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Max Anton Schlichting * 1907

Hinterm Graben 11 (Bergedorf, Bergedorf)

hingerichtet am 24.3.1945 in Bützow-Dreibergen

Max Schlichting, born 8 Feb. 1907 in Bergedorf, executed 24 Mar. 1945 in Bützow-Dreibergen

Hinterm Graben 11

Max Schlichting was the child of Wilhelm Schlichting and his wife Ida, née Mordacht. He had six sisters, a half-sister and a brother. His father’s occupation was listed in the Bergedorf address book from 1908 as "laborer”. At that point in time, his family lived in Bergedorf at the address Hinterm Graben 11.

After finishing school, which, according to later statements by his lawyer, he only completed with difficulty, he first worked in agriculture, later as an unskilled laborer in various jobs, and finally as a "coal worker” in Altona. During the Weimar Republic, he lived in Bergedorf and had run-ins with the law now and then for petty crimes, for instance in 1931 when he was sentenced for stealing "7 m2 of wood” to two weeks in jail on parole and 20 Marks in damages, which he was to pay in monthly installments of 5 Marks. Since he did not pay the required damages, he had to serve the jail sentence in Dec. 1931.

He ran afoul of the Bergedorf authorities in Nov. 1931 too. He had apparently joined the German Communist Party (KPD) in the meantime and was caught roaming around with a group from the party as they were gluing posters on walls around the town. That was a breach of the order from Reich President Hindenburg from 28 Mar. 1931 which determined that posters with political content had to be presented to the authorities 24 hours before they were hung up. The group was arrested, further proceedings ensued which for most of them ended with a punishment of 3 days in jail and a 15-Mark fine. Max Schlichting received twice that sentence because it was his second time being caught perpetrating such activity.

Afterwards he frequently changed jobs and lived alone in a sublet. At the time of the theft proceedings in 1931, he still lived at "Hinter den Querstraßen 10, with his mother" (today Achterdwars). At the time of the second proceedings, his address was given as "Am Pool 4, c/o Thießen".

In the following years he moved from Bergedorf to Hamburg and muddled through with various jobs as best he could. He continued to live in sublets. His addresses, according to surviving records, were "Lindenstraße 54, c/o Krug" (St. Georg) and "Kurze Straße 4, c/o Wendlandt" (Neustadt). In 1939, he was tried on the suspicion of again having distributed flyers for the KPD, but it did not end in a conviction. Since he was only considered "fit for limited duties” due an eye problem, he was not drafted into military service at the outbreak of war. In Oct. 1940 he received a sentence of 5 days in prison on parole for "pedestrian drunkenness”. That same year legal proceedings were initiated against him for "breach of work contract”. A decree "regarding measures against job disloyalty” (Maßnahmen gegen die Arbeitsuntreue) from 14 June 1940 may have provided the basis for it. What "offense” Max Schlichting was accused of was not apparent in State Archive documents, apparently there was no conviction. In July 1941 he was again sentenced to two months in prison for "violation of compulsory service” which he served in Hamburg.

His final and for Max Schlichting catastrophic run-in with the NS judiciary system happened on the afternoon of 7 June 1944, a day after the Allied invasion of Normandy began. The invasion troops were militarily superior to the German occupiers in France and started the defeat of NS Germany from the West. In the Soviet Union, the Red Army’s summer offensive began on 22 June which tied up parts of the German Army in the East so that German reinforcements could not be deployed to the western front.

The efforts that were made in Hamburg from 7 June onward to render Max Schlichting, a man allegedly "subversive to national defense and a danger to public safety”, harmless came across as an absurd comment on the further course of the war on the western front. Henry Helms, a detective sergeant of the Gestapo infamous for being especially brutal, was working undercover that day, disguised as a dockworker. Two additional police informants, Alfons Pannek and Helene Müller (also known as Helene Reimers), were also involved. The goal of the operation was to arrest the communist Heinz Nilsson, an active member of the Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen Group who Pannek had uncovered. Surveillance of Nilsson took place around the neighborhood of Großneumarkt. Only a few hundred meters to the north was where Max Schlichting was living at the time, on Kurz Straße.

During the course of the operation, Helms paid a visit to the small toilette house at the Großneumarkt square. Since a heavy rain was just coming down, approximately ten persons were in the bathroom, including a soldier on leave from the front, according to a report written up by Helms about the case. The soldier and a civilian were talking about the war situation after the American landing in Normandy, and they expressed confidence about the outcome of the war. Helms noticed a man – Max Schlichting – who evidently was of the opposite opinion and cut in on the conversation: "I received a very different communication about the strength of the German troops in the West. Only a few troops are there. Every 10 km there’s a canon … We can never defeat the Americans, they are much too strong … what kind of times do we have now, times were good after 1918. At least back then we all had enough to eat, unlike today.”

