A Brief History
On October 31, 1944, Dr. jur. Erich Göstl, a member of the Waffen SS, was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, to recognize extreme battlefield bravery for losing his face and eyes during the Battle of Normandy during World War II and continuing to fight while blind.
It is easy to dismiss Nazi Germany for its evil war crimes and the popular culture stereotypes of Germans during that dark moment in human history. Indeed, even this article is not intended to offer any praise to that ultimately failed state, but rather to remember just how horrifying the war was for all sides of the conflict. After all, in addition to the much reviled stereotypes of Nazis, a number of the individual soldiers did fight bravely and suffered considerably for the madcap dreams of the Nazi elites.
Göstl was one such individual soldier who experienced almost incomprehensible injuries during the latter portion of World War II and yet still continued to fight on despite his wounds.
This Viennese member of the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler during the Normandy Campaign served as a machine gunner, manning an MG-42. While defending his position against an Allied attack, he was shot in his left eye, then wounded by shrapnel in his upper left arm. Yet, he continued to fire even after being hit in the other eye, essentially blinded. He next endured another hit, this time in his right cheek and nose area. Yet even now, with his face a bloody, mangled mess, Göstl still held firm!
Göstl survived the battle and the war and, thanks to his wife’s assistance, eventually earned a Doctorate of Law Degree from the University of Vienna before dying, at the age of 65, in October 1990 in Austria.
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For more on this man and other recipients of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross during World War II, please see Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer. Elite of the Third Reich: The Recipients of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross 1939-45. Helion and Company, 2006.
Still the best overall reenactment of the Battle of Normandy remains Saving Private Ryan.