While most German officers participated and even reveled in the murder of millions, there were some who actually did their best to save Jews and others from death despite tremendous risk to themselves. One such man was Wilm Hosenfeld, and while he managed to save several people from death, he eventually met a tragic end.
Wilm Hosenfeld was born on May 2, 1895 and started out his career as a schoolteacher. Eventually he was drafted into the German Army in 1939 and was stationed in Poland, where he remained until his capture. Hosenfeld had joined the Nazi Party in 1935 but over the years had grown to dislike the party and at times was even ashamed of the treatment of Poles and Jews at the hands of the Nazi army. Throughout the years, he offered help when possible and tried to do what he could to assist those who needed help.
It was during his time in Warsaw that he truly began to become a hero. He was stationed in Warsaw in 1940 and remained there throughout the war. During this time, he helped to hide various Poles and Jews in the ghetto, provided refuge to various people no matter their background. In several cases he obtained papers and jobs for those about to be persecuted by the Nazis. He was immortalized for his actions that helped Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman survive and hide during the final months of 1944, and depicted in the film "The Pianist".
However, Hosenfeld was still a German officer and was captured by the Soviet army in a small Polish city known as Blonie. He was sentenced to 25 years hard labor based solely on his affiliation with his unit. As a result, he was tortured on a regular basis by Soviet officers and secret services. During his imprisonment, numerous Jewish and Polish citizens filed petitions for his release, swearing that he had helped them. The Soviets ignored these pleas and continued to believe that Hosenfeld was guilty of war crimes. Finally, in 1952, Hosenfeld died from a rupture of the thoracic aorta. Most agree that it was possible his death was caused by injuries endured during torture.
Hosenfeld was honored by several awards and in 2009 was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. He received additional awards and accolades for his actions, and continues to be remembered as a hero, despite his tragic end.
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