Herbert »Berry« Westenburger was arrested by the Gestapo at the age of 18 because he belonged to the Bündische Jugend. After all youth organisations except the Hitler Youth were banned in 1933, about 20 young people who did not want to join the Hitler Youth (HJ) founded the »autonome jungenschaft frankfurt«. They went on trips and organised singing and reading evenings together. They did not pursue any political goals. Nevertheless, they repeatedly got into fierce confrontations with HJ members, who had set up their own patrol service.
Due to ever stricter controls by the Nazi authorities and in order to protect themselves from attacks by the HJ, »Berry« and some friends founded the »Bündische Selbstschutz«. Their intensive networking with Bündische in other German cities was not to last too long, however, because in September 1938 the Gestapo arrested numerous members, including Herbert Westenburger.
»Berry« had travelled to various cities and was wanted by the Gestapo when he returned to Frankfurt on 23 September 1938. His mother, who already knew about the imminent arrest, still tried to warn him by not meeting him at home but in a café. But a short time later, two Gestapo officers entered the café, arrested Berry and took him to the Klapperfeld police prison.
Arrival at Klapperfeld
»I sat there and didn‘t know what was happening to me. I had only heard horror stories about the ‚Klapperfeld‘. The Gestapo was in charge here, and those arrested were sometimes held for weeks and months. They said that interrogations were carried out day and night, often including beatings. This was called ‚special treatment‘. The Gestapo kept no entry lists, so no one could know exactly how many people were held in the ‚Klapperfeld‘.«
»The twilight only allowed the outlines of the sparse cell furniture to be guessed at. Table, stool, wall shelf and an iron bucket with a lid. The latter smelled foul in the September heat. The prisoners had to heave this monstrosity in front of the cell door when they shouted ‚Kübeln! A water jug, the contents of which were used for washing and rinsing, was added later. The bed, if you could even call it that, was a wooden cot. Heavy hinges on the side of the wall made it possible to fold it up. At the head and foot end there was a thick chain that held the free-floating plank frame in a horizontal position. When folded up, a snap lock, similar to those on suitcase locks, audibly clicked into place. From 7.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. the bed frame was not allowed to be lowered. One actually served one‘s time. Sayings and calendars carved into the dark green wall could be recited by heart after reading them three times. Jokes and protestations of innocence – I had to smile at a few of them. Otto M. was here too‘ – ‚So what?‘ said another. But that was of little help to the conscious Otto.
One sings, the other whistles, a third practices squats, push-ups and breathing exercises to bridge the monotony of cell existence.«
Contact with other inmates
»The day was pretty monotonous. Courtyard work, interrogations, sitting around in the cell, but also all kinds of harassment. In the evening you were happy to be locked up again. The evening lock-up was a longed-for moment. Because after nightfall, the prisoners hung around the cell windows and shouted messages to each other across the yard. The officer patrolling downstairs could shout as much as he wanted and threaten punishment – he only reaped jeers because in the darkness of the unlit house front it was impossible to make out who had just shouted something.
I, too, hung around the window. At first it was very difficult to make out anything from this babble of voices. I tried whistling. Our group whistle was part of the Ukrainian song ‚Don‘t go, O Gregor…‘ And hard to believe, I received an answer from the darkness. The yard post shouted angrily against our whistling. The bawling all around and the call: ‚Shut up, you scumbag‘ silenced him for the time being. ‚Janek, are you there somewhere?‘ I tried again.
‚Up here, Berry. The Tall One is lying to the side of the road and can‘t hear us,‘ I recognised Bert‘s voice above me. Hooting and hollering, the angry scolding of the yard post and the noise of a Ju 52 looming in the Frankfurt night sky made communication impossible. But Bert did not let up.
Hugo and Pit are here too. They‘ve been here for over a week. Cheer up, dude, it‘ll be fine.‘
I jumped off the stool I had moved under the window at the same moment. Just in time before my cell door flew open. The old, good-natured-looking police officer threatened with his finger.
‚Son, don‘t get caught at the window or I‘ll have to report you. And that would have consequences. They don‘t mess around. I‘m only doing my duty here, now get into your bunk and keep quiet.‘«
[The Bündische all had nicknames, the civil names were »Janek«/«der Lange« = Johannes Warczinski; »Pit« = Kurt Schmidt; »Bert« = Norbert Pampel; »Knö« = Hugo Härtling].
