Sixty Years in the Social-Democratic Movement


The sentence hit me severely. Three years’ confinement in a fortress I had to do. Yet I soon grew calm. I was glad that the imprisonment on remand was over—this fretting and sorrowing in anguish and grief. At least I knew now how long I had still to suffer. The days would pass, however slowly, and with them the time of imprisonment decreased also; one could see an end of the thing. It is quite different with imprisonment on remand. One lives in a distressing uncertainty, and every day means a prolongation of suffering.

On December 14th, 1852, my companions in misfortune were taken to the different fortresses where they had to serve their sentences. On March 30th, 1853, it was my turn at last. Police-Lieutenant Rockenstein, and another policeman from Berlin, fetched me. I stayed at Berlin over night, where I chanced to see the famous police director, Stieber, the witness for the Crown in the Cologne trial. From Berlin we went to the fortress of Graudenz. I recollect the treatment I received from Lieutenant Rockenstein during the whole journey as a contrast to my earlier experiences with satisfaction. He was a thoroughly honest man.

On April 2nd, we arrived at Graudenz. I was surrendered to the town commandant, who allotted a room to me. It was very lonely at Graudenz, yet I felt far more comfortable than in the prisons of Mainz and Cologne. I was at least allowed to move more freely. I was also permitted to occupy myself with writing and reading, and to take an hour’s walk in the open air daily.

Above my room a Pole named Sulkowsky was confined, who had been transported to Graudenz for six years, on account of his political opinions. He told me that Röser, my co-defendant in the Cologne trial, was also at Graudenz, which cheered me. Unfortunately, I could never meet him. Besides Sulkowsky, Röser, and myself, there was another political, an old Pole called Bonski, in the fortress, who had been there as a prisoner since 1831. He had taken part in the Polish Revolution of 1831; then, after the defeat at Warsaw, crossed the Prussian frontier, and was sent to the fortress by the Prussian magistrates. There he advanced to the post of an attendant, in which function he acquired the love of all. I soon made his acquaintance, and learned to love this good old man like a brother. On September 11th, he was given his liberty. We all wept when the old man shook our hands for the last time.

My stay at Graudenz lasted till January 12th, 1854. On this day I was transported to the fortress of Silberburg.

On January 11th I was unexpectedly informed that I had to get ready for being transported to another fortress. I was not told where. I asked them to tell me the name of my future residence, but this was strictly refused. The great precautions taken for this transport, and the silence with which all was done were distressing to me and disquieted me. The soldiers who had to bring me to my destination were ordered to keep a strict watch upon me, and the town-commandant told me, on leaving, the soldiers were ordered to shoot me without ado if I should attempt flight. These preparations were ridiculous indeed, but they made a certain impression on me. Was I then such a very dangerous person?

On January 12th I left Graudenz, and on January 15th I arrived at Silberburg, where I remained to the day of my deliverance, January 27th, 1856.

At the fortress of Silberburg the treatment was better, inasmuch as the prisoners were allowed to speak to each other, and to take daily some hours’ walk together. This did us a lot of good. Besides myself, there were then in the fortress an officer, Schlehahn by name, whose crime consisted in having sympathised with the 1848 movement; there was also a student called Kaufhold, from Erfurt; the third was a compositor, Dönnig; and besides these there were some other political “criminals.” Tragical was the fate of Dönnig. His father had been a Prussian patriot, who did all in his power, after the battle of Jena, to deliver Germany from the foreign rule. Napoleon I. put him in prison for that, where he had to stay for years. These democratic, patriotic traditions were taken up by his son, who had been sent to the fortress of Silberburg for acting upon them. If his father had to go to prison because he was dissatisfied with the Napoleonic rule, his son had to do so for being in strong opposition to the Government of the country. Would old Dönnig have sacrificed himself if he could have divined the Carlsbad resolutions? Would he have fought against the foreign rule if he could have known what shackles the German princes would put on the German people? In the fate of the Dönnig family a piece of history of the German people in the first half of the last century is revealed.

The two years in the fortress of Silberburg passed in the hope of liberty and activity. The longing for liberty increased more and more; the nearer the day of release the more impatient I became.

During my stay in the fortress of Silberburg, a change of rulers took place in Saxe-Weimar, where the usual amnesty was not missing. All deserters were also amnestied. This was fortunate for me, else I should have been handed over to the military authorities in Weimar. This idea had disturbed me already in the prisons at Mainz, Cologne, and Graudenz, and had contributed towards depressing my spirits. After the amnesty I became brighter and more hopeful, for I had the certainty that I had to fear nothing more after the end of my term.

The hour of my release struck at last. To describe all the feelings that passed through my mind at this memorable moment is impossible. The four and a-half years of imprisonment seemed to me only a bad and confused dream. It was on the whole a dull time, during which the sympathy shown to me by my comrades were the only bright moments. The days when I received letters or financial help from my Cologne fellow-combatants are numbered among the happiest of my life.

The things found upon me at my arrest at Mainz had been confiscated by the Treasury. I regretted most the loss of my collections of books, among which were pamphlets and journals of the thirties and forties. I claimed them several times from the Cologne magistrates, but without success.


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