Sunday 4th October 2015

Home » Featured Today » Currently Reading:

Erwin Jöris… A German With Many Years In Hitler’s And Stalin’s Prisons

March 7, 2014 Featured Today No Comments


Part 2

(Editor’s Note: In this three-part article, Dr. Hickson details the life of the late Erwin Jöris, a prisoner of totalitarian regimes, and explains how his life offers lessons for us today. In the conclusion, part three, she comments on how his experiences show the need to resist gradual violations of our privacy and freedom of thought and speech, before they are further eroded or effectively destroyed.
(Maike Hickson holds a doctorate in French literature from the University of Hannover.)

+    +    +

Erwin Jöris stayed with his parents, even though they lived in the Eastern Zone of Berlin which was, of course, taken over by the Soviets. This was a great threat to him, and as an outsider, it would have seemed more prudent to move to a Western part of Germany, or at least into the Western part of Berlin, inasmuch as he was already on the lists of potential enemies of the Soviet Union.
Jöris, however, tried to survive in postwar East Berlin, with starvation and chaos, and it is understandable that after all of his trials during the past ten years, he was not open for a completely new situation. He loved the quarter he grew up in, and he knew everyone.
Finally, he also met the love of his life, Gerda, who had fled from a more distant part of Eastern Germany, together with the two youngest sons of her sister, who had died during the war. In August of 1949, Erwin and Gerda were to marry.
Jöris put it this way:
“I had so much dirt behind me, that I thought when I leave now, I am again a nothing, and will have to sleep again in one athletic hall or other. We did not have our own apartment, but had a place to stay, our own bed. Gerda had lost everything on her flight. I could not ask her to start all over again. She put so much hope in the business of my father and in the [promised] little piece of land that we might one day inherit” (390 — all quotations come from the Jöris biography by Andreas Petersen, Deine Schnauze wird Dir in Sibirien einfrieren. Ein Jahrhundertdiktat. Erwin Jöris, unless otherwise noted. Translation and comments in brackets by M.H.).
Harder to understand was Jöris’ decision in 1946 to sign again up as a member of the newly formed SED (Socialist Unity Party), the party that came about from the forced unification between Communists and Social Democrats. After all of his experiences with Communism, how could he still in any way support the Communists? The Soviet occupation worked from the beginning unto an establishment of a Communist state, and soon the persecutions of the political and cultural opposition began anew.
Jöris commented: “Russia was no model any more. But I did hope that there would be in Germany now a way against war, against the exploitation and against the National Socialists [But not against the International Socialists?]” (359). He hoped that something new could be established upon the rubble of the war. Yet, shortly after the unification of the two socialist parties, the German Social Democrats were persecuted and put into camps far away in Russia: 100,000 of them had to flee the Russian zone of Germany.
Jöris’ own resistance and alertness grew when he saw how the new Communist Party reached out to his former enemies — the National Socialists — and tried to gain them for collaboration and party membership. Comparably few National Socialists were sentenced and punished for their criminal behavior, in strong contradistinction to what happened in the Western part of Germany. The Communists did not have many moral scruples or ethical principles in choosing their temporary allies. Due to their lax attitude toward former National Socialists, the latter were soon to be found as party members and among the candidates for political offices.
In August of 1947, the de-Nazification of Soviet Eastern Germany was terminated. Jöris comments: “Just as the Communists had turned into National Socialists [after Hitler came to power in 1933], now the National Socialists became Communists” (371). As Petersen reports, the Communist Party had the highest percentage of former National Socialists among the political parties in Eastern Germany. Victims of the National Socialist regime had to keep quiet, despite their own just indignation, about this bitter fact. They, together with the victims of the Soviet system, had to be silent; they could not speak the truth. They were effectively forced to participate in the “conspiracy of silence” (Petersen).

