The Krüschet Family in the Resistance (German anarchists against the Nazis)

Distinguishing itself from those small organisations that resulted from the splits from the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) and the SPD (Social Democratic Party), the ‘Freie Arbeiter-Union Deutschlands’ (Free Workers’ Union of Germany - FAUD), founded in 1919, stood for an autonomous direction of the workers’ movement whose beginnings go back to the 19th century.

It understood itself as an economic fighting organisation as well as a radical cultural movement at the same time, equally opposed to the KPD and the SPD.

Towards the end of the Weimar Republic, this organised anarchism of industrial and mining workers that had once, especially in the Ruhr area, been a regional mass movement, could only count 4,307 paid up members, divided between 157 local groups.

Besides the old members that had already organised themselves in anarchist or syndicalist ways before 1914 and whose personalities embodied the goals that had not been obtained by the movement, there were mostly people involved who had come to the FAUD in the start of the ‘20s, who had gained their political socialisation in the Syndicalist-anarchist Youth of Germany (SAJD) and who had stayed with the organisation for idealist reasons. The basically family orientated group formation of the anarchosyndicalists did have a large integrational capability: The personal framework consisted of an environment of intergenerational and family units, this guaranteed continuity and was the area for recruitment. This also goes for the FAUD and SAJD group in Wuppertal that only had ca. 50 members toward the end of the twenties.

Gustav (born 1912) and Fritz (born 1910) Krüschet grew up, together with their sister, in a homeless settlement in Elberfeld. Their father had died early on, and their mother, a determined woman, had to support the family by herself. She had a Catholic background but was still a member of the union, sent her children to the free, secular school and encouraged their education as much as financially possible. Through friends of their mothers, the brothers came across the anarchosyndicalist-dominated Community of Proletarian Freethinkers. There they met members of the SAJD, whose group became the focus of their lives from 1929-1933.

In 1930, the SAJD in Wuppertal consisted of ca. 10 young workers and 5 apprentices aged between 16 and 22. There were only 3 girls in the group, of which one left after only a short time. The girls were seamstresses/tailors in training. Amongst these was Gustav’s future wife, Hedwig (‘The Plank’), born Felsch, who came to the group with her older brother Willi, a member of the precursor organisation ‘Freie Jugend Morgenröte’ (‘Free Youth Dawn’). The boys were a trainee turner and painter, as well as unqualified occasional workers, wallpaper-printers, painters, builders and tool manufacturers.

Most of them lost their jobs during the crisis from 1930. The group was never successful in attracting and organising the working class youth outside the group on any kind of scale. They remained a conspiring bunch with a strong unity amongst themselves and a clear disassociation toward others. With the exception of the brothers Helmut and Hans Kirschey as well as Hans Saure, who had left the ‘Kommunistische Jugendverband Deutschlands’ (‘Communist Youth Association of Germany’, KJVD), the SAJD did not gain any new regular members.

Especially the girls had a difficult position in the group. “For most girls, it was a much too dry club for discussions and actions - and going dancing and so on was frowned upon, our boys wouldn’t have had the money for such things anyway.” reported Hedwig Krüschet. In fact it was a veritable distinction from other youth organisations, that they didn’t want to have any kind of “Club to prance about in, like the Socialist Working Youth or the Bourgeoisie”. The girls were also involved for the cause, and sometimes had a hard time keeping the boys ‘off them’.

The members of the SAJD spent almost every day together. In Unterbarmen, they built a ‘Youth Centre’ themselves in the Oberbergische Strasse, a hut in a comrade’s garden. Here they would have discussions and socialise throughout the night. There was a strong desire for education amongst the group. “We read whatever we could get hold of, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Rocker, Mühsam, Sinclair, Jack London, Dostoyevski, also ‘Capital’ and also ‘Brehm’s Animal Life’. We so wanted to know how everything is connected.”

A ‘normal’ day in Gustav Krüschet’s life in 1930 was such: “In the morning I had to be out by 6 (…) Right after work, we usually met up somewhere - in those days, there was almost always something happening: punch ups with nazis, discussions at the Town Hall with the ‘hot-chocolate philosophers’, writing or distributing flyers, at the union club or on the street. In the evenings, we would always got to the meetings of other organisations to contribute our own opinions. Or we spent time amongst ourselves. I think back then I hardly ever went to bed before midnight - then I would often still read until 3.”

The young people agitated effectively with simple resources: flyers, posters, efforts at publishing a group newsletter. A high point was the two performances of the theatre piece ‘Reasons of State’ by Erich Mühsam about the two murdered anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti to an audience of over 100 people.

The largest part, however, of the groups’ activities was taken up by the struggle against the growing national socialist movement. The increasing terror on the streets by the commandos of national socialists led, from 1929 onwards, to the founding of armed self defence groups in a number of cities known as the ‘Schwarze Scharen’ (Black Bands). The Wuppertal anarchosyndicalists too formed a Black Band. They had a number of revolvers as well as a rifle. The Krüschet brothers were members of this formation. “We wore black shirts, black trousers and boots and belt. Some improved this with shoe polish, seeing as we didn’t have any money. (…)

We led our demonstrations with slogan shouting and songs or went along on other demonstrations. They had a lot of respect toward us - they didn’t know, after all, how few of us there were.” Hans Schmitz summed up their militancy, “If you were attacked by a nazi, you had to strike back. You couldn’t just wait until the next day and then call for a general strike in the factory like the older comrades were saying.”

The Black Bands presented the new, activist spirit of militancy amongst the young anarchosyndicalists. In Wuppertal, the Black Band was a small but important part of the proletarian self-defence through which attacks by the SA [Nazi Brownshirts] were countered beyond organisational and ideological boundaries in meetings and on the streets of the working class areas.

