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Already layed Stumbling Stones
© Gedenkstätte Ernst Thälmann
Walter Möller * 1905
Kegelhofstraße 13 (Hamburg-Nord, Eppendorf)
The four execution victims of the "Altona Bloody Sunday” ("Altonaer Blutsonntag”)
Max-Brauer-Allee 89 (Altona, Altona-Nord)
Executed on 1 Aug. 1933
On 17 July 1932, 7,000 uniformed SA and SS men, some of them armed, marched through Ottensen and Bahrenfeld toward Altona. Strong police forces protected the rally. This propaganda march, publicly announced, represented a well-directed provocation in what was generally known as "Red Altona;” attacks and violent incidents were to be expected. The followers of the Communists and the "Anti-Fascist Action” ("Antifaschistische Aktion") had announced resistance, forming protection units for houses ("Häuserschutzstaffeln”).
At the intersection of Grosse Marienstrasse/Schauenburger Strasse/Grosse Johannisstrasse (today Schomburgstrasse/Walter-Möller Park) in the KPD (German Communist Party) stronghold, violent attacks on passers-by occurred from the ranks of the demonstrators, followed by vehement confrontations between participants in the march and counterdemonstrators. Obviously, shots were fired in the process, though it was never clarified whether they originated from the SA men or from hidden gunmen of the house protection units. The situation escalated when the police massively intervened, beginning to shoot indiscriminately in the winding streets and alleys (see Willi Hans Miersch). This violent conflict, one of the most severe at the end of the Weimar Republic, resulted in 80 injured persons, some of them seriously, as well as 18 fatalities, including two SA men. Most of the victims were killed by ricochet shots, as police shot out wildly in all directions and bullets ricocheted off the walls of buildings. This day went down in history as "Altona Bloody Sunday” ("Altonaer Blutsonntag”).
After the Nazis assumed power, the first trial against 15 defendants began on 8 May 1933 before a special court, set up for this particular purpose, in the building of the Altona Regional Court (Landgericht), today’s District Court (Amtsgericht) in Max-Brauer Allee. The main charge was the murder of two SA men by the names of Koch and Büddig, who belonged to the notorious Altona SA Storm 2/31. On 2 June 1933, the special court sentenced August Lütgens, Bruno Tesch, Karl Wolff, and Walter Möller to death for alleged "joint murder” of the two SA men. No conclusive evidence that one of the two main defendants was involved in the deed was produced. Other defendants were given substantial prison sentences. In the course of the first political trial administered by a justice system serving Nazi objectives, the intention was to demonstrate authority and set an example.
On 1 Aug. 1933, the four accused men were executed by hand ax in the courtyard of the adjacent prison.
Not until 60 years later, on 13 Nov. 1992, did the Hamburg Regional Court (Landgericht) rescind the sentences based on dubious testimony and manipulated exhibits, rehabilitating the executed persons.
Bruno Tesch, born on 22 Apr. 1913, executed on 1 Aug. 1933 in Altona
At the age of just 20 years, Bruno Tesch, a native of Kiel, was the youngest of those sentenced to death. He came from an Italian family. He never met his biological father, who had died in World War I. From age seven to 12, Bruno lived with his grandparents in the Italian city of Fiume. When his mother Virginia married Hermann Tesch, a worker and member of the workers’ representative committee at the Altona Gasworks, by then 12-year-old Bruno came to Hamburg. His stepfather took him in as if he were his own son and gave him his name. The family lived at Schauenburgerstrasse 34, today’s Schomburgstrasse. Bruno also had a sister by the name of Virginia.
At the age of 16, Bruno Tesch started an apprenticeship to become a plumber, while attending vocational school in Museumsstrasse. Following his journeyman’s examination, he was unemployed, like many other youths, and participated in the Voluntary Labor Service (Freiwilliger Arbeitsdienst – FAD). In 1930, he joined the SAJ, the "Socialist Young Workers” (Sozialistische Arbeiterjugend), an organization close to the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), though changing after one year to the German Young Communist League (Kommunistischer Jugendverband Deutschlands – KJVD) because of disappointment about the armament policy of the SPD. Prior to the Altona Bloody Sunday, Bruno Tesch had participated in the organized defense against increasing attacks by gangs of Nazi thugs on left-wing vocational school students, and in Altona he was well known. As early as Feb. 1932, three SA men had attacked him in the old town center.
