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Margit Zinke
© Gedenkstätte Neuengamme

Margarete Zinke * 1914

Falkenried 26 (Hamburg-Nord, Hoheluft-Ost)

KZ Neuengamme
gehenkt 1945 KZ Neuengamme

further stumbling stones in Falkenried 26:
Paul Erich Zinke

Margit Zinke, née Fleischner, born on 18 Jan. 1914 in Munich, hanged in the Neuengamme concentration camp on 21 Apr. 1945
Paul Erich Zinke, born on 9 Mar. 1901 in Bad Warmbrunn/Upper Silesia (today Cieplice Slaskie-Zdroj in Poland), murdered on 23 Apr. 1945 in the Neuengamme concentration camp

Falkenried 26

In the 30 years she was given, Margit Zinke lived an eventful and courageous life.

Her biological mother, the worker Katharina Meier, who still called her Margarete, gave her up for adoption immediately after her birth. She came to the couple Woldemar Emil Fleischner and Martha Fleischner. He was a professional soldier. In 1919, just 37 years old, he retired from military service for health reasons. However, it seems that the couple still had enough income to afford a generous lifestyle, first in Neuburg, then in Donauwörth, and since 1924 in Hamburg, in a stately apartment at Jungfrauenthal 49. Margarete/Margit remained the Fleischner’s only child.

She was meant to be raised according to her station. At the age of ten, she was enrolled at the Catholic High School for Girls on Holzdamm in Hamburg, a private school run by Ursuline sisters. The school fee was 25 RM (reichsmark) per month, which was quite a lot at that time. Most of the students came from wealthy circles, especially the consular staff of Catholic countries in Latin America and Africa. This inevitably led to a degree of cosmopolitanism at the school, which put the severity of the Ursuline sisters somewhat into perspective.

All reports of the former classmates reveal that Margit was not only a good student and popular classmate, but that she was perceived, especially during excursions, celebrations, and sports events, as occasionally cheeky and dominant. She was enthusiastically involved in the HSV (Hamburger Sport-Verein) hockey team.

The disciplined education in the house of Major Fleischner and the Ursulines could not dissuade Margit from opening her mouth when something did not suit her. There were difficulties with the teachers. Some of her classmates regarded Margit as a "rebel.” In 1931, when she was 17 years old, the Fleischners took her from the Höhere Mädchenschule am Holzdamm, the girls’ secondary school, and placed her in the Ursulines’ boarding school in Eutin. Here too, as schoolmates remember, she was repeatedly summoned to the headmistress "because of her pranks.” She left Eutin in the spring of 1932 and returned to Hamburg.

Soon there were serious conflicts with the adoptive parents (whom Margit had previously thought were her biological parents), which eventually led to a complete break: At the HSV, Margit had met Police Sergeant Heinrich Speckin, who was three years older. She introduced him to his parents, but he failed to make the grade, being considered "not befitting her station.” Margit persisted in the relationship and, not yet of age, left home in 1934. In 1935, Margit and Heinrich got married. Meanwhile, he – for reasons not clear – had given up or been forced to give up the police profession, becoming a dockworker. They struggled through, especially since three children were born in rapid succession: Maria-Luise in 1936, Claus-Uwe in 1937, and Lars in 1939. Heinrich Speckin’s mother, Minna Speckin, who had a tobacco store with associated residential quarters on Langenkamp, today’s Poelchaukamp, in Winterhude, pitched in and accepted Maria-Luise in her home.

The marriage with Heinrich Speckin did not last. Heinrich, who had also been drafted for military service shortly after the birth of the youngest boy, had become involved with another woman. Margit filed for divorce in Jan. 1942.

Although Heinrich Speckin conscientiously fulfilled his financial and personal obligations as a father of the three children (until his sudden death on 18 Dec. 1944 due to a lung condition which he had probably contracted during the war), Margit had no choice but to further reduce her living standard. Still in spring 1942, she moved with Claus-Uwe and Lars, now almost five and three years old, into a small apartment – featuring an eat-in kitchen and two small rooms – in the terraced building complex at Falkenried 26, house no. 10, on the ground floor.

