A short biography of Fritz Benner, courageous German anarchist.
Fritz Benner was born on 6th April 1906 in Solingen, Germany. By profession he was a belt operator. In 1927/28 he and his brother Willi joined the anarchosyndicalist Free Workers' Union of Germany (FAUD) in Wuppertal. His brother Eugen (usually known as August) also became involved. At this time the FAUD was past its height and only counted a few dozen members in Wuppertal. Activity by necessity moved away from workplace activity to cultural and educational activity mostly organised through the Anarchosyndicalist Youth (SAJD). The Benner brothers followed in a line of agitators like Hans Schmitz senior, a great speaker and organiser, who had died in 1931 following an earlier Nazi assault. In Wuppertal the struggle between the Nazis and the workers' movement was particularly fierce. The Wuppertal anarchosyndicalists had founded, as in other cities, an anti-fascist fighting organization: the Schwarzen Scharen (Black Crowd). The Black Crowd was able to stop the Nazis terrorising the working class districts in the Black Sunday incident where they were met by a united front of socialists, Communists and anarchists . This was in great part due to the work of the Black Crowds in mobilising a response where workers, ignoring their party leaderships, acted at a grassroots level in repulsing the Nazis.
In May 1933 Fritz was arrested by the SS, accused of organising a strike. The Gestapo raided the house of the Benners. They did not find the revolver hidden by Willi Benner in the basement or the carbine buried in the garden, but they seized enough material to justify the arrests of Fritz, August and Willi as well as their father. Fertilizer found in the basement of Willi Benner was evidence of a bomb factory and rat poison was evidence that the anarchists were planning on poisoning the water supply!! The politically non-affiliated father was released after a few weeks. The three brothers remained in protective custody. Fritz was moved from prison to the Börgermoor concentration camp in August and then in September to the concentration camp at Oranienburg. There he encountered the famous anarchist Erich Muehsam. He had to watch (as he later wrote to the anarchist Albert de Jong) " the man I most admired, the man whose writings had made me become a revolutionary and an anarchist, slowly, sadistically tormented to death."
In February 1934, Fritz Benner was transferred to Lichtenburg concentration camp and freed from there in early April. The illegal FAUD was still active in Wuppertal and Fritz took part in its work.In addition to collecting money for imprisoned comrades, he printed and distributed propaganda material.
Fritz Benner avoided another arrest in February 1935 by escaping to Holland . In Amsterdam, he worked in the group of German anarcho-syndicalists (DAS), the organization of exiled FAUD members. DAS was in contact with the illegal groups in Germany, providing them with information and newspapers and taking care of German refugees. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War Fritz together with Helmut Kirschey, another Wuppertal FAUD member,went to Barcelona. Here he was active in the DAS group there and later joined the Durruti cColumn. At the front he began suffering from a lung complaint, which he had caught in the concentration camps. After a stay in a sanatorium he went back to the front. The political climate had changed, however. Helmut Kirschey had already been detained by the Stalinist secret police the GPU in Valencia, and was only freed by the anarchists shortly before the invasion of Franco's troops. In 1938 Benner left Spain in the direction of Sweden. He was turned back to France from Denmark, because his Spanish pass was not recognised. He went to Holland, where his comrades got him a Dutch passport with which he was able to enter Sweden. There he was arrested for passport forgery and served three months in prison, and threatened with deportation. By the end of the war he was under police surveillance. Since he has no work permit he was, until 1943, supported by the Swedish syndicalist union SAC. He worked in underground activity with Helmut Kirschey and Hans Vesper. In 1940, he was, at the request of the Gestapo, again interned by the Swedish authorities and accused of sabotage on German ships. With the help of a campaign by the SAC and its daily newspaper Arbetaren and a hunger strike, Fritz was released after 4 months.
Fritz Benner married a Swedish woman and had two children with her. In 1949 he returned to Wuppertal, where he joined the Federation of Libertarian Socialists (FFS). He also maintained contact by letter with Rudolf Rocker. At the beginning of the 1950s, he moved back to Sweden because of his family. He died on 11th November 1966 in Stockholm.
Sources: adaption of translation of biographies by Hanni Oostinga at http://www.syndikalismusforschung.info/benner.htm