Schmid, Anton.

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Schmid, Anton, born 09-01-1900, in Vienna, Austria-Hungary   His father was a baker, and both of his parents were devout Roman Catholics from Nikolsburg, Moravia (now Mikulov, Czech Republic). They had Schmid baptized and educated him in a Catholic elementary school. After graduation, he apprenticed as an electrician. Schmid was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1918 and survived intense battles during the retreat from Italy in the final months of World War I. He became an electrician and opened a small radio shop on Klosterneuburger Straße  Brigittenau, Vienna where he employed two Jews. Allegedly, as a young man he was in love with a Jewish girl. Schmid, who was married and had one daughter, did not belong to any organizations besides the Catholic Church.

Little else is known about Schmid’s life before World War II. After the German annexation of Austria in 1938, Schmid made a citizen’s arrest of a man who broke the window of a Jewish neighbor and helped some Jewish friends escape into nearby Czechoslovakia. After the outbreak of war upon the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, he was drafted into the German army, but was not expected to serve on the front lines due to his age. According to Wette, he was a “civilian in uniform” who did not conform to military culture.

German historian Wolfram Wette describes him as a non-ideological humanitarian whose opposition to Nazism stemmed purely from his respect for human life. According to Hermann Adler one of the Jews whom Schmid rescued, he was a “simple sergeant” and “a socially awkward man in thought and speech” who did not read newspapers or books. Herman Adler and his wife Anita were members of the Zionist movement in Vilna. When Adler was in danger, Schmid arranged a hiding place for the couple at his home.

At first he was stationed in Poland and Belarus. In late August 1941, after the invasion of the Soviet Union, he was transferred to the Landeswehr Battalion 898 in Vilnius, then part of the Reichskommissariat Ostland German occupation zone. Schmid was reassigned to an office called Feldkommandantur 814, whose personnel were charged with collecting German soldiers who had been separated from their units and reassigning them. Although Sergeant. Schmid interrogated the soldiers strictly, he sympathized with them—many were in fact suffering from combat fatigue—and avoided charging them with offenses under German military law such as desertion or cowardice in the face of the enemy, which would have resulted in court martial and the death penalty.

During the first week of September 1941 alone, 3,700 Jews of Vilnius were rounded up and murdered, most at the Ponary killing pits outside of town. Schmid could see the collection point outside the window and witnessed scenes of great brutality. The first Jew whom he helped was Max Salinger, a Polish Jew from Bielsko Biala fluent in Polish and German; most likely Salinger approached Schmid. Schmid gave Salinger the paybook of Private Max Huppert, a Wehrmacht soldier who had been killed, and employed him as a typist in the office. Salinger survived the war.

The second Jew whom Schmid rescued was a 23-year-old Lithuanian Jewish woman named Luisa Emaitisaite. Emaitisaite had managed to dodge the roundups one day but was caught outside the ghetto after curfew, which was punishable by death. Hiding in a doorway, she saw Schmid walking past and begged for his help. Schmid hid her in his apartment temporarily and later hired her for the office, where her knowledge of several languages and stenography was helpful. Her work permit protected her and she also survived the war. These examples show that Schmid did not set out to help Jews, but instead that his rescue actions were driven by their appeals for help.

I want to tell you how this all came about. The Lithuanian military herded many Jews to a meadow outside of town and shot them, each time around two thousand to three thousand people. On their way they killed the children by hurling them against the trees, etc., you can imagine.

Anton Schmid in a letter to his family, 9 April 1942.

As part of the Wehrmacht policy of economic exploitation of conquered territories, a section was added for carpentry and upholstery, which Schmid directed. Due to the lack of willing, skilled Lithuanian workers, many Jews were employed. In October 1941, many permits were cancelled with a view to murdering many of the Jews in the ghetto.

Schmid’s office, with 150 Jewish workers at the time, was only allocated 15 permits, which covered 60 Jews including holders and family members. The Jews called these certificates “leave from death papers” because they usually prevented the police and SS  from rounding up and murdering the holders.

The other 90 Jews begged Schmid to drive them in Wehrmacht trucks to the nearby town of Lida, Belarus, where they believed that they would be safer. Schmid did so, temporarily saving them from death at Ponary, and made several trips to Lida with other Jews. Later, Schmid managed to obtain more of these life-saving permits and eventually employed 103 Jews in various jobs. According to testimony, Schmid treated his workers—both Jews and Soviet prisoners of war—humanely and even managed to rescue some who had been taken to Lukiškės Prison for execution.

From November 1941 until his arrest in January, Schmid hid Hermann Adler, a Bratislava-born Jewish resistance member, and his wife Anita under false papers in Schmid’s apartment in Vilnius. Adler introduced Schmid to key figures in the Vilna Ghetto resistance movement, including Mordechai Tenenbaum, the leader of the 1943 Białystok Ghetto uprising, and Chaika Grossman. Schmid’s apartment was used as a meeting place for Jewish partisans; during a meeting on New Year’s Eve 1941, Tenenbaum made Schmid an honorary member of the Vilna Zionist Organization.

Schmid, Adler, and Tenenbaum devised a plan to rescue Jews from the Vilna Ghetto by transporting them to Białystok, Lida, and Grodno, considered to be safer. Under the pretext that he was moving necessary Jewish workers to the places where they were most needed, he transported some 300 Jews from Vilna. Although Schmid did aid the Jewish resistance movement where he could, the partisans in the Vilna Ghetto did not have weapons at this time, so Schmid did not help armed Jewish rebels.

We all must die. But if I can choose whether to die as a murderer or a helper, I choose death as a helper.

Death and burial ground of Schmid, Anton.

Because of his aid to the Jewish resistance movement, Schmid was arrested at the end of January 1942 and imprisoned at Stefanska Prison in Vilnius. He was sentenced to death on 25 February and executed on 13-04-1942, age 42 by the Nazis for his acts.. The trial record did not survive, so researchers are unsure who denounced him or exactly what offenses he was charged with. In his final letter to his family, Schmid wrote, “I have just acted as a human and I did not want to hurt anyone.”  He was one of only three Wehrmacht soldiers who were executed for helping Jews. By the summer of 1942, his office no longer employed any Jews. It is unknown how many Jews he managed to save, but the number has variously been estimated at 250 or 300. Anton is buried at the Antakalnis Cemetery, Antakalnis, Vilnius City Municipality, Vilnius, Lithuania, in an anonymously grave.

According to Schmid’s widow, many of her neighbors called her late husband a traitor and someone smashed her windows. Austria did not recognize Schmid as a victim of Nazism until the late 1950s, which denied his widow and daughter financial support to which they would otherwise have been entitled. However, Salinger traveled to Vienna after the war and told Stefanie Schmid of what her husband had done, and attempted to support her financially.

In 1965, Simon Wiesenthal obtained Stefanie Schmid’s address from a friend in Tel Aviv. The Simon Wiesenthal Center arranged for Schmid to travel to Vilnius with her daughter and son-in-law despite Communist travel restrictions and funded a new gravestone with the inscription “Here Rests A Man Who Thought It Was More Important To Help His Fellow Man Than To Live”. On 11-12-1990, a memorial plaque was erected outside his home in Vienna and unveiled by Mayor Helmut Zilk. A street in Vienna was named after him in March 2003, and Kurier described him as “Austria’s Oskar Schindler

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