World War II was a war of unknown heroes. For every Audie Murphy, there are thousands of men and women who gave their lives in the pursuit of peace. Today we bring you the story of one such hero, Ulrich Wilhelm Graf Schwerin von Schwanenfeld. When faced with his impending doom at the hands of the Nazis, Schwanenfeld held to his convictions and stood for what was right.
Schwanenfeld was the son of the German diplomat and a Christian. As a Christian, he found the Nazi government and its tactics loathsome but was drafted into service when World War II began. On July 20th, 1944 he was part of a failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. On July 21st, he was arrested for his involvement in the conspiracy.
After being imprisoned for a month, he was brought to trial. When he faced the judge, his belt was taken away so he would endure the further humiliation of having to hold up his pants during his trial. Confronting certain death at the hands of his captors, Schwanenfeld explained why he had committed his “crimes.”
Defendant: Mr. President, my personal political experiences caused me various problems, because I worked to promote the German heritage in Poland. And since then, I have experienced various changes in the attitude towards Poland.
Judge: Hmmmm. Are you blaming these various changes on National Socialism?
Defendant: I was actually thinking of the many murders…
Judge (shouting): Murders?!
Defendant:…that occurred here and abroad.
Judge (shouting): You’re a filthy louse! Are you cracking under your own villainy? Yes or no? Are you cracking up?
Defendant: Mr. President…
Judge: Yes or no? Give a direct answer!
Schwanenfeld did not parse his words. He called the Nazi’s crimes exactly what they were, murder, and held true to his convictions. Following his show trial, he was immediately executed, but his story has lived on, in history books if not the public memory. You can see the video of Ulrich Wilhelm Graf Schwerin von Schwanenfeld’s testimony below. It presents the image of a man resolved to give his life to make the world a better place, even in the face of certain death.