Monday, October 8, 2012

Erwin Jöres wird 100 Jahr alt

Was all of this really that long ago?   Here's a man who has seen plenty, and certainly has a story to tell.  
Translated by Military Fotos. net

Cured - or so you could call the state of mind of Erwin Jöris. 
Cured of any totalitarian idea, every temptation of the extremes.

The resident of Cologne, who has lived in the same apartment for 57 years, has survived everything you could survive in the 20th century. Jöris fought in the political riots of the crumbling Weimar Republic, he was sent to a Gestapo jail, deported to a concentration camp and made it through the infamous Moscow "Hotel Lux" and NKVD imprisonment.

Having been deported to Germany, he was again imprisoned by the Gestapo, released on "probation" to endure five years of war including four years on the Eastern Front. During the "Battle of Berlin" he was captured and released into the Soviet occupation zone in 1946, only to catch the eye of the new rulers, being arrested again and sentenced to 25 years of forced labor in Siberia. In 1956 he could finally return home along with the last German prisoners of war.

There are few stories like that of Erwin Jöris - people who would have fought the two worst tyrannies to ever gain hold in Europe, and lived to tell the tale. Margarete Buber was one of them, who was also a prisoner of both Stalin and Hitler, though she died in 1989 at the age of 88. Another one is that of Jöris, who celebrates his 100th birthday today.

Both hung in their youth-time communist ideals, and both realized too late that behind the promises of a better world in the sense of Marx, Engels and Lenin there only hid a power-hungry self-proclaimed avant garde. Both were declared enemies of the inhumane Nazi regime and paid for their views with time in concentration camps, the very symbol of the Hitler regime. Both found home in a certainly imperfect Federal Republic of Germany after the war.

The life of Erwin Jöris seemed mapped out early. Born into a working class family, he grew up in a leftist family similar to Erich Honecker (who was a bit older; and ultimately served East Germany as its last significant president)- in Berlin-Lichtenberg though (not in the Saarland). At the age of 16 he joined the Young Communists League and made a name for himself. But in 1931 he already refused to follow the party's every change of course when the Communists supported a Nazi attempt to oust the democratic government of the state of Prussia. Being a young KPD member, he caught the Gestapo's attention soon after the takeover in 1933. He was arrested and imprisoned in the early Sonnenburg concentration camp. Here he experienced the "particularly painful" lack of solidarity of former "comrades" who had joined with the Nazis.

For his pledge to refrain from any political activity, Jöris was set free in March 1934.

The now illegal Communist Party sent him to Moscow to undergo ideological training there. Upon arrival Jöris already got to know the darker side of the purported "workers' paradise."  He was harassed by a control commission, saw the misery on the streets and the megalomaniac projects that were hardly different from the Third Reich, as was the personality cult surrounding Stalin. Jöris voiced protest and as a consequence was forced to work in a heavy machinery factory in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg). With the beginning of the "Great Terror" - the series of show trials and mass executions in Stalin's empire - Jöris finally began to lose his faith in Communism. His change of mind did not escape the eyes of his Soviet hosts: the unruly 25-year-old was labelled a "Trotskyist", arrested and taken to the Lubljanka, the headquarters of the NKVD.

From here the Soviets eventually deported him back to his native Germany.  Jöris, now back in the clutches of the Gestapo as an alleged "traitor", survived the torture.  But his former comrades, who had formed a resistance movement against Hitler, also saw him as a traitor. It was getting lonely for him. Then came the year 1940's general mobilization and Jöris, who was not considered "unworthy to serve", was drafted into the military on probation. He fought during the entire campaign in the East and to the very bitter end in Berlin in April 1945.  There he had some luck after all: he was quickly released from Soviet captivity, perhaps because he had kept silence about his former life.

Hoping he could build on the ideals of his youth, he joined the newly formed SED which had arisen from a forced merger of the SPD and KPD in 1946. But soon after Jöris would become a pain in the back of the powerful once more. Instead of submitting to the instructions of the Stalinist returnees among Walter Ulbricht, he would praise the pre-war Communists of Germany for spite.

As the inevitable consequence he was arrested by the NKVD and sentenced to 25 years of forced labor in the gulag.

During the trial the judge hurled at him: "Your damn yap will freeze up in Siberia!"  Not intimated at all, Erwin Jöris replied: "And so will yours!"

In 1956, he was able to return to East Germany after many years of mining in Vorkuta, from where he left to West Germany as quickly as possible.

Since then he has lived in Cologne.

In recent years he often made appearances to tell of the events he witnessed at public events and in schools. He has become unable to do that now.

All things considered he is still quite fit, though. He has described his experiences in several documentaries and his memoirs called "A life as a prisoner of Hitler and Stalin". Akin to Margarete Buber-Neumann's much better-known "The prisoner of Stalin and Hitler," the out-of-print book is very disturbing.


  1. This such a sad story. I could never imagine what it would be like to go through that. At the same time it is amazing that someone has had it happen to them and lives to tell about their experiences from that time. But, then again, I have barely even lived compared to this man, so it might not be as amazing to others. Gute Nacht Frau Baker!

  2. I cannot believe he went through all of that and still lives to be 100 years old. That is amazing.

  3. Living to be a hundered! That's a very big accomplishment, especially for someone who went through so much!

  4. Wow it is amazing he went through all that and lived to be 100! I cant even begin to imagine what he went through.

  5. Er ist 100 Jahre alt? Das ist sehr cool! Er ging durch sehr viel!

  6. Yeah I can't believe that something like this happend to him, and also that he is 100 years old! It's great that he lived long enough to tell his story.