This month will mark the International Day in Memory of the Holocaust. It has its inception in the events of World War 2 and the systematic extermination of Jewish people and other minorities such as the Roma. It’s now broadened to include other global genocides.
Many people of course – despite the dangers – tried to assist those being persecuted and it is often asked why so few Germans were active in opposition. However there were notable examples. I previously highlighted the action ofWehrmacht officer Lt Albert Battel who used his troops to threaten SS units trying to arrest Jews in Przemyśl ghetto in Poland. Another was Ilse Totske who tried to assist Jews fleeing Germany to Switzerland. Both Battel and Totske survived the war although their actions went largely unrecognized in their lifetimes.
Another notable German recognised in the ‘Righteous Amongst the Nations’ database is Major Max Liedtke. Liedtke was a pivotal part of events at Przemyśl.:
“Major Max Liedtke, the highest-ranking German officer to be honored by Yad Vashem, was the son of a Protestant vicar from Preussisch-Holland (today Paslek in Poland), a small district town in East Prussia, where he was born in 1894. After the end of World War I, Liedtke pursued a moderately successful career as a journalist and advanced to the position of editor-in-chief of the local newspaper in Greifswald. However, the Nazi rise to power placed him in an increasingly difficult position and, in 1935, he finally lost his job as editor of the Greifswalder Zeitung. Following that, he tried his hand at several odd jobs, until he was drafted by the army in July 1939. After the outbreak of war, he first saw some action in the Polish campaign and was then posted to the German military administration – at first in Belgium, and later in Greece (Piraeus). At the beginning of July 1942, Liedtke returned to Poland from Greece at the invitation of General von Gienanth, the chief-in-command of the military administration of the Generalgouvernement, and assumed the post of military commander of Przemysl. In this southern Polish border town on the banks of the San River, in July 1942, German Wehrmacht officers conducted a unique rearguard battle against the SS and Gestapo in a vain effort to rescue the local Jewish population from extermination. The moving spirit behind this resistance was the ordnance officer, Oberleutnant Albert Battel*. However, it was only with the arrival of Liedtke upon the scene, that Battel (who had already managed to incur the wrath of the Gestapo and the disfavor of his immediate superiors by his propensity to befriend Jews) had the ear and backing of the senior military officer on the spot.”
It’s one of the few (if only) occasions that a German military unit actively took up arms to assist Jews threatened with deportation.
At the end of the war Liedtke was taken prisoner by Russian Forces on the Island of Bornholm and subsequently died in a Russian Labour Camp in the mid 1950s.
Image: Ceremony in Israel in January 1994 in honour of Liedtke – Inset. Major Liedtke.
AGS Celtic League (5 January 2023)