In A Nutshell
Say the word “Nazi” and it brings to mind the worst possible connotations, for good reason. But as it turns out, there were not only some good Nazis, there were men like Wilm Hosenfeld who defied the Third Reich by helping to save multiple Jews and Poles after being drafted into the Werhmacht and rising to the rank of captain.
The Whole Bushel
Many people helped shelter and attempt to save members of the Jewish faith during the atrocities of World War II. Most were shipped off to work camps or executed, and sometimes both, for defying the Third Reich and Adolf Hitler. One such man was Wilm Hosenfeld, who risked more than many to save Jews and document his disgust with the Nazi party. And how was he risking so much? Because Hosenfeld was a captain in the Werhmacht, and a Nazi soldier who found himself fighting for a cause he loathed.
Hosenfeld was a teacher by trade who served in World War I in his youth. During World War II, Hosenfeld was stationed in Poland and witnessed firsthand the horrific treatment of the Jews and Poles by his brethren. He filled notebook after notebook writing about how sickening he found the whole thing, sending these documents home, where they survived with his family.
Hosenfeld saw how the Nazis dealt with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and around this time decided to make a difference, helping to shelter and save several persecuted individuals. He first helped a man named Leon Warm, giving him a fake identity and keeping him in his employ to help him survive.
Of course, he much more famously helped to save the life of Waldislaw Szpilman, whose story would become widely known thanks to the film The Pianist. The film depicts how Hosenfeld discovered Szpilman in hiding and supplied him with food while keeping his whereabouts secret until the end of the war.
Through all of his work helping Jews and Poles to avoid being taken to concentration camps, where he knew they would be tortured and probably killed, Hosenfeld’s life ended in a tragic bit of irony. At the conclusion of the war he was taken prisoner by the Russians and imprisoned and tortured, ultimately dying in 1952.
It was Szpilman himself who later worked toward getting Hosenfeld recognized with the honor of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the Jews who were massacred during the Holocaust. He was finally posthumously awarded this honor in 2008, though Szpilman and Warm had both long since passed on and were never able to see their savior’s good deeds rightfully recognized.