It may surprise amateur historians to discover that wars can take a humanitarian turn. There are many, many recorded instances of exceptional displays of humanity, even during the most brutal fighting. Considering the Nazis’ monstrous reputation, it would surprise many others to discover that kind of kindness among the German officers in World War II.
Even in the Wehrmacht’s most desperate days, there were some among them who retained their humanity in the middle of one of the world’s deadliest conflicts. In the Hürtgen War Cemetery in Hürtgen, Germany, you’ll find a small monument to one of these brave souls.
“No man hath greater love than he who layeth down his life for his enemy.”
As the Allies pressed their post-Normandy advantage against the Nazis in Europe, they began to outrun their supply lines. Unfortunately, the men and materiel required to bring down the Nazi regime weren’t as fast at replacing the men and materiel who were actively taking down the regime. The Allies were forced to slow down and, in some places, pause as their supplies caught up to their breakneck drive toward Germany.
This lull gave the Germans time to regroup and rest.
The worst was yet to come.
Before the Allies could enter Germany, there were a few things they had to consider. They had to cross the Rhine, the city Aachen was under siege and refused to surrender, and the Allies were afraid the Germans would destroy the Ruhr Dam. To avoid this, the Allies needed to enter the dense woods that lay between the city and the dam and do it before the Germans thought to blow the dam.
During the relatively brief lull in the fighting, the Germans made good use of the Hürtgen Forest. Its hills and ravines were loaded with minefields, booby traps, barbed wire, and anything else they could think of that might halt the Allied advance or end it entirely. What’s more, deep inside the woods were the overgrown and abandoned remains of the concrete Siegfried Line. The advantage in numbers and air superiority the Allied troops enjoyed would be completely negated by the forest. The dark woods were now almost impenetrable, and the Allies were walking into it.
This is not the place you want to assault.
For four months, the Allies sent men into the German-held meat grinder trying to dislodge the Nazis. Among the Germans trying to keep the Americans out was a Lt. Friedrich Lengfeld. Lengfeld was a young officer who had just taken command of his unit in November 1944, after his commander was killed in combat. He and his men were holed up in a lodge of some kind, sheltering themselves from the elements and trying to stave off their hunger. Next to their shelter was a minefield known as the Wilde Sau.
An American attack pushed Lengfeld’s Germans from their shelter, but his men quickly counterattacked and retook it the day after. The U.S. troops scrambled out so fast that one of them walked right into the Wilde Sau and immediately stepped on a mine. The man survived and began calling for help.
None came. And to this day, no one knows who the wounded American was.
This road once bisected the Wilde Sau minefield.
Lieutenant Lengfeld ordered his troops that no one was to fire at any Americans who would come for the man. Hours passed, the man begged anyone within earshot to help him. But no one came. The man cried for his compatriots the entire time, but still, no one came to his aid. Lengfeld decided he would help, and took a team of his medics along a road that led to the minefield. He was determined to help the man, but while his team had placed anti-tank mines along the road, he did not know the location of anti-personnel mines. Lengfeld stepped on one immediately, shredding his back. He would die later that night.
In 1994, a monument was erected at the Hürtgen Forest Cemetery, bearing the name and wartime deeds of Lt. Friedrich Lengfeld. It read:
Here in Huertgen Forest on November 12, 1944,
Lt. Lengfeld, a German officer, gave his life
while trying to save the life of an American
soldier lying severely wounded in the “Wilde
Sau” minefield and appealing for medical aid.
The monument was placed there by the American members of the 22nd Infantry Regiment to honor Lt. Lengfeld.