Auer, Judith (1905–1944)

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Auer, Judith (1905–1944)

Swiss-born German political activist who fought courageously against the Nazi regime despite constant threats to her life. Born Judith Vallentin in Zurich, Switzerland, on September 19, 1905; died on the guillotine at Berlin's Plötzensee Penitentiary on October 27, 1944; married Erich Auer, in 1926; children: one daughter (b. 1929).

Active in youth activities in Berlin, joining the German Communist Party (KPD; 1927); centered her work in the Communist-dominated working-class district of Wedding, known as "Red Wedding" during the period of the Weimar Republic; active in underground resistance activities, including the preparation and distribution of pamphlets and flyers warning the populace of Hitler's plans for war (1930s); member of the Saefkow-Jacob-Bästlein resistance group (1940–44); arrested and sentenced to death for high treason (1944).

The oldest of four children, Judith Vallentin Auer was born the daughter of a writer in Zurich, Switzerland, on September 19, 1905, into comfortable circumstances. Tragedy entered her young life in 1918 when both her parents died within weeks of each other. Jewish friends of her family made it possible for her to continue her education, which took Auer to music schools in Leipzig and Berlin. She also began to study Marxism and revolutionary social theories in 1924 after meeting Ernst Putz, a German Communist organizer, at a student work-and-study camp in the Rhön district. Auer developed a strong social conscience, asking fundamental questions about the social injustices that were never far from her eyes in the great cities of Germany. Believing that Communism was the answer to these evils, she joined the Communist youth movement in Leipzig.

In 1925, she moved from Leipzig back to Berlin, becoming active in Communist youth work in the overwhelmingly working-class section of Wedding. At this time, her financial support ceased, and she was forced to end her studies and support herself by working as a typist. She became more closely linked with the world of German Communism in 1926 when she married Erich Auer, an up-and-coming functionary in the Communist youth movement, and the next year she joined the KPD (German Communist Party).

The Auers spent 1928–29 in Moscow. Although economic conditions were poor and the Stalinist grip on the Soviet Communist Party was rapidly tightening, the couple had positive impressions of a society rapidly industrializing and apparently creating the political, economic and cultural foundations of a genuine Socialist society. By the time they returned to Berlin in 1929, German democracy was entering its final crisis. For convinced Marxists like Judith Auer, the time for revolutionary upheaval had arrived.

These ideas, however, proved to be illusions, for Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist movement were infinitely more cynical and adroit than the political Left, seizing power in Germany in 1933, aided by Communists who refused to make democracy work and conservatives who believed they could manipulate Hitler to do their bidding. The Nazis crushed most opposition to their rule in a few brief months, but underground cells of Communists and Social Democrats continued to prepare for the day when the regime could be toppled.

During the following years, Auer remained active, preparing pamphlets and studying party literature. Starting in 1937 she worked as a buyer for the Oberspree Cable Works, a job that provided her not only with an income but also a cover for her illegal party work. Despite her daughter's birth in 1929, Auer continued her anti-Nazi underground work. Among her close friends and colleagues was Aenne Saefkow , wife of Anton Saefkow, one of the leading Communist functionaries of the illegal party.

The outbreak of World War II made Communist underground work in Germany more difficult as the Gestapo and its large network of spies and informers tightened their grip. Auer carried out a large number of missions for the Communist central command. She was treasurer of the underground organization created in Berlin-Brandenburg by Anton Saefkow, Franz Jacob, and Bernhard Bästlein. She delivered food and food ration cards to fugitive party members who dared not show their faces in public. She also acted as a courier for endangered members of Communist cells, including the Theodor Neubauer group in Thuringia and other organizations operating in Dresden, Leipzig, Hanover, and Liegnitz. She offered her home in the suburb of Bohnsdorf as a refuge to Franz Jacob, who was in hiding from the Hamburg Gestapo.

Judith Auer's luck ran out in July 1944 when she was arrested. At her trial before the notorious Volksgerichtshof (People's Court), she was sentenced to death along with two other Communists, Bruno Hämmerling and Franz Schmidt. Her execution took place at Berlin's Plötzensee prison where, between 1933 and 1945, 1,574 men and women were executed for political offenses by the Nazi regime. On October 27, 1944, she wrote a last letter to her young daughter from her cell at Plötzensee, giving practical advice on how to stop sucking her thumb, on deriving inspiration from the life and music of Beethoven, and on the necessity of "above all else always being inspired by love; the mistakes one makes out of love are never sins, because they can always be rectified." Auer was executed on that same day. Six months later, Berlin was a city in ruins, Adolf Hitler was dead in his bunker, and the Nazi regime Judith Auer had given her life to overthrow had been toppled by the Soviet Army.

One aspect of German unification in 1990 was a conservative nationalist spirit that called for the elimination of all public reminders of the Communist resistance to Nazism. As a result, the Judith-Auer-Strasse in the city of Magdeburg has been renamed.


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

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Auer, Judith (1905–1944)

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