Dr. Albert Battel
Albert Battel was born on January 21, 1891 in Klein-Pramsen. As a fifty-one-year-old reserve officer and lawyer from Breslau, Dr. Battel was stationed in Przemysl in south Poland as the adjutant to the local military commander, Major Max Liedtke. When the SS prepared to launch their first large-scale “resettlement” (liquidation) action against the Jews of Przemysl on July 26, 1942, Battel, in consort with his superior, ordered the bridge over the River San, the only access into the Jewish ghetto, to be blocked. As the SS commando attempted to cross to the other side, the sergeant-major in charge of the bridge threatened to open fire unless they withdrew. All this happened in broad daylight, to the amazement of the local inhabitants. Still later that same afternoon, an army detachment under the command of Oberleutenant Battel broke into the cordoned-off area of the ghetto and used army trucks to whisk off up to 100 Jews and their families to the barracks of the local military command. These Jews were placed under the protection of the Wehrmacht and were thus sheltered from deportation to the Belzec extermination camp. The remaining ghetto inmates, including the head of the Judenrat, Dr. Duldig, underwent “resettlement” in the following days.
After this incident, the SS authorities began a secret investigation into the outrageous conduct of the army officer who had dared defy them under such embarrassing circumstances. It turned out that Battel, though himself a member of the Nazi party since May 1933, had already attracted notice in the past by his friendly behavior toward the Jews. Before the war he had been indicted before a party tribunal for having extended a loan to a Jewish colleague. Later, in the course of his service in Przemysl, he was officially reprimanded for cordially shaking the hand of the chairman of the Jewish Council, Dr. Duldig. The entire affair reached the attention of the highest level of the Nazi hierarchy. No less a figure than Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer-SS, took a lively interest in the results of the investigation and sent a photocopy of the incriminating documentation to Martin Borman, chief of the Party Chancellery and Hitler’s right-hand man. In the accompanying letter, Himmler, one of the most dreaded men in the Third Reich, vowed to have the lawyer arrested immediately after the war.
All this remained unknown to Battel. In 1944, he was discharged from military service because of heart disease. He returned to his hometown Breslau, only to be drafted into the Volk Storm (Volkssturm) and fall into Russian captivity. After his release, he settled in West Germany but was prevented from returning to practice law by a court of de-Nazification. He died in Hattersheim near Frankfurt.
Battel’s heroic stand against the SS, unparalleled in the annals of the Third Reich, came to be recognized only a long time after his death; most notably, through the tenacious efforts of the Israeli researcher and lawyer Dr. Zeev Goshen.
On January 22, 1981, Yad Vashem decided to recognize Albert Battel (posthumously) as Righteous Among the Nations.