The man who did not salute

There is a famous photograph, widely available online, of a large group of people virtually all performing the infamous Nazi salute. A lone man stands in the crowd with his arms crossed defiantly.

The picture was taken in 1936 in Nazi Germany. The Nazi Party had been elected in 1933 and quickly set about making sure that there wouldn’t be any other elections in Germany under their watch. By 1936 Germany was well within the clutches of the Nazi Party. At this stage many of the worst crimes for which it is known were still in its future.

The man who did not salute.

The identity of this man is not definitively known. There seems to be general agreement though that the photograph was taken at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Germany, that the event was the launch of a new vessel manufactured at the shipyard and that Adolf Hitler was likely in attendance.

The vessel being launched was the Horst Wessel which, interestingly, still exists today and is used as a training ship by the United States Coast Guard. The ship is today known as the Barque Eagle and was taken by the United States as part of war reparations following the end of World War II.

We may never know who this man is but there are two principal candidates. Both apparently worked at the shipyards around the time that the photograph was taken.

August Landmesser

Most historians believe that the man was one August Landmesser. Landmesser joined the Nazi party in 1931 but was expelled in 1935 when he became engaged to a Jewish woman, Irma Eckler. Landmasser and Eckler never managed to marry as Nazi Germany enacted laws forbidding marriage or even sexual intercourse between Jews and those defined as Aryan Germans. Landmesser and Eckler remained together, eventually having two children.

Both were arrested in 1938. August Landmasser served a term of imprisonment while Irma Eckler was taken to a concentration camp. Landmasser was released in 1941. The last letter he received from Irma Eckler was in January 1942.

In 1944 Landmesser was drafted in to the German Army and went missing in action the same year. After World War II both August Landmesser and Irma Eckler were declared dead.

Their children were passed around between orphanges, foster care and relatives. It was one of their daughters, Irene Eckler, who claimed in 1991 that the famous picture was of her father.

Gustav Wegert

An alternative view is that the man in the photograph was actually Gustav Wegert. Wegert was a devout Christian that opposed Nazi ideology. His family has made a compelling case, backed up by documentation, that he is the man in the photograph. Wegert survived World War II, dying in 1959.

What Men Do

So we don’t really know the identity of this man. What we do know was that this man, whoever he was, had the strength of character to stand up for what he believed in. Many people, in his time and ours, could learn from this man.

The featured image shows the Barque Eagle in the service of the United States Coast Guard. This image and the image showing the man with his arms crossed are in the public domain.

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