Baum, Marianne (1912–1942)

views updated

Baum, Marianne (1912–1942)

German-Jewish anti-Nazi activist and leading member of the Herbert Baum resistance circle. Born Marianne Cohn in Saarburg, Saar Province, on December 9, 1912; arrested on May 22, 1942; sentenced to death by a special Nazi tribunal on July 16, 1942, and executed at Berlin's Plötzensee prison on August 18, 1942; married Herbert Baum (1912–1942).

Member of the German-Jewish youth organization, then joined the Communist Youth League of Germany (1931); along with husband Herbert Baum, helped organize anti-Nazi resistance cells that undertook many acts of defiance and sabotage against Nazi rule in Berlin (starting 1933); worked as a slave laborer (1940–42); involved in the fire-bombing of the Anti-Soviet Exhibition in Berlin (May 18, 1942).

Recent historical research into the Holocaust era has led to the discovery that many Jews resisted their Nazi and Fascist oppressors both before and during World War II. While the majority of Jews in Germany believed that efforts to overthrow the Hitler regime could not amount to much, a small but determined band of Jewish activists, mostly on the political Left, worked alongside their non-Jewish comrades to fight the Nazi dictatorship through illegal underground activities. Probably the best-organized and most effective of the Jewish resistance groups within Nazi Germany was the Berlin organization led by the Communist activist Herbert Baum. Herbert grew up in Berlin in a lower-middle-class Jewish family, and was active in Jewish youth groups and the Rote Falken, the youth organization of the Social Democratic Party. In one of the Jewish groups, the Deutsch-Jüdische Jugendgemeinschaft (German-Jewish Youth Community), he first met Marianne Cohn around 1928.

Born in Saarburg on December 9, 1912, when that city was part of Germany, Marianne grew up in Alsace in the years after that former German province had been returned to France in 1918. After her family moved to Berlin in the 1920s, she became actively involved in Jewish youth activities, moving toward the political Left along with her husband in the early 1930s.

The rapid growth of Nazi power in both the German parliament and the streets radicalized many young Germans. The often weak response of the Social Democrats to the threat of Hitlerism brought despair to Jews and others who had felt secure under a German democracy that was now crumbling. In the early 1930s, a small minority of Jewish activists like Herbert Baum and Marianne Cohn became convinced that the only alternative to Nazism was to be found on the extreme Left, in Communism. Lacking knowledge of events in the Soviet Union under the increasingly harsh dictatorship of Joseph Stalin, many Germans became members of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Marianne Cohn moved in this direction in 1931 along with her future husband, when both became members of the Kommunistischer Jugendverband Deutschlands (KJVD), the Communist Youth League of Germany. In an organization that outlawed all manifestations of anti-Semitism, the emphasis was on preparation for the ideological and political struggles on the horizon.

By the time the Nazis came to power in the early months of 1933, Marianne and Herbert were Communist activists, engaging in such important tasks as distributing the KPD newspaper Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag), which had been banned by the Nazis but soon appeared again throughout Germany as an illegal underground organ. By the time they were married, the Baums were seasoned in underground work. Starting in 1936–37, they began systematically building an illegal resistance organization. With a few exceptions, the members of their circle were young Jewish women and men who had been members of the Bund Deutsch-Jüdischer Jugend (Union of German-Jewish Youth), a strongly anti-Nazi Jewish youth group. United by the goal of opposing Fascism and by participating in the worldwide struggle against its spread, the Baum circle included Jews and non-Jews, Communists and non-Communists. Marianne Baum played a major role in the organization and was invariably present when members came to the Baum apartment on Berlin's Stralauer Strasse for secret strategy meetings. As a convinced Marxist revolutionary, she organized and taught revolutionary doctrine to the most youthful members of their group. In 1939, she strongly supported her husband when he made the perilous decision to establish ties between their organization and another Communist group in Berlin, the cells led by Robert Uhrig. Despite the immense risks their group took, for more than five years it continued to grow and engage in significant anti-Nazi activities. With about 35 members whose average age was 22, the Baum Group included members of the Jewish youth organizations that the Nazis had banned in 1938.

