Harald Poelchau (1903 - 1972)

Born in Potsdam in 1903, Harald Poelchau was the son of a pastor and grew up in Silesia. After finishing secondary school he studied theology. He sympathized with the Religious Socialists and spoke out for humane prison conditions. In 1928 he married Dorothee Ziegele, a librarian, and their son Harald was born in 1938. They lived in Berlin and had a large circle of friends, which remained intact even after the Nazis took power. Starting in 1933 Poelchau worked as a chaplain in Tegel Prison in Berlin. Opposed to the Nazis from the very beginning, he was concerned about the sweeping persecution of political opponents of the regime and Jews. Once the war started, the number of death penalties against dissidents increased. Up to 1945, Harald Poelchau accompanied about 1000 people to their executions and gave support to large numbers of their relatives.

He was among the few who knew early on that Jews could only save themselves by going underground once the deportations started in October 1941. He helped numerous Jews in hiding, though not all of their names are known, including the Latte family from Breslau, and Leontine Cohn and her daughter Rita, Ilse Schwarz and her daughter Evelyne, the siblings Rita and Ralph Neumann, Ursula Reuber, Anna Drach, Edith Bruck, Charlotte Paech, and Charlotte Bischoff. His tireless helper was Willi Kranz, who ran the cafeterias in the Tegel and Plötzensee prisons, and Kranz’s life partner Auguste Leissner. When concrete help was needed for Jews in hiding, he could always depend on his wife Dorothee, on the former political prisoners Herman Sietmann and Otto Horstmeier, on Hans-Reinhold and Hildegard Schneider, an educator and a social worker, on the pastor’s wife Agnes Wendland and her daughter Ruth, and on the prison doctor Hilde Westrick. Physicist Carl-Friedrich Weiss gave Harald Poelchau the baptismal certificate of his daughter Tina for Rita Cohn, who was in hiding. He was also supported fearlessly by Gertie Siemsen, a university friend of Poelchau since the 1920s. She procured food and took in Rita Neumann after she escaped from prison in April 1945.

The Latte family was arrested by the Gestapo in October 1943. Whereas Margarete and Manfred Latte were deported a few days later to Auschwitz, Konrad Latte managed to escape from the pre-deportation assembly camp on Grosse Hamburger Strasse in Berlin in November 1943. Although Konrad Latte found numerous other hiding places, Dorothee and Harald Poelchau remained his constant advisors in all difficult situations right up to liberation. In the fall of 1943 Harald Poelchau arranged for Anna Drach to stay with his aunt Charlotte Poelchau, who was married to the physician Gustav Poelchau.

Harald Poelchau participated in the conference of the Kreisau Circle resistance group in May 1942 and looked after many of his comrades in arms in various Berlin prisons after they were arrested in 1944. His various oppositional activities remained undiscovered by the Gestapo.

He was honored in 1971 by the Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

Bibliography:
Harpprecht, Klaus. Harald Poelchau: Ein Leben im Widerstand. Reinbek, Germany: Rowohlt, 2004.
Poelchau, Harald. Die Ordnung der Bedrängten: Erinnerungen des Gefängnisseelsorgers und Sozialpfarrers (1903–1972). Teetz, Germany: Hentrich & Hentrich, 2004.
Schneider, Peter. “Saving Konrad Latte.” Translated by Leigh Hafrey. New York Times, February 13, 2000. http://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/13/magazine/saving-konrad-latte.html?sec=&spon=&pagewanted=1.
Schuppener, Henriette. “Nichts war umsonst” – Harald Poelchau und der deutsche Widerstand. Schriftenreihe der Forschungsgemeinschaft 20. Juli (July 20th Research Group Series) no. 7. Berlin: Lit, 2006.
Harald Poelchau
Photo: Institute of Contemporary History (IfZ)

Biographies

Rescue Attempts

Glossary

  • Kreisau Circle

    Kreisau Circle

    In 1940 a group of regime opponents of varied social background and intellectual traditions formed around Helmuth James Graf von Moltke and Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg to draft plans for a new order for post-Nazi Germany. Some of them were later involved in the coup attempt on July 20, 1944. The resistance group was mercilessly pursued.