Thursday, October 23, 2014

Part Two: The Last Hour

Here is part two of my translation of selections from Harald Poelchau's 'The Last Hour."  What immediately follows is a pretty graphic description of the way prisoners were hung in Ploetzensee; the nooses were shortened so that they would strangle to death slowly, not have their necks broken by the fall.  

"p. 54  on a slide rail, on which the eight hooks were positioned.  They were made by a black paper laid between each hook, to isolate each offender.  Eight men each time were made to stand on the stools..  The loops from the hooks were fastened around their necks, and removed after death.

            I had not seen the process of hanging, since it took place in a closed room.  I was not permitted to, since they always paid with their heads [the heads were removed from the bodies after death].  The doctor always assured, the hung very swiftly lost consciousness, so that their blood ceased to circulate, death appeared by the fracture of the neck vertebrae.  Its duration was much longer than that of the guillotine.  It took at best twenty minutes to be certain that they were dead.  The executions took place by candlelight, after electricity had been shut off for the night. Seriously in the early morning, at eight o’clock, the exhausted hangman began his activity, in order to resume in the evening with renewed strength. 

In these three September nights, 360 men died on the gallows:  teachers, lawyers, workers, officers and artists. 

Near the execution shed laid still day after day a mountain of naked corpses.  They could not be moved because the bombing raids interfered with transporting them.  Oh, that belongs to the gruesome crush, I can never forget:  the defaced and bleached corpses of men, one after another, thrown like beggars.

p. 55  I knew so far of one German Resistance organization which spent the last hours before their execution with me.  Then I waited with the foreign resisters to Hitler, in particular the Dutch, Norwegian and Czech groups who came to me.  The German anti-fascist Resistance learned what all these groups had known:  in the Schulze-Boysen-Harnack group and the 20 July group there were imprisoned members that I looked after. 

The Gestapo had the custom, such a large criminal trial complex with so many files to look after and deal with that they were assigned passwords.  The Schulze-Boysen-Harnack group received the name the Red Orchestra.  Why I have I spoken out?  I seemed to me dubious as a name, that would have been more correctly translated as Red Chamber Orchestra.  It was probably nothing more than a technical designation of the political police.  The records say that there were black and yellow orchestras as well.  The 20 July group’s name from the Gestapo-  in contrast to the Red Orchestra- Baroque. 

It cannot be my task here to write the history of the German Resistance.  Then I searched for the political intentions

p. 56  of the captives who were entrusted to me.  I did not realize that questions as to the political motives and deeds must only make the captives distrustful.  Also, members of the Red Orchestra were in bad trouble I did not ask to the extent that they did not want to talk about themselves. 

            During the year 1943 I was aware of the great activity of political organizations.  Eleven people from the Resistance were executed on 22 December 1942.   Ober Lieutenant Schulze-Boysen and his wife, Libertas Schulze-Boysen; States Attorney in the Finance Ministry, Dr. Arvid Harnack, Kurt Schulze, sculptor Kurt Schumacher and his wife Elisabeth, legation board member Rudolf von Scheliha, secretary at the Foreign Office Ilse Stöbe, Hand Coppi, student Horst Heilmann and trade commission John Graudentz-  the Gestapo was supplied a whole row of captives-some eight people were put in Plötzensee.  It was men and women who had worked together.  All of them were detained pending trial, but for the most part were condemned to death.... 

            Through the political work that the Red Orchestra did they get the opinions of and certain information from the Nazis.  It means that Dr. Harnack and Ober Lieut. Schulze-Boysen had gatherings in Berlin of differing groups of people where they did not have to hide their contempt for the state.  Among these people were some members of the old German Communist Party, others included those who were socialists; their work against the Nazi state was negative.  Some still fanatically followed the Communist Party.  They led their discussions

p. 58  Marxist and Leninist literature was discussed, above all in these little circles young men of varying classes improved their intellects.  They drew up essays and reports, increased their knowledge in their own little circles, spread their heartfelt Communist writings in order to assess and attack the regime. 

