Nazi Victims Helping the Hunted 

The family of the well-known Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician and journalist Ernst Heilmann lived in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Heilmann, at the time a member of the Reichstag for the SPD, was arrested only a few days after the SPD was banned on June 22, 1933. After seven years’ imprisonment, torture, and humiliation in a number of concentration camps, he was murdered on April 3, 1940, in the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Following his arrest, his wife Magdalena and their four children—Eva, Peter, Ernst Ludwig, and Beate, born between 1920 and 1927—lived under great material hardship and constant worry. As relatives of a political prisoner who also had a Jewish family background, the Heilmanns suffered discrimination on many levels. The children were disparaged at school and limited in their choice of career.

The Heilmanns, who received support from regime opponents in their large circle of friends and acquaintances, witnessed the persecution of relatives and close friends. In the knowledge of the Nazis’ crimes and despite the risks posed to them, Magdalena Heilmann and her children continued to shelter people seeking protection from the Gestapo by letting them stay in their apartment at Blücherstrasse 66 in Kreuzberg. They were assisted by Social Democrats, former trade unionists, and others suffering political persecution.

Eva and Ernst Ludwig Heilmann arranged to get extra food donations for people in hiding. Peter Heilmann joined the Quaker youth group in Berlin. The small religious community rejected racist segregation, so it was possible for young people of Jewish descent to find friends in the group. Peter Heilmann made contact with numerous regime opponents in order to arrange lodgings and procure forged ID papers for people in hiding.

Between 1942 and 1945 the Heilmanns provided at least temporary refuge to a number of Jews who had gone into hiding: their friend Else Behrend-Rosenfeld, who had escaped from Munich; Toni Boronow-Kaliski, Lotte Kahle, and Herbert Strauss; the adolescents Walter Joelson and Ernst Schwerin; and—for an extended period of time—Eva and Martin Deutschkron.

Lotte Kahle and, a short time later, Herbert Strauss were able to escape to Switzerland in the spring of 1943 with the help of the network around Luise Meier and Josef Höfler. Hella Gorn, Peter Heilmann’s Gentile girlfriend from the Quaker group, maintained contact with their liaisons so that other people whom the Heilmanns protected could be rescued in this way.

Sent to a work camp in October 1944, Peter Heilmann escaped in February 1945 and went underground. Magdalena Heilmann was interrogated by the Gestapo several times but never arrested. She, her children, and most of the people whom they protected survived the Nazi persecution.

Behrend-Rosenfeld, Else R. Ich stand nicht allein: Leben einer Jüdin in Deutschland 1933 bis 1944, with an afterword by Marita Krauss. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1988.
Sandvoß, Hans-Rainer. Widerstand in Kreuzberg [vol. 10 of Widerstand in Berlin von 1933 bis 1945], 74–76, 253–255. Berlin: German Resistance Memorial Center, 1996.
Strauss, Herbert A. In the Eye of the Storm: Growing up Jewish in Germany 1918–1943, A Memoir. New York: Fordham University Press, 1999.
Strauss, Lotte. Over the Green Hill: A German Jewish Memoir 1913–1943. New York: Fordham University Press, 1999.


  • 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.

  • Nuremburg Race Laws

    Nuremburg Race Laws

    Anti-Jewish laws were pronounced at the Nazi party congress on September 15, 1935. The “Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor” banned future marriages between Jews and non-Jews. Sexual intercourse between Jews and non-Jews was punishable as “race defilement.” The Reich Citizenship Law relegated Jews to being second-class citizens and was the basis for further anti-Jewish regulations.