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Paul Radek'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.

Each time 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.

The book 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.

Paul 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.

On 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 Czechoslovakia.1

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.

The 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.

After 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.
 

The 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.

While the 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, I presume.

In 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.

On March 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 lower Dnieper.

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 formally disbanded.

As 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.

When he 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:
  

field cap tunic wool trousers
drawers overcoat shirt
sweater toque gloves
overgloves pr. socks pr. footwraps
pr. jackboots pr. running shoes steel helmet
rucksack fat container belt & buckle
Zwieback bag canteen  1 blanket roll strap
mess kit 2 ammo pouches hand towel
eating utensils handkerchief pants suspenders
Zeltbahn w/ accessories breadbag w/ strap

About a 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.

Next, it 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.
 

We 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.

On 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.

By this 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 Soviets arrived.

Today, 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.

 


1This is the first time I have ever come across a soldier who was "recruited" by a field unit before being sent to a training unit!

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