the years of the Nazi occupation of Lithuania a German Sergeant Anton Schmid
disobeyed his superior officers and saved 250 Jewish men, women, and children
from extermination in Nazi death camps by hiding them, supplying them with false
ID papers and helping them escape. On 13. April 1942, he was executed by the
We would never have known the story of Sergeant Anton Schmid, had it not been
for those who owe him their lives. Most recently, Germany renamed a military
base Feldwebel Anton Schmid Kaserne in his honor for his courage.
Anton Schmid was an electrician who owned a small radio shop in Vienna. Drafted
into the German army after the Anschluss of 1938, Schmid found himself stationed
near Vilnius in the autumn of 1941. The Germans had entered Lithuania shortly
before. As a sergeant of the Wehrmacht he witnessed the herding of Jews into two
ghettos and the shooting of thousands of them in nearby Ponary. In a letter to
his wife, Stefi, Schmid described his horror at the sight of mass murder and of "children
being beaten on the way". He went on: "You know how it is with
my soft heart. I could not think and had to help them."
During much of the 19th century and continuing in the 20th century until the
Nazi invasion, Vilnius and Warsaw were Europe's two preeminent centers of Jewish
cultural, intellectual, religious and political life. In the summer of 1941, the
Nazis launched a genocidal campaign of mass murder and deportations to death
camps that, in three years, systematically killed about 180,000 Jews, i.e. about
94% of the Jews living in Lithuania before World War II, the largest percentage
of any country. Today there are 6,000 Jews left in Lithuania ..
Anton Schmid was moved by the suffering of the Jews in the Vilnius ghetto and
decided to help. He managed to release Jews from jail and risked his own life by
smuggling food into the ghetto. His courageous assistance involved the saving of
more than 250 Jews whom he managed to hide and the supplying of materiel and
forged papers to the Jewish underground.
Arrested in January 1942, and summarily tried before a Nazi military court on
February 25, Anton Schmid was executed on April 13 by the Nazis for his acts.
If Sergeant Schmid's acts were enormously rare, he evidently saw nothing
extraordinary in them. "I merely behaved as a human being," he
said in his last letter to his wife. In all the hell that was breaking loose
around him, he chose to stay awake, to keep his head up and his heart opened. In
the midst of so much death and destruction, he found some way to value life and
brought back life and restoration in the only way he knew to do. He stood
out as one of the few known German soldiers who had enough courage to do what he
felt was right.
On 16 May 1967, the Israeli government paid tribute to Sergeant Anton Schmid.
Yad Vashem awarded his widow the medal 'Righteous Among the Nations' which bears
the inscription: "Whoever saves one life - saves the world entire."
In Germany the honoring of army sergeant Anton Schmid on May 8, 2000,
appeared particularly significant because his name replaced that of an army
general, Günther Rudel, who fought in two world wars and had been held up as a
hero and example in the first decades after World War II.
Many Germans have long clung to the notion that Nazi atrocities were not the
work of the army but of Hitler's elite SS and fanatical death squads. Now the
government decided to strip a Wehrmacht general's name from a base and, for the
first time, identify a military institution with a soldier who saved Jews. As
Rudolf Scharping, the defense minister, said:
are not free to choose our history, but we can choose the examples we take from
that history. Too many bowed to the threats and temptations of the dictator, and
too few found the strength to resist. But Sgt. Anton Schmid did resist ..."