You may have seen this disgusting meme floating around on social media. A friend (Hi, Jen!) pointed it out to me, and I was instantly repulsed. The message it seems to be trying to get across is, don’t follow the mask-wearing sheep of the world. Resist. Do what you want. As if not wearing a mask makes you some kind of hero.
This meme seems to be quite popular amongst the foolish people who think that by not wearing a mask, they’re exercising a constitutional right. That is patently absurd. None of us have the right to put the lives of everyone we come in contact with at risk. We all have a responsibility to maintain public health. If that weren’t the case, we’d be pooping on the public sidewalks with impunity. Because holding it doesn’t feel good.
There are certain standards that have to be maintained in order to have a healthy society. You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it. Selfishness does not pair well with being a member of a community.
But even more offensive is the fact that this historical photograph has been appropriated to make an ignorant, hyper-conservative meme with its own agenda, when the man in the photograph was anything but a poster child for that ideology.
Let’s start with the one indisputable fact about this photograph. It was taken in 1936, during the launch of a German military training ship called the Horst Wessel. All the witnesses to the launch are giving the Nazi salute except for this one man, who defiantly keeps his arms crossed. That must have taken a great deal of courage.
Historians now think that this is a photograph of either Gustav Wegert or August Landmesser. More and more people are starting to believe it was Wegert, as there’s more evidence that he was working at the time at the shipyard. Alas, if it is Wegert, it isn’t as compelling a story. Wegert never experienced Nazi persecution. He wasn’t imprisoned. He survived the war. He was simply against the Nazi salute because he was a devout Christian. This is admirable, but not particularly exciting.
If this is a photograph of Landmesser, on the other hand, it makes for a fascinating tale. Landmesser did join the Nazi party in the hope of gaining employment, but he was later kicked out of it when it came to light that he was engaged to a Jewish woman, Irma Eckler. They were married, but the union wasn’t recognized under the Nuremburg Laws. They had two daughters. He was thrown in jail for “dishonoring the race.”
He was released from jail in May, 1938 for lack of evidence, as they argued that nobody was sure that his wife was fully Jewish. But two months later he was imprisoned again, and sent to a concentration camp. His wife was also sent to prison, and in fact gave birth to their second daughter there. She was then sent from one concentration camp to another until she finally died in 1942.
Landmesser was released from his concentration camp in 1941, but in 1944 he was drafted into a penal battalion and forced to fight. He finally died in battle in Croatia eight months later. He was 34 years old. His daughters grew up in an orphanage, and later in foster care. His oldest daughter published a book about the family’s persecution for “racial disgrace”.
Whether the defiant man in the photograph is Wegert or Landmesser is irrelevant to the message, as far as I am concerned. It is evidence that somebody was willing to stand up for their principles at a time when a lot of people were being brainwashed and following blindly or acquiescing due to fear. This photograph gives me hope. But when I look away from him and at all the others, it makes me despair. That’s why the photo is so powerful to me. It shows me that I can hold both feelings at once.
The very idea that this picture has been twisted around to make doing the wrong thing, the selfish thing, the life threatening thing seem heroic is disgusting and outrageous, and insults the memory of the man, whoever he may have been, who was brave enough to be on the right side of history.
If you created this meme, shame on you. I added the x to the meme so it couldn’t be copied and used. Not from this blog, anyway. Not today.
Now is the perfect time to stay at home and stay safe and read a good book. Try mine! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5