Last week a lady asked me how was it possible that people committed so may awful atrocities during WWII, did their conscience not bother them. She also thought it must have taken years for people to be indoctrinated in evil thinking.
I told her that it actually takes a very short time for the human psyche to be conditioned to commit evil acts, Experiments like the ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’ and the ‘Third Wave’ has shown it only takes a few days.
The case of Willi Herold shows that people believe authoritative leaders put those leaders in an uniform and the critical thinking gets abandoned, no questions are asked not even a quick check to see if this leader is really who he claims to be.
Willi Herold was born on 11 September 1925 in Lunzenau, Saxony, the son of a roofer. There is not much more known about Willi as a child, but what he did as a teenager is what makes his story intriguing and disturbing.
He joined the Wehrmacht on September 30,1943, he had just turned 18.
At the final stages of World War II, in April 1945,with Germany’s war efforts in chaos, Willi,separated from his comrades,hungry and desperate for warmth, comes across an abandoned car with a suitcase that contains an uniform of an SS Captain. He put on this uniform and pretended to be the officer, gathering around him a number of equally lost soldiers. Rather then trying to finish the war somewhere sound and safe Herold becomes a personification of the Nazi regime, upending the German army’s bureaucracy and establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with.
On 11 April 1945, Herold’s group arrived at the Aschendorfermoor prison camp, which housed German army deserters as inmates,
Herold told the German authorities at the camp that he was acting under the direct orders of Adolf Hitler and he was to take over command of the camp. Herold and his men then began to murder inmates guilty of any transgression,like trying to escape. Within the followin eight days, Herold had more than 100 camp inmates murdered.
After the camp was hit by an air raid most of the surviving inmates succeede to escape. Herold and his men left the camp and committed several further war crimes; they hanged a farmer in Leer, East Frisia, who had hoisted the white flag, and also murdered five Dutchmen for alleged espionage.
Retreating from approaching Allied troops, Herold’s group arrived in a town in Lower Saxony ,Aurich, where they were arrested by the local German commander, But Herold was soon released by mistake.
On May 23, 1945 He was arrested by the Royal Navy for stealing a loaf of bread. After an investigation and the questioning of witnesses, Herold was identified as a wanted war criminal. On 1 February 1946, Herold and his men were forced by the British occupying forces to dig up the remains of the inmates they had murdered at Aschendorfermoor camp ,a total of 195 bodies were excavated. On 29 August 1946, Herold and six other co-defendants were sentenced to death, 5 others were acquitted. On 14 November 1946 Willi Herold was executed by guillotine.
Willi Herold was only 19 when he ordered those men to be murdered.
In 2017 a movie was made about the events,directed by Robert Schwentke, titled ‘The Captain’ or ‘Der Hauptmann’
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