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Ernst Knappe * 1881

Hamburger Hochstraße 19 (Altona, Altona-Altstadt)

JG. 1881
ERMORDET 11.7.1941

Johannes Ernst Knappe, born 20 Sept. 1881, died after 7 July 1941 at the killing center Pirna-Sonnenstein

Hamburger Hochstraße 19

Ernst Knappe and his twin brother Hermann were born in 1881 at Bahrenfelderstraße 283, on the second floor, as the sons of the cigar manufacturer Ernst Heinrich Gustav Knappe and his wife Rahel, née Wolff. Their mother was of Jewish extraction. Ernst Knappe grew up in Ottensen together with other siblings, was baptized in the Evangelical Lutheran faith, and after attending elementary school he trained to be a cigar manufacturer, like his father. Following his apprenticeship he worked for farmers as an innkeeper’s assistant and at a sawmill. In 1915 he conceived an illegitimate child with a divorced woman, but it died. During WWI he was drafted in 1915 as "fit for service in the garrison” and served until 1918, but not on the front line. After the war he had a variety of jobs, in the wood industry, in the restaurant trade, at the harbor and in the shipyard of Blohm &Voss. From 1927 to 1931 he supposedly ran his own small grocer’s shop.

In 1936 Ernst Knappe first became known to the local court in Altona on suspicion of homosexual acts in that district, however no criminal activity on his part could be proven.

On 12 Jan. 1938, the mover Egon Alexander (born 1918, from Feb. 1942 on "parole at the front”), who belonged to a crime ring, stated during an interrogation by the criminal police to have performed sexual acts with a "Knopp, Knapp or Knappe” who lived in Altona "on Reichenstraße at the corner of Großen Bergstraße next to a leather goods store”. The subsequent investigation led to the arrest of Ernst Knappe on the afternoon of the same day since he was registered at Großen Bergstraße no. 35 from 1933 to 1935. After the initial interrogation he was taken into "protective custody”. The disclosure of the names of Egon Alexander’s sexual partners meant that the same tragic fate was suffered by Ernst Wenkel who lived in Eimsbüttel (born 1901, died 1939 in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, see "Stumbling Stone in Hamburg-Eimsbüttel and Hamburg Hoheluft-West”, vol. 2).

Ernst Knappe’s "protective custody” at Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp lasted nearly a month. During that period, the criminal investigations police had the 56-year-old brought in to city hall again and again for interrogation. Eventually he had to make a "life confession” about his sex life. While he denied all homosexual contact during the first interrogation and reported having "sexual intercourse” with women, he eventually succumbed to the pressure of detainment in the concentration camp and also admitted to having had intercourse with men since WW I, including male prostitutes and in two instances with underage boys. An acquaintance nicknamed him "Erna”. On 17 Feb. 1938 Ernst Knappe was transferred to regular remand custody and on 28 Apr. 1938 sentenced to three years in prison by the Hamburg District Court after the paragraphs §§ 175 and 175a number 3 (seduction of two youths). He lost his civil rights for five years. On 17 May 1938 he was moved to Fuhlsbüttel Penitentiary. When he was done serving his sentence, he was not given his freedom but instead released into custody of the police authority.

Presumably he was held in police custody, likely at the inner-city Hütten Police Jail, until he was transferred to Sachsenhausen concentration camp on 8 Mar. 1941. At the concentration camp Ernst Knappe received prisoner number 36606 and was classified as a "half Jew” with the prisoner category "BVer Jew” (meaning "Jewish professional criminal”). Ernst Knappe’s health was probably debilitated from the long prison sentence as a 59-year-old man, for he soon was admitted to the camp infirmary on 12 Mar. 1941. On 7 June 1941 his name appeared on a transport list, with the code name "Commando S”, a list of people who were to be sent to the Sonnenstein euthanasia killing center near Pirna. The physician and SS Obersturmbannführer Friedrich Mennecke selected 269 people largely unfit to work, including many homosexual men, to be killed. Over the course of three days, 4, 5 and 7 June 1941, they were transported on trucks to Sonnenstein where they were asphyxiated with carbon monoxide in gas chambers. The circumstances of their death were officially covered up. Ernst Knappe’s death was noted as having occurred on 11 July 1941 due to "natural causes” on a fake death certificate issued in Oranienburg.

The actual place of death only became known after the Stumbling Stone was laid, which is why the stone in front of Ernst Knappe’s last residence, a ground floor apartment at Hamburg’s Hochstraße 19 in old town Altona on the border to the district St. Pauli, still bears the inscription "KILLED AT SACHSENHAUSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP 11 July 1941”.

His mother, who last lived in Hamburg, died before 1938. His twin brother only survived the terror of the National Socialists for a short time and died in 1946 at the age of 65. He was forced to help clear rubble for the building authority as a forced laborer until German surrender in May 1945. The severe lung disease which led to his death was not recognized as "caused by persecution” by the Restitution Office after the war.

Translator: Suzanne von Engelhardt
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: April 2018
© Bernhard Rosenkranz (†) / Ulf Bollmann

Quellen: AB Ottensen 1881; StaH, 213-8 Staatsanwaltschaft Oberlandesgericht – Verwaltung, Ablieferung 2, 451 a E1, 1b; StaH 213-11 Staatsanwaltschaft Landgericht – Strafsachen, 4424/38; StaH 242-1 II Gefängnisverwaltung II, Ablieferung 13 und 18902; StaH 332-5 Standesämter, 6154 (Eintrag Nr. 510 und 511); StaH 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung, 6572 und 6573; Dank an Monika Liebscher, Gedenkstätte und Museum Sachsenhausen, für eine Auskunft vom 19.9.2014 mit Hinweisen aus dem FSB-Archiv Moskau, N-19092/Tom 97, Bl. 066 und N 19092/Tom 83, Bl. 011 (= Archiv Sachsenhausen, JSU 1/97, Bl. 066 und JSU 1/83, Bl. 011), dem Russischen Staatlichen Militärarchiv Moskau, 1367/1/54, Bl. 284 (= Archiv Sachsenhausen, D 1 A/1054, Bl. 060) und dem Standesamt Oranienburg, Nr. 1183/1941 (II), Bl. 48; 11; Müller/ Sternweiler, Homosexuelle Männer im KZ Sachsenhausen, S. 19; Rosenkranz/Bollmann/Lorenz, Homosexuellen-Verfolgung, S. 225.

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