When Karl Friedrich Stellbrink is arrested a few days after his Palmarum sermon on 7 April 1942, the Lübeck regional church has already released him from his duties. House searches are carried out in the parsonage of the Luther congregation and in the Catholic presbytery, and the chaplains are now under intensive observation. In May Johannes Prassek is taken into custody. Chaplain Lange misjudges the seriousness of the situation, when he writes in a letter: “Well, this will not cost you your head right away.” Soon afterwards, the Gestapo also takes him and Eduard Müller prisoner.
Until autumn, a total of 18 participants of the Catholic discussion groups are arrested. Prassek and Müller are held in the remand centre “Lübeck Stadt” in the Burgkloster, Stellbrink and Lange in the men’s prison Lauerhof. They are still hoping for a reasonable sentence: In a letter to the Gestapo, Stellbrink asks to be allowed to prove himself as a soldier.
Shortly before the trial begins, the Catholic Bishop Berning travels to Berlin to stand up for the three chaplains. This remains unsuccessful. In June 1943, the People’s Court (Volksgerichthof) travels to Lübeck for the trial. This takes place under the direction of Vice-President Crohne in the Lübeck Regional Court at Burgtor.
The judgment is predetermined from the beginning. Hitler himself intervened in the wording
of the charges. They are “Broadcasting Crimes”, “Decomposition of the Military Strength”, “Treasonable aiding the enemy” and “Violation of the Treachery Act”.
The four priests are sentenced to death. For the majority of the 18 laities (community members), the sentence is settled with the remand. Only Robert Köster, already 75 years old, and the later Lübeck Senator Adolf Ehrtmann receive longer prison sentences.
After the trial, the clergymen are transferred to the Hamburg prison at Holstenglacis. Bishop Berning drafts a petition for a pardon for the chaplains immediately after the sentence. Even Pope Pius XII is still trying to achieve something for the three men. Hildegard Stellbrink writes a letter to Adolf Hitler personally with the request for a pardon for her husband. Meanwhile, the Lübeck regional church sees itself “unable” to stand up for its pastor. Instead, the Lübeck pastors formulate a petition for pardon, which the German Protestant Church joins. It argues that Karl Friedrich Stellbrink is incompetent due to nervous breakdown and difficult character traits.
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