A very good article here. From the Independent.
Still searching for peace: the German who felled more than 2,000 Allied soldiers
With Germany represented at commemoration for the first time, Tony Paterson meets the 'Beast of Omaha' Beach'
05 June 2004
He would be a war hero if he were British or American. Yet Hein Severloh is nicknamed the Beast of Omaha Beach for the carnage he inflicted on D-Day. He is reputed to be the German soldier who killed and wounded the most enemy troops in a single day during the whole of the Second World War.
Four thousand, one hundred and eighty-four Americans were shot in front of his bunker WN 62, above Omaha Beach on 6 June 1944. Hein Severloh was responsible for at least half of those deaths. He fired his machine gun at advancing GIs, almost without a break, for nine hours. The heat from the gun barrels he had to keep changing set the grass on fire around his bunker as American bodies bobbed and floated towards him on a flood tide stained pink with their blood.
Today his victims lie buried in the vast American cemetery above Omaha Beach that President George Bush will visit this weekend. They account for nearly a quarter of the 9,368 white stone crosses and Stars of David that cover the graveyard.
Hein Severloh was a raw 20-year-old Wehrmacht private on D-Day, and the invasion was his first real taste of action. He is now a frail and bespectacled pensioner of 81, who lives in a timbered farmhouse in the village of Metzingen near Hamburg. He speaks with a lisp, the result of a stroke he suffered years ago.
Last week, he nervously slapped his thigh in an attempt to fight back his tears as his mind went back to that day of slaughter. He wept as he said: "What should I have done? I thought I would never get out of there alive. I thought I am fighting for my life; it's them or me, that's what I thought."
This weekend, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder will become the first post-war German leader to attend D-Day anniversary celebrations. Opinion polls show more than 70 per cent of Germans are glad he is going. The German Chancellor said the decision to invite him to the D-Day celebrations "shows that the postwar period is over and done for good". On D-Day, he was two months old.But that day is all too real for Hein Severloh. He is plagued by a recurring nightmare, not from when he was mowing down Americans 600 yards away on Omaha Beach. "At that distance, the enemy look like ants," he said. It happened when he reached for his rifle during a lull in the fighting.
A young GI who had survived the onslaught in the sea was running up the beach. Mr Severloh took aim and fired. The round smashed into the GI's forehead and sent his helmet spinning. The soldier slumped dead on the sand. Mr Severloh still remembers the man's contorted expression. "It was only then I realised I had been killing people all the time," he said, "I still dream of that soldier now. I feel sick when I think about it."
For Hein Severloh, the war began and ended that day. His bunker was knocked out by a grenade which killed his commanding officer. He was taken prisoner by the Americans and sent to the United States five days later. He spent three years as a prisoner-of-war.
By 1959, his story had become well known in the United States. The Americans called him the Beast of Omaha Beach. Mr Severloh was too ashamed to tell his four children about his experiences, yet he was desperate to meet Americans who had survived. Eventually, he found David Silva, a GI wounded three times on Omaha Beach. When the men met in Germany in the 1960s they hugged each other for five minutes. "He never asked me to forgive him, but I have done so all the same," Mr Silva says today. "It is important for him." Franz Gockel served with Hein Severloh at bunker WN 62. Yet in many ways he has been luckier. For the 78-year-old veteran, the country he once occupied has become a second home. Every summer, he and his wife Hedwig rent a cottage in the Normandy village of Colleville-sur-Mer, barely a quarter of a mile from the former killing fields on Omaha Beach.
Tomorrow, Franz Gockel will be among the handful of German veterans who will meet Chancellor Schröder and President Jacques Chirac at D-Day celebrations in Caen castle. "I am glad Schröder is attending," he said. "For me and my former comrades, it demonstrates the terrible experiences of the Second World War are now behind us and that we are now finally on the way to build a new Europe."
On D-Day, Gockel was just 18. He was ordered to his gun emplacement at one in the morning on 6 June, hearing gunfire to the west as the Allies were parachuted in at the start of the invasion. As dawn broke, his crew was horrified to see the sea in front of them thick with warships, troop ships and landing craft. "We knew we had no hope of fighting off such a force," he said.
The shelling lasted for five hours. Franz Gockel cowered under the heavy wooden platform that served as a mount for his machinegun and prayed. "We could do nothing against the shells. I just kept shouting out, 'Hail Mary Mother of God, please save me'. Somehow, it helped."
As the Americans began to pour out of their landing craft, the young soldier stood to his Polish-made machinegun and opened fire. Six hundred yards away across the sand, the bodies began to slump in the water. "I didn't know how many I was killing until the corpses started being washed up the beach on the tide," he said.
Then his gun was knocked out in a grenade attack that left him with only a few cuts. Then he poked his head over the edge of a slit trench and felt a massive blow to his left hand. "I saw three of my fingers dangling from their tendons," he said. " But for me it was a million-dollar shot; I was out of the battle." Franz Gockel was evacuated with other wounded Germans. Back in action in November 1944, he was captured by the Americans in eastern France.
Today, a tall obelisk commemorating the American dead stands above the grassed-over remains of bunker WN 62. There is nothing to remind the millions of visitors to the site, of the Germans who were killed there. Last year, Franz Gockel erected a small wooden cross outside his bunker in memory of the 18 men of his 25-strong unit who died in action. Less than a week later, it was vandalised.
Chancellor Schröder said the D-Day anniversary "means that for us Germans the Second World War is finally over." But the German survivors of D-Day know the war, and all the guilt, will end only when they are dead.