Cato Bontjes van Beek

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Cato Bontjes van Beek
CIC RO C Bontjes van Beek detail.jpg
Born(1920-11-14)November 14, 1920
Bremen, Germany
DiedAugust 5, 1943(1943-08-05) (aged 22)
Plötzensee Prison,
Berlin, Germany
Cause of deathExecuted
Known forMember of the Widerstand

Cato Bontjes van Beek (14 November 1920 – 5 August 1943) was a German member of the Resistance against the Nazi regime.

Early years[edit]

Born in Bremen, Cato was the eldest of three children. She spent her childhood and youth in the nearby Fischerhude artists' colony around her uncle Otto Modersohn. Her parents, the Dutch-born potter Jan Bontjes van Beek (1899–1969) and dancer and painter Olga Bontjes van Beek, née Breling (1896–1995) offered their children a lot of personal freedom while growing up. From 1929, Cato stayed abroad to attend the German school in Amsterdam, and in 1937, she spent time in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, as an au pair.[1]

Unlike many other Cato did not join the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel, BDM) youth organisation.[1] Through her brother Tim, she met Luftwaffe Sergeant Helmut Schmidt, the future Chancellor of Germany, who from 1937 was stationed in Bremen-Vegesack for his military service and during this time had an intense friendship with the Bontjes van Beek family. However, Schmidt eventually broke off this friendship when he began an officers' training in order to join the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe in Berlin.

From 1940 on, Cato and her sister Mietje lived with their father in Berlin, where he had already 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, though, struggled to choose a profession and attempted to become a pilot. This even included joining the National Socialist Flyers Corps to learn gliding.[1] However, Cato eventually decided to learn her father's craft.

In 1940, Cato experienced the deportation of a Jewish family who lived in the same house. In a letter to her aunt Paula Modersohn-Becker, she then expressed her worries about "something terrible" to come.[1] Both sisters saw the wrong that the Nazis inflicted upon others, were affected by it, and tried to help. Beginning in September 1940, this included giving humanitarian aid to French prisoners of war. Both Cato and Mietje would hand out bread or exchange letters to them while riding the Berlin S-Bahn.[1][2]

Resistance activities[edit]

Cato Bontjes van Beek memorial, Fischerhude cemetery

Van Beek's active work against the Nazis began in the Red Orchestra resistance organization after she had gotten to know Libertas Schulze-Boysen in autumn 1941.[1] Together with her friend, the author Heinz Strelow, she distributed illegal writings and leaflets which sought to arouse readers to the struggle and resistance against the Nazi regime.[3][4]

In the course of the suppression of the resistance group, van Beek was arrested by Gestapo agents on 20 September 1942 in her father's pottery shop in Berlin. On 18 January 1943, she was found guilty at the Reichskriegsgericht military court of "abetting a conspiracy to commit high treason" and sentenced to death. A clemency appeal of the 22-year-old was personally denied by Adolf Hitler, though the court itself had suggested a reprieve.[5] She was guillotined on 5 August 1943 at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin,[1] together with 19-year-old Liane Berkowitz, who had given birth to a daughter in April. Her body was released to the institute of anatomy of Hermann Stieve on the same evening.[1][6] Her final resting place is unknown.

Cato's younger sister Mietje Bontjes van Beek managed to escape Nazi persecution, despite her activities, and lived in Fischerhude until her death in 2012. Cato's mother after a 12-year-long process finally reached the official reversal of her daughter's conviction in 1999.[7]


Stolperstein memorial in front of last address Kaiserdamm No. 22, Berlin-Westend

A gymnasium secondary school 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. Further streets and public squares are named after her in Bremen, Leipzig, and Meldorf.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Geyken, Frauke (2015). "'Etwas Furchtbares wird passieren'" ['Something terrible is going to happen']. Damals (in German). Vol. 47 no. 5. pp. 72–76.
  2. ^ Landesentrale für politische Bidung Baden-Württemberg (2013), Cato Bontjes van Beek - Als junge Frau im Widerstand
  3. ^ Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand (1996-2014), Biografien: Cato Bontjes van Beek
  4. ^ "AGIS" (1942), Die Sorge um Deutschlands Zukunft geht durch das Volk, Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand 1996-2014
  5. ^ Gnadengesuche, Gedenkstätte Plötzensee
  6. ^ Stein, Rosemarie (2007), Erinnern und Vorbeugen – Ärzte im Nationalsozialismus, Berliner Ärzte 44 (4), 28-29
  7. ^ Schmidt, Helmut (2003), Rezension: Hermann Vinkes bewegendes Buch über das Leben und Sterben der Widerstandskämpferin Cato Bontjes van Beek, Die Zeit, Nr. 23/2003, Seite 47

Further reading[edit]

  • Kluge, Heidelore (1995). 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'] (in German). Stuttgart: Urachhaus. ISBN 3-8251-7003-9.
  • Vinke, Hermann (2003). Cato Bontjes van Beek. 'Ich habe nicht um mein Leben gebettelt'. Ein Porträt ['I Did Not Beg for my Life'; A Portrait] (in German). Zurich, Hamburg: Arche. ISBN 3-7160-2313-2.
  • Friedman, Ina R. (1995). Flying against the wind: the story of a young woman who defied the Nazis. Brookline, Mass.: Lodgepole Press. ISBN 1886721009.
  • Flügge, Manfred (1998). Meine Sehnsucht ist das Leben. Eine Geschichte aus dem deutschen Widerstand. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag. ISBN 3351023472.
  • Margarete Bertzbach, Manfred Ringmann, Klaus Schaumann, Hrsg. (2008). Cato Bontjes van Beek 1920-1943, Ev.-luth. Kirchengemeinde Fischerhude

External links[edit]