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his event had taken place on the 20th of July 1941. As the German troops were pushing toward the Soviet Union their main stop before crossing the borders was the Yugoslavian partisans fighting against fascism. Most of the partisan members did not flee towards the Soviet Union as they wanted to die in their country, protecting it. The guerilla group did have the will to fight however, with their poor armament and small numbers they did not stand a chance against the German forces and their blitzkrieg tactics.

Some of the people that have been executed on that date were civilians, the Germans knew this was a war crime but their intent of killing these civilians was to stop them from joining the partisans. Even before the date at hand, the Germans would often round up people from villages and execute them with not much of a particular reason apart from their potential to one day fight back. However, on the 20th of July 1941 something went very different.

Josef Schulz (1909–1941)

Josef Schulz (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This brave German soldier was only 32 years of age at the time, he was part of the 714th infantry division and had fought for almost a whole year on the eastern front. On the 20th of July 1941, his division was located in Smederevska Palanka (southeast of Belgrade/Serbia), a small village occupied by elders and a few partisans. Schulz was ordered to round up all the villagers and partisans which he did.

The next order that Schulz received was to execute them, at which point he said that he will not shot as those men were innocent. His officer ordered him once again to execute them, but Schulz still refused. At that point, the officer ordered another soldier to take Schulz helmet off and align him with the villagers and partisans. On that day Schulz was executed for disobeying orders, in fact he was the first one to be executed.

Picture of Josef Schulz (the soldier with no helmet) and the partisans before their execution on (20th of July 1941) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This is the only picture that could be found of Josef Schulz, he was not blindfolded like the other as the officer wanted him to see what he gave his life for. Something that is interesting is that the military records state KIA (killed in action) and not that he had been executed for disobeying orders. There is even a short movie from 1973 made by Yugoslav Zastava Film trying to recreate the moment. The movie is named after the soldier “Joseph Schultz”.

A different type of war hero

There are quite a few historians which, to this date are debating if this should be considered as an act of heroism. Josef Schulz did not win any battles, he did not capture any generals and most probably he did not even kill anyone. So there isn’t much to be considered a heroic act, however, on the day he was executed he made a statement as his death did not go in vain. After this incident, the Wehrmacht decided that such executions were bad for morale therefore they ended them (for the most part).

This outcome must be taken into consideration as only God knows how many lives his death had saved. Therefore I believe that he should be considered a war hero, mainly because he died trying to protect the innocent. Many see a war hero in different ways, for me, however, a war hero is someone who does something courageous that is against the grain of the times and opposed to what other soldiers would do.

History holds many war heroes who have gained this status for different reasons, but in most cases, if not all, it is for risking their lives to save a human being, someone who simply does not have the courage or the ability to fight back. I am certain that there are many different cases and incidents like this which have been lost or forgotten, that is why we need to remember these brave souls and try to learn from their good deeds.

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