He stood alone against Hitler. Here's the stunning thing that happened 25 years later

The anniversary of a brave inaction, an inspiration for a grandson, and 7 other things worth your time.

(Original title: The kids are watching. If you like this article, sign up here for the free daily newsletter.)

Eighty-six years ago tomorrow, Germany voted to ratify Adolph Hitler’s rise to power.

Hitler claimed a 90 percent victory. Supposedly, 95 percent of all German voters participated.

The first part of today’s newsletter is about a German baker who did not participate.

His name was Hermann Schnuerle. He lived in a little town called Calw in the Black Forest. His wasn’t a a silent, personal protest. Everybody knew.

His wife and family begged him to go through the motions, but he refused any suggestion that he supported Hitler.

Before the day was out, August 19, 1934, he’d been accosted by a group of men who “tied his hands and hung around his neck a placard declaring him to be a traitor,” according to one account.

The marched him through town, spat on him. He wound up in some kind of punishment camp “where they cut rocks,” according to the same account. They kept him for a year, but the ordeal supposedly “steeled rather than broke” him.

Hermann survived the war. At one point, he reportedly housed and fed some Jews who were in hiding. Other than that, he might well have been forgotten to history.

Except for his grandson, who was born three years after Hermann’s release.

The rest of this story is about him.

The grandson’s name was Dieter: son of Hermann’s daughter, Maria, and her husband Reinhold, who was later drafted into the army and died on the Eastern front.

Dieter was only 5. He didn’t remember his father. But he knew his grandfather.

Life was brutal during the waning days of the war, and immediately afterward. Dieter grew up tough, a scrounger. He’d steal scraps of food. He learned to boil down old wallpaper and eat it (it was partially made with wheat). He scavenged brass and other metal to sell.

Perhaps ironically, since his country had been bombed to smithereens, Dieter loved airplanes. When he was 18, in 1956, he hitchhiked to Hamburg, made his way on a ship to New York, slept on the streets, and finally found his way to a U.S. Air Force recruiter’s office.

Refugees who enlist in the Air Force don’t become pilots. So Dieter served four years as a mechanic. Then, he cobbled together some college credits and joined the U.S. Navy, which sent him to flight school.

He became a fighter pilot and was assigned to the aircraft carrier, USS Ranger.

Just in time for the Vietnam War.

On February 1, 1966, Dieter was shot down and captured in Laos. He was tortured, escaped, recaptured, tortured some more. Eventually he wound up in a small, brutal camp along with six other U.S. and Thai prisoners.

In June of that year, he escaped for good. After 23 days of running through the jungle, nearing starvation, and almost getting shot to death by the Americans who found him and eventually rescued him, he made it home.

Dieter’s story (his last name was Dengler) is best known now because Christian Bale played him in a 2006 movie about his capture and escape, Rescue Dawn. But one thing that didn’t make it into that movie was what Dieter later said was the greatest source of inspiration that kept his spirits up during his captivity and escape.

It was the memory of his grandfather, Hermann, and the courage Dieter had heard he’d displayed in refusing to support Hitler, when everyone around him insisted on it.

They say kids are always watching—even, it appears, the ones who haven’t even been born yet. I feel like Hermann Schnuerle knew that in 1934.

I wonder what my daughter will watch me do today.


I’m getting back into the swing of things with this newsletter. I think you’ll see some new things you’ll like after Labor Day. Thanks for sticking around.

Also, if you remember last week, I wrote about a Civil War prisoner who shared his story at the turn of the last century, and I wondered what happened to him afterward. Thanks to a reader in Michigan who has a passion for genealogy, we have some answers.

Short version: William J. Crossley, who was born in Manchester, England, came to the United States as a child in 1842. After his Civil War service, he came home to Rhode Island, worked as a grocer, was married for 45 years and had five children. In retirement, he and his wife moved from Rhode Island to Pasadena; after his first wife’s death, he remarried at age 73. Crossley died in 1929, at age 90. A pretty full life!


7 other things worth your time

  • The president of Portugual gave an interview on a beach — and then ran into the water to rescue two kayakers who were having trouble getting back to shore. (BBC)

  • UNC-Chapel Hill quickly changes to an all-remote schedule after 135 students reported testing positive for Covid-19. (NBC News)

  • This feels like I’m writing my own eulogy here, but a college student used artificial intelligence to create a blog post, that then shot to the top of a popular discussion board. (The Verge)

  • It looks as if Sunday might have been the hottest recorded day since 1913. A a committee of meteorologists and climatologists is reviewing data to see if the temperature in Death Valley really broke 130 degrees Fahrenheit. (Weather.com)

  • Restaurant apologizes for weighing customers before it will let them eat. It’s in China, so since we can’t travel anywhere you wouldn’t be going there soon anyway. (CNN)

  • Tesla shares rallied on Monday because… well, actually, there was no discernible reason, apparently. It’s just 2020, stocks went up, and some people just made money. (TechCrunch)

  • This is just not fair, but a new study says job applicants who ask about salary, benefits and compensation are less likely to reach the next step in the hiring process, because employers view them as mercurial rather than motivated. (Fast Company)

Also, yesterday I meant to link to this article. Apparently I made a mistake a mixed up the link. NYC IS DEAD FOREVER. HERE'S WHY. (James Altucher)

(Photo note: The photo included above isn’t Hermann Schnuerle; it’s another German, believed to have been named August Landmesser, refusing to participate in Nazi rituals. You can read about him here. It’s thematically similar anyway, and frankly I was looking for a royalty-free photo I could use that didn’t inadvertently glorify the Third Reich.)

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