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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Never Judge a Book by its cover

If you surf British digital TV channels you are sure to come across a programme about the Nazi's. A German colleague once observed that we Brits are a bit obsessed. There are reasons of course and that is that we British share many cultural links with Germany. There but for the grace of god and all that......

It is easy to believe that any member of the Nazi party was evil. The truth of course is never black & white .

Let us take the case of lawyer Dr Albert Battel.

In 1942 Battel was 51 and was stationed in Przemyśl in southern Poland as the adjutant to the local military commander, Major Max Liedtke. He had been a member of the Nazi party since May 1933.

On 26th July the SS prepared to launch their first large-scale “resettlement” (extermination) action against the Jews of Przemyśl. Now here is a curious thing,  Battel, in consort with his superior, ordered that the bridge which was the only access into the Jewish ghetto be blocked. When the SS attempted to cross, the sergeant-major in charge of the bridge threatened to open fire unless they withdrew. This was done in broad daylight in front of the local community.

Later that day Battel used army trucks to evacuate up to 100 Jews and their families to the barracks of the local military command. These Jews were under the protection of the Wehrmacht and were thus sheltered from deportation to the Extermination camp. The remaining Jews were "resettled" in the following days.

There was, of course, an investigation into Battel. Although a Nazi he had attracted party attention as he was friendly towards Jews. He had been indicted for extending a loan to a Jewish colleague. And whilst in service at Przemyśl he was reprimanded for shaking the hand of the chairman of the Jewish Council.

He was investigated and Heinrich Himmler wrote a letter to Martin Boorman vowing to have the lawyer expelled from the Nazi party and arrested immediately after the war.

Apparently Battel knew none of this.

After the war Battel was prevented from returning to practice law by a denazification court. Battel died in 1952. Battel's actions in the war were forgotten.

It was an Israeli lawyer and researcher Dr. Zeev Goshen who uncovered Battel's actions. On the 30th January 1981 Yad Vashem (Israel's official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust) recognised Albert Battel as Righteous among the Nations (an honorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis) and a tree grows in honour of his memory


Tricia Ryder said...

Thank goodness for Battel and other like him - heart warming to know that his efforts have been rewarded.. just a pity he didn't know about it!!

Anonymous said...

I just learned of Dr Battel and his actions. Very brave considering he was only a lieutenant in the wehrmacht.