History Vella

Willi Paul Herold: ‘Executioner of Emsland’,

94 years ago in 1925, the largely forgotten and
obscure war criminal, Willi Paul Herold, was born.
Known as the ‘Executioner of Emsland’, Herold is
best known for the atrocities he committed at the
end of the Second World War, whilst falsely posing
as a Luftwaffe officer.


Born in Lunzenau, Saxony, not far from Chemnitz,

precious little is known of Herold’s youth and
childhood. Growing up in the dying years of the
Weimar Republic, Herold was the son of a simple
roofer. When he was eight years old Hitler came to
power and like everyone else he was swept up into
the all controlling movement, joining the Hitler
Youth like many other young boys his age. Herold
proved to be a poor fit for the youth branch of the
Nazi movement as he continually skipped their
events and lessons and was eventually expelled in
1936 when he was eleven years old. Thereafter he
began his apprenticeship as a chimney sweep,
spending the rest of his teenage years in this
profession before being called up for Reich Labour
Service whilst his country went to war against the

Early political/military career

The demands of war spared no one though, and the
moment Herold turned eighteen in 1943 he was
plucked up, drafted into the Wehrmacht and given
training as a paratrooper. Once given his training he
was immediately assigned to fighting the enemy on
the Italian Front. He fought at Nettuno and at the
famous battle at the monastery of Monte Cassino
where he distinguished himself by destroying two
enemy tanks. As the war closed in on the Reich like
a trap, Herold and his comrades were swiftly called
back to defend the home country from the Allied
onslaught. Sent to fight on the Western Front in
northern Germany near the Dutch border, he soon
found that the situation was little short of total
carnage. In the chaos of the German retreat in April
1945 he was cut adrift from his unit near Gronau.
With just a few weeks left before the end of the
war, he wandered alone through the land awash with
the war until by sheer chance he stumbled across
an abandoned vehicle containing the luggage and
uniform of a Luftwaffe captain.
In such dire times when the Wehrmacht was short
on supplies and its soldiers were fighting like
hungry and ragged beasts, the nineteen-year-old
Herold had little hesitation in swapping his rags for
the officer’s clothing. Before long he had become a
first-class imposter as he began acting the part of
a commanding officer, gathering up a rag tag force
of soldiers who likewise were scattered and lost in
the mayhem of the retreat. Under his command they
set off through the German countryside until they
arrived at the Aschendorfermoor Camp in Emsland
where German army deserters were being held.
Convincing the camp authorities of his rank and
status, he also persuaded them that he was
following the direct orders of Adolf Hitler himself.
Falling for this blatant lie, they gave him the run of
the place and allowed him to preside over the brutal
mass murder of scores of inmates, killing almost
two hundred in total.
No sooner had he started to get his teeth into this
endeavour of exterminating deserters when the
camp was obliterated in an Allied air raid which
allowed many of the surviving inmates to escape.
Herold and a group of others survived however and
set off once again under his command to commit
yet more war crimes. In East Frisia they hung a
farmer to death for hoisting a white flag of truce
over his home. At the Dutch border then they went
on to kill five Dutch civilians on suspicion of being spies

Herold death

Herold’s little rampage of murder and deceit soon came to an end though once he and his followers fell back to Aurich where his crimes were discovered by the German military authorities and
he was arrested. Though he was meant to stand
trial, in the chaos of the collapsing Nazi regime, he
was released by accident. His freedom was to
ultimately prove short-lived. Fleeing to
Wilhelmshaven, he was arrested after a month by
the Royal Navy after he stole a loaf of bread.
Following a swift investigation, they soon realised
that he was a war criminal and they forced him and
his former followers to dig up the mass graves at
the Aschendorfermoor camp. In August 1946 he
was put on trial by the British in Oldenburg and
sentenced to death along with a number of his
compatriots, being executed by hanging at
Wolfenbüttel Prison.

By Victor Aluede G.y

Aluede G.y Victory is a history
enthusiast an a mediapreneur living in Aboru,
Lagos. He studied arts at skills click foundation, he is an alumni of Rehoboth college Aboru, Lagos.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s