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Roland Hering (* 1942)

Resistance fighter, Interbrigadist and concentration camp survivor

  • he was born in Freiberg on the 13th October 1942

  • he and his nine siblings were orphaned in 1945 after the end of the war

  • after their parents’ death, the siblings were put into a children’s home and then split up, Roland was adopted

  • started school in 1949 at the Pestalozzi school

  • shortly after, the family moved to Dresden, where Roland went to the 23th primary school

  • in 1956, he decided to leave school and attend a cadet school in Naumburg

  • 1961 graduation from the cadet school

  • from 1961 until 1963, he attended the military academy in Stralsund from where he graduated as nautical officer of the East German marine (Volksmarine)

  • he worked at the military counterintelligence until 1972

  • from 1972 until 1987, he worked at the district administration in Dresden, simultaneously studied law (graduated with a diploma in 1982)

  • from 1987 until 1990, he worked at the Altenberg bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton track

  • after the German reunification, he worked in the building management sector in Dresden

  • he worked later in the insurance sector

  • he retired in 2006

We spoke to Roland Hering, born in Freiberg on the 13th October 1942, about his adoptive father’s life during the time of National Socialism in Germany and as soldier in the Spanish Civil War.

Roland Hering’s biological parents were born in 1902 and 1910. They lived with their ten children in a poorhouse on the outskirts of Freiberg in the Erzgebirge. However, both of them passed away shortly after the war, leaving their children orphaned. Roland Hering and his siblings were put in a children’s home and later adopted by different families. Roland Hering himself was adopted by Arno Hering and Gerda Hering, née Kopprasch.

Arno Hering was born in 1907 in Struppen, a village near Pirna in eastern Saxony. His father, Martin Hering, was politically active in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and later joined the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), which split from the SPD in 1916 because they disagreed with the ongoing war. Martin Hering later became a member of the Spartakusbund, the predecessor of the Communist Party (KPD). In fact, he cofounded the local branch of the Communist Party in his hometown Struppen and joined the workers’ and soldiers’ council that organised the local self-government during the November Revolution in 1918. His biggest success was organising the blockade of a military transport going from Dresden to Bohemia.

By then, his son Arno was already politicised as well. Already as a child, he had helped his father hang up election posters and eavesdropped on his father’s political conversations, whenever party friends came over to their house. His first political contacts outside his family were a group of young anarchists to which one of his school friends belonged. However, Arno Hering did not always see eye to eye with the anarchists and decided to join a group of young communists in Pirna instead. He was very active in this group and soon founded a communist youth organisation in his hometown Struppen and at 19-years-old, Arno Hering became a member of the Communist Party.

In the early 1930s, it became apparent that the National Socialist Party (NSDAP) gained popularity amongst Germans. Arno Hering saw this development critically and openly warned against a possible Nazi takeover. Like his father, he joined the Spartakusbund. One of his functions within this group was guarding political events which were being disturbed more and more often by members of the SA. Apart from these activities, Arno Hering stayed involved in local politics and got elected into the municipal council and became mayor of Struppen.

When the NSDAP seized power on the 30th of January 1933, the ban of the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party was one of the first things the Nazis enforced. As active antifascist, Arno Hering feared being arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp. Hence, he went into hiding. For the first few days, the minister’s housekeeper offered him a hiding spot in the rectory of Struppen. From there, he emigrated to northern Bohemia, close to the German border, where German antifascists smuggled press products from the ČSR to Germany, in order to circumvent the Nazi censorship. Another important task included the smuggling of German antifascists over the border to the ČSR, where they could live in safety.

After living in Bohemia for a few months, Arno was visited by his brother, who informed him that their father Martin Hering had been imprisoned in the concentration camp Hohnstein. The Gestapo had approached Arno Hering’s brother, saying that they were going to free his father, if Arno Hering turned himself in. However, Arno Hering doubted that the Gestapo would keep their end of the bargain, because he was sure that they wanted to imprison him as well as his father. This is why he refused to return to Germany and turn himself in but rather stayed in the ČSR where he continued his work. In consequence, Martin Hering was tortured to death in November of 1933. He was 54 years old.

Arno Hering spent the next five years in the ČSR, constantly on the move, trying to elude the authorities. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, he was eager to leave for Spain. However, he needed the permission of the Communist Party, who prioritised the smuggling work at the border. Finally, in 1938, the KPD granted Arno Hering his request to fight in Spain against Franco. They organised him a travel permit under the cover of being a Swedish businessman. Because he did not speak any Swedish, he was accompanied by a Swedish-speaking comrade. They took a plane from Prague to Strasbourg, where they met with other volunteers. From there, they travelled in groups to the south of France – sometimes on foot, sometimes in vehicles. At the French-Spanish border, they met with the others and formed new groups for the border crossing. Once they had entered Spain, they travelled to a meeting point, where they received a uniform. From there, Arno Hering went to Montblanc, a small town west of Barcelona, where he spent a week in basic military training. Afterwards, he joined the Edgar-André-battalion, a German-Austrian battalion within the International Brigades in Spain, as heavy machine gunner.