By 1940, both Herbert and Marianne Baum had been ordered to work at the Siemens Electrical Motor Factory, he as an electrician, she on the assembly line. Working under terrible conditions as slave laborers, both maintained their revolutionary fervor and infused their fellow workers with hope for the day when Germany and the world would be free of fascist terror and racism.

In late June 1941, Adolf Hitler launched a massive attack on the Soviet Union, aiming to conquer and enslave a great mass of Slavs who could then be mercilessly exploited. Other "subhuman" groups in the East were slated for "special treatment"—death through starvation in labor camps, extermination on the scene, or annihilation in special facilities like Treblinka and Auschwitz. Though Marianne and Herbert Baum received only fragmentary data on these developments, it was clear to them and other German Jews, who by the summer of 1941 were living the lives of slave laborers, that ominous developments were rapidly escalating. In her apartment, Marianne helped write and prepare for distribution the anti-Nazi flyer "An die deutsche Hausfrau" (To the German Housewife) which pointed out the increasing misery to which German families were subjected because of the war against the Soviet Union. To directly undermine the Nazi war effort, the Baum Group distributed Der Ausweg (The Way Out).

By mid-1941, the distribution of flyers and scratching of graffiti on walls were no longer felt to be a sufficiently militant response to Nazi oppression of Germany's remaining Jews. By early 1942, the underground cell organized by Herbert and Marianne Baum included as active members the Jewish couple Martin and Sala Kochmann (d. 1942). A number of non-Jewish women were also recruited for the dangerous underground work, including the office workers Irene Walter and Suzanne Wesse , who was of French background. They procured forged papers to assist members of the Baum organization to escape from Berlin to carry on their work elsewhere, probably in France. To pay for these activities, membership dues were first assessed. When this did not suffice, risky expropriations of the few well-to-do Jewish homes still remaining empty in Berlin were carried out in early May 1942. These "X" actions, as they were called, were undertaken by Herbert Baum, Heinz Birnbaum, and a non-Jewish member, Werner Steinbrink. The expropriated property, which included oil paintings, were sold and 1,500 Reichsmarks were gained for the group's treasury. The funds were used to pay for propaganda materials (paints, paper, etc.), the acquisition of forged Aryan documents, and the purchase of food.

The most daring, heroic and, as it turned out, tragic act of the Baum resistance circle was their attempt to destroy Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels' anti-Soviet propaganda display, sarcastically entitled "The Soviet Paradise," in Berlin's Lustgarten. Inaugurated by Goebbels himself with great pomp in early May 1942, the purpose of the anti-Communist exhibition was to stir up racist sentiments of the Berlin populace, raise their morale at a time when the war on the Eastern front had become bloody and indecisive, and depict the Soviet regime as a diabolical Judeo-Bolshevik plot against Western civilization. As both Jews and Marxists, Marianne, Herbert, and the members of their circle were deeply offended by an exhibition that painted the Soviet Union as a Jewish conspiracy against Western civilization.

After debating the wisdom of carrying out a destructive action against the Goebbels exhibit, all members of the Baum group agreed. Though all wished to participate directly, for security's sake only a small number would actually execute the plot. Initially scheduled for Sunday, May 17, the large number of visitors present that day brought about a postponement. The following evening, May 18, 1942, Herbert and Marianne Baum, Hans Joachim, Sala Kochmann. Gerd Meyer, Suzanne Wesse and Irene Walter went to the exhibit. With incendiary materials earlier procured by Werner Steinbrink, who worked in a chemical facility, flames engulfed the exhibit, and the group escaped without mishap. Unfortunately, the fire brigade arrived quickly and only part of the exhibit was destroyed. Under Goebbels' thumb, the Nazi press did not report the damage, but Berliners circulated the fact that "The Soviet Paradise" exhibition had suffered considerably at the hands of unknown saboteurs.

Elated, Marianne Baum and the other members of the Baum group began discussing their next anti-Nazi action. Their hopes were crushed with the arrest of Marianne and Herbert and three others on May 22. In the next few days, virtually all members of the group were arrested by the Gestapo. After the war, several authors argued that the Baum circle had been infiltrated by a Gestapo agent. This may well have been the case, but it is also important to note that the youthful, and often recklessly enthusiastic, members of this circle did not observe strict rules of conspiracy and sometimes made unguarded anti-Nazi statements in public. After the initial arrests of the group in May 1942, a few remaining members were able to elude the Gestapo for varying periods of time. Eventually, all but a handful were caught. Two active members of the group, Richard and Charlotte Holtzer , were never captured and survived the war hiding in Hungary.

