German Film The Captain and Real Life Story

German Film The Captain Compared to Real Life Story - because there is nothing more horrifying than true life atrocities.
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Today’s deep dive movie walk through and autopsy is a film entitled Der Hauptmann, or The Captain in English. And it was brought to us by the ever-brilliant THiNC. reader Nancy Mescon…who, has just been added to my will as a result. Congratulations Nancy, you can look forward to a check for 14 dollars and 23 cents upon my death. That, and some really dusty Star Wars memorabilia! hahah. Anyway, The Captain is an utterly incomprehensible story. Mindblowing in really every detail. The fact that it is based on a real story is the part that really uncorks my brain. But how close does the film hue to the original? Let’s find out – German Film The Captain and Real Life Story…

The Movie The Captain Unpacked

The Captain is a story set in the last few weeks of World War II. That is huge for our narrative. Inside of Germany, the world is utterly collapsing. And, in April of 1945, Willi Herold, a 21-year-old Paratrooper is running for his life. Who is he running from? A German MP that is hunting him for deserting his post. Having survived the hunt, Herold discovers a car, and the entire uniform of a very prominent air force captain. Taking the uniform, Herold begins impersonating this important German individual.

Now, please stop for a moment, and consider this. Willi is on the run. He has abandoned his post. He’s stolen this uniform. And he is impersonating an officer of the German Military. Today if you or I were to impersonate a German Captain we would be charged with, hold on, wait for it…high treason. Don’t believe me? Huh. This article is pretty persuasive. So Willi is wading into some really, really, serious and deep waters here. But again, this story is told within eyeshot of Germany’s loss of World War II. So all bets are apparently (and abundantly) off. Soon Willi has a corp of stragglers pulled together under his command. And everyone knows, they know, he knows, and the people they come across, all know this group are completely suspect. But Willi takes his Captain lie up a notch when he begins telling people that he is on a mission commanded by Hitler himself to learn what the conditions and morale are like within Germany’s shrinking borders.

Willi Herold has named the mission Kampfgruppe Herold and he becomes more and more angry, hostile, and over the top, the deeper into the lie he goes. As they stumble upon a camp of German deserters, he stages a hostile takeover of the camp. The men in charge put up a bit of a struggle at first, but there are factions within the camp that believe its leadership was moving too slowly in executing the prisoners, and these men enable Harold in his lies.

Willi Herold begins having the prisoners murdered in horrible and terribly gruesome splatter fests that Harold becomes more and more enamored with. At one point, the group marches 30 men out into a trench, and then they use an anti aircraft gun to attempt to kill them. They quickly realize this is probably the worst possible way to commit an execution. Afterwards, Freytag, Herold’s driver – and most compassionate of the bunch – is sent to wade amongst the dead to find the one man that was still alive, and to put him out of his misery. Later, Freytag confirms his suspicions that Herold isn’t who he says he is when he sees that a tailor has shortened the length of his pants.

When an Allied bombing run destroys the camp, Herold takes what’s left of his men with him as they head into a nearby city. Immediately they find the nicest accommodations and physically kick everyone else out. And from there on out, it’s all Herold all the time. He orders the murder of a local upon arrival, and later a member of his crew, Kipinski, who laid a hand on the woman he was infatuated with. Eventually the MPs arrive and catch Willi Herold. But when he arrives at the court, Willi claims that he was doing his very best to support the German people. The Judge and Willi’s legal counsel come to the conclusion he is a good German, and shouldn’t be punished. But before they decide what to do with him, Herold escapes out a window, and is later sent back to the front. As the movie concludes, we are told that Herold is eventually caught by the Allied forces, and is executed for war crimes.


