Perhaps you noticed one or the other of these on your way to the museum – the Stolpersteine, or tripping stones. Six of them preserve the memory of six courageous local people who paid with their lives for their efforts to oppose the Nazi regime.
As early as 1943, Heinrich Prüß had his doubts about whether German troops would win the war. And he didn’t keep quiet about his views in conversations with customers at his hairdressing salon. But he underestimated the situation. Another islander reported him to the Gestapo. Prüß was arrested, sentenced and shot as a traitor in August 1944.
In the Second World War, Heligoland was like a military fortress. 3,000 soldiers were stationed on the island. Nevertheless, a small group risked an attempt to resist. Local man Erich Friedrichs and his friend Georg Braun realised in late 1944 that the situation was hopeless. They listened in on UK military communications and knew that a major offensive was planned. For love of their island and their lives as civilians, they came up with a plan to save Heligoland. A small group formed around the two men. They planned to ambush the island’s leadership and force them to arrange a peaceful capitulation, in hopes of preventing the island’s complete destruction.
Would their plan have succeeded? Things never got that far. The group was betrayed by one of its own members. The others survived long enough to experience the British air attack on the 18th of April 1945 – as prisoners of the Gestapo in a Heligoland air-raid shelter. After that, the five men from the resistance were taken to Cuxhaven on the mainland, where a summary court sentenced them to death. All five were shot the very next day, on the 21st of April 1945.
At the time, Admiral Rolf Johannesson signed off on the sentence. After the war, Johannesson had a successful career with the German federal armed forces. He never faced up to his past and even now, young marines swear their oath in front of a bust of Johannesson.
Education and historical awareness are important pillars supporting Heligoland Museum. The institution has been campaigning to put an end to Johannesson being honoured in this way.
All depictions: © Nordseemuseum Museum Helgoland