Search for Names, Places and Biographies

Already layed Stumbling Stones

Franz Jacob
© Privatbesitz

Franz Jacob * 1906

Jarrestraße 21 (Hamburg-Nord, Winterhude)

Inhaftiert Brandenburg-Görden


Franz Egmund Jacob, born on 9 Aug. 1906 in Hamburg, beheaded on 18 Sept. 1944 in the Brandenburg-Görden penitentiary

On 8 Feb. 1933, the Communist member of the Hamburg City Parliament Franz Jacob called upon the Social Democrats to participate in a united front and a 24-hour protest strike. The German Social Democratic Party (SPD) rejected the proposal as a "stupid bluff.” Only in the late phase of the war, in the run-up to [the assassination attempt against Hitler on] 20 July 1944, did representatives of the SPD and the KPD (German Communist Party) active in the resistance reach an understanding concerning cooperation toward ending the war and overcoming the Nazi regime – among them, Franz Jacob.

Franz Jacob was the son of the maid Marie Pgetz and the domestic servant August Moser. After his father’s early death, he grew up in the family of his grandfather, who was an active Social Democrat. After his mother got married to Gustav Jacob, he went back to his new family in 1917 and was adopted by his stepfather. Despite his talent, for economic reasons, he was able to attend Oberrealschule [a secondary school without Latin] for only one year.

Under the impression of the First World War and the distress and poverty of these years, he joined the "Socialist Young Workers” (Sozialistische Arbeiterjugend – SAJ) and one year later, the SPD. From 1922 until 1926, he trained as a machine fitter on a Hamburg shipyard. In the German Metalworkers’ Union (Deutscher Metallarbeiterverband – DMV), he was elected apprentices’ representative. In the confrontations concerning the political direction of the SPD leadership, parts of the SAJ, including Franz Jacob, went over to the German Young Communist League (Kommunistischer Jugendverband Deutschlands – KJVD). This led to conflicts within the family.

In 1928, Franz Jacob became a member of the KPD. Likewise, he joined the "Red Aid” ("Rote Hilfe”) and the Alliance of Red Front Fighters (Roter Frontkämpferbund – RFB). In the KJVD, he became organizational leader of the Wasserkante District. In 1928, he was given the opportunity to participate as a delegate in the 5th Congress of the Communist Youth International, taking place parallel to the 7th World Congress of the Communist International in Moscow. This cost him his job with the Hamburg telegraph office. His next employment relationship at the Reiherstieg-Werft shipyard was also terminated without notice, after he had called for a short strike.

Starting in 1929, Franz Jacob worked as a reporter for the Hamburger Volkszeitung and the Norddeutsches Echo, the party newspapers of the KPD in Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein. For a brief period, he participated in building up the "Fighting League against Fascism” ("Kampfbund gegen den Faschismus”), the successor organization of the RFB, banned since 1929. In 1931, he began working full time for the KPD as Secretary for Agitation and Propaganda within the Wasserkante District leadership. The leaflets he authored reached a wide circulation. In Apr. 1932, the 26-year old successfully stood for election to the Hamburg City Parliament.

When in 1933, after the March elections to the Hamburg City Parliament, a Nazi senate came up for parliamentary voting on 8 March, the deputies missing in addition to the Social Democrats, who stayed away in protest, were the 26 Communist members, who did not want to expose themselves to being arrested. Just prior to that, Johann Westphal and Franz Jacob had drafted a statement on behalf of the Communist parliamentary party, in which they protested against the "terror election of 5 March” and the "coup d-état” of the National Socialists.

With the Decree [of the Reich President] for the Protection of the People and State dated 28 Feb. 1933 (Verordnung vom 28.2. 1933 zum Schutz von Volk und Staat; for short, "Notverordnung”) after the Reichstag fire, the KPD had already been pushed into operating illegally. Franz Jacob, too, was forced to go underground. By the end of Apr. 1933, the Nazi rulers had already thrown 18,000 Communists, 12,000 Social Democrats, as well as other oppositionists in concentration camps and murdered hundreds of political adversaries.