We do not know how she made ends meet for herself and the children financially. It must have been extremely difficult. She certainly did not contact her wealthy adoptive mother. (Major Fleischner had already died of lymph gland cancer in May 1934, shortly before she moved out of the Jungfrauenthal home.)

Thus, by this time she, the once well-protected upper-bourgeois daughter with a secondary education, lived alone with two small children in the middle of the petty-bourgeois-proletarian milieu of the Falkenried Terraces in close proximity to long-established Social Democrats and Communists. In effect, left-wing parties had long since become illegal, but individual members were always suspected by the Nazi rulers, their snoopers, and informants.

When Margit Speckin moved to Falkenried (then Otto-Blöcker-Strasse) in 1942, Paul Zinke lived diagonally opposite her in house no. 13. He was 41 years old, had had a relationship with the 52-year-old widow Hermine Marr for ten years, and had named a seven-year-old son, Albert Lohrberg, after his mother’s maiden name.

Paul Zinke was a trained electrician and worked at Stülkenwerft shipyard. He was a political man and had seen a lot in his day. Originally a "free thinker,” he became radicalized in the early 1920s and joined the workers’ youth movement. In 1923, he had been involved in the attempts by the Communist side to carry out an armed revolutionary uprising in central Germany. In 1925, he had officially joined the German Communist Party (KPD) in Königsberg (today Kaliningrad in Russia). He had lived in Hamburg since 1932 at the latest and continued to be active in the Communist Party, which had been banned since Feb. 1933. He was arrested in July 1935 and sentenced to a nine-month prison term for "preparation to high treason” ("Vorbereitung zum Hochverrat”).

By the time Margit and Paul got to know each other and became closer, also in open and extensive conversations about the Nazi dictatorship and its crimes, Paul had long since been active again in illegality: Around him and Ernst Fiering, an "anti-Fascist cell” had formed near Stülken, which was also joined by Russian and Polish prisoners of war and forced laborers. The cell was in ever-closer contact with the most important resistance organization, especially within the port’s large companies, the group around Bernhard Bästlein, Franz Jacob, and Robert Abshagen.

In addition to supporting the Slavic prisoners and forced laborers at the shipyard in their struggle for daily survival, the most important projects of the Fiering and Zinke group for 1942 were above all the construction of a secret radio station and reception system for the joint interception of "enemy stations” (in this context, the electrician Zinke was in demand), the procurement of a reproduction machine, and the preparation of forged documents for people in hiding and of food cards, above all in order to better assist the half-starved forced laborers from the East.

On 11 Jan. 1943, Zinke moved to the shipbuilding office of AEG as an electrician. Why he did so we do not know. His wages there amounted to 0.98 RM an hour.

Zinke’s political activity in Hamburg was abruptly interrupted on 28 June 1943: He was drafted. By this time, the Greater German Empire, already clearly on the decline, needed virtually every man to avert its downfall. As a former political criminal, Zinke was "unfit for military service” – so he was put into the 999th Division Probation Battalion (Bewährungsbatallion Division 999). (This conspicuous number was intended to make clear that the probation formations did not belong to the regular units.) Although the probation units were not quite as feared as the punishment companies of the "Dirlewanger” SS Special Brigades, they were also recruited from political delinquents and criminals, fraudsters, burglars, and killers, some of whom came directly from prison. Only in the transports coming from Hamburg did "the political prisoners” predominate until the end with more than 60 percent over the criminals. The training was brutal. Shooting for trivial matters was nothing out of the ordinary.

In 1943/44, the "999ers” were mainly intended to keep the bases abandoned by the regular units in Africa, the Balkans, and later in Crimea, and to bind enemy forces, mostly hardly armed, without supplies, without food – bleeding, starving lots.

