Cato Bontjes van Beek
||This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (November 2010)|
|Cato Bontjes van Beek|
November 14, 1920|
|Died||August 5, 1943
Plötzensee Prison, Berlin, Germany
|Cause of death||Guillotine|
|Known for||Member of the Widerstand|
Born in Fischerhude near Bremen, Cato was the eldest of three children. She spent her childhood and youth in the Worpswede/Fischerhude artists' colony near Bremen. Cato's parents, potter Jan Bontjes van Beek and dancer and painter Olga Bontjes van Beek (née Breling) offered their children no material wealth, but rather an abundance of artistic and mental stimulation, which had a decisive effect on the children. The family's political leanings were unequivocally anti-fascist. Cato did not join the Bund Deutscher Mädel. In 1939, Helmut Schmidt, who would become chancellor of West Germany thirty years later, was stationed in Vegesack for his military service. During this time he had an intense friendship with Tim and Cato Bontjes van Beek and their families. Schmidt eventually broke off this friendship because of their contacts with the Red Orchestra resistance group.
From 1940 on, Cato and her sister Mietje lived with their father in Berlin, where he had moved in 1933 in the hopes of spreading his artistic work. They met friends at their father's house who opposed the Nazi regime. Cato also learned her father's craft, and caused her schoolteacher some problems by being outspoken, at a time when the Nazis had just come to power. "Children," he had intoned, even though he was not a Party member, "one cannot swim against the current." Cato retorted, "But we can!"
Both sisters saw the wrong that the Nazis inflicted upon others, were affected by it, and tried to help. Beginning in 1941, this included giving humanitarian aid to French prisoners of war. Both Cato and Mietje would go to the Lehrter Bahnhof, the railway terminal where the prisoners were often to be found, to hand out cigarettes and matches, exchange letters, and give the prisoners gifts of soap and gloves.
Van Beek's active work against the Nazis began in the Red Orchestra resistance organization after she had gotten to know Libertas Schulze-Boysen. After this group was broken up, she undertook further action together with Heinz Strelow. She printed and distributed illegal writings and leaflets which sought to arouse readers to the struggle and resistance against the Nazi regime. Van Beek was arrested by the Gestapo on 20 September 1942 in her father's pottery shop in Berlin. On 18 January 1943, she was found guilty at the Reichskriegsgericht ("Reich Military Tribunal") of "abetting a conspiracy to commit high treason" and sentenced to death. She was guillotined on 5 August 1943 at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin.
Cato's younger sister Mietje Bontjes van Beek managed to escape Nazi persecution, despite her activities, and is still alive and living in Fischerhude as of 2008.
Places named after Cato Bontjes van Beek
A Gymnasium in Achim, a town near Bremen, has since 1991 borne the name Cato Bontjes van Beek-Gymnasium. A street in nearby Fischerhude also bears her name, and an explanatory notice. Both these places are in the Verden district.
Hermann Vinke: Cato Bontjes van Beek. 'Ich habe nicht um mein Leben gebettelt'. Ein Porträt ("I Did Not Beg for my Life"; A Portrait). Zürich, Hamburg 2003: Arche. ISBN 3-7160-2313-2
Heidelore Kluge: Cato Bontjes van beek. 'Ich will nur eins sein und das ist ein Mensch'. (I only want to be one thing - and that's a Human.) Stuttgart 1995: Urachhaus. ISBN 3-8251-7003-9
- Cato Bontjes van Beek in the German National Library catalogue
- Brief biography (Ger.) and another picture
- Site about the artist's colony where Cato Bontjes van Beek was from