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Porträt Elisabeth Bruhn
Elisabeth Bruhn
© Karl Dietz Verlag Berlin

Elisabeth Bruhn (née Holz) * 1893

Schellingstraße 16 (Wandsbek, Eilbek)

JG. 1893

further stumbling stones in Schellingstraße 16:
Gustav Bruhn

Maria Catharina Elisabeth Bruhn, née Holz (called Liesbeth or Lisbeth), born 26 Dec. 1893 in Nesserdeich near Groven in North Dithmarschen, murdered 16 Feb. 1944 in the Neuengamme concentration camp
Gustav Karl Wilhelm Bruhn, born 16 Mar. 1889 in Angermünde (Uckermark), murdered 16 Feb. 1944 in the Neuengamme concentration camp

Schellingstraße16 (Schellingstraße 33)

Both Bruhns had been politically active since their youth. Gustav Bruhn joined the Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen resistance group in 1942. Elisabeth and Gustav Bruhn were hanged, without the judgment of a court, on 14 Februar 1944 in the Neuengamme concentration camp.

Gustav Bruhn was from a family of railroad workers in Angermünde in the Uckermark. His father was Wilhelm Bruhn, a signalman; his mother was Minna Ziegler. Gustav attended primary school, then apprenticed as a cabinet-maker. He worked in several cities throughout Germany. In 1909 he was called up for three years of military service in the 1st Marine Division in Kiel. In 1912 he joined the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) in Hanover, and became politically active in the workers’ movement.

Elisabeth Bruh, née Holz, was from a working-class family. Her parents, the farm worker Johann Heinrich Holz and Catharina Margaretha, née Peters, were part of the workers’ movement. They and their six children lived in Lunden near Groven in Dithmarschen. In 1921 Elisabeth’s father was the head of the local German Communist Party group in Lunden.
Elisabeth began working as a nanny when she was still fairly young to help support her family. After her schooling she moved to Kiel, where she found employment as a maid. She later earned her living as a manual laborer.

Gustav Bruhn and Elisabeth Holz met each other in Kiel. They married on 25 January 1913 in Lunden. Their son Heinrich, later a college teacher, was born on 29 January 1913 in Lunden. After WWII his wife spoke of a second son, Otto, who was a Wehrmacht soldier and went missing in Stalingrad. There is no further evidence of this son.

At the outbreak of the First World War Gustav Bruhn was called to serve at Wilhelmshaven in the seaman’s division of the Imperial Navy. He served on board the battleship SMS Wörth until 1915, and was then transferred to the Flanders Naval Corps, where he served in a pioneer unit until the end of the war.
Gerhard Bruhn was opposed to the war, and by August 1917 he had found his way to the Spartacus League, a Marxist revolutionary movement founded by Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and others, and which became the German Communist Party (KPD) when it joined the Comintern in 1919. The news of the overthrow of the czarist regime in Russia and the mutiny on the battleship SMS Prinzregent Luitpold were among the events that influenced Bruhn’s path.

Elisabeth Bruhn shared the same political convictions as her husband and was involved in political protests for the rest of her life after she became politically active in 1919. During the First World War she moved to Hanover, where she worked on a railroad gang. It was during this time that she also came into contact with the Spartacus League.

The Bruhn family reunited after the war and moved into an apartment on Westerstraße in Heide in the Dithmarschen district of Holstein. In 1918, during the course of the November Revolution, Gustav Bruhn, wearing his uniform, had held a public speech in Heide and become known as a "Red” in Dithmarschen. During the war (some sources give the date as 1919) he had shifted his allegiance from the SPD to the USPD (Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany, formed when left-wing SPD members split away to form a new party). He, the newspaper editor Carl Metze and the businessman Paul Bermähl were the best-known USPD party members in Heide and the surrounding area. In October 1920 he was one of the founding members the local committee of the KPD in Heide. He was a delegate at the 7th Communist Party Convention in 1921 in Jena. In 1923 he was elected chairman of the the KPD in Heide.

In 1920 Elisabeth Bruhn also joined the KPD. She led the Young Spartacus League in Heide, in which children from 10 to 14 were made familiar with the goals of the KPD.

