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Katharina Corleis * 1877
Öjendorfer Weg 41 (Hamburg-Mitte, Billstedt)
Katharina Corleis, née Engelke, born 15 Dec. 1877 in Groß-Fredenbeck near Stade, death by suicide 25 June 1935 in the Fuhlsbüttel Concentration Camp
Öjendorfer Weg 41
Katharina Engelke was born on 15 December 1877 in Groß-Fredenbeck near Stade. Her future husband, Friedrich Corleis, was born on 23 April 1879 in Deinste, a nearby village. After their marriage, they bought a piece of property at Ojendorfer Weg 41, where they built a house in the 1930s. The couple had two daughters and three sons. Friedrich Corleis worked at the gas company. The family had a market garden on their property, in which they grew fruit, vegetables, and flowers. The girls sold the products at a market in Hamm. Katharina and Friedrich Corleis were members of the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany), and in the PRO consumer cooperative.
When the SPD was banned in 1933, some party members in Billstedt formed underground resistance organizations. They distributed publications warning against the National Socialists and of a war orchestrated by them. They wrote some of the materials themselves. On the night of 17 June 1935, 48 of the Billstedt men and women were arrested. Among the eight women were Katharina (Mehrens) Strutz and Katharina Corleis.
In an interview on 30 January 1946, Friedrich Corlies recalled: "My wife, Katharina Corleis, was arrested at our house at Öjendorfer Weg 41. She courageously protested, and was verbally abused in my presence. She was told that they knew what she had done, that she had an important position in the banned SPD. In addition, she was supposedly in possession of illegal publications, and that she distributed them in spite of the ban.” She protested that she had only been an ordinary member of the SPD. His wife was sent to the police prison at the Stadthaus (Gestapo headquarters), and transferred from there to the Fuhlsbüttel Concentration Camp. On 26 June 1935, Corleis was informed that his wife had hanged herself in her cell during the night of 25 June 1935.
He was ordered to appear at the Stadthaus on 27 June. There he was informed that his wife had been involved in a forbidden SPD organization, which had been under observation by the Gestapo since Christmas 1934. This group had collected donations for the SPD, and his wife had played a significant role. They asserted that she had surely had a guilty conscience, and that was why she had hanged herself. The Hanseatic District Court charged the other arrestees of "intention to commit high treason.” Six of them were sentenced to prison terms of between 15 months to three years.
Friedrich Corleis was not allowed to bury his wife in Billstedt, as the Gestapo was afraid the burial would be used for propaganda purposes. The body was cremated in the Ohlsdorf crematorium. Only the family was allowed to view the body, and only from a distance. They were specifically prohibited from coming nearer. Friedrich Corleis was given the urn to bury. Katharina Corleis was buried at the Schiffbeker Cemetery, under the condition that no one but the family attend.
Katharina Corleis’ granddaughter, Helga Witt, was visiting her grandparents at the time. When she awoke in the morning and found her grandmother gone, her grandfather explained to her that she had been taken away.
The co-defendant Karharina Strutz later declared in an affidavit "that Frau Corleis … was arrested along with myself by the Gestapo on the night of 17 June 1935. Around noon on 18 June 1935 we were taken from the Stadthaus to Fuhlsbüttel, where we (eight women from Billstedt) were put into solitary confinement. I learned of Frau Corleis’ death in early July at the first interrogation at the Stadthaus. A fellow prisoner, who I did not know, and who had not been in solitary confinement, told me that Frau Corleis had been dead for several days.”
Katharina Corleis was the first woman to die in the Fuhlsbüttel Concentration Camp. Within the framework of the "underground anti-fascist resistance fight” she had supported opponents of the Nazi regime and the families of victims of Nazi persecution with small sums of money. She helped ease their suffering with the donations that she collected and distributed. With this money, some people were able to continue to pay their rent, others could buy food or medicine, or school supplies for their children. Those who actively opposed the Nazi system had to suffer many hardships. Many lost their jobs and thus their income, and this money was a blessing. Katharina Corleis knew what she was getting into, and what the consequences could be. This knowledge did not stop her from doing it.
Translator(s): Amy Lee
Translation kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg
© Christiane Chodinski
Quellen: Kola-Fu Gedenkbuch; StaH 351-11 AfW, 4443; Gedächtnisprotokoll vom 30.01.1946 von Friedrich Corleis; mündliche Mitteilungen von Angehörigen.