German POW asks: 'Why did America give their young men for us?'
German POW asks: 'Why did America give their young men for us?'
KOENIGSWINTER, Germany – Paul Golz was a 19-year-old German private when he was captured by the Americans in a Normandy field, three days after the D-Day invasion.
Golz says it was a stroke of luck that changed the trajectory of his life.
Being a prisoner of war in America for two years beat being a soldier in Germany, where Golz had avoided the hellish eastern front and refused to join the Waffen-SS, which after World War II was deemed a criminal organization for its atrocities.
As a POW in America, Golz tasted his first Coca-Cola, met comedian Red Skelton, watched Mickey Mouse at the cinema and heard jazz music for the first time. Along the way, he learned English, a skill that led him to a long career with the German foreign service.
The invasion ultimately changed his life for the better, Golz said. “Otherwise I was a poor farmer’s boy. I have seen another life. I’ve always had a good guardian angel all of my life.”
Golz returned to Normandy for the first time since the war in 2014 and hopes to go back for the 75th anniversary of the invasion that turned the tide of WWII and helped the Allies win.
Now 94 with white hair and piercing blue eyes, Golz lately has been asked to tell his war story more often. War veterans are dying off quickly and Golz is an eyewitness to the historic battle from the other side of the shores of Normandy.
Golz almost didn’t make it to Normandy in June 1944. An ammunition runner in the German Wehrmacht, Golz’s unit was sent to Russia to fight in January 1944. But Golz got very sick, sidelining until the end of March.
“Everyone was dead,” Golz said, of the 50 soldiers in his company sent to fight in Russia. “My guardian angel had given me diphtheria and scarlet fever.”
On April 4, 1944, Golz’s 19th birthday, he was sent to Baumholder and assigned to a machine gun team with the 91st Air Infantry Division.
From there, they walked more than 500 miles to help defend the French harbor of Saint-Nazaire. When the Allies never came there, Golz’s team was ordered to Normandy. At Cherbourg’s heights, Golz helped place “Rommel asparagus” logs driven into the ground and connected with barbed wire to snare Allied gliders and paratroopers.
The Americans have landed
On the morning of the invasion, Golz was near Carentan, where at about 6 a.m., he went to a local farmer for milk.
“He knew me,” Golz said of the French farmer. “Every morning I went to him to get milk.”
But the farmer said, “’Hey, listen, get out, get out! The Americans have landed already with tanks,’” Golz said. “He heard it on the radio.”
Golz’s team was sent to the fight, toward Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the first village in Normandy liberated by the Allies.
Along the way, Golz remembers “looking for chocolate or something to eat. We were hungry and thirsty.”
They saw gliders and parachutes strewn in the meadows, remnants of the airborne assault on Normandy that had begun the night before the invasion.
While passing through hedges, he encountered his first American, a paratrooper waving his rifle with a white sock over it in surrender. “He was trembling with fear,” Golz said.
“I won’t do you any harm,” Golz said calmly, in German.
The paratrooper offered him water from his canteen, but Golz remained wary of what might be inside. “First, I had him drink it,” he said.
Later, Golz and a fellow soldier named Schneider saw another paratrooper down in a field. This time, the American was dead. Schneider rifled through the dead man’s pockets and pulled out a wallet. Inside was a photo of a woman. Schneider then tried to pry a gold ring off the American’s finger but could not get it off.
He said he was going to cut the finger off. Golz told him, “‘If you cut the finger, I blow you away.’”
As they continued, Golz and his fellow soldiers spent more time hunkered down in ditches than on the road because of constant air attacks. U.S. warplanes made strafing runs so low to the ground that Golz could see pilots’ faces.
But he wasn’t scared, he said. “It was a new situation for us. What shall happen now?” At such a young age, he said, one doesn’t think about dying.
Three days after the invasion, Golz and his team of four were supposed to cover his company’s withdrawal. After firing at a column of American trucks, the Germans hid in old foxholes. Golz looked up to see their only escape route at the pasture entrance blocked by an American Sherman tank.
“‘Hey, boys, come on. Hands up,’” the Americans shouted, as they came into the pasture.
The Americans searched the prisoners and found the wallet Schneider took. A soldier hit Schneider with the butt of his rifle, Golz said.
“If he (the American soldier) had found the finger, he (Schneider) probably would have been shot, so I was his guardian angel for him,” Golz said.
A first meal and on to America
After being marshaled up by the Americans, Golz walked by scores of wounded Germans and their desperate cries of “comrade, help me.”
“So much for a hero’s death,” Golz remembers thinking at the time.
They walked several hours to Utah Beach, where thousands of ships and landing boats dotted the coastline, and then boarded a British transport ship. After days of no food and water, Golz and his fellow prisoners were treated to a “first meal” in the ship’s mess of sausage, mashed potatoes, white bread and a cup of coffee.
It did little to curb their hunger.
The prisoners queued a second and third time. Finally, the mess officer yelled: “What the hell is going on here? We only have 800 German prisoners on board and 8,000 have eaten!”
From England, Golz traveled by train to Scotland, and then, along with about 2,000 German POWs, by the Queen Mary liner to America.
Confronting the past, looking ahead
Golz spent two years at Camp Patrick Henry, where he had “a good time” as a POW in Newport News, Va.
He worked in the kitchen and grew vegetables in the garden. He learned how to bowl, listened radio shows, mowed the lawn, played football and made friends with Americans.
But Golz and the other Germans were also confronted with reality of Nazi crimes against humanity when the camp showed the movie “Factories of Death” about the concentration camps.
Golz said that after the movie was shown to the prisoners, they were punished and given only bread and water for a week.
Golz was sent to Scotland to rebuild roads in 1946 and returned to Germany the next year as a free man. It was difficult to find work, but the English he learned helped him when he applied for a job with the German foreign office. Over the years, he was stationed in Madagascar, Nigeria and Togo, but never made it back to the United States.
Now, 75 years after D-Day, Golz lives in Pleiserhohn, a rural district of Koenigswinter, about 12 miles east of the former West Germany’s capital city of Bonn. Golz briefly reflected on the upcoming anniversary of D-Day.
“So many died on 6th of June. Why did America give their young men for us?” Golz asked. From his point of view, America’s victory freed Germany from the Nazi regime.
But Golz is not a man who lives in his past. He follows political news on TV and thinks about the world we are living in now. To “keep peace and democracy” is important, he said.
“No one can do anything alone in the world anymore. We need each other.”
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