An account of the last days of German occupation in Prague

may45Prague

An account of the last days of German occupation in Prague and of the rescue mission carried out by ‘Der Führer’ Regiment, were written by Her Highness Ingeborg Alix, Princess Stephanie of Schaumburg-Lippe, who was posted to the Czech capital in the last weeks of the war.

‘During the middle weeks of April I was posted to Prague to take up an appointment on the staff of Count Pückler, the SS commander there. A peacetime atmosphere still reigned in that lovely city, a feeling which moved me deeply for I had come from embattled Thuringia. But events were soon to prove that the peace in Prague was a false one. Rumours spread that there was to be an uprising aimed at making the Red Army’s conquest of Prague an easy one. There were also reports of treks of refugees, heading for the Czech capital, coming both from Silesia and from the south. The core of that movement was made up of 48 treks with innumerable columns of lorries, horse-drawn carts and other cattle; a situation typical of those days. Other treks moving to join the main body were coming from Saxony, Thuringia and Austria; all of them fleeing in front of the Americans. This vast movement threatened to choke the roads needed by our own troops for the advances or withdrawals.

‘No action had yet been taken to bring the German women and children of the Prague garrison to a place of safety, although the Russians were dangerously close and approaching from both the north and the east. We all expected and hoped that the Americans would reach and occupy the capital. They had already reached Pilsen and had taken up positions there.

‘After all that I had seen and experienced in the west, my advice to the Brigadeführer, when I discussed the question of evacuation with him, was that a start should be made as a matter of urgency. The next day, Standartenführer Dr Voss, President of the Skoda works, told me that because of my experience in organization the Brigadeführer had delegated to me the task of arranging the evacuation. I had formerly been the leader of the SS Women’s Auxiliary Corps in Oberehenheim. Dr Voss told me that office space and personnel would both be made available.

‘Acutely aware of the heavy responsibility which had been placed on my shoulders, I took a deep breath and set off to the Hradschin Palace. There I intended to establish the true situation and to discuss co-ordination on the measures to be taken with both the civilian and the military authorities. It transpired that, first, the rumours about the streams of refugees had considerably under-estimated the size of the problem. Secondly; no order for the evacuation of the civilian Ministries had been issued. On the contrary, in order to “avoid a panic”, nothing had been undertaken. Further discussion brought to light the fact that the SS commander had made arrangements for the evacuation of the families of his own officials. Count Puckler intended that his ministries would continue to function.

‘I was given an office in the building in which he worked. An Untersturmführer and his wife, both of them hard workers, were seconded to me and then a third person was added to my staff. The first thing we had to establish was the number of those who were to be evacuated. We needed this information in order that we could submit an indent to the Quartermaster, Obersturmbannführer Harzig, specifying the number and size of the lorries required. The next problem was to choose an area to which the families would be evacuated as well as to establish who would furnish the escort and how strong this would have to be to bring the lorried convoys safely through partisan infested areas.

‘Throughout the following days the landing in front of my office was filled with men of every rank – each of them with a family – who gave the number and composition of those of their dependants who were to be evacuated. It was astonishing how quickly the news of our activity circulated because the number of pleas for help from every branch of the Services grew hourly. The telephone rang without stop.

‘That year Prague had had a beautiful spring and the glorious weather showed off the lovely buildings of the city to their best advantage. The lilac was in full bloom, the River Moldau flowed peacefully under the Charles bridge and past our office. Everything seemed to be in order.

‘On 29 April the fine weather encouraged Major Knebel, the IA, and me to walk from our billets in Count Pückler’s house to the Hradschin Palace. Near the Charles Bridge we met a column of motorized SS, from Das Reich’ Division. Presently a DR came racing up and skidded his motor cycle to a halt in front of us. “The commanding officer of “Der Fuhrer” Regiment requests that Sturmbannführer Knebel salute him according to regulations,” was his message. Knebel was taken aback for a few moments but then shouted a greeting when he noticed Obersturmbannführer Weidinger seated in a Kubelwagen. The two had served together in the Junkerschule in Brunswick. We climbed into Weidinger’s car and he brought us to our office building. Knebel invited him for a quick snack and over this we discussed the situation in Prague. Striking while the iron was hot I asked Obersturmbannführer Weidinger where his regiment was headed. He replied that he was on his way to Dresden, where divisional headquarters was located, to collect ammunition. The thought ran through my head, “You will never fire those rounds – but you can be of help if we need it, to bring the families out of Prague and into safety.”

