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Jonny Dettmer * 1901
Auenstraße 2 a (Wandsbek, Eilbek)
IM WIDERSTAND / KPD
Jonny Ludwig Wilhelm Dettmer, born on 11 Sept. 1901 in Hamburg, executed on 19 May 1934 in the Hamburg pretrial detention center, Holstenglacis 3
Jonny Dettmer’s name is mentioned in several publications on resistance to National Socialism, e. g. in Gertrud Meyer, Nacht über Hamburg ["Night over Hamburg”], Andreas Seeger/Fritz Treichel, Hinrichtungen in Hamburg und Altona 1933–1934. ["Executions in Hamburg and Altona, 1933–1934"]. So far, no summarizing biographical accounts are available. This contribution, too, cannot provide a comprehensive life story, concentrating instead, due to a lack of more extensive sources, on the events that resulted in his execution.
In the years 1933 and 1934, at least 16 death sentences were carried out against opponents of the Nazis in Hamburg and Altona. One of the executed persons was the 33-year-old Communist Jonny Dettmer.
Jonny Dettmer was born in 1901 as one of three children in his parental home at Deichstrasse 44 in Hamburg. His father was the lighterman (Ewerführer) Andreas Ludwig Dettmer, his mother Frida Maria Louise, née Greten. He had one brother, Hans, and one sister, Else Bertha. (A lighter [German: Ewer, technically speaking, a "ketch-rigged sailing barge”] is a small type of sailing boat from Friesland featuring a flat-plate keel and one or two masts).
On 19 Mar. 1927, Jonny Dettmer married Elsa Adele Winguth, born on 20 Jan. 1899 in Hamburg. At the time of their marriage, both lived at Kajen 36, not far from Rödingsmarkt. Elsa Dettmer died at the age of 31 in the St. Georg Hospital on 6 May 1930. The marriage did not produce any children.
Like his father, Jonny Dettmer worked as a lighterman in the Port of Hamburg. He was a member of the German Communist Party (KPD), probably also of the Alliance of Red Front Fighters (Rotfrontkämpferbund – RFB) banned on 3 May 1929, and of the "Red Navy” (Rote Marine). The latter was a special section of the RFB, with membership comprised in particular of former and active sailors.
Before the period of street battles with the National Socialists toward the end of the Weimar Republic, it seems that Jonny Dettmer got around in the world, leading an eventful life. What emerges from the text of the subsequent death sentence is that he had served in the US army together with his comrade Alfred Wehrenberg. It was not possible to establish the duration of service and his role as an American soldier.
In terms of the KPD’s political work among the masses, the "Red Navy” was an important support pillar. In the election campaigns of the KPD during the Weimar Republic, it joined the RFB in protecting polling stations and rallies, distributed leaflets, and organized slogan chanting as well as agitation operations. Following the confrontations on 1 May 1929 in Berlin ("Bloody May”) and the resulting "small state of siege,” the Reich Government banned the RFB and the Red Navy. However, the RFB and the Red Navy continued to be active despite their illegal status, appearing publicly on the scene in the struggle against the growing Nazi movement, in spite of the ban.
Before power was handed over to the National Socialists, Jonny Dettmer was entangled in street fighting with paramilitary units of the NSDAP. One clash in May 1932 resulted in a Marine SA man sustaining serious wounds. The Nazi succumbed to his injuries. However, both the first criminal proceedings before the Hamburg District Court (Amtsgericht), concluded legally effective in 1932, and the trial reopened by the Nazis in 1934 failed to establish proof of Dettmer’s guilt as a perpetrator. He was sentenced to death nevertheless.
This second trial in May 1934 before the Hanseatic special court (Hanseatisches Sondergericht) was one of several large-scale legal proceedings used to convict opponents of the National Socialist state, which wielded power by then.
