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Fritz Eilken * 1903
Hasselbrookstraße 150 (Wandsbek, Eilbek)
1943 BEWÄHRUNGSBATAILLON 999
Fritz Otto Eilken, born on 10 May 1903 in Söhren (District of Segeberg), sentence for "preparation to high treason,” served in 999th Division Probation Battalion (Bewährungsbatallion Division 999), declared dead as of 31 Dec. 1945
Fritz Eilken was active in organizations of the working-class movement from a young age. Ultimately, he paid for this commitment with his life.
Fritz Eilken was born on 10 May 1903 in Söhren, a small village in the District of Segeberg north of Hamburg. He had two siblings. Fritz’ father, the shoemaker Carl Eilken, died when Fritz was six years old. In 1909, after the death of her husband, Fritz’s mother Ida, née Carlsdotter, a native of Sweden, moved to Bad Oldesloe with the children. Fritz Eilken attended the eight-grade elementary school (Volksschule) to "grade 2” (the equivalent of today’s grade 7). Afterward, he worked for a farmer as a junior farmhand.
At the age of 16, Fritz Eilken came in contact with the young workers’ movement, became a member of the "Socialist Young Workers” (Sozialistische Arbeiterjugend – SAJ), and participated in their outings. Group evenings sometimes took place in his mother’s apartment.
In 1921, Fritz Eilken moved to Hamburg, joining the Transport Workers’ Union (Transportarbeiterverband) that same year. From 1922 to 1933, he was employed as a worker with the telegraph construction office (Telegraphenbauamt) in Hamburg. In 1922, at the age of 19, he became a member of the SPD, eventually advancing to district leader in Barmbek-Nord. He belonged to the "Black, Red, and Gold Banner of the Reich” ("Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold”) since its foundation in 1924.
On 21 Mar. 1925, Fritz Eilken and Martha Vogt, a native of Hamburg one year his junior, got married. They had met at the SAJ Winterhude. The Eilken couple had two daughters, Ellen, born on 27 July 1925, and Ursula Gisela, born on 24 Sept. 1927.
That same year, 1925, the Eilkens also joined the "Produktion,” a working-class self-help association organized on a cooperative basis. Its aim was to provide affordable and healthy food supplies to members. Fritz Eilken became a functionary of the consumers’ cooperative, usually just called "Pro” by its members.
Initially, the Eilken couple lived at Angerstrasse 9/11 in Hamburg-Hohenfelde; in the winter of 1928, the family moved to Tischbeinstrasse 16 in Barmbek-Nord.
The list of his political and social memberships shows that Fritz Eilken was a very interested and politically active person. Martha Eilken stated on this score:
"In 1929, my husband was almost always out and about after work, either for the party, the Banner of the Reich, the Transport Workers’ Union, or the "Produktion.” Frequently, this extended from Saturday to Sunday evening. In 1930/31, he was in a training course […] for four weeks. In 1932, I assisted my husband, wrote out the orders coming from the Banner of the Reich, and brought them to the junior group leaders [Untergruppenführer].”
After their assumption of power, the National Socialists not only persecuted the German Communist Party (KPD) but also outlawed the "Banner of the Reich” (Mar. 1933) and the SPD (June 1933). Thus, Fritz Eilken’s membership in these two organizations formally ended. In reality, however, he continued his political work underground, as Martha Eilken reported:
"The year 1933 was bad, with orders frequently coming in after 1 a.m. when we had just gone to sleep, and then my husband would leave and return only around 4 or 5 a.m.; during the fateful election night [5/6 Mar. 1933], he stayed away altogether, returning at 7 in the morning, quietly changing, and going to work. After that, the time of illegal work began. The leaflets were brought to us. In the evenings, I would go out because my husband wished to be alone with party comrades; in the beginning, there was still billposting, with one person going ahead with the glue and the others following with the posters.”
In Aug. 1933, Fritz Eilken lost his job with the telegraph construction office due to Sec. 4 of the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service (Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums) passed on 7 Apr. 1933. He was "on the dole,” i.e. the family lived on unemployment benefits. At first, he was denied any new employment because for political reasons the employment office refused to grant a job allocation. Fritz Eilken continued to maintain contact to his SPD comrades. They distributed leaflets, passing them conspirationally from one person to the other.