Willi Herold should have reserved for him a very, very, special place in one of the lower rings of Dante’s Inferno. It is unbelievable to me that a fellow human being would be capable of these sorts of audacious evil. Sure, I’ve heard of worse, and more outrageous atrocities (necklacing in Africa, Chankiri Trees in Cambodia, etc.) but to see this level of duplicity, and callous falsification of the truth, and on top of that, egregious murders to boot, just seems so wrong to me. Willi Herold deserved to be imprisoned in the Aschendorfermoor prison camp, which he rampaged over. Shouldn’t that have given him pause? Maybe a little? Or did he deserve to be there? We’ll look into that when we walk through the real story of his life.

The True Story of Willi Herold from The Captain

Willi Herold, at the tender young age of 19, was called up to serve in the parachute regiment in September 1943. After training, he went to Italy to fight in several different locations, including Monte Cassino. He actually did really surprisingly well there, including the destruction of two British tanks in Salerno, for which he earned the order of the iron cross. A year later, at the ripe old age of 20, Willi’s company was sent back to Germany. And in the midst the chaos of war, he got separated from his unit. Now, I researched this detail extensively, and there was no indication at all that Willi Herold was a deserter. None that I could find anyway.

When Herold’s group of merry men arrived at the Emslandlager camps he quickly had the 90 men murdered for basically any transgression. (For example, attempting to escape the camp, etc.) One of the key deviations from the film was the Herold regularly murdered people himself. As an example, one time, he told a prisoner at the camp that if he could do 20 squats while holding water buckets, he’d be released. When the man completed the squats, he had him lay on the ground, and then Herold shot him in the head. Along with the hanged farmer from Leer (the farmer had flown a white flag of surrender), he also murdered five Dutchmen for supposed espionage. The total number of people he either personally killed, or ordered killed, was 172. Worse. Based on eyewitness reporting of the events at Aschendorfermoor, Herold went in among the prisoners and asked how many of them wanted to be readmitted to the front lines. Everyone raised their hands and shouted and hollered. Then he took his new “recruits” outside, and marched them around the yard. He stopped them by the pits that had been dug. Then, out of nowhere, from behind bushes, the anti-aircraft guns began firing. Come on, that is next level messed up. And when the anti-aircraft gun stopped working, there were many men still alive that were cowering in the pit, looking for cover. And Herold, furious that the anti aircraft gun had stopped working, took out a hand grenade and threw it into the pit. Then he called for everyone to use their guns and finish the survivors off. This man is a horrible, evil individual.

After Herold’s group retreated from the advancing Allies, they arrived in Aurich where they were arrested by a local German commander. Willi confessed to his crimes, and then was sent to trial in Norden by the Kriegsmarine. But in the chaos of the final days of the war he was accidentally released. Not too long after that, from what I can tell, he was captured by the Allies. And when asked about his time in the war, he was caught in a number of lies, and inadvertently admitted to a number of war crimes. Then, he and six members from his group were executed. Herold was twenty when he died.

German Film The Captain Compared to Real Life Story
This is a photo of Willi Herold. He is the young one, in the center of the photo.

Thoughts on The Captain

This is a rough, rough movie. Mainly because it shows the depths of evil mankind is capable of. Yes, the Germans were despicable to Jews, Gypsies, handicapped people, you know – wide swaths of the world’s population. The Russians weren’t much better. But this particular story was a man who was initially just trying to stay alive. And then he took advantage of his situation, and began indiscriminately murdering other humans without due process, or any sort of a conscious. Worse, the German system at the time excused his actions. He meant well! He was trying to make Germany better! Which, was just the next logical step from their already failed political experiment.

If the history of this episode during World War II was fascinating to you – I highly recommend this youtube video documentary of Willi Herold’s life and his crimes. There were numerous interviews and first hand accounts that verified and fleshed out various details that happened throughout this period. And by listening to these men you just get this palpable sense that it must have been horrifying to live through.

So what did you think of – German Film The Captain and Real Life Story? Thanks for the recommendation. What a great film. If you’d like other movies like this one – I would definitely have to go with 12th Man, and Land of Mine.

Edited by: CY