            Launching the German-Russian pact from 13 August 1939 initially imposed a certain reticence back by the group, so they put that behind them after the beginning of the Russian campaigns (22 June 1941) their disintegrating and destructive activity continued.  With their propaganda they were looking for in particular to win artists, businessmen, the police and the German Army.  With its many pamphlets and brochures representing to them again and again the thought that only together can we save the empire with Bolshevism. 

            The reminiscence period- according to the reports of the survivors and the files that you have seen, these other points follow:
There existed constant contact with antifascists in Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia and Russia.  It saw antifascism fight in secret ways in foreign countries.  It saw secretly transmitted radio operations from revolutionary organizations in Germany, and it traveled to foreign climes.  It had copious leaflets composed and disseminated, among them agitating writings:  ‘The Will of the Nazi Movement.”

p. 59  “How it had come to war.  Why the war is lost, calling for resistance.  More illegal pamphlets dropped from planes, including the life of Napoleon compared to the life of Hitler, they also contained speeches by Thomas Mann, Roosevelt, Stalin Ernst Wiechert [a contemporary poet] and Bishop Wurm [of the Confessing Church].  One further flyer contained a stirring appeal to resistance by all professions and organizations to the Hitler regime, another brought a revealing ‘North German Industries, a commentary on the war-led relations.’  A magazine, Inner Fronts, was published by John Sieg and Guddorf; a flyer, Clausewitz, by John Sieg; an analysis of National Socialism’s imperialism by Harnack; a flyer Freedom and Force, an appeal of Adam Kuckhoff’s:  to the worker, and to the end of the fist, not to struggle against Russia; a letter from Police Captain Deuken to his son.  The organization for industrial sabotage grew further.  Central unifying actions, also the holding of purification actions to educate the elite, by Schulze-Boysen and Harnack; the Marburger professor Werner Krauss and the neurologist Dr. Rittmeister created work.  The organization of this large and far-reaching circle of the Red Orchestra writes one of its survivors, the poet Günther Weisenborn, in the periodical Lilith, Berlin Vol. 5, March 1948, was due to Schultze-Boysen, a great nephew of Tirpitz, and a marvelous young creation in the story of Germany’s struggle for freedom.  He was slender, blond, kindly and highly gifted.  He was thought of in the Aviation Ministry as one with a great future, he had gone to school in Berlin. 

p. 60  In 1931 he played a leadership role, then edited the magazine Adversaries.  After 1933 began, the progress of socialism was lost, and paralleled the establishment of illegal groups.  The contacts went through Zurich, Brussels, and Stockholm.  Radio transmission was established, sent in part from a sailboat on Lake Wannsee.     

            Dr. Arvid Harnack, an upper attorney in the government, with his objective, scientific nature, with the great dignity of a defense attorney, a man who was known to be eminently gifted and cautious, whose work was discussed by the world …  He was a prominent personality in the movement for German freedom …  as Arvid Harnack and Harro Schultze-Boysen’s group united began a time of great activity. 

            One other member of this group, the wife of writer Adam Kuckhoff, Greta Kuckhoff, in February 1943 he was sentenced to death by the Reich’s Criminal Court, and she was sentenced to ten years in prison.  She was pardoned (through the work of the Red Army in May 1945), and wrote about the work of both men together, Schultze-Boysen and Harnack in her biography Adam Kuckhoff Remembrances, Aufbau Publishing, Berlin:  “In all ways they were temperamentally different, they had one thing in common:  the progress of the Fatherland in the world, helping it to go forward.  It should by the rapid end to the war, by their own liberation from National Socialism powerful enough omitted, forces for freedom and progressivism are fully unwinding in the world

p. 61  … once more.    For nine years I witnessed discussions and actions, and all the love growing for our homeland.  Indeed the critical love, the love of a socialist is the love that cannot be blind."

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