Coppi, Hilde (1909–1943)

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Coppi, Hilde (1909–1943)

German anti-Nazi activist who was a member of the Berlin support group of the "Red Orchestra" spy network. Born Hilde Rake in Berlin, Germany, on May 30, 1909; executed at Plötzensee on August 5, 1943; married Hans Coppi (1916–42); children: one son Hans.

Hilde Rake was born a child of working-class Berliners on May 30, 1909. As was true for many Berlin workers of the pre-Nazi era, Socialist ideas and ideals were part of her daily life. With the coming of the Nazi dictatorship, she felt it natural to continue working for the Marxist cause in various underground organizations, despite the great risk of discovery and the price—confinement in a concentration camp or death—if caught. The Communists were the most implacable enemies of the Hitler regime in the years after 1933. In a Communist cell, Hilde met and fell in love with another young activist, Hans Coppi. Also from a poor family, Hans had to support himself as an unskilled worker during the depression years of the early 1930s; despite his lack of formal education, he was an intelligent Socialist who had earlier joined the Communist Youth organization. In 1934–35, he served a year in prison for participating in the distribution of anti-Nazi literature. After his release, he upgraded his skills, finding employment as a turner while Hilde worked as a secretary and receptionist. Following their marriage, the couple's political commitments increased, as their small apartment became a center of under-ground activities, including the writing and printing of pamphlets, and a refuge for anti-Nazis on the run from the Gestapo. Many of these fugitives were helped to escape to Denmark or Czechoslovakia.

By 1940, the Coppis established contacts with the Schulze-Boysen-Harnack resistance circle. Hilde spent much of her spare time listening to Moscow Radio and other anti-Nazi foreign broadcasts, carefully taking notes to be passed on to various underground cells. Hans used a boat on Berlin's many lakes to send coded radio messages to the USSR, containing important data gathered by the "Red Orchestra" organization. When the couple was arrested in September 1942, along with virtually all other members of the "Red Orchestra" organization, Hilde was in her third trimester of pregnancy. Sentenced to death soon after his arrest, Hans was executed on December 22, 1942, never having seen his son Hans, who had been born on November 27. Determined to end treasonous activity, on January 20, 1943, the special Nazi war tribunal sentenced Hilde Coppi to death. Although she was permitted to nurse her infant in her cell, no clemency was ever shown in her case and she was executed at Plötzensee on August 5, 1943. Her last letter to her mother bespoke the courage with which she had lived:

The hardest part, the separation from my little Hans, is behind me. How happy he made me! I know that he will be well taken care of in your loyal, dear maternal hands, and for my sake, Mama—promise me—remain brave….

sources:

Biernat, Karl Heinz, and Luise Kraushaar. Die Schulze-Boysen-Harnack-Organisation im antifaschistischen Kampf. Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1970.

Gollwitzer, Helmut, Käthe Kuhn, and Reinhold Schneider, eds. Dying We Live: The Final Messages and Records of the Resistance. NY: Pantheon Books, 1956.

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

John Haag , Athens, Georgia

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