In early March 1933, the Krüschet brothers could only avoid being arrested by the SA by a hasty move to the Barmen district. They were known to the SA in the Marienstrasse in Elberfeld as uncompromising antifascists - there would often be a black flag hanging out of their window. Also, Fritz Krüschet had indicted a SA-member who had shot at pedestrians. The night after their flight the SA destroyed their flat and stole the black flag along with 500 Marks. Despite all this, Gustav and Hedwig, who were living together in ‘free love’, and Fritz, stayed in touch with the group. The young people carried, along with small number of older comrades, the main burden of the anarchosyndicalist resistance.

Decentralised, grassroots work, self-organisation and independence were ingrained. Proletarian solidarity was their focus, that expressed itself especially in the material and mental support of families of those persecuted and imprisoned; as well as local, regional and national meetings, message delivery, escape aid, collections for Spain, distribution of literature smuggled in from abroad, producing their own flyers, putting up slogans and so on. The principle of mutual aid and proletarian solidarity was so matter of course that Fritz Krüschet spoke of it openly during his trial in 1938. Hedwig and Gustav also hid Alfred Kirschey, the leader of the KVJD in Wuppertal, for a few days before he could be taken to Holland by the anarchosyndicalist escape aid. Hedwig also took care of Willy Kirschey’s highly pregnant fiancé who stayed in Germany when Willy too, had to flee, helped her get work while later on younger male comrades took over watching the child.

In 1937, Hedwig Krüschet was working as a seamstress in an Elberfeld company that produced Hitler Youth uniforms. Her husband was already in prison at the time. The company director was planning to cancel the promised Christmas bonus for the 25 or so workers. “Well, I had learned enough about anarchism and syndicalism for such occasions,” she said, “so we went on go slow. I told everyone, ‘Let’s not chat or take long toilet breaks anymore; we’ll work entirely as we should - but three times as slow.” The agitator was called to see the boss, and he threatened to send her to prison like her husband. Sacking her there and then failed due to the solidarity of the seamstresses. She was taken back in. The strike was successful by the way: the Christmas bonus was paid.

In December 1936, the Gestapo started tracing the activities of the resistance. Within three months, over 100 anarchosyndicalists were arrested in the Rhine area - Gustav on the 6th March 1937, Fritz on the 7th April 1937. The investigations took over a year and were led by the Düsseldorf Gestapo, almost all those imprisoned were severely mishandled. In two large scale trials in January and February 1938, the Higher Regional Court in Hamm found altogether 88 anarchosyndicalists guilty of “preparing High Treason”. Of the eleven convicted from Wuppertal, nine were former members of the SAJD. Gustav and Fritz Krüschet received two years and three months in prison “despite stubborn denials”.

The rest is quickly told. Gustav Krüschet was first kept under supervision by the Gestapo after his release, and was drafted into the Convicts’ Punishment Battalion 999. He was first stationed in the South of France and went from there to Albania, where he ended up imprisoned in 1944. He had managed to secretly carry a copy of his sentence with him. With this, he was able to prove himself to the Albanian resistance.

Fritz Krüschet ended up in the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen after his sentence finished. In autumn 1944, he was amongst the around 770 prisoners who were forced into the SS-special formation Dirlewanger. Already in their first deployment at the front, about 500 men, amongst them Fritz, were able to desert to the Soviet troops. But - and this was a painful experience for Fritz - they were treated by the Soviets not as resistance fighters, but as prisoners of war. Until mid 1947, the only former KZ [Concentration Camp] prisoners to be released were those considered incapable of work due to illness or invalidity. Fritz Krüschet belonged to this group. He returned to Germany in September 1945.

Fritz now became a member of the KPD for a short period, like other Wuppertal anarchosyndicalists too. “The best ones went to the Communist Party (…) despite doubts and concerns,” August Benner concluded in 1946. But for all of them, this was only temporary. The framework set by the principles of ‘Freedom and democratic socialism’ and ‘Never again fascism or Party dictatorship’ left no room for a permanent involvement of this kind. “(…) we have learnt to value relatively free democratic systems and to passionately hate dictatorships of any kind.”

Having always been interested in literature and culture, the Krüschet brothers worked with friends in working groups in the adult education programme on problems in socialism; they were also interested in co-operative economy and municipal concerns. They had the opinion that they could not just take up where they had left with the anarchosyndicalist tradition before the war. With this, a revival of the old FAUD was rejected. Realism and pragmatism, rather than dogmatism - ideological or organisational - were called for; practical contributions to the predominantly economic reconstruction were much more needed, of course accompanied by a fundamental renewal of the social and intellectual basis of society.

An access point and a home were created with the founding of the organisational and communicative platform of a Federation of Free Socialists. But this small group could not really find any influence in the political development of post war Germany. There was no longer a basis for the social-revolutionary current in the workers’ movement that they represented, which went beyond social democratic reformism and Stalinist communism.

The adult Krüschets still had the notion, internalised in the youth group, of a dedication to actively participate in public life and to create the political as an area of life and experience inseparable from the personal, as well as a persistent optimist outlook despite all resignation. The happiness and the child like that always remained with them, the goodness and the unlimited optimism of their being were not broken by imprisonment, persecution and torture. Gustav and Fritz Krüschet preserved in their daily lives the attitude of determined free thinkers, of a firm rejection of any dogmatism, a free educational method, and a distinctive personal modesty. They did not know acting, nor manipulation, nor deceit. Their idealism was not duty, but their nature.

From: Archive - 12th Nov. 2002. Translated by: Isy Morgenmuffel.