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Yvonne Mewes * 1900
Meerweinstraße 1 (Hamburg-Nord, Winterhude)
Yvonne Mewes, born on 22.12.1900 in Karlsruhe, died on 6.1.1945 in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp
Yvonne Mewes was from an educated middle class family. She was the first of four daughters born to Dr. Wilhelm Mewes and Hermine Mewes. Wilhelm Mewes was a dentist. He finished high school in Hamburg at the Gelehrtenschule Johanneum. His grandson, Harry, states that he read a lot including works in Latin.
Yvonne Mewes was born in Karlsruhe. Until 1919 the family lived in Straßburg in Alsass. As a consequence of the Treaty of Versailles they left Alsass as "patriotic Germans” according to Harry Mewes and moved to Hamburg. Here they lived in a villa at 42 Grindelberg. Wilhelm Mewes surgery was on the first floor where there was a small laboratory. Either his wife of daughter worked with him.
Yvonne Mewes studied philology between 1920 and 1925 in Hamburg and Munich. She completed her final State exam in 1925 and in 1927 passed her teaching exams.
Her younger sister, Gertrude, born 1904, was an apprentice milliner. She fell in love with Imre Szanto, a young Hungarian with a Jewish ancestry, a business man and the son of a lawyer. His parents did not allow her to marry when she fell pregnant. They said that she was too young and the relationship "was not within the Jewish religion”. Harry was born illegitimate in 1923. He grew up in his grandparents’ house and with his aunts. He was very close to his aunt Yvonne.
In 1928 Yvonne Mewes obtained a position as a teacher at the Heilwig School, which was then a private, Evangelical-Lutheran school. She taught English and French.
In her home met regularly the "Italian Little Circle” (Italienisches Kränzchen). It originated from Dr. Meriggi’s Italian lectures. Dr. Meriggi was regarded as "anti-fascist”. In the course of time the discussions became more political, the participants read Hitler’s "Mein Kampf". One of the female participants wanted to exclude a woman of Jewish origin but Yvonne Mewes stood up for her and she remained in the group. The other left the circle.
From 1933 Yvonne Mewes came under increasing pressure in the school. It was expected that she would join the NSDAP. She refused and did not hide her repugnance to the NS regime and its ideology. As a result she was not appointed School Advisor but remained as School Assessor. Her former student Ursula Randt wrote that she was "an outstanding French teacher”. In order to get away from the increasing pressure Yvonne Mewes went on excursions and long bicycle tours. This also gave her nephew relief from the pressure he was under as a "Mixed Breed Grade 1” (Mischling 1. Grades) at the Johanneum School. She was also concerned about the fate of other Jewish and "half-Jewish” students at her nephew’s school and was indignant about the book burning in 1933 and the "Reichskristallnacht" in 1938.
In 1938 Yvonne Mewes became a civil servant according to her wishes. She teached in the school at Curschmannstraße. During the war she refused to take part in the Kinderlandverschickung (a program to take children away from the towns endangered by bombings, but also away from their families). She was concerned about her lessons, that then might be under the influence of Hitler Jugend. As a consequence she was put into Caspar-Voght-Schule and in 1942 back to Heilwig-Schule that had become a public school in between.
The principal of the Heilwig School, Dr. Hans Lüthje, wrote on 4 June 1943 a report to the school authority which dealt with Yvonne Mewes: "A fanatical lover of the truth, without any ties and will resist everything that seems like pressure including the necessary demands of the community. She is the archetypal individual, wrapped up in her ideas and cannot be advised or taught.... Mewes as part of her addiction has avoided any ties and did not join the NSDAP."
At the end of July 1943 her apartment in Meerweinstraße was destroyed in a bombing raid and her library, literary works and the basis of her professional life were incinerated. She left Hamburg together with her parents and moved to her younger sister in Passau. Yvonne Mewes began to teach again and hoped to receive permission to remain in Passau from the Hamburg School Authorities. Her request was officially sent to the school principal, Hans Lüthje, who forwarded it on 4 September 1943 to the School Authority, with an accompanying report. In his report he quoted from a letter he wrote to Yvonne Mewes: he had stated that a teacher was not allowed to find her own job and had made a number of suggestions: she could leave the teaching service, return to Hamburg "immediately", remain in Passau and teach at the Jungenschule or teach Hamburg students in Passau.
After Yvonne Mewes lost her apartment in Passau she had the chance to have her own apartment and a position at the Jungenschule. She lived not far from her sister and her family hoping to start a new life but this was not to be as her request was denied by the education authority. She was ordered to return to Hamburg and recommence teaching by 20 January 1944. However, she had no place to live there. The written promise that she could stay in the night watchman’s room in the Heilwig School was not kept. According to Harry Mewes Santo: "The Walddörfer School for Girls, where she was to report, had no use for her. Annoyed that she had been uprooted for no purpose, to teach at a school that did not want her, she obeyed with the direction of the education authority and commenced teaching at the Heilwig School’s Kinderlandverschickungsheim in Wittstock on the Dosse."
Her former colleague Anni Kuchel recalled in 1985, that Principal Lüthje had tried to help Yvonne Mewes in that she would be "out of sight” of the Nazis when she taught in Wittstock. He got her a place to live where she could live alone and tried "to calm the authorities”. Yvonne Mewes did not take well to the conditions and saw a psychologist. But she did without a certificate stating that she was not capable of teaching.
