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Karl Racmann * 1883
Bei der Apostelkirche 28 (Eimsbüttel, Eimsbüttel)
1944 KZ Neuengamme
Karl Racmann, b. 12.20.1883 in Podebrady , Bohemia, killed in the Neuengamme concentration camp between 21 and 23 April 1945
Bei der Apostelkirche 28
Karl Racmann was born a few days before Christmas on 12.20.1883 in Podebrady, a small town in Czech Bohemia; he was a Catholic.
Karl Racmann had come to Hamburg, specifically, Altona in March of 1910, where he met and then married Maria Behrmann on 9 October 1913. The wedding took place in Altona. A year later and against their will they received German citizenship, as Maria Racmann explained in a later protocol: "After the outbreak of war our Czech papers and passports were taken by the Hamburg police and we received German identification papers. This was involuntary and we could do nothing against it. Nonetheless, my husband always considered himself a Czech.”
Karl Racmann had learned woodworking. The marriage was childless. The couple remained in Altona until 1922. In the same year, Karl Racmann received the master craftsman’s diploma and made himself independent with a woodworking shop, first in the back of his dwelling at Schwenckestrasse 89, and then from 1936 at Dammtorstrasse 21. He worked as "sole master,” that is, without apprentices.
In 1943, The Racmanns were bombed out of their house at Mansteinstrasse 44/1, but they found new housing a few doors away at Mansteinstrasse 34.
In September 1944, Karl Racmann was arrested by the Gestapo men Henry Helms and Lietzow and brought to the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp. Later, his wife reported: "At 7:30 on the morning of Wednesday, 9.13.1944, the Gestapo official Lietzow came into my home. Since 7 o’clock my husband was already at the work site of a temporary building on Eimsbüttelerstrasse; he was arrested there mid-morning. Around 1:30 of the same day, my dwelling was searched by officials Helms and Litzow; earlier our woodworking shop at Dammtorstrasse 21 had been searched.”
Then the business was confiscated by the trade guild. Maria Racmann received support of 40 RM per month, from which she could barely live. She explained the arrest of her husband as the result of his having been a Social Democrat until 1933. A fellow-prisoner later confirmed that he had seen "preparation for high treason” written on the "order of protective custody."
Another witness surmised that he had been arrested for anti-Nazi utterances, such as, didn’t Hamburg look more beautiful before the Nazi takeover than it does now after the bombing raids?! A Gestapo informer had heard this and accused him of "slandering the government." A fellow-countryman speculated that the arrest was because of Racmann’s activity as chairman of the "Svornost” [unity] Club. Racmann had always considered himself a "Czech nationalist” and held illegal meetings in his workshop. He himself had helped Racmann compile a list of Czechs in Hamburg; they had maintained connections to the homeland. A courier had brought money for the Czechs deported to Germany and interned there. "There belonged to our Svornost group Racmann, Smok (Jednatel), B. Voltr (who worked at a laundry in Kolzen and smuggled food packages, letters, and news for the prisoners in Fuhlsbüttel), my brother Josef, and Lieutenant H. As democrats and honorable nationalists we worked against the inhumane measures of the Nazis. [We] distributed "enemy” radio messages, news, and anti-Nazi literature and newspapers. The arrest of Svornost functionaries was no laughing matter for the compatriots of the cultural club. Executions, arrests, and persecution of the leading men of the Czech anti-Nazi movement in Germany serve as proof that the only reason for my imprisonment was my anti-Nazi orientation." Previously, he had declared: "[we] had received pamphlets from an engineer at Blohm and Voss, whose name I cannot recall. The contents were essentially the same as the English radio broadcasts. They dealt with Germany’s declining prospects for success in the war and called for cooperation from within in order to end the war. We also distributed these pamphlets in conjunction with lectures that I gave in the Svornost Club. Only we Czechs attended these meetings, aside from sympathetic German women, including my then fiancée. Now and then it happened that people appeared who made us uneasy; then we became quite restrained and cautious.” Apparently, they were not careful enough, because the Gestapo informer Alfons Pannek, in his own words a "Gestapo-servant,” became a member of the Svornost Club, taking over the function of the club librarian. He knew the club chairman personally and also took part in the discussions that Karl Racmann organized in his printing shop.
