A short biography of the German Jewish anarchist Egon Illfeld, who fought in the Spanish civil war and was imprisoned by the Stalinists.
Egon Illfeld was born into a Jewish family in Wartenberg in Bavaria on January 19th, 1914.
A typographer by trade, he became a member of the German Communist Party (KPD) and was sentenced in Munich in August 1934 to 6 months in prison as a member of the Communist Party. He appears to have been associated with the left opposition inside (and outside) the KPD.
He later moved to the SaarIand, and from there to Switzerland and then on to Spain. Here in early 1936 he was arrested for vagrancy and was imprisoned until just before the nationalist uprising.
He then joined the Thälmann Battalion, named after Ernst Thälmann, German Communist leader imprisoned by the Nazis. There were many German Jews in this group. However in September 1936 he left the Battalion and joined the Deutsche Anarchosyndikalisten – German Anarcho-syndicalists (DAS), which numbered about forty exiles.
With Ferdinand Götze, Arthur Lewin, Fred Wissenthaler and Helmut Kirschey he was in charge of the search and requisition of apartments and premises belonging to the German Nazis in Barcelona.The group was under the command of the Committee of Investigation and Internal Security led by Eroles and Escorza of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist groups CNT-FAI (National Confederation of Labour and the Iberian Anarchist Federation). He also worked at the Propaganda Office of the CNT.
Following the May Days in Barcelona,1937, in which the Communist Party consolidated their power in Republican Spain, he was arrested in June along with most other members of the DAS. They were put in private prisons known as checas, or in state prisons, both controlled by the Stalinists.
Whilst they were not physically tortured they received harsh treatment and were intensively interrogated by both Spanish and Russian Stalinists. He spent time in various jails, including the Convent of Santa Ursula in Valencia.
A letter that appeared in Le Combat Syndicaliste, paper of the French anarcho-syndicalist CGT-SR, and dated 21st July 1937, Valencia reads:
“My dear X,
I am writing to you in the name of seven comrades who are illegally or semi-illegally imprisoned in the convent of Santa Ursula. Here are Arnold Engel, in a dungeon, Hellmuth Birrscheid, Egon Illfeld, Fred Wissenthaler ,Hans Levi, Michael and Gustel, all in cells. Michael and Gustel are at the actual time hospitalised. Hans is very ill. I have pneumonia.
The prison is in a lamentable state… We have no towels, no soap, no sheets… We have been refused contact with our organisation (DAS) and our families.
We have been interrogated, several on two occasions. We are suspected of espionage, of having relations with the Gestapo during the events of last May. This is an absurd thing and one should not be astonished if they took months to forge this abominable accusation. … We are 150 prisoners at the St. Ursula convent, sixty of us foreigners. This prison is more like a concentration camp. We are maltreated daily.”
In April 1938 Egon was freed along with Gustav Doster, Wissenthaler, Kirschey and Michael, though the other members of the DAS were not freed until the end of that year.
Illfeld then worked at the Catalan Regional Committee of the CNT until the end of the war. He had married a Spanish woman during this period.
With the fall of the Republic and the mass exodus over the border to France, Egon Illfeld found himself interned in the camp at Gurs. Here in March 1939 he formed the 9th Company Committee with Karl Brauner, Paul Czakon, Helmut Klose, Georg Gernsheimer and Mikhail Vorobiev, amongst others , in opposition to the Stalinist leadership of the camp prisoners (Vorobiev was a Russian anarchist who had been imprisoned by the Bolsheviks, fought in Spain and later continued his activity in the post-war Federation Anarchiste).
During the Second World War he lived underground in Bordeaux, under the pseudonym of Ginez Garcia.
After the war he lived in Paris, where the Swiss anarchist Heiner Noechlin met him in 1947, In 1948 he emigrated with his family to Venezuela. He returned to Munich in 1959 and died there in the mid-1980s.
Entry on Illfeld at: http://militants-anarchistes.info/spip.php?article8988
Berthuin, J. La CGT-SR et la Révolution espagnole (2000)