On 13 March 1920, members of the Reichswehr (the regular army in the Weimar Republic) and veterans of the Imperial army and navy, under the leadership of Wolfgang Kapp and Walther von Lüttwitz, attempted to overthrow the legitimate government (the Kapp Putsch). The senior officer at the garrison in Heide, Captain von Liliencron, and the local postmaster supported the putschists. The town’s mayor did not declare himself for either side. The workers’ council in Heide arrested von Liliencron in the night of 13 to 14 March. On Sunday, 14 March, a public assembly was held in the Tivoli community hall, at which Carl Metze and Gustav Bruhn spoke. Bruhn said: "They are trying to wrest away from us the freedom that we have won. This new government will bring us neither freedom nor bread, but war! And the people will be bound and gagged.” Gustav Bruhn was elected to a new workers’ council and was appointed deputy to the nationalist-conservative District Administrator. Notwithstanding his increasing inter-regional activities, Bruhn’s political attention remained focused on Heide and Dithmarschen in the next few years. Openly Communist, Bruhns soon had no chance of being hired for a job. Employers who wanted to hire him were allegedly hindered. It thus fell to Elisabeth Bruhns to support the family.

When the Hamburg Uprising began on the morning of 23 October 1923, the workers and farmers in Heide led by Gustav Bruhn and his comrades were ready to join in, but it never came to that. The police arrested Bruhn and some of his political allies. Rather than facing three hundred-man-strong companies of the "Red Workers’ Defense” (Rote Arbeiterwehr) from the Köster machine factory, who demanded the prisoners’ release and were willing to use force if necessary, the police transferred Bruhn and the others to a prison in Flensburg, where they were put into "protective custody.” (The euphemism Schutzhaft (protective custody) was already in use in the Weimar Republic for the detention of an individual without a court order or just cause. In the early, crisis-ridden years of the Weimar Republic, "protective custody prisoners,” almost always Communists, were also held in camps).

After his release from prison in 1924, Gustav Bruhn resumed his political activities. He was elected to the town council in Heide and the district council in North Dithmarschen. He was also a representative in the provincial parliament in Kiel. In 1924 he was a delegate at the 5th World Congress of the Comintern in Moscow. Beginning in 1925 he was party secretary and subdistrict chairman in Heide and Itzehoe.

On 30 January 1926, the Heide chapter of the Nazi Party was founded in the Tivoli community hall. There were already several local chapters in the Dithmarschen district, including one in Lunden, the former home of the Bruhns. Gustav Bruhn was very concerned about this development. A report written by the former Heide Nazi chapter leader for a publication celebrating the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Nazi Party mentions that Gustav Bruhn spoke in opposition to the party at the founding assembly.

Beginning in 1927 Gustav Bruhn worked as party secretary and subdistrict chairman of the KPD in Lübeck. His family remained in Heide. On his way home from a rally in Meldorf, he was arrested at the Heide train station. He was charged with the distribution of an illegal brochure – Anti-Nautikus – Germany’s Revolutionary Seamen by Willy Sachse. On 25 September 1927 the 4th criminal division of the Supreme Court of the German Reich sentenced him to nine months in prison and a fine of 100 Marks for conspiracy to commit high treason in conjunction with infringement of Section 7 of the Protection of the Republic Law (Republikschutzgesetz). The goal of this law, passed in 1922, was to ban or incapacitate anti-republican monarchist organizations, but in practice it targeted left-wing activities. Bruhn was imprisoned in the Gollnow fortress near Stettin, which was then in Mecklenburg (today Szczecin in Poland).

During his prison term, Gustav Bruhn was granted a two-day furlough for his son’s Jugendweihe (a secular coming-of-age ceremony as an alternative to the Catholic and Protestant confirmation). Very little is known about the conditions under which he was held.
On 20 May 1928 Gustav Bruhn was elected on the KPD ticket to the Prussian provincial parliament, where he served until 1932. The diplomatic immunity granted to him by his office ended his prison term. He and his family moved to Altona, which at that time still belonged to Prussia. After finishing his schooling, Bruhn’s son Heinrich moved to Berlin and entered a commercial apprenticeship at Dertura (Deutsch-Russische Transport-Aktiengesellschaft, German-Russian Transport Joint-Stock Company).

Gustav Bruhn now took on the additional function as chairman of the subdistrict Kiel, and later the same in Hamburg. In 1930 his address was Annenstraße 59 in Kiel. He was a member of the district leadership of the Hamburg KPD district Wasserkante. In Lübeck police records from late 1931, his address is given as Beckergrube 29 in Lübeck.

