Mildura Weekly : Friday July 18 Vol 8 No 37
www.milduraweekly.com.au 8 Mildura Weekly – 18/07/14 OBITUARY RUDI RAUPACH 1924 – 2014 GERMAN-born Rudi Rau- pach saw action with Rom- mel’s elite Afrika Tank Korps, including Tobruk and El Alamein, but it was in East Prussia that he had his closest brush with death, soon after coming across the dead body of a fellow German, one of Hitler’s infamous Gestapo. The soldier’s direct link with Hitler’s feared secret po- lice was easily identifiable by the distinctive Death’s Head insignia on his uniform, and a young and naive Rudi took the badges as a war souvenir, putting them on his own shirt collar. A few days later, during the fighting in Konisberg, Rudi was captured by Russian troops. An officer noticed the badges. The Gestapo were no- torious for some terrible acts against Allied forces, and the Russian officer’s intentions were clear as he drew his re- volver. Under no illusion that he was about to die, Rudi made a comment in basic Russian, along the lines if...’know I have never believed in God, but if you are there, God, please help me now.’ The officer hesitated, ask- ing Rudi if he could speak Russian. Despite having only a basic knowledge of the lan- guage, Rudi answered ‘yes.’ The officer holstered his pistol, and later offered a surprised Rudi a job with the Russian Army, handing out weekly cash payments to the soldiers...the Russians couldn’t trust their own pay- masters! Rudi had told that story to only a few trusted family and friends in the years after the war, and it was one of those friends, Mildura’s Wes Mills, who recounted it for mourn- ers at Rudi’s farewell funeral service after his recent death at the age of 89. Rudi’s life story is an amazing one, and as Wes told mourners, well worth shar- ing. He got to know Rudi well when they both worked in the Mills family busi- ness, Syd Mills Motors, from 1951. “Rudi was the epitome of a genuine hard working man whose loyalty knew no bounds,” he said. “His strength of charac- ter, mental awareness, physi- cal prowess and general good health allowed him to sur- vive some incredible ordeals during the Second World War. Some of his exploits are mind-boggling.” Dresden-born to an un- married Mum who couldn’t look after him because she was forced to go to work, young Rudi went into the so- cial service system, ending up with a married couple by the name of Rudolph, who treat- ed him the same as their three young children – all girls. Rudi had fond memories of his early life. In later years, as the parents got too old, Rudi went to live with one of his sisters, Hertha, and her husband Hans. His adventure-packed life started early. Wes recalled Rudi telling him of one oc- casion when he went down- stairs to collect his play-ball, which he kept in the gas me- ter box. Instead of the ball, he found an iron egg-shaped object, which he took upstairs to show his father. It was a live hand grenade, left there the previous evening when there had been a rowdy po- litical demonstration march through the streets. Rudi also had a clear rec- ollection of Hitler’s rise to power, and his subsequent declaration that all children aged 10 to 14 were made to join the Hitler Youth move- ment! It took some time for young Rudi to understand that while it was fun camping, marching with packs on and learning how to use a gun, the real purpose was to get the boys ready for Army duty! Rudi started at university in 1941, and it was common practice for highly-decorated soldiers to talk to uni students about “the wonders” of Army life. As Rudi told Wes, they were pretty convincing. At the end of one of the talks, the whole class volunteered to join up! Rudi entered Army life as a private, quickly worked his way up to a sergeant, and then as a tank commander in charge of a Panzer tank under Rommel in Africa. It was here that he got his first real taste of the horrors of war, experi- encing some shocking sights, and it was also in Africa that he was seriously wounded, and sent back to Germany for treatment. On recovery, Rudi went back into the tank corps, this time at Salerno in Italy, and was later transferred to the Russian front, where he was taken prisoner. Wes said Rudi told him how, after his capture, he had survived a number of death marches in Russian winters, and unbelievably severe im- prisonment in Siberia. Rudi also spoke sadly of his many German Army friends who died of exposure during the marches. “Rudi was finally jailed in Estonia,” Wes said. “In his usual likeable manner, he soon became quite liked by the Russians, and from then on had access to nearby farms, and plenty of food!” At war’s end, Rudi was sent back to Frankfurt by train, and from there joined the Foreign Legion, first serving at Oran in Algeria, and later French In- do-China, fighting Viet Minh forces led by the famed Ho Chi Minh. • Continued Page 12 Rudi Raupach was one of those blokes who slips under the radar. Very much a quiet achiever - good family man, honest as the day is long, a hard worker and a loyal friend who had a good memory, a superb intellect...and an amazing background. But like many a good person, we only get to hear their story after they have died, and so it is with Rudi, who passed away recently in his 90th year, with a fitting farewell, conducted by celebrant Annie Prideaux at the Chapel of E.O James and Co, where family and friends heard more of Rudi’s interesting life story. Close family friend Wes Mills, who held Rudi in the highest regard and who was “humbled and proud” to deliver the eulogy, worked with Mildura Weekly editor ALAN ERSKINE for this special report on German-born Rudi, including his joining Hitler’s youth movement, and... The Gestapo connection • FLASHBACK: Rudi in his younger years, firstly with his Mum at the Dresden Zoo, LEFT, and later in his German uniform (without the Gestapo badges he souvenired), and then in Mildura, at the Murray Moon dance with his wife Joan, FAR LEFT, and as family and friends will remember him in the years just before his death with friend Wes Mills, who read the eulogy at the funeral. 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