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Hanne Mertens * 1909
Sierichstraße 66 (Hamburg-Nord, Winterhude)
Gehenkt 1945 (Schauspielerin)
Hanne Mertens, born 4/13 1909 in Magdeburg, detained at the Fuhlsbüttel Gestapo jail from 02/6/1945, murdered in the night from April 22nd to 23rd at Neuengamme concentration camp
The actress Hanne Mertens was the second of four children of a Protestant lawyer’s family in Magdeburg, born and named Hanna Hermine on 4/13/1909; her brother Knut was born on 11/5/1912. Her mother Johanna was a native of Hamburg, her father Hermann was killed as an army captain in WW I in 1914. In 1915, Johanna Mertens moved to Berlin with her children, where Hanne Mertens attended a high school for girls until 1928.
On October 15th, 1932, Hanne Mertens married Heinz Gustav Adolf Alfred Beller (born 12/20/1907 in Berlin-Steglitz) in Düsseldorf-Oberkassel. He was a fully qualified jurist and a platoon leader of the SA, the Nazi storm troops. The marriage ended in divorce already on November 8th, 1933.
Hanne Mertens received her training from 1928 to October 1930 at the Berlin state drama school. Subsequently, she was employed by the Berliner Staatstheater and play smaller parts. In August 1934, she went to Düsseldorf where she worked at the Schauspielhaus and the Municipal Theater. In 1934, she returned to Berlin, working at the Theater am Nollendorfplatz and the Volksbühne. In 1938, she played her first minor supporting part in the film "Unsere kleine Frau”, followed in 1938/39 by "Ich verweigere die Aussage”with Olga Tschechowa. In 1941, she appeared in "Alarmstufe V” with Liesel Karlstadt.
In 1938, Hanne Mertens joined the Munich Kammerspiele theater managed by Otto Falckenberg. The first production she played in there was Friedrich Schiller’s Intrigue and Love. The Munich audiences adored her for her performances as Lady Milford, Queen Elizabeth and Czarina Catherine. Already on March 9th, 1940, a serious dispute between Mertens and Otto Falckenberg occurred. The opening night of the play "Das Einhorn von den Sternen”, and adaptation of a William Butler Yeats theme, ended in a violent mass brawl. Hanne Mertens had not been cast, but she was in the audience and spoke against the play. This led to a written warning from Falckenberg, and the Gestapo opened a file on her. After an intervention by Martin Bormann, then secretary of the NSDAP chancery, the secret police left it at the entry "Disturbance of the peace in the company.” From then on, there were continuous disputes between the management and Hanne Mertens. In June 1942, Falckenberg offered her a termination of contract.
Her colleagues considered Hanne Mertens to be a Nazi informer, especially on account of her contacts to NSDAP Reich Chief Martin Bormann, whom she had got to know in 1939. On the other hand, she had been repeatedly summoned and warned by the Gestapo for having openly spoken out against the war and National Socialism and repeatedly scoffed Hitler and Goebbels. According to Falckenberg, she spoke "against the Nazis today, against the Allies tomorrow.” Presumably, she was under observation by the Gestapo from 1937 on because of her frequent trips to Prague to visit an acquaintance, a Czech army officer.
Hanne Mertens was always described as very talented and ambitious, but also as a troublemaker and unpredictable in her political statements due to her temperament. Some members of the company also considered an intriguer.
In January 1943, Hanne Mertens was angry about the casting for Orsina, a main part in Lessing’s Emilia Galotti, because she considered the actress Falckenberg had chosen insufficiently qualified. She tried to instigate her colleagues to join in disrupting the upcoming premiere to create a theater scandal. Manager Otto Falckenberg heard about, and heavy mutual accusations of political nature ensued. Hanne Mertens appealed to the Lord Mayor of Munich, the Gestapo and the Bavarian Theater Chamber were also involved. On February 17th, 1943, Hanne Mertens asked to be summarily dismissed.
