Albert Offenhäuser 1900 - 1940
Born 29.9.1900 in Baden-Baden
Died 9.8.1940 in Mauthausen
The documents and information that we were still able to obtain about our grandfather, Albert Offenhäuser, could be interpreted in different ways at first sight: criminal career or political resistance. But if you put the data contained in these documents in the context of what was happening in society at that time, the image that emerges is rather that of the Communist resistance fighter. That he was listed as a political prisoner at the Mauthausen concentration camp also argues in favour of this.
According to the Lautenbach registry office, the marriage of our grandparents, from whom we are descended, was dissolved on 29 July 1929. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to determine when and why Albert moved to Switzerland. What is known is that on 30 August 1930, he moved from Berneck near St. Gallen to Konstanz and that same year married Marie Schneider there, who was from Berneck. The exact date of their marriage is not known. She was the mother of our Aunt Rosemarie, who was born in 1931. What is striking is that in the same year, 1930 (i.e. within a few months), he moved several times within Konstanz. The second marriage was dissolved on 30 March 1932 in Konstanz. The following year the National Socialists came to power and because of its proximity to Switzerland, the Konstanz area became an important hub for resistance fighters and refugees.
Several contemporary witnesses have connected our grandfather to the Communists. In early 1933 the Communist journalist Willy Bohn from Gotha set up the Transportkolonne Otto. It had leaflets with anti-National Socialist content printed in Switzerland and smuggled them into Germany via Konstanz, Lake Constance and the Rhine. The Gestapo set its sights on the Transportkolonne Otto in autumn 1933 and one year later, Willy Bohn was arrested. This period also saw our grandfather’s imprisonment in the Hohenasperg jail. As it happens, Willy Bohn survived National Socialism and later wrote a book about his organisation.
Our grandfather’s prison file from his time in the Ludwigsburg jail (Hohenasperg) contains three striking documents: a request for writing paper in order to write to a prison chaplain by the name of Nagengast in Würzburg and to his bride, and a card to the Pössneker Händlerblatt (Thuringia) trade journal requesting a list of advertising prices, in particular for the textile market. Since by this point his second marriage had also ended in divorce, the bride mentioned here possibly points to a third woman in his life, perhaps a Swiss woman named Frey named in the People’s Court files. The archbishop’s office in Würzburg identified the clergyman as Sebastian Nagengast and sent me his biography. He was never a prison chaplain. Unfortunately there are no new findings regarding the card to the Pössneker Händlerblatt. Clearly it aroused the suspicion of the prison authorities as it was never dispatched. What is known, however, is that there was a Communist resistance group active in Pössnek at that time. We also know that some members of the resistance often managed to keep their activities going even while in jail, maintaining networks even. Such structures are known of even in Dachau concentration camp. The third document is a postcard (postmarked 07.01.1936) to Hans Kretzer (also in Hohenasperg) from the family of one Hans Alberti, which has survived in our grandfather’s prison file. The picture on the postcard shows the Blautopf spring near Ulm, and this information had been added again by hand. However, it was postmarked in Ludwigsburg. Aside from a remark added by the prison authorities, at first glance this postcard appears to have nothing to do with Albert Offenhäuser. Possibly it was included in our grandfather’s prison file because it pointed to the role of a group of people of which he was a part and which was under suspicion. The postcard’s sender reports: ‘We have more business at the Consulat just now’. According to spelling rules at the time it should have read ‘Konsulat’ – consulate –, which points to a French-speaking Swiss writer. At that time where was a Swiss consulate in Stuttgart which was accused of espionage on Reich territory. In addition, Hans Alberti is listed as the winner of a walking competition (marche athlethique) in 1932. The Swiss foreign office could not confirm whether Hans Alberti was on the staff of the Stuttgart consulate at that time. What it certain is that Hans Alberti was not in a position of power there. On 8 January 1936 our grandfather was released from the Ludwigsburg jail.
In early 1936 a resistance group in Heilbronn (Kaiser-Riegraf-Group) organised a poster campaign around the elections to the Reichstag. Six months later the People’s Court in Berlin launched investigations against our grandfather and others for plotting to commit treason, an accusation always brought against known or supposed resistance fighters at that time. The case officer was state prosecutor Hans Schneidenbach. Files were sent from the Stuttgart Regional High Court and were later to be sent back there. One year later Scheidenbach was appointed a judge at the Berlin People’s Court and later became a senior government official. In our grandfather’s case we know he ordered investigations in at least Heilbronn and Frankfurt/Main. The investigations of the Heilbronn public prosecution service also included the Schwäbsich Hall prosecution service, which was a branch of Heilbronn at that time. The files from the People’s Court also mention another case in which our grandfather was involved, the files for which were held in Leipzig. The People’s Court investigation in the case of plotting to commit treason were discontinued at the end of 1936 due to lack of evidence. Our grandfather must have been remanded in custody during the investigations but it is unknown where. Leipzig should not be ruled out, since a case against him there was pending. Schwäbisch Hall is also a possibility. We cannot expect to find any further documents in Heilbronn or Schwäbisch Hall because the files were stored in Heilbronn and were destroyed in an air raid on 4 December 1944. In Leipzig no court files survive from the pre-war period. It has not been possible to determine whether these files still exist somewhere else.
In April 1937 our grandfather was imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp. His last place of residence is given in the camp files as Schwäbisch Hall. Therefore he was probably released again after his People’s Court trial. From Dachau he was moved temporarily to another location. The reason for this is unknown. We know he was transferred a second time to Bernau jail on lake Chiemsee. The reason for this is also unknown. Bernau jail requested documents from Hohenasperg jail, among others the results of the genetic and sociological examinations, but this does not have to mean anything and could have been part of general procedure at that time. In March 1939 he was moved from there back to Dachau concentration camp. Dachau concentration camp did not necessarily mean the end. Many prisoners were released again after a period, for example Alfons Mark, a priest from Heidenheim, who was released after about a year. He was even allowed to return to his job. He had railed against the Nazis from the pulpit. After his return he was asked by members of his community what he had experienced in Dachau. He is reported as answering: ‘When I tell you they will come back for me and I will never return’. But our grandfather did not return. Half a year later he was transferred to the Mauthausen concentration camp.
Translation into English: Joanna White