It can be assumed with near certainty that Gustav Bruhn was under police observation. An "information depository” at the Department of Interior Affairs gathered information from all over the Republic about "KPD Degradation – Military and Police Activities.” The Lübeck police put an informant on Bruhn, and, beginning in October 1931, they forwarded their information to Berlin. According to the Lübeck police, Bruhn was friends with a woman who worked in a ministry who supplied him with information. Shortly after this information came to light, it was reported that "the investigation of Bruhn’s ‘girlfriend’ and the alleged villa in Tempelhof [were] inconclusive.”

In expectation of the Nazi seizure of power, the KPD made plans for their eventual prohibition and for underground resistance activities in Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein. Many of the Wasserkante functionaries were involved in this planning, including Gustav Bruhn.

Gustav Bruhn was held in "protective custody” from 26 April to 17 June 1933 in the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp. Upon his release he immediately resumed his work for the KPD. His field of action expanded to include Hanover. There is also documentation of a stay in Minden with the goal of establishing contact to the underground KPD organization there.

Bruhn was again arrested in September 1933. His prison record shows that he was sent to the detention center in Hamburg on 13 October 1933, then transferred to Hanover on 27 June 1934. The reason for his transfer is unknown. He was transferred to Berlin on 1 March 1935. On 14 March 1935 the Volksgerichtshof (People’s Court - a special Nazi court that operated outside the bounds of constitutional law and had jurisdiction over a broad array of "political offenses”) in Berlin convicted him of "conspiracy to commit high treason” and sentenced him to three years in prison. His term was reduced by the time spent in pretrial detention, and he was released in 1937. It is not known where he served this prison term. His son Heinrich later reported that he was in Rendsburg, but no documentation has been found.

Immediately after his prison term, on 16 April 1937, Gustav Bruhn was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp as a "recidivistic protective custody prisoner.” Other leading Communists were being held in Sachsenhausen at that time, including several from Hamburg: Bernhard Bästlein, Robert Abshagen, Hans Christoffers, Franz Jacob, and Adolf Wendt, among others.

Elisabeth Bruhn also experienced persecution at the hands of the Nazis. She was arrested and sent to the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp on 5 April 1934. At that time her address was given as Heinrich-Dreckmannstraße 1 (today Susannenstraße in the Sternschanze district). Pretrial detention followed, and then a two-year prison sentence for reorganizing the banned Communist Party. Her prison term began on 25 September 1934 in the Lauerhof women’s prison in Lübeck. Lina Knappe, a fellow prisoner in Lauerhof, later said: "We had the feeling that they [Elisabeth Bruhn and another prisoner, Maria Cords] were our mothers, they took care of us. That gave us strength and confidence, and we got back on our feet, [both politically and] physically.” Elisabeth Bruhn was released on 5 April 1936 and immediately resumed her political activities. She was arrested again in the fall of 1936 and again sent to the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp. Her son Heinrich and his wife were arrested at the same time. She was released on 18 January 1937 for lack of evidence.

The Nazi regime was confident in its power in the years from 1937 to 1940. This is the only explanation for the release of so many leading Communists from concentration camps, including Gustav Bruhn, in April 1939. After his release from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, he resumed his resistance activities. The other released prisoners also sought contact to the Communists in Hamburg and to other resistance fighters. A new resistance group was formed in the fall of 1941, incorporating existing underground circles and resistance groups. It was to be anchored in large factories in Hamburg, and was called the Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen Group. Robert Abshagen recruited Gustav Bruhn in the spring of 1942, according to the senior public prosecutor’s bill of indictment at the Volksgerichtshof trial. The core of the group consisted of about 210 men and women, including some SPD and union members. The group grew to at least 300 members between 1943 and 1945. It was in contact with the Schulze-Boysen/Harnack resistance group in Berlin and was a significant center of resistance in Germany.

The Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen Group was first organized in individual groups in various large companies, but soon industry groups for the individual sectors were formed – in the construction industry and the metalworking industry, for instance. Gustav Bruhn took over the leadership of the metal industry group from Oskar Reincke, one of the leaders in the Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen Group, and became acquainted with Paul Thürey (see Stolpersteine in Hamburg-Eimsbüttel – Biographische Spurensuche), who organized the resistance activities at the Conz electromotor factory in Hamburg-Bahrenfeld. Bruhn was given information about the number of workers, the production methods, the mood among the workers, salaries and the piecework system. In this way he was also able to gather information about Russian women working as forced labor at the Conz plants. He got information about the Klöckner aircraft engine company in Hamburg-Billbrook from Hans Köpke, a mechanic who was later sentenced to death by the Volksgerichtshof and executed in the Hamburg detention center on 26 June 1944.

