L is for August Landmesser

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for
my contributions to round 18 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme.

August LandmesserIf you click the photo on the left you will see a remarkable image of one man refusing to conform in a crowd of hundreds performing the Nazi salute in 1936.

It was taken at the launch of the naval training vessel Horst Wessel and the one-man protestor is August Landmesser who had run foul of the Nazi party on account of his relationship with a Jewish woman.

Landmesser was born in 1910 and worked at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg. He had joined the Nazi party in 1931 hoping that this would help him find a job in the depressed German economy.

In 1934, Landmesser met Irma Eckler, a Jewish woman, and the two fell in love. They were engaged to be married a year later which led to him being expelled from the party and their marriage application was refused under the newly enacted racial Nuremberg Laws.

The Landmesser family in 1938

The Landmesser family in 1938

Irma gave birth to their daughter, Ingrid, that same year and in 1937 the couple attempted to flee to Denmark with their child but were arrested at the border. Landmesser was charged with ‘dishonouring the German race’, but he successfully argued that neither he or Irma knew that she was fully Jewish and he was acquitted in May 1938.

Landmesser might have ended his relationship with Irma, or at least kept it secret, but he didn’t and Landmesser was re-arrested in July 1938 and sentenced to two and a half years in the Börgermoor concentration camp.

Irma was also detained by the Gestapo and gave birth to their second daughter, Irene, while in prison. I’m not sure how that leaves the photo above which clearly shows Landmesser and Irma with both their daughters that same year.

She was then sent to the Oranienburg concentration camp, the Lichtenburg concentration camp for women, and then to the infamous Ravensbrück camp. A few letters came from Irma, but they stopped in 1942 and it is believed that she was among the 14,000 killed at the Bernburg Euthanasia Centre.

Landmesser was discharged in 1941 and worked as a foreman for a haulage company, but in 1944 he was drafted to the 999th Fort Infantry Battalion penal unit. He was declared missing in action, after being killed in fighting in Croatia in October 1944.

Ingrid and Irene were taken to the orphanage in Hamburg, but later Ingrid was allowed to live with her maternal grandmother, while Irene went to the home of foster parents in 1941. Ingrid was also placed with foster parents after her grandmother’s death in 1953.

RassenschandeBoth Landmesser and Irma were officially declared dead in 1949 and their marriage was recognised retroactively by the Senate of Hamburg in 1951. That same year, Ingrid took the surname Landmesser, while Irene continued to use the name Eckler.

In 1966, Irene Eckler published ‘A Family Torn Apart by Rassenschande’ (Racial Stigma) which tells the story of her family and includes a large number of original documents from that time, including letters from her mother and documents from state institutions.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

6 comments… Add yours
  • Yorkshire Pudding 30th March 2016

    I have been to Oranienburg. That is the location of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp which can be visited today. A very moving experience. Landmesser ‘s story seems unexceptional – just more proof of the cruelty and the pointlessness of war.

    • Shooting Parrots 30th March 2016

      I agree that Landmesser’s story is typical of the madness of the period. What makes it different for me is the iconic status of the photograph of his one-man protest.

  • Melody Steenkamp 30th March 2016

    What an impressive post!

    Beeing Dutch from childhood on i got to hear and read many stories about ww2 and like these people there are lots more who tried to do anything necessary to survive.. most horrible stories, and still after so many years now, it gives chilles.

    Have a nice ABC-Wednesday-day / – week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ (ABC-W-team)

  • John going gently 30th March 2016

    To stand firm against 1000s….
    We need more of him in theworld eh?

  • Trevor Rowley 31st March 2016

    “To stand firm against 1000s” would have been well nigh impossible in that day and age in Germany. Compare it to the regimes we have witnessed in recent times in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan etc., where speaking out will almost certainly result in aggressive, if not violent, recrimination. We are fortunate that we live in a society, in the UK, in which you are not likely to get a “visit” at two in the morning because of comments you might have made against the government.

  • Roger Green 31st March 2016

    this made me both very sad and extremely angry. could happen again.



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