World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Wilm Hosenfeld

 A German Wehrmacht officer who believed in helping others, even at the risk of getting himself killed - a man who had the courage to stand against evil. Wilm Hosenfeld achieved world-wide fame as the rescuer of the Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Wladyslaw Szpilman, when Polanski's film "The Pianist" won the Golden Palm in Cannes and 3 Academy Awards. Many, many people around the world, including Andrzej Szpilman, the son of the pianist, has been demanding, for years now, that Yad Vashem honor Wilm Hosenfeld as a Righteous Among the Nations: non-Jews who risked their lives in order to rescue Jews.

Wilhelm Adalbert Hosenfeld, 2 May 1895 – 13 August 1952), originally a teacher, was a German Army officer who rose to the rank of Hauptmann by the end of the war. He helped to hide or rescue several Poles, including Jews, in Nazi-occupied Poland, and is perhaps most remembered for helping Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman to survive, hidden, in the ruins of Warsaw during the last months of 1944.

He was born into the family of a conservative and pious Catholic teacher near Fulda. 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 own wife, Annemarie. He was also influenced by the Wandervogel movement and its adherents. He served in World War I from 1914 and was wounded in 1917 and received Iron Cross 2nd class.

World War II
Hosenfeld was drafted into the Wehrmacht in August 1939 and 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 stop, from December 1939, was Wegrów, 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 (guard battalion) 660, part of the Wach-Regiment Warschau, where he served as a staff officer as well as the battalion sports officer.

Although a member of the Nazi Party since 1935, Hosenfeld grew disillusioned with the party and Nazi policies as time passed and, especially, as he saw how Poles, and later on 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 by official Nazi decree. His actions on behalf of Poles began as early as autumn 1939 when he allowed, against regulations, Polish POWs access to their families and even pushed (successfully) for the early release of at least one.[2] During his time in Warsaw, he used his position to give refuge to people, regardless of their background (he gave refuge to at least one politically persecuted anti-Nazi ethnic German as well), who were in danger of persecution—even arrest by the Gestapo, sometimes by getting them the requisite papers and jobs at the sports stadium that was under his oversight.

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.

He was sentenced to 25 years at hard labor 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.

Despite the Polish and Jewish citizens who filed petitions on his behalf, the Soviets refused to believe that he had not been involved in war crimes. He died in Soviet captivity on 13 August 1952, shortly before 10:00 in the evening, from rupture of the thoracic aorta, possibly sustained during torture.

Szpilman's son, Andrzej Szpilman, had long called for Yad Vashem to recognize Wilm Hosenfeld as a Righteous Among the Nations, 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.

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

In October 2007, Wilm Hosenfeld was posthumously honoured by the president of Poland Lech Kaczynski with a Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (Polish: Krzyż Komandorski Orderu Odrodzenia Polski).
On 16 February 2009, Yad Vashem finally announced that Capt. Wilm Hosenfeld would be posthumously recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations. On 19 June 2009, Israeli diplomats presented Hosenfeld's son, Detlev, with the award, in Berlin.