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Walther Lüders * 1896
Steindamm 76 (Hamburg-Mitte, St. Georg)
1942 KZ Neuengamme
1945 Lager Stalo Donez ???
Walther Lüders, born on 4 Oct. 1896 in Hamburg, missing in the Soviet Union since Aug. 1945
last residential address: Steindamm 76
Walther Lüders was the second oldest son (of four children overall) of real estate agent in houses Georg Lüders and his wife Dorothea, née Knak. Walther’s siblings were Friedrich (born in 1895), a teacher killed in action in World War I, Gertrud (born in 1898), later an executive secretary by occupation, and the youngest brother Hans (born in 1899), who became an export merchant.
The young family lived in various apartments in the St. Georg and Hohenfelde quarters. As early as 1905, the marriage of the Lüders ended in divorce. Since her former husband did not make any alimony payments, the mother was forced to operated a "tailor’s studio for young ladies of good background” with the help of her sisters in order to earn a living for herself and her four children.
Walther’s aunts, with whom he and his siblings largely lived while growing up, exerted a major influence on his professional and social development. When attending the eight-grade elementary school (Volksschule) from 1903 to 1911, he had a strong interest in languages and literature but nevertheless his aunts determined that he ought to learn a skilled trade. Thus, between 1911 and 1914, he did an apprenticeship as a machine builder with the Hamburg-based Hütter Fahrstuhlbau Company, a manufacturer of elevators. After that, he first worked at the Deutsche Werft shipyard in Kiel, before being called up for military service in the war, in the course of which he apparently became even more politicized.
Immediately following the war, he joined the Hamburg branch of the Spartacist League, led by Rosa Luxemburg und Karl Liebknecht, and shortly afterward, he became a member of the newly founded German Communist Party (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands – KPD). Even in those days, he already gave training courses for party youth as well as at the Marxist Workers’ School (Marxistische Arbeiterschule), in this context meeting Karoline Kling, whom he married in 1919. That same year, his son Alex (called Axel) was born. Professionally, he obtained further qualifications by familiarizing himself in evening classes – in addition to his work in the Hamburg operations of the Deutsche Werft – with radio technology, a very new field at the time.
From 1926 onward, he worked as a fitter at the Hamburg-based Van Kalker & Co. – Deutsche Technische Gesellschaft, a radio engineering company, but after the closure of the enterprise in July 1930 due to the world economic crisis, he became unemployed. At the end of the 1920s, when intense internal conflicts occurred in the KPD, especially regarding policy toward emerging Fascism, Hamburg also saw the formation of a local committee of the Communist Party Opposition (Kommunistische Partei-Opposition – KPO), founded at the national level by Heinrich Brandler and August Thalheimer. Walther Lüders joined this group. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the Hamburg KPO group, comprised of about 40 members, also began their illegal underground work, especially in the St. Georg and Veddel/Rothenburgsort quarters.
The apartment of the Lüders couple on Steindamm was a secret meeting place of party members in those days. However, as early as the end of 1933, the group was smashed by the Gestapo; Walther Lüders, who belonged to the executive of the organization, had already been arrested on 19 Nov. 1933. He was committed to the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp and subjected to interrogations using torture in order to extort further names of his comrades, which he did not divulge, though. On 19 Sept. 1934, in a trial involving 19 other members of the Hamburg KPO, the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court (Hanseatisches Oberlandesgericht) sentenced him for "illegal (political) activity in coincidence with preparation to high treason” to two and a half years in prison.
Walther Lüders served his sentence in the Fuhlsbüttel penitentiary until 19 Aug. 1936, though after completing his prison term, he was not released but instead kept in "superimposed detention” ("Überhaft”) in the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp until 30 October. During the term of imprisonment, he had sustained considerable harm to his health, forcing him to undergo medical treatment for cardiac, mental, and bronchial illnesses for years, apparently for a while by the Jewish physician Julius Lewinnek (see corresponding entry), who prior to his emigration to the Netherlands also lived in the St. Georg quarter. In Mar. 1937, Walther Lüders managed to get a job as a technician with the Sonnenberg – "Haus der Technik” Company on Mönckebergstrasse, a leading Hamburg radio engineering firm. Immediately upon being released from prison, he also re-established contact to his old political friends but also to other resistance fighters from the Hamburg left wing.
When the war started, he was declared "unworthy of military service,” but his son was drafted into the German Wehrmacht in 1940. Allegedly, he sent "anti-Fascist training letters” to soldiers fighting on the front. The Gestapo seems to have found out about these activities, consequently arresting him at his workplace on 19 Jan. 1942. This time, however, the regime did not bother to indict him formally, instead committing him to the Neuengamme concentration camp in June 1942, following several months in the Fuhlsbüttel police prison. There, he was deployed as a highly specialized skilled worker to a special work detachment, enabling him to live through more than two years of concentration camp detention.
At the beginning of Nov. 1944, the Nazi regime forcibly recruited, in a vicious maneuver, 72 political prisoners from Neuengamme, including Walther Lüders, for the "Dirlewanger” SS Special Brigade, which had existed since 1940, in order to deploy them, literally in a last-ditch stand "on probation,” at the Eastern front. The prisoners, among them also the Hamburg author Heinrich Christian Meier, received SS military pay books, some of them even SS uniforms and were thus sure to arouse the suspicion of the enemy armies. They were transported via Berlin and Cracow, initially for training to Diviaky in Slovakia.
Walther Lüders, who belonged to the 7th Company of the 2nd Battalion, and numerous other political prisoners deserted to the Soviet Army in their operational area on the Hungarian border as early as Christmas of 1944; tragically, however, they were not treated any differently than regular prisoners of war belonging to the Wehrmacht or even the SS. In early Mar. 1945, Lüders arrived along with about 140 "Dirlewangers” at the Stalino 280/III prisoner-of-war camp, located in the coal-mining region of the Donbas (Ukraine). There, he was last seen in Aug. 1945 by the former prisoner in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Alfred Dunkel, as he was performing forced labor under extremely harsh conditions in a coal mine destroyed by the Germans during the war.
For Walther Lüders, a Stolperstein was laid in Mar. 2005 at the place where his residential building had stood.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: March 2017
© Benedikt Behrens
Quellen: AfW, Entschädigungsakte; E-Mails von Else Lüders (Schwiegertochter von W.L.) v. 22.4.2005 und 7.3.2008; Diercks, Herbert, Walther Lüders, biogr. Artikel in Hamburger Biografie. Personenlexikon, hrsg. von F. Kopitsch und D. Brietzke, Göttingen 2006, Bd. 3, S. 234f.; VAN (Hrsg.), Totenliste Hamburger Widerstandskämpfer und Verfolgter, Hamburg 1968; AB 1938–43; Auerbach, Hellmuth, Konzentrationslagerhäftlinge im Fronteinsatz, in: Miscellanea. Festschrift für Helmut Krausnick zum 75. Geburtstag, Stuttgart 1980; Meier, Heinrich Christian, So war es. Das Leben im KZ Neuengamme, Hamburg 1946, S. 119–121.