In the proceedings that became known as the "Red Navy Trial” ("Rote Marine-Prozess”), 47 defendants were summoned before the judges in addition to Jonny Dettmer. The substance of the trial consisted of four criminal cases for which in part the same defendants were held responsible. They concerned the street battles between Communists and Nazis – intersection of Herrengraben/ Pulverthurmsbrücke on 19 May 1932–, at Helgoländer Allee on 26 June 1932, and at Admiralitätsstrasse on 2 Nov. 1932, as well as an incident – described in the judgment as a raid on the restaurant "Adler Hotel” known as a Nazi meeting place on Schanzenstrasse – on 21 Feb. 1933.
Jonny Dettmer was involved in the conflict at the intersection of Herrengraben/ Pulverthurmsbrücke on 19 May 1932, but not in the other three events.
He was accused of having joined Alfred Wehrenberg on 19 May 1932 in heading an attack on a Marine SA unit (Marine-SA-Sturm) at the intersection of Herrengraben/Pulverthurmsbrücke, in the course of which the SA man Heinzelmann was fatally injured by stab wounds.
The court judgment gives an account of the events – even though in a biased way:
On 19 May 1932 at around 11 p.m., members of the NSDAP or, respectively, of an [SA] Marine unit were attacked by Communists upon leaving their meeting place called "Zum Anker” located on Schaarmarkt at the intersection of Herrengraben and Pulverthurmsbrücke. In the process, the [SA] witnesses Grosspietsch, Voigt, and Dannenberg were substantially injured by stab wounds. The member of the [SA] Marine unit, Heinzelmann, died because of the serious stab wounds on 20 Oct. 1932, after spending a period of five months confined to the sickbed.
The investigations, the document went on to say, had produced evidence that the "Rote Marine Neustadt” was primarily involved in the attack. The inroads the Nazis made into the Hamburg quarters of Neustadt, Altstadt, and St. Pauli had deeply worried the KPD. These three parts of the city comprised the "Stadtteil-Zentrum” organizational unit within the KPD’s North German coastal (Wasserkante) district. On 18 May 1932, a meeting took place concerning "vigorous measures” against the National Socialists. The state investigators had been unable to clarify whether the planned operations were intended to entail the use of weapons. According to testimony by Jonny Dettmer, by "vigorous measures” he did not understand an attack using weapons. There had been no instructions to take along knives, he stated. However, – according to another defendant – they always carried knives. During a subsequent meeting of the "Red Navy” directed by Jonny Dettmer and Alfred Wehrenberg (organizational head of the Neustadt Section of the "Red Navy”), there was apparently talk of a proper thrashing for the National Socialists. There had been an explicit declaration that no weapons were to be taken along. According to the investigations, it remained questionable whether this meeting had seen the making of a well-considered plan to commit murder. The way the attack was executed – thus the judgment – did not corroborate this, at any rate.
On the evening of 19 May 1932, the account went on, the attack by the Communists on the Nazis took place. In the process, several gunshots were fired, and the Communists charged at the National Socialists from behind, wielding knives. To be sure, the information provided by Dettmer revealed that the 3rd Section of the "Red Navy” had 18 pistols in its possession. However, because no one apart from the defendant Kahlau had a firearm during the assault, the court was unable to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the meeting of the local district mentioned had seen an agreement not only to attack the National Socialists but also to murder them.
Dettmer, the judgment stated, had directed the operation personally. What the 2nd and 4th detachment of the Neustadt Section of the Red Navy had done definitely occurred with Dettmer’s full knowledge and intention.
The court considered it certain that the defendants Dröse, Stockfleth, Ruhnow, and Wehrenberg had stabbed the National Socialists repeatedly. Three of the Nazis had sustained stab wounds that in some instances required only outpatient treatment, in one case, however, a hospital stay lasting several days. The person most seriously injured was Heinzelmann, who suffered four stab wounds to the back and two on the right side of his neck. One stab had cut clean through the spinal cord at the height of the thorax. Heinzelmann had died after initially spending one month in the Harbor Hospital and then four months in the Eppendorf Hospital lying in a waterbed.
