Most Vietnamese have French blood

Werner Müller: Propaganda photographer in North Vietnam

This article was written by Werner Müller (1925-1999) from Kehl (later Thailand).

The German Foreign Legion in Vietnam

Much has been written about the French Foreign Legion, but little about the Germans who were on the other side in Vietnam. Understandable, because almost all of them are dead - fallen, dragged away by diseases in the jungle or attacked and killed by predatory game. Here, too, the jungle has long since overgrown the graves. Only a few of the Germans fighting there returned to the GDR via China in 1954. I was only able to return to our home in Germany many years later.

A "hot iron"

The Foreign Legion has always been a hot potato, hiring its cannon fodder from all over the world, be it with pressure from the prison camps of the World War or by voluntary signature, and mostly it was Germans who gave their blood on distant, foreign soil. The death lists - Mort pour la France - published by the French War Ministry are eloquent testimony to this. Then you realized too late what you were selling part of your life for. Many became deserters, but how few were lucky enough to get through.

Joined the Foreign Legion after being a prisoner of war

I was also a French prisoner of war and came more or less voluntarily over the legendary white line into the Foreign Legion and so into the Indochina War. I paid for this with years of hell. As a prisoner of the Viet Minh, I entered the service of the Vietnamese army in order to survive. I became a soldier again, took the Vietnamese name Dong Thi Duc and worked as a photographer for several years on an official mission for the North Vietnamese in their liberation struggle against the French. Was one a traitor? Did you have remorse towards the "Grande Nation"? No! At most one had forgotten one's own fatherland.

None of the Germans was forced to use weapons against their compatriots in the Foreign Legion - some units were 90 percent Germans. For the communist Vietnamese, I embodied East Germany and nobody knew that I came from the so-called capitalist West, which they certainly wouldn't have cared about; the main thing I fought for their idea.

Songs from the struggle for freedom

One evening when our unit was sitting together, I was expected to sing a song. Since I couldn't think of anything better at the moment, I sing "In front of the barracks, in front of the big gate" by Lilli Marlen. Since the applause was very high and they liked the melody, I sing an old paratrooper song as an encore: "On Crete in storm and rain".

Believing that no one has ever heard these songs and since I declared them to be freedom songs, I am very happy with this graduation. Half an hour later I am approached by an elderly Vietnamese soldier whom I can recognize as an officer by the four pockets of his jacket. He introduces himself to this unit as a doctor, first in the best French and then with a passable German. As he tells me, he was a doctor in the French army in Germany during and after the war; he knows Konstanz, Baden-Baden and Heidelberg. We sit together for a long time tonight and talk about my homeland. I was happy to be able to speak my national language again, and he was obviously happy to bring his language skills to the man.

When we shake hands and wish each other good luck in the future, he says: "Dong thi Duc, I've been thinking the whole evening whether I've heard your songs somewhere, at a youth festival in Moscow, where I also was, or in another place. "

I say goodbye quickly and send a quick prayer to heaven, may it never occur to the man when and where he heard my so-called "freedom songs of the German youth". But my suspicions persist, since I know the Vietnamese and their politeness to strangers, even enemies, only too well that the man might know exactly what I was singing.

Many German Foreign Legionnaires were prisoners of war

Many Germans who fought against the French in North Vietnam were like me prisoners of war who were sent by the French to the Foreign Legion after the Second World War and then fled to the North Vietnamese. A large number of Germans in the service of the Vietnamese army fell in fighting with the French. Many German Foreign Legionnaires who were prisoners of war in our camps were also killed as a result of bombings or hostilities by the French for whom they had fought.

I also knew of two Germans who had been adopted by Ho Chi Minh and were therefore named after the Vietnamese leader with Ho Chi Sen and Ho Chi Long. The first was known as a fighter, the second as a wrong decision by Ho Chi Minh.

"Vietnam moi" - New Vietnamese

All Europeans, provided they had decided in favor of the North Vietnamese side according to the predicament, were "Vietnam moi", New Vietnamese. Those with functions were married under Vietnamese law and almost all women were in the army. However, very few were infected with their politics, which also cost many their lives. For most, the jungle and the coast of the China Sea were just a great adventure.

Some Germans stayed on as interpreters for the GDR's trade policy department after the war. Two convoys of Germans went to the GDR via China after the war, a total of around 300 men.

With the banana ship to Hong Kong

After it was known what my opinion was and that some of us Germans wanted to return to the Federal Republic, our meetings were always very frosty. We were told at the GDR consulate that we didn't understand politics, but they needed our language skills. With the help of the British, who were still represented there by consular service, and the Armistice Commission, I was able to leave the country on a banana ship for Hong Kong.

When I left North Vietnam in 1958, some German citizens remained there: Schenzi, Pick, Wenzel, called Duc Viet, and Cement. They had all made it to the rank of senior officer in the Vietnamese army.

The fate of my friends

Schenzi, who was known as the closest collaborator and friend of Ho Chi Minh during the fighting, came to the country a few years before the resistance against the French. It was said that he was captured by the Japanese, later liberated and organized on the side of the Viet Minh from the beginning the resistance against the French. After the armistice he was responsible for the then only Vietnamese newspaper "Nhan dan".

Pick, a Berliner, was involved in various combat operations. Most recently he was the liaison officer in the prison camp with the Central Office, which was responsible for all Europeans.

Cement - he claimed to be German, but was Viennese according to the language - made a mistake in a commando operation. He was supposed to shoot the French governor of the Turan sector, by mistake he caught his deputy; nevertheless he received one of the highest Vietnamese awards. He stayed in Vietnam but was disgraced.

Recommended citation:
Müller, Werner: Propaganda photographer in North Vietnam, in: LeMO-Zeitzeugen, Lebendiges Museum Online, Foundation House of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany,
Last visited on: 19.05.2021