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German Officer who Helped "The Pianist" Recognized as Righteous Among the Nations

16 February 2009

The German officer made famous in Roman Polanski’s 2002 film “The Pianist” has been posthumously recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.

Wilm Hosenfeld was drafted into the Wermacht shortly before the outbreak of World War II. He was stationed in Poland; from July 1940 he was based in Warsaw. Hosenfeld spent most of the war as a sports and culture officer, and during the Warsaw Uprising, in the summer of 1944, he was involved in interrogating prisoners.

After the war, Hosenfeld was arrested and tried by the Soviets. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. The sentence was commuted to 25 years, but Hosenfeld died in a Soviet prison in 1952.

Over the years, two survivor testimonies were presented to the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations. Leon Wurm testified that Hosenfeld employed him at the Sports Center after his escape from the train to Treblinka. Władysław Szpilman wrote to Yad Vashem, as well as in his diaries (which became the basis for the film) that in November 1944 Hosenfeld helped him find a hiding place, and that he provided blankets, food and moral support.

The case of Hosenfeld had come before the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations previously. At the time, the Commission acknowledged that Hosenfeld had rescued Szpilman and Wurm, but decided not to recognize him as Righteous Among the Nations, until it was clear that he was not involved in war crimes during the Warsaw Uprising.

Recently, new material, including Hosenfeld’s personal diaries, and letters to his wife, came before the Commission, which clarify his consistent stance against the Nazi policy toward the Jews. In his writing, Hosenfeld stressed his growing disgust with the regimes’ oppression of Poles, the persecution of Polish clergy, abuse of the Jews, and, with the beginning of the “Final Solution”, his horror at the extermination of the Jewish people. Although Hosenfeld supported the Nazi party in its beginnings, it is clear that as he saw the consequences of the Nazis’ rise to power, his opposition to them was deep and consistent.

Following a thorough examination of all the documentation, the Commission decided to name Wilm Hosenfeld a Righteous Among the Nations, for his efforts to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

Hosenfeld’s sons and two daughters live in Germany, and they will receive the medal and certificate on their late father’s behalf. No date has been set for the official ceremony.

For more information about the Righteous Among the Nations Program >>>