Blocking the fuhrerBlocking the fuhrer

The man who would have killed Hitler

Holocaust survivor says he attempted to derail Nazi leader’s train while interned in Poland in 1942

Henry Wermuth (screen capture: YouTube/USC Shoah Foundation)
Henry Wermuth (screen capture: YouTube/USC Shoah Foundation)

Henry Wermuth was a 19-year-old inmate at a Polish labor camp in 1942 when he set upon himself to change the course of history, the elderly Holocaust survivor’s daughter told the Daily Mail.

At the time, Wermuth was imprisoned, along with his father, at the Klaj ammunition camp in Poland after having been deported from Frankfurt and separated from his mother and sister. Security was not as tight as concentration camps, and he managed to befriend a disgruntled German soldier, Ilana Metzger recounted in the British paper.

One day, the soldier confided in him that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was scheduled to pass through the small Polish village on a train bound for the Russian front, where Hitler was planning to visit German troops after the army had suffered devastating losses in their assault on Stalingrad.

Unable to sleep the night before Hitler’s scheduled passage, Wermuth took advantage of the lax security to break out of the camp and escape into the woods. He made his way to the train tracks and piled logs and stones hoping this would derail the locomotive.

The next day, Wermuth got as close as he could to the train station and managed to sneak a glimpse of Hitler.

The young would-be assassin waited anxiously as the train traveled the 2 km toward the spot where he had improvised his obstacle, listening intently for the sound of the crash, but it never came. Devastated, Wermuth retreated back to the camp out of fear that he would be caught and sent to a worse fate; he never found out why his ploy failed.

“A train passed with three wagons, and in the window was a man who I recognized by the mustache as Hitler,” he had told the Jewish Chronicle in 2013. “I stood there mesmerized, waiting for the crash, but it never came. Either a local farmer or someone patrolling must have removed the logs.”

While Wermuth failed to change history, he did manage to survive eight different camps throughout the war, including Auschwitz. He even survived a shooting attempt by concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth at Krakow-Plaszow.

Wermuth had stopped to warn two prisoners to stop talking, but Goeth, who was passing by, saw them and fired off three shots, killing a man to his right and another to his left, but narrowly missing Wermuth as he tried to catch one of the falling men and cover his wound. He might have been shot anyway, had the spraying blood not made it look like he’d been hit, according to Metzger.

When the Americans liberated the Mauthhausen concentration camp, where he was being held, in May 1945, Wermuth weighed just 33 kg (72 lbs.) and had contracted tuberculosis. His father died of a head wound eight days before. He never found out what happened to his mother and sister.

Wermuth, now 91, lives in north-west London and writes novels. He also penned an autobiography titled “Breath Deeply, My Son” (Atme, Mein Sohn, Atme Tief), and was awarded a medal for his assassination efforts from the German government in 1995.

“At the time, they would have shot me on the spot – now they say I am a hero,” he said after the letter arrived, according to his daughter. “It is funny how time changes things.”

Wermuth often travels to schools around the UK to tell his story, which was also recorded by the USC Shoah Foundation.

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