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Rudolf Stender
© U. Hochmuth

Rudolf Stender * 1899

Gertigstraße 56 (Hamburg-Nord, Winterhude)

Inhaftiert 1944
Tot 18.05.1945 an den Haftfolgen

further stumbling stones in Gertigstraße 56:
Ernst Stender

Ernst Gustav Ludwig Stender, b. 4.13.1901 in Hamburg, drowned while deployed in a "probationary battalion" on 10.7.1943
Rudolf Friedrich Franz Stender, b. 12.26.1899 in Hamburg, died in the Bützow-Dreibergen penitentiary on 5.18.1945

Gertigstraße 56

The family of the Communist Ernst Stender learned of his death in the sinking of the mine- layer Olympos in the Aegean Sea with a terse communique from the Hamburg Higher Regional Court. It wrote "he has, by his hero’s death, fully regained his military honor.” Like the approximately 34,000 other men, who because of their previous political convictions, or because of criminal or religious prosecution, were classified as "conditionally unworthy of military service,” Stender was drafted in 1942-43 into the "Parolee, that is, the 999th Penal Division.” Like many of the politically persecuted, he died in a war that he had always politically fought against.

Ernst Stender grew up with his four brothers and sisters in the Social Democratic house of his parents. He was born on 4.13.1901, the second oldest son of Karl Rudolf Stender and his wife Auguste Louise, née Meyer; he was scarcely a year and a half younger than his brother Rudolf (b. 12.26.1899). Hans followed in 1903 and Charlotte in 1906; Werner, the youngest brother, was born on 12.21.1915. The family lived at Gertigstrasse 56, on the ground floor (right). Directly below, in the basement, was the cobbler’s workshop of their father. During the First World War, their mother had to care for the children on her own and had to depend on trading shoes for agricultural goods in the countryside. After the war, the father converted the shop into a cigar business.

Ernst Stender attended the elementary school on Barbeker Strasse and took violin lessons. At the firm of Heidenreich & Harbeck in the Wiesendamm district, he learned the lathe operator’s trade. In 1918, he, like Rudolf, joined the Free Proletarian Youth. In 1922, he joined the Communist Party (KPD) and became a cell leader at his firm. Because of participation in a meeting of the then banned KPD, he was sentenced to a monetaey fine in July 1924. In 1923, Ernst Stender married Anna Ketelhohn, a comrade from the Free Proletarian Youth. Their daughter Gretel was born four years later.

The family was very musical, as Ernst’s young brother Werner relates: Ernst, Rudolf, and Hans played the violin and mandolin, Ernst’s wife, Anna, played the guitar and sang folksongs. They all belonged to a choir. For the silver wedding anniversary of their parents in 1925, a part of the Gertigstrasse was cordoned off so that musicians could perform on the street. The celebrant couple could see the spectacle through the open windows of the living room. In back, "queues lined up to toast the parents.” From 1933, Ernst Stender lived with his family at Rübenkamp 24.

In 1932, Ernst took on a role in the Hamburg KPD’s "military-political apparatus," the Alliance of Red Front-Fighters (RFB). After the handover of power to the National Socialists, he continued to work for the illegal KPD, under the cover name "Gerd.” In the summer of 1933, he participated in the "illegal import and redistribution of foreign printed materials,” that is, the Basel Review and the Communist Internationale. At the end of November, he fell into the hands of the Gestapo and was incarcerated in Kola-Fu, and later in the Fuhlsbüttel prison. The Hamburg Higher Regional Court sentenced him on 24 October 1934 to three years of penal servitude on the grounds of "Preparation of High Treason,” which he served in Fuhlsbüttel.

At nearly the same time, his younger brother Werner was serving a two and one-half year sentence in the Hahnöfersand correctional facility. His oldest brother Rudolf was already living in exile in Moscow. Their father was accused of having supported his sons. Since they were enemies of the state, his business, just like Jewish businesses, was boycotted. The Gestapo terrorized the family with nightly house searches and intimidated even long-time customers to the point where they stayed away for fear of reprisals. In 1935, the family was compelled to sell the cigar business at far below its value, driving Karl Rudolf Stender close to suicide. He had to apply for welfare. Finally in 1937, a friend helped him get a low-paying job at Heidenreich & Harbeck. The daughter of Ernst Stender recalled that during her father’s imprisonment, they had to rent a room: "I always had to speak softly and was warned not to know anything in case of future interrogations. Thus, at an early age, I learned that one could think anything, but not say anything.

After his release in May 1937, Ernst Stender was assigned to work at the F. H. Schule Machine Works on Hammerdeich Street.

According to the accounts of Ernst’s second wife, the 37-year old’s hair had turned "completely white." The health of his wife Anna suffered greatly from the chicanery of her persecutors. For example, she was summoned for questioning and had to listen as men on the other side of the door were being beaten and mishandled. Then, one after the other, she received false messages that her husband had been shot, transported to Berlin, and finally condemned to death. Anna Stender had to be treated in the hospital for long periods of time and was bed-ridden when at home; Gretel was periodically sent to live with relatives.

