The elderly Prussian captain marched up to a platoon of soldiers on a Berlin street and began to bark orders in a domineering manner as usual. He stopped a bus bound for the outlying Köpenick district and hustled the men aboard.
There, he marched them briskly to the office of Köpenick’s mayor Georg Langerhans and snapped: “You are under arrest!”
The mayor, intimidated by the overbearing, authoritative tone of the officer managed to timidly ask: “Where is your warrant”?
“My warrant is the men I command”, roared the captain.
The mayor was a reserve officer himself and wondered why the captain wore his cap badge upside-down and was so old. But he kept his inquisitiveness to himself.
Then the captain ordered the borough (an administrative division in various English-speaking countries) treasurer to hand over all the cash in the treasury-4000 marks, worth about 700 pounds today-and issued and ‘official’ receipt.
The mayor, his wife, the treasurer and the deputy mayor were then marched outside the town hall and were kept under guard. Before leaving with the 4000 marks, the captain ordered each of them to stay at their posts for half an hour. He then left for the train station and later changed into civilian clothes and disappeared.
WHO WAS THE CAPTAIN?
Captain Voigt was a cobbler and an ex-convict who exploited the way the Prussians perceived the uniformed authority in awe, to rob Köpenick of its petty cash.
He was not just any ex-convict. In 1863, aged 14, he was sentenced to 14 days in prison for theft, which led to his expulsion from school. Between 1864 and 1891, Voigt was sentenced to prison for a total of 25 years for thefts, forgery and burglary. The longest sentence was a 15-year conviction for an unsuccessful burglary of a court cashier’s office. He was released on 12 February 1906.
On 16 October 1906 Voigt was ready for his next caper. He had purchased parts of used captain’s uniforms from different shops and tested their effect on soldiers. He had resigned from the shoe factory ten days previously. He took the uniform out of baggage storage, put it on and went to the local army barracks, stopped four grenadiers and a sergeant on their way back to barracks and told them to come with him. Indoctrinated to obey officers without question, they followed. He dismissed the commanding sergeant to report to his superiors and later commandeered six more soldiers from a shooting range. Then he took a train to Köpenick, east of Berlin, occupied the local city hall with his soldiers and told them to cover all exits. He told the local police to “care for law and order” and to “prevent calls to Berlin for one hour” at the local post office.
And successfully did what he intended to do.
However, ten days later, when the police arrived at Voigt’s attic home, they found the uniform wrapped in a bundle.
Upon being informed that he was about to be arrested, Voigt offered no resistance. In fact, he asked the police only to be allowed to complete his breakfast!
Voigt later explained that he had learnt to mimic the speech and mannerisms of Prussian officers while mending their boots as an apprentice in Tilsit. He was incarcerated for four years.
His cunning deceit attracted great outpouring of public sympathy and affection, and he was pardoned by the Kaiser after serving half his sentence.
Voigt retired in comfort to Luxembourg on a life pension. given to him by a rich Berlin dowager, who only did so because of being impressed by Voigt’s sheer audacity.