When Robert Meyn, the manager of the Hamburg Thalia Theater, decided to expand his troupe at the house’s 100th anniversary in the spring of 1943, Hanne Mertens accepted his offer to come to Hamburg, seeing the move also as an opportunity to evade further conflicts with the Munich Gestapo. The Thalia Theater opened its 1943/44 season with a tour – because the Hamburg State Opera had been destroyed by the bombings of July 1943, the Opera company moved into the Thalia building. The straight theater moved to the former Jewish culture house in Hartungstrasse, which Robert Meyn named the "Kammerspiele [intimate theater] des Thalia Theaters.” Hanne Mertens gave her first performance there in the comedy "What Homer Didn’t tell”, followed by Mother Wolffen in Gerhart Hauptmann’s The Beaver Coat and the title role in Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler.
Hanne Mertens was hailed as a great new discovery in Hamburg and played her way into the hearts of the audience, gaining a reputation as a strong personality able to transform even dull roles into unmistakable characters. Thalia manager Robert Meyn described as extremely nervous, irritable and intemperate in her statements and often asked her to pull herself together. However, Hanne Mertens voiced her opinion as she had in Munich, disregarded social constraints and seemed to feel safe as a celebrity with putatively good connections.
From August, 1943 to the end of 1944, she gave acting lessons at her home. Angelica Krogmann (daughter of Hamburg’s Nazi Mayor, later to become a writer), Susanne von Almassy (who became a movie actress) and Margund Sommer (later to become a member of Gustaf Gründgen’s troupe at the Hamburg Schauspielhaus).
On September 1st, 1944, a decree by Reich propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels closed all theaters and drama schools in the Reich; actors and stagehands were given jobs in the war industry or tasks in the cottage industry. Hanne Mertens was to do cleaning work at the theater. However, she told Robert Meyn that she was unable to do this work, as she had been suffering from a lung ailment since her high school days. On September 22nd, 1944, she underwent a long overdue abdominal operation at the Eppendorf hospital, where she was discharged on October 31st to go on recuperation leave. In December 1944, the Thalia Theater’s temporary quarters in Hartungstrasse were turned into a movie house and named UFA Kammerspiele. The Thalia Theater reopened in January 1945 in its own house with a production of The Beaver Coat.
Late one evening in January 1945, Hanne Mertens dropped by at a neighbor’s; the woman had visitors, and a convivial company quickly developed. Hanne Mertens mocked Hitler and other Nazi bog shots and sang a song: "Es geht alles vorüber, es geht alles vorbei ... erst Adolf Hitler und dann die Partei" ("Everything will pass by, everything will pass away… first Adolf Hitler and then the party”). She did not know that two of the guests were with the Gestapo, and not officials of the economics agency as claimed. The hit Es geht alles vorüber…, sung by Lale Andersen, was very popular in those days, but no longer played on the radio, because a parody version was going around: Es geht alles kopfüber, es geht alles entzwei; erst fliegt Adolf Hitler, dann seine Partei ("Everything is turning upside down, Adolf Hitler will be first to go, then his party).
On February 6th, 1945, Hanne Mertens was arrested on the street and taken to the Gestapo Fuhlsbüttel prison by subway train. The accusation: Wehrkraftzersetzung ("Corruption of defense morale.”)
Interrogations including insults, physical abuse and the threat "the files from Munich” were available followed – "she would by no means get away.” Hanne Mertens was detained without an order for "protective custody.”
Gertrud Meyer, a fellow prisoner, later testified: Hanne Mertens had looked affected, limped and been punished by imprisonment in a cage in the dark, for having worn soldiers’ socks she was supposed to darn. For Gertrud Meyer, she recited poems.
In 1944, an evacuation plan for the Fuhlsbüttel Gestapo prison had been drawn up for the event that Allied forces were approaching; in spring of 1945, it proved to be unfeasible. The prisoners were divided into three groups: the first group was released, the second forced to march to Kiel-Hassee; the third group comprised 71 men and women earmarked to be murdered – mostly political prisoners who were taken to the Neuengamme concentration camp on April 20th, 1945. The 13 women in this group included Annemarie Ladewig (q.v.), Elisabeth Rosenkranz (q.v.), Erika Etter (q.v.) and Hanne Mertens. Instead, they were murdered in the night from April 21st to 22nd, hanged in the corridor of the prisoners’ air raid shelter from a long beam under the ceiling. One of the women had hidden under a bench. She was discovered, brutally dragged out by her hair and beaten or shot to death by an SS man. It is said that this was Hanne Mertens.
