Obergefreiter Ernst August Schmidt (1924 - 1945)

By his nephew, Roberto Muehlenkamp

Ernst August Schmidt in 1942

Ernst August Schmidt, my mother's elder brother, was born on 20 October 1924 in Essen, Germany and presumably died in May 1945 as a soldier in the German Army in Czechoslovakia. All I know about him comes from his twin sister Marianne Schmidt, my aunt, who at my request went through the painstaking effort of collecting the official and private documents he left behind and transcribing what little could still be read of the latter, i.e. his letters home during the time of military service which had mostly been written with pencil on very low quality paper.

My uncle was called up for military service at the age of 18 in the autumn of 1942. As he knew how to ride, he was trained to be a dispatch rider and as such saw service first in Denmark, then in France, Italy and Croatia. From Croatia he was transferred to the Eastern Front at the beginning of 1944. His surviving letters transcribed by my aunt, which are translated hereafter, start on 10.03.1944 and end on 04.04.1945.


"We have concluded a 'victorious' retreat and didn't sleep for 8 nights. It is bad what we had to leave behind, especially the many wounded comrades. Yesterday we crossed the little Bug and managed to hold the Russians. I give this letter to a comrade who is going on leave today."


"We have heavy losses but managed to get out of the cauldron. We are supposed to get out of Russia because our division has been almost totally destroyed. This night we got to sleep for the first time in 14 days and could wash for the first time in 3 weeks. I only have left what I carry on me. Tomorrow I'll ride to the rear area, because mail goes off faster from there. Mail is our only joy, the rest is hunger that we overcome with cigarettes, cold and vermin. We are already in Galicia now."


"Today I received a new clothing outfit and could undress and wash the clothes that I was wearing since March. I also got a horse again, which however is slightly wounded."


"So now the long-awaited revenge with the new weapons has come into being. You cannot imagine how good we felt around here upon hearing this, because now there can no longer be any doubt that we will win the war and we have the consolation that the many sacrifices were not made in vain."


"Again cancellation of leaves and hunger. We could send nothing, as sending packages was also forbidden."


"Again retreat, three days ago we crossed the Hungarian border. Where we will get now we don't know. I only have one set of clothing left and am walking on the fire soles."

22.8.1944 (from Poland):

"During the day not a shot is fired, but at night it's all the worse. The Russians are preparing for attack, but I again have the feeling that nothing will happen to me. Only the eternal waiting is taking away the rest of reason that I still have."


"We have high losses in dead and wounded."


"I have now been through 5 days of close quarters combat. Tonight I am to go on a patrol, prisoners are to be taken. I wish I was already back. Yesterday the company next to us was attacked by the Russians, but could beat them back."


"Today I write for a special reason, because we shall attack the Russians tomorrow. Maybe everything will go well for me or I will be wounded. In case I should fall, I thank you for all that you have done for me."


"We are lying in the Southern bend of the Vistula and expect the great Russian autumn offensive."


"My good education forbids me to write how I feel. The whole day you gaze into the landscape and wait for something. Food is good, there are also enough cigarettes and booze, but the latter I don't touch."


"I was wounded on 23.9. Got a shot through the neck (bottom of the mouth), was lucky once again. I am now in the main dressing station, but maybe I will be moved on this evening."


"Arrived today in Trebnitz (Silesia). I'm feeling well, only swallowing and eating still hurt. I will have to go back to the front. Is anyone coming to visit me? ... I went to bandaging and the staff medic thinks that I could go on leave for 14 days. I became very nervous in the hell and am already afraid of returning to the front. In Germany it's like in heaven!"

5.12.1944 (Back in the East after convalescence leave):

"Worrying about us! It is quiet here like in deepest peace. My platoon leader is sleeping and I'm watching the phone. We are all looking forward to Christmas, when we will surely be able to satiate ourselves with food again. Now I've already been back here for a month!. The time in the hospital and the leave are like a dream, I shouldn't even think about it!"


"This is now the third time that I have to wish you 'Merry Christmas' as a soldier. I am very worried about you because I haven't received mail from you for 10 days. Here it is quiet like in peacetime, hopefully it will stay that way. We are looking forward to the Party like children!"


