Hans-Georg Henke – 16 year old German soldier crying after being captured by the Allies, 1945
Hans Georg Henke’s story is a poignant illustration of the impact of World War II on the lives of young Germans. At just sixteen years old, Henke, a member of the Hitler Youth, became a symbol of the devastation wrought by the war.
Born into a family soon to be struck by tragedy, Henke’s life took a dramatic turn after the death of his father in 1938 and his mother in 1944. The loss left the family destitute, forcing a young Hans Georg, at just 15, to join the Luftwaffe anti-air squad to support his siblings. His role involved manning a battery of 88mm guns, a significant responsibility for someone so young.
Henke’s life during the war is marked by two contrasting narratives. According to his own account, he was stationed in Stettin and was eventually pushed back towards Rostock as the Soviets advanced. However, American photojournalist John Florea presents a different story. Florea claims to have captured the iconic photographs of a tearful Henke in Hessen, in the village of Hüttenberg-Rechtenbach, north of Frankfurt am Main. These images show a young soldier in despair, overwhelmed by the horrors of war.
The photographs depict Henke crying from combat shock. Florea asserts that Henke’s tears were not due to his world crumbling but rather the immediate shock of combat.
He lived until October 9, 1997, passing away at the age of 69 in Brandenburg, Germany. His story, particularly the powerful images of his capture, has been widely used to