Penned up behind temporary barricades, we stand as a mass awaiting his arrival. Anticipation is palpable and rising amongst the shipyard workers gathered to watch the launch of the Horst Wessel, the training ship we’ve been building for the past five months.
I’d rather be working than watching these jerks launch a military training ship named after one of their fallen goons! Why did we have to come in on a Sunday, without pay, to participate in this propaganda spectacle?
It appears the entire staff of Blohm + Voss, Hamburg is here. Thousands upon thousands of steel workers, crane operators, administrative staff, shipwrights, and secretaries, all not working, not going to Church, not with their families.
What a waste of time this is. Just launch the poorly named ship and let us get back to our lives.
The crowd roars with excitement as an open-topped Mercedes sedan enters the shipyard. From afar, I can only see a small man, like a toy soldier, sitting in the back seat with the director of the shipyard. Everyone around me strains to get just an inch or so taller than the person in front in order to have a better look, to feel closer to The Fuhrer.
How ridiculous this demagogue of hate and slavery can become Chancellor with so little of the vote. How dare he and his henchmen attack our country, my faith, and the German people. He and his thugs should go back to jail where they belong.
The little man exits the car right next to the speaker platform, directly in front of the new training ship. He’s followed closely by others in uniforms and suits.
They are spending so much on building ships, planes, and guns. What about the people? Sure, jobs, roads, and vacations are nice, but that doesn’t really help us. It just makes everyone fat and greedy; just what they want us to be so we don’t question their actions.
Little toy soldier takes his seat as a black-haired man in a similar uniform approaches the microphone. All those on the speaker’s platform have the same look on their faces: Greed mixed with opportunity.
More a pack of wolves than real people. They don’t care about us. They only care about themselves, getting rich and fat off confiscated property from those they arrest, forcing the sale of their writings to the state, decreeing hate and violence into government. They do not represent me. They do not represent the German people.
Standing in front of the microphone, one of the toy soldiers raises his right arm in the silly salute brought over from America. He turns toward The Fuhrer, saluting vigorously while yelling out “Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil!” Everyone around me replies with equal and growing vigor, not wanting to be the one seen not saluting with all the energy they possess.
I will not salute him. I will not raise my right arm like a schoolchild saying America’s pledge of allegiance to a tin-pot soldier and his coterie of goons.
My arms stay locked together in front of my body.
This little man will not take my country. He will not change me. He cannot make me salute him.
A few of my coworkers who are standing nearby look at me, their salutes diminish a bit, but just so.
Natan whispers in my right ear, “You have to salute.”
I turn to face him, “I need do no such thing.”
He gives me a contemplative look, then returns to his saluting, although a little less vigorously.
If only everyone who felt this way refused to salute this little demagogue, we’d be free of these thugs rather than naming a training ship for one of their murderous martyrs. I know Natan is not a Nazi. Most of us are not Nazis! If we all simply refused to participate, we could stop this charade before it goes too far. Where will this end if everyone just thinks of himself and how he can either blend into the crowd or take advantage of others? How can we get rid of these thieves of democracy when they’ve destroyed our desire to defend democracy? What will it take to save the German people from the future these haters preach?
The martyr’s mother breaks a champagne bottle on the bow of the ship, sending its massive hull down the ramp into the water.
Germany will descend as well, drowning in the tide of hatred spewed forth from the mouths of these traitors.
A massive roar erupts from the crowd as the ship settles into Hamburg bay.
Germany may one day return to stability, but how? What will settle us as this ship settles into the vast ocean of history? Where will we be when this is all over?
I’m the first to turn, heading for the exit, heading home.
At least now, I can be with my family.
A photograph was published in Germany in 1991 showing an enthusiastic crowd giving the Nazi salute (borrowed by the Nazi Party from the salute given by American school children during the pledge of allegiance) with one man standing with his arms folded, in the center of the shot. A search for more information about the man led to two very different stories. The first to appear was of August Landmesser who had joined the Nazi Party, but run afoul of it when he fell in love with a Jewish woman, tried to marry her, (not allowed to do so in Germany), and had children with her. The second is of Gustav Wegert, a man who did not believe in the Nazi Party and refused to surrender to it. There is no record of Landmesser working at the Hamburg shipyard before 1939, but Wegert is confirmed to have been there in 1936, at the time the photograph was taken. The story of who the man is cannot be confirmed, but photographic evidence points to it being Wegert, rather than Landmesser.
Beyond who it is, the true power of this story remains with the fact that an individual stood apart from the crowd, refusing to give in to Nazi mania. He literally stood alone, but stood nonetheless. How many people in the crowd did not like the Nazis, but were too scared not to salute? Courage is doing what others aren’t when you know you’re right. Whoever this was, he was a courageous man.
A small note about the ship Horst Wessel. It was won by the United States in a drawing of lots with the British and Russian navies, as reparations after the War. Currently serving in the United States Coast Guard as the training vessel U.S.S. Eagle, it is one of the few tall ships in the U.S. maritime force. The U.S.S. Eagle often represents the United States at events all around the world.
This representative of the United States is actually a German-built ship launched in the name of a Nazi Party thug who wrote a verse of the Nazi National Anthem before he was murdered by political rivals. At its launch, following a speech by Rudolf Hess, the mother of this martyred member of the S.A. broke a bottle of wine on the ship’s bow. Adolf Hitler, who did not speak at the event, was present.