In Aug. 1933, the Gestapo arrested Franz Jacob in Berlin. While in detention, he suffered severe torture at the Berlin "Columbia-Haus” Gestapo prison and the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp ("KolaFu”) in Hamburg. In 1934, he was sentenced to three years in prison for "preparation to high treason” ("Vorbereitung zum Hochverrat”). After serving his sentence, he was not released but detained in "protective custody” ("Schutzhaft”) by the Gestapo in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp for three years.

There, he met up with a few Communists he knew from the period before 1933, including Bernhard Bästlein (see corresponding entry) and Harry Naujoks. They regularly had talks with the Social Democrats Julius Leber from Lübeck, whom they knew as well, exchanges that saw them move closer across party lines with respect to their assessment of the political situation and that saw willingness evolve to cooperate "in the question of war and peace,” as Harry Naujoks wrote later. In connection with the so-called "prisoner self-administration,”, Franz Jacob, serving as the person responsible for labor duties, put in a good word for his fellow prisoners and tried to protect those in particular danger. He was skilled, as Harry Naujoks put it later, "at achieving from the antagonism [of different groups] a coexistence and often joint action.” Due to his helpfulness and his "comradely tone,” he was respected in different groups of prisoners.

Released in Sept. 1940, Franz Jacob returned to Hamburg and found work as a fitter. After the German Wehrmacht had invaded the Soviet Union, he contributed to building up a resistance organization in Hamburg, described in more detail in the biography on Bernhard Bästlein. The historian Klaus Bästlein attested to the "leadership cadres of the Bästlein organization” the following: "A certain degree of straightness marked these resistance fighters just as their unbroken determination to oppose the Nazi regime despite all of the persecution measures.” In addition to the three-person executive body ("Dreierkopf”) comprised of Bernhard Bästlein, Oskar Reincke, and Franz Jacob, Robert Abshagen belonged to the leadership group as well. They considered themselves to be the district leadership of the illegal KPD in Hamburg. As he had already been before 1933, Franz Jacob was in charge of "agitation and propaganda.” He authored internal writings and leaflets, and together with, among others, Otto Gröllmann he saw to their production within the technical organization ("technischer Apparat”). Gröllmann was employed as a stage designer at the Thalia Theater, where the archive of the resistance organization, established on Franz Jacob’s initiative, was hidden. Unfortunately, it has not been preserved.

In Dec. 1941, Franz Jacob married Katharina Hochmuth, née Emmermann, whom he knew from the KJVD. In her first marriage, she had been married to the Communist Walter Hochmuth, who had originally gone underground as well and ended up in prison. Katharina lived with her daughter Ursel at Jarrestrasse 21, where Franz now moved as well. Due to her political activities, Katharina Jacob was in a concentration camp several times, serving a one-year prison term in 1935. Nevertheless, she continued to be active in the resistance. She collected food ration cards for forced laborers and listened to Radio Moscow. In this way, it was possible to notify relatives of soldiers who had ended up in captivity. Furthermore, the information also served as a basis for leaflets that Franz Jacob prepared underground. They were smuggled to Berlin by the courier Charlotte Groß.

Katharina’s daughter, Ursel Hochmuth, born in 1931, attended Meerwein school, which had been a progressive school before 1933. When her mother was in prison, she experienced support and protection not only from political friends but also from teacher Gertrud Klempau, to whose courageous action is dedicated a chapter in the volume entitled Schule unterm Hakenkreuz ("School Under the Swastika”). In the neighborhood, too, the family encountered solidarity beyond the boundaries of parties and ideologies [see below].

During a wave of arrests in mid-Oct. 1942 (see entry on Bernhard Bästlein), a majority of those active in the resistance group, including Bästlein, Reincke and Abshagen as well, were arrested. Franz Jacob managed to go underground at the last minute. He found refuge in the circle of friends of his fellow party member Anton Saefkow in Berlin. There, Charlotte Groß delivered the news that his daughter Ilse had been born on 9 Nov. 1942. Franz Jacob saw his daughter only once when Katharina went on a trip with her and Ursel to the countryside in Mar. 1944, secretly spending one night in Berlin on the way back. For nearly two years, Franz Jacob lived underground in frequently changing hideouts. As Charlotte Groß reported to the Restitution Office (Amt für Wiedergutmachung), he suffered from the constant strain because during the day, he had to keep absolutely quiet, not being able, for instance, to go to the underground air raid shelter during air raid alerts.

