The Anti-Nazi German Engineer: Hermann Graebe

After witnessing a mass slaughter, he found his life’s mission.

Hermann Friedrich Graebe was an anti-Nazi German engineer who witnessed a horrific mass shooting and dedicated his life to saving Jews and bearing witness.

Hermann was born in 1900 to a working class Protestant family in the Rhineland. In 1931, Hermann joined the Nazi party, but quickly became disillusioned and quit. He started speaking publicly against Hitler, which led to his being arrested by the Gestapo and jailed for several months.

Trained as an engineer, after his release from jail Graebe became the supervisor of construction for the fortifications of Germany’s western border. He recruited a workforce of 500 Ukrainian Jews, saving them from deportation.

On October 5, 1942, Hermann was working at the airfield near Dubno, Ukraine when he saw 5000 Jewish men, women and children forced to strip naked and dig their own grave before being shot. This experience traumatized and galvanized him for the rest of his life.

Hermann decided to save as many Jews as he could. Claiming his work was essential to the German war effort, Hermann hired many more workers – all Jews – than the company actually needed. To save even more people, Hermann created falsified “Aryan” identification papers for dozens of Jews. At his own expense, he created a fake company branch in remote Poltava, and used it to house more Jewish workers.

After the war, Hermann helped the War Crimes Branch of the U.S. Army prepare for the Nuremberg trials. He was the only German to testify for the prosecution which made him a pariah in his home country. In 1948, after receiving numerous death threats, he moved with his family to San Francisco, where he continued his efforts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice.

In 1965, Hermann Friedrich Graebe was honored as a Righteous Gentile by Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem. He died in San Francisco in 1986.

For not standing idly by when Jews were being slaughtered, we honor Hermann Friedrich Graebe as this week’s Thursday Hero.

Meet other inspiring heroes!

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