‘I asked the CO of Der Führer’ Regiment to keep in touch with me so that when news reached him of the uprising in Prague, he would fight his way through to us. Weidinger promised to do his best. We had, by this time, evacuated about five hundred mothers and children and had them safely under military protection in the Bavarian Forest. They were quartered in a temporary camp. But in Prague there were more than three times that number of dependants waiting, impatiently, to be brought out. They were impatient because the situation in the city had begun to deteriorate. There was a growing number of reports of clashes between Czechs and Germans in pubs as well as on the open street. A general nervousness was evident and the first shots were heard.

‘The SS commander had a number of heated discussions with Toussaint, the Supreme Commander, as well as with representatives from the office of the Viceroy Frank. Pückler did not want the safe evacuation of the civilian population to be prejudiced by a premature departure of military units or civil servants and he wanted to maintain a firm front. It was also thanks to his initiative that demolitions using explosive were avoided and that, as a result, the unique and beautiful Charles bridge was left intact.

‘Scon the passage of events had overtaken us. News of the fighting in and around Berlin, of the Führer’s death, of the rapid advance of the Russians through the Protectorate and the inexplicable halt to the American advance west of Pilsen, filled us all with the gravest worries and caused us to speed up the pace of our work. The last convoy was dispatched only 24 hours before the uprising began. Travelling with it was one of the SS NCOs and his wife who had been working on the “family evacuations”. They had been sent because reports reaching us indicated that conditions in the reception camp were deteriorating and that food was running short. Our pair went to bring order into the camp. Acting upon the advice we had been given the SS NCO was told to change out of his uniform and to wear civilian clothes for the journey. This he did most unwillingly.

‘Then the storm broke. It was May 5th. It began with a completely unexpected but deliberate act. A Czech traffic policeman on duty in Wehrmacht Square fired his pistol at Obergruppenführer Kammler as the latter drove past acknowledging the policeman’s salute. Kammler had been on his way to Berlin for he considered that his place should be at the Führer s side and not stuck in Prague. The Obergruppenführer’s reactions were lightning fast and his bullet struck home. What then happened turned Prague into an arena of unimaginable horrors, in which murder and beatings took place. These have been described in other places and I will not repeat them here. A fresh transport of women and children had already been brought together in one of the buildings in Wehrmacht Square. I had already advised one of my staff, a female SS auxiliary who lived in the old quarter of Prague, to leave her flat and move to the Wehrmacht Square office if no accommodation could be found for her in her own office. By this time our evacuation action had been extended to cover any German families who asked for our help and our building had begun to take on the appearance of a large camp.

‘6th May 1945. Absolute chaos reigned in Prague and we were at its centre. Czech partisans hiding in the houses opposite us, on the far side of the Moldau, fired at the windows of our building. Thank God most of their bullets flew high and struck the ceilings, but one or two of our people were lightly wounded. They cursed like mad when they were hit but then carried on with their work. Other units quartered in the building sent out fighting patrols to clear the streets round about and to recapture the Luftwaffe hospital close by. Their assaults were supported by an SP gun positioned in the main doorway. Our four-storey building was built of concrete and all its floors had open staircases. As you can imagine the noise was indescribable and often we had to shout in order to pass a message. The building began to look more and more like a beleaguered fortress. Then I received a telephone report from our SS NCO that the convoy had arrived safely. He wanted to know what was happening in Prague so I told him and underscored my words by letting him hear the rifle fire. Although I warned him not to return his reply was, “I am not going into captivity without my uniform, so I’ll come back and collect it.” This he did.

