“The Captain” – Executioner of Emsland Based on Actual Events

The Captain (Signature Entertainment)

Signature Entertainment presents The Captain in UK Cinemas – 21st September and DVD & Digital HD 1st October

Based on the astonishing true story of Pvt. Willi Herold, a teenage deserter from the German army whose sadism would eventually earn him the nickname of the Executioner of Emsland, The Captain picks up two weeks before the end of the war.
A petrified Herold, fleeing military police, finds a Nazi captain’s uniform to wear and avoid execution. Thus disguised, he soon rallies a ragtag band of brothers whose unquestioning acceptance of his command emboldens him. High on the terrifying charisma of his clothing, he invents a secret mission from the Führer and embarks on a brutal odyssey of torture and slaughter.

Directed by Robert Schwentke (The Time Travelers Wife, Flight Plan, Red, Insurgent).

Starring Max Hubacher, Milan Peschel and Frederick Lau.



In a no-man’s-land in Germany, two weeks before the end of the war, private Willi Herold (Max Hubacher), runs for his life. There is not even a thought of rejoining his platoon; it’s every man for himself. Just before he is cut down by German officer Junker (Alexander Fehling), Herold finds a hiding place and manages to live another day.

Herold, left to fend for himself, is cold and hungry. His clothes are filthy rags and food and safety seem far away. When he meets another exhausted soldier on the way, the two sneak into a farmhouse to find food. During an attempt to steal some eggs, Herold’s partner in crime is killed by the farmers. Herold fights with a farmhand and kills him. This time, it was only an accident.

The Captain (Signature Entertainment)

Herold escapes. The next morning, he sees an abandoned officer’s car by the side of the road. In it, he finds a suitcase with a captain’s coat, a uniform and a pair of shoes. The freezing young man tries on the captain’s coat and uniform. Miraculously, he is transformed into the spitting image of a real officer! Suddenly a soldier, Private Walter Freytag (Milan Peschel), appears. If Herold can’t vamp his way through this situation, he’s toast, so he goes for it: Herold impersonates the officer, chin up, chest out, and commands Freytag to become his driver.

In a nearby village, Herold invites himself and Freytag to a feast at a local inn and pretends to be on a top-secret mission to report about the conditions behind the frontline. Herold writes down the complaints of the various locals at the inn, all of whom have been robbed or taken advantage of by the military. He promises to reimburse them to the penny!

The Captain (Signature Entertainment)

Sceptical of this gravy-train, the inn keeper Gerd Schnabel (Alexander Hörbe) presents Herold with a captured looter and throws down the gauntlet before “the Captain”: what are you going to do about this ne’er do well? The Captain has to act. And so he shoots the looter in the street in cold blood.

Feeling safer in the risky confines of the farmhouse than out on the open road, Herold returns to the farm, where he and Freytag stumble into a wild frenzy: a group of drunk soldiers are celebrating while holding the farmers hostage. Herold reacts quickly: he calls the men to order and agrees to attach them to his command as requested by the thug Kipinski (Frederick Lau). The “Task Force Herold” is born.

The Captain (Signature Entertainment)

This ragtag band of starving ruffians pushes along the antique roads of the German outback…until a cortege of military police stop Herold’s crew. They want to see ID. Herold’s sanity is at the breaking point right now, but his animal terror comes up with the perfect solution to his present problem: He tells the military cops that he is on a special investigative mission to study morale at the front…authorized by no less than the Führer himself.

Along with the military police, Task Force Herold makes its way to a second camp, a detention site for soldiers of the Wehrmacht. This camp is a grim, dilapidated mini-sized, ramshackle jail that looks as if it will soon collapse in a heap of filth and exhaustion. Here, a suspicious but also over-burdened SA-Führer Schütte (Bernd Hölscher) believes Herold was sent to implement a court martial for escaped prisoners…

The Captain (Signature Entertainment)

But who is authorized to give permission for this? Is it Dr Thiel, the Deputy Special Emissary for the Justice Department? Is it Prison Warden Hansen (Waldemar Kobus), in charge of the prisoners and the inner section of the camp? Is it Sergeant Brockhoff (Marko Dyrlich)? Herold finds himself coming up against the greatest terror of the prison-masters: not their prisoners
— but taking action without getting the Proper Signoff from Above.

Who is going to take responsibility for what? While this remains uncertain, a proactive Schütte gives a group of prisoners an order: Dig a mass grave. Time to act for Herold. Go big or go home. Herold improvises: With the help of an anti-aircraft gun, he begins to brutally mow down the first 30 prisoners. The flack gun gets stuck, before all are killed. Schütte orders everyone to shoot the remaining prisoners. Herold orders Freytag to execute the last survivor. Horrified, almost unable to obey, Freytag shoots the prisoner in the head.

The Captain (Signature Entertainment)

To celebrate the success of their can-do solution, Herold throws a hot party at the barracks. While some prisoners (Samuel Finzi, Wolfram Koch) are forced to perform for the soldiers, food and schnapps are served in abundance. But the night quickly gets out of control. Outside the barracks, Herold ties four prisoners together and asks them to flee. One by one, they get shot down. As the shots fire, the prisoners who remain standing try to run, dragging the corpses of their fellows alongside them…till they, too, are dropped.

The Captain poster (Signature Entertainment)

The next morning, Allied planes appear out of nowhere and bomb the camp to the ground. The barracks are burning, the ground is covered with corpses. A colour shot shows the area of the camp as it looks in the present day, with tall grass covering up any trace of the former camp.

© Copyright 2019 - War History Online