Josef Höfler (1911 - 1994)

Josef Höfler was born in 1911 in the town of Bietingen nearby Singen in the Baden region. He completed an apprenticeship as a blacksmith in Switzerland. In 1934 he moved to the small border town of Gottmadingen, where he worked as a metalworker. In 1935 he married Elise Brütsch, a Swiss woman. Their daughter Gertrud was born in 1938.

During the Second World War, Josef Höfler was employed by the aluminum mill as a skilled tradesman so he was deferred from military service. Like his coworker Willy Vorwalder, he knew the border region very well, so they were asked by middlemen in Switzerland to help Lotte Kahle, a Jew from Berlin, escape across the German border to Switzerland. When the young woman arrived in Singen in late April 1943, Höfler met Luise Meier, the non-Jewish woman who accompanied her. They both rejected the Nazi regime and decided to continue working together to help people escape.

Josef Höfler also offered accommodations to individual Jews before he led them to the border. His family was thus at risk, especially since a Nazi lived upstairs in their house. In the course of his rescue activities, Höfler went to Berlin at least twice in order to discuss in person the plans with the people wanting to escape, as it was far too dangerous to talk on the telephone. He was able to find two others interested in helping him, when Willy Vorwalder stopped working with him in late 1943. In order to limit the risks, Josef Höfler varied the routes he used for each border-crossing trip.

Josef Höfler was arrested when a rescue attempt failed in May 1944. His wife, who had also been involved, fled with their daughter to Switzerland. Their house was confiscated by the Gestapo. In July 1944 the proceedings were transferred to the People’s Court in Berlin, but the trial on charges of “aiding the enemy” never took place. Höfler was in prison in Constance in May 1945 when the war ended.

Because he had suffered greatly from health problems due to the extended solitary confinement, he changed his job in late 1946 and became a postal worker. Josef Höfler, who was one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party in Germany (SPD) in Gottmadingen in 1946, was honored in 1984 for the assistance he offered with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He was honored posthumously in 2001 by the Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

Schoppmann, Claudia. “Fluchtziel Schweiz: Das Hilfsnetz um Luise Meier und Josef Höfler.” In Überleben im Dritten Reich: Juden im Untergrund und ihre Helfer, edited by Wolfgang Benz, 205–219. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2003.
Josef Höfler
Photo: privately owned

Rescue Attempts


  • “Aiding the enemy”

    “Aiding the enemy”

    Everything that the Nazi regime viewed as harmful to the German Reich or serving its enemies was defined by the Nazi judiciary as “aiding the enemy,” and therefore state treason. This also included helping people to escape. The notorious People’s Court imposed the penalties for such actions, including the death penalty and penal servitude for life.

  • People’s Court

    People’s Court

    In 1934 the National Socialists established the People’s Court in Berlin to try political opponents for treason. Offenses such as “aiding the enemy” and “undermining military morale” were also tried there. The People’s Court handed down 5,200 death sentences up to 1945; most of the verdicts were delivered after 1942 by Roland Freisler, the notorious president of the court. No appeals were permitted.