In the course of the trial, it had not been possible to ascertain who had carried out the stab fatal to Heinzelmann. The offense presented itself – according to the court – as murder of Heinzelmann and attempted murder of the injured persons.
According to the court, the knifers had done what Dettmer as their leader had wanted and approved. As the fanatical Communist he had been, Dettmer had intended – just like Wehrenberg, Dröse, Stockfleth, and Ruhnow – the death of the National Socialists attacked with knives.
On 2 May 1934, Jonny Dettmer was sentenced by the Hanseatic special court (Hanseatisches Sondergericht) (Az. Sond. Ger. 113/34) "to death and a prison term of […] ten years and permanent loss of civic rights for joint murder and joint attempted murder in coincidence with aggravated breach of the peace,” as were Alfred Wehrenberg, Hermann Fischer as well as Robert Richartz, Walter Dröse, Franz Ruhnow, Klaus Stockfleth, and Arthur Schmidt. (The latter five were also accused of other criminal offenses.) The other defendants received prison sentences of up to ten years. One defendant was acquitted.
Reich Governor (Reichsstatthalter) Karl Kaufmann and the senator for the judiciary, Curt Rothenberger, were present in the courtroom on the day the sentence was pronounced on 2 May 1934.
Thus, the court passed a death sentence against Jonny Dettmer, even though he had not ordered the knife fight and the perpetrator had not been established.
On 18 May 1934, Reich Governor Karl Kaufmann pardoned four of the eight persons sentenced to death: Walter Dröse, Franz Ruhnow, Klaus Stockfleth, and Robert Richartz. Their death sentences were commuted into lifelong prison terms. The Reich Governor refused to grant a pardon for the remaining four, Jonny Dettmer, Alfred Wehrenberg, Hermann Fischer, and Arthur Schmidt. On Saturday, 19 May 1934, Jonny Dettmer was beheaded with a hand ax in the courtyard of the Hamburg pretrial detention center at Holstenglacis 3 at 6:10 a.m. That same day, at intervals of five minutes each, Alfred Wehrenberg, Arthur Schmidt, and Hermann Fischer were decapitated as well.
The Nazis wished to have the execution of the death sentences understood as a warning and deterrent to potential further resistance fighters. Therefore, they published a poster announcing the execution as carried out.
The prisoner’s personal file of Jonny Dettmer contains a note dated 19 May 1934 with the following wording: "1. The execution of Dettmer took place at the north entrance of courtyard 8 of penitentiary HH I under the direction of public prosecutor Jauch by the executioner Gröpler from Magdeburg this morning at 6:10 a.m. using a hand ax. ...”
Before Jonny Dettmer was buried in the Ohlsdorf Cemetery, the government authorities took a death mask of him – as was usual at the time. Today it is located in the Neuengamme concentration camp memorial.
Jonny Dettmer’s grave no longer exists. It was located next to that of Hermann Fischer, which is still intact to this day in a burial ground on Ohlsdorf Cemetery between Sorbusallee and Eichenallee.
In addition to many others, the name of Jonny Dettmer can be found on the memorial wall of the memorial site at the central cemetery in Berlin-Friedrichsfelde.
Jonny Dettmer’s death certificate indicates Auenstrasse 1 as his last residential address. Therefore, at this point a stumbling block reminds us of him.
With this, the story of Jonny Dettmer’s execution could have come to an end. However, it had a literary "sequel,” stimulated by a not entirely correct report in the Prague émigré edition of the Deutsche Volkszeitung dated 18 Apr. 1937 about the alleged suicide of the executioner of the four men killed on 19 May 1934. It read:
"Suicide of a hangman. Altona (DI) – The execution of Jonny Dettmer and three other anti-Fascists back then was not given to the Hamburg executioner but to the butcher and SS man Fock from Altona. The butcher had hoped to be able to restart his business with the 200 marks he received for the execution. Bit by bit, however, word got out that he had been the hangman of the four innocent victims of the swastika. As a result, an increasing number of his customers stayed away and his financial ruin was inevitable. In his desperation, he first shot his wife and then committed suicide.”
