Radek's Soldbuch Story
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.
another Soldbuch from the 272nd became available, I
immediately sent away for it, and after studying the
first half-dozen I was becoming comfortably hardened
to the fact that all of the Füsilier Company books
belonged to casualties. The last one I received,
however, pierced the chinks in my emotional armor in a
particularly gruesome way. The book was
thoroughly stained with what appeared to be blood, and
a subsequent chemical analysis proved this to be the
case. This book has transcended
"curio" status and has become a "momento
mori": a keepsake for remembering the dead.
itself had been carried through nearly the entire war,
and when its natural "worn" quality combined
with the bloodstains, much of the book became
illegible. The following article is derived from
the information still available from the book.
Radek was born on September 25th 1920, and raised
in East Prussia in a town called Schwirgstein near
the larger town of Ortelsburg. Paul's
homeland was unique among the German states: East
Prussia was mostly flat, dotted with shimmering lakes
and stands of white birch trees. The people
themselves displayed a rough-and-ready sense of humor
and a fondness for celebrations which they probably
inherited from their Slavic/German/Celtic racial
admixture. Incidentally, the people from this
corner of the world would not have called themselves
"East Prussians"; they would have referred
to themselves as "Königsbergers", "Oberlanders",
"Masurians", or "Samlanders",
depending on which area of East Prussia they were
from. Paul would have called himself "masuren",
and his homeland was famous for its crystal-clear
lakes and large horse farms. Paul's father,
Wilhelm Radek, was a farmer and Paul had chosen the
same profession. Of course, the war put a
premature end to that career.
November 4th, 1940, Paul was signed into the ranks of
the HQ of the 3rd Battalion of Artillery Regiment 21,
and was issued a dogtag and the Soldbuch from this
unit. The 21st Infantry Division of which this
artillery outfit was a part was refitting after
participating in the invasion of France and had been
in East Prussia since September. After being
signed up by this field unit, Paul was sent off for
training to the 21st's replacement unit (Artillerie
Ersatz Battallion 21) which was stationed on
There is a
distinct possibility that Paul was already an
experienced horseman: country lads who could ride were
often put in the cavalry or horse-drawn artillery.
Paul's first equipment and clothing issue describes
the outfit of a rider: riding boots and breeches,
saddlebags, etc.. Paul would not stay long with the
cannon cockers however, because by the summer of 1941
he was a member of Infantry Regiment 364 and was
fighting on the Eastern Front.
346th was part of the 161st Infantry
Division, and by the fall of 1941 Paul was
fighting as part of the Army Group which was
advancing on Moscow. On October 30th,
1941, Paul was struck in the left side of
his chest by a Soviet shell fragment and was
evacuated to a hospital, where he would
remain for almost two months. This
injury earned him his first decoration in
the form of a black wound badge.
taking a convalescent leave which lasted for the last
two weeks of 1941, he was assigned to the Genesenden
Kompanie of Infantrie Ersatz Btl. 312
(Convalescent Company of Infantry replacement Bn. 312)
in the East Prussian town of Tilsit. For some
reason, when Paul was considered fit enough to return
to the front, he was reassigned to a Brandenburg (Wehrkreise
III) unit in the spring of 1942: Paul was put in the
ranks of 8 Kp., Infantrie Regiment 479 of Infantrie
Division 258. By October of 1942, he had
been promoted to Gefreiter.
258th Division was one of those units which
had distinguished itself a multiple number
of times in combat against the Russians.
Of course, "distinguishing
oneself" again and again against the
Red Army is somewhat reminiscent of the man
who, in order to show his courage, holds his
hand over an open flame until his fingers
burn off. The "Law of Diminishing
Returns" found new meaning in the
meat-grinder of the Eastern Front.
9th Army was retreating before the Soviet offensive in
the summer of 1943, the 258th defended the major
supply depot at Kromy against 15 separate attacks by
superior forces. Later that year, it was
transferred to Army Group South in the Ukraine, but
was down to battle-group strength by October.
One whole regiment was disbanded and the survivors
doled out to two remaining ones, and certain
battalions in these last two regiments were dissolved
as well. This was the typical price that an
Ostfront unit paid to "distinguish" itself,
December of 1943, Paul was given a leave and the
"Führergeschenk". He got back
to the front just in time for the next Russian
onslaught. On February 8th, he was recorded as
having taken part in the battalion's "stormtroop's"
breakthrough near Perevisskiye. The next day he
racked up another assault during a counterattack north
of the same town. A third assault was credited
for a counterattack on Heyandrovka.
10th, 1944, he was awarded two more decorations: the
Iron Cross Second Class and the Infantry Assault
Badge. He was also transferred to the Battalion
HQ of another regiment within the same division.
