Agnes, Lore (1876–1953)

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Agnes, Lore (1876–1953)

German political activist, anti-Nazi, and deputy to the German Reichstag. Born Lore Benning in Bochum, Germany, on June 4, 1876; died in Cologne on June 9, 1953; married Peter Agnes.

Lifelong Social Democrat who represented the Düsseldorf electoral district as a deputy to the German Reichstag (1919–33); after the Nazi takeover (1933), continued to work in the underground Social Democratic movement and was consequently persecuted and imprisoned by the Nazi authorities on many occasions.

Born on June 4, 1876, into a poor family, Lore Agnes did not have the opportunity to go beyond an elementary-school education. She overcame these social barriers, however, educating herself and becoming a highly articulate, persuasive political leader. Always independent, she disagreed with the prowar leadership of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) during World War I and joined the Independent Social Democratic Party, which advocated a radical social and economic democratization of Germany as well as the signing of a peace treaty without annexations and indemnities. Elected in January 1919 to the Constituent Assembly that hammered out the Weimar Constitution, Agnes was highly respected by her largely working-class constituency and was reelected in June 1920 as a regular delegate to the German Reichstag. In 1924, with the demise of the Independent Social Democratic movement, she rejoined the majority Social Democrats and was placed on their electoral ticket for the Düsseldorf district. Regularly reelected throughout the 1920s, she had become a prominent parliamentarian by the early 1930s, serving as a member of the Reichstag presidium. Hated by the local Nazis, she was high on their list of democrats, Marxists, feminists, pacifists, and others professing "un-German" ideals who were to be eliminated with the coming of a fascist Third Reich.

Two days before the elections of March 5, 1933, in which the Nazis used the burning of the Reichstag as a pretext for unleashing a reign of terror throughout Germany, Lore Agnes was arrested. As the most prominent Social Democrat in Düsseldorf, she was a prime target of the local Nazis, who regarded her as a key enemy leader and as a "dangerous Red agitator." Although many Social Democrats and other anti-Nazis would follow her into prisons and concentration camps, she was the first SPD official in Düsseldorf to be placed in "protective custody," the Nazi euphemism used to create a pseudo-legal justification for the arrest and imprisonment of their political foes. Still recuperating from a recent gall-bladder operation, Agnes spent almost a month in custody, part of the time in harsh conditions at the women's prison in Derendorf, a suburb of Düsseldorf. After her release, she was admitted to a hospital because her poor health had been shattered by Nazi brutality. In 1934, she was once again briefly imprisoned, and on many occasions over the following years her home would be searched by Gestapo officials seeking evidence of illegal political activities. Despite the great danger of discovery, she remained loyal to her beliefs and comrades, distributing illegal literature, and attending banned meetings. Not only did she and her husband Peter fear renewed arrest and imprisonment but they also lived in the shadow of economic insecurity. On several occasions, she was unable to secure work because of her political record.

On August 22, 1944, as a result of the reign of terror unleashed by the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler's life a month earlier, Lore Agnes was once more arrested. She was returned to the women's prison in Derendorf, but was scheduled to be moved to the notorious women's concentration camp of Ravensbrück. A doctor's report detailing serious cardiac and circulatory problems prevented this possibly fatal transfer. Nazi officials found and confiscated in her home subversive materials, including books by Angelica Balabanoff, Eva Broido , and Clara Zetkin . Released in October 1944, she survived the defeat of Nazi Germany and, in 1950, received compensation for the sufferings she had endured as an anti-Nazi. A few days after her 77th birthday, Lore Agnes died in Cologne on June 9, 1953, in a Germany more interested in the achievement of material prosperity and personal happiness than in tales of heroism in the face of a bloody dictatorship.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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Agnes, Lore (1876–1953)

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