80 years ago, Adolf Hitler spoke at the launch of the Nazi training vessel Horst Wessel to a massive crowd. The crowd showed their obedience with infamous “seig heil” salute and a cameraman was there to capture the moment. This photo then became iconic. Not for all of those who were saluting, but for the one man who refused to partake.
Upon close inspection of the image, you can spot one man with his arms crossed, sporting a look of disapproval. This was an act, that if his superiors had found out about, could have got him killed. It was true heroism in the face of adversity. And now, this man’s story has been discovered. It is an inspiring tale of love and defiance.
At 21-years-old, the man, August Landmesser, joined the Nazi ranks in 1931, in hopes that it would get him a job. Shortly thereafter, Landmesser fell in love with a Jewish woman named Irma Eckler. The two attempted to get married a year later, but in trying to do so they were denied the license, and Landmesser expelled from the Nazi party for falling in love with the enemy.
The couple then had a child together in 1935. The following year, full of disdain for the party, Landmesser stood stoically in the iconic photo.
Two years later, the couple attempted to flee the country but were caught and Landmesser was arrested. But this didn’t stop them. They continued their relationship and even had another child. Landmesser was caught again, and this time, he was thrown into the Börgermoor concentration camp and Eckler was sent to prison.
Landmesser was finally released in 1941 but he was almost immediately drafted in the war, where he unfortunately died.
The first and only photo of the family, 1938.
In an ironic twist, the Senate of Hamburg recognized the marriage of Landmesser and Eckler in 1951.
In 1996, Irene Eckler published the book Die Vormundschaftsakte 1935–1958: Verfolgung einer Familie wegen “Rassenschande” (The Guardianship Documents 1935–1958: Persecution of a Family for “Dishonoring the Race”), which tells the story of how her family had been torn apart.
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