The writer Arnold Zweig read this report during a trip through Europe in 1937 and was inspired to write the novel The Axe of Wandsbek (Das Beil von Wandsbek). The account in the émigré newspaper that the butcher and SS man Fock from Altona had been the executioner of Jonny Dettmer and the three other anti-Fascists does not correspond to what actually happened back then. What emerges unambiguously from the prisoner’s personal files of Dettmer and Fischer is that the executioner Carl Gröpler carried out the beheading in the case of Dettmer and the executioner Ernst Reindel in the case of Fischer.
Gröpler mentioned himself in a letter dated 22 May 1934 to the Prussian Ministry of Justice that he had executed four persons sentenced to death in Hamburg on 19 May 1934.
Three of the Communists sentenced to death together with Jonny Dettmer and then pardoned, Walter Dröse, Klaus Stockfleth, and Robert Richartz, survived the Nazi period. The paver Walter Dröse, born on 6 June 1907 in Elbing, was imprisoned in the Bremen-Ohlsleben penitentiary until the end of the war. The smith Robert Richartz, born on 7 July 1900 in Solingen, was in detention in the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp until early 1934, subsequently in the Bremen-Ohlsleben penitentiary as well, and in the Waldheim penitentiary near Chemnitz from 20 May 1944 to 5 May 1945. He was released there on 8 May 1945. Klaus Stockfleth, born on 14 Apr. 1907 in Wilster, was also imprisoned in a penitentiary until the end of the war. No further details on him are available. The fourth Communist pardoned by Reich Governor Karl Kaufmann, the sailor Franz Ruhnow, born on 25 Jan. 1910 in the West Prussian town of Jastrow, was also detained in the Bremen-Ohlsleben penitentiary for an extended period. By 1941, he was once again imprisoned in the Fuhlsbüttel penitentiary. On 13 Oct. 1941, he was ordered together with three other prisoners to serve on a bomb-disposal squad in Ellerbek near Halstenbek. They were supposed to detonate a bomb on a pasture in a controlled way. However, the dud exploded prematurely, killing all four prisoners.
Status as of Feb. 2014
Translator: Erwin Fink/Changes Ingo Wille
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Ingo Wille
Quellen: AB; StaH 213-11 Staatsanwaltschaft Landgericht Strafsachen Nr. 8413/47 Bd. 1,2 (Urteil J. Dettmer u.a., Sond.Ger. 113/34); 241-1 I Justizverwaltung I 2545 (Vollstreckung der Todesstrafe Dettmer); 241-1 II Justizverwaltung II Abl. 12,86 (Jonny Dettmer), Abl. 12. 515 (Franz Ruhnow); 332-5 Standesämter 961-742/1930, 1023-169/1934, 13163-188/1899, 13554-1917/1901; 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung 10403 (Robert Richartz), 31837 (Hans Dröse); Friedhof Hamburg-Ohlsdorf, Archiv; Gedenkstätte Ernst Thälmann Archiv; Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz Berlin-Dahlem (GSA), I. HA Rep. 84a Justizministerium Nr. 4595; VAN-Totenliste, S. 22; Bauche (Hg.), "Wir sind die Kraft" Arbeiterbewegung in Hamburg von den Anfängen bis 1945, Hamburg, 1988, S. 247; Breloer/Königstein, Blutgeld, Köln 1982, S. 99; Ebbinghaus/Linne, Kein abgeschlossenes Kapitel: "Hamburg im Dritten Reich", Hamburg 1997, S. 319--340; Garbe, Detlef, Ausgrenzung und Verfolgung im Nationalsozialismus, in: Norddeutschland im Nationalsozialismus, hg. von Frank Bajohr, S. 192; Johe, Gleichgeschaltete Justiz, S. 82; Seeger/Treichel, Hinrichtungen in Hamburg und Altona 1933 – 1944, Hamburg 1998, S. 34, 88; Meyer, Gertrud, Nacht über Hamburg, Frankfurt, 1971, S. 36.