A Lack Of Guilt Feelings

Erwin Jöris himself shows — at least in my eyes — not only a weak political understanding about the situation of 1946, but also a lack of moral formation in his personal life. In the middle of the scarcity of food and other goods, it happened that he stole food from a woman who had invited him for a good meal that she herself had acquired in unjust ways from a pastor who had explicitly sent it to Berlin for the little children in need. Jöris even goes so far as to steal money from his own parents, who were so stingy with their own hard-working son.
Looking back on these events, he does not seem to have any bad conscience about his acts, at least in Petersen’s report. But, as was once more widely held: “Thou shalt not do evil that good may come from it.” And: “Thou shalt not steal” (Seventh Commandment). These important moral laws seem unimportant to him, even when giving the interviews to Petersen in his high age and after much reflection and retrospection.
However, because Jöris refused to be part of this “conspiracy of silence” and continued to speak his mind out loud, his parents and his brother and neighbors started to warn him. “You will soon disappear!” He responded: “At least someone has to speak when you all are silent!” And: “Nobody will forbid me to speak!” (374).
In one conversation with a Communist, he called the official Communist newspaper Neues Deutschland (“New Germany”) simply and bluntly the “Red Völkischer Beobachter” (The Völkischer Beobachter was the newspaper of Hitler), implying that the former Nazi newspaper had just turned red.
After he had unexpectedly met one of his former accusers and truth twisters from his time in the Soviet Union, who himself had just come back to Germany as well, Jöris knew that he would have to flee to West Germany. He and wife had planned the flight for the day after New Year’s Eve in 1949. But, less than two weeks before that planned date, Jöris was again snatched away by Russians who had been alerted by his old above-mentioned enemy from Russia.

An Infamous Method
Of Torture

This was the last tragic moment of his life that brought him again into prisons and hunger and exhaustion and near death. He was again accused of merely invented violations and conspiracies, and was marked as a fascist who tried to undermine the Communist state. The Russian prison, which was now on German ground, was run similarly to the Lubyanka in Moscow: inhuman life conditions, little food, no hygiene, forbidden even to rest any moment during the day. Instead, the order was to sit straight all day long.
Even though he was beaten at times during his imprisonment, Jöris thankfully was spared the cruelest methods of torture that often were applied to many of the supposed “enemies of the state”: standing for days in ice-cold water, repeated beatings, and the breaking of teeth.
Yet, Jöris was not much intimidated even here. The officer who was charged with his case had shown some respect toward him, and even for his outspokenness. In one conversation, Jöris challenged the Russian interrogator with the reminder that he once learned in his Communist political classes that one has to insist before court trials that one is innocent until proven guilty!
However, Jöris even felt some sympathy for his interrogating officer and thought that he also had to fulfill his own duties or otherwise would fall under suspicion himself.
Erwin Jöris spent some time during this period in the prison of Hohenschönhausen in Berlin, which is now a museum and where one can see the terrible conditions under which the political opponents of the Communist system had to live.
The author of these lines was able once to visit this place. I still remember well the dark, small room without light, where there was a bench upon which victims were put, head down, with a pot with water hanging down from the ceiling which was releasing constantly a drip of water upon the head of the targeted person. It was an infamous method of torture to break the will of the prisoners.
In the prison cell which Jöris shared with a few men, he took the role of a counselor. He had already acquired quite some experience and knowledge about Soviet methods, and he gave his comrades in suffering many hints and recommendations on how to protect themselves best during the interrogations. Later, he was accused of fascist activity in his cell, because one of his comrades had passed on to the oppressors what he was saying. He was therefore then sent into another cell.
Among the accusations against Jöris was the claim that he had betrayed the names of former Communist comrades to the Nazis. Jöris refused to sign any of the documents with which he would thereby admit to being guilty. And he never did sign, unto the end. In April of 1951 — more than a year after his latest imprisonment — he was found guilty of all these invented accusations without any proof, and he was again to be sent to one of the stricter prison camps.
While waiting for his final fate, he read Russian books out loud to his cellmates. Among some of his cellmates it so happened that he met one of his former watchmen from the concentration camp at Sonnenburg, and indeed it was a painful meeting between victim and oppressor (this man was known for his commanding tone and cruel orders), these many years later. Now both of them were regarded as enemies of the state.
During all these years of imprisonment, Jöris got to know the tragic lives of many innocent people with whom he shared this fate. He later acknowledged their heroism and sacrifice, even though they were never honored by the public. In May of 1951, Jöris was sentenced by the Communists to imprisonment for 25 years. “Nobody can survive that” (422), was his first thought. Then, his comment, while still in the courtroom, was: “They can go to hell!” A sentence which was overheard by another prisoner who later, in an interview with Andreas Petersen, repeated it again and again, because he was so impressed with Jöris’ courage and dangerous boldness.
Most of the cases where people were imprisoned and even put to death by the Soviets in these years — more than 100,000 Germans — did not even find their way into the courtroom: Many victims were swiftly judged and put into prisons without any trial. On his way eastward to Siberia, Jöris passed the villages where he as a young man had made propaganda in favor of a Soviet Germany. “And now this ‘Soviet Germany’ brought me into a camp for 25 years” (425). The cynicism and the moral evil of such history!
Moreover, Jöris’ wife, Gerda, as well as his parents and brothers, tried to find out something, indeed anything about Erwin and his whereabouts. Not one institution would help them, from the lowest to the highest ranks. That the father — Jöris’ Communist father — had fought in the Spartacus fights, along with Rosa Luxemburg in the 1920s in Berlin, was of no help. “Twice, he [Erwin Jöris] had entered the same Party. Twice they imprisoned him” (440), comments Petersen.
Gerda, who had just been married to Jöris for a few months, was to suffer for years without his presence, not even knowing whether he was still alive. She stayed loyal to him all those years, worked in the business of her father-in-law and waited (even though she was offered better life conditions if she were to divorce her “criminal” husband, that “Traitor of the State”).
A neighbor, a deeply faithful Catholic woman, took a dangerous initiative and accompanied Gerda to an organization (Kampfgruppe gegen Unmenschlichkeit — Combat Group Against Inhumanity) over in West Berlin which tried to help the bereft family members of abducted people. This Catholic woman herself put her life at risk by doing so, inasmuch as even to travel to the Western part of Berlin in those days could be looked at as a disloyalty to the Communist State. (Not too many years later, in August of 1961, the Berlin Wall was built, so as to interdict such communications with the free West.)
Later, in an interview with Andreas Petersen, Gerda describes, laughingly and with warmth, how Jöris at his arrival home in 1955 from the Russian camp suddenly stood in front of her and just said: “Here I am.” As if he just came home from a walk!

