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Martin Bellmer, ca. 1942, Zuchthaus Celle, Gefangenenpersonalakte
© Hauptstaatsarchiv Hannover

Martin Bellmer * 1906

Kottwitzstraße 8 (Eimsbüttel, Hoheluft-West)

1936 - 1942 mehrfach verhaftet
Zuchthaus Dreibergen-Bützow
verstorben an Haftfolgen

Martin Bellmer, born on 29 Oct. 1906 in Rotterdam, died on 5 July 1945 in Bützow

Kottwitzstraße 8 (Blücherstraße 8)

Martin Bellmer was born in 1906 as the older of two sons of the marine engineer Johann Bellmer and Mathilde, née Jonske, in Rotterdam. Four sisters died immediately after their births. The family lived in Hamburg since 1910. He left the Oberrealschule [a secondary school without Latin] on Bogenstraße in grade ten. Afterward, he began an apprenticeship working for a dental technician, though he had to terminate his training after a year because his parents were in financial straits. Martin Bellmer then completed a two-and-a-half-year commercial apprenticeship. He worked as a merchant in Hamburg and Berlin. In 1930, he opened a store for hosiery, white, and dry goods together with his mother at Grabenstraße 14 in Hamburg-St. Pauli. After only one year, they transferred the business to Martin Bellmer’s friend Otto Rettberg, born in 1907. Together with him, he opened a bar on Eimsbütteler Straße. The location became a meeting place for homosexuals. In the spring of 1933, the pub was closed. One more time, in Dec. 1937, he became a partner in a pub operation "frequented by persons with different tendencies,” from which he, "following his own good sense,” withdrew "very soon,” however, as he argued in his defense later on. Until the start of the war, the innkeeper’s assistant Martin Bellmer subsequently worked as cigarette salesman in, among other places, the Ballhaus Alkazar on the Reeperbahn. In Dec. 1939, he was drafted to serve in the military and belonged to the 232nd Army Construction Unit (Heeresbauabteilung 232) until 5 Jan. 1942. After that, he was conscripted to work as an unskilled laborer at the Heidenreich & Harbeck armaments company in Barmbek.

On top of two previous convictions for theft in the years 1926 and 1932 as well as for negligent arson in 1935, when he caused a fire in the equipment room of the Ballhaus Alkazar due to carelessness, Martin Bellmer was sentenced five times because of his homosexual tendencies. In 1929, he was in prison for three month for causing a public nuisance as well as assault and battery pursuant to Secs. 183, 185 [of the Reich Criminal Code]. From 20 Nov. until 22 Dec. 1936, he was in "protective custody” ("Schutzhaft") in the Fuhlsbütttel concentration camp and afterwards in pretrial detention until 16 Feb. 1937 because of pending criminal proceedings pursuant to Sec. 175. He was suspected of having maintained sexual relationships with, among others, his friend Otto Rettberg, proof of which could not be established at the time, however. Almost exactly one year later, in Feb. 1938, he was again taken into pretrial detention on suspicion of having committed "unnatural sexual offenses” ("widernatürliche Unzucht”). A young male prostitute he had met at a location called "Indische Bar” in St. Pauli in the summer of 1937 betrayed him to the criminal investigation department while detained in "protective custody.” This time, police were able to prove about ten cases against him, resulting in a conviction before the Hamburg District Court (Amtsgericht) and a 15-month prison sentence pursuant to Sec. 175 in Mar. 1938. In Mar. 1939, his brother, who like their father went to sea as a marine engineer, presented a plea for clemency. By way of explanation, he argued that their mother, living alone by then, required care due to a stroke. The petition was refused almost indignantly by both the public prosecutor Nicolaus Siemssen and the judge Friedrich Bertram. From 23 Oct. until 15 Dec. 1939, Martin Bellmer was once again detained in protective custody in the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp. In 1940 and 1941, the field court martial of the Commander of the Hamburg air defense region convicted him because of attempted "illicit sexual relations” between men pursuant to Sec. 175a, Item 3 to nine months in prison and for an event that had already come to the attention of police in an interrogation of the young male prostitute and blackmailer Theodor Gehring in Oct. 1938 to an overall term of 15 months in prison. The two had met in Oct. 1937 in a restroom near the Christuskirche, a place in Eimsbüttel known among many homosexuals as a pertinent meeting point. At the home of Martin Bellmer’s aunt close to Schanzenstraße they had had sex, for which Gehring was paid 2 RM (reichsmark). After serving part of the sentence in a prison camp of the Wehrmacht, he was released from prison early on 27 Apr. 1941 because enforcement was suspended, supposedly for "probation on the front,” until the end of the war. Until his discharge owing to illness in Jan. 1942, he remained with his unit. In the course of a police raid of the Wiener-Hof Hotel on Capellenstraße in St. Georg on 23 Feb. 1942, Martin Bellmer was caught again having sex with a man, the shipbuilder Walter Zwang (born in 1921). An excerpt from the police report: "The door was locked from inside. Upon my repeated knocking, Bellmer opened the door. Zwang was lying in bed, pretending to be asleep. Due to the behavior of the two and based on brief questioning, I immediately got the impression that they were two homosexuals. Assisted by the military patrol conducting the raid with me … I brought both of them to the 44th Police Station.” The two had met a few weeks before in a bar called Loreley-Keller at Davidstraße 19 in St. Pauli. Martin Bellmer was taken into police "protective custody” ("Schutzhaft”) and transferred to the pretrial detention facility on 5 Mar. 1942. On 5 Nov. 1942, the "Criminal Chamber 2” (2. Strafkammer) of the Hamburg Regional Court (Landgericht) – serving as a youth protection chamber because a consensual sexual act with a 16-year old was also up for trial – passed the following sentence: "The defendant, a dangerous habitual offender, is sentenced for unnatural sexual offenses in three instances to an overall penalty of two years and six months in prison. The period of pretrial detention will be calculated against the sentence pronounced. The court orders preventive detention of the defendant. […] He already received his first conviction for homosexual activities at the age of 22. Already in that judgment, the defendant was cautioned as to the highly dangerous nature of his actions. […] After this, due to hereditary tendencies, increased by continuous practice, the defendant continuously commits offenses and crimes against Secs. 175, 175a Item 3 of the Criminal Code (StGB). [...] An attempt to achieve a cure with medical assistance did not yield success either …”

