“Eigensinn”

Supposedly August Landmesser, a German who refused to do the Nazi salute in Hamburg in 1936 because he was engaged to a Jewish woman.

Supposedly August Landmesser, a German who refused to do the Nazi salute in Hamburg in 1936 because he was engaged to a Jewish woman.

I came across this somewhat iconic photo of a German man refusing to give Hitler a Nazi salute and I thought, that’s eigensinn. My German history professor explained what this kind of behavior was last semester. Eigensinn is German. It means stubbornness. Literally, it means, “own sense.” This man is showing both stubbornness and own sense in the photo. He’s stubbornly refusing to do something that is not within his “own sense” to do. He’s defying the system without really defying it. This picture caught my attention because at this time, especially, most Germans did not practice eigensinn, they were very much kadavergehorsamkeit, they obeyed no matter what. This guy stands out among a sea of sheep, which, if he really was August Landmesser, was why he was killed by the Nazi regime shortly after this photo was taken.

Eigensinn was more of an attitude as a response to the absurdity of life under a bureaucratic regime like the Austrians in Austria-Hungary, for example. A classic example of eigensinn can be found in the book, The Good Soldier Swejk, by Jaroslav Hasek. Swejk was a Czech soldier in Austria-Hungary during the assassination of the Austrian prince and the start of the First World War. The book follows him through his adventure in the war while at the same time satirizing Austrian bureaucracy. Basically, Swejk played dumb and got a kick out of watching Austrian bureaucrats, soldiers, officials, etc.  make fools of themselves. This, because although they were very bureaucratic, they were very unorganized, like most every other governmental institution ever known to man. That’s irony. Anyway, I saw this picture on Twitter and thought, I should blog about that.

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