‘I have had, in my life, whole squadrons of guardian angels looking after me. There’s no other way.’

Hans-Erdmann Schönbeck, German officer

Hans-Erdmann Schönbeck survived the biggest, bloodiest battle in history. He looked Adolf Hitler in the eye. He slept a few feet from the bomb that nearly took the führer’s life—and escaped the bloody purge that followed its explosion.

Now 98, Schönbeck has only one explanation: “I have had, in my life, whole squadrons of guardian angels looking after me. There’s no other way.”

Assigned to a German tank regiment in the summer of 1940, Schönbeck says he felt a part of the world’s best army. For a year his unit rampaged across the Soviet Union. Eight tanks were shot out from under him, and he was given one field promotion after another. By the time his tank crested a hill overlooking Stalingrad in August 1942, he led a 250-man tank company. He wasn’t quite 20 years old.

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