Paul Zinke was lucky in this respect, too: He was assigned to a "replacement unit,” deployed as a camp guard for Soviet officers in Yugoslavia, and survived. There is unconfirmed evidence that he once even had a short home leave. That he and other German Communists of the unit had contact with Yugoslav partisans and made plans for the liberation of prisoners, as comrades from the Communist Party later spread, cannot be proven.

It is certain that after ten months, at the end of Apr. 1944, he was released from the probation battalion, but after a few days, he was again captured and assigned to the "Todt Organization” (OT). In this unit, which produced necessary buildings virtually out of thin air, raising them from the ground or hammering them into the ground, bunkers, airfields, launching pads, often attacked by enemy raids, sometimes under the harshest conditions, in a constant rush, in day and night shifts, Zinke worked the next seven months, until Sept. 1944, at changing locations in France and Germany, among other places, in Trier and also in Hamburg, which at least made possible meetings with friends and comrades.

Margit had also developed into a decisive opponent of Nazi rule during the Nazi era and then especially during the war and the increasing bombardments. The "rebellious student” of the Ursulines was not intimidated even then. It is documented that she, loaded with two, later with three children, openly scolded Hitler and the Nazis during an air raid in the Falkenried Terraces bunker. Once she is said to have even taken down a swastika flag hung in the courtyard. Without immediate sanctions, such actions were probably only possible in an environment featuring the proper general mood, such as Falkenried. Benevolent neighbors warned her.

Her careless behavior was also repeatedly the subject of the secret meetings of party comrades and fellow travelers around Fiering and Paul, in which Margit increasingly became involved. Although she was not a member of the KPD, she was considered a "loyal comrade.” Since the large-scale air raids on Hamburg in July/Aug. 1943 at the latest, she was integrated in highly dangerous resistance activities originating from the port.

After the destruction caused to state buildings and prisons by "Operation Gomorrah” in July/Aug. 1943, the judiciary administration was faced with chaotic conditions and saw itself compelled to give some 2,000 detainees and pretrial detainees temporary prison leave in order to at least secure the imprisonment of those already convicted. The leave was limited to two months. After that, everyone was to return voluntarily. This condition shows the catastrophic state of Hamburg’s Nazi prosecution authorities at the time, for it was of course clear that the freed would take every opportunity to disappear. Among those released were about 70 men and women who were active in or connected with the Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen organization, such as the Zinkes.

Consequently, safe hiding places were needed, for several nights, for several weeks. Paul Zinke was stationed with the probation battalion in Yugoslavia; therefore, Margit Zinke seemed a good address. Some of the persons gone underground found shelter there for a day or two. Hans Hornberger was a particularly vulnerable refugee and an important member of the Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen Group. Margit was supposed to house him in case of extreme emergency. We do not know for sure if he was using the hideout.

Even by Aug. 1943, the Gestapo was again feverishly active in tracking down those who had escaped, forcing them to testify under torture, and determined not to let them out of their clutches again. (Hornberger was captured in Jan. 1944 and murdered in Neuengamme in Feb. 1944.)

In Dec. 1943, an informer, the former Communist Party member Alfons Pannek, was infiltrated into the circle of acquaintances around Fiering and Zinke. Paul Zinke, who was temporarily in Hamburg with the OT and was completely released from the organization in Sept. 1944, met him on several occasions, completely unsuspecting.

Margit and Paul had been married on 1 July 1944. On June 10, a daughter, Ursula Zinke, was born.

On 27 Nov. 1944, Paul Zinke was arrested and, like Ernst Fiering, his wife and sister, as well as others from the group, taken to the Fuhlsbüttel Gestapo prison.

On the evening of 3 or 4 Feb. 1945, Margit Zinke was also arrested and taken to Fuhlsbüttel. A neighbor in Falkenried, Mrs. Annemüller, had observed the arrest by chance: "I was just outside the door, wanted to bring in my children, when I see two men in plain clothes going into the house. So I thought, man, are they going to see her? ... It wasn’t long before the two of them came out with her, had her in the middle, the children stood in front of the door and cried and cried ‘Mama, Mama,’ and they left with her and we never saw her again.” The three children – the youngest, Ursula, was eight months old – were taken along by a female person who was present during the arrest and, after a short stopover with grandmother Speckin, were placed with various Hamburg families for foster care.