In their fashion, the Nazi interrogators attempted to discover all they could about the Baum group. Beaten to a pulp, Herbert Baum was taken to the Siemens plant, where he worked, and asked to identify his accomplices. He never betrayed any of them. On June 11, 1942, the Gestapo informed the prosecutor's office that on that day Herbert Baum had "committed suicide." Though documentation is lacking, witnesses claimed that Baum died as a result of the horrible tortures to which he was subjected. The system of National Socialist "justice" dispatched the other men and women of the Baum circle by execution or eventual death in Nazi camps.

Marianne Baum was sentenced to death by a special Nazi tribunal on July 16, 1942, and executed at Berlin's Plötzensee prison on August 18, 1942. The other women members of the Baum group who died at the hands of the Nazis were Sala Kochmann, Hanni Meyer (died 1943), Suzanne Wesse, Irene Walter, Hella Hirsch, Alice Hirsch, Edith Fraenkel (died 1943 in Auschwitz), Hilde Jadamowitz (1916–1942), Marianne Joachim (1921–1943), Lotte Rotholz (1923–c. 1943) and Hilde Löwy . Members of the Baum group died believing that the evil of Nazism could, and would, be wiped from the face of the earth, to be replaced by a new world based on human decency and a common morality. That such a world has not emerged does not diminish the value of their belief, or sacrifice.


Elling, Hanna. Frauen im deutschen Widerstand 1933–45. 3rd rev. ed. Frankfurt am Main: Röderberg-Verlag, 1981.

Erpel, Simone. "Struggle and Survival: Jewish Women in the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Germany," in Leo Baeck Institute, Year Book XXXVIII. London: Secker & Warburg, 1992, pp. 397–414.

Eschwege, Helmut. "Resistance of German Jews Against the Nazi Regime," in Leo Baeck Institute, Year Book XV. London: Secker & Warburg, 1970, pp. 143–180.

Juden im Widerstand. Chug Chaluzi—Gemeinschaft für Frieden und Aufbau—Gruppe Herbert Baum: Drei Gruppen zwischen Überlebenskampf und politischer Aktion, Berlin 1939–1945. Berlin: Informationsstelle "Jugend unterm Hakenkreuz" e.V., 1993.

Kraushaar, Luise. Berliner Kommunisten im Kampf gegen den Faschismus 1936 bis 1942: Robert Uhrig und Genossen. Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1981.

——. Deutsche Widerstandskämpfer 1933–1945: Biographien und Briefe. 2 vols. Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1970.

Kwiet, Konrad, and Helmut Eschwege. Selbstbehauptung und Widerstand 1933–1945: Deutsche Juden im Kampf um Existenz und Menschenwürde. Hamburg: Hans Christians Verlag, 1984.

Löhken, Wilfried, and Werner Vathke, eds. Juden im Widerstand: Drei Gruppen zwischen Überlebenskampf und politischer Aktion Berlin 1939–1945: Sonderausgabe für die Ausstellung. Berlin: Edition Hentrich, 1993.

Marrus, Michael R. "Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust," in Journal of Contemporary History. Vol. 30, no. 1. January 1995, pp. 83–110.

Pikarski, Margot. Sie bleiben unvergessen: Widerstandsgruppe Herbert Baum. Herausgegeben vom Zentralrat der FDJ. Berlin: Verlag Junge Welt, 1968.

Schilde, Kurt. "Herbert-Baum-Gruppe," in Wolfgang Benz and Walter H. Pehle, eds., Lexikon des deutschen Widerstandes. 2nd rev. ed. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, 1994, pp. 225–227.

Steinbach, Peter, and Johannes Tuchel, ed. Lexikon des Widerstandes 1933–1945. Munich: Verlag C.H. Beck, 1994.

Suhl, Yuri, ed. They Fought Back: The Story of the Jewish Resistance in Nazi Europe. NY: Crown, 1967.

related media:

Flammen, GDR motion picture, 1967, directed by Konrad Weiss.

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