After the first air raids over Hamburg, the family moved in 1941 to Amselstrasse 9 (near the Eilbek Hospital) to a mezzanine apartment so that Anna Stender, suffering from heart disease, could make it to the air raid shelter in the basement. She died in 1942.

In May 1943, Ernst Stender married Auguste Wandschneider. Because of her husband’s imprisonment she was let go from her job with the social welfare office.

Following the Military Service Law of 1935, Ernst Stender, like others convicted for political activities, was declared "unworthy of military service." Following the losses during the Russian campaigns of 1941 and 1942, the Supreme Command of the German Armed Forces decided in October of 1942, to put these men into so-called probationary battalions. Initially, Ernst Sender had been invited, several times, to apply for reclassification as worthy of military service, a move he had rejected. Since he worked in the arms industry, his call-up was delayed for a time. At the end of June 1943, he was drafted into Penal Battalion 999. He went to Blumberg (Baden) for his training.
The Stenders lost their home during the great air raids of July 1943; they moved into their hut in the Steilshoop garden allotment colony. Ernst Stender received a two-day special furlough to visit his wife and daughter.

The 3rd Fortress-Infantry Battalion IX 999, which he now belonged to, was sent to Greece. Ernst Stender’s unit shipped out from Piraeus on 6 October 1943 with the mine-layer Olympos and six other naval transport ships. Their destination was the Island of Kos. His daughter Gretel later reported that "the soldiers of the ‘probationary’ battalion had talked about the fact that they were being sent to the most dangerous war zone and that they probably would not survive.”

With the exception of a single transport ship, the entire convoy was sunk by British warships on 7 October 1943. The corpse of Ernst Stender was washed ashore off Crete. He was wearing only his jacket which contained his pay book. He was identified in this way. The soldier that found him sent a letter of condolence to the widow Auguste Stender. This, with other, documents was printed by the "No One and Nothing Will Be Forgotten” memorial for Hamburg workers who died in the Resistance.

Ernst Stender’s grave on Crete could never be found. On 10 April 2005, at the request of his daughter Gretel and his brother Werner, his name was added to the gravestone of Rudolf Stender in the Ohlsdorf cemetery’s grove of honor.

Rudolf Stender was, like his brother, politically engaged. Already at 14 years of age, he belonged to the Social Democratic Youth. He learned the lathe operator’s trade at the Maihak firm on Semperstrasse. From 1917 until the spring of 1918, he was a soldier; subsequently he found work at Blohm & Voss. He joined the Free Proletarian Youth and became a member of the Intendent Social Democratic Party (USPD). In 1920, Rudolf Stender, with the greater part of the USPD, went over to the German Communist Party (KPD). He was active first as cashier of a cell and later as its leader.

When Rudolf Stender was let go by the Maihak firm in 1921, he found temporary work at metal works in the Ruhr. In 1923, he returned to Hamburg. In January of that year, French and Belgian troops had invaded the Ruhr to claim payment of reparations resulting from World War I, which led to the "Battle for the Ruhr.” People in Germany were experiencing great hardship as a result of the Hyperinflation. Following mass strikes and worker unrest on the Hamburg docks, a state of emergency was declared in August 1923. As the Inflation peaked in September, a nationwide "State of Siege” was imposed.

From 23 to 25 October, the Communists proclaimed the so-called Hamburg Rebellion, to which the majority of workers did not respond; the police quickly quelled it. Rudolf’s brother Werner recalls that the police searched their dwelling, without success. Rudolf Stender was arrested in 1924 "on grounds of participation in a forbidden party” and sentenced to pay a fine of 400 RM.

As of 1925, Rudolf belonged to the " Alliance of Red Front-Fighters" (RFB); in 1926, he became its leader for Barmbek. In 1925, he also got married to Käthe Michaelsen. He moved to Semperstrasse 59. They had a son, Rudi, who was born in 1926. The marriage failed after 1933.

During the years of the Great Depression, Rudolf Stender was constantly out of work, at least in part because of his political activities. It was objected to, among other things, that he traveled as KPD delegate to the Soviet Union. In 1930, he was arrested for giving a speech in front of the Karstadt department stores, charged with "trespassing and general mischief," and punished with a month in jail. After his release, he worked until 1933 as a messenger for the Soviet Trade Commission Derutra. A union man from his youth, he became the shop steward there. In 1932, he took on further leadership tasks for the RFB.

Even after the KPD was openly pursued following the Nazi takeover of power in 1933, Rudolf and his brothers Ernst and Werner were active in the illegal KPD in Hamburg. Rudolf Stender was sought by the state police; he was accused of cooperating in the production of communist newspapers. In summer 1933, in order to avoid his arrest, friends smuggled him out of the country aboard a steamer bound for Odessa.

For the next few years, he lived and worked in and around Moscow. He took courses in physics, chemistry, history, and political science at the International West-University. During this period – under a false name – he had contact with his family through letters. At the end of 1936, he went to Spain, joining the International Brigades in the fight against General Franco’s troops. As a member of the 11th Brigade, he participated in, among others, the battle on the Ebro; he was shot through the neck while fighting in the defense of Madrid.

