• Deutsch
  • English

Mengstraße 4 - Erich Mühsam

In front of the Buddenbrookhaus on Mengstraße 4 a Stolperstein memorializes Erich Mühsam.  The Erich-Mühsam Association, which has its headquarters at the Buddenbrookhaus, had already sponsored the Stolperstein on 2 April 2003 and commissioned Gunter Demnig to create it and later lay it.

Native Land

The high towers greeted me,
they who over my childhood dreams loomed
and their unmoving faces asked
how I have earnestly served in my waking hours.   

The leaves of the forest murmured to me,
where my anguish found its first rhyme
I truly understood their questions:
whether I have exchanged them for benefiting verse. 

Indeed as I came to the flood of my sea,
there stormed all the waves to greet me
and as they softly pushed towards my feet,
and nothing asked. There I was free and at peace.

From: Wüste (Wilderness)-Krater (Crater)- Wolken (Clouds) 1914

The St. Lorenz Pharmacy on Lindenplatz
The St. Lorenz Pharmacy on Lindenplatz

Erich Mühsam was born on 6 April 1878 in Berlin.  He grew up in Lübeck, where his father, Siegfried Seligmann Mühsam (1838 -1915) ran the pharmacy on Lindenplatz. For many years his father was also member of the Lübeck City Council as a National Conservative.

The Mühsam family belonged to the solid middle class part of the Jewish residents in Lübeck.  The play “Die Killeberger” was first performed in 1929 for the Jewish community during the celebration of Purim.  The play is an ironic representation of a Jewish community.  It was written by Siegfried Seligmann Mühsam and was directed by his eldest daughter, Margarethe Joel nee Mühsam (1875-1958).  Margarethe was married to Dr. Julius Joel, her brother Hans (1876 – 1957) to Minna Adler, und the youngest sister Charlotte (1881 -1972) to Dr. Leo Landau Esquire.  These three comprised Erich Mühsam’s siblings.  All of them fled Germany and later lived in Israel.

Erich Mühsam’s self-created 1917 „Ex Libris“ (Latin: From the Library of) label used to mark his private library
Erich Mühsam’s self-created 1917 „Ex Libris“ (Latin: From the Library of) label used to mark his private library

Erich Mühsam attended school at Katharineum, a boy’s high school.  In 1896 he wrote and made public an article critical of the headmaster/principal of the school and was then expelled because of “socialistic machinations.”   In spite of this he was able to complete high school at the Parchim Gymnasium, approximately 100 km southwest of Lübeck, and pass the Abitur examination, the German university entrance exam.  He then completed a course of training at the Adler Pharmacy in Lübeck and worked as a pharmacist’s assistant. The fact that the historical building of the Löwen-Apotheke (Lions Pharmacy) was not torn down as had been originally planned was “predominantly” due to his intervention and personal efforts.   

Erich Mühsam
Erich Mühsam

His mother, Rosalie Mühsam nee Cohn, died in 1899.  One year later he left Lübeck and went to Berlin.  He gave up his career as a pharmacist and became an independent author and political journalist.  Erich Mühsam wrote in his autobiography, “The struggle against the state in its essential manifestations of capitalism, imperialism, militarism, class rule, calculated injustice and repression in every form was and still is that which gives impetus to my public activities.

 

Interrogation

 

What is your name? – Erich Mühsam.
Born? – Yes.
When I mean?! – 6 April 1878.
Where? – Berlin.
Religion? – None of your business.
Write down Mosaic!
What do you do? – I write poetic verse.
Whaat? – I drink.
Delyricist! – Write down DELYRICIST- What in the world;
am I then in a mad house?
You certainly are! – Put the delinquent in a straight jacket.

 

Erich Mühsam went through many interrogations in his lifetime.

In 1909 in Munich he was arrested being charged with anarchistic agitation.  The courts later acquitted him.

In 1919 he was sentenced to 15 years in prison due to his leading involvement in the political movement Munich Soviet Republic. (The radical left – communists, anarchists and others led by the writers Erich Mühsam, Ernst Toller and Gustav Landauer.) Erich Mühsam was released in 1924 on probation.

Erich Mühsam as prisoner in KZ (concentration camp) Oranienburg (later known as KZ Sachsenhausen) north of Berlin.
Erich Mühsam as prisoner in KZ (concentration camp) Oranienburg (later known as KZ Sachsenhausen) north of Berlin.

Erich Mühsam was arrested on 28 February 1933 in Berlin by the SA. (Sturmabteilung known in English as Storm troopers or Brown shirts)

While interned he was imprisoned in several places:  The Lehrter Straße Prison, Berlin; KZ (concentration camp) Sonnenburg (was near present day Kostrzyn nad Odrą, Poland 80 km northeast of Berlin); Plötzensee Prison, Berlin; KZ Brandenburg and on 2 February 1934 in KZ Oranienburg, north of Berlin.  In KZ Oranienburg Erich Mühsam was continually abused and tortured.  He was murdered there by the SS on 10 July 1934.

The poem „The Prisoner“ written in 1919 begins with the following verse:

I have not learned in all my days,
to obey what’s forced on me.
Now they have me in prison thrown,
separated from wife and work and home.
And even if they beat me dead:
To obey would mean to lie.

Four verses follow the one above and all end with the same:

To obey would mean to lie.

Erich Mühsam married Kreszentia (Zenal) Elfinger in 1915.  After her husband’s death she was able to flee from the Nazis to the Soviet Union but she was also interned there for many in years in Siberia for “Trotskyite subversive activities”.

I invite you to the Requiem

I invite you to the Requiem
before the memorial of the wall of death.
out of love, pain, disgust and sorrow
Ibound the flower diadem.

Don’t touch, if you are human
the wreath, which I have made,
and remember: At the fresh grave,
uncritically the fresh mourner weeps.

Today does not recognize yesterday,
in spite of requiems and wreaths laid.
He who created the future is not forgotten.
Only history will speak the sentence.

References:

  • Konrad Dittrich, Kleines Lexikon Lübeck, Hamburg 2000
  • Ingaburgh Klatt, "... Dahin wie ein Schatten", Aspekte jüdischen Lebens in Lübeck, Lübeck 1993
  • Erich Mühsam, Der Bürgergarten, Zeitgedichte, Berlin und Weimar 1982
  • Fanal, Aufsätze und Gedichte 1905-1932, Berlin 1984;
  • Zur Psychologie der Erbtante, Satirisches Lesebuch 1900-1933, Berlin 1984
  • Rudolf Rocker, Der Leidensweg von Zensl Mühsam, Frankfurt a.M. 1949
  • Stadtrundgang auf den Spuren jüdischen Lebens in Lübeck, Faltblatt der Hansestadt Lübeck, Lübeck 2001
  • Albrecht Schreiber, Zwischen Davidstern und Doppeladler, Illustrierte Chronik der Juden in Moisling und Lübeck, Lübeck 1992
  • Schriften der Erich-Mühsam-Gesellschaft, Heft 23, Lübeck 2004
  • Walter Andreas Schwarz, Dieter Süverkrüp, Erich Mühsam: Ich lade Euch zum Requiem, CD und Begleitheft, Lübeck 1995
  • www.wikipedia.de, www.muehsam.de, www.anarchie.de, www.erich-muehsam.de, www.erich-muehsam-gesellschaft.de

 

Heidemarie Kugler-Weiemann, 2008

Translation: Glenn Sellick and Martin Harnisch, 2010