Some pictures really are worth a thousand words. Here’s one prime example. It features a man who would unknowingly become famous throughout the world. The iconic photo is significant for so many reasons: it is a symbol of resistance, justice, and morality. The story behind the photo is equally interesting . Above all, it shows us why it is so important to think for ourselves, ask the hard questions, and question the answers.
This photo has become one of the most iconic photos of World War II. A single man, August Landmesser, is visible amidst a large public gathering of Nazi proponents and Hitler’s followers. But when the entire crowd engages in the Nazi salute, August stands immobile, hands by his side. He refuses to engage.
The brave man refused to participate in the salute, despite knowing this could incur severe reprimand, wrath, and worse.
This photo was snapped in Hamburg, Germany in 1936, but first published in 1991. Although the image is widespread, few knowthe history behind the scene.
Landmesser was himself a member of the Nazi Party in 1931 with the hope that it would create job opportunities for him. In Germany during this time, it was a great advantage to be a member of a party when you applied for a job.
He was, however, expelled from the Party in 1935, after becoming engaged to a Jewish woman named Irma Eckler. The couple wanted to marry, but the law prevented them from doing so. The couple had their first child- a baby girl- on October 29, 1935.
The picture reflects his disdain for the ruling Nazi party. But what happened after that picture was taken?
August’s wife became pregnant again and the couple decided to flee Germany and head to Denmark in 1937. The Nazis however held them. August was indicted for having “dishonored” the Nazi laws. Due to lack of evidence the couple were off the hook, however, they warned that repeating such a “crime” would lead to imprisonment.
Despite the threat of imprisonment the couple continued their relationship openly. In July 1938, Landmesser was arrested once again, this time sentenced to two and a half years in the Börgermoor concentration camp. Eckler was taken by the Gestapo to prison Fuhlsbüttel, where she gave birth to their second child.
Where the Börgermoor camp once stood. Photo: Wikipedia
Eckler was sent to several different concentration camps, where receiving letters in January 1942 was very difficult. It is believed that she was taken to the Bernburg Euthanasia Centre in February 1942 and would there be one of the 14,000 people executed.
Execution area of the Bernburg Euthanasia Centre. Photo: Wikipedia
Landmesser was released from the camp in January 1941. He ended up in a battalion in February 1944, and he is said to have died during battles with Croatia in October that same year.
I think this story is as scary as it is thought-provoking story. August Landmesser has become an icon thanks to the image of him daring to stand up for what he believed, despite the terrible repercussions. Perhaps is August’s story especially relevant today when we easily forget history and where easy answers stand as solutions to problems that are far more complicated.
I’m happy to share this with you because I think there’a an important lesson to be learnt here. Please do the same if you agree. And do not forget to like Newsner for similar stories in your Facebook feed.