Josef Brettschneider was born in Düsseldorf in 1924. After leaving school he went to Xanten, where he trained at a Nazi teacher training college as a primary school teacher. In April 1943 he was enlisted for military service and eventually was sent to the officer training centre in Potsdam near Berlin. In March 1944, at the age of 20, he became a training officer for Volkssturm Battalion 3/607. The German Volkssturm was established just a few months before the war ended on the basis of a so-called Führer Decree of 25 September 1944. All men between 16 and 60 who were deemed fit for military service were mobilised to support the Wehrmacht. The Volkssturm units were poorly trained and armed and the recruits had a very low chance of survival. The young Lieutenant Josef Brettschneider fought with the Volkssturm Battalion in the Battle for Berlin in April 1945. He noted in his diary, “Equipped only with infantry weapons, a few machine guns and grenade launchers, we occupy the already dug trenches on a rise at the edge of the woods. We have little hope of holding the enemy at bay. Despair and worry are starting to creep in.” Josef Brettschneider spent the final days of the war in the Zitadelle Spandau, a fortress in the west of the city. Soviet soldiers captured it with-out a fight following negotiations Brettschneider was involved in. After the war Brettschneider was interned as a prisoner of war north of Moscow until September 1946.