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Alfred Schär * 1887
Wulfsdorfer Weg 79 (Wandsbek, Volksdorf)
Alfred Conrad Friedrich Schär, born 5 Aug. 1887, killed 13 July 1937 at Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp
Alfred Schär grew up in Hamburg as the son of a master tailor. From 1894 to 1902 he went to elementary school and then attended the Seminar for Elementary School Teachers until 1908. Prior to taking his final teaching exam, he had observed lessons at the school of the deaf-mute institution which had a positive influence on his being hired there as an assistant teacher. After his second teaching exam in 1911 and the exam for deaf-mute teachers in 1912, he received a permanent position.
Schär came across as being very dedicated to his school as he oversaw a student exchange program and regularly pursued continuing teaching education, therefore it was not surprising that he joined a working group at the Phonetics Laboratory just one year after being appointed as a permanent civil servant. Giulio Panconcelli-Calzia, director of the institute, studied precisely that aspect of phonetics which interested Schär the most, namely experimental phonetics. He hoped the research findings would provide improved methods for practical speech exercises with his deaf students.
From 1915 to 1918 Schär had to serve in World War I as a company commander. After his return, he immediately took the qualifying exam for university and enrolled in the newly founded Hamburg University as one of its first students in 1919 for eight semesters.
He also continued his work at the institute. Schär’s collaboration with Panconcelli-Calzia proved to be beneficial for both men. The director of the institute placed such high value on Schär’s collaboration that he petitioned the school board to grant his assistant a seven-month leave of absence from the deaf-mute school. The parents at the school also approved of the dedicated teacher’s continuing education as it was beneficial to their children’s speech training. That phase of his life must have been a happy one for Alfred Schär.
In 1918 Alfred Schär had married the teacher Antonie Ludwig. She had two children, Erika and Dieter. The Schärs lived in Fuhlsbüttel and were friendly with the Hertling Family who were also teachers. Since both couples wanted a life in the country and Hamburg’s metropolis was "growing ever closer”, they decided to found a small neighborhood. They chose Volksdorf where there was a large undeveloped area on Wulfsdorfer Weg. From 1926 they built four semi-detached houses and two individual family dwellings there with land for gardening and a private kindergarten. The organizer of the project was Alfred Schär.
In autumn of 1928, the Hertlings and Schärs were able to move into their semi-detached house at Wulfsdorfer Weg 77/79. Initially their small-town life began as idyllic as they had imagined. The six families shared a well, a sewage field, a 1500 m2 playground that ran adjacent to the properties. Every child was allowed to plant his or her own tree there. The idea of living in a close-knit neighborhood next to nature was awakened in Schär through his study of Franz Oppenheimer’s (1864 – 1943) thoughts on land reform, whereby the collectivist aspect of the communal concept especially appealed to Schär’s vision. The other residents of the "Buchenkamp” settlement also found the practical application of these ideas, with seasonal celebrations, family music, literature circles, and neighborly help, an enriching way of life. Soon after their house was built, the Schär Family was beset by financial troubles because they had assumed a guarantee for a befriended craftsman. The couple was forced to take in tenants, which would later lead to problems with the neighbors.
At the start of the 1930s, Schär again taught at the Bürgerweide School for the deaf and mute. He worked on a voluntary basis for the Volksdorf municipal assembly as a representative of the German Social-Democratic Party (SPD). Minutes kept from meetings back then show that he initiated several motions on social policies. While Schär felt responsible for the District Volksdorf as its municipal representative, some neighbors found his membership in the SPD from 1930 to 1932 somewhat suspicious. Closed curtains, light in the basement, and burnt paper in the garden were enough evidence, in their opinion in 1933, to assume that "communist literature” was being printed in the Schär home. Since the suspicion initially extended to the Hertling Family, the NSDAP local chapter leader Natskow arranged to have both families subjected to a house inspection by the Gestapo on 13 Aug. 1934, on "suspicion of subversive acts”. "Their home and adjoining rooms were searched extensively, but neither communist nor Marxist material was found,” the Getapo’s concluding report states.
That by no means satisfied the desire for denunciation on Wulfsdorfer Weg. The fact that the Schär Family had to take in tenants of Jewish extraction due to the family’s financial difficulties was construed as an "excessive imposition”. Such a "comrade” should not be allowed to teach German children. Their neighbors in Volksdorf held a rally at which a speech was given on "The Jew as the Enemy of the National Community” that massively attacked Schär. Nor did they shy away from personally blaming him for two Jewish doctors parking their cars on the sidewalk in front of his house. Eventually Schär was summoned to the regional board of education to answer for such "allegations”. He got away with only a warning from Superintendant of Schools Mansfeld.