Ursula Randt recalls that her teacher in Wittstock accepted her position in Wittstock "only with the greatest reluctance”. She described a situation in the early summer of 1944. It was during a French lesson in the Hitler Youth building. The windows were open and the Wittstock Hitler Youth had assembled outside, where orders were being barked. "Suddenly Yvonne Meses turned around, slammed the windows down, turned to us and angrily said: This is impossible! The noise of these so-called leaders makes it impossible to teach!"
The sources do not confirm that Yvonnes Mewes suddenly left, as one student reported, or whether she did not return to Wittstock after a stay in Hamburg.
She wrote her letter of resignation from the school service on 15 July 1944. She told her family that it was all too much for her. Her letter ended with the words that are quoted by her nephew Harry Mewes Santo in his autobiography: "I have done everything possible to legally terminate my employment. I have not succeeded and have the impression that the authorities are waiting for me to make a mistake. If I am now doing this by resigning I do so out of despair as I cannot in good conscience continue." She was repeatedly questioned by the school authority. Resignation was not a criminal act. However, as the school authority wanted to set an example Reichsstatthalter Karl Kaufmann was called upon. Refusal to work could have been judicially prosecuted. This did not occur in the case of Yvonne Mewes. She was ordered to work as a seamstress with the National Socialist Frauenschaft. Thereupon the school authority handed the "Mewes File” to the Gestapo. The school principal’s report of 4 June 1943 weighed heavily in this decision.
When Yvonne Mewes did not return from the authority on 7 September 1944 her nephew, Harry, received news by telephone that his aunt had been taken into protective custody by the Gestapo and was in the police prison at Fuhlsbüttel. Every second Saturday he brought her a packet but he was not allowed to see her and was given no answers to his questions.
"Three months have gone since Yvonne was arrested and we see no progress. I have made contact with anyone in the school, the authority and the court who could have some influence in her case. To my astonishment Mr. Heinz, the prosecutor contacted me and told me that recently the court dismissed the case against Yvonne due to insufficient evidence. That is encouraging but she has not been released. On the contrary, I have heard, that some people in the school authority, have recommended that she should be sent for a month to an education camp so that she will learn to obey."
During a meeting a week before Christmas in 1944 at the school authority his interlocutor told him, that too was concerned about the long period of imprisonment. The school authority had asked for two months in an education camp. His opposite said that he would ask the Reichsstatthalter to personally intervene.
Hope of an immediate release was bitterly dashed. Harry Mewes Santo learnt on 25 December 1944 that Yvonne Mewes was no longer in Fuhlsbüttel. In response to a question he was told to ask the Gestapo. That was too risky as he was a "Mixed Breed Grade 1 ".
The uncertainty ended when in January a postman delivered to her half-sisters in Altona Yvonne Mewes’ ashes. The accompanying death certificate from the Ravensbrück Registry of Deaths stated the cause of death "as weakness of the heart".
In 1950 there was jury trial of Dr. Hasso von Wedel and Prof. Dr. Ernst Schrewe, the former heads of the Hamburg School Authority. The trial went for 11 days and the school principal, Lüthje, was a witness. The accused were acquitted. Ernst Schrewe was acquitted because the charge was held to be without substance. Hasso von Wedel was acquitted because the court found that he acted under "extra-legal duress”. He wanted Yvonnes Mewes to be sent to an education camp but had written "concentration camp”.
In 1953 the appeal against decision regarding Hasso von Wedel was heard. A female witness, who was with Yvonne Mewes in the Fuhlsbüttel Gestpo Prison stated that she could not be "insincere”. Von Wedel stated that he "out of her stubbornness he felt that he had to set an example.” Von Wedel was sentenced to 8 months imprisonment.
Yvonne Mewes grave stone is today to be found in the Garten der Frauen in the Ohlsdorf Cemetery.
Translator: Dr. Stephen Pallavicini
© Stolperstein-Initiative Hamburg-Winterhude
Quellen: Harry Mewes Santo, Vom Dritten Reich zur Neuen Welt, Autobiographie (unveröffentlicht, liegt als CD vor); Harry Mewes Santo, Bericht aus New York (wahrscheinlich geschrieben 1945/46); Exponate in der Ausstellung "Die Heilwigschule im `Dritten Reich´ und ihr Neuaufbau nach 1945" vom 21.1.2007 bis 14.2.2007; Aufzeichnungen von Frau Hagedorn, Aufzeichnung von Dr. Ursula Randt, Bericht des Schulleiters Dr. Hans Lüthje vom 4.6.1943, Begleitschreiben des Schulleiters Dr. Hans Lüthje vom 4.9.1943; Ursel Hochmuth, Hans-Peter de Lorent, Schule unterm Hakenkreuz, Hamburg 1985; Reiner Lehberger, Kinderlandverschickung: "Fürsorgliche Aktion" oder "Formationserziehung", in: R. Lehberger, H.-P. de Lorent (Hrsg.), "Die Fahne hoch", Schulpolitik und Schulalltag in Hamburg unterm Hakenkreuz, Hamburg 1986, S. 370–381; Rita Bake, Brita Reimers: Stadt der toten Frauen, Hamburg 1997, S. 307f; Brief von Anni Kuchel vom 4.6.1985; Edith Oppens, "Sich selber treu", in "Die Welt", 29.8.1950; "Hamburger Abendblatt", Nr. 165, S. 3 vom 18./19. Juli 1998.