Pannek recalled the following about the arrest: "Shortly before his arrest, Racmann gave a speech at a meeting of the Svornost Club in the club room on the Alster; it lasted probably a quarter of an hour. I was present at this meeting. In addition there were present two – it might have been three – young people in Reich Labor Service uniforms. I believe that the presence of these uniformed individuals was the reason for the speech. He spoke clearly against those who voluntarily put themselves at the disposal of the Third Reich in any way, hoping thereby to improve their future careers. Directing his address to these people, Racmann said that the future would turn out quite differently than these people perhaps liked to think. He emphasized this repeatedly. The hall remained quiet as a mouse, no one said a word, everyone was speechless and staring at one another. It must be presumed that this speech of Racmann’s would come to the attention of the authorities. I should mention that the club was likely being monitored by several Gestapo operatives. Thus, I assume that he was also being watched by the department overseeing foreign workers and by counterintelligence, because there were many Czechs who frequented the club who had come to Hamburg as foreign workers. These people were the majority of visitors to the meetings.” Supposedly, about one hundred people attended the meeting. Pannek immediately informed Gestapo Secretary Helms, who then informed his superior, SS-Hauptsturmführer and Criminal Commissar Adolf Bockelmann. It was he who decided to arrest Racmann and shut down the club. For Racmann, the Gestapo requested "level 1 protective custody for the duration of the war."
Racmann allegedly had had contact with the resistance group "KdF" [Kampf dem Faschismus, War on Fascism]. From 1942, the group also made contact with workers outside Germany and with POWs – and, through Karl Racmann and his friend Vincent Smok, with the Czech Svornost Club. Smok was also arrested, and further arrests followed at the end of 1944 and beginning of 1945. All of the arrested were sent to the Fuhlsbüttel prison. Karl Racmann was allowed to write his wife once a month; and he could see her once again when, on 10 April 1945, he was granted a one-day furlough from the Fuhlsbüttel police prison in order to help her pack up to move from Mansteinstrasse 34 to Bei der Apostelkirche 28.
Notwithstanding these concessions, mildness was not typical of the Gestapo: It decided that the Fuhlsbüttel prisoners, including those counted as part of the KdF group, for whom a trial for high treason was prepared by the People’s Court in Berlin, should be transferred to the jail at Kiel-Hassee before the arrival of the advancing Allied troops. A few had already been sent to the Hamburg City Interrogation Prison and were placed at the disposal of the State Prosecutor’s Office. Left behind in Fuhlsbüttel was a group of 71 political prisoners (13 women and 58 men), who were placed on a liquidation list by the Gestapo. With respect to this, the Leader of the SS and Chief of the German Police, Himmler, had ordered that, in case Allied forces approached, the political prisoners should be eliminated. On 18 April – according to other sources, 20 April 1945, by command of the Higher SS and Police Leader Henning Georg von Bassewitz-Behr the 71 prisoners were sent to the Neuengamme concentration camp and shortly thereafter murdered.
The concentration camp inmate Hans Schwarz later wrote: "On the evening of 20 April 1945, two trucks pulled up, out of which got a total of 58 men and 13 women. The men were heavily guarded and brought to Block 20 (punishment block); all current inmates were prohibited from entering this block. In this way it was clear to all long-time prisoners that a special matter was being dealt with….Since I was then the chairman of the illegal international prisoner committee for the Neuengamme concentration camp, I tried to determine on what grounds these new prisoners were being so isolated from the rest. As a result I could establish that among the men there were 13 Czechs, Poles, and Russians. I was able to speak with a few of them, among others a Czech woodworker from Hamburg. They had come from the interrogation jail in Hamburg and had been sent to Neuengamme by Helms and Tessmann. According to the conversations, the Czech woodworker led a Czech club in which Helms had placed a spy....On 22 April 1945, in the evening, I made my rounds of the camp....Later, when I was already at Block 22, there were shots and muffled detonations, clearly audible in the night air, coming from the direction of the camp bunker. Early the next morning, in the briefing room Dreimann reported to the other block leaders that there had been a battle in bunker....”
Maria Racmann died on 8.16.1963 in Hamburg.
Translator: Richard Levy
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: October 2018
© Peter Offenborn
Quellen: StAH 351-11 AfW 8796 (Racmann); StAH 351-11 AfW 20415 (Hloucha); Informationen der KZ-Gedenkstätte Neuengamme; Interview mit Gudrun Schütter vom 29.3.1987 (Sonntagsgespräche), WdE/FZH 199 korr.; FZH 12 H/Helms (Personalakten), Aussagen: Hildegard Lembke und Ursula Prüssmann; FZH 12 A/Ahrens (Personalakten), Spruchgerichtsverfahren gegen Georg Friedrich Ahrens; FZH 13-3-2-2 (Widerstand in Hamburg 1933–1945, Prozesse/Hinrichtungen); FZH 13-3-3-1 (Männer im Widerstand 1933–1945); FZH 13-3-3-2 (Frauen im Widerstand 1933–1945); Hamburger Echo (Tageszeitung) von Mai/Juni 1949; Ursel Hochmuth,Gestapo-Gefängnis Fuhlsbüttel; Klaus Bästlein, Hitlers Niederlage; Herbert Diercks, Gedenkbuch Kolafu; Für Freiheit und Demokratie; Ursula Puls, Die Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen-Gruppe, S. 135; Ursel Hochmuth/Gertrud Meyer, Streiflichter, S. 449–453; Günther Weisenborn (Hrsg.), Der lautlose Aufstand, S. 107/108.