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Willi Böttcher * 1899
Eißendorfer Straße 79 (Harburg, Harburg)
VERHAFTET OKTOBER 1942
Willi Böttcher, born on 15 Nov. 1899 in Kietz, detained for "broadcasting offenses” in the Hamburg pretrial detention center from Oct. 1942 to Mar. 1943, held in the "Elbe River regulation” ("Elberegulierung”) prison camp in Griebo near Coswig in Mar. 1943, murdered on 27 Apr. 1943
Harburg-Altstadt quarter, Eissendorfer Strasse 79
Willi Otto August Böttcher’s birthplace Kietz (today Skic in Poland) is located in the former Province of Posen-West Prussia of the German Empire, which was Prussian until 1918. Today it belongs to Poland. After graduating from school, Willi, the son of a day laborer, first went to sea.
In 1925, he bid farewell to seafaring and settled in the industrial city of Harburg for a professional and private new beginning. There he tried his luck as a construction worker at F. Thörls Vereinigte Harburger Ölfabriken, an oil processing plant had meanwhile overcome the crisis years of the First World War and the immediate post-war period. In 1924, the company had returned to the production level of the pre-war years and in the following years, it developed into the largest oil plant on the continent. More than 2,000 people were employed there.
On 14 May 1927, Willi Böttcher married Martha Loese, who was four years his junior and came from Nestempohl (today Niestepowo in Poland), a small village near Danzig (Gdansk). In Nov. 1937, he changed to the Harburg-based H. C. Hagemann construction company, where he worked as a stone carrier.
He was politically active in the KPD, the Communist Party of Germany. Jakob (Jonny) Kock, one of the leading representatives of the Harburg KPD, who was able to flee to Copenhagen in 1935, knew him well and valued him as a brave comrade in the common struggle against Hitler.
Even before 1933, this antagonism between the NSDAP and the KPD, which characterized all Reich and Landtag election campaigns and often led to turbulent brawls at political meetings and bloody street battles, was already unmistakable. After Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor, the Nazis were determined to continue the struggle against their political opponents – above all against the Communists – by all means, and to smash the other parties one after the other. Already on 2 Feb. 1933, the KPD in Prussia – and thus also in Harburg – was banned from demonstrating. Many officials and members of the Harburg KPD were arrested shortly afterward; others lost their jobs. At the same time, freedom of the press and of assembly was gradually restricted. In Harburg, too, the local police was augmented by SA men, who at this point officially took care of law and order.
On 7 Feb. 1933, members of the NSDAP shot the worker Martin Leuschel, who had joined the Harburg KPD six weeks earlier, on Grosse Schippsee. The subsequent funeral procession through Harburg and Wilhelmsburg was attended by more than 20,000 people, who at the same time expressed their opposition to the political turnaround. However, unimpressed by this silent protest, SA men marched off the Social Democratic Lord Mayor of Harburg, Walter Dudek, from the city hall on 11 Mar. 1933; he was replaced by the Nazi Ludwig Bartels two months later.
In the face of these repressive measures, the KPD consistently moved its political work underground and transformed its mass organization into tiny cells specialized in illegal activities. Flyers were secretly produced and laid out unnoticed in crowded areas of the city. Other Communists painted house walls with protest slogans. A large achievement of the KPD Harburg-Wilhelmsburg subdistrict organization was to produce and distribute, immediately after the prohibition of the party press, an illegal organ called Norddeutsche Zeitung at regular intervals. During the Second World War, many Communists – like other opponents of the Nazis – tried to gain an overview of the actual events of the war via foreign radio stations. Many of them also passed this news on secretly.
Such activity was punished starting immediately after the beginning of the war. In Oct. 1942, Willi Böttcher, too, was charged with listening to foreign radio stations and arrested. On 26 Mar. 1943, the Hamburg special court (Sondergericht) sentenced him to five years in a penitentiary for violating the Broadcasting Act (Rundfunkgesetz).
Immediately afterward, he was transferred from the Hamburg pretrial detention center to the "Elbe River regulation” prison camp near Coswig in Anhalt. Many of his fellow prisoners, who were physically strong and had manual skills, had also been transferred to this camp. The approx. 1,500 prisoners originally had the task of deepening the riverbed of the Elbe. After the invasion of Poland, however, they were increasingly used for forced labor in the surrounding armament factories due to the war.
The prison camp was surrounded by a double fence, with guard dogs running loose in between. The barracks were arranged around a roll call area where the prisoners had to line up every morning at 5 a.m., as one of the victims later reported. They wore grey prisoner suits with yellow stripes on the sides. This thin outfit, which offered little protection from cold and moisture, included wooden slippers, which had to be worn summer and winter without socks. The fall and winter months, with a lot of rain and snow, were therefore the most strenuous on the strength of the prisoners, who had to do most of their work outdoors.
Willi Böttcher could not cope with these living and working conditions. On 27 Apr. 1943 – only one month after his admission to the Elbe River regulation” prison camp "in Griebo near Coswig – his life ended.
His mortal remains were cremated in the crematorium of Lutherstadt Wittenberg.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: June 2020
© Klaus Möller
Quellen: Komitee ehemaliger politischer Gefangener, Akte: Willi Böttcher; StaH 351-11_22601; Totenliste Hamburger Widerstandskämpfer und Verfolgter, VAN (Hrsg.), Hamburg 1968; die anderen. Widerstand und Verfolgung in Harburg und Wilhelmsburg, VVN-BdA Harburg (Hrsg.) 6. Auflage, Harburg 2005; Jürgen Ellermeyer, Klaus Richter, Dirk Stegmann, Harburg – Von der Burg zur Industriestadt, Harburg 1988; http://www.vom-vergessen-zum-erinnern.com/neuigkeiten/; AB Harburg-Wilhelmsburg und Landkreis 1938, http://www.mdr.de/zeitreise/elbe-drittes-reich-100.html.