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Poignant Grouping of a 58th & 338th I.D. Obergefreiter (Long Thread!)
Old 04-07-2017, 06:34 PM   #1
Paulus_Gun
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Default Poignant Grouping of a 58th & 338th I.D. Obergefreiter (Long Thread!)

Hello all,

Today I want to present a special grouping. This thread is going to tell the story of Obergefreiter Hans-Jürgen Dethlefs, who served in the 58th and 338th Infanterie Divisions. He joined the Wehrmacht in spring 1942. With the help of approximately 400 Feldpost letters almost exclusively written by himself to his parents, it was possible to create a very extensive story of what he experienced during World War Two, and how it affected not only him, but also his family at home. This thread is therefore not going into depth when it comes to analysing battles, but instead it will focus purely on Hans-Jürgen and how he, his family, and his friends endured the later years of the war. Of course it is impossible to show everything, but I have carefully picked some items and letters that might be interesting to present. Unfortunately the only items that are possible missing are his wartime photos (so if anyone owns them by any chance, contact me).

I have decided to write this extensive thread for several reasons. First, I want to share his unique account of many different aspects of the war; the battles, his awards, letter censorship, fear as the inevitable months of the war come closer; and of course the loss of friends and family. Second, I want to show how important it is to keep grouping intact if possible, as every single document is another part of the puzzle. Third, as the WAF is very accessible for historical enthusiasts, I figured this would be the best place (instead of a small booklet for example. Last, as I post this grouping, I am also hoping to gather some extra information from you all, to add another piece to the puzzle.

After purchasing parts of the existing grouping, the previous owner was able to track down Hans-Jürgen’s brother a few years ago, whom was by then in his mid-80s. He was very generous to give/sell him the remaining parts of Hans-Jürgen’s legacy, as there were no surviving (direct) family members besides him. Now I am very grateful, as a relatively young collector, to protect his legacy for the next 60-70 years (hopefully!).

Below you can see the entire grouping, and a map I made to show where he was during his service.

I also want to thank Ian Jewison, who helped me out with some of the units.

Enjoy this thread. And please note that I am not a writer and tried to write an objective piece.

Best regards,
Paul
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File Type: jpg WAF 0.1.jpg (133.4 KB, 480 views)
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Old 04-07-2017, 06:35 PM   #2
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1. Early life (1923 – October 1941)

Hans-Jürgen Dethlefs was born on April 7th 1923 in Janneby as the eldest of two sons of Johannes Dethlefs and Katharina Dethlefs (née Burmeister). He had a 5 year younger brother named Klaus.

Soon after Hans-Jürgen’s birth the family moved to Flensburg. His parents were married in May 1922. Prior to their marriage, his mother was a mailwoman. His father was a bank clerk. During World War One he was wounded twice: first time he was hit in his left forearm which left him partially paralyzed. The second time he was gravely wounded when he was hit in his neck, which also affected his lungs for the rest of his life.

After four years at a Volksschule, Hans-Jürgen went to the Flensburger Knabenmittelschule from Easter 1933 to Easter 1939. Afterwards he went to study as a salesman at Reederei Bernhard Howaldt (a shipping company). On April 25th 1941 he successfully became one after passing his exam. As a young child he was furthermore member of the Jungvolk and later the Hitlerjugend.
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File Type: jpg WAF 1.2.jpg (146.3 KB, 480 views)
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Old 04-07-2017, 06:37 PM   #3
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His time during the Jungvolk, for boys aged 10 to 14.
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Old 04-07-2017, 06:38 PM   #4
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His time in the Hitlerjugend.
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Old 04-07-2017, 06:39 PM   #5
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A photograph with his little brother Klaus & his Kennkarte.
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Old 04-07-2017, 06:41 PM   #6
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2. Service in the Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD) (October 1941 – March 1942)

On October 6th 1941 he was conscripted to the Reichsarbeitsdienst as part of his six mandatory months service before entering the Armed Forces. He was sent to the north-western seaside resort of Westerland on the island of Sylt next to the Danish border. There he was part of Reichsarbeitsdienst Abteilung 2/71. Two days later on October 8th he began writing his first letter. In his RAD-unit he was part of the ‘Hänschen-trio’ together with carpenter Hans Kraft and bank clerk Hans Schlichting. At the RAD he had to work on the seaside, possibly building bunkers and laying mines to protect the Danish coast from a possible allied invasion.

On December 5th he witnessed the war first hand as the war British planes flew around 30 metres above their camp. However, they only dropped Danish leaflets as part of their propaganda campaign. On December 21st his mother came to visit, as she was probably interested in what her first born son was up to. Shortly after, right before Christmas, they were informed that four out of six RAD Abteilungen would be transferred to Russia, though his Abteilung was not among them. Hans-Jürgen and the others of his Abteilung were disappointed because of that fact, as they wanted to see Russia badly. RAD units were often used in Russia for infrastructural projects behind the front, something that would be an exciting experience for the 18-year old. Their Abteilung leader tried to persuade his superior to send them anyway, but eventually he was not successful. Hans-Jürgen’s mother later heard from of his friends that he volunteered for the Russian front, therefore he had to correct her as this was not the case at all, as RAD units were not meant for front duty.

On February 8th 1942 he asked his mother if he could borrow her camera for his service, as he was collecting photographs for his Erinnerungsalbum and wanted to shoot some himself. He also sent some postcard size photographs of himself to his mother, which were taken earlier by a professional photographer in the camp. Furthermore he requested his private jacket, as his Czech clothing was not good enough for the current winter. Also at the RAD they were doing shooting practise at a distance of 50 metres. Hans-Jürgen proved himself to have a small talent, as he was the second or third best of his entire Zug. Out of 30 men, only seven succeeded at hitting the minimum of 24 points with three shots, while Hans-Jürgen managed to hit 29 points. On February 13th he unfortunately had to inform his parents that his release from the RAD was delayed from February 22nd to March 31st, and that he would therefore be home much later. Late February the camp was regularly visited by allied planes, for which the men had to hide in their bunkers for the first time since mid-December. And not only his camp, but also his parental town of Flensburg was regularly visited by the uninvited guests.

Hans-Jürgen disliked guard duty, and unfortunately for him some people in his unit were excused from guard duty, which they had to do in groups of four. Out of his unit of thirteen men, there were two stokers/firemen (for the steam engines), two Auslandsdeutsche and one assistant of the camp doctor. This meant that they had to do daily guard duty with eight men. By early March Hans-Jürgen was still hoping that they could leave sooner, but much to his frustration the soonest date possible was March 20th. On March 20th he finally heard that they were to leave on the 28th, unfortunately a few days late for his little brother’s 14th birthday. Still he was able to buy him a book which he would give to him upon his return. Due to delays, he got there on the 31st after all like the earlier planned schedule.
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File Type: jpg WAF 2.2.jpg (52.5 KB, 475 views)
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