Share Button

Comment on this Article:

Untitled 3

Pope FrancisAn Open Letter To His Holiness Pope Francis      Given the controversy and confusion surrounding the 2014 Synod on the Family, the staff of The Wanderer and its supporters thought it appropriate to address Pope Francis with an open letter . . .

Catholic Hospitals Sued For Refusing Emergency Care To Pregnant Women

The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday announced that it is suing Trinity Health Corporation, which operates 80 hospitals nationwide, for refusing to provide pregnant women suffering from life-threatening emergency complications with abortions. Trinity Health hospitals have “repeatedly and systematically…Continue Reading

Too Scared to Pray? ISIL Cancels Prayers for Fear of Russian Airstrikes

The Islamic State terror group cancelled Friday prayers in the Syrian city of Raqqa and emptied mosques there out of fear of further Russian airstrikes, according to activists and city residents. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,…Continue Reading

Putin defends Russia’s ban on youth-focused gay propaganda: ‘I believe we should leave kids in peace’

MOSCOW, September 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – In 2013, Russia passed an amendment to the country’s Child Protection Law against “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors,” which also safeguards children from being adopted by homosexuals. Western governments, led by the…Continue Reading

EXPOSED: The billionaire Planned Parenthood donor who wants his donations kept very, very secret

Sept. 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Three weeks after I left my job at the clinic, Planned Parenthood took me to court. I am always asked, “Why would they take you to court? Did they have something to hide?” Well, yes.…Continue Reading

Cardinal Burke Brought Back Into Roman Curia By Pope Francis

Raymond Cardinal Burke has been re-appointed to Congregation for the Causes of Saints from which he had been removed in December of 2013.

