|Herbert Baum (1912-1942) circa 1935.|
Herbert Baum and the Communist Youth League of Germany
It has been documented that Herbert Baum and his girlfriend and later wife, Marianne Cohn, joined the Communist Youth League of Germany (Kommunisticher Jugendverband Deutschlands, KJVD) in 1931. (1) Compelling evidence, however, places them in the KJVD as early as 1926, when they were both fourteen years old. That is five years earlier than previously thought. A photograph of the KJVD from Neukölln in southeastern Berlin dated 1926/27 clearly shows Herbert Baum and Marianne Cohn sitting together. Standing in the back row is the famous German-Jewish revolutionary, Olga Benario. (2) This photo tells us much, but also raises questions. How much of an influence was the four-year-older Benario upon Herbert Baum? Who else in the Neukölln KJVD was an influence upon an impressionable Baum?
|KJVD photo from 1926/27 with Herbert Baum and Marianne Cohn circled in white. Olga Benario is circled in gray.|
Max Abraham was one of Baum’s Jewish scouts in the DJJG. He remembers Baum first as a scout like himself who “showed a paternal leading capacity.” Abraham said that later on Baum “started to be less Jewish and more oriented towards socialism … [and] eventually he started to form his own group with a very strong socialist leaning.” (5) That was in 1929, when Herbert was given his own DJJG group in Prenzlauer Berg. (6) Another one of Herbert Baum’s young scouts in 1929 was Herbert ‘Rabauke’ Ballhorn, who writes that, “Judaism and Zionism played no role … Slowly, seemingly by chance and without intent we edged towards social issues …[and] had entered the mainstream of Communist thought. Herbert … was very subtle and clever about it.” (7)
On Sunday afternoons Herbert had his DJJG group meet with member of the Red Falcons (SPD children’s movement). Initially, the get-togethers were somewhat strained; the Jewish boys were mostly middle class and the Falcons were strictly working class. Ballhorn remembers that the Jews dressed better and had a somewhat more selective use of the German language, which only helped to magnify the differences between them and the Falcons. However, the rampant anti-Semitism of the day made the Jews wary of the group of working class children. Barriers had to be broken down by Baum in order to make these two dissimilar groups cohesive. He achieved it by putting his bourgeois Jewish boys on an equal ideological footing with the Falcons through political indoctrination. The young socialists were shocked by the Jews’ knowledge of Marxist-Leninist concepts and theories. Ballhorn recalls that, “It seemed me that our handful of Jewish boys were better equipped and versed in socialist theory than the Red Falcons themselves. Herbert had done a good job on us.” (8)
|Herbert Baum met his death on a Pruegelbock (whipping block) similar to this one.|
For many years there has been a mystery surrounding the death of Herbert Baum. Was he tortured to death or did he, as the Gestapo claims, take his own life? Baum’s last weeks include his arrest at Siemens Elmo-Werk on 22 May 1942, his processing at Alt Moabit prison that day, and being brought by Gestapo to Elmo-Werk to see if he would betray any of his comrades, or if they would give themselves away when seeing him. Then, on 11 June 1942, he died. (9) To this day the exact manner of his death, along with where it occurred, has been a great mystery. But a “smoking gun” has been found.
My research has unearthed a witness deposition that places Baum and a few other group members (Heinz Rotholz, Heinz Birnbaum, and Herbert Meyer) in the Police Presidium prison on Grunerstrasse in Alexanderplatz. (10) Other Baum group members were held in the same location a different times, including Sala Kochmann (11), Hilde Jadamowitz (12), and Martin Kochmann.(13) The deposition in question does not mention these people, and no evidence exists that places them in the Police Presidium prison on 11.6.42, the day Herbert Baum died.
The author of the deposition is Willi Weber, an anti-fascist who was arrested in Berlin on 6.6.1942, and brought to the Police Presidium prison on Grunerstrasse. He wrote his deposition on 21.4.1969, to be included in the then upcoming trial of former SS Lieutenant Colonel Otto Bovensiepen. He was responsible for the deportation of around 50,000 Berlin Jews to Auschwitz during his tenure as Berlin Gestapo chief (1941-2.11.1942). (14) Weber wrote his account because he wanted “the murders of the German-Jewish resistance fighters of the Herbert Baum group [to be made] a theme of the criminal proceedings currently pending against Bovensiepen and others.” (15)
|SS Lieutenant Colonel Otto Bovensiepen was Berlin Gestapo Chief when Baum was arrested.|
Gestapo investigation of the Baum group
The investigation of the Baum group’s attack on the Soviet Paradise exhibition was no small matter in the eyes of the National Socialist upper echelon. Heinrich Himmler received a telegram about it; Joseph Goebbels wrote about it three times in his diary; the propaganda minister spoke with Adolf Hitler about it on at least one occasion; and Adolf Eichmann told Leo Baeck and other Jewish leaders the names of the leaders and threatened Berlin Jewry because of the Soviet Paradise action. Additionally, Berlin Gestapo chief SS Obersturmbannführer Otto Bovensiepen was personally involved in the investigation. It seems that even Reich Gestapo head Heinrich Mueller played a role in this drama.
