Archive for April 13th, 2011

1942: Anton Schmid

5 comments April 13th, 2011 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1942, Sergeant Anton Schmid was executed for high treason. His crime: saving the lives of Jews in Nazi-occupied Vilna, Poland (now part of Lithuania and called Vilnius).

Schmid was born in Vienna and owned a radio shop there before he was drafted into the German Army following the Anschluss in 1938.

After Germany’s invasion of Russia in mid-1941, Schmid was put in charge of a unit in Vilna, tasked with collecting and reassigning soldiers who had been separated from their units. He witnessed the sufferings of the Jewish population in the Vilna Ghetto and was so horrified, he decided to take action.

Schmid used his position in the military to help Jews by employing them as workers for his unit, forging papers to get them out of prison and out of the ghetto, and using Army trucks to escort them away from the city.

At great personal risk, he would go into the ghetto to hand out food and warn the inhabitants when the Germans were planning roundups. In dire situations he would even hide people in his own apartment to protect them from the Nazis. He maintained close contact with Jewish resistance organizations and assisted their activities in a variety of ways.

According to one account by a Jewish woman who was herself killed later in 1942,

[Schmid] would mock the Jews and say how easily they could be fooled, and at the same time tried to find out what the Germans were planning. As soon as he learned something new, he would tell his Jews and order them to tell their friends so that they could hide until the situation stabilized … He negotiated on their behalf like a dedicated father, without fear of being punished if he was found out. He put them in his working place and provided them with food and drink. He gave them soup and bread. In short, in those chaotic days of massacres he managed to save dozens of Jews …

Although the Jewish Underground warned Schmid that his activities had become too widely known and he was in great danger, he refused to put a stop to his effort to save the Vilna Jews. In response to their concerns he reportedly said that if given a choice between “living as a murderer and dying as a rescuer,” he would choose to die.

He saved an estimated 250 to 300 people before his arrest in January or February 1942.

At his court-marshal, his attorney tried to say Schmid had taken the Jews out of the Vilna Ghetto because he thought they could better serve the Reich elsewhere. Schmid refused to allow this, however, openly proclaiming that he had been trying to save Jewish lives. He was convicted on February 25 and sentenced to die.

In a letter to his wife and daughter, just days before his death, he tried to explain himself:

Here there were a great many Jews who were being rounded up by the Lithuanian militia and shot to death in a meadow outside the city, groups of 2-3,000 at a time. On the way there, they were smashing children against trees and such like. You can imagine how I felt … You know how I am with my soft heart. I couldn’t think otherwise and helped them… This is a heavy blow for us, but please forgive me. I was just behaving like a human being and didn’t want to hurt anyone.

In 1967, twenty-five years after his death, Schmid was honored as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem. His widow attended the ceremony on his behalf and accepted a medal reading “Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world.”

A street in Vienna and a military base in Germany are named after him.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guest Writers,History,Lithuania,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Poland,Soldiers,Spies,Treason,Wartime Executions

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