In Apr. 1936, Fritz Eilken got a job with Heidenreich & Harbeck in Barmbek, a long-established Hamburg firm. At the same time, he joined the German Labor Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront – DAF). The DAF was the Nazis’ united association for employers and employees. Was this the price for being hired by Heidenreich & Harbeck? According to the indictment, he was taken into "protective custody” ("Schutzhaft”) at work on 1 Feb. 1937 and then released from prison for the time being on 4 Feb. 1937, before being arrested again on 11 or 15 Apr.
In Martha Eilken’s report, the dates given differ slightly from those in the indictment. According to her information, Fritz Eilken was arrested for the first time on 2 Feb. 1937 and released two weeks later. She recalls, "On 2 Feb. 1937, the Gestapo came to our home but my husband had work to do and was not at home, and they [the Gestapo officers] did not stay for long. I then went to a female comrade but when I came back, the children told me Daddy had been at our place with two men. I went to city hall immediately but I was not allowed to see my husband, though I tried every day, in vain. After that, my husband was detained in the pretrial detention facility. Then word was that I could write to him, and soon I was told that I could see my husband and bring him clothes and food. I rushed home, went shopping, prepared a package, and agitated, I was unable to sleep all night. Around 10 a.m., I was at the pretrial detention facility, relieved by the hope of seeing my husband soon. No one can fathom my dismay when I was told my husband was not there. At that point, the entire search [for her husband] started over again, the parcel weighing heavy, and at noon I knew where my husband was; however, the door was locked, and when I rang, an officer inquired about my wishes, saying, he is not here, and locked the door. That’s when I had my first nervous breakdown. My screams reverberated through the court building. People flocked to the scene around me, leading me outside. However, I wanted to know where my husband was and so I ended up before the investigating judge, who after an agitated discussion sent me up to room number this or that, but unfortunately, I was denied entry. […] After a few days, my husband came home. He got his job again. On 1 Apr., we moved and on 11 Apr. at night, they came again and took my husband away from me. It was a horrible time, with my older daughter very sick and the doctor calling every day, my mother on her deathbed dying on 4 May (or 24 Apr.), tradesmen working in our apartment on top of that, and I heading to the pretrial detention facility and to the defense lawyer day after day. Things looked bad, as my husband knew that most of the comrades had been arrested and that one word too many could precipitate further arrests; so he remained silent and was regarded as particularly fanatical.”
Nothing is on record about the places and circumstances of the interrogations, nor about whether he managed to hold up against the brutal questioning methods entailing torture, which were surely used on him as well.
The indictment of the chief public prosecutor at the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court (Hanseatisches Oberlandesgericht) dated 23 Mar. 1937 itemizes the following:
"The defendant Eilken admitted to having received, approx. five times from the fall of 1933 to May/June 1935, from the defendant Haase [Wilhelm Haase, born on 9 Mar. 1907] a copy of ‘Sozialistische Aktion’ [‘Socialist Action’] and other brochures, e.g. ‘Konzentrationslager Oranienburg’ [‘Oranienburg concentration camp’], and from Harder and Kabs [...] a total of nine times the ‘Sozialistische Aktion.’ After reading these publications, Eilken returned each of them to the bearers. According to information provided by the defendant Haase [...], Eilken also paid 0.75 RM [reichsmark] and 0.50 RM once each in 1934 toward assisting political prisoners. Eilken denies these payments.”
The indictment resulted in the subsequent arrest on 11 Apr. 1937 as mentioned by Martha Eilken. He was "picked up” from his home and taken to the Hamburg pretrial detention center. He was denied day release for the funeral of his mother-in-law, who had died on 24 Apr. 1937.
One month later, on 11 May 1937, Fritz Eilken was sentenced to two years and three months in prison as well as loss of his civil rights for three years for "preparation to high treason.” The period spent in pretrial detention was not calculated against his prison term. Fritz Eilken initially served his sentence in the Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel penitentiary and from Mar. 1939 onward in the "peat bog detachment” [Moorkommando – a forced labor detachment in the North German moorlands] in Schülp near Nortorf, a branch of the Hamburg penitentiary. Fritz Eilken’s prisoner file card indicates that he was transferred to the Hamburg Gestapo on 11 Aug. 1939.
The move on 1 Apr. 1937 mentioned by Martha Eilken took the family to Hasselbrookstrasse 150 in the Hamburg neighborhood of Eilbek. The apartment was located in a redbrick apartment building rather untypical for Hasselbrookstrasse, at close quarters to the Hitler Youth house at Hasselbrook train station.
