Help in the Factory 

Metal turner Wilhelm Daene was a Social Democrat and an active trade unionist in Thuringia until 1933. Starting in 1935 he worked in Alfred Teves’s machine factory in Berlin-Wittenau, where in October 1941 he became foreman for the female Jewish forced laborers. Not only did he treat them humanely, but he used his position to mitigate their hardship. He obtained additional food for them through the factory. The company doctor also was not a Nazi and agreed to Daene’s request to give the Jewish women medical treatment. Daene observed that deportations were increasing from 1942 on; he was able to retain “his” women as workers vital to the war effort so that they would not be deported. Until the Factory Operation of late February 1943, his efforts were usually successful.

In 1942 he allowed one of the forced laborers, Lotte Markiewicz, to stay in a closed-off section of the production hall to recover from a nervous breakdown. That year he also protected Charlotte Josephy from being charged with making unauthorized telephone calls, which could have meant her immediate deportation. When Josephy went into hiding, Daene kept in contact with her and helped her with important decisions. He worked out a plan to save Emilie Isaak, in which she was disguised as a Belgian civilian forced worker. Daene acquired a Belgian passport for her and made all the necessary alterations. She was able to survive in her alleged home country. Daene also helped Felix Luxenburg avoid getting picked up during the Factory Operation on February 27, 1943. Luxenburg went into hiding and Daene stayed in contact with him as well.

Daene and his wife Margarete, whom he married in 1936, hid three Jewish women in their home. They lived in Berlin-Konradshöhe in the house of Margarete’s parents Ernst and Klara Rentsch, who also helped out. They had a large vegetable garden and a private poultry breeding business, which were invaluable in feeding the women in hiding. Two of them, Ursula Finke and Lola Alexander, spent their days working under assumed names in Margarete Daene’s lending libraries. In early August 1944, Finke was waylaid by a Gestapo informer at the Gesundbrunnen commuter rail station; in mortal fear she threw herself in front of an incoming train. Seriously injured, she remained in the Jewish Hospital until the end of the war.

In August 1944 Wilhelm Daene was arrested for participating in a resistance group at the company. The two women he was still hiding, Lola Alexander and Gerda Lesser, had to quickly flee to alternative lodgings. In late August 1944, Lesser was nevertheless arrested. She was deported, first to Theresienstadt in September and later to Auschwitz, where she was murdered. Alexander returned to Margarete Daene and her work in the lending library in the fall of 1944.

Wilhelm Daene was acquitted in his trial in December 1944 before the People’s Court, but his fear of the Gestapo led him to go into hiding for the rest of the war. Because of the imaginative and persistent help of Margarete and Wilhelm Daene, most of the people they hid survived.

Grossmann, Kurt R. “Ein Werkmeister erzählt.” In Die unbesungenen Helden: Menschen in Deutschlands dunklen Tagen, 32–48. Frankfurt am Main, etc: Ullstein, 1984.