Franz Jacob collaborated with Anton Saefkow and others in rebuilding the illegal KPD in Berlin-Brandenburg, and he ranked among its leadership. Bernhard Bästlein, too, who was able to escape from prison during an air raid in early 1944, joined the group, after he had run into Franz Jacob by chance. The oriented themselves on the information they gathered from foreign newspapers or broadcasts by Radio Moscow. Even though they recognized the central committee headed by Wilhelm Pieck, they developed an independent political identity as German Communists. In addition, with the "Movement for a Free Germany” ("Bewegung Freies Deutschland”), they built up a resistance organization that reached not only far into companies, military units, and camps but also into oppositional middle-class circles, comprising about 500 persons. It was oriented on the "National Committee for a Free Germany” (Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland – NKFD), founded on the initiative of the Politburo of the Communist Party by German exiles and officers in captivity in the Soviet Union in 1943, though acting autonomously.

According to Klaus Bästlein, in his Berlin years, Franz Jacob "transformed from a rather dogmatic Hamburg activist to a Communist more independent in his theoretical considerations.” In the programmatic treatise entitled Am Beginn der letzten Phase des Krieges ("At the beginning of the last phase of the war”), taking shape in May/June 1944, Franz Jacob formulated that "toward ending the war and toppling the Fascist dictatorship,” all of the Communists’ forces ought to concentrate "on the development of a broad national combat front” consisting of "all groups in hostile opposition to Fascism.” "In this goal, everyone can come together, and in this goal we as Communists too will enter into an alliance with everyone, without any ulterior motive, an alliance which has already found its first expression in the ‘National Committee for a Free Germany [Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland].`”

Similar endeavors were also undertaken at the same time by the conspirators of 20 July 1944 (see also entry on Fritz Lindemann). In order to gauge the possibilities of collaboration across party lines, the Social Democrats Adolf Reichwein and Julius Leber, who belonged to the left wing of the "Kreisau Circle” ("Kreisauer Kreis”), established contact to Anton Saefkow and Franz Jacob. This occurred with the knowledge and approval of the assassin Claus von Stauffenberg. On 22 June 1944, a first meeting took place in the apartment of the physician Rudolf Schmid at Köpenicker Strasse 76 in Berlin. In this way, Franz Jacob and Julius Leber met up again, who during the years spent together in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp had come to trust one another. They knew, according to the historian Peter Steinbach, that the resistance of the military was a resistance without the people and that they, as representatives of the SPD and KPD as well as the trade unions, constituted a chance to turn the resistance without the people into a resistance from the people. A further meeting was scheduled for 4 July 1944 to discuss specific measures. But it never came to that. Betrayed by a police informer, Reichwein, Saefkow, and Jacob fell into the hands of the Gestapo at the appointed place; Julius Leber was arrested on the next day.

On 5 Sept. 1944, the "People’ Court” (Volksgerichtshof) pronounced the death sentence on Franz Jacob for high treason. On 18 Sept. 1944, he as well as Bernhard Bästlein and Anton Saefkow were executed in the Brandenburg-Görden penitentiary.

Charlotte Groß and Katharina Jacob were arrested on 6 July 1944. Charlotte Groß, for whom the prosecution had requested the death penalty, was sentenced to ten years in prison; Katharina Jacob was acquitted due to lack of evidence. However, she was not released into freedom but instead placed under "protective custody” ("Schutzhaft”) and taken to the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp. Only after the end of the war was she able to return to her children.

On 8 Sept. 1946, Franz Jacob’s urn was buried in the Memorial Grove for Hamburg Resistance Fighters (Ehrenhain der Hamburger Widerstandskämpfer) on Ohlsdorf Cemetery.

Katharina Jacob continued to live at Jarrestrasse 21 for many years. After she war, she managed to train as a teacher, teaching at the school on Winterhuder Weg for 25 years.