"Today I again got mail from you after weeks. For a Christmas package I will surely wait in vain. I am glad that you will all be in Bad Dürrenberg over the holidays, I always worry about you. Until now it is quiet, but Ivan is worrying us a lot."


"Now its almost Christmas, but we don't feel in a holiday mood. It is very cold, fortunately we got winter clothing in time. Mail is not arriving, I hope there will be some at Christmas, that would be my best present. To Daddy I sent tobacco. We have also received alcohol again."


"Mail at last! We got twigs and decorated our bunker, it looks very festive. We have also washed and shaved, which is a considerable achievement. An hour ago I was on a little patrol. We wanted to get an Ivan, but the guy didn't want to come along, he even fired at us. That's what you do for leave, which is supposed to be granted for bringing in prisoners. If I should get more mail today, I will write again tonight. ... It was a great gift (Christmas cake, wine, champagne and things that a warrior needs). We wondered where all these things come from in the 5th year of the war. The propaganda company installed a loudspeaker behind our position, which transmitted Christmas songs and the speech by Dr. Goebbels. The Russians are quiet, which generally bodes no good. The greatest surprise for me was the promotion to corporal."


"It is still quiet and boring. We are sleeping our youth and our reason away. Yesterday we were at a concert with a declamation of poets by an actor, and that 1 km behind the main battle line. What do you say to the offensive in the West? I see it coming, we will start storming again!"


"It is Sunday and again very boring. I hear the German People's Concert through the phone. From time to time Ivan becomes active, like an hour ago, but we managed to beat him back, things went well once again. We are suffering from hunger and fight it with cigarettes."


"Today - Sunday - I got a lot of mail, which at least gave me a Sunday joy. Sometimes I'm indifferent to everything, we must all die after all. Apart from this: Hunger, cold, boredom.

10.2.1945 (from Bad Dürrenberg, home of the grandparents):

"First I must disappoint you, there will probably be no leave, at least from here. But I'm going from here to the replacement bunch in Detmold. Maybe from there I will get 14 days leave of action. No I will tell you what happened to me, one thing after the other. The whole misery started for us on 12.1. Ivan's first attack came at night, two more followed during the day, and of course we beat them off. In the evening we disengaged. From this day on we marched day and night until 21.1. On 21.1. we were suddenly loaded onto trucks, but the ride was not to last long. After 20 km we had to get out, prepare weapons, receive ammunition and get ready to attack. Thus our fate was sealed. The fight for the village of Plaza I don't want to describe to you. Only this much: My best comrade fell there, and we held the village for 3 days. On 25.1 Ivan attacked with 10 tanks and a regiment of infantry in our company area and broke through. I thought it couldn't get any worse, but it still got worse. In the evening Ivan caught us and we wandered into captivity until 27.1. First the pigs took away the distinctions, which in my case had multiplied: Iron Cross 2nd Class, Infantry Assault Badge, Close Quarters Combat Badge, Wounded Badge in Silver, War Merit Cross and a Croatian medal. Now I have no more documents about these, and if I'm unlucky I won't get any more either. I have been recommended for the Iron Cross 1st Class. Then they beat us, and then we had to work. In the evening we broke through again. On 27.1 was the climax: ground attack planes, artillery barrages, attacks by tanks and infantry. The evening brought deliverance for me and death for my second friend. For me there also was the highest recognition by the regimental commander. In the small town of Schwarzwasser I came to the main dressing station, from there to Mährisch-Ostrau station. Then I went on via Prague, Pilsen, Eger and Nuremberg. There we received tickets to the home hospital and thus I got to Dürrenberg. Here I am in ambulatory treatment. Three times a week I have to go for bandaging of the shot in the arm. Apart from this I can do what I want. I have grown old and overly nervous."

13.3.1945 (from Detmold):

"I arrived well. To Essen I don't write any longer, because they say the Tommies are there already. Today I have again been written fit for combat duty. When I have to go back I don't know yet, but it may take another 14 days. Only yesterday a transport went off to the East. I already met some good comrades of the old company here, and we have a lot to tell each other. They have alarm 3 - 5 times a day here, we then go into the bunker because we have to. Food is good but not enough."


