Photo Of The Day

A German worker refuses to raise his arm to give the nazi salute at Hitler's arrival to his factory, Hamburg, 1936.

A German worker refuses to raise his arm to give the nazi salute at Hitler’s arrival to his factory, Hamburg, 1936.

Just One Refused The Nazi Salute

It was Nazi Germany in 1936, and a crowd of people had gathered in Hamburg to watch the launch of a navy training vessel. As hundreds raised their arms in unison in the Nazi salute, one man stood with his arms crossed, his eyes squinting at whoever was leading the salute.

This picture has appeared periodically over the last few years. Its popularity is easy to understand. A crowd is slavishly announcing the thousand year Reich but one man, can you spot him, refuses to lift his hand. The picture has become associated with August Landmesser, a member of the Nazi party who made the error (according to his regime) of marrying a Jewish woman and then saw his family broken up, his wife murdered, and who was ultimately drafted and lost (MIA) on the Croatian front as the iron dream turned rusty.

And yet? And yet?

Well, we?ll get to the story?in a minute but first, the basic facts about the photograph. The image was taken 13 June 1936 at the launch of the Horst Wessel at the Blohm und Voss shipyard in Hamburg, a German training vessel: bizarrists may be interested to know that this ship is now called?the Eagle?and is part of the U.S. Coast Guard.

The photo seems not to have been published in 1936, not least because of the fly in the ointment of a barrel-chested man refusing to salute Hitler; we?ll refer to him henceforth as non-saluter.

However, it was published in?Die Zeit?22 March 1991 where it was part of a book review (Lockung und Zwang. Warum gro?e Teile der Arbeiterschaft sich mit dem NS-Regime arrangierten) and in this review it was said, wrongly, to be a photograph from the launching of the Bismarck in 1939.

Then?15 Nov 1995?the?Hamburger Abendblatt?published an appeal asking who the man was: they corrected though the date to 1936 and the ship to the Horst Wessel. This confusion of dates will become important so try and hold onto them.

Second, let?s consider why the photograph is so appealing: Non-saluter is powerful and determined. His body language and his face are absolutely aligned: he is saying NO. There is no danger that this is an accident of the camera: so many ?great? photographs depend on an out of place expression frozen in time.

Non saluter has also been accidentally caught according to the law of thirds. He is in the right part of the photograph for the eye, which drifts easily to his defiance.

The worker in his refusing posture in 1936.

The worker in his refusing posture in 1936.

Third, let?s get onto non-saluter?s identity. The problem is that historians can rarely give simple stories: facts and above all sources get in the way. August Landmesser had been identified as the man in the picture in 1991, when August Landmesser?s daughter, Irene Eckler, saw the photograph.

AL had been, in 1938, put into a prison camp and he may have been made to do war work subsequently in 1939. However, as we have seen, the picture actually dates from 1936 when AL had not yet been to prison and when there was, in any case, no proof that he was working in the shipyard (quite the opposite).

A rival and far more convincing candidate has emerged in recent years, Wegert Gustav, who did work at the shipyard and who objected to Nazism on grounds of his Christian faith and who died in 1959, when Germany?s totalitarian nightmare was over.

The following? photographs are from the Gustav?family?s site. The resemblance is striking. Remember that the photograph WG is twelve years older.


Gustav Wegert with his wife and son about 1948, picture Wegert family.

Gustav Wegert with his wife and son about 1948, picture Wegert family.

Another picture of Gustav Wegert, picture Wegert family.

Another picture of Gustav Wegert, picture Wegert family.

Original certificate of the employment of Gustav Wegert. He worked as a metal worker from 1934 to 1945 at Blohm & Voss in Hamburg, picture Wegert family.

Original certificate of the employment of Gustav Wegert. He worked as a metal worker from 1934 to 1945 at Blohm & Voss in Hamburg, picture Wegert family.

What is interesting is that the internet does not share this faith in WG. Let?s try the following on Google: ?Wegert Gustav Salute? vs ?August Landmesser Salute?. The score comes out at ?2,920 vs 35,900.

Why does historical truth get so beaten upon by historical legend? Probably two reasons here. First, the earliest claim was for AL and, of course, the early bird?

Second, and far more importantly, AL has a better back-story. He was imprisoned. He got caught up in the clockwork guillotine of the race laws. His wife was ?euthanized?. His children were taken away from him. He died after being drafted.

