Heinz Huhn

Heinz Huhn was born in 1920 in Rochlitz, Saxony. He was trained as a waiter and then drafted into the army in 1940. Huhn served as gunner in the 94th Infantry Division, which was stationed in France and transferred to the Eastern Front in June 1941. In Stalingrad he took part in the storming of the “Red Barricades” munitions factory. He was sent on home leave on November 8, 1942, just days before the Red Army began to encircle the German troops at Stalingrad. Hurriedly recalled to the front, Huhn joined Panzer Group Hoth, which unsuccessfully tried to break up the encirclement. In March 1943 his unit was deployed to Italy. Huhn was captured by American forces in 1945 and released from captivity in 1946. He later worked as a head waiter in Wiesbaden.

We met Heinz Huhn and his wife (the two had been married for over 50 years, no children) at the Stalingrad memorial service in Limburg, and they spontaneously invited us to their home in Wiesbaden, about an hour away. While Frau Huhn served us delicious gingerbread her husband combed through boxes and drawers in their small, modern apartment to produce a stunning photo collection and other paraphernalia from the war.

Russia, that was a shock for us.

Stalingrad – that was the worst experience for me, because all my comrades were killed there. In France I purchased ladies’ stockings. I sent them to my little girlfriend and to my mother. Ladies’ stockings. They were no longer available in Germany. Russia, that was a shock for us. We had comrades in France, who said: now we’re off to Russia, they have bear ham and they thought there would be all kinds of goodies, they thought Russia would be like France. But the way things turned out, it was a shock for all of us.

During the army’s advance we came through a town, I’ve forgotten the name. I always ran next to the guns. There stood a good-looking tall man, he looked at me and said “Boy, come with me”. I thought: “What does he want?” And he then pointed at a large map – he must have been a schoolteacher – he pointed at a large world map. All of Russia was on the map and he then said: “Bolshoi, russky, bolshoi!” [Russian: “Russia is big!”]. And “Nemets malenko, malenko.” [Russian: “Germany is small”]. Essentially he was saying: “You cannot conquer our Russia”.

[Turns the pages in his photo album from the war]

…This is Comrade Meier.

When I went on home leave, I said goodbye to him. He even gave me some money and said: “Huhn my dear, when you return, bring me such and such!” They all had wishes regarding items they asked me to bring back. Flint for their cigarette lighters. Or entire cigarette lighters, if they were still available back home. They all had a wish, regarding what I should bring back with me. And then I never saw them again. I returned from home leave but was unable to re-enter the encirclement. This photo is of Sergeant Meissner. He fell. The man here – he lost a leg, it was shot off. He was the gun assistant armorer-artificer. And the others, the gunners who worked alongside me – none of them survived. They fell in Russia.

The comrades who marched together with me and did not have the good fortune to survive – I sometimes feel guilty that I survived.

If the horses were hit in the head they wouldn’t fall over like a person would, but would just stand there, shivering, the blood flowing.

[Turns the pages of his photo album]

Here you can see the snow, the meadows. Here, the poor horses. The poor horses were really thrashed and driven.

We were young bucks, we had old parents at home. But we didn’t ponder much about things, like the older comrades did, they cried occasionally. I saw comrades cry. And they cried if a horse was hit by the Russians’ low-flying planes. Those planes, Ratas, were terrible, they shot and horses would be hit by grenades, large caliber munition. If the horses were hit in the head they wouldn’t fall over like a person would, but would just stand there, shivering, the blood flowing. Then the gunners or those who practically owned the horses, they stood there and cried.

[Turns the pages of his photo album]  And that was in the winter, when there was snow on the ground. And we were hungry. And then I went to the Russians and got food from a pot. I thought it was a chicken. The Russians said: “Kra, kra, kra.” Ah, I thought. That must be a crow. I ate it anyway. But it was a punishment. It was really tough and hard. So I took that away from the poor Russians.

I learned a few Russian words during the three years that I was in Russia. I learned Russian for about three years. I first learned these words: “Pozhalsta, Khleba. Yaitsa” – Please. Bread. Eggs.” And then I learned a few more words. But as I said: the German soldier, he could always find a way to get something to eat.

“Sina and Nadya – Shakhty, 1943”. The date provided is incorrect. The back of the photograph has a Russian inscription: “October 3, 1942. For Heinz as a memento, from Nadya and Sina.” Below it is written in German: “Schachty, December ’42”

(Turns the pages of his photo album)

Two beautiful Russian girls. Nadya and Sina.

