Robert Heinrich Wagner
|This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the German Wikipedia. (February 2009)|
Robert Wagner was born in Lindach in the Grand Duchy of Baden, Germany. He was the second of five children of Peter Backfisch and Catherine Wagner, a farming family. After attending elementary school, he enrolled in 1910 in a preparatory school in Heidelberg and later in a Teacher Normal School.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Wagner abandoned his studies (which he never finished) and volunteered for the Army. He fought from 1914 to 1918 in some of the most notorious battles on the Western Front: Flanders, the Battle of Verdun, the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Loretto, and the Battle of Champagne.
After the war, Wagner joined in February 1919 the Second Volunteer Baden Battalion, with whom he participated in the suppression of revolutionary unrest in Mannheim and Karlsruhe. In August 1919, he was sworn in as lieutenant of the army in the Infantry Regiment n. 14 in Konstanz. There he took, in 1921, the maiden name of his mother (Wagner). The reasons for the name change from his father's (Backfisch, which means "teenage girl" (literally "fried fish")) were probably to avoid teasing by his fellow officers.
In September 1923, he was on the Central School of Infantry in Munich, then the principal officer training facility in Germany. While at Munich, Wagner met Hitler and Ludendorff and was immediately captivated by them. The meeting came through his friendship with Ludendorff's stepson, Heinz Pernet. Wagner took part in the Beer Hall Putsch on November 9, 1923. On February 26, 1924, he stood trial with Hitler and seven other men for their part in the putsch. Wagner was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison, of which he served 11 weeks.
During the Nazi regime, Wagner first served as Gauleiter of Baden. On October 22, 1940, he reported to Berlin,
|“||Baden ist als erster Gau judenfrei. — Baden is the first district to be free of Jews.||”|
Wagner became Gauleiter of Alsace as well, where he earned the moniker the Butcher of Alsace (Schlächter vom Elsaß). Wagner was given a free hand to govern like no other Gauleiter. He took part in many trials dictating death sentences. Of the 4,464 Jews sent to the Gurs concentration camp in France, only some 800 survived.
At the end of the war, Wagner was arrested by the French, tried, convicted and sentenced to death by the Permanent Military Tribunal in Strasbourg in 1946. The sentence was carried out by firing squad on August 14, 1946.
- "Milde Strafen für die Täter". Rhein-Neckar Zeitung/Nr. 261 (in German) (Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung GmbH). 8 November 2008. p. 13.