June 11, 1964: The Cologne School Massacre


WHAT HAPPENED? (1)


On June 11, 1964, Walter Seifert opened fire in a Catholic Elementary school in Cologne, West Germany. He attacked the school using a home-made flamethrower and a spear, killing 8 students and 2 teachers, and wounding 22 other people.


When the police arrived on the scene, he fled and poisoned himself, and died later at the hospital.

THE KILLER (1)


Walter Seifert was born on June 19, 1921, making him about 43 when he opened fire inside of an elementary school. He had one brother and his father worked as a glass-grinder. He successfully completed an apprenticeship as a metal worker in 1939, and was drafted into the Luftwaffe, which appears to be the German version of the Air Force, in 1941. He was a prisoner of war for several months.


After serving time in the military, he worked for a car factory, and then joined the police in 1945. In 1946, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was thus dismissed from the police. He claimed he was being treated unfairly and that the government was cheating him out of his war pension.


His health was a real cause of contention in his life. His tuberculosis was found to be inactive in 1953, but try as he might, any causality between his sickness and his imprisonment during the war was denied. He accused doctors of creating false medical records and called a lot of managers to try and get his medical history straightened out, to no avail.


In 1954, he was found to be mentally devious with no will to recover. He was noted to have "quirky" behavior, scattered thoughts, and a smile in inappropriate situations. He also had paranoid thoughts about his doctors, coming to the conclusion that he was a paranoid schizophrenic. The doctors decided, however, that it was unnecessary to hospitalize him.


Around the time where he was deemed not a danger to a society, he had told his brother he planned to kidnap young girls to use them for whatever he wanted.


Because all terrible people somehow find love, he married on October 7, 1955, though she died during premature childbirth of an embolism a few years later in 1961. The death of his wife furthered his delusions against doctors, blaming them for her death and calling them murderers.

THE MASSACRE (1)


On June 11, 1964, shortly after 9:00 AM, Seifert approached the Catholic elementary school with a flamethrower, spear and mace. There were 8 teachers and 380 students at the school.


He entered the school through a gate, and though a crossing guard spotted him, they believed he was a mechanic trying to repair the broken gate lock. However, they realized something was wrong when he ignored them and blocked the gate with a wooden wedge.


When teacher Anna Langohr, who was teaching a group of girls in the schoolyard, asked if she could help him, he ignited his flamethrower and attacked her and her students.


He then went inside, smashing the windows open and setting his weapons on fire while aiming them at the children. He attacked people who were running and jumping from the building. When his flamethrower ran out of fuel, he threw it away and switched to his spear which he used to fatally stab teacher Gertrud Bollenrath. 2 other teachers tried to hold their doors close, but when Siefert opened one, teacher Ursula Kuhr fell down the stairs, only to be stabbed in both of her legs and back.


Having killed 8 students and 2 teachers, he fled the school when the police began to arrive. He swallowed a poisonous insecticide to kill himself, but he did not die immediately. He tried to stab one of the officers, but was immobilized with a shot in the leg. He was questioned several times in the hospital, but died the same day as the attack.


The attack lasted only 15 minutes, but the damage done in that time was a lot. Ursula Kuhr, 24, was the only victim to die at the scene. Gertrud Bollenrate, 62, succumbed to her wounds at the hospital the same day. 2 teachers, including Anna Langohr, the first to be attacked, were brought to the hospital, but survived. 28 students were brought to the hospital, some with 90% of their bodies burnt. 8 of them would die in the coming weeks. The first student died on the 15th of June, and the last died on June 30. 20 other students were injured and hospitalized, but survived.


The student victims were: Dorothea Binner, 9; Renate Fuhlen, 9; Ingeborg Hahn, 9; Ruth Hoffman, 10; Klara Kroger, 9; Stephan Lischka, 9; Karin Reinhold, 11; and Rosel Rohrig, 12.

AFTERMATH


Both of the teachers who died in the massacre had local schools named after them. Anna Langohr, one of the surviving teachers, was given the Medal Cross by Pope Paul VI and the Medal of Merit. She died at age 93 in 1990, and a school in a neighboring suburb was named after her. (1)


Post-war trauma, including time spent as a POW, severe mental illness and a lot of pent up anger are cited as motives for Seifert's attack. Post-war trauma and PTSD were not uncommon, and in order to bring a flamethrower into an elementary school filled with innocent children has to be a testament to something being seriously, severely mentally wrong, because I cannot imagine anyone in their right mind doing such a thing. (2)


Since 1945, there have been a fairly minimal amount of massacres in Germany, at least compared to the U.S. There was a school shooting in 1983, 2002, and 2009, and other mass-attacks in 1950, 1953, 1972, 1980, 1992, 1993, 2007, 2016 (x2) and 2020. (3) Though 14 mass attacks, encompassing hundreds of deaths may seem like a lot, there are 14 mass shootings in the U.S. that I can name off the top of my head. 14 in the past 75 years is a very small amount compared to the U.S. (For reference, I counted back from the Aurora, Illinois shooting in 2019 and our 14th shooting back was Sandy Hook in 2012. There are certainly more than this, meaning that was a good result, but it just depends on what Wikipedia considers a massacre.) (4)


Other countries certainly have better gun control in the U.S., but obviously, in this case, a perpetrator was able to kill 8 children and 2 teachers with a home-made flamethrower and a knife. He likely would have done much more damage with an assault rifle, but he took the lives of 8 innocent kids and 2 wonderful teachers without one. This is why mental health services must be in the conversation with gun control, as this man was clearly extremely mentally unwell at the time of the killings.


Germany is certainly not known for its school massacres, and this one is truly a blip on the radar of a place where it is otherwise safe to go to school. Perhaps the deaths of the victims lead to increased school security, or further counseling for war veterans in the country. Regardless, 56 years ago today, 10 people and 8 young children died senselessly and tragically, and their memories continue to live on in their city.

REFERENCES:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cologne_school_massacre

2. http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/on-this-day/May-June-08/On-this-Day--Walter-Seifert-Goes-on-Killing-Spree-in-Cologne--Germany.html

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_massacres_in_Germany

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_massacres_in_the_United_States



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