Wilm Hosenfeld

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Wilm Hosenfeld
Captain Wilm Hosenfeld
Born (1895-05-02)2 May 1895
Mackenzell, Hesse-Nassau, Prussia, German Empire
Died 13 August 1952(1952-08-13) (aged 57)
Stalingrad, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Allegiance German Empire German Empire
 Nazi Germany
Years of service 1914–1917,1939–1945
Rank Captain
Unit Wach-Bataillon (guard battalion) 660
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Iron Cross Second Class
Wound Badge in Black
War Merit Cross 2nd Class with Swords
Cross of Honour
SA sport Badge
Order of Polonia Restituta

Wilhelm Adalbert Hosenfeld (German pronunciation: [ˈvɪlm ˈhoːzənfɛlt]; 2 May 1895 – 13 August 1952), originally a schoolteacher, was a German Army officer who by the end of the Second World War had risen to the rank of Hauptmann (Captain). He helped to hide or rescue several Polish people, including Jews, in Nazi-occupied Poland, and helped Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman to survive, hidden, in the ruins of Warsaw during the last months of 1944. He was taken prisoner by the Red Army and died in Soviet captivity seven years later.

In June 2009, Hosenfeld was posthumously recognized in Yad Veshem (Israel's official memorial to the victims of The Holocaust) as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.


He was born into the family of a pious Roman Catholic schoolmaster living near Fulda. His family life had a Catholic character, and Christian social justice work was emphasized during his education. He was influenced by the Catholic Action and Church-inspired social work, but also by Prussian obedience, by German patriotism, and, during his marriage, by the increasing pacifism of his wife, Annemarie. He was also influenced by the Wandervogel movement and its adherents. From 1914 he saw active service in the First World War, and after being severely wounded in 1917 received the Iron Cross Second Class.

Second World War

File:223 Niepodleglosci Avenue in Warsaw.JPG
House at 223 Niepodległości Avenue in Warsaw where Wilm Hosenfeld was helping Władysław Szpilman

Hosenfeld was drafted into the Wehrmacht in August 1939 and was stationed in Poland from mid-September 1939 until his capture by the Soviet Army on 17 January 1945. His first destination was Pabianice, where he was involved in the building and running of a POW camp. Next, he was stationed in Węgrów in December 1939, where he remained until his battalion was moved another 30 km away to Jadów at the end of May 1940. He was finally transferred to Warsaw in July 1940, where he spent the rest of the war, for the most part attached to Wach-Bataillon (guards battalion) 660, part of the Wach-Regiment Warschau (Warsaw Guards Regiment) in which he served as a staff officer and as the battalion sports officer.[1]

A member of the Nazi Party since 1935, as time passed Hosenfeld grew disillusioned with the party and its policies, especially as he saw how Poles, and especially Jews, were treated. He and several fellow German Army officers felt sympathy for all peoples of occupied Poland. Ashamed of what some of their countrymen were doing, they offered help to those they could whenever possible.

Hosenfeld befriended numerous Poles and even made an effort to learn their language. He also attended Holy Mass (Latin rite), received Holy Communion, and went to confession in Polish churches, even though this was forbidden on the orders of the Nazi Party. His actions on behalf of Poles began as early as autumn 1939, when against regulations he allowed Polish prisoners of war access to their families and even pushed successfully for the early release of at least one.[2] During his time in Warsaw, Hosenfeld used his position to give refuge to people, regardless of their background, including at least one politically persecuted anti-Nazi ethnic German, who were in danger of persecution, even arrest by the Gestapo, sometimes by getting them the papers they needed and jobs at the sports stadium that was under his oversight.[3]

Hosenfeld was captured by the Soviets at Błonie, a small Polish city about 30 km west of Warsaw, with the men of a Wehrmacht company he was leading.

Imprisonment and death

He was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor[4] for alleged war crimes, simply on account of his unit affiliation, and was tortured by the Soviet secret services, as they believed Hosenfeld had been active in the German Abwehr or even the Sicherheitsdienst. In a 1946 letter to his wife in West Germany, Hosenfeld named the Jews whom he had saved and begged her to contact them and ask them to arrange his release.

In 1950, Szpilman learned the name of the German officer who had saved his life. After much soul searching, Szpilman sought the intercession of a man whom he privately considered "a bastard," -- Jakub Berman, the head of the Polish secret police. Several days later, Berman paid a visit to the Szpilman's home and said that there was nothing he could do. He added, "If your German were still in Poland, then we could get him out. But our comrades in the Soviet Union won't let him go. They say your officer belonged to a detachment involved in spying -- so there is nothing we can do about it as Poles, and I am powerless."[5]

Szpilman never believed Berman's claims of powerlessness. In an interview with Wolf Biermann, Szpilman described Berman, "all powerful by the grace of Stalin," and lamented, "So I approached the worst rogue of the lot, and it did no good."[6]

Captain Wilm Hosenfeld died in a Soviet concentration camp on 13 August 1952, shortly before 10:00 in the evening, from rupture of the thoracic aorta, possibly sustained during torture.[7]


Szpilman's son, Andrzej Szpilman, had long called for Yad Vashem to recognize Wilm Hosenfeld as a Righteous Among the Nations[8] non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews. Along with him, the Szpilman family and thousands of others asked that Hosenfeld be honoured in this way for his acts of kindness throughout the war.[citation needed]

In 2002, The Pianist, a film based on Szpilman's memoirs of the same name, portrayed Hosenfeld's rescue of Władysław Szpilman. Hosenfeld was played by Thomas Kretschmann.

In October 2007, Hosenfeld was posthumously honoured by the president of Poland Lech Kaczyński with a Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (Polish: Krzyż Komandorski Orderu Odrodzenia Polski).[9]

On 16 February 2009, Yad Vashem announced that Capt. Wilm Hosenfeld would be posthumously recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.[10] On 19 June 2009, Israeli diplomats presented Hosenfeld's son, Detlev, with the award, in Berlin.[11]

On December 4, 2011, a commemorative plaque in Polish and English was unveiled at 223 Niepodległości Avenue in Warsaw, the place where Hosenfeld discovered Szpilman, in the presence of Hosenfeld's daughter Jorinde.[12]


  • "Both the Jacobins and Bolsheviks butchered their upper ruling classes and executed their royal families. They broke with Christianity and waged war on it, intending to wipe it off the face of the earth. They succeeded in involving the people of the nations in wars fought with energy and enthusiasm - the revolutionary wars of the past, the war against Germany today. Their theories and revolutionary ideas had enormous influence beyond the borders of their own countries. The methods of National Socialism are different, but basically they too pursue a single idea: the extermination and annihilation of people who think differently from them."[13]—Diary entry, 18 January 1942.

Awards and decorations

See also

References and notes

  1. Vogel, p. 56
  2. Vogel, p. 40
  3. Vogel, p. 933
  4. Vogel, p. 968-69, back flap
  5. Wladyslaw Szpilman, The Pianist, 1999. Pages 220-221.
  6. The Pianist, page 221.
  7. Vogel, p. 146
  8. Szpilman, The Pianist, 1999. Page 222.
  9. Dziennik, 13 October 2007 (Polish)
  10. "Wilhelm (Wilm) Hosenfeld - The Righteous Among The Nations". Yad Vashem. Retrieved 2012-06-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Nazi Officer Honoured For Saving 'The Pianist'
  12. "Tablica przypomni ocalenie Szpilmana". 2011-12-04. Retrieved 2012-06-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Szpilman, The Pianist, page 193.


External links