Wilhelm Voigt – 1906

By | November 12, 2016

“Lovable scoundrel”


Wilhelm Voigt


Germany in 1906 was a militaristic place and the people deferred to the army without thought. This subservience gave Wilhelm Voigt an idea. He had been born at Tilsit, Prussia on 13 February 1849. He was 57-years-old and had spent much of his life in prison. His first spell behind bars was when he was 14 and was jailed for stealing. In 1891 he was jailed for 15 years and finally released on 12 February 1906.

On 24 August he was expelled from Berlin as a vagrant. He did not actually leave the city and one day decided to go window-shopping in Potsdam, near Berlin, when he saw the smart uniform of a captain in a second-hand shop. The price tag was equal to a whole week’s wages but Voigt threw caution to the wind and bought the uniform. He went to a brewers’ exhibition and was pleasantly surprised by the reaction he received — admiring glances from ladies and stiff salutes from soldiers.

Then on 16 October 1906 he donned his uniform again and marched to the local barracks where he stopped a group of soldiers (some sources say a corporal and five grenadiers, others a sergeant and four grenadiers) and ordered them to follow him. On the way he ordered four (some say six) more soldiers to join his band and took a train to Kopenick, east of Berlin. Once there he had the treasurer, von Wiltberg, and burgomaster, Dr Georg Langerhans, arrested by the soldiers for alleged fraud. Dr Langerhans, a reserve soldier, asked to see the arrest warrant but Voigt said his authority came from the men he commanded. The burgomaster was puzzled as Voigt seemed a little old for duty and his cap badge was on upside down.

He nonetheless handed over 4002 marks and 37 pfennigs to Voigt who signed the receipt “Von Aloesam, Captain, Guards Regiment”. He then commandeered two carriages and had the entire council sent to Berlin for questioning. Voigt then changed into civilian clothes and fled.


Kopenick, Germany


Tuesday 16 October 1906


The police and army launched investigations in to what had happened, although the public was amused by the whole scam. On 26 October Voigt was arrested. On 1 December he was sentenced to four years in prison for forgery, impersonating an officer and wrongful imprisonment. Kaiser Wilhelm II is said to have called Voigt a “lovable scoundrel” and pardoned him on 16 August 1908. He died at Luxembourg on 3 January 1922.


Voigt published his autobiography in 1909 but an American tour to publicize it almost failed to materialize when he was refused a visa. Using his initiative, he entered the USA via Canada.


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