The Second Battalion of Regiment 478 (which had
previously been disbanded) was being reformed, and
Paul was assigned to the Stab (HQ Group) of
this Battalion. Paul barely had time to adjust
to the transfer and savor his medals, for later that
same month the Russians attacked again, and this time
the 258th would not hold them back. The Division
finally had to pay for its previous years of
meritorious service: it was too worn out to be a match
for the Red Juggernaut which was pressing in on the
Reich. Two more successful assaults were
recorded for Paul on April 8th and 9th at Federovka
near the Dnieper river, but in August the remains of
the division were surrounded and destroyed west of the
annihilation was not quite complete, however, for a
few small groups of German soldiers managed to evade
death or capture and regain the German lines.
Paul Radek was one of these lucky few. Along
with other survivors, Paul was collected in the Auffang-
und Betreuungstelle Für Ruckkämpfer der 6 Armee
(collection- and control point for retreating soldiers
of the 6th Army). From here, he was sent back to
Germany to Aufstellungsstab 514 (Formation
Staff 514) at the Königsbrück training camp to be
recycled with other stragglers into organized fighting
units. There would be no rebuilding of the 258th
Division: the German High Command had decided to
"retire their jersey", and the division was
recognition of the stress resulting from the severe
experience of surviving such a disastrous battle, Paul
was given a Sonderurlaub für Ruckkämpfer
(special leave for soldiers of a fighting retreat).
This was the army's way of saying
"congratulations on beating the odds! Go
home, put yourself together, come back and let's try
again!" This leave lasted from October 27th
to November 19th, 1944.
returned, Paul underwent preparations to send him back
to the front. Everything was checked and
discrepancies made good. On December 4th, 1944,
he went to the clothing stores of Aufkl. Ers. Abt.
10 (recon replacement battalion 10) in Königsbrück
and was reissued the following:
blanket roll strap
week later, he was issued a rifle (serial
number 27497), a bayonet, and a spade.
The next day, December 11h, he had his chemical
warfare and first aid gear issued: one gas-sheet,
2 anti-gas skin salve sticks, and one bandage.
His gas mask was originally issued to him way
back in February of 1942, and he had never lost it or
had it replaced: it was a type 38 mask, serialized
number "2". It was probably here,
also, that he had the picture taken which is glued
(not stapled) inside the cover of his Soldbuch.
This rather striking picture shows a weary-looking
young man, and his features are set in a distinctly
sad expression. This is the true face of the
veteran soldier: sadness and exhaustion caused by
prolonged physical and mental privation. In the
picture, Paul wears a new M-43 tunic with the light
green buttons closed all the way to the neck, and the
turtle-necked sweater is just visible above the tunic
collar. His Iron Cross ribbon is shown, sewn
into the second buttonhole.
was off to the barracks at Zittau, 45 miles southeast
of Königsbrück where the small groups of refitted
soldiers were being assembled for the journey to the
front. It was here that someone discovered that
Paul had lost his dogtag, and a new one was issued
(see the German
Infanterie Dogtags article
for an illustration of this tag). It was
customary for the Wehrmacht to organize its
replacements for the front in regular Marscheinheiten
(transport units) rather than dispatching them as
individuals, and the group that Paul found himself
with was full of transferees from the Luftwaffe: 3.Kp./Marschbatallion
z.b.V. Inf. (gem. LW) 800. Some of the men,
including Paul, wound up as replacements in Füsilier
Kompanie 272, and probably arrived sometime late in
Decemeber 1944 or early in January, 1945.
are not sure what Paul's job was within FK
272, but based on the facts that, 1) he was
issued running shoes, which is one
particular piece of attire which we know was
issued to other men within the unit who
functioned as messengers, and that 2) he was
attached to the company HQ group, he may
have been some sort of messenger or clerk.
February 2, 1945, Paul was with the other members of
the HQ staff as they walked down the road from Einruhr
to Erkensruhr, Germany, to inspect new positions for
the company during the retreat from Monschau corridor.
As they passed a bridge on the route, and artillery
shell landed close by them and a number of them were
killed almost instantly (according to the report);
among them were the company commander, the company's
medical NCO, and Paul Radek. Paul was buried in
the divisional cemetary at Sauermühle.
time, Paul's homeland and his parents were under
Soviet occupation, and the suffering that these
wretched people had to endure is another story.
Unable to inform Paul's parents of his fate, a letter
was sent instead to his sister who was living in
central Germany, perhaps one of thousands of refugees
who sought safety by fleeing Prussia before the
East Prussia is just a memory and a name on old maps.
What used to be German East Prussia is now part of
Poland, and will probably stay that way. As
Paul's life-blood seeped from his body and left its
mark on his Soldbuch, Prussia poured out her
life-blood in the west. As the stained Soldbuch
slowly deteriorates and the reddish-brown blotches
fade, the former Königsbergers, Oberlanders,
Samlanders, and Masurians are aging too, and it's only
a matter of time before all of them are memories, just
like their homeland.
is the first time I have ever come across a
soldier who was "recruited" by a
field unit before being sent to a