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Erwin König

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I'll fix it so that he's the one who finds me.
~ König about his plan to kill Vasili
He isn't dead, and do you know why? Because I haven't killed him yet.
~ König's reaction to Vasili's assumed death

Major Erwin König is the main antagonist in the 2001 war film Enemy at the Gates. He is a professional Wehrmacht sniper who is sent to Stalingrad to kill the Soviet sniper Vassili Zaitsev. He was portrayed by Ed Harris.

History

WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW

Afraid of rising activity of Soviet snipers in Stalingrad, Nazis need someone to solve the problem. They choose Major Erwin König, a German aristocrat from Bavaria, professional sniper and head of the Wehrmacht Sniper School in Zossen. König is immediately deployed to Stalingrad where he is supposed to eliminate the famous Soviet sniper Vassili Zaitsev and thus crush Russian morale. As soon as he arrives, König starts looking for his opponent in the towns ruins and attempts to catch him in a trap. He is sure it would be quick, as he knows everything about Vasili's strategy from Soviet newspapers.

The two snipers' first conflict takes place at the department store where König is hiding among clothes. He successfully lure Vasili and his friend Ludmilla into the building and while they are inside, he shoots their partner Anton dead who stays outside to cover them. When Vasili finally realizes it is a trap, it is too late. Ludmilla starts panicking due arrival Luftwaffe's aircrafts, forgets to shelter herself and is killed by König in no time. Vasili, however, manages to escape.

Next time, König is called when Vasili, Volodya and König's former student Nicolai Kulikov cut the telephone line and kill the repair man Germans send to fix it. König's soldiers manage to capture Volodya, but when he refuses to tell them which building Vasili is hiding in, König forces him to wear a German uniform and sends him as an another repair man, leading unaware Vasili to kill him and thus show his position to Germans. König then attempts to shoot him as they are leaving the building, but he only kills Koulikov. His skillful shot, however, shakes Vasili's spirits radically.

Later, König is visited by a 12-year-old Soviet boy Sasha Filippov who works as a shoe cleaner. The two befriend and Sasha offers him to spy on Russians and especially Vasili. König gives him chocolate obligingly reveals his next plans to the boy, not knowing Sasha is actually a double-spy who informs Vasili about everything.

Konig with a gun

König prepared to kill

Thanks to Sasha's information, König waits on Vasili in the tractor factory. He hides above the place where his rival is in the open, but Vasili and his partner Sergei expect it and use the pipeline instead. Once König hears them crawling, he changes his position and hides behind the louver with a broken slat. When unaware Vasili and Sergei climb out, König starts shooting, injuring Sergei and trapping Vasili who has to hide behind an old oil drum, unable to move without getting himself shot, while his rifle is out of reach. At first, he attempts to retrieve it with a pocket knife attached to a string, only for König to shoot the string in half. Later, König sees Vasili's reflection in large pieces of glass round him and notices he is talking to someone König can't see. Suddenly, Tanya jumps from behind the pipe and temporarily blinds König with the reflection of the sun off a piece of broken glass, only for Vasili to grab his rifle and shoots König's hand.

Next Vasili's attempt ends up unsuccessfully, as he falls asleep hidden among dead bodies, causing vulnerable König to walk right in front of him without injury. That day, however, a German soldier steals Vasili's sniper log and the great Soviet sniper is declared dead. They plan to send König home and the general asks for König's dog tags to avoid Russians to profit from his potential death. König gives him also his son's War Merit Cross who died in the first days of the battle of Stalingrad.

Despite evidences of Vasili's death, König doesn't believe his opponent is dead. To confirm Sasha's loyalty, König tells the boy where he will wait near the train station and then asks him to stay home. As he expects, Vasili and Tanya really appear at the station, looking for him.

König is now sure about Sasha's betrayal. He catches the boy and leads him to the station, explaining to the boy why they are enemies now. Although he respects Sasha's choice to support Soviets, it doesn't stop him. He hangs the boy off a noticeable pole for spying to bait Vasili.

Konig and Zaitsev

König minutes before his death

Waiting for his opponent, König finds a perfect hide: a hole under several pieces of corrugated iron he can watch the area and shoot stealthily. Vasili really comes and hides in one of the buildings. Commissar Danilov, feeling guilty because of his jealousy for Vassili, stands up in the open, provoking König into shooting him and thus revealing his position.

When nothing happens for a long time, König concludes that he really got Vasili, and leaves his hiding place to look at the body. As he is walking across the station, he suddenly realizes he has fallen into a trap. Seeing there is no way to survive, he slowly turns to Vasili who is waiting next to wagon, and takes his hat off. Vasili then shoots König straight through his right eye and takes his gun, leaving it next to Danilov's body.

Real-life Major König

König's existence in real life is very controversial. In his own memoirs, Zaitsev mentions a German sniper named Herr Könings who was the head of a sniper school in Berlin according to his documents. After a three-day sniper duel, Zaitsev managed to kill him and took his rifle scope as souvenir which is now at the Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow. After the war, Zaitsev was allegedly confronted by a woman who told him she had been Könings' daughter. However, as there is no other historical documentation about any German soldier of this name, many people consider Könings to be just a fictional character created by Soviet propaganda.

Trivia

  • Although ruthlessly killing Zaitsev's snipers, it should be noted that König is not without moral standards. He obviously disapproves of torturing, according to his reaction to Volodya's capture, and when he discovers Sasha's betrayal, he sends the boy home to avoid the duty of killing him for espionage.
  • It is very controversial how König could communicate with Volodya and Sasha. There is no proof he could speak Russian and vice-versa, since both sides speak English in the original movie, completely ignoring accents or language barriers.
  • Several victims of König are based on real-life people: Ludmila on a Soviet sniper named Lyudmila Pavlichenko (who however survived the war), Nicolai Kulikov on the sniper of the same name (who also survived and was a good friend of Zaitsev), and Sasha on 17-year-old spy for Red Army named Sasha Filippov (who was actually executed by Germans after discovering).
  • In the novel War of the Rats by David L. Robbins, the German sniper who hunts Zaitsev is named Colonel Heinz Thorvald.

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