The civilian, a party member by the name of Weiss, took the opposite position, but the soldier on leave appeared "impressed by … the corrosive comments”, according to Helms. Now Helms interfered: He identified himself as a Gestapo man and arrested Schlichting. During the arrest, the soldier on leave walked away. Helms gave the following reason for the arrest: "Schlichting’s corrosive comments are to be regarded as extremely dangerous and demonstrate communist tendencies.” After he had taken Schlichting to Hütten Police Prison, also located in Neustadt, he continued with his original operation. Heinz Nilsson was arrested that same day. (He was severely maltreated but survived his detention.)

On 8 June 1944 Helms searched Max Schlichting’s room on Kurze Straße. He did not find any incriminating material, but he did give to protocol a denunciation: "The landlord who was present, Wendlandt, informed me that he was glad to finally get rid of Schlichting. Schlichting was a completely anti-social person who rarely felt like working and whose room always looked like a pig sty.”

During the interrogation on 14 June 1944, recorded by Helms, Max Schlichting admitted he had been a member of the KPD for six months in 1930 and since then had not been politically active. He added: "I do not agree with today’s state leadership.”

Max Schlichting later denied that sentence, while largely confirming the content of the conversation in the public toilette at Großneumarkt. To explain his comments on Germany’s prospects of winning the war, he admitted he had only repeated what he had overheard the day before in a conversation between two travelers on a train journey from Bergedorf to Hamburg.

From Hütten Prison, Max Schlichting was first taken as a "protected prisoner" to Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp and on 12 July 1944 transferred to Hamburg Remand Prison. We do not know how he was treated during his time in prison or during the interrogations. Yet there are numerous reports about the maltreatment of prisoners during interrogations, in the Hamburg prisons and concentration camps. Henry Helms, who was involved in the brutal torture of political prisoners, was described in the follow report by his former secretary: "Every day something special had to happen, otherwise it was not right … He went to work with virtually fanatic zeal. When nothing was going on, he felt uneasy and literally sought out his victim … Since nearly everyone was a condemned man, to his mind, it didn’t matter whether they were condemned today or tomorrow.” Therefore we can presume that Max Schlichting too was mistreated or tortured by Helms. In his concluding report, Helms once again summarized the accusations, which had in the meantime been confirmed by the witness Weiss, and added: "It is telling that Schlichting was no longer in possession of his ration cards at the time of his arrest, even though the current period had just begun. According to his statements, he had already used up all of his cards. So it must be assumed that he had sold the cards.”

For the court this was later deemed evidence that Schlichting must have moved in "questionable circles” where it was possible to obtain food without ration cards. In this light, it should be mentioned that Ursel Hochmuth considered Max Schlichting to be associated with the Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen Group, yet gave no further details. The timing of Heinz Nilsson’s arrest might have led to that conclusion. However the Gestapo had no evidence of such a connection. Helms obviously regarded Schlichting as a "chance catch”. That view is supported by the fact that Schlichting was simply in his neighborhood when he made the fatal remark. Nor did his personality match the image of an ideological, reasoned comrade who could be entrusted with difficult missions in the resistance. Yet he might have actually passed on his ration card or sold it – they were a highly desired item for everyone who moved in the underground and hence did not have their own stamps. The Gestapo never established such a connection.

Attorney General Stegemann at the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court handed the Schlichting case over to the People’s Court on 15 July 1944 with the charge of "degradation of military strength” (Wehrkraftzersetzung). Upon his instructions, the prisoner was transferred "on special grounds” to Landsberg an der Warthe. On 7 Aug. the Reich Attorney General sent the proceedings back to Hamburg. On 15 Aug. French and American armed forces landed in Marseille and forced the German military also to retreat from the south, while the "battle for Paris” ended on 25 Aug. with the victory of the Allied armed forces. At Landsberg Max Schlichting made an attempt to postpone his punishment by declaring on 3 Sept. he would report to war duty immediately upon his release. His offer was rejected. In Nov. 1944 the German Army was driven back to the borders of the Reich, and Hitler attempted to bring about a reversal in the West with the Battle of the Bulge, albeit unsuccessfully.

On 22 Dec. 1944, Max Schlichting was transferred to the Hamburg Remand Prison, and on 16 Jan. 1945 his hearing took place before the 1st Criminal Panel of the Hamburg Higher Regional Court (President of the Senate, Chairman of the Higher Regional Court, Mr. Hostkotte, Associate Judge District Court Councillor Reuter, District Attorney K. Wollmann). The witnesses of the prosecution were Henry Helms and NSDAP party member Weiss. The outcome was the death sentence for "aiding the enemy and public degradation of military strength”.

