Albert Battel was a Nazi officer who turned against the party after witnessing the liquidation of a Jewish ghetto in Poland, and atoned for past sins by saving 100 Jewish families.
Born in 1891 in Prussian Silesia, Albert served in the German Army in World War I. After the war, he attended law school and worked as an attorney in Breslau. In the early 1930’s, as Hitler rose to power in Germany, Albert heard the Nazi leader speak and was inspired by his message of German pride and unity after the humiliating defeat in the Great War. Albert joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and served as a Lieutenant in the Wehrmacht army reserves.
In 1942, Albert was called up from the reserves at age 51. He was sent to Prsemysl, Poland to help liquidate the Jewish ghetto there. Albert was horrified at the human misery he witnessed during the cruel liquidation. Families were being separated, beaten, arrested, and sent to their deaths. The streets were lined with corpses of Jews who died from starvation, disease, beatings or gunshot wounds.
Albert was sickened and enraged by what he saw. Participating in the ghetto liquidation was simply not an option for Albert. Together, he and local military commander Major Max Liedke – another German officer with a moral compass – took action. They ordered the bridge over the River San, the only way to reach the ghetto, to be completely blocked so the SS could not get through. When the Nazi troops tried to cross the bridge, Albert threatened to open fire and kill them all. The local Jewish inhabitants were amazed. Albert then commandeered Nazi trucks to evacuate and save 100 Jewish families. Those families were the only Jews from the entire town of Prsemysl who survived. The rest of Prsemysl’s 24,000 Jews were murdered, most of them at Belzec concentration camp.
The Nazi party immediately conducted a secret investigation of Albert and found a history of kindness to Jews. Before the war, he had been disciplined for lending a small amount of money to a Jewish colleague. Another time, he was publicly reprimanded for shaking the hand of a Jew. The internal investigation went all the way to Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo, who ordered Albert expelled from the Nazi Party and arrested. Himmler postponed Albert’s punishment, however, until after the war to avoid embarrassment for the party.
When the war ended with Nazi defeat, Albert was captured by the Russians. After his release, he returned to Germany but found that his Nazi past made him ineligible to practice law. Because Himmler’s order to expel him had been postponed, Albert was still on the records as a Nazi Party member.
Albert Battel died in 1952 of heart disease. In 1981, Dr. Zeev Goshen, an Israeli lawyer and researcher, investigated and publicized Albert’s story. Due to Dr. Goshen’s efforts, in 1981 Albert Battel was honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem.
For saving 100 families from certain death at high cost to himself, we honor Albert Battel as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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