|Brochure cover of exhibition attacked by Baum group 19 May 1942.|
|Heinz Birnbaum, one of the Baum group members who was "interrogated" at Grunerstrasse 12.|
Another part of the Gestapo chief’s directive points to it as a direct response to the Baum group’s action: “…the sharpened interrogation may be applied only against Communists,…saboteurs, terrorists [and] members of the resistance movement…” (30) This theme is reflected in the judge’s sentencing statement of Baum group members, including Heinz Birnbaum and Heinz Rotholz, on 10 December 1942: “…An inconsequential case this is not. It is the death penalty…that seems correct for these defendants. In the current struggle for existence of the German people, the defendants serve the enemy, which is also the vilest enemy of the civilised world, Bolshevism. They prepare its way and thereby undermine the resiliency of the German people, and seek to bring it to its death. Such actions demand the protection of the people and Reich.” (31)
Deadly Consequences of “Soviet Paradise” Action
The Baum group’s “Soviet Paradise” action set off a series of events that spelled disaster for Berlin Jewry. Shortly after the arrests of the Baum group began, Goebbels wrote in his diary: “Now I’ll accomplish … my war against the Jews of Berlin….” (32) Goebbels was setting the stage for more Jewish persecution, but an event that took place outside of Prague sparked the propaganda minister to action. The 27th of May saw an assassination attempt made on the life of Reinhard ‘the Hangman’ Heydrich. That same day a few hundred Berlin Jews were arrested and brought to the assembly camp on Levetzowstrasse. The next day 154 of them were sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp where they were immediately shot dead. At evening roll call an additional 96 Jews were picked to also be shot. Then an additional 250 Berlin Jews were shipped off to Sachsenhausen, where they were killed or deported to Auschwitz and gassed. Therefore 500 Berlin Jews were killed in response to the “Soviet Paradise” action. (33) But the attack on Heydrich was part of the equation. “We still don’t know the background on the attack [of Heydrich],” wrote Goebbels in his diary, “in any case we will retaliate against the Jews.” (34)
|Goebbels met with Hitler to discuss the Baum group's action.|
Near the end of 1942, the deportation of German Jews had been completed in a majority of German territory. Only 51,327 Jews remained in Germany proper, the great majority of whom resided in Berlin. According to an SS report, 20,406 were forced laborers in war-related industries. Jews were also found in dozens of work camps throughout Germany. In the Reich capital of Berlin, around two hundred firms employed fifteen thousand Jews. (39) As mentioned above, Goebbels pleaded with Hitler “for a more radical Jewish policy,” with which he was “in full agreement.” (40) Goebbels would soon see his ‘war against the Jews of Berlin’ reach its fruition.
|Goebbels' entries on Baum group and Berlin Jewry are in this edition of his diary.|
The beginning of December 1942 was when Berlin industries were told the 31 March 1943 deadline for the removal of their Jewish forced laborers. Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers began pouring into the German industrial centers monthly starting in January 1943. Therefore the Nazi regime had sufficient replacements for the Jewish forced laborers. Inpatient as always, on 22 January 1943 Goebbels yet again urged Hitler to speed up the deportations. Hitler agreed and the 31 March deadline was moved up to 28 February, as written in the propaganda minister‘s diary on 18 February. The Jews of Berlin would “first be gathered in camps” and them deported in groups numbering up to 2,000 people a day. Two days later, on 20 February, the Reichssicherheitsamt (RHSA) issued its general “instruction for the technical implementation” of the last large deportation of German Jews. Shortly thereafter, the RSHA issued orders to the Reich Gestapo that specified the concrete procedures for a large-scale raid in industries and factories. (41)
The raid, called the Fabrikaktion (factory action) which took a day or two in most cities in the Reich, took a full week in Berlin. Factories that still had Jewish workers were informed of the upcoming 27 February raid. Around 8 a.m. on the 27th, Berlin police precincts received a radio message from state police headquarters about a “Grossaktion Juden.” Police were directed to remove Jews seen on the streets or in their districts and transport them to specific collection points. The Berlin Gestapo conducted the raid assisted by the Waffen SS. (42) An account written shortly after the end of the war described the raid in Berlin: “The Gestapo had decided on a mass raid. The convoy of tarp-covered trucks stopped at the gate of industrial plants. They also stopped in front of many private homes. Throughout an entire day, one could observe them driving through the streets, closely escorted by SS armed with rifles…” (43)
“…We are finally evacuating the Jews from Berlin,” wrote Goebbels in his diary on 2 March 1943. “Last Sunday they were brought to the concentration points by means of a surprise action and will soon be deported to the East.” (44) But not all of the Berlin Jews were captured on that Sunday. Around 4,000 of them fled underground in Berlin. Warned by colleagues and foremen, they did not show up to work that day. (45) Goebbels continues ruefully in his diary entry of 2 March: “To our regret, we have again witnessed that the better parts of the population, especially the intelligentsia, do not understand our Jewish policy, and some of them even go as far as to take the side of the Jews.” (46) Most of the fugitives were eventually captured and deported. They were captured with the help of Jewish “Greifer” collaborators. In the end, however, around 1,500 Jews did survive the war underground in Berlin,(47) including Baum group members Ellen Compart and Ursel Ehrlich.