We didn’t do anything to them. But Müller Hans and I – we were both …well one couldn’t say in love. We were there two or three days in the quarters. We came to Shakhty and were told: “Look for a place to stay. Tomorrow you will leave.” And we then entered the first house we found. And that’s where the two girls were. And Müller Hans, he wore spectacles. He had taken off his spectacles, because they were foggy. I then said: “Hans, look.” He took off his glasses and the two girls, Nadya and Sina, we liked them, you see. And it was war time. We didn’t want to do anything to them, and they didn’t want to do anything to us, you see. And we then said: “Your mom is here, but where is your dad?” “Ah, no Papa…” And we then asked them a few more questions. We said: “Papa is a partisan.” “No, no, no, no not at all.” But otherwise they were nice people.

(Turns the pages of his photo album)

And this is me again. And in this photo I look like a Russian. Because it was so cold, we also stole Russian clothing. And then a German soldier said to me while the infantrymen were marching past us (it was still winter), he said to me: “My friend, be careful that we don’t think you’re a partisan and shoot you.”

(Turns the pages of his photo album)

And this is me again. And in this photo I look like a Russian. Because it was so cold, we also stole Russian clothing. And then a German soldier said to me while the infantrymen were marching past us (it was still winter), he said to me: “My friend, be careful that we don’t think you’re a partisan and shoot you.”

The photos, I took them when we were still fixated on Hitler and believed that we could win the war. But Stalingrad made us really ponder, even though we were so young, 22 years old. We noticed that the Russians had so many people and so much material. … And they continuously got fresh supplies. Innumerable tanks and especially soldiers. And I can precisely recall: they must have been given schnapps. Well, they boozed, to be honest. The Russians are very amenable to schnapps. And then the yelling. We had to bring the ordnance, the horses with lightning speed. …Out of range of the shooting, so that the horses were not hit, you see. … And because the Russians, who broke through, they were all under the influence of alcohol and yelled “Ura, ura!” [Russian: “hurrah, hurrah!”]. And they would yell that from a hundred or a thousand throats.

Siewert, Albert, his name was Siewert, he had a sleigh with a horse. And the Russians were so close to us. I’ll recall the name of the town. That’s where the Russians shot. Tanks shot and Siewert Anton stood there with his horse and his sleigh. All of a sudden there was a loud noise. A cloud of smoke. His horse had been hit, broke down, and Anton stood there chalk white but unhurt. And the shell, that tore up the horse, it was somehow stopped by that, you see. The shell disintegrated into a thousand pieces. And those pieces ended up in the horse. But we were distracted by the ura yells. Because the Russians were coming at us again. I wish I had photos of it. When the situation was particularly dangerous I hardly ever took pictures.

And the two girls, their blood was of course on fire for us.

(Turns the pages of his photo album)

That was in 1943, the few remnants of the 6th Army… We were morally exhausted. That’s when we were sent to Italy. It was a difference like night and day. First of all, there were civilians there. There were young girls. And we had different meal provisions. This is what I looked like.  Here’s a photo of two Italian girls. The mother cooked for us. And the two girls, their blood was of course on fire for us. We didn’t do anything to them. But I went to the movies with them. Myself and Müller Hans. We flirted with them quite  a bit.

(Turns the pages in his photo album)  This is my younger brother, who fell, Fredi.

…These are my two brothers in civilian clothes. They were both killed in action.

Fortunately my mother hid the photo album under a sewing machine, because the Russians had reached my hometown when I returned from the war. The Americans had conquered Saxony. But because of the Yalta Agreement or something, the Americans had to withdraw from the region and the Russians had that area. And then the entire city stank of sweat.

I carried around a picture of a Saint in my satchel. It was given to me by my mother. There was a lock of hair in it. Now I’m not sure: was it my mother’s hair? I don’t think I would have saved a lock of my own hair.

The army postal service numbers. I had so many of them. I had at least five different army postal service numbers in Russia. The unit was broken. We would join a new one. At first one felt a bit shy. The old unit, we all knew each other, it was like a home.

Russia had such wide-open spaces, everything branched out so far, and later the steppes, the Kalmyk Steppe, it was all so depressing. But because we were young… I became a soldier at the age of 20, when I was 21 I was sent off to Russia. For us it was a sort of adventure, you see.

Heinz Huhn died in July 2011.

2014 © Facing Stalingrad. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise stated, all text by Jochen Hellbeck, photos by Emma Dodge Hanson.
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