The anarcho-syndicalist union the Freie Arbeiter Union (FAUD) had a strong presence in Duisberg in the Rhineland, with a membership in 1921 of around 5,000 members. Then this membership fell away and by the time Hitler rose to power there were just a few little groups. For example, the number of active militants in Duisberg-South was 25, and the Regional Labour Exchange for Rhineland counted 180 to 200 members. At its last national congress in Erfurt in March 1932, the FAUD decided that if the Nazis came to power its federal bureau in Berlin would be dissolved, that an underground bureau would be put in place in Erfurt, and that there should be an immediate general strike. This last decision was never put into practice, as the FAUD was decimated by massive arrests.
In April or May 1933, doctor Gerhard Wartenburg, before being forced to leave Germany, had the locksmith Emil Zehner put in place as his replacement as FAUD secretary. He fled to Amsterdam, where he was welcomed, with other German refugees, by Albert de Jong, the Dutch anarcho-syndicalist. At the same time the secretariat of the International Workers Association (the anarcho-syndicalist international) was transferred to Holland in 1933, though the Nazis seized its archives and correspondence.
In autumn 1933, Zehner was replaced by Ferdinand Goetze of Saxony, then by Richard Thiede of Leipzig. Goetze reappeared in western Germany in autumn 1934, already on the run from the Gestapo. In the meantime, a secret group of the FAUD was set up, with the support of the Dutch section of the IWA, the NSV. A secretariat of the FAUD in exile was set up in Holland.
Up to the rise to power of the Nazis, the worker Franz Bungert was a leading member of the Duisberg FAUD. Without even the pretence of a trial, he was interned in the concentration camp of Boegermoor in 1933. After a year he was freed but was put under permanent surveillance. His successor was Julius Nolden, a metalworker then unemployed and treasurer of the Labour Exchange for the Rhineland. He was also arrested by the Gestapo, who suspected that his activity in a Society for the Right to Cremation(!) hid illegal relations with other members of the FAUD.
In June 1933, a little after he was released, he met Karolus Heber, who was part of the secret FAUD organisation in Erfurt. He had been part of the General Secretariat in Berlin, but after many arrests there had to move to Erfurt. They arranged a plan for the flight of endangered comrades to Holland and the setting up of a resistance organisation in the Rhineland and the Ruhr.
Nolden and his comrades set up a secret escape route to Amsterdam and distributed propaganda against the Nazi regime. Albert de Jong visited Germany and via the FAUD member Fritz Schroeder, met Nolden. De Jong arranged for the sending of propaganda over the border via the anarchist Hillebrandt. One pamphlet was disguised with the title Eat German Fruit And You Will Be In Good Health. It became so popular among the miners that they used to greet each other with: ”Have you eaten German fruit as well?” As for the escape route, the German-Dutch anarchist Derksen, who had a very good knowledge of the border zone, was able to get many refugees to safety. Many of those joined the anarchist columns in Spain.
After 1935, with the improvement of the economic situation in Germany, it was more and more difficult to maintain a secret organisation. Many members of the FAUD found jobs again after a long period of unemployment and were reluctant to engage in active resistance. The terror of the Gestapo did the rest. On top of this, no more propaganda was sent from Amsterdam.
The outbreak of the Spanish Revolution in 1936 breathed new life into German anarchism. Nolden multiplied his contacts in Duisberg, Düsseldorf and Cologne, organising meetings and launching appeals for financial aid to the Spanish anarchists. As a result of Nolden’s tireless activities, several large groups were set up. Nolden went everywhere by bike! At the same time Simon Wehren of Aachen used the network of FAUD labour exchanges to find volunteer technicians to go to Spain.
In December 1936, the Gestapo, thanks to an informer they had infiltrated, uncovered groups in Moenchengladbach, Duelken and Viersen. At the start of 1937, 50 anarcho-syndicalists of Duisberg, Düsseldorf and Cologne were arrested, including Nolden. A little later other arrests followed, bringing to 89 the number of FAUD members in Gestapo hands. The trial lasted a year on charges of “preparation of acts of high treason”(1). There were 6 acquittals for lack of evidence, the others being condemned to prison sentences from several months to 6 years in January-February 1938. Nolden was sent to the Luettringhausen Penitentiary from which the Allies freed him on 19th April 1945. In Whitsun 1947 he was at Darmstadt with other survivors of the Duisberg group to found the Federation of Libertarian Socialists. In prison, several anarchists were murdered. Emil Mahnert, a turner of Duisberg, was thrown from a second floor window by a police torturer. The mason Wilhelm Schmitz died in prison on 29 January 1944 in obscure circumstances. Ernst Holtznagel was sent to Disciplinary Battalion 999, of sinister reputation, and murdered there. Michael Delissen of Moenchengladbach was beaten to death by the Gestapo in December 1936. Anton Rosinke of Düsseldorf was murdered in February 1937.
The anarcho-syndicalist Ernst Binder of Düsseldorf wrote in August 1946: “A massive resistance not having been possible in 1933, the best of those at the heart of the workers movement had to disperse their forces in a guerrilla war without hope. But if, from this painful experience, the workers movement, the workers will draw from this the lesson that only united defence at the right moment is effective in the struggle against fascism, those sacrifices will not have been in vain”.
1) 220,000 Germans were sentenced for the same charges of “Preparation of Acts of High Treason” from 1933 until the end of the war!
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