A letter from Margit Zinke, written in pencil on 23 Mar. 1945, has survived from prison. It went to Minna Speckin and Maria-Luise, the first daughter. She had her eighth birthday that day. We learn nothing about the circumstances under which Margit lived, but about the concerns she had for the children. For instance, she asked Grandmother Speckin to get some things from the apartment that the children needed, but above all, she ought to demand back the sugar Margit Zinke had lent to a neighbor. Because that’s what the kids needed, she wrote. This letter is the only written testimony preserved from Margit Zinke. It is also her last letter.

In fact, the death of the "protective custody prisoners” ("Schutzhäftlinge”) had already been decided. Faced with the inevitable demise of their "thousand year empire,” the leaders of the SS and Gestapo were determined to destroy what had confronted them and was at their mercy. The Gestapo had drawn up so-called liquidation lists with the names of members of the resistance organizations and of other opposition members they had already secured in Fuhlsbüttel and elsewhere, including some Soviet prisoners of war and French forced laborers who had attracted unfavorable police attention. On these lists were the names of 13 women and 58 men. Authorization was also given for Margit and Paul Zinke to be murdered.

At the beginning of Apr. 1945, when the Allies approached the city, the SS and Police Chief in Wehrkreis (military district) X (Hamburg), SS Gruppenführer (group leader) Count Georg Henning Bassewitz-Behr (died in Soviet detention in Jan. 1949), gave the order to clear the Gestapo prison in Fuhlsbüttel, to take the prisoners to the largely empty Neuengamme concentration camp, and to” process” the lists there.

The transports took place between 18 and 20 April. The report of Ellen Katzenstein, the last female last "trusty” in the women’s prison, has been handed down. The women had no idea what was ahead of them. They thought they were on their way to freedom, perhaps with a stopover. "Everyone was in joyful excitement. They showed each other the pictures of their children and husbands.”

During the nights between 21 and 24 April, all 71 people were murdered in Neuengamme.

The women were the first victims. "They had to undress completely. Then they were hung in two groups, six next to each other.” One, Erika Etter, the youngest, was left over as the thirteenth. She was hanged individually. When the killers did not succeed in this as they had wished, they beat her to death.

The men whose turn it was then knew what awaited them. They barricaded the bunker door and defended themselves when the SS tried to enter by force. The camp commandant Thumann was injured. Eventually, the SS threw hand grenades through the bunker windows, thus killing some of the men. Some more were shot. The remaining ones could then be hanged.

Margit Zinke was 30, Paul Zinke 44 years old. A street in Hamburg-Bergedorf has been named after her since 1995.

Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: May 2019
© Johannes Grossmann

Quellen: AfW 180114 Zinke, Margit; AfW 090301 Zinke, Paul; AfW 100644 Zinke, Paul; StaH, 352-5 Gesundheitsbehörde, Todesbescheinigungen 1934, 614, 3C Woldemar Fleischner; Gesamtschule Bergedorf, Margit-Zinke – Eine Frau aus dem Widerstand, 1990; Gedenkbuch Kola-Fu (1987), S. 53; Rehm (1991); Hochmuth/Meyer (1980); Gertrud Meyer (1971); Puls (1959); Holtmann (2010); Klaus Bästlein, Hitlers Niederlage, in: Meyer/Szodrzynski (Hrsg.), Vom Zweifeln und Weitermachen, 1988, S. 77ff.; Bake, Wer steckt dahinter?, 2009; Auskünfte von Albert Lohrberg, 15.11.2010; Auskünfte von Maria-Luise Speckin, 23.11.2010; Auskünfte von Herbert Diercks, KZ-Gedenkstätte Neuengamme, 3.1.2011; Auskünfte von Claus-Uwe Speckin, 14.1.2011.

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