In 2013, two close friends of Alexander Schmorell died. Schmorell, who was honored as “martyr” by the Russian Orthodox Church, was a central figure of the resistance movement popularly known as the White Rose. Both of these friends supported Schmorell during his resistance operations and final flight from the Gestapo.
On May 13, 2013, Lilo Fürst-Ramdohr died unexpectedly in Starnberg. In February 1943, she had provided help and advice for Alexander; she had arranged contacts for him, and had always granted him shelter in her home. Together with her neighbor Emilie Roters (a bookbinder), Lilo had forged a passport for Alexander by inserting a new photograph in a friend’s passport and recreating the official seal.
The benefactor of the passport Lilo used for Alexander’s forged passport was another of Alexander’s close friends, a Bulgarian named Nikolay Daniel Nikolaeff-Hamazaspian. On October 1, 2013, Nikolay died in Munich following a long illness.
In 1943, Nikolay gave Alexander a jacket and provisions for his final and unsuccessful escape attempt, along with his old passport from Bulgaria. Technically this passport had already expired, but the residence permit for Nazi Germany stamped inside it was still valid. With the aid of this forged passport, Alexander (posing as Nikolaj Nikolaeff) was able to evade arrest at a police checkpoint in the Bavarian town of Elmau on February 23, 1943. At that checkpoint, the police were specifically on the lookout for Alexander. However, by the end of the next day, Alexander Schmorell would be recognized in an air raid shelter in Munich-Schwabing. After a short struggle, he would be overpowered and finally executed on July 13, 1943.
Nikolay Hamazaspian survived persecution, months-long internment, and the Nazis’ war. This survival was possible partly because of the agreement he had made with Alexander, that if Alexander should be questioned by the Gestapo, he would say that he had stolen the passport from his friend Nikolay during a visit in his apartment on Isabella Strasse in Munich.
During the last few years, Nikolay has been active in the efforts to memorialize White Rose resistance. He could look back on an eventful life, a life that was in part tragic, a life that was marred by living on the run, by persecution by at least two, if not three, totalitarian and thuggish regimes. The hardships he endured at the hands of these political systems forced him to spend the last years of his life not in the relative prosperity that should have been his lot, based on his intelligence, education, and talent. Around 1982, the director Michael Verhoeven helped Nikolay flee the Communist regime in Bulgaria, bringing him to West Germany. Most recently, Michael Kaufmann of the Weisse-Rose-Institut e.V. in Munich supported Nikolay as his health began to decline. Nikolay Hamazaspian’s life is worthy of closer inspection.
Nikolay’s family was of Armenian descent. They came from the southern Russian Caucasus region that was controlled by the White Army. In 1920, Nikolay’s family fled the terror of war on a British ship, on which Nikolay was born November 3, 1920. They first went to Turkey, then on to Bulgaria. Nikolay grew up in Sofia and attended a private Russian high school (Gymnasium, or college preparatory school).
Nikolay’s father – Daniel Nikolaeff-Hamazaspian – worked as a civil engineer in Sofia. Because of the hostilities in the region resulting from the Balkan Wars and the Armenian genocide, the family changed its name, choosing to omit Hamazaspian, the hyphenated portion that identified them as “of Armenian descent”. Therefore the forged passport that Alexander Schmorell carried bore only the name Nikolaj Nikolaeff.
Nikolay learned many languages in that school in Sofia, among them Russian, Bulgarian, and German. His father sent him to the Technical University in Munich to study civil engineering.
In the autumn of 1939, Nikolay went to Munich. A classmate named Georg Schlee, who likewise hailed from Sofia but was a Volksdeutscher (ethnic German living abroad), brokered Nikolay’s first residence: A room with a landlord named Kessler. The room was located at Promenadenstrasse 15.
Towards the end of 1939, Nikolay’s housemate Konstantin Petroff (also a civil engineering student) invited Nikolay to a Russian-German wedding celebrated by Alexander Schmorell’s family circle. Petroff was the nephew of Elisabeth Hoffmann, Alexander Schmorell’s stepmother.
