The picture to your right was taken in October 1938 in the city of Eger, in what is now the Czech Republic. Germany had just invaded. Stormtroopers were marching in. I want you to particularly notice the third woman from the left.
Hitler, of course, didn’t do all of this alone. Germany was still in shambles a decade after the first World War. The Treaty of Versailles had forced the country to admit sole responsibility for causing the entire conflict. Traditional German territory was lost. A War Guilt clause was enacted, forcing Germany to repay millions of dollars in damages. Military restrictions were enabled. I would imagine it was a hard time to call oneself German. Hard to look at yourself in the mirror and call yourself a man or a woman.
So when a failed painter came along promising a strong government, full employment, civic order, and a reclamation of national pride, people flocked. When the Nazi propaganda poured forth, they cheered. And when Hitler eliminated all opposition and declared himself dictator, they pledged their allegiance.
Even now, almost seventy years after the fall of Nazi Germany, better minds than mine struggle to understand how an entire country could be brainwashed by such evil. I won’t try to add my opinion to that discussion other than to say that I suppose the fear of Hitler held just as much sway in the minds of the German people as his fiery words. Many bought into the notion of an Aryan paradise, to be sure. But many others didn’t and simply thought the prudent thing was to keep their heads down and do as they were told.
Which brings us to this picture:
It was taken in 1936 during a celebration of a ship launching in Hamburg, Germany. Hitler had been Chancellor of Germany for three years and already abolished democracy. German factories were rearming the country after a disastrous World War I. In three years, that country would invade Poland and plunge the world into the deadliest war in human history. Over fifty million people would perish.
The man circled was named August Landmesser. I don’t know much about him other than the fact that he’d already been sentenced to two years of hard labor. His crime? Marrying a Jew. You would think getting into that much trouble would change your attitude and convince you to toe the line. Not so. Because there was August, standing in a sea of Germans on that day in 1936, folding his arms in front of him while everyone else Hiel Hitlered.
I don’t know what became of August Landmesser. I like to think he outlived the evil that befell his land and lived to a happy old age with his wife. Maybe that’s exactly what happened. Maybe not. But regardless, August was my kind of guy.
He refused to bow down to fear. He held strong against public pressure. I would imagine some of the men around him in that picture bought into the evil Hitler was peddling. I would imagine some didn’t but saluted anyway. Not August.
August stood strong. Not by fighting and not by protesting, but for simply folding his arms. And for that, he has my undying admiration.
Faith has been in the news a lot lately, whether it’s the faith of a Presidential candidate or an NFL quarterback or a New York Knicks point guard. And because faith is in the news, it’s gotten mocked elsewhere. There is a swelling tide of resentment now that people should tone down the religion talk, that our differing notions of God are the cause of much of what’s wrong with the world.
That we should all tone it down. Keep our heads down. Do as we’re told.
Toe the line.
I say let them talk. Let them talk all they want. Because I for one do not want to be remembered as the unknown woman in that first picture.
I want to be remembered as August, who stood strong with arms folded.