»On Monday morning the time had come. I was taken from the ‚Klapperfeld‘ to Bürgerstraße at seven o‘clock. The Frankfurt Gestapo control centre was located there. The prisoners were brought in through a nondescript back entrance and crammed into narrow iron cages. There was no seating; they had to stand or squat – in a cage perhaps twice as wide as a locker. For hours, even days, and not infrequently in the dark. This cage went through my mind as I was being driven between two officers in the back seat through Frankfurt city centre. But I was spared this ordeal, because when we arrived at Bürgerstraße, we took a lift to the third floor. ‚Room 31, Department 11, Mondorf‘, was written on the door.
‚There we have him.‘ The man behind the desk was Mondorf. It was the same one who had arrested me three days earlier, medium height, pale and with the usual short haircut of the time. Wordlessly, he clamped a sheet of paper into the typewriter.
‚Name, born, where? Occupation? Father‘s name, mother‘s name, born?‘ Then he turned the sheet a little higher and began to read aloud.
‚Presented, the aforesaid appears and, being acquainted with the subject of the interrogation and admonished to tell the truth, states.‘ I was completely taken aback. What was all this about? Besides, he had not explained to me what the subject of the interrogation was to be. I could only guess. Then it started.
‚And now to the point. Who belongs to the organisation apart from you and your Frankfurt friends? Well, will it be soon?‘ Someone was standing behind me, I couldn‘t see him, but I could hear him pacing back and forth. With each answer he stopped with a jerk, as if that was the only way he could listen. Mondorf looked over me from time to time and shook his head when he didn‘t like my answer.
‚What, just singing and wandering? I don‘t believe it, the guy lies without blushing.‘ But what could I do, it was true. I stared at the picture of the Führer that had to hang in every office at that time. It hung rather crookedly on the wall, already a bit faded and with mosquito shit on the glass.
We‘ll lock you up until you turn black. You‘ll learn to talk in the concentration camp, I promise you. So come on now, I want to hear names, you understand, names!‘ He was silent for a while, then he roared threateningly.
‚Why do you have so many stamps in your logbook, from every town, you must have left mail there, eh?‘ At that he took my logbook and held it up triumphantly.
‚No, I only collect the postmarks to prove that I have actually been to the city. I took the stamps from the Reichspost because they have a date. That‘s all.‘
‚That‘s all nonsense, date stamps! One of you was in the communist youth. And the Koebel – what‘s his name in your country – Tusk. He was there too. So come on, who gave you the instructions?‘ Many hours passed like that. Sometimes quietly and insistently, sometimes loudly and roaring, Mondorf and the other tried to squeeze something out of me that we really hadn‘t done.
‚Take him away, put him in the cellar,‘ Mondorf shouted at one point, slamming the file cover shut and banging his fist on the table. I was led down a cellar staircase by a Gestapo officer – into the iron cage. But only for a short time, then they gave me something to eat. Towards evening I was taken back to the ‚Klapperfeld‘. At the gate I met Pit, who stumbled past me accompanied by two officers. He looked dishevelled and tearful. He and the others had already been arrested 10 days ago. Now it was his turn. So the interrogations were still going on. They really seemed to be obsessed with the idea of turning us into communist resistance fighters. If they managed to do that, then we would all end up in Dachau or Buchenwald.«
»In the meantime, my mother had brought fresh laundry and found a lawyer to get me out. A hopeless undertaking as long as the ‚investigation‘ was not completed. Two days later I was taken to a large room next to the cell wing. Mondorf, a judge and someone who took the minutes were waiting for me.
Herbert Westenburger, on the basis of your previous life there is a danger of flight or collusion. Further pre-trial detention is therefore justified and indicated.‘ The judge nodded, Mondorf turned to the clerk and continued: ‚Transfer until further notice to the Hammelsgasse remand centre.‘ That was it, I thought, pre-trial detention, that could be a good one. Back in the cell, through the half-open door, I saw Bert and Hugo, who were also packing up their few belongings, shouting something to each other.«
After a few days, »Berry« and his friends were transferred to the remand prison in Hammelsgasse, where the prison conditions were better.
On 5 November 1938, however, they were taken back to the Klapperfeld police prison, »on a push«, as it was called. Finally, in the spring of 1939 (probably in April), they were suddenly released. However, the proceedings were not finally discontinued until 9 October 1939.
Sources: Westenburger, Herbert: Wir pfeifen auf den ganzen Schwindel. Versuche jugendlicher Selbstbestimmung. Baunach 2008, S. 83-98. | Westenburger, Herbert: Platoff preisen wir den Helden. In: Matthias G. Von Hellfeld (Hg.): Davongekommen! Erwachsenwerden im Holocaust. Frankfurt 1990, S. 36-70.