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  • Writer's pictureIlka Knüppel

Heinz Mühlmann -Ruth's Brother

Heinz Christian Felix Mühlmann was born 13 months after his sister Ruth to their parents, Emma and Paul.    


Ruth and her brother Heinz in their grandfather Christian's back garden.


Heinz Mühlmann (possibly age 18 in 1939)  in his parents’ home at Walbecker Straße 37 - II in Magdeburg.


Heinz was in the Germany Army prior to January 17, 1942 (this date is when his war record notes begin).  We do not know if he was conscripted or volunteered. He was a Gefreiter “Private” in the Wehrmacht 6th Army.  He was at Stalingrad during the battle.  



There were seven airfields used by the Germany Army at Stalingrad with Pitomnik being the primary.  The Pitomnik Airfield was captured during Operation Uranus, the Soviet counterattack led by the 1st Guards Army, 5th Tank Army, and 21st Army which resulted in Wehrmacht 6th Army being trapped within the city.  German postmarked mail was captured along with the planes when the Russians forces captured the airfields in January 1943.

In the process of researching Ruth's death, we came across a previously unknown letter written by Heinz

His letter was included in the book entitled  “Feldpostbriefe aus Stalingrad:  November 1942 bis Januar 1943”, [Letters from Stalingrad:  November 1942 to January 1943].  The letters contained in the book are from Wehrmacht 6th Army mail bags that were captured from airfields outside the 6th Army’s encircled position. 


Many of these letters now reside in the Archiv des Panorama-Museum of Volgograd  [Volgograd Panorama Museum].  I emailed the museum and, overnight, received a response back from the Department of Information of the Museum-Reserve of the Battle of Stalingrad with not one but two letters written by my great uncle while his unit was engaged in the Battle of Stalingrad.  His two letters are dated January 16, 1943, which also happens to be the date Pitomnik Airfield was overrun.   


The letter in Feldpostbriefe is written to his wife* and is sweet, but melancholy.  It was written in pencil, in plain German script, on a tablet of paper, and I must include the entire version, my translation, because a summary would not capture the loneliness of a soldier writing home.

First page of the original letter written by Heinz to his wife/sweetheart held at the Volgograd Panorama Museum in Volgograd, Russia.

 

My dear little Hanni-Maus [“Maus”, literally “mouse”, is a term of endearment in German],

I want to give you a quick greeting today from afar.  Hopefully, you will get all the posts I send to you my dearest.  Even though I do not have much time to write, I always want that you at least hear from me so that you do not worry about me.  We are not doing well here, but you do not need to see black.  On the whole, it does not matter to a few men, but the overall situation is the deciding factor.  In the end, everything will go by and then you will live, live as you wish it to be.  Of course, it is quite natural when every solider desires from the Steepe, where there is only sand, or now, snow.  No house can be seen here, even trees and bushes do not seem to know the land.  The only animals you can see are nothing but lice and mice.  

Yes, every German soldier longs for home, for his loved ones, for peace and order.  To the place where you can wash every day before everything else.  If you saw me here, then you had to think, “Oh, it’s degenerate.”  Well, that’s different at home.  I just hope that I can still experience this time. If only it was the first time, the war is over. Then you would cheer at home just as much as we do.

I already wrote to you that I totally froze a toe on the left foot. Now I can tell you today that he heals quite well. It's going to take some time before I can run right again, but it's going to be fine. And now for something else. I've lost so many things. Partly they are destroyed, left in a hurry or otherwise lost somehow. Well, here's what I don't really like to write to you, but it must be yes. This is also my ring. Now you mustn't worry about it or even think I didn't wear it. I would have a request. Get me one, please. It doesn't need to be a good one, because I'll buy golden rings later. But you have a strange feeling when you don't have a ring on your finger, so please see what can be done. It's a funny thing, but fill me this request. I’ll tell you all about it later. What do you look like? Are you still healthy and cheerful? I hope so. 

And now enough for today, because it gets dark in the bunker. Be greeted and kissed by your Heinz.


In contrast, the letter to his parents and brother is written in Kurrentschrift (the older style of cursive handwriting his parents were more familiar with) and is a bit more brusque and realistic. 

First page of the original letter written by Heinz to his parents held at the Volgograd Panorama Museum in Volgograd, Russia.


He writes to tell them that he doesn’t have much left of his possessions and while he does have his blankets and coats, he needs knives and forks, a few pair of gloves, flint and wicks, as well as a tobacco pipe.  His biggest worry, he relates to them, is that everyone at home is happy and healthy.  He asks “what are people saying there about the general situation?” which, to me, reveals how little the German soldiers (especially Privates in the Wehrmacht) were hearing about the state of the war.   


Both letters were in one postmarked envelope.


The intended recipients never received this envelope or the enclosed letters.  I assume that like so many of the 1.2 million German and Russian soldiers who died at Stalingrad, his family never learned his true fate.  The last entry on his war record is March 29, 1944, in which he is listed as missing in action (MIA) at Stalingrad.  In 2020, the German military records still officially categorize Heinz as MIA.   




Heinz’s military records from the BundesArchiv requested and paid for by the author.


Heinz would have been 21 years old when he died at Stalingrad. From 1933-1945, 1.3 million men joined the Wehrmacht via conscription, and over 2.4 million volunteered.  Conscription was initially ordered, in direct violation of the Versailles Treaty on March 15, 1935, and included those individuals who had just turned 21 (born in 1914). At Stalingrad, Heinz served in Army Group B.  He was under the overall command of the 6th Army, and was assigned to the 26th Panzer Grenadier regiment of the 4th Panzer Army.  How paradoxical is it that the same government Heinz was fighting for was the government responsible for killing his sister.  


On August 21, 1946, Emma wrote to my grandmother, Elsbeth, about her brother; “We have from Heinz also heard nothing. I have a definite feeling he is alive. Some have come back [from Stalingrad] but always he is not there.


Emma’s letter discussing Heinz from August 21, 1946. [Author’s translation].

I guess a mother never gives up hoping their child is alive.

Over 500,000 German soldiers died and the Soviets are estimated to have had over 1,100,000 casualties at Stalingrad.  Only about 250,000 corpses were recovered.  Bodies continue to be found to this day around the renamed city of Volgograd, Russia. 


A mass grave containing the remains of almost 2,000 German soldiers and their horses was uncovered by workmen laying a new pipeline in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad).  At the beginning of October 2018, the German War Grave Commission reported the discovery of 800 bodies. Following further excavations by military archaeologists, that figure has risen to a staggering 1,837.  It is not unusual for mass graves to be uncovered in the city, the site of the bloodiest battle of World War Two. On average, three to four are found every year. Mass graves were a common way to dispose of the huge numbers of dead soldiers from either side. Link.


 

* I have been unable to find a marriage record in the StadtArchiv Magdeburg.  My grandmother never mentioned Heinz was married, but due to sporadic letter exchanges during the war, she may not have known.  Also, due to the firebombing and resulting extensive damage in Magdeburg in 1945, any marriage record that  may have existed could have been destroyed.  My search continues for a possible Hannah Mühlmann at the writing of this chapter.


Sources:




 


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