In the opinion, on the other hand, Schlichting was described as "a communist dangerous to the public”. However the remarks he was being accused of were merely positive expectations expressed about the Americans, and not even the NS judges dared suspect them of having close ties to communism. That probably explains why a vague reference to Russia first appears in the verdict: "[...] he also made comments about Russia in that regard, the specifics of which the witnesses no longer recall." The court expressly denied the existence of aggravating circumstances since the accused was a "character with communist, subversive and anti-social views and tendencies". He was not meaningfully employed, may have moved in criminal circles and” most likely dodged "a follow-up examination of his suitability for military service” by frequently changing his abode. "There can be no doubt that the accused in the event of internal unrest or civil war would immediately join the revolution and, judging from his external appearance, would have no concern for others. In times like the present such an existence is intolerable for national society and must be eliminated from the community.” Despite the willingness to annihilate him expressed here, during the subsequent weeks several attempts were made to thwart the death penalty.

The very next day after the sentencing, on 14 Jan. 1945, Max Schlichting’s siblings and their spouses submitted a plea for clemency to the public prosecutor’s office. Their somewhat awkward rationale tried to attribute their brother’s deeds to his "stupidity”:

"The convict is a person of endless foolishness that can sometime make a person wonder if he even has a completely sound mind. He is not able to follow his own train of thought, to criticize or find fault with things. [...] His stupidity, coupled with his imprudence, has allowed the convict to frequently get wrapped up in events that a clear-thinking person would have rejected. That also drove him to join the KPD, which he turned his back on after receiving advice from his relatives. [...] By his very nature, the convict was not a man to take his own initiative. He was not educated enough for that, and his education [sic] turned him into the kind of person who let others think for him, and he became the instrument of others. That also explains his defeatist talk. [...] For this reason, all of his siblings, six sisters and a brother appeal to you with the plea to spare their brother, brother-in-law and uncle from the death penalty and to commute his sentence to something else. Heil Hitler"

On 19 Jan. his defense lawyer, Hermann Schwarz, submitted a further plea for clemency. He too pursued the strategy of at least putting his client’s "danger for the public” in perspective by pointing out his "stupidity”: Schlichting is by nature dim which meant that at the age of 14 he was still in the 5th grade. We can conclude from this that he perpetrated his deed more out of stupidity than the intent to degrade the military. [...] If Schlichting were to be taken into the strict discipline of the penitentiary, I believe I can say that he could be made into a decent man." In Feb. 1945 it was clear that not even the Battle of the Bulge would be able to stop the American’s advances in the West.

On 18 Mar. 1945, the condemned man himself wrote a further plea for clemency at the Bützow-Dreibergen Penitentiary: "Since I suffered a complete breakdown during my sentencing on 16 Jan. 1945 and was not capable of defending myself, I wish to explain to you once again in writing how I came to make the remarks.” Again he described how he had heard the comments about the invasion of the Americans and the prospects of defense against them on the train journey from Bergedorf to Hamburg. He repeated those comments "without thinking” in the public toilette at Großneumarkt. He never intended to say anything against the current government, after all he longed for victory, otherwise he will have lost his dear sister and her two children in the "terror attack on 28 July 1943 in Hammerbrook in vain”. However his request also fell on deaf ears: "I beg of you, if you give me clemency and give me back my life, I will prove that you gave life to someone deserving of it”.

As of 28 Jan. the Chairman of the 1st Criminal Panel Mr. Hostkotte decided: "Under the clear circumstances, the court cannot approve a plea for clemency.” Afterwards, the judgment relentlessly progressed along its bureaucratic path to its conclusion. On 3 Feb. the Hamburg Gauleiter Karl Kaufmann declared his consent by signing and stamping the judgment. The formal order to carry out the death sentence was given by the Reich Minister of Justice on 21 Feb. Max Schlichting was beheaded on 24 Mar. 1945 at the Bützow-Dreibergen Penitentiary.

Translator: Suzanne von Engelhardt
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: January 2019
© Ulrike Sparr

Quellen: StaH 242-1 II, Abl. 13, Gefangenenkartei Männer; StaH 213-11 A 17506/31; StaH 213-11 A 10107/32; StaH 213-9, Abl. 2003/1 OJs 245/44; StaH 741-4 Fotoarchiv, K 4887; Bergedorfer Adressbuch, 1908; Meyer, Gertrud, Nacht über Hamburg, Frankfurt/M. 1971; Ursel Hochmuth, Gertrud Meyer, Streiflichter aus dem Hamburger Widerstand, Frankfurt/M. 1980; Ursel Hochmuth, Niemand und nichts wird vergessen, Hamburg 2005; Alfred Dreckmann, In Bergedorf war alles genauso, Hamburg, 2004 (Schlossheft Nr. 9); Gerhard Werle, Justiz-Strafrecht und polizeiliche Verbrechensbekämpfung im Dritten Reich, Berlin 1989, S. 210–212, 606 Anm. 9.

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