A stolperstein for Little August
On the initiative of the Ubbo Emmius Gesellschaft, a stolperstein (a memorial cobblestone) for the Interbrigader Augustus Kraak will be placed at the Brückstrasse 29 in Emden. This memorial will be laid on Saturday, June 10, 2017.
The life of August Kraak, nicknamed Little August, is one of the many examples of international commitment in the struggle for democratic rights, equality and social progress, and against fascism.
After the takeover of power in 1933 by Hitler, many people fled to other countries. Often they were smuggled across borders into neighboring countries without papers. This also happened on the border with the province Groningen. At Nieuw Statenzijl, Delfzijl, Bellingwolde and elsewhere, they illegally crossed the border. If these political refugees were able to escape to the Netherlands, they were illegally housed there, and illegally continued the fight against the Hitler regime. They worked with Dutch political organizations to support anti-fascist resistance in the Netherlands and Germany. Even in the Netherlands, as in Germany, they were not safe, but were at risk of being arrested.
Several of these political refugees in the Netherlands left for Spain after the Spanish Civil War began. And later, if they had survived the Spanish Civil War, they continued their fight against fascism in many countries in Europe in collaboration with different national groups.
This was the case of the seaman August Kraak.
During the great economic crisis in the twenties, many seamen from outside, also called Beachcomer, arrived in Emden, Germany. Also August Kraak, born near Königsberg in East Prussia. He was politically active in Emden and strived against the fascists in this region. After Hitler’s takeover, August Kraak helped to smuggle political refugees across the border. In the spring of 1933, however, he was arrested and transferred to a concentration camp and severely tortured. Still, he was released and came back in Emden at the end of October.
Many executive members of the German Communist Party (KDP) had been arrested. Jakob Pfarr became appointed as district leader. On the eve of the Reichstag fire, the area from Bremen to the Dutch border was the Northwest district of the KPD, and Jakob Pfarr, who worked building ships in Bremen, became a courier.
Kraak establishes contacts with Oldenburg and Bremen and Dutch and Scandinavian ports. In addition to protecting party members and spreading illegal newspapers and publications, people were also smuggled directly from Leer, Oldenburg or Emden to the Netherlands. After a wave of arrests in Emden, August fled to Delfzijl, where he worked closely with the (Groningen) International Red Aid (IRH).
The leadership of the emigrants’ KPD in the Netherlands was based in Amsterdam. They worked closely together with the national leadership of the International Red Aid (Jan Postma) and the Dutch Communist Party. After the refugees arrived safely, the International Red Aid still checked their identity. Decisions on the fate of the refugees were made not only taken in Groningen but also by the head of the International Red Aid in Amsterdam. From 1933 this was done by Friedel Baruch and from 1935, Anton Winterink. In the Groningen border area, Frans Olfers and August Kraak were responsible for these decisions.
Initially, the leadership of the emigrants’ KPD in the Groningen area was mainly in the hands of August Kraak, although later, Erich Bohlen did this. Because of its shipping traffic, Delfzijl obviously had many contacts with Emden and these contacts were now being used for illegal work.
The emigrants’ KPD in Groningen made several attempts to take photographs of the concentration camps in the Eemsland region by sending Dutch people to the border with cameras. Afterwards, cameras and film rolls were delivered to August Kraak.
There was close cooperation with the Papenburg Committee in Groningen and with the Wuppertaler Committee (these were ant-fascist groups in the Netherlands and Germany respectively). The Wuppertaler Committee took action to make public the mass arrests in Wuppertal of more than a thousand antifascists. Earlier, in 1934, the brochure “De Hel van Papenburg, Revelations of a Social Democratic Worker”, which had been printed and distributed by Dutch Communists, appeared in the Eemsland camps.
The illegal connections with Germany were not restricted to the border area. For example, in the summer of 1936, teacher Ella Hazenberg was asked to bring money to KPD members in Hamburg. Money also flowed in the opposite direction. Following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Hendrik Zandstra brought money from Emden for the International Red Aid in Groningen: “When the Spanish Civil War broke out in the summer of 1936, the Communists in Emden decided to pay the Rotpanier money to support. On August Wagner’s wisdom, the widow Staub collected 100 RM party money at Karl Wagner and handed it to the responsible person with the assignment to transfer the money to the Spain-fund from the Red Fund (personal archive Wendt) in Delfzijl. This money went to August Kraak, who promised to give it to Spain.
Kraak came to Spain in December 1936 and joined the International Brigades. He was first in the 15th International Brigade, then was a cabo in the 11th International Brigade, the Ernst Thälmann Battalion on the Jarama front, and then went back to the 35th Division. After the International Brigades were ended, the Spanish Republic once again asked for the protection of Spanish refugees against the attacks of the Franco troops, the “second effort“. Around this time, beginning 1939, August Kraak was once again with the 11th Brigade. He was imprisoned in the French internment camp St. Cyprien, then in the camp Gurs, and then in Argeles-sur-Mer. At the end of 1940 he escaped from the fortress Mont Louis.
Kraak’s war went on. On April 30, 1941, he reached Toulouse where the illegal party organization sends him to Septfon. There he was unfortunately arrested a few days later. On June 14, he was transferred to Montauban and sentenced to three years in prison. His appeal against this sentence was successful, and after a stopover in Toulouse / St. Michel he was released on February 14, 1942.
Kraak was again arrested. He made another escape to Toulouse, then eventually he came to Paraqueul and lives in the forest until 1943. The Gestapo forced him into the direction of Mondonville. On May 29, 1944, he was ordered to go to Colombiers to participate in the local community of German resistance fighters and to work with the Resistance. Here Kraak continued his resistance until the liberation of Toulouse.
In 1945 Kraak returned to Emden. His health has paid a heavy toll due to all his wanderings: he suffered from tuberculosis and weighed about 40 kilos and soon died. The Dutchman Roelf Schuster, who just came back from concentration camp Buchenwald, took the initiative to raise money in Groningen. With this money, people from Groningen erected a memorial on the grave of their unforgettable comrade in Embden: August Kraak who had played such an important role for the refugees during many years in Groningen.
- Ruud Weijdeveld (red.), Rode Hulp De opvang van Duitse vluchtelingen in Groningerland – 1933-1940, 1986
- Ruud Weijdeveld, Het communistische verzet in Groningen – 1940-1945, 2014
- Werner Abel/Enrico Hilbert, Sie werden nicht durchkommen. Deutsche an der Seite der Spanischen Republik und der sozialen Revolution, 2015.
- Hans-Gerd Wendt, In Erinnerung an August Kraak, Ubbo Emmius Gesellschaft
- Aanklacht van 5 november 1941 tegen Hendrik Zandstra, personal archive Hans- Gerd Wendt