This murder of 71 women and men after the war led to several trials (q.v. Ladewig). However, it was never determined in what way Hanne Mertens’ singing the song had been reported to the Gestapo, or if the incident had been deliberately provoked.
In 1982, a street was named for Hanne Mertens in Hamburg-Niendorf, the Hanne-Mertens-Ring; a Stumbling Stone before the Thalia Theater at Alstertor commemorates her work as an actress.
If you desire to learn more about Hanne Mertens’ experiences at Fuhlsbüttel, I recommend reading: Gerda Zorn/Gertrud Meyer, Frauen gegen Hitler, Berichte aus dem Widerstand 1933–1945, Frankfurt a. M. 1984, pp. 71–97.
Translated by Peter Hubschmid
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: October 2017
© Maike Bruchmann
Quellen: Herbert Diercks, Gedenkbuch "Kola-Fu", Für die Opfer aus dem Konzentrationslager, Gestapogefängnis und KZ-Außenlager Fuhlsbüttel, Hamburg 1987, S. 46, 56–57; Rita Bake, Wer steckt dahinter?, Hamburgs Straßennamen, die nach Frauen benannt sind, Hamburg 2000; Ursel Hochmuth/Gertrud Meyer, Streiflichter aus dem Hamburger Widerstand 1933–1945, Berichte und Dokumente, Frankfurt am Main 1980, S. 462; www.filmportal.de (eingesehen am 19.08.2007); Ernst Klee, Das Kulturlexikon zum Dritten Reich, Wer war was vor und nach 1945, Frankfurt am Main 2007, S. 406–407; Andreas Klaus, Gewalt und Widerstand in Hamburg-Nord während der NS-Zeit, Hamburg 1986, S. 35; VVN-BdA Kreisvereinigung Hamburg-Nord, Willi-Bredel-Gesellschaft-Geschichtswerkstatt e.V. (Hrsg.), Gestapo-Gefängnis Fuhlsbüttel, Erinnerungen–Dokumente–Totenliste, Initiativen für eine Gedenkstätte, Hamburg 1997, S. 58–60; Schüler des Gymnasiums Ohmoor informieren, Gedenken heisst: Nicht schweigen, 11 neue Straßen in Niendorf zu Ehren von Frauen und Männern des Widerstandes, Hamburg 1984, S. 37–39; GET, Akte "Hanne Mertens", darin u. a. Gerichtsakten 14 Js. 191/48 und Az. (50) 27/49 14 Js. 259/47; Ute Kiehn, Theater im "Dritten Reich": Volksbühne Berlin, Berlin 2001, S. 175, 245; Hans Daiber, Schaufenster der Diktatur. Theater im Machtbereich Hitlers, Stuttgart 1995, S. 253; Friedjof Trapp u.a. (Hrsg.), Handbuch des deutschsprachigen Exiltheaters 1933–1945, Biographisches Lexikon der Theaterkünstler, Teil 2, L–Z, München 1999, S. 661; Gertrud Meyer, Nacht über Hamburg, Berichte und Dokumente 1933–1945, Frankfurt/Main 1971, S. 103–109, 113–114, 131–132; Franklin Kopitzsch/Dirk Brietzke (Hrsg.), Hamburgische Biografie Personenlexikon, Band 3, Göttingen 2006, S. 250–251; Dokumente aus dem Privatbesitz von Gernot Sommer; Universität Hamburg, Zentrum für Theaterforschung, Hamburger Theaterarchiv: Heiratsurkunde, Fragebogen Reichsfachschaft Film, Fragebogen Reichstheaterkammer/Fachschaft Bühne, sowie H. H. Kräft, Die Haken am Kreuz, Gedanken zu Hanne Mertens. Schauspielerin am Thalia Theater 1943–1945, nach 1983; Erik Verg, Hamburg 1945 – 20 Tage zwischen Tod und Leben, Hamburg 1945, S. 10.