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More Kopenicks November 23, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

Was it only a couple of week’s ago that Beach described the immortal achievement of Wihelm Vogit in Kopenick? A confidence trickster essentially took a German town hostage by putting on a captain’s uniform. At the time Beach noted the way that the British particularly were insufferable in blaming Prussia’s blind obedience to authority. Since then Beach has been casting around for parallels and has found a few. Interestingly many of them confirm British prejudices against foreign lands where, in that rather self-satisfied Edwardian way: the rule of law is trumped by a man in military clothes. This one comes from November 1906:

The Milan Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph sends an account of an amusing imitation of the shoemaker Voigt’s deed at Kopenick. A boy named Scamuzzi, aged 13, who well knows the barracks at Turin, presented himself there with two men driving a cart, which he had engaged. He ordered the sentry to open the gate leading to the vaults where old ammunition is kept. The sentry obeyed. Reaching the vaults the men loaded 450 kilos of ammunition, but while going out of the barracks they were seen by an officer, who asked who had ordered the transport. Then the boy escaped, while the men knowing nothing, having only been engaged by him, were arrested.

Are we to suppose then that Italian defference to uniforms was slighter or merely that a thirteen-year-old was too much even for a Continental to swallow? The following takes us back to Germany, 1912.

The Captain of Kopenick, whose exploits a few years ago created such a sensation in Germany, has had another imitator. This time the hero hails from Heilbronn. Wearing the uniform of a police-seargeant, a sword dangling at his side, he visited the town clerk’s office and declared that he had been sent by the Advocate-General of Heilbronn to inspect the communal treasury. The town clerks immediately handed over his books and accounts. The sergeant, after a glance at the cash box, pocketed £20, telling the trembling official that his accounts were not in order, and that he ought to arrest him, but refrained from doing so to avoid a scandal. Proceeding to Gutenberg, he there pursued the same tactics, also lifting £20 from the public safe. The official there, however, had their suspicions and instantly telephonic messages of inquiry were being sent to all the neighbouring townships. Meanwhile the visitor made his escape. On his way to Beilstein he met a peasant, whom he arrested, ordering him to accompany him. The swindler was thus taken for a sergeant of police, and in this manner reached Bailstein where he at once set his prisoner at liberty. Arriving at Gennenbach, he found the alarm had already been given there. With remarkable presence of mind, however, the sergeant ran into a bazaar and requisitioned a bicycle to capture the false sergeant, so he said. A number of bicycles were at once placed at his disposal. Choosing the best, he mounted the machine and made off at lightning speed.

And here is Germany once more, April 1914. It lacks the uniform but does have a wedding…

A successful piece of audacious impersonation… has been brought to light, says Reuter’s Berlin correspondent, though the arrest of the Assistant Burgomaster of Koslin, Edward Alexander. He proves to be a former minor official named Thormann, who was sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment for fraud but evaded punishment by flight. Through knowledge of the family history of the real Alexander, who was a Berlin lawyer, Thormann was able to forge papers of identification which enabled him to obtain posts under three municipial administrations and to wed the wealthy daughter of a high official. He was selected for the post of Assistant Burgomaster of Koslin from 700 candidates.

This one is from 1923 and seems to enjoy putting the boot into just born Fascism.

The Turin newspapers are full today of the amusing story of an Italian Kopenick. A young man in a black shirt with many decorations presented himself to the Turin police a few days ago, saying that he was one of the nine commanders of the new Fascisti militia, and showing a letter from General Delbono, head of the militia, charging him with the duty of inspection. The police and the local Fascisti did not suspect anything and gave the false inspector all facilities. The Italian Kopenick motoring all day in Turin passed his time like a prince. Then suspicions were roused as to his identity he suddenly disappeared, and is still at large.

Here is 1929 from Spain describing a trick of José Abad Helices, a deserter from the Foreign Legion:

Helices, accompanied by two soldiers, visited the depositary of army funds at the town of Villarejo de Fuentes, in the Province of Cuenca, and explained that he had been commissioned to carry out an investigation. He was resplendent in the full uniform of an infantry captain, and he thus received every facility in his mission. He turned out all the furniture and seized a number of documents and about £59, which he enclosed in a box and deposited in the town hall, leaving one of the soldiers in charge of the valuables. He then went off… leaving word that the depositary should hand over the rest of the funds the next day, when he would continue the inspection. Helices duly turned up, and so did the Civil Guard, who had in the meantime been advised of his movements. The man and his two friends are now in the military prison at Madrid awaiting court martial.

We bet they got more than the four years given to Voigt… Others? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

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31 Dec 2012: Mike L writes in with this great urban legend from Bristol:  and Tom has this from Japan in 1948  ‘mentioned in a James Bond book, I recall. A doctor’s white coat qualifies as a uniform!’ Thanks Mike and Tom!