Destination: Switzerland 

Luise Meier (b. 1885) of Berlin-Grunewald empathized with her Jewish neighbors who were desperately trying to flee Germany. A devout Catholic, she opposed the Nazi regime and looked for ways to help people threatened by it. She temporarily hid a Jewish couple in her apartment and was able to help them escape to Switzerland in 1942.

When Meier, meanwhile a widow, was asked to help a Jewish woman whom she did not know, she also agreed. In the spring of 1943 she accompanied Lotte Kahle on a risky journey to Singen near Lake Constance and got to know Josef Höfler, who lived with his family in the border town of Gottmadingen. Höfler was a skilled worker at the aluminum plant in Singen, so he had not been drafted. Out of compassion he was willing to help, even though it meant putting also his wife and his daughter at risk. Josef Höfler and Luise Meier then agreed to continue to assist others to flee.

Luise Meier often accompanied the Jewish women and men on their trip from Berlin to Singen. Josef Höfler and his coworkers Willy Vorwalder and Wilhelm Ritzi, as well as Ritzi’s cousin Hugo Wetzstein, would then bring the Jews to the irregular, difficult-to-monitor border and give the refugees explicit directions so that they could avoid border guards. The lights of the border towns in the Swiss canton of Schaffhausen also served as an orientational aid, because Switzerland, in contrast to Germany, did not black out its towns at night. It was particularly dangerous for Jewish men to escape. For the long train ride from Berlin they needed high-quality forged military papers that would stand up to controls by the military police looking for deserters. After a failed escape attempt in May 1944, when two Jewish women were caught by the Gestapo and then deported, all of the helpers were arrested.

In July 1944 the case was transferred from the Special Court in Freiburg to the People’s Court, where the helpers were to be charged with “aiding the enemy,” for which the penalty was either death or penal servitude for life. In the chaos of the final months of the war, however, the trial never took place. After a year in prison and anxious waiting, the accused helpers were released in the spring of 1945.

Luise Meier and the other helpers were able to assist around 28 Jewish men and women in reaching Switzerland, including Lotte Kahle and her later husband Herbert Strauss. It was through their efforts that Luise Meier and Josef Höfler were honored posthumously in 2001 by the Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

Battel, Franco. “Ein Netz von Helferinnen und Helfern: Die Fluchthilfe um Luise Meier und Josef Höfler.” In “Wo es hell ist, dort ist die Schweiz.” Flüchtlinge und Fluchthilfe an der Schaffhauser Grenze zur Zeit des Nationalsozialismus, 204–215. Zürich: Chronos, 2000.
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.


  • “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.

  • “Factory Operation”

    “Factory Operation”

    In raids throughout the German Reich, all Jews still working in the armaments industry were arrested on February 27, 1943, most of them in Berlin, where the number of Jewish forced laborers was highest. About 4,000 Jews in Berlin went into hiding, having heard rumors or been warned of the raids. Throughout the country about 11,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz in early March 1943.