Schär carried on his work teaching deaf-mute students, which must have caused him growing mental distress since he was called upon by the "Hereditary Health Court” to interpret for the deaf as of Sept. 1934. That court held hearings for "people with genetic diseases” in line with the National Socialists after the "Law for the Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Diseases”. Schär had to appear before that court 23 times! The purpose was to determine whether the hearing impairment was congenital. In that event, the individual was usually subject to forced sterilization. It cannot be ruled out that Schär was forced to testify about his own students. Occasionally he tried to evade this distressing obligation by claiming sick leave.
Apart from that, his professional work continued normally. His highly regarded position at the school led to him becoming a member of the work group of teachers for the deaf and speech impaired and to help develop the new exam regulations for speech-deficit teachers which came out in 1935. That was his official life.
Yet Alfred Schär belonged to those individuals who fundamentally rejected submitting to the National Socialist Regime and did everything within their power to avoid complying with their unreasonable demands. He worked with like-minded people to systematically defend against and contain NS rule. That took place in secret, in the house of a (Jewish) businesswoman. It was in those rooms that Schär ran a course in economics in which the participants endeavored to look behind the scenes of official NS economic policy.
Members and friends of the "International Socialist Militant League” (ISK - Internationaler Sozialistischer Kampfbund) were part of that circle. That organization had been in existence since 1925 and was banned in 1933, just like the German Communist Party and the German Social-Democratic Party. The ISK members continued to work illegally in local groups. While they upheld basic rules of conspiracy work and protected themselves from informants, eventually the Gestapo managed to expose the organization: "In Mar. 1936 the ISK official Hans Prawitt was caught by the French police as he tried to cross the border and surrendered to the Germans, and in May he was turned over to the Gestapo in his home town of Hamburg. The 22-year-old was maltreated and had a mental breakdown. It was easy for the Gestapo to get the names of the leading functionaries and the internal connections out of their victim. A wave of arrests rolled across the Reich. In Hamburg alone, 30 ISK members were detained, among them Alfred Schär.”
Schär was charged with "aiding and abetting high treason". On 10 Feb. 1937 the Gestapo picked him up for a "hearing". As he was led away, indignant neighbors gathered in front of his house. They began to smash in his windows with stones. His neighbor G. from no. 83, however, managed to stop the attack by standing in front of the building to protect it.
Toni and Alfred Schär knew that their farewell was final. Alfred Schär was sent to the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp. According to information from the Gestapo, he allegedly hung himself in his cell on 13 Feb. 1937.
The Gestapo denied his burial at the Bergstedt Cemetery. When the family asked to bid a final farewell to their dead relative, permission was not granted, citing that the body would be cremated. Shortly before the memorial service in Ohlsdorf, the Gestapo threatened Afred’s brother Hans Schär to have the crematorium cleared out if the throng of mourners did not stop immediately.
"After Alfred Schär’s death in 1937, his murder weighed heavily, like a dark secret, on the children of the neighborhood since the adults barely spoke to them about it", which is how a child in the community at the time remembered his death.
At the end of the 1950s, his neighbor Hertling placed a stone at the site of the development’s former playground in memory of Alfred Schär. In 1964 a street in Hamburg-Lohbrügge was named after Alfred Schär.
This biography is largely based on source research carried out by Dr. Iris Groschek.
Translator: Suzanne von Engelhardt
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: January 2019
© Ursula Pietsch
Quellen: StaHH 361-3, Personalakte A. Schär, A 879; AfW, 050887; Protokoll der Gemeindevertretersitzung StaHH 416-1/1, XXVII B, Band 7; Iris Groschek, Dorothea Elkan und Alfred Schär, in: Das Zeichen, Bd. 10 (1996), Nr. 37, S. 311; Ursula Pietsch, Volksdorfer Schicksale. in: Unsere Heimat Die Walddörfer, Nr.6/2004, S. 80; Barbara Beuys, Vergesst uns nicht, Reinbek 1987, S. 347; Leserbrief von Jürgen Moltmann, in: Wochenblatt Markt, 24.8.2006; Interviews mit Gertraud Hertling, Beate Schaible und Verena Puig, 2003–2006.