The Secret Meeting of the Papal Trip

Washington, D.C. One meeting during Pope Francis’ whirlwind trip to America has remained secret. Until now. It was, arguably, the most significant meeting, symbolically, of the entire trip. It should, therefore, be brought to the attention of the public, both…Continue Reading

Angry Pope Blasts Mayor of Rome as a ‘Pretend Catholic’

Pope Francis raised eyebrows in Italy on Tuesday by slapping down the left-leaning mayor of Rome as someone who “pretends to be Catholic”. The unforgiving assessment of Ignazio Marino — a man the Italian media love to hate — further…Continue Reading

Bishop Fellay Petitions Pope Francis

A petition to Pope Francis: uphold marriage! The Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X has just published a petition to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, asking him to publicly defend the institution of holy matrimony. Bishop Fellay…Continue Reading

Pope Assigns Some Homework to Catholic School Children

Tells Immigrant Families That Everyone Has a Right to Dream New York City, September 25, 2015 ( Kathleen Naab Pope Francis was visibly relaxed and joyful as he met with students, their families, immigrants and others in New York this…Continue Reading

Loved Ones of 9/11 Victims Say Faith Is What Gets Them Through

At Ground Zero for Pope’s Visit, Mourners Take Solace in Francis’ Presence New York City, September 25, 2015 ( Deborah Castellano Lubov When your heart is broken, how do you cope? According to many who lost their loved ones when…Continue Reading

Cardinal Danneels Admits to Being Part of ‘Mafia’ Club Opposed to Benedict XVI

Further serious concerns are being raised about Cardinal Godfried Danneels, one of the papal delegates chosen to attend the upcoming Ordinary Synod on the Family, after the archbishop emeritus of Brussels confessed this week to being part of a radical “mafia” reformist…Continue Reading

Pope declares Junipero Serra a Saint

(Vatican Radio) Celebrating his first Mass in the United States on Wednesday, Pope Francis declared a new saint of the United States. Fr. Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan priest known for starting nine missions in the 18th century in what…Continue Reading


Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our new website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for over 145 years in our weekly print edition. Now we are introducing the online daily version of our print journal.

  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 145 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

A Powerful Weapon: 15 Quotes on the Holy Rosary

We live in evil times. I hardly need elaborate the multitude of crises that fill the globe. Sadly, many are being swept away by this flood of evil and are succumbing to an overwhelming anxiety and discouragement. But no matter how tempting it is, we must not shrink back. We must pray and fast with a living faith and a firm confidence—and there is no better way to…Continue Reading

12 Ways to Become a Committed Catholic Man

There is a Catholic “man-crisis.” Large numbers of men who were baptized Catholic have left the Church and the majority of those who remain are “Casual Catholic Men”, men who do not know the Catholic faith and don’t practice it. This large-scale failure of Catholic men to commit themselves to Jesus Christ and His Church has contributed to the accelerating…Continue Reading

Today . . .

Pope’s Angelus Address

“The Synod Fathers, coming from every part of the world and gathered around the Successor of Peter, for three weeks, will reflect on the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in society, for careful spiritual and pastoral discernment.” Vatican City, October 04, 2015 ( Staff Reporter Below is a ZENIT-translation of Pope Francis’ Angelus Address today at noon in St. Peter’s Square, following his having presided over Mass for the Opening…Continue Reading

Pray For The Intersession Of Saint John Paul ll For A Successful Outcome To The Synod . . .


With the start of The Synod of the Family, it is appropriate to invoke the intercession of now St. John Paul ll for a successful outcome. It was John Paul ll who at the conclusion of the Synod on the Family in 1980 reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family, despite the many dissidents and the heretical thinkers of the day. The following prayer was written by Pope John Paul ll prior to…Continue Reading

Fr Lombardi reacts to revelations by gay prelate

(Vatican Radio) The director of the Holy See press office Father Federico Lombardi on Saturday reacted to revelations by a high-ranking Vatican official that he is in a gay relationship. 43 year old Polish Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa has been living in Rome for 17 years and has worked at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 2003. He also serves as assistant secretary of the International Theological Commission and teaches theology at two…Continue Reading

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri explains how the Synod on the Family will unfold


Vatican City, 2 October 2015 (VIS) – This morning in the Holy See Press Office Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, gave a presentation of the phases and methods of the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the contemporary world”, which will commence on Sunday 4 October. “Tomorrow evening, in St. Peter’s Square, in the presence of…Continue Reading

Why Isn’t Kim Davis A Hero To The Left?