Nikolay and Alexander quickly became friends. They began to meet up frequently. Nikolai received invitations to the Schmorells’ home in Harlaching (Benediktenwand Strasse 12). They would often discuss literature, especially Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov. They saw that character as analogous to the so-called allgemeines Gluck (common happiness, that is, the happiness of the Volk) that had been ‘bought’ on the backs of mountains of corpses in the early years of Hitler’s regime.
Alexander Schmorell borrowed several of Nikolay’s books and contemporary French journals, the latter obtained from Nikolay’s aunt who lived in Paris at the time. He wanted access to an independent free press.
Isabella Strasse 26
Around May 1941, Nikolay lost his room on Promenadenstrasse 15, because his landlord did not like his “non-national” attitude. After a famous battleship (probably the Bismarck) had been sunk, Mrs. Kessler asked Nikolay why he – a Bulgarian visiting student – was not mourning the deaths of more than 1600 fallen German sailors. Thereupon, she evicted him from the room.
Nikolay then moved to a room located at Isabella Strasse 26 in Schwabing. (The forged passport bore the address Neuturmstrasse 26.) Alexander visited him often in this room. Now and then, Alexander would spend the night in that room, since all the places Alexander frequented (the university, Hans Scholl’s room, Hein König’s art school, and Eickemeyer’s studio) were close by.
Later as bombings intensified, Nikolai would frequently bicycle to Gauting, where he kept a more secure second residence in the countryside.
Alexander Schmorell’s “living” humanism
Around the autumn of 1941, Alexander told Nikolai that he had a weekly sculpting class with Professor Karl Baur, Lilo’s neighbor. He said he regularly visited Lilo Ramdohr, or Lilo Berndl nee Ramdohr as she was then known. Nikolay saw Alexander’s interest in sculpture not as an escape from his medical studies, but rather as intellectual relaxation. (Hubert Furtwangler argued the opposite in Ulrich Chaussy’s 1993 document.)
Lilo Fürst-Ramdohr wrote, and Nikolay confirmed, that Alexander (together with Nikolay) liked to haunt a “dive” located between Viktualienmarkt and Marienplatz. Today this is the Marktklause at Frauenstrasse 20, a gay bar. In those days, the pub was a hangout for the homeless and for aged prostitutes. Nikolay explained Alexander’s penchant for these “little people” much as Lilo did. He saw them as outsiders in their society, and believed that they proffered clearer insight into the secrets of real life, more so than any officially acknowledged member of the intellectual elite, more so than the deluded average citizen who was blinded by initial Nazi successes.
Alexander and Nikolay would undertake bicycle tours outside Munich. On these trips, they would give bread and tobacco to French (and later Russian) POWs. They cooperated with Yugoslavian, Norwegian, and Russian classmates, as well as with Nikolay’s sister Anna, in this humanitarian effort. They obtained the tobacco by collecting cigarette butts.
In my 2010 interview with Nikolay, he recounted other forms of Alexander’s humanistic approach to life: The burial of a Russian soldier on the front lines in August 1942; giving water to POWs in cattle cars in Poland. Nikolay sees these as clear signs of a person who was fundamentally philanthropic, more than as a political expression.
Further contacts to Alexander Schmorell’s circle of friends
Nikolay and his sister Anna spent New Year’s Eve 1941 at the Schmorells’ house. [Note: The Scholl siblings were not present. They spent this New Year’s Eve in the mountains.]
Even before the White Rose friends undertook their resistance operation, the friends were unified in the belief that something had to be done to stop the ruling regime. Alexander personally told Nikolay about their operation and about the leaflets. But they agreed that Nikolay’s direct participation in the group’s operation would be too risky, because of Nikolay’s status as a foreign student. Nevertheless, Nikolay often gave Alex paper when he visited him in his room at Isabellenstrasse 26. Nikolay obtained this paper from Strassenbau AG [a road construction company] where he worked as a student employee.
