Fritz Paul Schmenkel (14 February 1916 in Warsow bei Stettin, German Empire – 22 February 1944 in Minsk, German-occupied Byelorussian SSR, Soviet Union) was a German communist and resistance fighter against Nazism, who fought with the Soviet partisans in Belarus during the Great Patriotic War.
Fritz Schmenkel was born in Stettin (today Szczecin, Poland) in 1916. His father, Paul Krause, a brickyard worker and communist, was murdered by SA members in 1932. This caused Fritz to join the Young Communist League of Germany. He took several jobs before being conscripted into the Wehrmacht in December 1938. There, he was trained to become a cannoneer. However, his lack of discipline and opposition to nazism put him in jail several times. After repeatedly defecting from the army, he was finally sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment by a military court, which he served in a military prison in Torgau. However, in July 1941, after the start of Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union, he volunteered to join the Wehrmacht in fighting on the Eastern Front, and was released from prison. In November of 1941 though, he defected from the army and went into hiding near the village Podmoshe, Yartsevsky District, Smolensk Oblast. From there, he approached the Soviet partisan unit "Death to fascism" and explained his desire to join the partisans. After initial suspicion and interrogations, Schmenkel finally won the trust of the partisans when he killed a German soldier who tried to set fire to the house where the partisans had their base. He was allowed to join the partisans, who gave him the nicknames Ivan Ivanovich and Vanya.
Schmenkel soon proved himself to be valuable for the partisans; wearing a German uniform and pretending to be a Wehrmacht general, Schmenkel would lead German military columns into partisans' traps. This helped the partisans capture entire units of Wehrmacht soldiers, as well as ammunition and food. He quickly rose through the partisan ranks. In March of 1943, he was brought to Moscow by the Red Army, where he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner and received military training. He was made vice commander of the sabotage and intelligence unit "Field", and appointed to carry out special tasks in the area north of the city of Orsha. In December of 1943, however, Schmenkel was ambushed and captured by the German occupational authorities. He was brought to Minsk and sentenced to death by a German military court on 15 February 1944, and executed by firing squad a week later.
Commemorative plaque to Fritz Schmenkel on Victory Square in Minsk, Belarus.
Fritz Schmenkel was posthumously awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin in 1964.
A street in Nelidovo, Nelidovsky District, Kalinin Oblast (today Tver Oblast), was named after Fritz Schmenkel in 1965. In 1976, a street in the Karlshorst locality of Berlin was named Fritz-Schmenkel-Straße; however, it was renamed Rheinsteinstraße in 1992. There is still one Fritz-Schmenkel-Straße in Leipzig and one in Torgau. A commemorative plaque has been placed on the house on Victory Square in Minsk, where Schmenkel was sentenced to death by the German occupants in 1944.
A movie about Schmenkel, titled Ich will euch sehen (I Want To See You), was made in 1978.
Schmenkel was married to Erna Schäfer. Together, they had three children: a son, Hans, and two daughters, Ursula and Christa.