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Herbert Bittcher * 1908
Wilstorfer Straße , Tor 4 der ehem. Phoenix-Werke (Harburg, Harburg)
hingerichtet am 22.4.1944 Widerstandskämpfer
Herbert Bittcher, born on 6 Feb. 1908 in Harburg, sentenced to death, suicide on 22 Jan. 1944
Karl Kock, born on 16 June 1908 in Harburg, sentenced to death, executed on 26 June 1944
Wilhelm Milke, born on 16 Sept. 1896 in Heide (Holstein), sentenced to death, suicide on 12 Jan. 1944
District of Harburg-Altstadt, Wilstorfer Straße, former Phoenix plant, entry gate 4
The Harburg Phoenix plant ranks among the oldest enterprises in Harburg. The founders, the brothers Albert and Louis Cohen, were handed the certificate awarding local civic rights by Harburg’s mayor August Gumbrecht on 13 June 1856. They had obtained a contract from the city to run "a plant for manufacturing rubber boots and vulcanized rubber.” The plant changed names several times. In 1872, it merged with an Austrian company, going by the name of "United Rubber Goods Plants Harburg – Vienna” ("Vereinigte Gummiwaren-Fabriken Harburg – Wien”). In 1922, the company fell apart again due to the beginning inflation. The Harburg operation now did business as "Harburger Gummiwarenfabriken Phoenix,” subsequently as "Phoenix-Gummiwerke,” and in the end as "Phoenix AG.” Since 2007, when Continental AG took it over, its name has been "Conti-Tech.”
In 1934, after the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship, all companies were submitted to the "leader principle” ("Führerprinzip”) in accordance with the "Act on the Ordering of National Labor” ("Gesetz zur Ordnung der nationalen Arbeit”). The entrepreneur became a "factory leader” to whom the "followers” had to remain loyal. In coordination with the pseudo union, the "National Socialist Factory Cell Organization” ("Nationalsozialistische Betriebszellen-Organisation” – NSBO), the "factory leader” compiled a list of "councils of trust” ("Vertrauensräte”) whom the "followers” had to confirm by secret ballot. These "councils of trust” had to take the "national state” as a basic principle, which meant that only members of and sympathizers with the NSDAP could be "elected.” Elections such as these were organized in 1934 and 1935, but they resulted in devastating outcomes for the National Socialists. According to a confidential report by the Reich leadership of the NSDAP dated 20 Apr. 1935, at the Phoenix plant only 1,394 votes were cast (of potentially 2,347 votes), with the candidates receiving only 950 yes votes on average. In 1935, no further elections of this kind were organized.
Illegal Communist resistance cells did exist at the plant. A report by the KPD’s Wasserkante District leadership mentioned a cell at the Phoenix plant comprised of ten members. Such cells were looked after by the Section Leadership North (Abschnittsleitung Nord) of the KPD in Copenhagen. There were several couriers who conveyed material from there to Harburg and to the Phoenix plant as well (see entry for Felix Plewa). In Jan. 1938, the Gestapo reported the following on the arrest of one courier: "The material smuggled from Denmark to the company cell at the Phoenix works in Hamburg was hidden in a suitcase with false bottom, and the imported pocket mirror also accommodated in its cover an issue of the Communist ‘Rote Fahne.’”
The illegal group at the Phoenix plant also included Karl Kock and Wilhelm Milke. In 1940, Karl Kock was arrested. The Gestapo accused him of having formed a Communist cell. However, in 1941 the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht – OLG) acquitted him again for lack of evidence. In 1942, Kock and Milke supported the Hamburg resistance group around Bästlein, Jacob, and Abshagen, which had bases mainly on shipyards and other large-scale enterprises (see entry for Karl Kock). Contacts from the Phoenix plant to the leadership were maintained via Berthold Bormann and Oskar Reincke. They also helped the prisoners of war and forced laborers working at the Phoenix plant, slipping to them food, shaving kits, and radios.
That summer, Erna Eifler and Wilhelm Fellendorf, both wanted by the Gestapo, came to Hamburg. Wilhelm Fellendorf went to see his cousin Herbert Bittcher, who lived in Hamburg and worked at the Phoenix plant as well (see entry for Herbert Bittcher).
In Oct. 1942, several Communists and other supporters of the Bästlein Group were arrested. The Gestapo came to pick up Wilhelm Milke and Herbert Bittcher at the Phoenix plant, which caused considerable agitation at the factory. The Gestapo spread the rumor that the two had intended to blow up the Phoenix. Karl Kock was supposed to be arrested as well. However, he was on sick leave and thus not at the company site, receiving a warning in time and fleeing with the help of some friends by streetcar to Hamburg. There he hid with relatives and friends, finally with August Quest at Kapellenweg 15. On 6 Mar. 1943, the police raided the house, arresting him and Karl Kock.
This was followed by repeated torture in Gestapo custody. Subsequently, the resistance fighters were sent to the pretrial detention facility at Holstenglacis. Wilhelm Milke and Herbert Bittcher were transferred to Berlin, where the court trial against the supporters of the parachutists took place on 12 Jan. 1944. Both were sentenced to death by the "People’s Court” ("Volksgerichtshof”). Wilhelm Milke hanged himself in his prison cell the same day; Herbert Bittcher did so on 22 Jan.
Karl Kock was sentenced to death by the "People’s Court” ("Volksgerichtshof”) on 8 May 1944 and executed together with nine other resistance fighters on 26 June at the Holstenglacis prison.
The memory of the men was kept alive: On 14 Sept. 1947, Karl Kock was buried at the Memorial Grove for Resistance Fighters (Ehrenhain der Widerstandskämpfer) on Ohlsdorf Cemetery. On 24 Nov. 1984, the office of the Harburg DKP (Hohe Straße 26) was named "Karl-Kock-Centrum” (it no longer exists). Since 1988, there is a Karl-Kock-Weg (in Wilstorf, turnoff to Radickestraße) and a Bittcherweg (near Mensingstraße).
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Hans-Joachim Meyer
Quellen: VVN-BdA Harburg (Hrsg.), Die anderen, S. 291ff.; Ursel Hochmuth, Niemand, S. 84ff.; VVN-BdA Harburg (Hrsg.), Stumme Zeugen, s. Personenverzeichnis; Streiflichter, S. 341ff.; Friedrich, Werk, S. 9; Heyl/Maronde-Heyl, Abschlussbericht; Totenliste VAN.