During this time the Gestapo sought in vain for Rudolf Stender; his name was on the USSR special wanted list. To evade discovery he lived with false papers under the cover name "Siegmund Nielsen.” In December 1938, the Reich revoked his citizenship.

Rudolf’s youngest brother, Werner, had been arrested in 1934 and had to serve two and one half years in prison for "preparation of high treason.” Thereafter, he succeeded in fleeing to Czechoslovakia. From there and through a contact address in Moscow he was able to communicate with Rudolf in Spain. They wrote frequently to each other and Rudolf sent photographs. When German forces invaded in early 1939, Werner fled, leaving behind the entire correspondence with his brother. He succeeded in escaping to England from where he was able to renew the correspondence. The letters Rudolf sent to his brother until 1940 from various French internment camps have been preserved. In them he described how he and his unit retreated across the Pyrenees on 8 February 1939 making their way to St. Cyprien, near Perpignan; there they camped out in the open until they had the chance to erect huts.

Werner tried to support Rudolf financially and – in vain – tried to effect his release. Even when Rudolf’s letters radiated confidence, there remained a constant tension: "the agents have told their people that I will be the next one arrested. Well, good, I’ll fight the Gestapo as long as I can." (30 May 1939)

In his letter of 23 May 1939, he described life in the camp as follows (verbatim):
"Immediately after our confinement, we began with cultural activities.
We established
1) sporting leagues. Volleyball, calisthenics, chess. We cannot play football because there is not enough space between the barracks.
2) language courses were organized for approximately 10 different languages.
3) courses in mathematics and geography
4) lectures on the most varied issues will be held
5) a singing club and a band (we brought the instruments along from Spain) give us pleasure many a day
6) at night, conversation evenings are organized and provide distraction from the monotony of the day.
7) the young people have come together as free German youth and hold their events

… You can see that we don’t hang our heads but rather carry on with our cultural activities, even in difficult situations. Even the French camp administration has seen that the Inter[national] Brigades are not a bunch of robbers but civilized men.”

At the beginning of the war in September 1939, Rudolf Stender was transferred to "Camp Vernet” where considerably worse conditions ruled and the censors made contact with the family difficult. Following the armistice with France in June 1940, the Security Service (SD) and SS took over supreme control of the French internment camps, even in the unoccupied part of France.

On 17 December 1941, the Vichy police seized Rudolf Stender, a.k.a. "Siegmund Nielsen," and took him to the secret prison for political offenders in Castres. Only after the Wehrmacht occupied southern France could the Gestapo establish his true identity. Thus, he was taken in the spring of 1943 to Hamburg where he was imprisoned at the end of May in the Fuhlsbüttel Gestapo jail. His mother received news of him, and he found out about the death of his brother Ernst. His son Rudi, now 18 years old, was allowed to visit him in the interrogation center at Holstenglacis.

On 23 October 1944, the Hamburg Higher Regional Court sentence Rudolf Stender to five years in prison on account of "continued preparation for high treason.” According to court documents, the charges dealt with the years from 1933 to 1936. Before he began to serve his sentence, he was allowed to see his sister and his former wife one more time. In the penitentiary he could receive only one letter every six months, which is how he learned of his son’s wounding in the war. He had to do compulsory labor in the Trilka-Works armaments factory.

With the advance of the Allies in 1945, 200 prisoners were loaded into freight cars on 8 April and transported to Mecklenburg. Many starved on the five day trip without food or medical care. Rudolf Stender himself was fully debilitated when he reached the Bützow-Dreibergen penitentiary. His son Rudi described to the Office for Reparations that his father, liberated by Soviet troops on 3 May 1945, had been so severely abused that he was no longer conscious of his surroundings. Rudolf Stender died on 18 May 1945 in the hospital, without having regained consciousness.

On 12 September 1948, his urn was placed in Ohlsdorf cemetery’s grove of honor for Hamburg’s resistance fighters.

His brother Werner married Joan Walton, the woman who had helped him escape; he lived in England to a ripe old age. As an 88-year old, he visited Hamburg on 12 September 2004 to take part, with many other members of the Stender family, in the "Memorial Day for the Victims of Fascism and War,” organized by the Association for the Persecuted of the Nazi Regime (VVN). His children Ruth Barriff and Paul Stender came again to Hamburg for the dedication of the commemorative stone in May 2006. Ruth is working on a book about the three brothers – Rudolf, Ernst, and Werner Stender.

Translator: Richard Levy
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: January 2019
© Christine Meier

Quellen: AfW 130401; AfW 1604 26/12; AfW W 5 - 2903 74/12; Persönliche Informationen von Werner Stender, Ruth Barriff und Gretel Witt, Familienarchiv; Ursel Hochmuth, Niemand und nichts wird vergessen – Biogramme und Briefe Hamburger Widerstandskämpfer 1933–1945, Eine Ehrenhain-Dokumentation in Text und Bild, Hamburg 2005, S. 78–81, 126ff; Familienarchiv.

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