Select Page

Contemporary witness Hans Schwert

»… not to make any statements before the enemy, about the organisation, its work and the comrades. That was the most important thing for me.«

Hans Schwert

Subtitles in German and English can be activated in the video at the bottom right via the video player settings.
Interview: History working group of the »Faites votre jeu!« initiative at February 1, 2009.

Lebenslauf Hans Schwert

Hans Schwert was born in 1907 as an illegitimate child in Nuremberg. He grew up in poor circumstances with his grandparents and aunt in Pfaffendorf (Franconia). Here he also met his future wife Amalie.

After Hans Schwert had finished primary school and his family lacked the money for secondary school, he began an apprenticeship as a bricklayer in the neighbouring village at the age of 14. At the same time he joined the only trade union in the village, a Christian trade union federation.

At the end of his apprenticeship in 1927, Hans Schwert moved to Frankfurt/Main. Here, despite the difficult economic situation in the Weimar Republic, he found employment and joined the building trade union of the General Confederation of German Trade Unions (ADGB). Two years later he married Amalie.

Soon the consequences of the economic crisis made themselves felt: Opportunities to find work became increasingly difficult. Amalie Schwert made a name for herself in her occasional work as a so-called »Zugehfrau« and brought some groceries from her village to Frankfurt after work stays. Nevertheless, it was barely enough to live on. During this time, Amalie and Hans Schwert made a conscious decision not to have children: on the one hand, because their economic situation was bad, and on the other hand, because Hans Schwert‘s political involvement could be momentous. Hans Schwert was a trade unionist and joined the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). The assessment that Amalie might one day be a single mother made her refrain from having children. To further his education, he began attending the Marxist Workers‘ School. What he learned here had a great impact on him and was »also a great support for him later in the anti-fascist struggle«.

From 2 May 1933, the Nazis had seized the trade union buildings. This changed Schwert‘s work in the KPD. Together with other trade unionists, they founded new trade union groups in the Adler and Tewes factories and in the local railway workers‘ workshop. They also tried to strengthen the anti-fascist resistance by organising secret meetings with selected people. Their motto was »If it can‘t be done otherwise by the book, sabotage if possible«. Until 1935, this conspiratorial work worked well for Hans Schwert.

But in August 1936 Hans Schwert was arrested. In those days, trade unionists whose names had been forced from those already arrested, if necessary by torture, were arrested on a large scale and again interrogated and tortured – including Hans Schwert. Incriminated by former colleagues, the Gestapo brought him to the Klapperfeld. Here he was interrogated day and night and repeatedly brutally beaten. In total, the Gestapo kept him there for a year. Nevertheless, he gave no name, no connection and no relevant information during the whole time.

He was then tried in Kassel, where cases were dealt with that had been classified as dangerous by the Gestapo. He was sentenced to 10 years additional imprisonment for »preparation for high treason«. The sentence was followed by an odyssey through a total of 14 prisons and camps, where he had to spend 5 years in solitary confinement until he was freed by US forces in Ulm in 1945.

This was followed by his return to Frankfurt, where he initially worked at the Institute for the Recording of War Damage. After the birth of his daughter Doris, he worked in the housing office and from 1952 in the social security office, where he remained until his retirement in 1972. In his work, many obstacles were put in his way because of his open communist views. Nevertheless, he became a member of the newly constituted German Communist Party (DKP) in 1968.

In addition to his job and DKP activities, Hans Schwert participated, among other things, in the co-founding of the Association of Persecutees of the Nazi Regime of Hesse and became the chairman of the staff council of the insurance office, which he remained until his retirement.

After his retirement, he fought against the occupational ban of members of the DKP, which also directly affected his family. His daughter Doris had been banned from becoming a teacher because of her membership.

From the 1980s onwards, Hans Schwert worked in the senior citizens‘ committee of the Public Services, Transport and Traffic Union (ÖTV), sat on the district executive committee of the Association of Persecuted Nazis – League of Anti-Fascists (VVN-BdA) and became a member of its Hessian state executive committee. Hans Schwert has repeatedly appeared as a contemporary witness since 1987. He was awarded the Johanna Kirchner Medal for his anti-fascist commitment.

On 7 July 2007, at the age of 99, he gave a speech on the Römerberg to demonstrate against a march by neo-Nazis in the city on that day. In 2009, he took part in a memorial service in front of Nieder Friedhof on 8 May to mark the anniversary of the liberation from fascism. Still on 2 May 2013, he commemorated its storming by the Nazis 80 years ago in a speech at the Frankfurt Trade Union House. On 21 May 2013 Hans Schwert died at the age of 105.