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Wilhelm Clasen * 1883
Bundesstraße 95 (Eimsbüttel, Eimsbüttel)
VERHAFTET JUNI 1943
MS CAP ARCONA
Wilhelm Heinrich Georg Clasen, born 30 Jan. 1883 in Wismar, died 3 May 1945 on the Cap Arcona
According to his papers, Wilhelm Clasen was a trained coachman and later worked as an electrician and construction worker. He married in 1907 and had two sons. The first son, Hermann, was born on 3 February 1908 in Hamburg. He became a house painter, married and divorced, and had three children. The second son, Kurt, was born on 25 February 1909 in Hamburg. No further information about him was found.
When Wilhelm Clasen returned from the First World War, he joined the SPD (German Social Democratic Party) and was an active member until it was banned in 1933. He was also an active labor union member. According to a memorial publication by the Hamburg State Chapter of the SPD for members persecuted during the Nazi regime, he was fired by the Nazis from his job as foreman at his place of work on Oberaltenallee. The publication states that "in the following years he worked as a construction worker, and from 1942 onwards in a warehouse.”
His wife, Minna Sass, whom he had married in 1907, died in 1930. Six years later he married Clara Dollwetzel, née Henkel. Clara had been married to Max Dollwetzel, who had been arrested because he was an active member of the KPD (German Communist Party). He was murdered at the Fuhlsbüttel Concentration Camp on 28 September 1933. Clara and Max’s daughter Barbara lived with her mother. Their two sons, Heinrich and Erich, had fled the country.
Wilhelm and Clara Clasen and Barbara Dollwetzel lived at Gothenstraße 22 in Hammerbrook until the early 1940s. They later moved to Bundesstraße 22 in Eimsbüttel. Clara Clasen had connections to the Communist underground, as she had worked for many years with the Workers International Relief and the International Red Aid organizations. The family was thus already in danger of being put under surveillance by the Gestapo. When the Gestapo began to monitor groups of friends who had met as young people before 1933 and remained in contact during the Nazi dictatorship, the danger for the family became even greater. Barbara Dollwetzel was a member of one of these groups, which centered around Max Kristeller.
The young people had met when they took part in the traditional hiking tours organized by various youth groups of the era – the Bündische Jugend, a precursor to the Boy Scouts in Germany, various political youth groups, and the Friends of Nature movement. These tours offered the opportunity to discuss political issues and meet like-minded young people. When they were on their weekend tours, they came into contact with the rural population, either when they asked to spend the night in their barns or to camp in a meadow. They met in Hamburg for sport activities and attending events together. In short, they formed an independent youth culture apart from that organized by the state.
The groups actively participated in the opposition to the Nazi regime. They disrupted training courses organized by the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (DAF – German Labor Front, the National Socialist trade union organization which replaced the various unions of the Weimar Republic) for youth who were still doing their professional training but had not yet joined the Hitlerjugend (HJ – Hitler Youth) or the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM – Band of German Maidens). One of the responsibilities of the Hitler Youth and of the DAF was to win over these young people, whom the National Socialists called the "lost generation,” to the Nazi ideology. They were considered "lost” because they were no longer of an age to be mandatorily registered with the Nazi party youth organizations. They remained committed to the tradition of political debate from the Weimar Republic era, and were not prepared to give up their political convictions.
The young people who gathered around Max Kristeller and others, such as Werner Etter and Ernst Hampel, did their best to remain in contact throughout the years of their mandatory military service and then during their compulsory service during the war and to retain their critical view of National Socialism. The personal friendships and the trust between the members prevented the Gestapo from infiltrating the group until well into the war. The Gestapo first became aware of this opposition, whom they called the Gruppe der Nichtvorbestraften (group of those with no criminal record), in 1943 when the investigation of the Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen resistance group turned up a connection to Max Kristeller. As in other cases, this was a result of information gathered by a Gestapo informant, Alfons Pannek. Max Kristeller was arrested on 5 May 1943, and the arrests of other members of the resistance group under surveillance by the Gestapo followed. Among those arrested on 16 June 1943 were Barbara Dollwetzel and her parents Wilhelm and Clara Clasen.
As he had done in other instances, Pannek had won the trust of Clasen-Dollwetzel through acquaintances. In 1946, Elsa Nietsche, a friend of the Clasens, recalled the arrest of her sister: "In 1943 I met Alfons Pannek there, who was thought to have the same views as we did, which one could assume since he used to be a member of the KPD. Then he made advances to my sister and they had an affair. They listened to foreign radio stations together at the Clasens, and discussed political issues. He showed great interest and later he used that against everyone and had them all arrested, about eight people from that apartment. The Clasens and Dollwetzel were the first ones arrested […].”
Barbara Dollwetzel recalled on 4 February 1947 that "the actual process which led to our arrest and the arrest of Frau Nietsche wasn’t known, and the sequence of events could therefore not be described.” But she didn’t dispute the assertion that the family had a relationship of trust to Pannek.