Bruno Tesch, too, was on the street on that Altona Bloody Sunday. As he stood at the intersection of Schauenburger Strasse/Johannisstrasse, a few colleagues also working in the labor service marching in the demonstration recognized him, attacking and kicking him. Eventually, a police officer rescued him. Though bleeding from a head injury, he still brought a woman with two small children, who had gotten into difficulties in front of a restaurant, to safety in a building on Grosse Marienstrasse. He was then arrested. Precisely this moment was indicated before court as the time when Bruno Tesch had allegedly fired the shots. No evidence was ever produced to substantiate the claim that he had killed someone or carried a pistol. Former workmates, three SA men, incriminated him, claiming to have seen him throw away a weapon.
References from the vocational school certified Bruno Tesch good conduct, industriousness, and love of order. His vocational school teacher wrote in a letter to his defense counsel, "During the period of all young people’s political activity, particularly increased in the years 1931/32, he frequently assumed the role of protector of other fellow students who were not as well developed physically. As a result, he was certainly often entangled in quarrels, though without acting the aggressor in any way on his own volition.” According to this teacher’s view, Bruno Tesch left school as "a human being of sincere and decent character.” The school principal, too, showed himself to be shaken, putting in a good word for him in a letter to the defense lawyer: "He stands out due to his calmness, good perception, and modesty vis-à-vis his classmates.”
The court was also in possession of written testimony by the pastor of the main church where Bruno Tesch had been confirmed: "One got the feeling of upright diligence in his case. He learned his lessons, though only showing that he could do it when asked to do so. Even in the event of silly pranks that did occur, he behaved in an exemplary way. If he was in on something, he was not cowardly and he scorned lying. […] Generally, he left the impression of a young person not just well bred but also of a good nature.”
Bruno Tesch was in solitary confinement and kept a prison diary. "During the pronouncement, I only felt a strong hissing noise, and then […] the judge’s voice sounded through. My composure almost broke down only once, when I heard the crying of my mother in the midst of all the other sounds. However, I pulled myself together, for I had sworn to myself not to afford any spectacle to the people just waiting for it. Afterward, as the judge explained the court’s grounds, the judge’s theatrics inwardly amused me, for after all, he beat around the bush, just in order not to blush at his own distortions of facts. I am quite certain that, as an experienced judge, he saw through the statements by most of the SA men, taking them as what they were: lies […] The great drastic change only came a few days later when proper reflection returned; when I imagined that I am only 20 years old – having done nothing wrong really – and was nevertheless sentenced to death […] To me, it still is a consolation to know that I will not be forgotten among the working class when I will have been executed.”
To the very end, Bruno Tesch hoped for a pardon. However, all of the defendants’ petitions and applications toward reopening of the case were rejected.
1 Aug. 1933: "Dear Father! Did you ever think of something like this? I know you will easily get over it, as for this reason you are a man, after all. I ask you sincerely to forgive me for what I have ever done to you. I did love you very much as well, even though we have had bad clashes. Please stand by Mom in her grief. Perhaps it would have been better if you had insisted more strongly that I leave politics. This is not a reproach, as I was pigheaded of course. – I will stay composed to the very end. I am completely calm. Please take my knife and pipe as souvenirs and remember me sometimes. Warm wishes from your dear son Bruno.”
1 Aug. 1933: "Dear Mother! Now the time has finally come. The pardon was turned down. When you receive this letter, I will no longer be alive. Beloved Mom, that I have to cause you such grief is something that pains me deeply. You would not believe just how much. I ask you sincerely, please do not take it to heart so much, please do (not) do it for my sake. See here, I am not taking it to heart that much either. We talk very calmly, and the police officers are very friendly. I have cake and tobacco, everything I wish for. Most beloved Mom, please overcome this for my sake. You must stay alive to bring my innocence to light. This is my last bequest to you; you have to bring to light what a horrible judicial murder was committed here. […] Perhaps this is better than having to spend a sentence in a penitentiary. My life would have been botched anyway. Perhaps at times you thought that I did not love you but I could not show you my love. That was never my thing. But love you I did, very much. Please forgive me if I was rather unloving toward you but this was nervousness. […] Greetings to you, my dear Mom, for the last time from your most affectionate son Bruno.
