Photograph of Heinz Wiehler in 1944.Heinz Wiehler
Heinz Wiehler in 2010.Heinz Wiehler
Heinz Wiehler (pictured in the centre) and his family in 1944.Heinz Wiehler
"We got pacifists and such but during Hitler time, there was no such thing. You either serve or you got put into a concentration camp. That’s your, there was no objections or nothing like that."
My name is, it was in the German time, it was Heinz Artur Wiehler. And I’m born in 1925 in Prussia – not Russia, Prussia. Our whole family or our whole family as such, the extended family, were all farmers at that time, in Prussia; Mennonite farmers. And we lived close together and within 45, 50 kilometres apart, and had a very easy life. We knew it was war, people were killed during the war and all that stuff but our area was not affected as such.
Well, you need to know the whole cycle, the whole atmosphere. We got pacifists and such but during Hitler time, there was no such thing. You either serve or you got put into a concentration camp. That’s your, there was no objections or nothing like that.
I was in a tank unit and I was the fellow that shot, put the shell into the chamber and also the communicator. And, but we never had, we didn’t have any machines. We had one whole little thing then to, to practice on. You never had any. But then, just, this was in July, beginning of July  or something, I was transferred from the east, closer to the Hitler headquarters and there they had three tanks. And one night, we were called up, we had to fill our magazines with ammunition and this and that and everything else and ten guys sitting on the tanks and then we drove and drove and didn’t know where to. The next morning, we find out that we were in Hitler’s headquarters; it was the night when they had the attack on him [known as Operation Valkyrie] on the 20th of July, 1944. And then in August of 1944, I was shipped to the western front and they had that counterattack there. But again, no machines.
Just west of Cologne, what they called, I don’t know, there’s a name in them. We called it the Hürtgen Wald, Battle of the Bulge or something [The Battles of Hürtgen Forest were a series of battles between American and German forces between September 1944 and February 1945. The Battle of the Bulge took place from December 1944 to January 1945]. All of a sudden, there are three brand new machines come. Here are these guys, they’re just happy to, they unloaded them. But the time we had finished, a Jeep came in with a bunch of SS officers, those machines are ours. We don’t have no men but the machines are ours. So they took over and took us along as men to man the equipment. And then we drove out for a little while. I didn’t know the name of these guys and all that; there was no connection. But it didn’t take long, we, we drove a bit out of the country and all of a sudden, we got shot at, lost all three machines within half an hour. But they just got off, shot off our tracks, where we couldn’t move no more, we couldn’t use our, our cannons; our cannons were stabilized, they only had 12 degrees maneuverability. We wanted to maneuver, we had to take the machine around. Couldn’t do that anymore, so we left and just went back. Jumped over a hedge. The next morning, my knee was just like that.
On the 4th of April in 1945, I was captured by the U.S. Army and put into a prison camp. I was a communicator there and I was sent out to the post to get messages and all that and I was supposed to bring them back to my unit. I did that but by the time I got to where the unit was, they already had left. Because American panzers, tanks, were coming over hill like bees. Just like whatever. So we marched for a little while and then all of a sudden, we had, we got attacked by low flying aircraft. A friend of mine got shot just in front of me, and I said, this is it. So I just hid and said just see what happens. I’m not going to walk any further, not do anything. And it didn’t take long, one of the American soldiers came up and he just called out and said, “Any German soldiers, come on up, come on up”. He spoke German. And that’s what we did. That was the end of my career as a German soldier.
In Germany in 1946, they had developed a three-part questionnaire, a card. You could fill in where you came from, where you were born, where you are now and who you’re looking for. But that’s how we found each other. My mom found my dad and I found the whole family. And the 1946 Christmas, thanks to the German Red Cross registry, we were all reunited. In fall of 1946 I was released in Germany, from the American army prisoner camp. You get into these situations, you haven’t got a chance to do anything about it, just go with the flow, do the best of every minute. Yeah. Even now, people ask how, how is things going. I said, well, if you don’t expect too much, you don’t get disappointed. It’s a fact. It’s so much easier. You’re not getting anywhere, even if you run your head against the wall, for things you can’t change. No.