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21 | 07 | 2019
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Wilhem Leuschner – Unionist, politician, resistance fighter

Leuschner’s birthplace Moritzhöfen 25 in Bayreuth

The story of the house begins in 1878.  It was constructed by the building contractor Johann Hofmann as an apartment building. Hofmann took part in the edification of the Wagner-Festspielhaus as foreman. The house consisted of four small two-room apartments on the first and second floor with the toilets in the hall. There were two chambers in the attic. Wilhelm Leuschner was born in an apartment on the second floor of the dwelling, on June 15, 1890 – by his own account. In the year 1892 the house was bought by the cabinet maker Kaspar Stahlmann, who opened a joinery in the rear building. From the 1920s on he exhibited the furniture he made in a wooden gazebo next to the main building. In 1938 the Stahlmann joinery was moved to a property in Peter-Rosegger-Straße just across the street. Since then the birthplace of Wilhelm Leuschner was used as a tenement only. From 1992 on the house and its outbuildings were abandoned and were on the verge of total decay. The former owners requested the demolition of the buildings in 2000. Since 1998 the house was land marked as the birthplace of Leuschner and thus the incorporated Society for Cultural and Social History of Bayreuth was able to ensure the preservation of the estate. The recent owners redeveloped the building from fall 2001 on. At the same time the Wilhelm-Leuschner-Foundation was incorporated by private means, in order to establish a memorial of Leuschner's life and works at his birthplace, in cooperation with the city of Bayreuth. The memorial was opened by the city of Bayreuth on the ground floor in September 2003. The office space of the charitable foundation together with the Wilhelm Leuschner-Archives are located on the top floor. The educational institution (Bildungswerkstatt) of the foundation was opened in the rear building in February 2004, where classes and seminars are held and events on political education take place. 

Leuschner’s youth in Bayreuth

Wilhelm Leuschner was born on June 15, 1890 in the described dwelling as the first-born of the potter Wilhelm Friedrich Leuschner and his wife Maria Barbara Dehler. The house mates of the Leuschners were craftsmen or soldiers, respectively their widows. Wilhelm Leuschner attended school at the Central-Schule (renamed Graserschule in 1914) and in his last year 1903/04 he attended the newly built Luitpold-Schule. After seven years of education, from 1904 on, he became an apprentice to the wood sculptor Arthur Geyer, whose workshop was in Richard-Wagner-Straße 29. Leuschner developed his drawing skills during visits to Bayreuth’s Eremitage. From July 1907 on he took to the road, following the tradition of German craftsmen after their apprenticeship. Amongst others he worked in Klein-Crostitz near Leipzig. In May 1908, Leuschner went to Darmstadt because of the famous Art Nouveau exhibition there and he was employed as a wood sculptor in a well-known furniture industry named Glückert. In May 1909, Leuschner returned to Bayreuth shortly before the death of his mother. From October 1909 until March 1910 he attended a course on design and art history at the Royal Arts and Crafts School in Nuremberg. By the end of September 1910 he left Bayreuth for good and settled down in Darmstadt, where he got married to Elisabeth Batz in 1911. His children Wilhelm (*1910) and Käthe (*1911) were born there.

The trade unionist  

According to the Bavarian law on organizations, until 1908 apprentices were not allowed to be a member of any organization whatsoever. Directly after finishing his training in May 1907, Leuschner became a member of the union. The pay office of the Association of the Wood Sculptors of Bayreuth handed him his first temporary membership book. With this book he was able to receive travelers' aid at the pay offices of the association. While living in Darmstadt, he quickly made his career in the union from 1910 on and he became voluntary district manager of the Association of the Wood Sculptors. In April 1913 he joined the SPD. Leuschner got drafted in fall 1916 and served at the East Front. After the peace with Russia, Leuschner was shifted to France, where he remained until the end of the war. After he had returned to Darmstadt, he became member of the city council for the SPD and secretary of the union. In 1924, Wilhelm Leuschner was elected member of the Hessian Parliament und in 1928 he took office as Minister of the Interior of Hesse. He was fiercely attacked by the rising National Socialists. In January 1933 he was appointed to the federal board of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (General Federation of German Trade Unions). In April 1933 he resigned as Minister of the Interior of Hesse. In negotiations with the Nazis he tried to prevent the divestiture of the Federation; he agreed with representatives of the other trade unions to create a board of the leaders of the associated unions. His most important ally within the Christian union was Jakob Kaiser; with whom Leuschner would collaborate closely in the following resistance to the Nazi terror. The National Socialists outlawed the unions on May 2, 1933. Like many other unionists and political enemies of the National Socialists, Wilhelm Leuschner was arrested. After he had been discharged, he was supposed to legitimate the Nazi-organization "Deutsche Arbeitsfront" (German Labor Front) at the International Labor Office in Geneva in June 1933. Together with the leader of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront, Robert Ley, Leuschner travelled to Geneva but refused to cooperate. Instead he informed the representatives of the international unions about the actual political circumstances in Nazi Germany.   

The resistance fighter 

Though he had been warned by his fellow international unionists of being imprisoned if he returned to Germany, Wilhelm Leuschner travelled back to Germany and was arrested at the Freiburg central station in June 1933. He was detained and tortured in several prisons and concentration camps. After his discharge in June 1934, he contacted Jakob Kaiser and started to organize the union resistance. In 1936, he acquired a small factory, producing beer taps and dispensing equipment. This factory soon became the head office of the "illegal Reichs-administration of the German trade unions". Leuschner kept in touch with the union resistance and from 1939 on he connected to the resistive network of the former mayor of Leipzig, Carl Goerdeler – Leuschner should have become vice chancellor after a putsch against Hitler. On July 20, 1944 an attempt to assassinate Hitler failed. In the course of these events Leuschner was arrested and executed in Berlin-Plötzensee on September 29, 1944. His place in history was highly debated in historical science, in terms of union politics and the discussion on National Socialism in post-war Germany. However, recent research shows his eager will to defend the republic and to preserve the unions as a societal force to shape social justice in Germany. Leuschner contributed considerably to the development of the German democracy and its principle of the welfare state, as it is stated in Article 20, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany ("The Federal Republic of Germany is a democratic and social federalstate"). His concept of a unified trade union, which he had already developed together with Jakob Kaiser in 1933, is his decisive heritage to the German Confederation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund) which came into existence in 1945.  

By establishing a memorial and an educational institution at the birthplace in Bayreuth, the Wilhelm Leuschner Foundation and the city of Bayreuth intend to create a permanent remembrance in order to treasure the life and accomplishments of Wilhelm Leuschner and to raise public awareness thereof. One of their main goals is to achieve the acceptance of Wilhelm Leuschner’s birthplace as a national memorial for the German resistance.

 
Finanzielle Förderer

fvlz

 

Bayerische Landesstiftung

 Bayerische Landesstiftung

 

Kooperationspartner

Bayerische Landeszentrale für politische Bildungsarbeit

Allianz gegen Rechtsextremismus in der Metropolregion Nürnberg
 
 
Hausbank

 Sparkasse Bayreuth

Büroausstatter

Möbel Hertel Bayreuth

Besucher
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