The lawyer will tell you about my last hour. Just now, I am learning that the reopening of the case was refused. Fare well, beloved mother, the clock has struck five in the morning, in half an hour’s time, my heart will have stopped beating. Please be quite brave, I am, too. […] Affectionate kisses from your only son Bruno.”
August Lütgens, born on 16 Dec. 1897, executed on 1 Aug. 1933 in Altona
August Lütgens was born in Lübeck as the oldest of 12 children into a Social Democratic-oriented working-class family. The father was a metalworker, the mother a launderer. From 1903 until 1911, Lütgens attended the eight-grade elementary school (Volksschule) in Lübeck. After his school days, he signed on as a ship’s boy on a sailing vessel and became a seaman. At the age of 16, he joined the seamen’s trade union and later, the Social Democratic Party.
At the outbreak of World War I, he volunteered, like many young seamen, for the Imperial Navy and became a crew member on the liner "SMS [HMS] Westfalen.” Toward the end of the First World War, he participated in the sailors’ rebellions against the German Empire. On charges of mutiny, Lütgens was transferred to a navy division stationed in Belgium on disciplinary grounds. At the end of Oct. 1918, when the German navy was supposed to be deployed in one last engagement with the superior British naval forces, an armed rebellion of sailors took place in Kiel. The left-wing sailors posted in Belgium returned to Northern Germany and participated in the uprisings as well, including August Lütgens. In Wilhelmshaven, he joined the Spartacists in 1918, and the following year, he became a member of the newly founded German Communist Party (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands – KPD). For participation in the German Revolution 1918/19 ("Novemberrevolution”), he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. However, he managed to flee, disguised in the uniform coat of a judicial police constable (Justizwachtmeister). Via Denmark, he escaped to Russia, finding political asylum there. In 1922, he got married in Leningrad to Lisa Fiedler, the daughter of a Hamburg family that had emigrated to the Soviet Union. The couple lived in Moscow, with Lütgens working in a foundry. In 1922, son Franz was born and in 1925 daughter Elsa. From 1925 onward, August Lütgens was again a sailor, now out of Leningrad. Not before 1931 did he return to Germany because of an amnesty, while his family remained behind in the Soviet Union.
As an unemployed person, he received welfare assistance and lived in Altona, first at Eulenstrasse 10, then at Mühlenstrasse 44. August Lütgens joined the Communist Alliance of Red Front Fighters (Rotfrontkämpferbund – RFB), banned since 1929 and operating illegally, which organized protection units for houses ("Häuserschutzstaffeln”) in the working-class neighborhoods of Altona in defense against the increasing Nazi terror on the streets.
Not until one month after the Altona Bloody Sunday, on 25 Aug. 1932, was August Lütgens arrested in the apartment of his girlfriend at Schauenburgerstrasse 12. Although criminal proceedings against him were initially suspended due to lack of evidence, he remained in custody. Allegedly, a Gestapo officer had found a sketch of a street drawn by hand at his apartment at Kleine Mühlenstrasse 40. It served as proof that Lütgens had been instrumental in organizing an ambush of snipers on police. However, the special court was neither able to clarify his whereabouts in the afternoon of 17 July nor whether he was directly involved in the street fighting at all. Subsequently, it turned out that the sketch had been forged by the authorities and planted in the confiscated papers used to prove Lütgen’s illegal activities in the Alliance of Red Front Fighters.
31 July 1933: "Dear children, by the time you receive this letter, your Daddy will no longer be [alive], by then he will have been done away with, in accordance with the verdict, which means we shall not see each other anymore; however, when you are older and have studied world history, you will understand what your Daddy was, why he fought, and you will also understand why your Daddy had to act in this way and in no other, so fare you well and become fighters. Greetings to you from your Daddy.”