Until her death in 1989, she continued to be active politically, in, among others, the "Association of Political Persecutees of the Nazi Regime (Vereinigung der politisch Verfolgten des Naziregimes – VVN). In 1982, tours the city quarter entitled "Winterhude under the swastika”) ("Winterhude unterm Hakenkreuz") took place with her participation. When Käthe [Katharina] Jacob was asked in an interview whether the fight against Hitler had been worthwhile, she summarized her attitude as follows: "Fifty-five million people were destroyed in Germany and Europe: gassed, killed in action, and perished at home. Wouldn’t it make more sense to ask: Did their death have any meaning? … The resistance fighters put their lives at stake for humanity and peace. My husband fell on this front. I also followed my conscience and my convictions. The decision was not easy. But see injustice and not do anything about it? – I had to be able to face myself and my children.”

In 1992, a street in Gross-Borstel was named after Katharina Jacob.
To date, this honor has not been bestowed on Franz Jacob in Hamburg. In Berlin-Lichtenberg and in Rostock, streets bear his name. In Hamburg City Hall, a commemorative plaque for "victims of totalitarian persecution” is located in the stairwell to the main council chamber – the members of the Hamburg City Parliament murdered by the Nazis are not specifically mentioned on it.


Solidarity in the neighborhood

One day in 1943, a young women living in the house showed up at Katharina Jacob’s doorstep in agitation. From her stocking, she fumbled out an envelope. Luise Hesse worked on Gänsemarkt at the Protestant Bookstore of the Agentur des Rauhen Hauses [the bookstore of the publishing house belonging to the social service institution by that name] (Evangelische Buchhandlung der Agentur des Rauhen Hauses). To this address, Franz Jacob had sent a letter to his wife from his underground hideout in Berlin. He had asked Luise Hesse to hand it over to his wife or to destroy it immediately.

Luise Schulz, née Hesse, more than 90-year-old at the time, told this story when she participated in the dedication of the Stolperstein for Franz Jacob in May 2006. She said she did not hesitate for one moment to deliver the letter.

Translator: Erwin Fink

Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: October 2016
© Christine Meier

Quellen: AfW 060305; Persönliche Informationen von Ursel Hochmuth und Ilse Jacob, Familienarchiv; Petra Grubitzsch, "Nicht mehr reden, handeln ist das Gebot der Stunde!" Franz Jacob, Biographische Skizze, in: Beiträge zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, Heft 3/1990, S. 398–409, Berlin 1990; Ursel Hochmuth, Niemand und nichts wird vergessen, Biogramme und Briefe Hamburger Widerstandskämpfer 1933–1945, Hamburg 2005, S. 78–81; Franz Jacob/Johann Westphal, Erklärung der kommunistischen Bürgerschaftsfraktion zur Neuwahl des Senats am 8.3.1933, in: Henning Timpke (Hrsg.), Dokumente zur Gleichschaltung des Landes Hamburg 1933, Veröffentlichungen der Forschungsstelle für die Geschichte des Nationalsozialismus in Hamburg, Band IV, S. 95ff, Frankfurt am Main 1964; Harry Naujoks, Mein Leben im KZ Sachsenhausen 1936–1942, Erinnerungen des ehemaligen Lagerältesten, Köln 1987; Ursel Hochmuth/Gertrud Meyer, Streiflichter aus dem Hamburger Widerstand 1933–1945, Frankfurt am Main 1980; Ursel Hochmuth, Illegale KPD und Bewegung "Freies Deutschland" in Berlin und Brandenburg 1942 –1945, Teetz 1998; Klaus Bästlein, "Hitlers Niederlage ist nicht unsere Niederlage, sondern unser Sieg!" Die Bästlein-Organisation, in: Beate Meyer/Joachim Szodrzynski (Hrsg.), Vom Zweifeln und Weitermachen, Fragmente der KPD-Geschichte, S. 44–89, Hamburg 1988; Peter Steinbach, Zur Einführung, in: Ursel Hochmuth, Illegale KPD und Bewegung "Freies Deutschland" in Berlin und Brandenburg 1942–1945, S. 10–21, Teetz 1998; Frank Müller, Mitglieder der Bürgerschaft – Opfer totalitärer Verfolgung, 2. Auflage, Hamburg 1995; Gerda Szepansky, Frauen leisten Widerstand: 1933–1945, Frankfurt am Main 1983; Katharina Jacob, Widerstand während des Krieges, in: Irene Hübner, Unser Widerstand, Frankfurt am Main 1982.

print preview  / top of page