Ask for “Tegel” 

In April 1933, the theologian Harald Poelchau assumed the position of chaplain in the Berlin-Tegel prison. From the very beginning he was a staunch opponent of the Nazi regime and later a member of the Kreisau Circle resistance group. When deportations started in 1941 he helped Jews go underground by referring them to places to stay within his wide circle of friends and acquaintances. His wife Dorothee stood tirelessly at his side, and his long-term friend Gertie Siemsen also provided surreptitious assistance.

When Jews in hiding wanted to contact him, they were supposed to call his office in Tegel prison, but only speak if he answered the phone by saying the innocuous codeword “Tegel.” Important information was discussed not on the phone, however, but in person in his office. He gave the frightened people appointments during office hours; the gatekeeper, who had a list of registered appointments, led them through numerous locked gates. In Poelchau’s office they could talk freely. He referred them to reliable friends and acquaintances who were not themselves at risk.

In March 1943, the Latte family of Breslau contacted Poelchau after they went into hiding. He found lodgings for Manfred Latte with a former political prisoner and for Latte’s wife Margarete with a pastor’s widow, and he recommended that the son Konrad Latte contact the organist of the Berlin-Wedding crematorium. Through Konrad Latte, Poelchau met the journalist Ruth Andreas-Friedrich, an active opponent of the regime, and the two of them started working together to help Jews in hiding.

When Poelchau heard about the siblings Ralph and Rita Neumann, who had been living in hiding with Agnes Wendland, a pastor’s wife, since mid-1943, he offered Ralph Neumann a job as a bicycle messenger. Ralph and Rita were arrested in February 1945, but they managed to escape from the pre-deportation camp in late March 1945 and made their way to Harald Poelchau and to safety.

After Leontine Cohn and her daughter Rita went into hiding in the Poelchau home following the Factory Operation on February 27, 1943, Willi Kranz said he and his life partner Auguste Leißner were willing to take in the nine-year-old Rita. Willi Kranz ran the cafeterias in the Berlin prisons in Tegel and Plötzensee. Poelchau had known him for a long time and respected him as a “silent guardian of humanity.” On numerous occasions Kranz and Leißner also took in Konrad Latte, feeding him and recommending other reliable helpers to whom he could turn.

The twelve-year-old Jewish girl Evelyne Schwarz needed a safe hiding place in the summer of 1944. Poelchau brought her to friends, the social worker Hildegard Schneider and the progressive educator Hans-Reinhold Schneider in Berlin-Heiligensee, where she stayed for six months.

Edith Bruck, a baby nurse who had gone into hiding, heard of Harald Poelchau through her friend Hilde Benjamin. Living under a false name, she was able to take care of the house of his friends Yvonne and Peter Knoblauch, in Berlin-Grunewald. When she was arrested there, Poelchau warned her other helper, Dr. Kurt Hess, who was active in the communist underground.

By the time the war ended, Harald Poelchau had helped a great number of people who had gone into hiding. Despite his membership in the Kreisau Circle, his assistance to political prisoners, and his support of “illegal” Jews, he was never interrogated or arrested by the Gestapo.

Harpprecht, Klaus. Harald Poelchau: Ein Leben im Widerstand. Reinbek, Germany: Rowohlt, 2004.
Poelchau, Harald. Die Ordnung der Bedrängten: Erinnerungen des Gefängnisseelsorgers und Sozialpfarrers (1903–1972). Teetz, Germany: Hentrich & Hentrich, 2004.
Schneider, Peter. “Saving Konrad Latte.” Translated by Leigh Hafrey. New York Times, February 13, 2000.
Schuppener, Henriette. “Nichts war umsonst” – Harald Poelchau und der deutsche Widerstand. Schriftenreihe der Forschungsgemeinschaft 20. Juli (July 20th Research Group Series) vol. 7. Berlin: Lit, 2006.


  • Kreisau Circle

    Kreisau Circle

    In 1940 a group of regime opponents of varied social background and intellectual traditions formed around Helmuth James Graf von Moltke and Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg to draft plans for a new order for post-Nazi Germany. Some of them were later involved in the coup attempt on July 20, 1944. The resistance group was mercilessly pursued.