Hilmar von Campe: Former Hitler Youth
By Rod Thomas
The 700 Club
Hilmar von Campe remembers the day his innocent childhood changed forever.
“When the Nazis came, I was seven-years-old and I still remember it,” Hilmar said. “My father was asked to join the Nazi party, the national socialist workers’ party. He refused and he lost his job. There was never, in my own thinking or in my parents, any identification with the Nazis and with Hitler.”
Hitler’s poison propaganda targeted Germany’s children too.
“Hitler had immediately eliminated all the youth corps,” Hilmar said. “Then he passed a law which said that every boy or girl that’s ten years has to go into the Hitler youth. That was a law and my parents had no choice.”
Hitler was setting the stage for a heinous plan: the systematic, cold blooded murder of Germany’s Jews.
“In 1938-1939 began the collection of the Jews from their homes and into working concentration camps, which were explained to us as working camps,” Hilmar said. “A hundred percent of the media were all controlled by the Nazis. What they gave us was news tailored by them to learn, and to act accordingly.”
The first major conflict of World War II took place in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. In 1943, Hilmar war drafted into the German army.
“When I was 18, they transferred me into the party; and theoretically, I was the part of the Nazi party,” he said. “But when I had to sign, they called me and then I had to sign the document. I could have said, ‘I don’t sign it.’ That would have been the end of me.”
But Hilmar’s sense of German patriotism overshadowed his dislike of the Nazis.
“I felt, ‘That’s my destiny. I’m part of it and we have to win the war.’ My time in real war was a year and we were - most of the German army was - mostly retreating,” Hilmar said. “It never occurred to us, never occurred to me, that we would lose the war. [I thought that] the Soviet command and the German high command [would] make an agreement that we deliver our arms and we can go home.”
But as they travelled home unarmed, through the villages of Soviet controlled Yugoslavia, they were taken captive and made prisoners of war.
“We were in long marches. We called them death marches,” Hilmar said. “We were walked into prison camp. You didn’t get very much to eat. We got two things: soup, bean soup - that was water and five or six beans, and cornbread, which was rotten inside.”
As the harshness of prison life sunk in, Hilmar and his fellow soldiers were faced with a conclusion – run away or die there.
“I came to the conclusion, ‘I will not survive as a prisoner of war. So I better see that we get home ourselves.’ We had one map and we decided to escape. And that’s what we did. The plan was to go to Hungary.”
But the plan all but came to an end when the soldier who carried the map was captured.
“All of a sudden I hear this shooting,” Hilmar said. “Our front man had been running into a patrol. I couldn’t see anybody, so I just left to the right and run into the darkness. That began the first, what I would afterwards call miracle that we found each other in the darkness. We had no more map and we decided we would go after the north star.”
For five weeks, Hilmar and another German soldier navigated through Soviet guarded Yugoslavia, sleeping at night and moving during the day. Finally, they made it to the Hungarian border, and from there, travelled to Germany. They were free!
“I never had the feeling I would be killed,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘Well, was it God who has taken me out there?’”
Hilmar tried to piece his life back together. He found out that his dad had died in a Soviet concentration camp. He reunited with his mother and family, but Germany was in the hands of foreign troops.
“I didn’t know what I should do,” Hilmar said. “I had no profession. I couldn’t get my foot on the ground.”
One day, a stranger made an interesting proposition to him.
“They said, ‘Why don’t you try to listen to God?’” Hilmar said. “I said, ‘He has no time to listen to what I say.’”
“’Have you ever tried it?’ [they asked me],” he said. “So finally I let myself convince that I should try it.”
The encounter changed his life.
“It was as if somebody took the curtain away from me,” Hilmar said. “God looked at me. And I looked with God’s eyes to who I am. Then I went down on my knees, I gave my life to God. I thanked Jesus; asked Jesus to wash me and my life changed completely.”
Hilmar also asked God to forgive the sins of his homeland.
“My repentance towards God included, as I make myself responsible for the sins of Germany, the massacres which I have not participated, the assassination of the Jews, the war,” he said. “It was my unchristian life, which made me a tool of the Nazis.”
Hilmar von Campe recalls his life journey from German soldier to committed Christian in his book, Defeating the Totalitarian Lie. Today, Hilmar and his wife Dina live a life centered on God’s Word.
“I start my day with reading in the Bible, listening to God, praying,” Hilmar said.
“We came from different cultures, different countries, different languages, different customs,” Dina said. “But when we married, we put together our belief in Jesus, in God, in the middle.”
“The center of my life is not myself, but God and I serve God,” Hilmar said. “For me, God’s service is day in, day out. I’ve also learned that any real progress can only come through committed people who listen to God.”Can God change your life?
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