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Paul Bunge * 1904

Stapelholmer Straße 13 (Hamburg-Nord, Dulsberg)

JG. 1904

Paul Waldemar Wilhelm Bunge, born 15 June 1904 in Ratzeburg, arrested and sentenced to 5 years in the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp, died 1 May 1942 as a result of health conditions contracted during his imprisonment

Stapelholmer Straße 13 (Hinschenfelder Straße)

Paul Bunge was born in Ratzeburg, the son of the manual laborer Wilhelm Bunge and his wife Maria, née Bargholz. He had five brothers and sisters. He finished his compulsory schooling in Ratzeburg, then went to work for his father, helping him with his "trade activities.” After a short stint as a house-boy, he got a job in 1932 at the telegraph agency in Hamburg as a manual laborer. In 1930 he married Gertrud Giersdorf (*1904), with whom he had one son, Hannes, in 1932. In the 1930s the family lived in a 5th-floor apartment at Hinschenfelder Straße 13 (the street was renamed Stapelholmer Straße in 1938/39), in Hamburg-Dulsberg. Paul Bunge joined the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) in 1924, and the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold (Black, Red, and Gold Banner of the Empire) in 1928. This organization was a centrist group with the goal of defending parliamentary democracy against internal subversion and extremism from the left and the right. After the installation of the Nazi dictatorship, he was fired from his position as a city employee, and the family had to rely on welfare subsidies.

Beginning in the fall of 1933, Paul Bunge became involved in the resistance movement by joining a group of about 30 former members of Department 11 of the Reichsbanner in Hamburg-Barmbek. According to court documents of the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court from 1938, the group was led by Otto Hass. He and his brother Peter, who was a member of the SPD fraction in the Hamburg parliament until 1933 and who lived in Dulsberg, were the organizers of the underground Reichsbanner groups in Hamburg.

Otto Hass’s group met in secret and used membership dues and donations to support the families of other members who had been imprisoned or had fled the country. They smuggled banned political publications like Neue Vorwärts, the Informationsblätter, Sozialistische Aktion and the 1935 Mai Zeitung into the country and distributed them among former SPD members. They also distributed the Prague Manifest, a call to overthrow the Nazi regime published by the SPD leadership living in exile in Prague, and camouflaged as a brochure called "The Art of Shaving.” They distributed cards camouflaged as confirmation congratulations to the general public. A stamp inside the cards called for a "No” vote in the 1936 Reichstag election, which was rigged by the regime. When Hass fled to Denmark in June 1936, Paul Bunge took over some of his leadership responsibilities.

The Gestapo took him into "protective custody” in late January 1937 at the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp. From 19 July 1937 onwards, he was held in the Hamburg detention center with eight other members of his resistance group, awaiting trial before the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court on charges of "consipiracy to commit high treason.” The court sentenced him, in a collective trial of "Tydeks and accomplices,” on 12 January 1938 to five years in prison. He and two other defendants received the harshest sentence.

The "treasonous act” of which the defendants were accused was their attempt to "promote the goals of the SPD,” whereby the judge imputed that the Social Democrats intended to use violence to overthrow the Nazi regime. Paul Bunge served his prison term in the Fuhlsbüttel prison. Prison was a serious health risk for him, as he already suffered from tuberculosis. He had spent some time in the St. Andreasberg sanatorium in an attempt to improve the condition, probably during the time he was working for the telegraph agency before 1933, since he would not have been granted approval for such a treatment as an unemployed person. In a plea for pardon in June 1941, he stated that he had "suffered from tuberculosis for many years.” Evaluations by the prison staff were predominantly positive. They regularly described him as "dependable and hard-working.” However he showed no signs of having accepted the ideology of his persecutors or that he was "repentant.”

His prison records contain several letters that did not pass approval from the prison censors. In one of them, from April 1940, he wrote to his wife Gertrud that he had lost eight kg (18 lbs.) since January (from 80 to 72 kg (176 to 158 lbs) at a height of 1.8 m (5’11”)). His wife’s and his friends’ steadfast rejection of the Nazi dictatorship is documented in a poignant letter she sent to him two days after his sentencing, but which the prison authorities never gave to him. In it she speaks of an "unjust verdict,” and attempted to console her husband with the Socratic proverb "it is far worse to inflict evil than to be the innocent victim of it.” In anticipation of the letter being read by the censors, she wrote: "whoever reads this letter should know that we who have been so severely and unjustly punished by those who are presently in power will not belie our character nor lose our courage.” She assures her husband that she is proud of him, and that "all who attended the trial” shook her hand and told her she had every reason for this pride.

Despite the critical condition of his health and his "good behavior” while serving his sentence, it was the summer of 1941 before Paul Bunge was deemed "worthy of pardon” by the prison authorities and the District Attorney’s Office of the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court. A plea for pardon was submitted to the Reich Minister of Justice, in which he had to pledge "to refrain from all political activity in the future … and to devote myself to my family.” The plea was denied in the first instance on 28 August 1941, but after a second plea and the assurance of the Gestapo that they had no intention of taking him into "protective custody” after his release, the District Attorney approved his immediate release on 13 December 1941 – less than two months before his prison term was due to end – "since a pardon is expected.” The Reich Minister of Justice approved the pardon on 14 January 1942, whereby it can be assumed that the prisoner’s poor state of health, which may have led to a declaration that he was unfit to undergo detention, played a role in the decision. Paul Bunge was placed on parole until 31 January 1947, "on the condition of his irreproachable and lawful behavior.” Two days after his release he was admitted to the Barmbek General Hospital, where he died on 1 May 1942, aged 37. The death certificate gives the cause of death as "pulmonary tuberculosis, hemoptysis.” It is highly probable that the nearly five years he spent in prison contributed to his early death.

Translator: Amy Lee
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

© Benedikt Behrens

Quellen: StaH 242-1 II Gefängnisverwaltung II, Abl. 18 Bunge; 242-1 I Gefängnisverwaltung I, Abl. 16; StaH 332-5 Standesämter, 7263 u. 847/1942 (Sterbeurkunde); E-Mail von Dr. Holger Martens v. 1.4.2011; AB 1938/39; VAN (Hrsg.), Totenliste Hamburger Widerstandskämpfer und Verfolgter 1933–1945, Hamburg 1968; Plaumann, Hans Jürgen, Nacherkundungen zu "Spurensuche des Nationalsozialismus und des Widerstandes am Dulsberg", Hamburg 1998, S. 72f.; Eiber, Ludwig, Arbeiterwiderstand gegen Faschismus und Krieg 1933–1945, in: Ulrich Bauche/Ludwig Eiber/Ursula Wamser/Wilfried Weinke (Hrsg.), "Wir sind die Kraft". Arbeiterbewegung in Hamburg von den Anfängen bis 1945, Hamburg 1988, S. 288f.

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