Sunday, June 12, 2016

Counting the Costs - The Tragic Story Of August Landmesser And Irma Eckler

I love this picture of August Landmesser who is standing in a crowd of Germans with his arms folded in a gesture of defiance. He is refusing to salute Adolph Hitler, who is addressing these ship yard workers where August was employed on June 13, 1936. August's nonconformity was based on his love for his wife who was being mistreated by the German state and out of respect for her. He could have been imprisoned or killed for this simple act of defiance. August joined the Nazi Party in 1930. This was during the depths of the depression and he thought that joining the party would put him on the fast track to getting a job. August met Irma Eckler in 1934 and fell deeply in love with her. This was a problem since Irma was a Jew. It mattered not that she had been baptized into the protestant church as a child. In 1935 they would become engaged and this would get August expelled from the party. Under the Nuremburg laws their marriage application was denied. Their daughter Ingrid was born in October 1935. In 1937 the family tried to escape to Denmark but they were captured at the border. August was charged with "dishonoring the race" and imprisoned. In May 1938 he was released for lack of evidence. Authorities threatened him with severe punishment if he violated the law again. August's love for Irma was strong and he was arrested one month later. He was sentenced to 30 months hard labor in a concentration camp. The couple would never see each other again. Irma was sent to various prisons and concentration camps by the Gestapo where she gave birth to their 2nd daughter, who was named Irene. Both children were sent to orphanages. As a half cast, Ingrid was sent to live with her Aryan grandparents. Irene was taken from her orphanage and sent to a concentration camp. A relative managed to find her and take her to Austria. She would again be taken to Germany where her identification papers were lost. This saved her from her Jewish identity and being sent back to the concentration camps. Irma and August weren't so lucky. She would die in the gas chamber in 1942. August would be released from prison in 1941 but two years later would be drafted. It is believed that he died six months before the end of the war in Croatia. The couple were officially declared dead in 1949. In 1951 Germany officially recognized the marriage of August and Irma. As a tribute to their parents Ingrid took the last name of her father and Irene took the last name of her mother. 

While driving through Florida yesterday, on my way home to Tennessee, I heard a local talk show host talking about an intriguing subject. He was talking about the Nazi salute. I thought about all those people in Germany giving that salute whenever they saw Hitler or were at a public ceremony. We can't imagine the pressure to conform. If you didn't do it at the very least you could be severely ostracized or even pay with your life. This was hard tyranny. However we are now living with soft tyranny in this country. The thought police in America are trying to define acceptable behavior and bad behavior for us. Just for expressing your opinion, no matter how legitimate, you risk being called a bigot, racist, sexist, nativist, xenophobe, homophobe, Islamophobe and just a hater in general. I don't pretend to have the courage of an August Landmesser but I can identify with him. Conformity has never appealed to me. I have always marched to a different drummer. In symbolic ways we are just as guilty of those Germans who obediently raised their arm in salute. I have to believe that many, if not most, of those Germans in the picture with their arms raised, were not crazy about saluting a man in this way. It took courage to stand out from the crowd. Even though we may not suffer the same fate of those who refused to give the Nazi salute, we are no better when we give into political correctness and peer group pressure. There are many who want to do the right thing but they just don't have the courage. When I was a shop steward at Colonial Baking company there were maybe three or four people in the whole bakery who I could really count on. The rest were constantly complaining but would never put there money where their mouth was. At Bridgestone Tire Company I joined the Union because I felt that it was only right since they negotiated our contracts and represented us on the floor. However, I found out that our Union was wanting to officially take a pro-choice position on abortion. I circulated a petition against it and because of others, within the union, the move was defeated. Later, I found out that the union was supporting Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow coalition with our union dues. In my mind I had no choice but to get out of the union. Over time I rejoined only to find that they were supporting the Democratic party with a portion of my Union dues. Again I withdrew from the union. I was ostracized and shunned by many but I could not live with myself if I had done otherwise. There is a cost that comes with doing the right thing and we must always be prepared to pay the price.     


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