The activities of the Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen Group did not remain a secret from the Nazis. They began a wave of arrests, and Gustav and Elisabeth Bruhn were among the first victims. They were arrested on 18 October 1942, and were subjected to intensive interrogations and torture. Their son Heinrich learned of their imprisonment when mail was returned to him with the stamp "arrested.” A fellow prisoner (Heinz Gerhard Nilsson) later reported that Gustav Bruhn had been maltreated during the interrogations.

By 23 March 1943 the Gestapo’s investigation into Gustav and Elisabeth Bruhn had progressed to the point that the prisoners were transferred from the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp to the Hamburg detention center. The address given in both of their records was Schellingstraße 33.

It is assumed that the trials for the Bruhns and other members of the Hamburg resistance were planned for the early summer of 1943, but heavy air raids pre-empted the process. Elisabeth and Gustav Bruhn were in the detention center on Holstenglacis during "Operation Gomorrah,” the Allied bombing raid of Hamburg. It lay waste to much of the city in late July and early August 1943, and the police institutions were in chaos. The Stadthaus, the Hamburg Gestapo headquarters, was destroyed, and the Gestapo and the justice system were temporarily unable to function. In light of the devastation, the Hamburg District Attorney’s office decided to furlough approximately 2000 prisoners. About 70 members of the Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen Group were granted a two-month furlough from 31 July to 1 October 1943, under the stipulation that they seek no "contact to accomplices.” Gustav Bruhn was released on 2 August 1943. Prior to his release, he called for a meeting with other members of the resistance, scheduled for a few days after their furloughs began. About 20 of them met to discuss the situation, and they decided to go into hiding until the end of the war.

Gustav and Elisabeth Bruhn went underground and moved from place to place. Gustav hid in Hamburg-Berne at the home of Käthe and Richard Tennigkeit, who paid for their resistance to the Nazi dictatorship with their lives (see After the war Adolph Kummernuß, later the president of the ÖTV, the trade union for civil servants, reported having met Gustav Bruhn once or twice at the Tennigkeits’. Bruhn resumed his underground political activities, together with his fellow Communists Walter Bohne and Hans Hornberger. Walter Bohne was shot by the Gestapo when they attempted to arrest him on 5 January 1944.

Gustav Bruhn was in Hanover for the month of October 1943. He then returned to Hamburg and lived with Friedrich (Fiete) Löhn, a Communist, at Kanalstraße 33. He had met Löhn through Adolf Schröder, a Communist who was hiding in the home of Klara Dworznick at Bogenstraße 23. While living at Löhn’s, Bruhn met Alfons Pannek, a former Communist and veteran of the Spanish Civil War, who was now working as an undercover agent for the Gestapo. This meeting eventually spelled Bruhn’s doom.

A friend of many years, the Communist Klara Dworznick, hid Elisabeth Bruhn in her apartment at Bogenstraße 23 in Hamburg-Eimsbüttel. Gustav also spent some time here. Alfons Pannek won Gustav Bruhn’s trust, and provided him a room in his and his wife Elsa’s apartment at Eppendorfer Weg 256. Bruhn thought he was safe there. He trusted Pannek so much that he even took him and his wife to Klara Dworznik’s apartment several times.

Gustav Bruhn planned to move to Hanover in December 1943 and to go underground. Pannek had arranged forged papers for him. As he was leaving Hamburg on the train on the evening of 13 December 1943, he was arrested during a supposedly random check of tickets and identification papers. His prison records in the Hamburg detention center contain the memo: "15 Dec. 1943 1800 hrs, returned from furlough.”

Elisabeth Bruhn was arrested on 3 February 1944 in Klara Dworznick’s apartment at Bogenstraße 23, together with Dworznick, Rudolf Steinfatt and Adolf Schröder, who died on 6 January 1945 at the Neuengamme concentration camp. The senior public prosecutor at the Berlin Volksgerichtshof had filed a bill of indictment for Bernhard Bästlein, Oskar Reincke, Robert Abshagen, Walter Bohne, and Gustav Bruhn, despite the fact that they had all gone into hiding.

