Jakob – Backstory August Landmesser and Heinrich Grüber

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Jakob is the story of a young German man, a believer, who wrestles with living out his faith – and his love – in the Nazi Germany of the 1930’s.


As far as I know they never met, probably never heard of each other. August Landmesser and Heinrich Grüber, that is. But their stories form the primary background for Jakob

I told Heinrich Grüber’s story in a previous post. In Jakob he is fictionalized and interacts primarily with Jakob Hoffman. Jakob is a young believer who attends Grüber’s confessing church in Kaulsdorf, a Berlin suburb. He is falling in love with Annamarie Schmidt, who has just begun attending the church.

Jakob’s story is loosely based on the life of August Landmesser. I have no idea what kind of faith Landmesser had, so the faith element is entirely fictional. But Landmesser’s story by itself is fascinating. He fell in love with Irma Ekcler, a young woman of mixed Aryan and Jewish descent. It appears she was three fourths Jewish, which was classified ‘full Jew’ in the German laws. As summarized in Wikepedia:

They registered to be married in Hamburg, but the Nuremberg Laws enacted a month later prevented it. On 29 October 1935, Landmesser and Eckler’s first daughter, Ingrid, was born. A now-famous photograph, in which a man identified as Landmesser refuses to give the Nazi salute, was taken on 13 June 1936.

In 1937, Landmesser and Eckler tried to flee to Denmark but were apprehended. She was again pregnant, and he was charged and found guilty in July 1937 of “dishonoring the race” under Nazi racial laws. He argued that neither he nor Eckler knew that she was fully Jewish, and was acquitted on 27 May 1938 for lack of evidence. He was warned that a repeat offense would result in a multi-year prison sentence. The couple publicly continued their relationship. On 15 July 1938 he was arrested again and sentenced to two and a half years in the concentration camp Börgermoor.

Eckler was detained by the Gestapo and held at the prison Fuhlsbüttel, where she gave birth to a second daughter, Irene. From there she was sent to the Oranienburg concentration camp, the Lichtenburg concentration camp for women, and then the women’s concentration camp at Ravensbrück. A few letters came from Irma Eckler until January 1942. It is believed that she was taken to the Bernburg Euthanasia Centre in February 1942, where she was among the 14,000 killed.

Meanwhile, Landmesser was discharged from prison on 19 January 1941. He worked as a foreman for the haulage company Püst. In February 1944 he was drafted into a penal battalion, the 999th Fort Infantry Battalion. He was killed during fighting in Croatia on 17 October 1944.

As I said on Christmas Eve, not many stories in Nazi Germany had happy endings. But August Landmesser and Irma Eckler’s children survived. They were initially taken to the city orphanage. Ingrid was later allowed to live with her maternal grandmother while Irene went to the home of foster parents in 1941. Fifty years later Irene took up the research that revealed most of the details of her father and mother’s lives.

Here are some of the pictures I used when telling the story, with captions related to the backstory:

The brief exposition of Matthew 1:18-25 and the story, Jakob were recorded. Here is the video, from Trinity Fellowship’s YouTube channel:

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