), and "A" (his blood type).  By March, he was with 32./Landesschützen Bn. 411.  This unit supplied personnel for the POW facilities in Wehrkrise V.  Next he was transferred to the Bewach.-Komp. of Mil.Stammlager 385, which meant that he was probably a guard in Stalag 385.

By August of 1941, after 18 months of service, Ernst was promoted to Oberschütze, and this was as high as he would go.  As a member of these "zone of the interior" units, he was armed with a Czech G24t, and then a French rifle.

In the fall of 1943, Stalag 385 was dissolved and its German personnel transferred elsewhere.  Ernst was transferred to Landesshützen Bn. 917. which was moved to the Ukraine to assist the German 6th Army with rear-echelon duties such as guarding prisoners, guarding railways, anti-partisan duties, etc..  Apparently, Obergrenadier (in 1943 all the "Schützen" were renamed "Grenadiers") Bender was not used to the rigors of field service, for on April 27th, 1944, he was admitted to Reserve Hospital VIIId in Vienna with Bronchitis.  It was almost a month before he was deemed fit to return to duty.  The war was slowly coming to meet Ernst Bender of Staufenberg.

After recovering enough to leave the hospital, he got a 14-day convalescent leave.  On his way home, he received a "Führergeschenk" (a gift parcel of foodstuffs scarce at home: coffee, sugar, dried fruits, etc..) and 10 Reichmarks as a token of his country's appreciation for his duty outside the Reich.  After returning from leave, he joined the ranks of the Genesenden Kp. (convalescent) company of Landesschützen Ers.u.Ausb.Bn.6 (Home defense replacement and training Bn. 6).  He was with this outfit only briefly, but long enough to have his picture taken for his Soldbuch.  The photo shows him, smiling pleasantly, and dressed in some non-standard wool tunic.  From here, it was back to 6th Army and the 917th Landesshützen Battalion.  The front had changed.  Aggressive new sweeping attacks by the Soviets were now turning German zones of communications and supply into battlefields.  In August of 1944, Ernst's unit was involved in heavy fighting around a Moldavian city named Jassy as the Soviet 2nd and 3rd Ukranian Fronts completed and encirclement of the doomed 6th Army.  Ernst was wounded in the head by a shell splinter, and this landed him in the hospital for the next month.  Ernst Bender of Staufenberg had just received war's warm greeting.

After discharge from the hospital, Ernst was transferred to the convalescent company of Grenadier Ers.u.Ausb.Bn.306.  This may have been a cause for concern for Ernst because this unit was not a replacement center for rear-echelon units; it provided replacements for combat units.  It's also an indication of Germany's manpower shortage to point out that a 37-year-old man who had previously been restricted to guarding prisoners and rear-echelon duty was now being culled for frontline combat.  He was with this unit until he was put in a transport pool (Marsch-Kompanie 306) for transfer to the front.  Before leaving, he was given 15 days leave to visit his family.  This was in November of 1944, and by that December, Ernst found himself in the company of Füsilier Kompanie 272.  Obergrenadier Bender now became Oberfüsilier Bender.  After 4 years, Ernst Bender of Staufenberg was now in war's full embrace.

What did this new member of Volksgrenadier Division 272 bring with him as he joined his new comrades under the mutter of the guns on the Westfront?  In a small document called a Ausbildungsnachweiß (or "training record sheet", which was supposed to be destroyed as soon as the soldier reached his field unit, but seems often to have survived), the 306th Replacement and Training Bn. indicated that Ernst was trained as a rifleman, and that his job in the front lines should be the same.  This same unit also inventoried his clothing and equipment, with the following results:
 

field cap tunic
1 pr. trousers 1 pr. drawers
overcoat collar liner
shirt sweater
toque gloves
1 pr. socks 2 pr. footwraps
1 pr. low-quarter boots 1 pr. gaitors
helmet rucksack
lard container Zeltbahn
belt and buckle one blanket-roll strap
breadbag without strap canteen with cup
two ammo pouches  mess kit
hand towel mess utensils
two handkerchiefs two brushes
Zwieback bag two blankets
one "Sohlen" (?)

He is also recorded as having a Model 30 gasmask, a gas-sheet, and one container of anti-gas skin salve.  No record of any weapon, so perhaps he was shipped to the front without one, and received one from the 272nd Division.

On January 5th, 1945, the war loosened its embrace of Ernst Bender of Staufenberg, and let the earth have him: Ernst was killed by the blast effects of American demolition on the bunker in which he was sheltered.  His wife Minna received the sad news on January 26, 1945.  Sometime later, she would have received something else: her husband's personal effects, sent to her by the Company Hauptfeldwebel, Herman Fuhrmeister.  In the package would have been "...photographs, one change purse containing 45 Pfenning, and one lighter."

Ernst now shares a grave with a young man named Erich Teumer in the military cemetery at Gemünd.  Ironically, Ernst's date of death carved upon the stone is wrong: instead of "5.1.45", it reads vaguely "Dez.44".  Of course, this is a relatively insignificant error involving an insignificant person from an insignificant battle, so who will ever really care?

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