Marcel Krueger visits Berlin’s former Reichskriegsgericht (military court) to pay tribute to a murdered family member…
I exit Sophie-Charlotte-Platz U-Bahn-station to find myself on Kaiserdamm on a lovely morning in late July. This two-kilometre boulevard in Charlottenburg, which connects Ernst-Reuter-Platz with the Messe (Berlin trade fair), was built in 1906 and named after Emperor Wilhelm II, though there’s little imperial splendour to be found here today; just the usual Berlin mix of Turkish fast-food joints and barbershops, cafes and pharmacies.
The loud thrum of the street’s six lanes of traffic recedes slightly as I turn off at Witzlebenplatz to reach Lietzenseepark, a small park set around a picturesque lake with a boathouse terrace that’s already busy at this early hour. It’s a pleasant contrast to the bustling boulevard.
Opposite the lake and lining Witzlebenplatz next to a modern apartment building, looms the former Reichskriegsgericht, the highest military court of both Prussia and Nazi Germany, whose grey granite façade, imposing neoclassical columns and bulky balconies were designed precisely to intimidate and punish anyone who dared challenge the highest authority of the Prussian state—its army.
It was here, in 1942, that my grand-uncle Franz Nerowski was sentenced to death as a double spy and sent off to Brandenburg prison, where he was beheaded.
Franz Nerowski arrived in Berlin in the summer of 1937, when he was 26. A gentle, friendly man from the small village of Lengainen in East Prussia, he had a reputation for always being impeccably dressed and—having just served in the Wehrmacht for two years—brought a somewhat optimistic perspective with him to the German capital.
But looks can be deceptive: Franz had also been working as a spy for the second Polish Republic and had provided details of his units and copies of military documents to his superiors at “Bombaj”, his network in Stettin (Szczecin).
Franz was born in Warmia, a Catholic area in mainly Protestant East Prussia where Germans and Poles lived alongside each other. From a young age had been active in the cultural activities of the Polish minority there, in particular in the “Association of Poles in Germany” that was founded in 1922.