"I have been ordered to a sniper's course in the military training area near Paderborn."


"We have been in disaster duty all week 10 km away from Detmold. 12 hours work plus 2 hours to get there and back. Today we have been formed into a marching company. On Wednesday we are supposed to be going off. When you get this letter, I'll already be on my way to the East. I did not go to the sniper's course after all!"

4.04.1945 (In the East - last letter):

"Now I am back at my old company. Of the old comrades only 2 are left. Our first lieutenant was wounded 14 days ago. At the moment it is very quiet, for how long? We are lying in a village and living quite well. How far are the Tommies now? You don't hear anything anymore around here."

* * *

The last letter reached my aunt in October 1945, together with the Soldbuch that had been issued as a replacement for the one lost in Soviet captivity at the end of January 1945. My aunt wrote to German and foreign entities between 1946 and 1948 in regard to her brother, corporal Ernst August Schmidt, born 20.10.1924 in Essen, last Feldpost-Nummer 43872 D, last unit 7.Kompanie / Grenadier-Regiment 670 / 371.Infanterie-Division 670, last news dated 02.04.1945 from Mährisch-Weisskirchen. One of these entities, the Hilfsdienst für Kriegsgefangene und Vermißte der Württembergischen Evangelischen Landeskirche des Caritasverbandes für Württemberg und Rotes Kreuz Württemberg / Baden in Stuttgart, gave her the names and addresses of three returnees from the same regiment. She wrote to each of them and got a reply from each of them, but none could tell her anything about her brother's fate. The letters are dated 10.8.1949, 3.10.1949 and 18.10.1949.

It was only thirty years later, on 21.01.1980, that my aunt got a letter from the German Red Cross, Search Service Munich, which had a "Gutachten", a report, attached and referred to the same with the following words:

"Wird am Ende der Darstellung auch der Schluß gezogen, daß Ihr Angehöriger zu den Opfern des II. Weltkriegs gezählt werden muß, so hoffen wir dennoch, Sie durch die Bekanntgabe des Nachforschungsergebnisses von jahrelang ertragener Ungewißheit zu befreien."

My translation:

"Although at the end of the account the conclusion is drawn that your relative must be counted among the victims of the Second World War, we nevertheless hope that through the communication of the result of our investigations we are freeing you from an uncertainty endured for many years."

The attached report lists the entities contacted and records examined and states that as a result of these investigations it was concluded that Ernst August Schmidt very probably ("mit hoher Wahrscheinlichkeit") was killed in action in the fighting that took place between March and 10 May 1945 in the area of Ratibor and during the retreat through Mährisch Ostrau to the interior of Czechoslovakia. This is followed by a brief description of the relevant combat actions, which I translate:

"At the beginning of March 1945 the units of the Red Army had conquered large parts of Silesia and encircled the city of Breslau, declared a fortress. At the same time the enemy was preparing an offensive in the direction of Prague between Cosel and Ratibor, where it had succeeded in setting foot on the western bank of the Oder.

The German 371st Infantry Division, as part of the XI Army Corps, defended a 7 km wide sector from Schneiderburg through Groß-Neukirch to Wiesenstein. In order to anticipate the enemy's intentions, the German army corps on 8 March attacked into its marching-up area. After one week of fighting the Soviet troops gained the upper hand. The 371st Infantry Division had to retreat over Gnadenfeld, Bauerwitz and Dreimühlen. On 18 March strong Soviet tank units reached the locations to the east of Leobschütz. With the help of German tank troops the enemy could be checked and interrupted its offensive. On 20 March the division was transferred to the area east of Jägerndorf.

In April the 371st Infantry Division fought to the east of Troppau in the Hultschiner Ländchen. Heavy fighting at Beneschau, Kosmütz and Groß Darkowitz led to high casualties. On 18 April the corps had to retreat to the fortifications line of the CSR that had been built in 1938. As the bunkers no longer had any weapons, the enemy took this line and the city of Troppau on 22 April. On 25 April it occupied the nascent area of the Oder and at the end of April the industrial area Mährisch Ostrau. The division retreated to the area of Freudental and later to Olmütz. After heavy fighting news of the cease fire reached the troops on 8 May. The soldiers now tried to make their way westward to the American lines or home. Soviet troops overtook the German units, however, and encircled them at Mährisch Trübau, Zwittau and Deutsch Brod; the survivors went into captivity.

