Schumacher, Elisabeth (1904–1942)

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Schumacher, Elisabeth (1904–1942)

German artist and anti-Nazi activist who was a member of the "Red Orchestra" resistance circle. Born Elisabeth Hohenemser on April 28, 1904, in Darmstadt, Germany; executed along with her husband on December 22, 1942, at Berlin's Plötzensee prison; daughter of a prominent engineer; spent her childhood in Meiningen; married Kurt Schumacher (1905–42).

Born in 1904 into a comfortable environment (her father was a prominent engineer) in Darmstadt, Elisabeth Schumacher spent her childhood in Meiningen. She completed her artistic training in Offenbach am Main, then moved to Berlin to work as a teacher of applied arts. There, she met Kurt Schumacher, a serious, gifted young sculptor who shared her socialist views.

Strongly anti-Nazi from the first days of the Hitler regime, and inspired by the underground work of Harro Schulze-Boysen and later Libertas Schulze-Boysen , the Schumachers created a clandestine organization impenetrable by spies or provocateurs. Their determination to fight against the regime was only strengthened in 1937, when Kurt's revered teacher, the master sculptor Ludwig Gies, was forced to quit the Prussian Academy of Arts. In protest, Kurt also severed his ties with what had become a subservient, almost Nazified, organization.

The start of World War II deepened the Schumachers' resolve to help bring about the destruction of the dictatorship. Their work for the

Berlin Communist underground now included providing materials for the "Red Orchestra" spy network led by their old friends the Schulze-Boysens and others, including Arvid and Mildred Harnack . Elisabeth was able to provide important material from her job at the Reich Center for Labor Protection, while Kurt was involved in the task of sending illegal bulletins to soldiers at the front. Their increasingly dangerous existence reached its climax in August 1942 when they provided shelter for Albert Hössler, who had been trained in the Soviet Union to expand the activities of the Berlin organization. This was the Schumachers' last act of defiance of any consequence, for that September both were arrested when the "Red Orchestra" organization was smashed by the Gestapo. Sentenced to death, they were executed on the same day, December 22, 1942, at Berlin's Plötzensee prison, along with Harro and Libertas Schulze-Boysen, Arvid Harnack, and six other anti-Nazis. (Mildred Harnack would be executed the following year.)

In their fury, the Nazis destroyed most of Kurt Schumacher's sculpture, regarding it as "un-German" and symptomatic of the "Cultural Bolshevism" of the despised Weimar Republic. What did survive were some of his prison notes, hidden away in a secret recess of his cell in Plötzensee prison, which were discovered in 1946. One of his notes to his "brave Elisabeth," never received by her and dated November 30, 1942, ends with: "We very much wished to spare the German people from these terrible sufferings. Our small band fought with decency and courage."


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

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Schumacher, Elisabeth (1904–1942)

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