“… and the noble gesture of the German commander”

“If I hadn’t followed orders, I would have been shot myself” the culprits say, and their defense attorneys call it “acting under superior orders” when someone is indicted for crimes committed during World War II. A handy excuse, this alleged moral dilemma. Except that it is a myth.

It was only during an internship with the Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes that I learnt that no cases are known in which German soldiers or members of the SS were executed for disobeying blatantly illegal orders, like orders for mass shootings of civilians. The worst consequences were the absence of further promotions or being ordered to a different posting, sometimes to a desk job in Germany, which wasn’t very exciting but still better than a winter in Stalingrad.

Unexpectedly, I stumbled across an example a few days ago when I wandered around the southern Italian port city of Trani. In the Square of the Republic, enjoying the shade of the palm trees and listening to the nearby water fountain, there is this memorial:

Denkmal Trani gross

Rows of names chiseled into a slab of concrete usually remind us of historical catastrophes, and when I read the date of 18 September 1943, I could already imagine what it was about. Two weeks prior, Italy, which had until then fought alongside Nazi Germany, had agreed an armistice with the Allies. All of a sudden, Germans and Italians were no longer partners. The Wehrmacht was now an occupying army and behaved accordingly, offering its typical range of war crimes.

Thus I expected a memorial tablet for another massacre, but stumbled when I got to the passage “… and the noble gesture of the German commander Friedrich Kurtz”. That didn’t fit. Something else must have happened here.

Denkmal Trani DetailIndeed: a few days before 18 September 1943 five German soldiers had been killed in an ambush close to Trani. The Germans assumed that Italian partisans were the perpetrators and, in line with Wehrmacht custom at that time, First Lieutenant Kurtz received the order to shoot 50 male citizens of the small town as a reprisal. The hostages had already been gathered, the firing squad was ready, when the mayor, the archbishop and the wives of some of the hostages asked to speak with Kurtz.

The German commander permitted them to plead their case and decided in the afternoon that the German forces would leave the town without shooting any of the hostages. The 54 men gathered in the town square survived thanks to this refusal to obey orders. At that time, the Allied forces had already landed on mainland Italy and British troops were just about to take Trani. Kurtz’ decision may have been influenced by this.

Friedrich KurtzAn obvious refusal to carry out an order, during wartime, close to the frontline. What happened to First Lieutenant Kurtz? He remained an officer, although he received no further promotion. The same fate befell the (few) German soldiers who refused to obey orders relating to atrocities against the civilian population elsewhere. There is no trace of duress or severe negative consequences.

One month later, on 18 October 1943, the Italian king came to Trani and awarded medals of valor to the mayor and the bishop. But in the decades that followed, the talk of the town again and again returned to the “good German”, whose identity nobody knew and who had never came forth himself. Only in 2003 did a systematic research begin and the lay historians finally identified Friedrich Kurtz. He didn’t notice anything of that or of the inauguration of the memorial in 2005. He had already died in 1993.

(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.)

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These birds are having fun

birdhouses(Photographed at the Municipal Park in Trani, Apulia, Italy.)

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Why I don’t eat Fish

Because I know what it looks like before it gets on your plate:

fish bon appetit

(Photographed behind the Swabian Castle in Trani, Apulia, Italy.)

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Burglar-Friendly Facade

Breaking into this house does not even require the skills of John Robie aka “The Cat” in the Hitchcock film “To Catch a Thief”.

facade burglary

(Spotted in Trani, Apulia, Italy. The exact address will be shared for a stake in the loot.)

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Free Internet

But only for lawyers:

internet avvocati

(Spotted in Trani, Apulia, Italy.)

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If you insist on free advice, you will get it

You might think I am stupid because I give heaps of legal advice for free, either on my FAQ or my AllExperts profile. I could earn millions instead by charging for this service. But I am a nice guy and it warms my heart when I can help people in need.

But I get really cranky in three cases: (1) when people try to take advantage of it by asking question after question after question; (2) when people think they are entitled to my advice; and (3) when people ask questions which they could have found the answers to in my previously published FAQ. Do a bit of reading around my blog before bothering me, please.

This lady for example has been asking questions for several months now. I answered one or two. But she always manages to make her life more dramatic and come up with new questions:

Dear Andreas i am Pregnant with a German man WHO is married to an Afghani Lady and has two Kids. His wife had put a Case of Strangulation and Attempt to murder Against him Since october Last Year. He has two daughters and when his wife and Kids were taken away from him and were Sent to Foster Parents he got both his wife and Kids back in complusion, through he döes not Wants to live with his wife but is with me for so Long, although he is staying with his wife and Kids under The Same roof for The Sake of Kids and i being a flight attendant from india Based in india just fly on Duty to Frankfurt and back and so Meet him there… He has also got me pregannat with his Child, i have a Indian Passport and i can not Marry him and come easily to Germany. I Heard his Child is German and has all The rights over him, how can i Stay in Germany äs i have a Schenegan Visa only. Although he is searching for a House for us but he told me that unless his Criminal Case is over he can not file for a divorce from his wife äs his wife döes not speak even a Single word of German and has not Tried to integrate Herself in The German Community nor Tries to learn Anything äs only Copying and Taking care of her daughters at Home is what she has Been Doing for The past 8 years. My boyfriend is working for The Last 13 years and is Self Sufficient but is not Earning that much that he can take care of me and our Child, i dont know Good German but i am Learning and have cleared The Test Till B1 Level, Hope there is some possibility for me to learn and make my Family in Germany. I really love him and do not Want to Leave him at this Stage, pls suggest how to move about with my paper work of staying back in Germany and living with him on behalf of my Child WHO is The only link we have although we are not married yet. Thanx a lot in advance.

I pointed out that there are a lot of questions and issues involved (and a whole lot of legal misconceptions to be rectified) and offered a full consultation for my standard fee of 200 EUR. That was something which this prospective client didn’t like at all. She told me that she refuses to pay and asked to suggest a cheaper lawyer instead.

Richa Kapoor cant afford 200 EUR

That’s brazen. Not willing to pay me for my services, but asking me to go around looking for other lawyers. I could have pointed her to my guidelines on how to find a good lawyer, but I decided to dispense some free advice after all:

Richa Kapoor abortion

Free (and quick) advice may not be the best advice, but you get what you ask for.

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Did you notice the Irony? (17) Robots

“Please prove you are not a robot,” I am being asked - by a robot.


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