Köpenick's week of bloodshed

Köpenick's week of bloodshed (German "Köpenicker Blutwoche") is the name given to a week of arrests, torture, and killings by the SA between 21 and 26 June 1933. The victims were civilians and the Berlin suburb of Köpenick, where it took place, was thought by the new government (and others) to contain particularly large numbers of Communists and Jews.

Events were choreographed by SA-Sturmbannführer Herbert Gehrke.[1] Approximately 500 opponents of National Socialism, identified as political non-conformists and Jews were detained by the local SA brigade, supported by police and SA groups from other parts of Berlin.[1] Detainees were subjected to humiliation, torture, and murder. At least 23 died.[2] Some died subsequently from the effects of torture: others survived but carried permanently the physical and mental scars of their ordeals. The Köpenicker Blutwoche was a high-profile early manifestation of changes set in place following Germany's January 1933 régime change: the deaths of "martyred" party members during the week of violence were heavily publicized by the party Gauleiter of Berlin, Joseph Goebbels.[2] Sometime after the twelve Nazi years came to an end, perpetrators were tried and sentenced between 1947 and 1950.[1][3]

The Köpenicker Blutwoche was only one of a whole range of "actions", both planned and spontaneous, undertaken by the SA and other Nazi institutions in the months following January 1933, targeting their political opponents, as the Nazis implemented their consolidation strategy, and established their dictatorship. Nevertheless, in the National Assembly (Reichstag) Election of March 1933, in the Berlin electoral district alone, the two principal left-wing parties, the SPD and the KPD (Communists), had between them mustered 1,377,000 votes.

Places and eventsEdit

The first attacks were launched on what later became the Elsengrund residential estate, close to the Berlin-Köpenick station. One of those detained, a 24-year-old carpenter called Anton Schmaus shot down three SA men (one of whom would die a few days later from his injuries) while being unlawfully arrested on the first day, which marked the outbreak of the violence. After his successful escape from the persecutors that day, it was Anton's family who paid the price: his father, Johann Schmaus was first bestially tortured and then hanged in the shed behind the house in today's Schmausstraße 2 in Berlin-Köpenick to stage his suicide.[4] Anton's mother, Katharina, and one of his siblings, the then 13-year-old sister, Margareta, were arrested, brought to the court building in Köpenick where the girl was terribly abused by the SA men - in the presence of her mother. Anton Schmaus, who was an SPD party member and a trades union official, was eventually arrested, held in the police headquarters prison on Alexanderplatz, tortured, and then killed by a shot in the back during an alleged escape attempt in 1934.

Two restaurants, the Gaststätte Demuth in Köpenick and the Gaststätte Seidler in nearby Berlin-Uhlenhorst, were used for torturing the anti-Fascists. Some of the detainees, after suffering torture, were taken to the local police headquarters at Seidler but were subsequently released.[citation needed]

Victims of "Köpenicker Blutwoche" were members of the Social Democratic and Communist Parties, along with those picked out as "Reichsbanner" democrats, National People's Party members, Jews, trades unionists and some politically engaged people who were independent of any political party. The better known victims included the former minister-president of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Johannes Stelling,[3] the Reichsbanner leader Paul von Essen[3] and the local Reichsbanner leader Richard Aßmann whose body was found in the Oder–Spree Canal.[3] The communists Karl Pokern and Erich Janitzky [de] were also killed. The number of people who died later as a result of injuries sustained under torture is unknown. Estimates concerning the number killed at the time also vary, ranging from 21 to 91, including up to 70 who simply "disappeared". The bodies of some of the victims, many of which were subsequently recovered, were tied up in sacks and then thrown into surrounding waterways or the Schmöckwitz lakes. Those whose bodies turned up in the Dahme (river) included Johannes Stelling, Paul von Essen, and Karl Pokern mentioned above.[3]

Immediate follow-upEdit

Government opponents risked their lives to try to expose the truth about the massacre, for instance using an illegal and ironically named underground Communist Party news sheet called "Luftschutz ist Selbstschutz". The Centre Party politician Heinrich Krone protested to the Ministry of the Interior and Pastor Ratsch protested to the Nazi mayor, but without success.[5] The scale and brutality of the events was at the time effectively covered up by government propaganda, while three SA men who had been killed were publicly mourned and posthumously promoted. Their state funeral was attended by Goebbels and streets were renamed to commemorate them.[1]

On 25 July 1933, a wide-ranging General Pardon was issued by the Justice Minister Franz Gürtner in respect of this and other atrocities committed as part of the Nazi take-over of the country.[citation needed]

Trials in East Berlin and AftermathEdit

The end of the Second World War in May 1945 was accompanied by the collapse of the Nazi regime. A large part of what remained of Germany, including East Berlin, now fell under Soviet administration: official interest in the "Köpenicker Blutwoche" resurfaced. Between 19 and 21 June 1947 four SA men found themselves charged with crimes against humanity in connection with the events in Köpenick fourteen years earlier. Two of these were found guilty and sentenced to terms of respectively eight years and eighteen months: the third was acquitted and the fourth managed to escape before the trial.[1] Two more were tried, convicted, and sentenced to short prison terms in August 1948.[1]

It was not until after the Soviet occupation zone had given way to the German Democratic Republic that a larger number of those allegedly complicit in the massacre faced trial. Between 5 June and 19 July 1950, a trial of 61 formally identified defendants took place in the Fourth Criminal Chamber at the District Court in East Berlin. Only 32 [6] of the 61 indicted were actually present, and the remaining 29 were tried in absentia. 47 of the 61 were identified as SA men, 3 were identified as Nazi Party members, and one as an SS man. For the remaining ten, no equivalent affiliation was recorded. Of those tried in absentia, the whereabouts of 13 were unknown, while another ten were in West Germany, which since 1949 had been separated from East Germany politically and, increasingly, physically. Three others of the accused managed to escape before the trial; one was known to have died young. Those who had escaped to West Germany never faced trial.[7]

Most or all of those tried were found guilty. 15 were sentenced to death and a further 13 received life sentences.[1] 25 received prison sentences of between ten and twenty-five years[1] and four others were sentenced to five years of forced labor.[8] Six of the death sentences were carried out. The condemned were guillotined in Dresden on 20 February 1951.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Herbert Mayer (1998). "Mahnung an die Köpenicker Blutwoche". Lexikon von A-Z zur Berlingeschichte und Gegenwart. Luisenstädtischer Bildungsverein e.V., Berlin. pp. 86–88.
  2. ^ a b "Memorial Köpenicker Blutwoche". Gedenkstätte Köpenicker Blutwoche, Berlin. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e Köpenicker Blutwoche Juni 1933
  4. ^ "Stolpersteine in Berlin | Orte & Biografien der Stolpersteine in Berlin".
  5. ^ "80 Jahre nach der Köpenicker Blutwoche – alle Kraft gegen Rechts!". Bund der Antifaschisten Köpenick. 28 May 2013. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  6. ^ Sources differ over some of the precise numbers, however.
  7. ^ "Juristische Aufarbeitung". Gedenkstätte Köpenicker Blutwoche, Berlin. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  8. ^ A typed version of the 328-page judgment was published in East Berlin under the title "Landgericht Berlin. Urteil der 4. Großen Strafkammer in der Strafsache Plönzke u. a. (Köpenicker Blutwoche 1933)". (Berlin District Court. Judgment of the 4th Criminal Chamber in the Criminal trial of Plönzke and others (Köpenicker Blutwoche 1933))