June 29, 1921|
|Died||September 23, 1995
|Years of service||1941-1945|
|Rank||Oberscharführer (Staff Sergeant)|
|Unit||3rd SS Division Totenkopf (Death's Head)|
Having missed the Polish campaign, and having cut its teeth successfully in France, the Totenkopf division was heavily embroiled in combat on the Eastern front from the first days of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. On the morning of September 24, 1941, Christen and his anti-tank battery were engaging Russian targets north of the village of Lushno (Luzhno). In an initial engagement, Soviet skirmishers killed all of the other men of the battery. While exposed to artillery and small arms fire, Christen manned his 50mm cannon alone, holding on without supplies or provisions for the next three days. When a counterattack by other Totenkopf troops recaptured Lushno, Christen was credited with having knocked out 13 Soviet tanks and killed nearly 100 enemy soldiers singlehandedly. The soldiers that greeted him were baffled that a single artilleryman could hold his position against hundreds of Soviet troops and a formidable armor presence. For this stunning act of individual bravery, SS-Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke awarded Christen with the Iron Cross, First Class and recommended him simultaneously for the Knight's Cross. Subsequently, Hitler awarded him the Knight's Cross, making Christen the first enlisted man in his division to be given the honor.
Christen served with distinction for the remainder of the war. In spring 1945, he was captured by the Americans along with the remainder of the depleted Totenkopf division in Czechoslovakia. The American and British military policy was to treat the SS as a criminal organization and to repatriate the SS soldiers to the Red Army. In Russia, the Totenkopf division could expect especially cruel treatment due to their reputation as an organization that committed outrageous war crimes on Russian soil.
Soviet-held POWs, especially those from the Waffen-SS, often died in their lengthy captivity. Christen, along with many of the men in his unit, endured ten years in a Soviet gulag before being returned to Germany in 1955. He died of natural causes in 1995.
- Sydnor, Charles (1990). Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death's Head Division, 1933-1945. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-00853-1.
- Huß, Jürgen (2009). Ritterkreuzträger im Mannschaftsstand 1941 - 1945. Zweibrücken: VDM Nickel. ISBN 978-3-86619-042-9.