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  • History's Heroes | The Amazing and Tragic Story of August Landmesser

    October 01, 2015 3 min read

    On June 13th, 1936, this hero named August Landmesser was working at the Blohm + Voss shipyard in in Hamburg, Germany. When you read his story, you'll never forget him.

    In the 1930s, the fascist mania for Hitler’s regime instituted a law making the infamous “sieg heil” hail victory salute mandatory for Germans.

    One German named August Landmesser, seen here in this powerful photo, refused to obey. His incredible story is one of courage, sacrifice, and horrific loss in the name of love.

    Landmesser joined the Nazi Party in 1931 to help his chances gettign work amidst the growing worldwide depression. In a few years' time, August met the love of his life, Irma Eckler. The only problem was that Erma was Jewish in a time when bigotry in the country was beginning to rage.

    August Landmesser standing arms crossed amidst the Nazi salute.
    By 1935, August proposed to Irma. After the engagement was discovered by Nazi Party officials, he was expelled from the party. But that did not stop August or Irma. They decided to file a marriage application in another city, but because of the Nuremberg Laws the couple were actually denied. 

    The Nuremberg Laws were enacted by Nazi Germany in 1935. They were designed to discriminate and persecute Jews and other minority groups in Germany. They went further to even prohibited marriage and sexual relations between Jews and Germans, and stripped Jews of their citizenship defining by them as "subjects of the state" rather than full German citizens.

    Undeterred by hate, August and Irma continued to live their lives together and had their first daughter, Ingrid, in October 1935 despite being disallowed from legal marriage. August found work at the Blom+Voss shipyard where the Bismark was built. 

    The famous image of August standing arms crossed in defiance, refusing to raise his arm in the Nazi salute happened on June 13, 1936. Landmesser's defiant crossed-arm stance actually happened during Hitler christening a new German navy vessel. 

    The Landmessers attempted to flee Germany for Denmark in 1937 after their second daughter was born. However, disaster struck when the family was captured and detained at the border. August was charged with Rassenschande or “dishonoring the race,” under the Nuremberg Laws, but was acquitted a year later. The government, however, instructed August to stop seeing his wife.

    Landmesser courageously disobeyed and was arrested again in 1938, sentenced to Börgermoor Penal Camp. He never saw his family again.

    The Gestapo arrested a pregnant Irma. She was moved around to several internment camps: Oranienburg, Lichtenburg, and Ravensbrück. She gave birth to their daughter Irene in prison. 

    It's believed that Irma was transferred from Ravensbrück to the Bernburg death camp in 1942, where she was led to the gas chamber along with thousands of others. 

    The two Landmesser daughters survived the holocaust because of the love and courage of numerous people as foster parents, though initially suffered greatly under persecution and physical abuse in orphanages. The youngest, Irene, was courageously rescued by a woman as the others from her orphanage were all euthanized by Nazis. Ingrid and Irene survived the war and lived to see their parents honored by Hamberg in 1951.

    Meanwhile, August was let out of prison in January of 1941. He got a job as a foreman for a shipping company. Three years later he was drafted into the 999th Fort Infantry penal battalion and shipped to Croatia to fight. He was declared killed in action on October 17th, 1944. 

    August’s defiant stance serves as a brave reminder of not only heroism, but the cost of going against the grain by standing up for what you believe.

    You can find our August Landmesser gifts here.

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