Alexander introduced Nikolay to Hans Scholl once near the student dining hall of the Technical University on Gabelsberger Strasse. Nikolay thought Hans Scholl had a commanding presence and lots of charisma. Alexander also introduced Nikolay to Christoph Probst. Nikolay never saw Jürgen Wittenstein until after the war, nor did he meet Hubert Furtwangler, although Nikolay knew that Hubert also was in contact with Alexander’s Ukrainian friend Nadja Konoz, who likewise tried to assist Alexander as he attempted to flee.
One time Alexander and Nikolay traveled to Salzburg together, where they visited a Russian writer. Nikolay could not remember if this trip took place on January 26, 1943, but it’s not impossible. It could have been advantageous during checkpoints to have been traveling East with a Bulgarian student, since Bulgaria was Germany’s ally.
Stepping up White Rose operations, and the catastrophe of February 1943
On January 14, 1943 (the date the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the beginning of new year), Alexander told Nikolay and Nikolay’s sister Anna about the protests against the speech of the Nazi student leader [should be Gauleiter] the day before at the Deutsches Museum. [Note: Nikolay wrongly remembers it as a personal recollection, but Alexander was not present at the Deutsches Museum during the protest.–DEH]
[Note: Nikolay’s memories about January 14 are likely valid. That is a gap in White Rose history for that day. January 13 was not a particularly good day for Alexander Schmorell, because he and Hans Scholl had presented drafts for Leaflet V to Professor Kurt Huber. Huber had been dismissive and insulting to Alexander, demeaning him as a “Bolshevist” – and Hans Scholl had not defended his friend.]
Alexander also appeared in Nikolay’s room on February 3, 1943 and enthusiastically asked him if he knew “what was happening in the city and at the university.”
Likewise after the meeting with Falk Harnack and Professor Huber (February 9?, 1943 – the date is uncertain), Alexander visited Nikolay and drank a glass of cognac with him, spending the night talking, since it was too late to catch a street car to Harlaching. Alex told Nikolay about the dispute that had arisen regarding the possibility of “cooperation with someone who was allegedly a Communist”, as well as his reservations about the risky expansion of their circle.
February 18, 1943
Early afternoon on this day, Alexander showed up at Nikolay’s room and told him about the Gestapo patrols in front of the university. He was wearing a gray coat and carrying a briefcase. Independent of Nikolay’s recollection, Lilo Fürst-Ramdohr also remembered that Alexander was carrying a briefcase that day. (See her June 6, 2010 interview with Michael Kloft of Spiegel TV.) Alexander would later tell the Gestapo that he had first heard of the arrests from a classmate named Hans Eichhorn, as he sat in a streetcar. Shortly thereafter, Alexander left Nikolay’s apartment.
Alexander had wanted to get to Hans Scholl’s apartment at Franz-Joseph-Strasse 13. As he approached that rear building, and while he was still in the passageway between the main house and the “garden house” where the Scholl siblings lived, a stranger (a different classmate) warned him about the Gestapo agents who were lying in wait at the Scholls’ apartment.
Alexander then returned to Nikolay’s room. Nikolay offered to let him stay there, since it was clear the Gestapo would not limit their search to the Scholl siblings. Also, thanks to a 25 pound package from his father in Bulgaria, Nikolay was extraordinarily well-stocked with food and supplies.
He also suggested a Bulgarian student in Berlin as possible escape route for Alexander.
The passport and Alexander’s failed escape attempt
Nikolay quickly went grocery shopping. When Alex asked him for it, Nikolay willingly gave him his passport, a jacket, and supplies for his escape. It must have been later that Alexander showed up at Lilo’s apartment, where the new photograph was inserted into the passport and Lilo’s neighbor Miele Roters professionally forged the seal, so the passport was usable and appeared genuine.
During the course of his dangerous escape attempt, the Mittenwald police checked Alexander’s credentials at the Gasthaus Elmau around noon. Thanks to the forged passport, Alexander was not apprehended.
