In the summer of 1939, Albrecht F. Nicolaus (Martin A. Nicolaus’ father and Fred and Jack’s grandfather) was a young pastor who served as “Vikar” (an assistant pastor before he gets his own parish) in a small, picturesque town, Braunfels on the Lahn River, about 30 miles north of Frankfurt on the Main. On the peak of a small mountain was an old, romantic castle. It was in a small church, attached to the castle, where the main pastor took turns with the “Vikar,” Albrecht Nicolaus, to conduct the Sunday service.
In his sermons, Pastor Nicolaus made it clear where he stood in regard to the Nazi ideology: He decried the racist, anti-Semitic barbary of the Nazis and implored his parishioners not to send their children into the Nazi youth organization, the “Hitler Jugend” (HJ) or the “Bund Deutscher Mädel” (BDM).
Somebody denounced him and he was arrested by the GESTAPO and put into a prison in Frankfurt.
What did his superiors in the church do for him? It so happened that this small town, Braunfels, for historical reasons that I don’t know, was an enclave belonging to the Rhineland. Politically, Braunfels belonged to the state of Hessen and that’s why Pastor Nicolaus was taken to Frankfurt.
In the Rhineland, Pastor Beckmann in Düsseldorf was very cautious and vague about helping Pastor Nicolaus. I guess he did not want to burn his own fingers. However, he did inform Pastor Fricke in Frankfurt. Fricke was known as an outstanding anti-Nazi. He informed Pastor Nicolaus’ family in Essen where their son was and that he, Fricke, went to see him in prison. He told his family that their son was in good spirits and that he would do everything in his power to get him out.
One thing that Pastor Fricke did was to put Pastor Nicolaus’ name on the “Fürbittenliste” — a list of people of imprisoned anti-Nazi clergy and lay people for whom prayers were said every Sunday in all churches that were anti-Nazi and who had separated from the Nazi churches who called themselves “Deutsche Christen” (German Christians).
At the time I was engaged to Pastor Nicolaus. His parents informed me of his imprisonment and I immediately decided to visit him. I lived in Berlin at that time. I found out that I could not just travel to Frankfurt, go to the prison and meet him. I had to get permission from the GESTAPO. The GESTAPO headquarters were in the Prinz Albrecht Strasse in Berlin, not far from where I lived.
One day I took off from work and went to GESTAPO headquarters in Berlin. I was cool on the outside but pretty scared inside. At the reception desk (in a huge cage) I filled out a form, stated name and address and reason for my visit. I did not have to wait long. A guard took me to a door with the name of the person inside and some impressive civilian title that I don’t remember. I knocked politely and opened the door.
At the end of a large room sat a rather young man, about 30ish. His long feet were resting on the desk, his back leaned back comfortably. On the floor was a huge Persian rug which struck me as most unusual for a German office of any bureaucracy. Usually such offices were Spartan, no luxuries. I immediately suspected that the rug was stolen from a wealthy Jewish family. The guy was (or seemed) very relaxed. I told him who my fiancé was and why he probably was arrested.
He smiled tolerantly. “Yes, yes, happens all the time. People have adjustment problems. The new order. Ha, ha.”
From a small stack of books on his desk he took out Rosenberg’s “Mythos des 20. Jahrhunderts”, a brew of the official Nazi ideology.
“See this here – all stupid stuff – for the stupid people”.
He searched my eyes for a reaction. I looked back at him – cold as a fish. I wasn’t going to fall in this trap. I wanted permission to see my fiancé. He told me he could not give it to me. He first had to investigate the case. He told me that I probably would hear from him in a few weeks. Was I ever relieved when I got out of the lion’s den.
Several weeks later I received written permission by the GESTAPO to visit my fiancé. In the meantime a draft card for him by the military had arrived at his parents home in Essen. They forwarded it to me and asked me to go to the district recruiting office in Hessen and talk to the authorities there and see whether they could get him out of the claws of the GESTAPO. They felt that once he was out of the GESTAPO’S claws, one could deal with the draft later, maybe postpone things or find some other solution.
Before visiting my fiancé I went to the district draft office. After presenting the case, the officer in charge told me that the military had absolutely no authority to get my fiancé out of the hands of the GESTAPO. The only thing he could do was to make a note in my fiancé’s file and delay the draft.
In Frankfurt I first went to see Pastor Fricke to find out details about the prison and the people who run it. He filled me in and told me that Albrecht had asked for me to try and bring into the prison – of all things – scissors suitable to cut his finger and toe nails. The men in the administration of the prison granted my wish to take the nail scissors in with me and show them before leaving. So far so good.
I then presented the draft card my fiance had received from the military and demanded that he be released. I will never ever forget the answer I received:
“Kommt nicht in Frage. Das Schwein ist frontunwürdig.” (Out of the question. The swine is not worthy to be at the frontline).
The standard Nazi line of what the honor of a German man consisted of: to die at the front line for the Führer, Adolf Hitler. My fiancé had no intention of heaping this honor on his body nor did I intend to let this happen. But now more than ever I was afraid for my fiance’s life. Would they kill the “swine” in prison? Would they send him to a concentration camp?
Our visit during which he cut his nails lasted 20 minutes. Would we ever see each other again?
Pastor Fricke and a friendly lawyer tried another way to get Pastor Nicolaus out of the GESTAPO claws: they managed to get him to face a regular judge in a regular court. The judge threw the case out because of lack of “Anklagepunkte” — there was no reason for his imprisonment under the law. Pastor Nicolaus left the court room a free man, only to be arrested in the hallway by the GESTAPO who took him back to prison.
That year, 1939, on September 1, on this very day my fiancé was supposed to have arrived in Cambridge, England, for doctoral studies at the university, following a recommendation by the Department of Theology in Basel. The GESTAPO made it impossible for him to leave the country.
A cousin* of Pastor Nicolaus, who was known in the family as not being a Nazi, was informed by Nicolaus’ parents of his cousin’s imprisonment by the GESTAPO. He was outraged. On leave at Christmas Eve he appeared in his lieutenant’s uniform at the prison in Frankfurt demanding that the GESTAPO release Pastor Nicolaus. All the GESTAPO officers were drunk to the hilt. They released the “swine.”
*) His name was Heinrich Brüggensiecker.