Wegert Gustav, meanwhile, was a Christian objector who prayed against Hitler. There is no competition in narrative terms, this is why organisations that should know better, that have played the August card (?Wikipedia?gets half marks for expressing doubts but then contradicting itself).

Of course, in the end it might not matter (except to the family) who the non-saluter is. If we want a brief consolation for what is about to go wrong in Germany we look in this man?s eyes and remember that there are always (thank Goodness) those who say No.

From Wolfgang Wegert, son of Gustav Wegert.

When in 1936 the dockyard Blohm & Voss slide the training sailing ship Horst Wessel? into the water, Adolf Hitler was there. Of course the employees greet with the mandatory?Nazi salute. But among the workers was a man who did not lift up his arm. Instead he crossed them in front of his breast.

A picture later found shows the man not saluting, and it was published several times. Because people were curious who this worker could be, the newspaper, Hamburger Abendblatt, appealed in November 1995 to its readers to give a report if they know the worker.

On that November morning I was reading the newspaper and came across that picture. Without even reading the article I said to my surprised wife, that I discovered my father. After that I read the headline: 1936 ? Just one refused the Nazi salute.

After I read the whole article I was convinced that I discovered my father Gustav Wegert. He worked as a metalworker for Blohm & Voss at the exact same time when the picture was taken. We still have the original certificate of his employment.

Although there was no doubt for me I waited several days to see who else would answer to the appeal. Some days later the newspaper reported that the daughter of a man named August Landmesser believed to identify her father on that picture. In connection with this information the newspaper published the story of the persecution of Mr. Landmesser because of his Jewish fianc?e. Deeply moved by this story I did not inform the newspaper, even though I was still convinced that the hero in that picture must have been my father.

Some years later I came in contact with the historian Dr. Simone Erpel and read in her manuscript, Zivilcourage ? Schl?sselbild einer unvollendeten Volksgemeinschaft, and that the search for the man on the picture was without success, despite the report of the Landmesser family.

Mrs. Erpel wrote this:

?Irene Eckler (daughter of August Landmesser), who published the story of the persecution of her family in the publication, Die Vormundschaftsakte, ?assumed that her father worked in 1939 for the dockyard Blohm&Voss as a prisoner. If he was engaged there at the time when the picture was taken in 1936 ? before he was under arrest ? is uncertain. Even though there are reasonable doubts, the presence of August Landmesser in that picture is considered as a fact.?

This information was interesting for us. Because if the employment of Mr. Landmesser at Blohm & Voss was only an assumption and not certain, the man in the picture could be my father after all. His general behaviour during the time of the Nazis fits exactly to the worker in the picture. My father himself, and my mother, as well as many friends and a fellow worker told me again and again, that Gustav never raised his arm for the Nazi salute.

From the beginning of the Nazi regime this was his basic principle. If someone greet him with, Heil Hitler, he answered with a simple, Guten Tag (which means, have a good day). My mother told me often times about her anxiety that her husband could get imprisoned after he received several warnings. It was a miracle in her eyes that this did not happen.

My father told me also that Adolf Hitler not only came to the launch of the Horst Wessel but also to other significant ship launches. To prevent a loss of production the propagandistic launches were placed on Sunday mornings. Because of that Gustav refused not only the Nazi salute but also his appearance and went according to the motto, ?you should obey God more than men? to the Sunday morning service in his church.

He explained that no severe harm hit him from the Nazis because of his boss who summoned and warned him several times but covered him lightly. Qualified employees were necessary. Therefore Gustav was repeatedly requested by Blohm & Voss so that he never was enlisted to the front.

My family decided to make the story of my father known, since the interest about the courageous man in the picture is still huge.

Dr. Simone Erpel writes the following:

?In the meantime another Family from Hamburg has identified the man as a relative. It should be Gustav Wegert (1890-1959) who worked as a metalworker at Blohm & Voss. As a believing Christian he generally refused the Nazi Salute. Despite his distance to the Nazi Regime, Gustav Wegert did not get in the eye of the Nazi persecution administration. Portraits from Wegert and Landmesser prove in both cases great similarity with the worker on that picture. At this time it has to remain unsettled who the man in the picture is.?

From:?Gerhard Paul, Das Jahrhundert der Bilder 1900 bis 1949, Verlag Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2009, Seite 494 rechte Spalte Absatz 3.

We join this assessment. But in any case we are deeply grateful fort the upright attitude of our father and grandfather during the time of the Nazi regime.

Wolfgang Wegert

Washington Post