A large number of soldiers were taken to field hospitals prior to the capitulation, others were on service trips inside the CSR. As all of Bohemia and Moravia was encircled by the enemy, however, most of them suffered the same fate as the division.

Since these engagements numerous soldiers of the 371st Infantry Division, including the person in question, have been missing. For some of them the investigations have led to the result that they were killed in action. Many, however, met their deaths in the partially rugged terrain or in combat at night or in urban areas, without this being noticed by surviving comrades. Even ambulance vehicles and dressing stations came under the fire of heavy weapons and aircraft.

There is no indication that the missing person went into captivity. He was not seen either at any prisoner of war camp at a later stage. In order to go completely sure an inquiry was sent to the Soviet Red Cross in Moscow. This entity informed us, however, that there were no records about the missing person. All findings lead to the conclusion that he was killed in action in these engagements."

Documents detailing the Military Career of Ernst August Schmidt

Certificate of the award of the Kriegsverdienstskreuz 2. Klasse mit Schwertern (War Merit Cross 2nd Class with Swords), 20 April 1944

Certificate of the award of the Verwundetenabzeichen in Schwarz (Wounded Badge in "Black"), 26.9.1944

Certificate of the award of the Infanterie-Sturmabzeichen Silber (Infantry Assault Badge Silver), 15 February 1945

Certification dated 26.02.1945 about the participation in the following days of close quarters combat:

* 12.1.1945: beating off an enemy attack and counterattack at Jozefow
* 13.1.1945: as above
* 21.1.1945: beating off an enemy attack and counterattack at Plaza
* 23.1.1945: as above
* 24.1.1945: as above
* 25.1.1945: beating off an enemy attack and counterattack at Libiaz
* 26.1.1945: counterattack at Neuberun
* 27.1.1945: defense and counterattack in Neuberun

Certificate of the award of the 1. Stufe der Nahkampfspange (Close Quarters Combat Badge, 1st Level), "for gallant participation in 15 days of close quarters combat", 28 February 1945

Extract from the replacement Soldbuch (7 pages). The last two contain the list of distinctions, but the only term I could read is "E.K. II Kl.", Iron Cross Second Class, which my uncle was awarded by the 371st Infantry Division on 10.02.1945. The notes on the adjacent page are more easy to read, they are a list of Nahkampftage, days of close quarters combat, in which the soldier took part. The following dates and places are listed:

1. 20.8.1944 Dolny and Katy
2. 21.8.1944 Jozefow
3. 23.8.1944 Zarzocze
4. 24.8.1944 Zabrnie
5. 25.8.1944 Zabrnie
6. 5.9.1944 Jozefow Jozefow Jozefow

The webmaster of this site, Michael Miller, managed to decipher the Sütterlin handwriting on the page of the Soldbuch mentioning the combat distinctions and told me that they refer to:

1) A Croatian decoration awarded 12. Mar. 1944.
2) K.V.K. II m. Schw. (Kriegsverdienstkreuz II. Klasse mit Schwertern)
3) Verwundetenabzeichen in Schwarz
4) Nahkampfspange I.Stufe (Bronze)
5) EK II (Eisernes Kreuz II. Klasse)
6) Infanterie-Sturmabzeichen in Silber

Mike also informed me that the Generalleutnant who signed the KVK II m. Schw. document was Knight's Cross with Oakleaves and Swords holder Hermann Niehoff, later in command of Festung Breslau and one of the 159 most highly decorated soldiers of the Wehrmacht.

I thank Mike for this additional information.

Postcard sent by the Red Cross to Marianne Schmidt on 22.7.1949, containing the names and addresses of the survivors of the regiment that had been found.

Report by the German Red Cross of 21.01.1980 on the fate of Ernst August Schmidt, born 20.10.1924 in Essen, last Feldpost-Nummer 43872 D, last unit 7th Company, Grenadier Regiment 670, 371st Infantry Division, last news April 1945 from Mährisch-Weisskirchen.

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