After the first arrests, Herbert Lübbers, a former member of the youth group, played a dastardly role – as an agent for the Gestapo, he infiltrated the group. He had been imprisoned after a failed desertion attempt, and the Wehrmacht turned him over to the Gestapo, which pressured him and then sent him to the Fuhlsbüttel prison. Ursula Prüssmann, who had been a typist for the Gestapo, testified at the trial of the Gestapo secretary Helms in 1946 how Lübbers’ assignment had functioned:
"[…] The members of the group were Emil Tippmann, Erwin Ebhard, Marga Spethmann, Adolf and Charlotte Schulz, Charlotte Becher, Charlotte Winkelmann, Henry Schrader, Werner Etter, Erika Etter, and many others. LÜBBERS came to the office nearly every day. Unlike all of the others, he was treated very well. He received visitors in the office. He wasn’t brought there on the general transport, but under the supervision of a guard. At that time Werner Etter was already in Fuhlsbüttel. Erika Etter came to the office to speak to Helms about seeing her husband, since their child had just died. She saw Lübbers there, who was working in my office. Helms arrested her immediately and sent her to Fuhlsbüttel. His reports also covered the youth groups which he had been introduced to by Günther Heykendorf [sic]. Lübbers was released and assigned rooms in the Heykendorf’s apartment so he could gather information about [Günther’s] father Max Heykendorf [sic]. LÜBBERS used the name Breuer. Shortly thereafter Günther Heykendorf went away, and as a result of this failure Lübbers was transferred to the SCHULZ case […].”
The arrests that resulted from this infiltration continued after 1944 far into January 1945.
The youth groups became uncertain of their safety, and many members withdrew. Fear began to spread. Many years later, in 1987, Gudrun Schütter described the effect of this uncertainty on the groups in which the young people had been members. She had joined the sports club Armin von 1893 in 1938 at the age of 19, because the "former SAJ” (Sozialistische Arbeiterjugend – Socialist Workers Youth, a youth organization associated with the Social Democratic Party) met there and "everyone met at Armin when they were released from prison” (as well as at the Helios club).
"At the sports club we were all anti-Nazis. We didn’t print any more flyers, because we thought it was futile. We just affirmed our support for each other. And we knew who we were. We could count on each other, or at least we thought so. There was an informant among us, but we found out too late […] It all started at Armin, people were rounded up. I’m sure I would have been arrested too if the war had lasted a few months longer. Then they’d have figured out the connection. Because Günther Heikendorf [sic] was among those at Armin. And his mother, Lene Heikendorf [sic], she was hanged in Neuengamme. It had become dangerous and precarious for the young people to keep their groups together, because not only was there an informant in the club, there were also members who approved of the National Socialist state and its policy of conquest and who had accepted their racist ideology. A Lieutenant Z., Jr. had written war reports from the front near Smolensk and other places in the Soviet Union. It was he who pointed out, at the club’s annual general meeting, which took place while he was home on furlough on 27 Feb. 1942, that he and other soldiers on the front had received defeatist propaganda materials. He read an anonymous letter that someone had sent to him on the front, and it was seen as generally unbelievably dirty and [gaps in the text]. It was an indication that, unfortunately, unsavory people had used the excuse of the war to infiltrate our group in a devious attempt to disintegrate it. At the end of his speech, Z., Jr. reminded us of our political duty, that everyone at home should do everything in their power to ensure a German victory.”
The above-mentioned publication of the Hamburg State Chapter of the SPD says of the arrests of Barbara Dollwetzel and her parents Wilhelm and Claea Clasen:
"They were accused of intent to commit high treason, listening to enemy radio, and incitement against National Socialism. After ten months in prison at the Fuhlsbüttel Concentration Camp, during which Barbara Dollwetzel was temporarily released due to the heavy bombings in the summer of 1943, the mother and daughter were sent to the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. They were liberated on 28 April 1945 by Allied forces. Wilhelm Clasen was held prisoner in the Neuengamme Concentration Camp […].”
The Gestapo transferred him, along with other prisoners, as a "prisoner of the police” from the Fuhlsbüttel prison to the Neuengamme Concentration Camp on 31 May 1944, "pending further Gestapo orders.” Due to time constraints, the Nazi justice system was unable to organize a trial. When the SS evacuated the camp at the end of April 1945 and forced the prisoners on death marches as British troops advanced, Clasen was sent to the ships anchored in Neustadt Bay. The ships were attacked and sunk on 3 May 1945 by English fighter pilots, who didn’t know that prisoners were aboard. Clasen was on the Cap Arcona.
Wilhelm Clasen’s date of death was declared as the date of the sinking of the Cap Arcona.
Translator(s): Amy Lee
Translation kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg
© Peter Offenborn
Quellen: FZH 11/O 1 (Geert Otto): Gemeinschaftsbriefe der Turnerschaft Armin von 1893 e.V.; FZH 12 H/Helms (Personalakten), Aussage von Ursula Prüssmann; FZH 13-3-2-2 (Widerstand in Hamburg; Prozesse/Hinrichtungen); FZH 18-2 (Nachlaß Blankenfeld/AvS Hamburg) 5.3. (Haftentschädigung); FZH/WdE 199 Interview mit Gudrun Schütter (alias) vom 29.3.1987 (Sonntagsgespräch), korr.; Ab.; Sammlung VVN-BdA (Hamburg); Hochmuth, Ursel/Gertrud Meyer, S. 423f.; Für Freiheit und Demokratie. Hamburger Sozialdemokratinnen und Sozialdemokraten in Verfolgung und Widerstand 1933–1945. Hg. von der SPD Landesorganisation Hamburg. Hamburg 2003; Peter Offenborn, Jüdische Jugend in Hamburg 1933–1941, S. 284f.; www.hh-heute.de (‚Stolperstein’ für Wilhelm Clasen) vom 23.6.2010.