Hans Schmidt (d. 30 May 2010) was a member of the Waffen-SS and a dedicated soldier. In protest of distortions and outright lies included in the film, Saving Private Ryan, he sent the letter reproduced below to its producer, Steven Spielberg. Schmidt remained politically and socially active well after World War II. In 1983 he founded the German-American National Political Action Committee. In 1995 he was sentenced to prison for passing out political newsletters and sentenced for "incitement to hate" in Germany.
Hans Schmidt (1927-2010) in his youth, as a
soldier of the pan-European Waffen-SS.
Dear Mr. Spielberg,
Permit me, a twice wounded veteran of the Waffen-SS, and participant in three campaigns (Battle of the Bulge, Hungary and Austria) to comment on your picture, "Saving Private Ryan."
Having read many of the accolades of this undoubtedly successful and, shall we say, "impressive," film, I hope you don’t mind some criticism from both a German and a German-American point of view.
Apart from the carnage immediately at the beginning of the story, during the invasion at Omaha Beach, whereon I cannot comment because I was not there; many of the battle scenes seemed unreal.
You made some commendable efforts to provide authenticity through the use of several pieces of original-looking German equipment, for instance, the Schützenpanzerwagen (SPW), the MG 42s, and the Kettenkrad.
And, while the appearance of German infantry soldiers of the regular Army in the Normandy bunkers was not well depicted, the Waffen SS in the street fighting at the end of the film were quite properly outfitted.
My comment about the unreality of the battle scenes has to do with the fact that the Waffen-SS would not have acted as you depicted them in "Private Ryan."
While it was a common sight in battle to see both American and Russian infantry congregate around their tanks when approaching our lines, this rarely if ever occurred with the Waffen-SS.
(The first Americans I saw during the Battle of the Bulge were about a dozen dead GIs bunched around a burned-out, self-propelled, tracked howitzer.)
Furthermore, almost all the German soldiers seen in "Private Ryan" had their heads shaved, or wore closely cropped hair, something totally in conflict with reality. Perhaps you were confusing, in your mind, German soldiers with Russians of the time.
Or else, your Jewishness came to the fore, and you wanted to draw a direct line back from today’s skinheads to the Waffen-SS and other German soldiers of the Third Reich.
Also, for my unit you should have used 18 or 19-year old boys instead of older guys. The average age, including general officers of the heroic Hitlerjugend division at Caen, was 19 years!
The scene where the GI shows his Jewish “Star of David” medallion to German POWs and tells them: "Ich Jude, ich Jude!" is so outrageous as to be funny.
I can tell you what German soldiers would have said to each other if such an incident had actually ever occurred: "That guy is nuts!"
You don’t seem to know that for the average German soldier of World War II, of whatever unit, the race, color or "religion" of the enemy didn’t matter at all. He didn’t know and he didn’t care.
Furthermore, you committed a serious error in judgment when, in the opening scenes of "Private Ryan" you had the camera pan from the lone grave with the Jewish star to all the Christian crosses in the cemetery.
I know what you wanted to say but I am sure that I was not the only one who immediately thereafter glanced over all the other hundreds of crosses one could see, to discover whether somewhere else was another Star of David.
And you know the answer. In fact, you generated exactly the opposite effect of what you had intended. Your use of that scene makes a lie out of the claim now put forth by Jewish organizations that during World War II Jews volunteered for service in numbers greater than their percentage of the general population, and that their blood sacrifice was (therefore) higher also.
I visited the large Luxembourg military cemetery where General Patton is buried and counted the Jewish stars on the gravestones. I was shocked by their absence.
After World War I, some German Jewish leaders mounted the same ruse: They claimed then and still do to this day that, "12,000 Jews gave their lives for the Fatherland," which would also have made their general participation higher, which it was not. But perhaps the "12,000" figure is intended as a symbol denoting, "from our point of view, we did enough."
During World War II, as now, about a quarter of the American population considered itself German-American. Knowing the patriotic fervor German-Americans harbor for America, we can be certain that their numbers in the Armed Forces were equal or higher than their percentage of the population.
Yet in "Saving Private Ryan" there was not one single German name to be heard or seen among the Americans.
Did you forget Nimitz, Arnold, Spaatz or even Eisenhower? Well, perhaps Capt. Miller from Pennsylvania was a German whose name had been anglicized. In omitting the American Germans you seem to have taken a cue from the White House at whose contemporary state dinners rarely someone with a German name can be found.
Well, maybe someone thinks that the abundance of German sounding names such as Goldberg, Rosenthal, Silverstein and Spielberg satisfies the need for "German-American" representation.
My final comment concerns the depictions of the shooting of German POWs immediately after a fire fight. A perusal of American World War II literature indicates that such incidents were much more common than is generally admitted, and more often than not, such transgressions against the laws of war and chivalry are often or usually excused, "because the GIs got mad at the Germans who had just killed one of their dearest comrades".
In other words, the anger and the war crime following it was both understandable and, ipso facto excusable. In "Private Ryan" you seem to agree with this stance since you permit only one of the soldiers, namely, the acknowledged coward, to say that one does not shoot enemy soldiers who had put down their arms.
As a former German soldier I can assure you that among us we did not have this, what I would call, un-Aryan mindset.
I remember well, when in January of 1945 we sat together with ten captured Americans after a fierce battle, and the GIs were genuinely surprised that we treated them almost as buddies, without rancor.
If you want to know why, I can tell you. We had not suffered from years of anti-enemy hate propaganda, as was the case with American and British soldiers whose basic sense of chivalry had often (but not always) been dulled by watching too many anti-German war movies usually made by your brethren.
(For your information: I never saw even one anti-American war movie - There were no more Jewish directors at the UFA studios.)