After the German troops had invaded Poland, the Lütgens family – with the exception of the daughter, who died in Moscow – was deported by the Stalinist Soviet government to camps in Kazakhstan, like many German Communist emigrants. His wife and his son perished there.
Karl Wolff, born on 17 Sept. 1911, executed on 1 Aug. 1933 in Altona
Karl Wolff, son of the smith Carl Wolff and the maid Anna Wolff, née Frahm, had learned the trade of orthopedic shoemaker. He lived in Hamburg on the fourth floor of the back part of the house at Süderstrasse 323.
During the Altona Bloody Sunday, he had been arrested in a backyard at Christianstrasse 29. Four dubious witnesses of the SA claimed before the special court that he had fired shots out of a group of people at the corner of Christianstrasse. The court did not follow up on testimony by witnesses indicating that he had not left the backyard and therefore could not have fired shots on the street. In the course of numerous house searches in Altona’s old town center, a firearm had been found. As turned out when the verdicts were rescinded in 1992, the military projectiles from a police weapon detected in the autopsy of SA man Koch had been swapped with different ammunition, specifically with calibers that could have come from the weapon found. Incontestably, the deceased SA man Koch had been killed by a police bullet.
Unmarried Karl Wolff had no prior convictions. The master shoemaker for whom he worked testified to his honesty and industriousness. Wolff, he stated, had been one of his best apprentices. The chairman of the rowing club in which Wolff was a member testified that he had been very helpful and politically rather moderate.
1 Aug. 1933: "My dear Wilhelm! For the last time, I am sending you my greetings. Tomorrow, my last hour will have struck. [...] I am writing you one more time that I am innocent and I hope that my innocence will come to light yet. [...] For the last time, warmest greetings to you, and may you enjoy a better evening of your life than I. Greetings, your friend Karl.”
Walter Möller, born on 28 Jan. 1905, executed on 1 Aug. 1933 in Altona
Walter Möller came from a working-class family. His parents were Wilhelm and Anna Möller, née Stoll.
Walter Möller lived in the Hamburg district of Eppendorf at Kegelhofstrasse 13. He earned a living as a packer, co-driver, and casual laborer. Starting in 1931, he was unemployed. Möller was a member of the German Young Communist League (Kommunistischer Jugendverband Deutschlands – KJVD) and the Eppendorf branch of the "Anti-Fascist Action” ("Antifaschistische Aktion”). Before court, his parents and siblings characterized him as "good-natured” and "honest.” Together with Wolff, he had been arrested in the backyard of the house at Christianstrasse 29. Allegedly, he belonged to the group of gunmen at the corner of Christianstrasse. He too had no previous convictions.
Walter Möller was sentenced based on false testimony by two SA men.
Parks in Altona-Altstadt were named after Walter Möller and August Lütgens and a street after Karl Wolff. In 1987, Bruno Tesch became the name giver of the Altona comprehensive school, which was closed in 2004. Now the square at the eastern end of Grosse Bergstrasse, unnamed to date, is supposed to bear his name. On the property behind the District Court (Amtsgericht), part of the former prison grounds, a commemorative plaque has been serving as a reminder of the four executed men since Aug. 2005
1932: Der Altonaer Blutsonntag (1932: The Altona Bloody Sunday)
Feature on NDR TV (Northern German Broadcasting) dated 31 July 2010 (in German)
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: March 2017
© Birgit Gewehr
Quellen: Schirmann, Der Altonaer Blutsonntag; Schirmann, Justizmanipulationen; Kopitzsch, Der "Altonaer Blutsonntag"; McElligot, Das Altonaer Sondergericht; Rote Hilfe Deutschlands (Hrsg.), Die Wahrheit; Geschichtskommission der Industriekreisleitung des SED Seeverkehr und Hafenwirtschaft (Hrsg.), August Lütgens; Staatliche Landesbildstelle Hamburg (Hrsg.), Der Altonaer Blutsonntag; Heins, Helmut u. a., Bruno Tesch und Gefährten.