Albert Battel (21 January 1891 – 1952) was a German Wehrmacht army lieutenant and lawyer recognized for his resistance during World War II to the Nazi plans for the 1942 liquidation of the Przemyśl Jewish ghetto. He was posthumously recognized as Righteous Among the Nations in 1981.
Life and military career
As a fifty-one-year-old reserve officer, Battel was stationed in Przemyśl in southern 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 Przemyśl 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 Oberleutnant Battel broke into the cordoned-off area of the ghetto and used army trucks to evacuate 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 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 behaviour 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 Przemyśl, he was officially reprimanded for cordially shaking the hand of the chairman of the Jewish Council, 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 an interest in the results of the investigation and sent a copy of the incriminating documentation to Martin Bormann, chief of the Party Chancellery and Adolf Hitler's right-hand man. In the accompanying letter, Himmler vowed to have the lawyer expelled from the Nazi party and 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 Volkssturm and fall into Soviet captivity. After his release, he settled in West Germany but was prevented from returning to practice law by a denazification court. Battel died in 1952.
Battel’s stand against the SS came to be recognised only a long time after his death; most notably, through the tenacious efforts of the Israeli researcher and lawyer Dr. Zeev Goshen.
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- 'Factories of Death' (2005) Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State Season 1 Ep. 3. BBC Television