Elisabeth Abegg (1882 - 1974)

Born in Strasbourg in Alsace in 1882, Abegg’s father was a German jurist and officer. She completed her teaching certification and in 1912, once women were finally admitted to universities, she started studying history, classics, and Romance studies. In 1916 she completed her doctorate in Leipzig, with a dissertation on medieval history.

She worked as a teacher at the Luisen Oberlyzeum secondary school for girls in the Mitte district of Berlin starting in 1924. She was not married and was very active for social causes, having numerous contacts to like-minded, democratic people. During the Weimar Republic she was a member of the left-wing, liberal German Democratic Party (DDP). In addition, she became involved with the East Berlin Social Working Group (SAG), a group organized by the Protestant minister Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze that assisted socially disadvantaged youths, especially young women. In 1941 she officially joined the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), after having already been active with them for years.

Elisabeth Abegg was in contact with the left-wing, liberal resistance organization around Hans Robinsohn and Ernst Strassmann starting in the mid-1930s. This group brought together people who hoped to establish a democracy after the anticipated toppling of the Nazi regime. She had to report to the Gestapo in 1938 for supporting a dissident theologian, and in 1941 she was forced to retire for having made remarks during class instruction that were critical of the war and encouraged reconciliation among peoples.

As early as 1933 she and her friends supported people threatened by the Nazi regime with material assistance and friendly gifts. Once the deportations of the German Jews began, and her friend Anna Hirschberg was put on a transport, Abegg got her circle of friends involved in saving people suffering persecution. She later said that she and her sister Julie gave a total of twelve people lodgings in the apartment they shared in Berlin-Tempelhof and looked after them for a while. These people were largely Jews, but also those facing political persecution, such as the social democratic resistance fighter Ernst von Harnack, who was in hiding after the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in the summer of 1944. Elisabeth Abegg found others to support numerous other people suffering persecution. Her assistance was neither discovered nor denounced.

After the war she resumed working as a teacher until she retired. She joined the social democratic party (SPD), but her continued social and political engagement was carried out largely within the scope of the Berlin Quaker group. She was among the German founders of the Mittelhof neighborhood home in Berlin-Zehlendorf, which was started in 1947 on the initiative of American Quakers; it aimed to make a social, cultural contribution to the democratization of Germany. She received numerous awards for her assistance to people suffering persecution. A memorial plaque was mounted at Tempelhofer Damm 56, her former residence in Berlin-Tempelhof, in 1991. In March 2006 a street in Berlin-Mitte was named after her.

Pereles, Liselotte. “Die Retterin in der Not.” In Die unbesungenen Helden: Menschen in Deutschlands dunklen Tagen, edited by Kurt R. Grossmann, 85–93. 2nd rev. ed. Frankfurt am Main, etc: Ullstein, 1984.
Voigt, Martina. “Grüße von ‘Ferdinand’: Elisabeth Abeggs vielfältige Hilfe für Verfolgte.” In Sie blieben unsichtbar: Zeugnisse aus den Jahren 1941 bis 1945, edited by Beate Kosmala and Claudia Schoppmann, 104–116. Berlin: Förderverein Blindes Vertrauen, 2006.

Elisabeth Abegg
Photo: privately owned


Rescue Attempts


  • Quakers


    The Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers, is a Christian-based lay community first founded in England in 1746. Its doctrine of the “inner light,” or divine presence in all humanity, includes a commitment to nonviolence, universal compassion, and aid for the needy. The German branch founded in 1925, with almost three hundred members, was monitored from 1933 to 1945 and some of its property was confiscated.