You might have come across a black-and-white photograph of a 1936 German Naval yard in Hamburg on the internet where rows of people were saluting the German Leader, Adolf Hitler. He was there to inaugurate a newly built naval vessel.
At first glance, there is nothing extraordinary about it. The salute, known as 'Sieg Heil', was mandatory for German citizens then. But take a closer look, and there was a man, arms folded rather than raised. He was not saluting!
In 1991, this photo was published in a German newspaper. But that was not the age of social media. In 2012, the same photo appeared in a Facebook post, and it went viral this time. Everyone was wondering who this man was. Was he brave or just foolish? The man is said to be August Landmesser. And his refusal to salute the hated dictator might be more due to anger.
August Landmesser was once a proud member of the Nazi party who thought they were the answer to his economic troubles. He even had a membership card.
All changed when he met Irma Eckler, a Jewish girl. They fell in love with each other and got engaged in 1935.
As soon as it was discovered, he was kicked out of the party. They applied for a marriage license in Hamburg. But the Nuremberg laws were enforced just then, prohibiting such a union; so the license was denied.
Undaunted, they stayed together, and their daughter Ingrid was born in the same year. One year later, Landmesser was working on the dock when the Führer came to visit on June 13th. He came to christen a new vessel, and all workers were mandated to salute by law. But Landmesser did not, and even though photographs were taken for propaganda, it was not immediately discovered.
As the situation deteriorated, Landmesser tried to flee Germany for Denmark but stopped at the border. He was put on trial for his relationship with Irma and charged with the allegation of dishonouring the race.
He was released due to insufficient evidence but ordered not to see the Jewish girl. Naturally, he did not comply, and both were arrested in 1938. A pregnant Irma was sent to a concentration camp, where she died in a gas chamber after giving birth to Irene, their 2nd child. Her husband was imprisoned.
Both the kids stayed at an orphanage. Irma's stepfather got a hold of Ingrid and took her home. But Irene was bounced between foster care and eventually made her way to Austria with a family acquaintance.
In the meantime, their dad came out of prison in 1941 and started working as a foreman. He was drafted into the army in 1943 and went missing in Croatia in 1944.
Both Landmesser and Irma were officially listed as dead in 1949, and two years later, the senate of Hamburg recognised their marriage retroactively. Irene kept her mom's name, and Ingrid took the Landmesser name.
It must be noted that Landmesser is not the only candidate for the particular photograph. It has been argued that there is no evidence that he was working in the shipyard in 1936.
There was another man, called Wegert Gustav, who opposed the Nazis from his religious perspective, and it has been conclusively proven that he was there on that day. He died in 1959, and his family claimed that it was Gustav Wegert in that photograph, and the debate still rages on.