Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cato Bontjes van Beek

The library I work in has an exhibition of biographies and autobiographies at the moment and I have found a lot of books that I'm interested in. I picked up Hermann Vinke's biography of Cato Bontjes van Beek because while I had heard the name, I knew almost nothing about her.
Cato was executed for treason in 1943, she was 22 years old.She had grown up in an artistic community in Fischerhude, with many ties to the community in Worpswede. A childhood with a lot of freedom and many friends with views that were decidedly anti-fascist.
Cato never conformed to the standards of the Nazi regime. When living in Berlin, she and her sister Mietje would give French prisoners of war small gifts such as cigarettes and soap and would secretly exchange letters with them, even though this may well have landed them in prison.

Finally, she came into contact with the resistance group Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra) and began writing, printing and distributing leaflets for them. When the group was exposed, Cato was arrested and sentenced to death. Despite many petitions and recommendations by highranking Nazi offcials including Hermann Göring to transform the verdict into a prison sentence, Hitler himself made the final decision to go ahead with the execution. Cato died along with 15 others at Plötzensee Prison

Cato and her friends of the Red Orchestra were forgotten afterwards in Germany or were depicted as traitors due to their ties with the Soviet Union. These days, their stories are rediscovered, but compared to Sophie Scholl or Claus Graf von Stauffenberg, only very few people know anything about them.

Hermann Vinke spoke with Cato's brother and sister and had access to the many letters they wrote to each other and friends. He makes her come very much alive and paints a vivid picture of an exceptional young woman. If you read German, I highly recommend the book to you.
This is the first book I read as part of the Library challenge.

Added in November 2011:
I see that a lot of Canadians find this entry after a documentary on Cato was shown on TV there. I'm happy that so many of you are interested in her and I looked for some more websites about her. Here's one about the Red Orchestra with a short bio and another one. If you read German, then this will be interesting (opens as PDF) or maybe Google translate can help.

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