However, on February 24 Alexander sought assistance from a friend named Marie-Luise Uppleger. He found her that night in an air-raid shelter located at Habsburgerplatz 2. Alexander was apprehended by force and arrested.
The Gestapo picked up Nikolay early on the morning of February 25 and did not release him until late that evening. Simultaneously, and during a break in the interrogation of Nikolay, the Gestapo brought in Nikolay’s sister Anna and his landlady Mrs. Maisel and interrogated them as well.
The next morning, Nikolay was once again picked up by the Gestapo (he thinks the agent’s name was Wagner). The Gestapo ordered him to write an official statement. This statement was the source of the account of the theft of Nikolay’s passport.
Nikolay repeatedly gave cigarettes to the secretary of Gestapo Agent Wagner, and in return she assisted him with the formulation of his official statement. (Nikolay could get cigarettes galore from Bulgaria, while cigarettes were strictly rationed in Germany.) Thanks to Alexander Schmorell’s solidarity and confirmation of the “theft” version of events that they had agreed upon in advance, and thanks as well to the positive statements made by his landlady, Nikolay escaped unscathed.
However, later he and his sister both would be repeatedly re-arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned for longer stints.
Nikolay’s friend Georg Schlee was able to attend the April 19, 1943 trial against Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Professor Kurt Huber, Hans Hirzel, Falk Harnack, and others. As a court interpreter, Schlee was deemed above suspicion despite his friendship with the Schmorell family.
In the following months, it was this same Georg Schlee who worked together with Nikolay and a guard they had bribed to plan a jailbreak for Alexander Schmorell, to free him from Stadelheim Prison. As a court interpreter, Schlee had easy access to the prison. Initially Alexander Schmorell was in agreement with their plan. Later he would tell either Schlee or the guard [Nikolay was not sure whom] that he rejected the plan. He could not bear the thought that his escape could have fatal consequences for someone else.
Nikolay said he believes that the details of their plan survived during the denazification process and afterwards, especially once Fritz Hartnagel became a judge. He thinks that Hartnagel may have taken the statement of the guard.
When Alexander Schmorell was buried – on July 14, 1943 at 6:15 p.m. – Nikolay could not gain entrance to the cemetery. He was able, however, to hand white lilies to Alexander’s father through the fence.
The same day, Nikolay saw a placard on Elisabethplatz. The placard announced the execution of the “traitors” Professor Huber and Alexander Schmorell. Nikolay remembers that someone had written Their spirit lives! in boldface across the placard.
1944: Arrest and deportation to Bulgaria
Shortly thereafter, Nikolay returned to Bulgaria and applied for a continuation of his studies in Sweden, which was a neutral country. This application was submitted on the basis of an invitation from a Swedish acquaintance who lived in Munich.
By December 1943, Nikolay was back in Munich, waiting for his Swedish visa. However, he was arrested on January 14, 1944 and imprisoned in the full-to-overflowing basement of the Gestapo jail in the Wittelsbacher Palace, then transferred to police headquarters located in the Ettstrasse. He had to sleep in the corridor and was given food (bread) rations by a Czech woman who had been condemned to death.
Nikolay suffered interrogations that lasted for days on end. They threatened to send him to a concentration camp. Finally they put him in a police transport to Vienna, where he spent six months in prison (the Viennese Gestapo prison Roßauer Lände) under the most atrocious conditions.
[For more about this prison, see this online PDF that describes the prison as a Schreckensort, a place of horror. The Viennese Gestapo had appropriated a beautiful Jewish hotel, the HÔTEL MÉTROPOLE, and the neighboring Roßauer Lände. Around 50,000 people were imprisoned here from 1938 – 1945.]
In September 1944, Nikolay was deported to Bulgaria. The SS transported him and his sister Anna to the Hungarian border by train. At that border, Nikolay had a dangerous encounter with drunken SS men on the train platform. They shouted at him through the open train window and tried to provoke him. His sister Anna convinced him to retreat within himself and not give in to their provocations. Anna would later emigrate to Paris to live with their aunt.