‘More and more civilians, overtaken by the events on the streets outside, collected in the cellar of our building. Not surprisingly, worry and fear were printed on their faces because outside on the pavements lay dead and wounded people, including several women. I myself witnessed how one woman with a shopping basket, walking along a relatively quiet street during a pause in the fighting, was shot dead. And the bullet which killed her certainly did not come from a German weapon.

‘The wounded were brought in and treated in a first aid post which we had set up. Many of these were the very young but very brave soldiers of the Hitler Youth Division. It was my task to deal with the civilians. They had to be quietened down and fed. To calm this anxious group was an almost impossible task. Prague had not suffered from air raids and many families from Germany had been evacuated to the city. The mothers of these families, separated from their children by the uprising, were desperately worried and made efforts to reach home, only to be driven back by the conditions in the streets.

Towards nightfall it became quieter and only the sound of isolated shots could be heard. Slowly the cellar began to empty until only a few Germans remained together with some Czechs who were afraid of their own countrymen. Throughout those difficult days I pinned my hope on “Der Führer” Regiment coming to rescue us. That we were in Obersturmbannführer Weidinger’s thoughts was certain, but it was uncertain whether he would be able to reach us in time. Or had he indeed received orders which would prevent him from coming to our rescue and if that were indeed the case, then would he be able to organize help from another quarter in time?

On 7th May, aircraft dropped bombs, but we did not know at first whether these were our own or Russian machines. It turned out that these were our fighter-bombers which had been brought in to blast a way through for other pockets of trapped troops. There was little firing on the 8th or 9th May, and only isolated shots were heard. Rumours that relief was coming let me breathe again and, indeed, rumours grew and the relief which had been only a rumour became a fact. My own authority would have been insufficient to achieve very much but that of the commander of Der Führer’ Regiment enabled nearly one thousand vehicles to be assembled and used to rescue the German women and children trapped in Prague. Thereby, thousands escaped from a hell of Czech terror, torture, death and deportation.

It had been no easy task to leave Prague and Count Pückler spent a long time negotiating with Czech representatives. On 9th May, our headquarters group moved out preceded by Czech representatives carrying white flags. These were not respected and despite the ceasefire which had been proclaimed, we were involved in street fighting. Our group spent some time picking up wounded and after three unsuccessful attempts finally left Prague by using side roads. The vast jams we encountered on the main roads were created by the vehicles of Field Marshal Schoerner’s army which was withdrawing in front of the Russians. Some time after midday we crossed the Moldau which, until 11.30 hours, formed the boundary between the Americans and the Russians. We arrived one hour too late. On 11th May, together with 40,000 German soldiers gathered in an American camp near Pisek, we were handed over to the Russians. Obergruppenführer Kammler, Count Pückler the commander of the Waffen SS, and Obersturmbannführer Knebel did not survive.’

ss-Fuhrerin Ingeborg-Alix von Schaumburg-Lippe

Ingeborg Alice Prinzessin zu Schaumburg-Lippe

Context

She was the sister-in-law of SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS und der Polizei Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck und Pyrmont.

Her husband was SS-OStubaf. Prinz Stephan zu Schaumburg-Lippe and her brother-in-law was SA-Staf. Prinz Friedrich Christian zu Schaumburg-Lippe.

During the war Princess Ingeborg Alix von Schaumburg-Lippe worked for the SS. She headed the home for SS radio auxiliaries in the SS signal auxiliaries school in Oberehnheim (Alsace) in 1944.

After the war Ingeborg Alice was engaged with the “Hilfswerk der Helfenden Hände“ (welfare organization Helping Hands) contacting also bishop Theophil Wurm and Helene Elisabeth Prinzessin von Isenburg, both from the organization “Stille Hilfe” (Silent Help) for the prisoners of the Landsberg war criminal penitentiary.

She also contacted Hans-Ulrich Rudel and his “Kameraden-Hilfswerk”.

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