“I am convinced that purging Berlin or its Jews is the greatest of my political achievements,” wrote Goebbels in his diary on 18.4.1943. “Whenever I remember the sight of Berlin in 1926 on my arrival here and compare it to its appearance in 1943, after the Jews have been evacuated, only then can I do justice to the greatness of our achievement in this endeavor.” (48)
Copyright (C) Eric Brothers 2014. All Rights Reserved.
1) Pikarski, Margot. Jugend im Berliner Widerstand. Herbert Baum und Kampfgefährten. Militar Verlag, East Berlin, 1978 (1981), p. 50.
2) Bundesarchiv Bild 183-P0220-309 (1926/27); also see: “Olga Benario Prestes.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olga_Benario_Prestes
3) Kreutzer, Michael. “Die Suche nach einem Ausweg, der es ermoglicht, in Deutschland als Mensch zu leben. Zur Geschichte der Widerstandsgruppen um Herbert Baum,” in Loehken, Wilfried and Werner Vathke (eds.) Juden im Widerstand: Drei Gruppen Zwishen Ueberleberskampf und Politscher Aktion, Berlin 1939-1945 (Berlin: Hentrich, 1993), p. 97.
4) Interview with Norbert Wollheim, May 1985, in Queens, New York.
5) Brothers, Eric. Berlin Ghetto: Herbert Baum and the Anti-fascist Resistance. (Spellmount: Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2012), p. 14.
6) Ibid, p. 15.
7) Ibid, p. 18.
8) Ibid, p. 18.
9) Ibid, p. 175.
10) Will Weber deposition, Berlin 21.4.1969, in ‘Documentation from the Trial of Bovensiepen and others’ (pp. 55-57). The International Institute for Holocaust Research.
11) Rita Zocher (formerly Meyer) deposition; Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1979.
12) Elling, Hanna. Frauen im deutschen Widerstand 1933-1945. (Frankfurt/Main: Röderberg Verlag, 1986), p. 113.
13) Charlotte Paech-Holzer deposition; East Berlin, no date.
14) ‘Bovensiepen, Otto (1905-1979); Head of Gestapo Main Office in Berlin.’
15) Willi Weber, op. cit., p. 55.
16) Brothers, op. cit., p. 175.
17) Willi Weber, op cit., p. 55.
18) Schlussbericht, Stapo IV A 1 - 860/42g, 27 August 1942, p. 4.
19) Willi Weber, op. cit., p. 55.
20) Schlussbericht, p. 4.
21) Willi Weber, op. cit., p. 55.
22) Wippermann, Wolfgang. Die Berliner Gruppe Baum und der jüdische Widerstand. Informationzentrum Berlin. Gedank- und Bildungsstaette Stauffenbergerstrasse, 2001 (1981).
23) Will Weber, op. cit., p. 56.
24) "Verschärfte Vernehmung" ‘The Gestapo’s Methods of Examination’
25) Stapo IV A 1 -- 1333/42 g. Rs., 5 Dezember 1942.
26) "Verschärfte Vernehmung"
27) Stapo IV A 1 -- 1333/42 g. Rs., 5 Dezember 1942.
28) "Verschärfte Vernehmung"
29) Stapo IV A 1 -- 1333/42 g. Rs., 5 Dezember 1942.
30) "Verschärfte Vernehmung"
31) Brothers, op. cit., p. 185.
32) Ibid., p. 170.
33) Ibid., 170-171.
34) Ibid., p. 173.
35) Ibid., p. 173.
36) Ibid., p. 170.
37) Ibid., p. 173.
38) Kreutzer, op. cit., p. 96.
39) Gruner, Wolf. "The Factory Action and the Events at the Rosenstrasse in Berlin: Facts and Fictions about 27 February 1943 -- Sixty Years Later." Central European History. Vol. 36, No. 2 (2003), pp. 179-208.
40) Brothers, op. cit., p. 173.
41) Gruner, op. cit., pp. 185-186.
42) Ibid., p. 189.
43) Ibid., p. 180.
44) “Goebbels on the Deportations from Berlin.” From the Diaries of Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda. Source: The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels, entry of 2 March 1943.
45) “Fabrikaktion.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabrikaktion