Captain Wilm Hosenfeld
2 May 1895|
Mackenzell near Fulda, German Empire
|Died||13 August 1952
Stalingrad, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
|Allegiance|| German Empire
|Years of service||1914–1917,1939–1945|
|Unit||Wach-Bataillon (guard battalion) 660|
|Battles/wars||World War I
World War II
|Awards||Iron Cross 2nd class
Wound Badge in Black
War Merit Cross 2nd Class with Swords
Cross of Honour
SA sport Badge
Order of Polonia Restituta
Wilhelm Adalbert Hosenfeld (German pronunciation: [ˈvɪlm ˈhoːzənfɛlt]; 2 May 1895 – 13 August 1952), originally a teacher, was a German Army officer who rose to the rank of Hauptmann by the end of the war. He helped to hide or rescue several Polish people, including Jews, in Nazi-occupied Poland and helped Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman to survive, hidden, in the ruins of Warsaw during the last months of 1944.
He was born into the family of a pious Catholic teacher near Fulda. His family life had a Catholic character, and Christian social justice work was emphasized during his education. He was influenced by the Catholic Action and Church-inspired social work, but also by Prussian obedience, by German patriotism, and, during his marriage, by the increasing pacifism of his wife, Annemarie. He was also influenced by the Wandervogel movement and its adherents. He served in World War I from 1914 and, severely wounded in 1917, received the Iron Cross 2nd class.
World War II
Hosenfeld was drafted into the Wehrmacht in August 1939 and stationed in Poland from mid-September 1939 until his capture by the Soviet Army on 17 January 1945. His first destination was Pabianice, where he was involved in the building and running of a POW camp. Next, he was stationed in Węgrów in December 1939, where he remained until his battalion was moved another 30 km away to Jadów at the end of May 1940. He was finally transferred to Warsaw in July 1940, where he spent the rest of the war, for the most part attached to Wach-Bataillon (guard battalion) 660, part of the Wach-Regiment Warschau, where he served as a staff officer as well as the battalion sports officer.
Although a member of the Nazi Party since 1935, Hosenfeld grew disillusioned with the party and Nazi policies as time passed, especially as he saw how Poles, and later Jews, were treated. He and several fellow German Army officers felt sympathy for all peoples of occupied Poland. Ashamed of what some of their countrymen were doing, they offered help to those they could whenever possible.
Hosenfeld befriended numerous Poles and even made an effort to learn their language. He also attended Holy Mass (Latin rite), received Holy Communion, and went to confession in Polish churches, even though this was forbidden by official Nazi decree. His actions on behalf of Poles began as early as autumn 1939, when he allowed, against regulations, Polish POWs access to their families and even pushed (successfully) for the early release of at least one. During his time in Warsaw, he used his position to give refuge to people, regardless of their background (he gave refuge to at least one politically persecuted anti-Nazi ethnic German as well), who were in danger of persecution—even arrest by the Gestapo, sometimes by getting them the requisite papers and jobs at the sports stadium that was under his oversight.
Imprisonment and death
He was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor for alleged war crimes, simply on account of his unit affiliation, and was tortured by the Soviet secret services, as they believed Hosenfeld had been active in the German Abwehr or even the Sicherheitsdienst. In a 1946 letter to his wife in West Germany, Hosenfeld named the Jews whom he had saved and begged her to contact them and ask them to arrange his release.
In 1950, Szpilman learned the name of the German officer who had saved his life. After much soul searching, Szpilman sought the intercession of a man whom he privately considered "a bastard," -- Jakub Berman, the head of the Polish secret police. Several days later, Berman paid a visit to the Szpilman's home and said that there was nothing he could do. He added, "If your German were still in Poland, then we could get him out. But our comrades in the Soviet Union won't let him go. They say your officer belonged to a detachment involved in spying -- so there is nothing we can do about it as Poles, and I am powerless."
Szpilman never believed Berman's claims of powerlessness. In an interview with Wolf Biermann, Szpilman described Berman, "all powerful by the grace of Stalin," and lamented, "So I approached the worst rogue of the lot, and it did no good."
Szpilman's son, Andrzej Szpilman, had long called for Yad Vashem to recognize Wilm Hosenfeld as a Righteous Among the Nations non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews. Along with him, the Szpilman family and thousands of others asked that Hosenfeld be honoured in this way for his acts of kindness throughout the war.
In October 2007, Hosenfeld was posthumously honoured by the president of Poland Lech Kaczyński with a Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (Polish: Krzyż Komandorski Orderu Odrodzenia Polski).
On 16 February 2009, Yad Vashem finally announced that Capt. Wilm Hosenfeld would be posthumously recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations. On 19 June 2009, Israeli diplomats presented Hosenfeld's son, Detlev, with the award, in Berlin.
On December 4, 2011, a commemorative plaque in Polish and English was unveiled at 223 Niepodległości Avenue in Warsaw, the place where Hosenfeld discovered Szpilman, in the presence of Hosenfeld's daughter Jorinde.
- "Both the Jacobins and Bolsheviks butchered their upper ruling classes and executed their royal families. They broke with Christianity and waged war on it, intending to wipe it off the face of the earth. They succeeded in involving the people of the nations in wars fought with energy and enthusiasm - the revolutionary wars of the past, the war against Germany today. Their theories and revolutionary ideas had enormous influence beyond the borders of their own countries. The methods of National Socialism are different, but basically they too pursue a single idea: the extermination and annihilation of people who think differently from them."—Diary entry, 18 January 1942.
Awards and decorations
- Iron Cross of 1914, 2nd class (1917)
- Wound Badge in Black
- War Merit Cross 2nd Class with Swords
- Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918
- SA sport Badge
- Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (Poland, October 2007)
- Righteous Among the Nations (16 February 2009)
References and notes
- Vogel, p.56
- Vogel, p.40
- Vogel, p. 933
- Vogel, p. 968-69, back flap
- Wladyslaw Szpilman, The Pianist, 1999. Pages 220-221.
- The Pianist, page 221.
- Vogel, p. 146
- Szpilman, The Pianist, 1999. Page 222.
- Dziennik, 13 October 2007 (Polish)
- "Wilhelm (Wilm) Hosenfeld - The Righteous Among The Nations". Yad Vashem. Retrieved 2012-06-08.
- Nazi Officer Honoured For Saving 'The Pianist'
- "Tablica przypomni ocalenie Szpilmana". 2011-12-04. Retrieved 2012-06-08.
- Szpilman, The Pianist, page 193.
- Vogel, Thomas, ed.: Wilm Hosenfeld: "Ich versuche jeden zu retten"—Das Leben eines deutschen Offiziers in Briefen und Tagebüchern (Wilm Hosenfeld: "'I try to save each one [I can]'—The life of a German officer in letters and diaries"). Compiled and with commentary by Thomas Vogel, Militärgeschichtlichen Forschungsamt (MGFA: Military History Research Institute). Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Munich, 2004. ISBN 3-421-05776-1 (German)
- Szpilman, Władysław. The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939–1945. Picador; 2nd edition, 2002 ISBN 0-312-31135-4 (ISBN ), ISBN 978-0-312-31135-3 (ISBN ). This book includes a foreword by Andrzej Szpilman, excerpts from Hosenfeld's diary, and an epilogue in the form of an essay by Wolf Biermann.
- Wilm Hosenfeld, A Man Of courage
- - The story of Wilm Hosenfeld
- Comment on Hosenfeld in conjunction with Roman Polanski's filmThe Pianist
- Page on Wilm Hosenfeld and The Pianist on the website of Hosenfeld's grandson
- "Dziennik" 13 Oct. 2007 re posthumous award of Polonia Restituta - In Polish