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“My father was already dead when he was still alive”

Werner Hansch is a legend among sports commentators and known as the “voice of the Ruhr Valley.” He has a special connection to the International Tracing Service (ITS). In 2014, he learned by chance that the ITS archive might have information about his father’s persecution in its holdings. His inquiry gave him the clarity he had been lacking for many decades. When he was invited to give a lecture at the Bad Arolsen Lions Club in April 2018, he took advantage of the opportunity to visit the ITS. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of my old father,” he tells us. In his hands he holds the original documents about his father’s conviction for preparations for high treason. “Stefan Hansch was a simple coal miner, but he took the other side. He didn’t run after that brown pied piper.”

Werner Hansch’s father, a Pole by birth, had obtained an explosive for a friend from the mine who was planning an attack. The latter was found out and arrested, and presumably revealed the names of his helpers under torture. One of them was Stefan Hansch, who had joined the German Communist Party the year before Hitler came to power. “That was brave, to say the least,” his son comments. On April 27, 1934, the Nazis sentenced Stefan to two years’ detention. A document in the ITS archive shows that he was in custody in the Esterwegen concentration camp. In 1935, he came back home, but not for long. A visit to a pub in May 1938 had dire consequences—the innkeeper informed on him. Stefan had said he didn’t know why everyone was running after Adolf Hitler. After all, Hitler was also just a worker. His “subversive remark” earned the forty-eight-year-old committal to a concentration camp once again, now for “preventive custody” in Buchenwald. His wife was pregnant at the time.

Werner Hansch was born into difficult circumstances. To make ends meet, his mother moved to Poland with him, where her family lived. His sisters were already working. Werner doesn’t remember when he first saw his father. Stefan had been released from camp imprisonment in 1939. To escape the approaching Soviet army, his mother moved back to the Ruhr area with him. “I never had a father in the classical sense,” Werner explains. He can still remember Stefan – sick from the work in the mine, broken from his time in the camps—passively sitting in the living room, smoking a pipe and gazing into space. At first he was opposed to his son’s qualifying for university study, simply because he couldn’t imagine a miner’s son at a Gymnasium, but later he gave up his resistance. And even if Werner’s life hasn’t always taken a straight path and he owes his career to a lot of lucky coincidences, he did go to university.

Before he inquired with the ITS, all Werner knew was that his father had been in a concentration camp and later received a small pension because of it. He knew nothing about the reasons or circumstances. The very precise documents about Stefan’s arrests, the grounds for his conviction and his concentration camp history gave Werner a new perspective on his own life—a perspective made all the clearer by the original documents, his father’s signature on records from Buchenwald, and the ITS staff’s explanations. His visit to the ITS awakened a lot of memories of his father, which he recalled for us in his humorous and inimitable manner.