By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK I have been waiting for weeks now for the keepers of the flame in the liberal establishment to express some begrudging admiration for Kim Davis’ decision to go to jail, rather than violate her conscience by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Kentucky. Or at least some ambiguity over what…Continue Reading

What’s In A Motto?

By DONALD DeMARCO Pope St. John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio is a thorough and thoughtful discussion of the harmony between “faith” and “reason.” It does not break new ground but reaffirms to a modern audience what St. Thomas Aquinas and more recent thinkers such as Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson have carefully…Continue Reading

Non-Catholic Communities As “Means Of Salvation”

By FR. BRIAN W. HARRISON, OS Many dissident traditionalists claim that Vatican Council II’s Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio (UR) is irreconcilable with traditional Catholic doctrine. The passage most commonly singled out in support of this claim is the affirmation in article 3 of the Decree that “the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from…Continue Reading

The Future Is More Of The Past

By DONALD DeMARCO “The outlook on the future is by no means free from anxiety; on the contrary, there are many serious reasons for alarm, on account of numerous and longstanding causes of evil, of both a public and a private nature.” What do we make of this sentence? There is an unmistakable contemporary ring…Continue Reading

Culture Of Life 101 .… “The Homosexual Intimidation Tactic”

By BRIAN CLOWES Conclusion (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For a guide on how to organize a pro-family group, e-mail him at + + + From the homosexual activist’s point of view, simple censorship is even better than retaliation because it makes…Continue Reading


Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

An Apologetics Course . . . The Church Of Christ Is Universal, For Everyone

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA Part 22 It is true that Jesus came first for the Jews. Many individuals accepted Him, like the apostles, disciples, and their converts, but as a nation they refused Him. So the apostles spread their mission to the Gentiles — that means, to our ancestors. But even if the Jews had accepted Him, the apostles would…Continue Reading

Mission Of The Catholic Laity: Priest, Prophet, And King

By DON FIER Thus far in our examination of the vocation of the laity in the mission of the Church, it has become manifestly clear that theirs is a role that is distinctive and indispensable. Characterized especially by their secular nature, it pertains in a unique way to the lay faithful “to illuminate and order all temporal things with which…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Q. Recently we got a new pastor who has resumed the holding of hands during the Our Father that our previous pastor had eliminated. Has this now become part of the liturgy? And what is the purpose of the holding hands to begin with? Also, what do you think of “Polka Masses”? — C.G., Wisconsin. A. No, holding hands during…Continue Reading

Wisdom Is Worth More Than Gold

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Twenty Eighth Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR B) Readings: Wisdom 7:7-11 Heb. 4:12-13 Mark 10:17-30 In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that no creature is concealed from God, but that everything is naked and exposed to Him to whom we must render an account. We know from the Gospels that our Lord, on several…Continue Reading

Pope’s Address To Families In Cuba… The Family Is A School Of Humanity

(Below is a Vatican translation of the address Pope Francis gave the morning of September 22 in his meeting with families. The Holy Father largely followed his prepared text, but ZENIT has transcribed and translated the various remarks he added off-the-cuff. Those are found in brackets. (The Holy Father’s theme was “families are not a problem, they are first and…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Thomas of Hereford

By CAROLE BRESLIN During the High Middle Ages the power of kings began to disintegrate, as shown by the Magna Charta, which was established in 1215. Although neither party of the agreement held up to its commitments, the beginning of more democratic rule had arrived. Three years later a noble family gave birth to a man who played a significant…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Simon De Rojas

By CAROLE BRESLIN The subject of this article lived in a time of great saints, great Spanish saints, so it is not surprising that he is little known. St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) who wrote the Spiritual Exercises, St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) who reformed the Carmelites and wrote The Interior Castle, and St. John of the Cross who wrote…Continue Reading