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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Adding a personal touch to the Battle of Dunkirk

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The Battle of Dunkirk was somehow part of my childhood, because my father had taken part in it as a 20 year old German soldier with a good knowledge of the French language. He therefore also helped out as an interpreter. Drafted into the Wehrmacht in summer 1939, he participated in the Polish campaign as a wireless operator before ending up on the Western Front.

He seldom talked about the war, though Dunkirk was a location that he mentioned occasionally. There he captured two young unarmed English soldiers, which were hiding in a ditch and scared out of their minds. At the time he didn‘t speak much English yet (as he went to London roughly ten years later to do so), but somehow calmed them down. They came out with their hands up and he accompanied them to a nearby gathering place for prisoners of war.

My father never saw them again, and they probably both went home happily in 1945, or maybe earlier during a POW exchange. However, for the rest of his life he remembered the huge amounts of corned beef tins and fine RAF pilot jackets that fell into German hands during those turbulent weeks. As he was never interested in fashionable clothing, he probably even didn’t try to get one of those…

99 British soldiers from the Royal Norfolk Regimen weren’t so fortunate. After they had surrendered near the village of Le Paradise to the 4th Company of the Waffen-SS Division Totenkopf, under the command of Hauptsturmführer (the equivalency of a captain in foreign armies) Fritz Knöchlein, they became victims of a summary execution. The two survivors managed to achieve justice for their comrades after the war. Knöchlein was hanged as a war criminal on January 21st, 1949 in Hamburg.

I didn’t bother to see the 2017 action movie named after the battle, as I barely pay attention to Hollywood productions anymore. Most offer little more than the usual propaganda. British-American filmmaker Christopher Nolan openly admitted that he had embraced German director Werner Herzog’s idea of “ecstatic truth” in fiction…

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