Before Gustav Bruhn’s trial began, the Gestapo agent Henry Helms arranged for him to be liquidated, at the prompting of Alfons Pannek, whose involvement in Bruhn’s arrest had been exposed. Pannek evidently wanted Bruhn dead in order to secure his status as a Gestapo informant. On 14 February 1944, Elisabeth and Gustav Bruhn were taken to the Neuengamme concentration camp, where thery were hanged without a court order. Alfred Baumbach, a friend of the Bruhn family, wrote about the events of that day: "When we got into the truck that was taking us from Fuhlsbüttel to Neuengamme on 14 February 1944, I saw that Gustav and Lisbeth Bruhn and a few other prisoners who were in a horrible condition were being herded into the truck by the SS and the Gestapo agents Helms and Litzow. I sensed that something horrible was going to happen. In the truck I tried to get close to Lisbeth, so I could express my sympathy with a friendly gesture. She was thoroughly distraught. When we got out in Neuengamme Gustav tried to stand next to us. Helms and the other SS men sneered ‘You’d like that, wouldn’t you’ and separated him from us with punches and kicks. Gustav and Lisbeth Bruhn, Hans Hornberger, Kurt Schill, and a fifth person we didn’t know were taken away by the SS. Helms and Litzow went with them. By that evening, all of the comrades in the camp knew that all five had been hanged in the bunker.”

The murders of Elisabeth and Gustav Bruhn, Hans Hornberger, Kurt Schill and Walter Bohne were immediately reported to the Reichsführer SS (Heinrich Himmler) and the Head of the German Police. They informed the Reich Minister of Justice.

There are Stolpersteine for Elisabeth Bruhn at Schellingstraße 16 and Bogenstraße 23. A memorial stone was laid for Elisabeth and Gustav Bruhn in the Memorial Grove for Hamburg Resistance Fighters at the Ohlsdorf Cemetery. The names of Elisabeth and Gustav Bruhn are also on the Memorial Wall at the Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery in Berlin (see p. 85). An elementary school in Angermünde was named for Gustav Bruhn, and a street in Hamburg-Bergedorf is called "Lisbeth-Bruhn-Straße.”

Stand Februar 2014

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

© Ingo Wille

 AB; Bundesarchiv SAPMO Ry 1/I3/16/36; VAN-Totenliste S. 18f.; Weber, Herbst, Deutsche Kommunisten, S. 128f.; Hochmuth, Ursel, Niemand und nichts wird vergessen, S. 43ff.; Hochmuth, Ursel/ Meyer, Gertrud, Streiflichter, S. 344f., S. 369ff.; Meyer Gertrud, Nacht über Hamburg, S. 92f.; Meyer, Gertrud, Die Frau mit den grünen Haaren, S. 114ff.; Gedenkstätte Sachsenhausen, Archiv, Haftdaten Gustav Bruhn im KZ Sachsenhausen;
 Gedenkstätte deutscher Widerstand, Anklageschrift des Oberreichsanwalts beim Volksgerichtshof vom 1. November 1943 gegen Bästlein, Reincke, Abshagen, Bohne und Bruhn (10 J 423/43g); Gedenkstätte Ernst Thälmann – Archiv; Bästlein, "Hitlers Niederlage ist nicht unse­rer Niederlage, sondern unser Sieg!" Die Bästlein-Organisation, in: Meyer/Szodrzynski, Zweifeln; Gerchen, Vom Heider Marktplatz bis zum KZ Neuengamme; Thomsen, Landleben in der Weimarer Republik, S. 19f.; Puls, Die Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen-Gruppe; Knappe, Meuterei im Jugendgefängnis in: Zorn/Meyer, Frauen gegen Hitler; Pfeil, Ulrich, Die KPD im ländlichen Raum – Die Geschichte der Heider KPD 1920–1935 in: Demokratische Geschichte X – Jahrbuch zur Arbeiterbewegung und Demokratie in Schleswig-Holstein; Wadle, Mutti, warum lachst du nie?; Diercks, Der Einsatz von V-Leuten im Sachgebiet "Kommunismus" der Hamburger Gestapo, in: Polizei, Verfolgung und Gesellschaft im Nationalsozialismus, S. 124; http://www.bildung-bran­den­ schulportraets/index.php?id=stammdaten&schulnr=100638 (Zugriff 11.9.2012); (Zugriff 8.5.2012).

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