On the same day, Martin Bellmer was brought to the penitentiary in Celle. Two days after the pronouncement of the judgment, he submitted an application for "voluntary castration” in order to be able to evade internment in a concentration camp.

He served his prison term from Dec. 1942 until 22 Aug. 1944 at the penitentiary in Celle. After an examination in June 1943 by Senior Medical Officer Hiestermann in Celle, Martin Bellmer withdrew his application for castration, since the medical officer had informed him about the possible long-term consequences of such an operation.

Following his "release,” he was transferred to "preventive detention” at the Dreibergen-Bützow penitentiary. When the Red Army entered the area on 3 May 1945, he was freed from prison. On 5 July 1945, Martin Bellmer died at the age of 39 of the effects of many years in prison in a military hospital in Bützow/Mecklenburg.

In Aug. 1945, the Hamburg public prosecutor’s office made inquiries in Celle concerning the whereabouts of Martin Bellmer and was directed to the penitentiary in Dreibergen-Bützow. What followed from Nov. 1945 until Jan. 1946 was a detailed correspondence between the Hamburg public prosecutor’s office and the administration of the penitentiary in Dreibergen-Bützow about the circumstances of Martin Bellmer’s release. Regardless of his death, which had occurred long since, a warrant for his arrest was issued in Apr. 1946; that same month it became known that the person wanted by police had already been dead for nearly one year.

The informer Theodor Gehring was executed on 9 July 1942 (see biography on Henry Heitmann).

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

© Bernhard Rosenkranz(†)/Ulf Bollmann

Quellen: StaHH 213-11 Staatsanwaltschaft Landgericht – Strafsachen, 6173/36, 2830/38 u. 3893/43; 242-2 Kriminalbiologische Sammelstelle, 60; 213-8 Staatsanwaltschaft Oberlandesgericht – Verwaltung, Abl. 2, 451 a E 1, 1 a u. Abl. 2, 451 a E 1, 1 b; 331-1 II Polizeibehörde II, Ablieferung 15 Band 2; 242-1 II Gefängnisverwaltung II, Ablieferungen 13 u. 16; Niedersächsisches Landesarchiv, Hauptstaatsarchiv Hannover, Hann. 86 Celle Acc. 142/90 Nr. 42/0304; Auskunft von Rainer Hoffschildt, Hannover; Rosenkranz/Bollmann/Lorenz, Homosexuellen-Verfolgung, S. 104, 107 u. 200.

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