Josef Schiffer, known as the “good Nazi”, died this month aged 97. Schiffer, a sergeant in the German army in World War II, is credited with preventing the destruction of Pallerone near Aulla in Lunigiana in April 1945. In the path of the advancing Allied troops, he disobeyed an order to blow up the munitions store where he was based.
Refusing to destroy the armaments in Pallerone was Schiffer’s greatest act of non-violence as it most certainly prevented many deaths among the civilian population. Although Schiffer laid fuses so that his superiors believed he was following orders, the fuses led away from the explosives to bushes some way off.
Before this incident, there were many occasions when Schiffer helped the locals. He is said to have saved the lives of people recaptured after attempting to escape, and he frequently put himself at risk by returning appropriated livestock to their owners. He was liked by the locals for his many small acts of kindness. Schiffer said that, for him, it was more important to act as a decent human being than to perform one’s military duty.
As the Germans retreated, so the partisans in Lunigiana in turn looked after Schiffer and he was safely sheltered in Pontremoli until the war was over. He remained in Italy for ten years after the war, something unheard of during the post-war period. He worked as a truck driver and later as a coach tour driver before finally returning to Germany.
In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the Resistance and Liberation, the City of Aulla bestowed Freedom of the City on Schiffer, and in 1999 he was made Commander of the Italian Republic by the Italian president.
“Always try to avoid wars: they are the greatest crime against humanity”