On This Day

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The scene in a Volkhoven state school following Walter Seifert's rampage.

On This Day: Walter Seifert Goes on Killing Spree in Cologne, Germany

June 11, 2009 02:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On June 11, 1964, a deranged World War II veteran attacked an elementary school with a flamethrower and a lance, killing eight students and two teachers.

Attack Considered One of Worst School Massacres

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Seifert, 42, had just been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and had also suffered from mental problems since his wife died in childbirth several years before. Seifert also felt the government had been cheating him of a war pension he thought he earned for service in World War II.  While doctors said he had schizophrenia, they did not consider him violent.

But on June 11 he entered a Catholic elementary school with a homemade flamethrower and a long lance, reportedly yelling, “I am Adolf Hitler the Second!” He used the flamethrower to start fires in classrooms, stabbing victims with his lance. According to German Web site Geschichte, the factors leading up to the confusing and violent attack may never be fully understood. 

Many of the teachers at the school were wounded in their efforts to stop Seifert and protect the children. The Web site MilitaryPhotos.Net describes Seifert’s attack and heroic efforts by teachers and bystanders to protect the children. Two teachers, Gertrud Bollenrath, age 62, and Ursula Kuhr, 24, died in their efforts to stop Seifert. Several passing garbage-truck drivers finally halted the massacre and put out the fire. In the end, eight students and two teachers died, and more than 20 were injured.

The Volkhoven council tore down the school, which was later replaced by a memorial cultural center and art gallery. “The 28 students who were wounded underwent months of long and painful treatment, which could not heal the scars completely, both physical and psychological,” the site notes.

As he left the school, Seifert swallowed insecticide, hoping to commit suicide before being caught. Police apprehended him first, but he died the next day while in the hospital. The incident is often included on lists of the worst school massacres in history. 

Related Topic: Virginia Tech, Columbine and other school massacres

The massacre in Cologne brings to mind other, more recent school massacres, including a shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 and the 1999 killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., perhaps the most well known incident of its kind in U.S. history.

In April 1999 students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 people at the high school before turning the guns on themselves. April 20, 2009, marked the 10th anniversary of Columbine, as the incident is now known. The memory is undoubtedly a sad one, but inspirational stories have emerged. Student Rachel Scott, who was the first person killed during the Columbine shooting, continues to inspire people across the country through her journal writings, encouraging everyone to see the best in others. 

Thirty-three people died when a gunman opened fire at Virginia Tech in April 2007, the worst gun rampage in U.S. history. Following the shooting, and another shooting at Northern Illinois University in Feb. 2008, leading universities began to step up campus safety efforts.

Historical Context: World War II veterans and conflict-related mental stress

Although Seifert’s was obviously an extreme case, post-war trauma in World War II veterans was not uncommon. According to a fact sheet on post-traumatic stress from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “the traumas faced by veterans of World War II and the Korean conflict have been publicly acknowledged in the media less often and less clearly” than in veterans of more recent wars, such as the Vietnam conflict.

The site also reports that “It is normal for human beings to react to war’s psychic trauma with feelings of fear, anger, grief, and horror, as well as with emotional numbness and disbelief."

Reference: Pictures of the school in Cologne

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