The family had been forcibly removed by the Nazis from the apartment at Tischbeinstrasse 16 in Hamburg-Nord. During her husband’s prison term, Martha Eilken had to earn a living for herself and her two daughters. Ellen Eilken, the older of the two daughters, later recalled:
"The first thing my mother did was unsubscribe the daily newspaper, and she took in her newly married sister and her husband as subtenants. With our aunt in the house, we girls always had someone looking after us when we came home from school. After our uncle and aunt moved out again, mother found a new subtenant. I was entrusted with a door key; I was the ‘big one’ after all.
Mother took on a first job in the city center, where she went by bicycle every day. After changing to Karstadt in Barmbek, she finally had a shorter way to work. Eventually, mother managed to take over the post of manager for our residential buildings, including staircase cleaning, garden maintenance, and shoveling snow. On Fridays, I had to help with cleaning the staircases. I earned some spending money by walking babies.”
Martha Eilken later reported about the release from prison:
"On 11 Aug. 1939, he came home, I was at work, our older daughter was at home, she had bath water ready, he took a bath, changed clothes, and went shopping with his older one, buying flowers for Mom! It was an incredible moment for me as the two walked toward me at noon; the time for lunch was short, and when I came back home in the evening, colleagues were there, and they stayed until midnight, and on Saturday, I had no lunch break.
My husband got a job right away, so that I [again] stayed at home [...].
During the war, my husband was supposed to become the block warden (Blockwart) of the air defense system, but when his certificate of conduct came, they thought I had better take on the position; I refused, however, and though they urged me, I stood firm.”
The historian Holger Martens writes about the time after Eilken had served his sentence that he had contracted a chronic gastric disorder. Moreover, a note in his employment office file prevented the employment office from assenting to his taking on a job as a skilled worker. According to Martens, he found work with the Siemens & Halske Company eventually.
However, this contract of employment also lasted only for a short time. On 3 Feb. 1943, Fritz Eilken was drafted to the 999th Division Probation Battalion (Bewährungsbatallion Division 999). In the 4th Africa Infantry Regiment 963 (4.-Afrika-Schützen-Regiment 963), he received an identification tag on 5 May 1943. According to his family, in June 1943, he was deployed in Greece.
The family was bombed out at Hasselbrookstrasse 150 in July 1943. Nevertheless, Fritz Eilken did not receive any home leave.
In Oct. 1943, the infantryman Fritz Eilken belonged to combat unit 10th/XVIIth Fortress Defense Infantry Battalion (10./XVII Festung Infanterie-Bataillon 999). Due to illness, he was at the army field hospital in Athens. On 13 Oct. 1943, he was transferred on a hospital train that took him to the Fürstenfeld reserve military hospital on 22 Oct. 1943. At Christmas of 1943, Fritz Eilken was granted convalescent leave. This was the last time he saw his family.
On 27 Jan. 1944, Fritz Eilken was assigned to the Infantry Replacement Battalion 999 (Schützen-Ersatz-Bataillon 999) and in Feb. 1944 stationed to Baumholder/Nahe. From 30 Apr. 1944 onward, he was in the 2nd/XVIIth Fortress Defense Infantry Battalion 999 (2./XVII Festung Infanterie-Bataillon 999). His last message dates from 16 Aug. 1944 from the operational area of Leontina in Bessarabia. From a comrade of his, Martha Eilken learned that Fritz Eilken’s unit was encircled there on 20 Aug. 1944 and taken into captivity to Odessa. Fritz Eilken has been missing ever since. He was declared dead as of 31 Dec. 1945.
On the Ohlsdorf cemetery in Hamburg, a gravestone for Fritz and Martha Eilken is located in the area of the burial and memorial site of the Hans and Sophie Scholl Foundation (Geschwister-Scholl-Stiftung).
Status as of Feb. 2014
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Ingo Wille
Quellen: AB; StaH 332-5 Standesämter 9603-151/1925, 1070-186/1937; 242-1 II Gefängnisverwaltung II Abl. 13, Abl. 16; 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung 28465, 28466, 28467; Deutsche Dienststelle für die Benachrichtigung der nächsten Angehörigen von Gefallenen der ehemaligen deutschen Wehrmacht, Auskunft vom 19.10.2011, IIC27 1081193_677-51; Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg, Anklageschrift Staatsanwaltschaft beim Hanseatischen Oberlandesgericht OJs 65/37 (Abschrift); VVN-Hamburg, Archiv; VAN-Totenliste, S. 26; Bengelsdorf, Hansen und Genossen, S. 127ff.; Martens, Für Freiheit und Demokratie, S. 55.