The end of the war and its aftermath
About two weeks after Nikolay arrived in Bulgaria, the Red Army arrived. Four weeks after that, Nikolay was drafted into the new Bulgarian army (October 15, 1944). From November on, he lived in barracks. Thanks to his knowledge of foreign languages, the Soviets did not send him to the front lines. Rather, he worked as a translator for the Allied Western Powers, translating documents etc.
Curiously enough, around 1948 while working as a driver and laborer on the construction of earthquake-proof buildings in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Nikolay ran into former anti-fascists, members of the Ethnikos Laikos Apeleftherotikos Stratos or ELAS, the Greek People’s Liberation Army (Greek resistance). These people had emigrated to the Soviet Union after the Greek Civil War, because of the persecution of ELAS members under the winning regime.
[Note: This is of special interest to anyone researching White Rose resistance, since Falk Harnack deserted from the Wehrmacht and established the AKFD, the Anti-Fascist Committee for a Free Germany, which in turn worked with ELAS to free Greece from Nazi control.]
Back in Stalinist Bulgaria, Nikolay experienced considerable discrimination because of his years of study in Germany. Finally in 1982, at the request of the film director Michael Verhoeven to Bulgarian officials, Nikolay was permitted to move to West Germany and live there.
Nikolay D. Hamazaspian lived in Munich’s Westend for many years. He was an active member of the Weisse-Rose-Institut e.V. Katrin Seybold interviewed him for her documentary Die Widerständigen [Those Who Resisted].
Nikolay attended many commemoration services and conferences, including one held in Orenburg, Russia, Alexander Schmorell’s birthplace. He participated in the Russian Orthodox ceremonies for the canonization of Alexander Schmorell on February 4, 2012.
Following Nikolay’s death on October 1, 2013, the funeral service and interment took place on October 9 following Russian Orthodox rituals. His grave is located in the same row as the graves of Alexander Schmorell and Alex’s half-brother, Erich Schmorell.
With his death, we lost another important contemporary witness who personally knew Alexander Schmorell. Nikolay Daniel Nikolaeff-Hamazaspian, November 3, 1920 – October 1, 2013. His memory is for a blessing.
-By Domenic Saller. Copyright 2013 Domenic Saller. Translated by Denise Elaine Heap (translation copyright DEH). Please contact us for permission to quote.
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We met Nikolay (alt. Nikolai) at the Orenburg conference in September 2007 and enjoyed several good, long conversations with him. During one of those talks, we were distressed to learn that for many years, Nikolay had held a grudge against Lilo Fürst-Ramdohr. He believed that she had tried to “steal” credit for the forged passport.
We tried to explain to Nikolay that she had not done so, that she alone had fully credited him for the Bulgarian passport and for his friendship with Alexander Schmorell. In 2007 and on the basis of Lilo’s memoirs, we were the only people “remembering” that special friendship in print. He was slightly mollified, but grumbled a bit, uncertain that these Americans he spoke with could possibly be right.
We then contacted Domenic Saller, Lilo’s grandson, and advised him of Nikolay’s false impression of Lilo’s memoirs. One of the things we most like and admire about Domenic: He approaches misunderstandings directly and doesn’t allow bad feelings to fester.
Domenic arranged to meet Nikolay in person and discuss the topic. In 2010, Nikolay granted Domenic an in-depth interview (the basis for this essay). They were able to mend fences. Nikolay found peace regarding Lilo’s memories of those days.
We were therefore very pleased when Domenic agreed to write this tribute to Nikolay. As he notes, Nikolay died in relative obscurity and near-poverty. He did not have much in the way of worldly possessions. But his memories? Worth their weight in gold.
Incidentally: Nikolay’s memories also help greatly in the piecing together of the still-unclear sequence of events surrounding Alexander Schmorell’s attempt to escape. That mystery would be worthy of a PhD dissertation.–DEH.