Saturday, June 1, 2019

German Officers Who Dared to Take a Stand Against the SS: A WWII Story

by Cindy K. Stewart

Przemysl, Poland. Courtesy of Author Ferdziu and Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

Poland became a killing ground for both Jewish and non-Jewish citizens during WWII, but the Germans especially targeted Poland’s three million Jews. Those who weren’t immediately shot during the German invasion in 1939 were relocated from the countryside and placed in dozens of ghettos in cities all over Poland. Gradually the SS death squads emptied the ghettos by deporting the residents to death camps or by shooting them on the spot.

Curt von Gienanth on the far right. Bundesarchiv, picture 121-0272 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Courtesy of Wikipedia.

On July 26, 1942, an unusual confrontation took place between German Wehrmacht officers and SS troops in the city of Przemysl in southern Poland. 

General Curt L. Freiherr von Gienanth, district commander of the Wehrmacht (regular German troops) had just appointed Major Max Liedtke to command the German garrison in Przemysl. Liedtke was the son of a Lutheran pastor and was opposed to the Nazis and their treatment of the Jews. He’d served in the German army during WWI but later, in civilian life, had lost his post as editor-in-chief of a daily German newspaper and was blacklisted because of his stand against the Nazis. In spite of this, in 1939, he was recalled to serve as a major in the Wehrmacht. Liedtke had most recently served in Greece.  

Major Max Liedtke
Courtesy of Wikipedia
At Przemysl, Major Liedtke promoted the humane treatment of Jews. General von Gienanth supported Liedtke’s position and had also put four thousand Jews from Przemysl to work in local armament factories, which protected them and their families from the SS.

Liedtke’s adjutant, Oberleutnant Albert Battel, also despised the Nazi persecution of Jews. Battel was a middle-aged attorney and veteran of WWI who’d been reprimanded by the Nazis for befriending Jews and for treating the Jewish leaders of the Przemysl ghetto with respect. On July 26, 1942, Battel informed Liedtke that a large death squad of SS troops was approaching the bridge over the San River for the purpose of rounding up Jews.

Liedtke and Battel devised a plan to delay the SS long enough to rescue the Jewish workers and their families and to obtain General von Gienanth’s support. Liedtke hoped that "the general would agree that the Wehrmacht should not cooperate with SS death squads." Under Liedtke’s orders, Battel sent Wehrmacht troops to the bridge, erected barricades, mounted heavy machine guns, and put a tough army sergeant major in command.

Truckloads of SS troops arrived at the bridge and were brought to a halt. After their commanding officer was told that no traffic would be admitted because the city was under a military emergency, he protested and ordered that the barricade be removed, but the sergeant major stood firm. He informed the SS officer, that he would order his troops to fire on anyone attempting to break through the roadblock. The SS left.

Heinrich Himmler.
Bundesarchiv, Bild
183-S72707 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Major Liedtke ordered Battel to take Wehrmacht troops, break into the Jewish ghetto, load the Jewish workers and their families onto trucks, and bring them to the Wehrmacht garrison for protection. Battel succeeded in moving more than one hundred families before new orders came in from headquarters. General von Gienanth had argued with the high command that the Jews were needed for war labor, but Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler overruled him. 

Himmler’s response was ominous. "'I have ordered that ruthless steps be taken against all those who think that they can use the interest of war industry to cloak their real intentions to protect the Jews.'"

SS troops arrived at the Przemysl Ghetto the next day and deported more than fourteen thousand Jewish men, women, and children to death camps. Eventually the Jews at the Wehrmacht garrison were shipped to death camps as well.

General von Gienanth was forced to retire, Oberleutnant Albert Battel was discharged from the Wehrmacht and drafted into the German homeguard, the Volkssturm. Major Liedtke was sent to the Eastern Front in the Soviet Union. He was captured in 1944, declared a war criminal, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in a Soviet labor camp. The stand taken by these officers is the only known time that German regular army troops stood down SS troops to protect the Jews.


Source: Gragg, Rod. My Brother's Keeper. Center Street, 2016.


Cindy Stewart, a high school social studies teacher, church pianist, and inspirational historical fiction author, semi-finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s 2017 Genesis contest, and won ACFW’s 2014 First Impressions contest in the historical category. Cindy is passionate about revealing God’s handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her college sweetheart and husband of thirty-seven years and near her married daughter, son-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren. She’s currently writing a fiction series set in WWII Europe.


  1. Thank you for highlighting these brave men. They are an example we need right now!

  2. Thank you for sharing this inspiring example of daring greatly in the face of enormous odds. I'm bookmarking this for future reference because it's exactly the sort of thing I need for a future book. thank you!

    1. Hi, MaryAnna! Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. I love to find stories about those who took a stand against evil during the war. They give us courage.

  3. he was released after the war, did not die in a soviet camp, he died in Hattersheim am Main, Germany

    1. Thank you for reading my post and for leaving a comment. I cross-checked my research by consulting the Yad Vashem website. Max Liedtke died in a Soviet prison camp in the Ural Mountains in 1955. However, Albert Battel was captured and later released from Soviet custody and died in Hattersheim near Frankfurt. Here are the links to my research: 1)

  4. Shame this story of true courage is not more widely known. This is a movie waiting to be made.