Murder in the Bittermark
One of the saddest chapters of Borussia Dortmund´s history had nothing to do with football or finances. Just a few days before the end of World-War II, in spring 1945, Heinrich Czerkus was killed by a Nazi execution commando. He was greenkeeper at Borussia’s first ground, called “Weiße Wiese” (white meadow) due to the cottonwoods that surrounded the pitch and covered the ground with their snow-like pollen.
On the first days of spring the murderous Nazi-regime once again brought death to many people in Dortmund and a lot of other cities in the 3rd Reich. Before, in January 1945, Gestapo-Chief Heinrich Müller and SS-Leader Heinrich Himmler had given secret orders to their subordinates, to arrest possible enemies of the regime and give them a “special treatment”. Without the usual formalities and without any court proceedings, the arrested suspects should be executed.
Following these orders, almost 300 persons were killed in Dortmund alone between 7th of March and 12th of April 1945. Among them was Heinrich Czerkus (50), greenkeeper of Borussia and communist, like many others in these days in the “red North” of Dortmund around the Borsigplatz – the cradle of the BV Borussia of Dortmund.
Even in times of the Weimar republic, Czerkus was being watched by local authorities, because of his political conviction. In the year 1933, after the Nazis took over, the Gestapo began to take interest in the communist. Czerkus, who had just been elected into the city council of Dortmund as a member of the communist party, was never allowed to take office, after Hitler took over the power in the German Reich. Instead, he engaged himself in the communist resistance against the regime. He produced and spread political flyers and was even allowed by BVB-director August Busse, to use the clubs printing machine for these purposes.
All efforts made to catch Czerkus failed, because the Borussia family protected him. The club itself presented a mostly unpolitical attitude in these times and only made the necessary adjustments as ordered by the Nazi regime. But underneath Borussia´s roof all poltical currents of the time found a home. NSDAP and SA members worked together with members of the resistance like Czerkus for the benefit of the club. Because of the increasing persecution of Czerkus, many members of the club developed a critical attitude towards the Nazi regime. Czerkus was protected by BVB members time and again. Even members of the police alerted BVB-officials, whenever a raid for Czerkus at the Borussia ground on the “Weiße Wiese”, where he lived, was planned.
With this united effort by the BVB family, it was possible to protect Czerkus from the Gestapo for a long time. But few weeks before the end of the war his luck turned. He was arrested in the night from 8th to 9th of February 1945 and brought to the Gestapo post in Dortmund-Hörde. From March 7 on, the secret orders by Gestapo and SS were finally executed. In the Rombergpark, on a clearing in the wood called Bittermark and on a railroad area in Dortmund-Hörde many forced labourers and members of the resistance were killed by the bullets of the execution commandos during these last days of war.
The final executions took place on April the 12th 1945. Just one day later, Dortmund was occupied by American forces. Heinrich Czerkus did not live to see this day. Like 300 others he had fallen victim to the executions in these last days of slaughter. The exact date of his execution is unknown today.
Of the roundabout 150 Gestapo members involved in the executions, only 28 were prosecuted after the war and only 13 of them were convicted. The prison sentences reached from 2 to 8 years, nobody was convicted for murder or accessory to murder. Most of the people involved in the executions did not suffer any consequences at all for their deeds.
In memory of Heinrich Czerkus the annual Heinrich-Czerkus-Memorial-Run is organized on Good Friday from stadium “Rote Erde” via Rombergpark towards the Bittermark.
“We support the Czerkus-Memorial-Run, because we want the name and fate of Heinrich Czerkus to remain present in the people´s minds” says Thilo Danielsmeyer of Fanprojekt Dortmund, which has part in the organisation. “Czerkus as BVB-official was an example for the resistance against the Nazi regime within the club. He was no follower and he was even ready to die for his beliefs. We think, it is important, that his courage and his fate will not be forgotten”.
Since last year, a memorial plate in honour of Heinrich Czerkus and the other victims of the “Good Friday murders” is installed in the stadium Rote Erde. The initiative for this memorial plate came from Fanprojekt Dortmund.
Translation of the text on the memorial plate:
Heinrich Czerkus (17.10.1894 - April 1945)
Greenkeeper of Borussia Dortmund, resistance fighter against Hitler
in April 1945 murdered and hastily hid in the ground by the Nazis at Rombergpark, together with 300 other victims buried at the Bittermark.
No more Nazis, no more war!