In the 20th century, the nation of Germany had a dark and tumultuous past. Ultranationalists, militarists, and imperialists ruled during the darkest years in which Berlin played a direct role in several genocides, such as the Holocaust and Namibia, or overlooked ones, such as the Armenian Genocide.

Nevertheless, there were military personnel disgusted with the actions of their government, one of which was Armin Wegner. Wanting to help his country in need, Wegner became a medic with a will and determination to serve others. What he would witness would push him beyond his duties in the military to where he would benefit all of humankind.

Starving Armenian children, from Armin T. Wegner’s Collection

Career in the German Military

Armin T Wegner was born in 1886 in the Rhine Province of Germany. When Europe was embroiled in the Great War, Wegner volunteered to serve his nation and empire, enrolling as a volunteer nurse in German-occupied Poland. Here, 2nd Lt Wegner earned the Iron Cross for treatment of wounded soldiers under heavy fire.

Fighting France and Britain on the Western Front, the German high command convinced the Ottoman Empire to join the Central Powers. The Ottomans were under pressure from successive military defeats in the Balkans and North Africa, which saw a tremendous loss in territory.

The Young Turks wanted to restore these lands as they saw the Entente as one of the leading causes of the socioeconomic decline. After the German-Turkish alliance was cemented, Second Lieutenant Wagner was dispatched to Syria under the Sanitary Corps.

Witnessing the Armenian Genocide

1915 was the year that marked the start the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, and Armin Wegner witnessed it firsthand. The notable events of the genocide included forced deportations without food or water into the scorching Syrian desert. These deportations (at gunpoint) were known as death marches.

The German high command was privy to the Young Turks’ plans for its Christian minorities in Asia Minor that they saw as the “fifth column.” Greeks, Assyrians, and Maronites would also suffer in various genocides at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.