Cross-Border Antifascism 1933-1945
Rien Dijkstra – secretary of the Dutch International Brigade memorial trust, Stichting Spanje 1936-1939 and, in coorporation with the Danish sister organisation Foreningen Venner af De Internatio-nale Brigader, initiator of the website spanishsky.dk – died 2. August 2018.
Rien has written this account of August Levin (born 25. May 1895 in Loitz) and Eugen Schwebinghaus (born 4. January 1906 in Ronsdorf, executed 24. August 1944 in the Bruchsal prison) who were two of many participating in the cross-border antifascism during the years of 1933-1945
Many Germans crossed borders in the struggle against fascism
When Hitler seized power in 1933, many Germans went into exile. Often they were smuggled across the German border into neighboring countries without identification papers.
This is what happened at the border between Germany and the Netherlands near Groningen. German antifascists crossed into the Netherlands illegally at places such as Nieuw Statenzijl, Delfzijl, Bellingwolde. Those who managed to escape to the Netherlands were housed illegally and continued their resistance against the Hitler regime in close collaboration with Dutch antifascist organisations. Because they were in the Netherlands illegally, they were always at risk of arrest.
When the Spanish Civil War began in 1936, many of these refugees went from the Netherlands to Spain. And later, when the Spanish Republic was defeated, many continued the struggle against fascism in other European countries and with many national groups.
Such was the case of August Levin
August Levin was among the many antifascists who left Germany and came to the Netherlands. He had fled the concentration camp Neusustrum, one of the Emsland concentration camps only few kilometers from the border of Holland in lower Saxony Germany, in November 1933. After crossing the border, he contacted the Dutch communist leader Geert Sterringa. At that time, the German Communist Party had a a well-functioning network in the Netherlands, for instance in Heerlen and Groningen, and was able to move money and illegal literature for the resistance from Delfzijl into Germany.
To Spain in the Chapaev Battalion
August Levin was assigned to this work and was chosen for a leadership role for the Central Amsterdam branch. (From 1931 to 32 he had attended the Communist Party leadership school in Moscow.) In 1934, he was transferred to the border area and was directly involved in the smuggling of illegal literature from Holland into Germany. Later, in October 1936, he went to Spain, where he fought in the Chapaev Battalion, XIII Brigade.
Because of the Spanish Civil War and the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland, Germany exerted even more pressure on the Dutch government to intensify the persecution of German political refugees. At that time, Levin was working with a group of illegal German Communist emigrants in the Netherlands – including Eugen Schwebinghaus.
Eugen Schwebinghaus – a relentless antifascist fighter
Among those in the Amsterdam leadership, was the former brigadista Eugen Schwebinghaus, who was contact point for the captured German emigrants.
Eugen was a carpenter. In 1922, he became a member of the German Communist Youth Party (KJD) and in 1924, the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). From 1931, he became a leader of the “Association of Proletarian-Revolutionary Authors” (BPRS) to January 1933, when the nazis seized power in Germany. He left for Paris, but later returned to work in the illegal leadership of KPD.
Eugen Schwebinghaus travelled via Prague to the International Lenin School (ILS) in Moscow. November 1936, he left for Spain to fight in the International Brigades. Following the collapse of the Republic, Eugen went on foot across the Pyrenees to France, where he was arrested by the French police and placed in the Le Vernet concentration in Ariège. By 1941, the French police handed Eugen over to the Gestapo that sent him to an internment camp from which he managed to escape, soon after, and flee to the Netherlands.
Once in Amsterdam, Eugen made contact with the German emigrant leadership and was assigned to liaise with German emigrants who had been arrested by the Dutch police.
In the wake of the German invasion of the Netherlands, Eugen was arrested in Amsterdam on 23. April 1943 and sentenced to death. In a farewell letter to his family he wrote: “May the future be happier for you than the present”. On 24 August 1944 he was executed in Bruchsal prison.
In the German Democratic Republic, GDR
All through the Second World War, August Levin offered support for the illegal German emigrants in the Netherlands and collected donations for the resistance. In the Hague, he worked with his future wife Joanna, who was the liaison between the Communist Party of the Netherlands and the German emigrants. In 1945, they both travelled to the later German Democratic Republic, GDR.