Hans-Georg Henke: The young soldier who came to symbolize the Hitler Youth
Hans Georg Henke was 16 years old when the Allied Forces captured the city of Hessen, Germany. An unsettling photograph of the guy boy exists today as a remarkable memoir of what the Hitler Youth went through and a reminder of a young boy forced to survive against all odds.
Although several photojournalists take credit for the photo, the story behind the sobbing boy is enough to make you realize how tragic life was during the World War. Henke’s will to beat the odds and innocence that was taken away is an inspiring reminder of how precious life is amidst any adversity.
The boy who learned to make a living for the family
Henke was forced to become part of the Hitler Youth because he needed to find work to support the family. His father died in 1938 and his mother left the family penniless when she died in 1944. Henke joined the Luftwaffe, a German aerial warfare branch, at the age of 15.
Recounting his experience as a young child, Henke maintained his story throughout his life. He says he was stationed in Stettin which had a chain of 88 mm guns. When the Allied forces, led by the Soviets, overwhelmed their unit, the photograph of him sobbing was taken.
John Florea, an American photojournalist, claims ownership for the photos. He says the photographs were taken in Hessen which possess strong semblance to the photo. Some of the areas still exist today and contradict Henke’s recount wherein he said he was wearing rags and not combat boots.
Changing recounts of the story
The American photojournalist explains that when he took the photo, Henke was not crying because his world has fallen apart, but because of combat shock. His unit was captured by the American Allied forces and his fate was sealed.
Henke changed his recount because, after the war, he joined the Communist Party and settled in East Germany. East Germany considered those who surrendered to the Allied Forces during the war as a possible third force.
Hans Georg Henke lived a full life and died at the age of 69 on October 9, 1997, at Brandenburg, Germany.