Josef Brettschneider took part in the Battle of Berlin as a young lieutenant. In a hopeless situation, he had to fight with a Volkssturm unit in a city sur-rounded by Soviet troops.
Josef Brettschneider was born in Düsseldorf in 1924. After leaving school he went to Xanten, where he trained at a Nazi teacher training college as a primary school teacher. In April 1943 he was enlisted for military service and eventually was sent to the officer training centre in Potsdam near Berlin. In March 1944, at the age of 20, he became a training officer for Volkssturm Battalion 3/607.
The German Volkssturm was established just a few months before the war ended on the basis of a so-called Führer Decree of 25 September 1944. All men between 16 and 60 who were deemed fit for military service were mobilised to support the Wehrmacht. The Volkssturm units were poorly trained and armed and the recruits had a very low chance of survival.
The young Lieutenant Josef Brettschneider fought with the Volkssturm Battalion in the Battle for Berlin in April 1945. He noted in his diary, “Equipped only with infantry weapons, a few machine guns and grenade launchers, we occupy the already dug trenches on a rise at the edge of the woods. We have little hope of holding the enemy at bay. Despair and worry are starting to creep in.”
Josef Brettschneider spent the final days of the war in the Zitadelle Spandau, a fortress in the west of the city. Soviet soldiers captured it with-out a fight following negotiations Brettschneider was involved in.
After the war Brettschneider was interned as a prisoner of war north of Moscow until September 1946.
On 16 April 1945, the Soviet forces started to encircle Berlin in a pincer movement. Five days later first Soviet units entered Berlin from the east and fought their way to the city center. On 2 May, two days after Adolf Hitler committed suicide, all remaining German forces in Berlin were ordered to surrender.
After the Soviet troops had occupied the Reichstag on 1 May 1945, German defeat was imminent. On 2 May, Soviet intelligence received a radio message from the German 56th Armored Corps requesting an armistice. Later that morning, corps commander General Helmuth Weidling signed the order of surrender, which was then conveyed to all soldiers of the Berlin garrison.
In the summer of 1945, world history was written in Potsdam, just outside Berlin. The three government leaders of the victorious powers met in person to discuss the new order in Europe and Germany. The results of the conference were contained in the Potsdam Agreement.
The German-Russian Museum is located at the site of the unconditional surrender of Germany on 8 May 1945 in Berlin-Karlshorst, marking the end of the Second World War in Europe. Today it is a place where two former wartime enemies jointly recall some of their common, albeit very violent history.