Elise and Otto Hampel-Defiant heroes

Like in so many other conflicts often the inhabitants of the aggressor nation are also victims as was the case in Germany. Many defied the Nazi regime and paid the ultimate price for it.

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Otto and Elise Hampel were a working-class couple who created a simple method of protest while living in Berlin during the early years of World War II. They composed postcards denouncing Hitler’s government and left them in public places around the city. They were eventually caught, tried, and beheaded in Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison in April 1943.

(One of the Hampels’ postcards; in the middle is a postage stamp bearing Hitler’s face, scrawled with the words “worker murderer“)  Hampel_postcard

On this day in 1943, a working-class German couple were executed for treason and sedition in Berlin, Germany: Otto and Elise Hampel’s reign of postcard-writing terror had finally come to its conclusion.

Elise Lemme married Otto Hampel in 1935.

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She was a domestic servant and a member of the National Socialist Frauenschaft (Women’s League). Otto had served in WWI and was a factory worker. After the death of Elise’s brother, a soldier killed during the German assault on France, she and her husband decided to oppose the Nazi regime in their own way. They had handwritten  about 200 postcards and leaflets anonymously which called upon people not to buy Nazi papers, to refuse to serve in the war and to overthrow Hitler.

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Their campaign lasted for two years before they were eventually betrayed and arrested.

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What actually happened was that almost all the cards were delivered to the authorities immediately. Nobody wanted to be caught in possession of such dangerous words.

Because of the sheer number of postcards and the long duration of their distribution, the Gestapo at first thought they were dealing with a much larger group of traitors. Doubtless they were frustrated that this riffraff, who couldn’t even write properly (the postcards were full of grammatical errors and misspellings), were able to evade them for so long.

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But the Hampels’ resistance activities eventually caught up with them.

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They were unrepentant after their arrests in October 1942, and had little to say for themselves, beyond Otto’s statement that he was “happy” about protesting against Hitler. Roland Freisler‘s People’s Court duly condemned them to die for “preparation for high treason” and “demoralizing the troops.” They were executed by guillotine in the Plötzensee Prison.

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For some reason, unlike their equally courageous, naive and doomed counterparts in the White Rose, the Hampels’ story didn’t really catch on with historians.They were saved from oblivion by the dangerously unstable, drug-addicted author Rudolf Ditzen, aka Hans Fallada, who came upon their Gestapo file after the war.

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His 1947 novel,”Every man Dies Alone, written in just 24 days, is closely based on Elise and Otto’s story. This book was Fallada’s swan song; he died weeks before its publication.

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