One time, in battle, the heavy machinegun was overheating, so Arno Hering tried to get water for cooling down the gun. In the process, he had to leave his cover and got hit by several shrapnel in the neck and in his thigh. He was wounded so heavily that he had to be brought to a military hospital, where he was being treated. As soon, as he felt better, Arno Hering returned to the front and joined the defence of Madrid and Barcelona. He stayed until the very end of the Spanish Civil War, participating in the big final parade of the International Brigades in Barcelona. Afterwards, they had to surrender their arms and were turned over to France, where they were detained in camps.

In 1941, France turned over Arno Hering to Germany, where he got charged for preparing a high treason and was detained in pre-trial confinement in Dresden. The following year, he was sentenced to twelve years in prison by the Volksgerichtshof in Berlin, a court specialising on charges of treason and high treason. Arno Hering was immediately transferred to the prison in Straubing, Bavaria, where he was forced to work in factories, building components for airplanes for the Messerschmitt-company. From time to time, he tried sabotaging the products but never on a grand scale. Prison life itself was lonely. In Straubing, the prisoners were either regular criminals or political prisoners. However, the guards always made sure to isolate the political prisoners, so that they could not exchange experiences or organise themselves.

When Straubing was bombed by American and British air forces, the prisoners were not permitted to enter a basement or a bunker. Instead, they had to stay in their cells. Afterwards, about four or five thousand prisoners were sent on a death march to the concentration camp Dachau, over a hundred kilometres southwest of Straubing. What the prison guards did not know, was that by then, Dachau had already been freed by American soldiers. The guards received this information, when the prisoners had already covered half the distance, so they sent them back to Straubing. Soon after, American soldiers arrived in Straubing and freed the prisoners. Any prisoner, who was a miner or a railway worker, was allowed to immediately return home. Since his father had been a railway worker, Arno Hering pretended to be one as well. Thus, he was able to return home to Struppen on the 8th of May.

Back in 1932, Arno Hering had asked a young woman, called Margarete Klügel, to marry him. After his emigration, she had stayed with her family in Dresden. It was difficult to stay in touch because of Arno Hering’s illegal activities and later because he was fighting in Spain and got imprisoned in Straubing. Upon his return to Struppen however, he had to learn that his fiancée had been killed during the bombing of Dresden. Dealing with the loss was difficult. What helped him, was talking to his sister-in-law, Gerda Hering. Her husband Erich Hering had been fighting for the Wehrmacht in Russia and was reported missing, presumed dead. Both of them found comfort in each other, which helped them to deal with the loss of their spouses. Soon, they moved in together in Pirna and when Arno Hering was transferred to Freiberg, Gerda moved with him to the Erzgebirge, where they took Roland in.

With his return to Saxony, Arno Hering resumed his political work and joined the regional administration of the Communist Party in Pirna. In 1947, he got promoted to first secretary of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) in Freiberg. Because he was active in local government, Arno Hering kept a close relationship to the Soviet occupying forces. High ranking Soviet officers and their interpreter came to the Hering’s house for dinner and brought small gifts for the four-year-old Roland. In 1949, Arno Hering completed a course at the Higher Party School in Kleinmachnow, which qualified him to work for the Saxonian State Government. Arno Hering was working as personnel manager in the Ministry of Agriculture in Dresden. He continued to work as first secretary of the SED in Dresden. His political career ended abruptly in 1952, when he was fined and fired from all political offices. From then on, he worked in different jobs as mechanic and joined the customs authority in 1962 where he worked until he retired five years later. Gerda Hering on the other hand was first and foremost a mother and housewife. She had small jobs here and there, like selling photo paper or creating invoices until her retirement in 1974.

When the Hering family moved to Dresden in 1950, the city still lay in ruins. They lived in a part of the city, that had not been bombed but many ruins within the city were not rebuilt until the late 1960s. It was still a dangerous time. Frequently, they heard of children who had died while playing in the ruins. On his way to school, Roland often saw the remnants of the war, written on the ruins of the city. On some houses, he could still make out the letters “LSR”, marking the air-raid shelters. On other houses, people had left messages for their missing loved ones, writing their new addresses on the ruins of their old home, in the hope of their spouses, parents or children finding them.

His hometown was not the only thing in young Roland Hering’s life that was scarred by war. His father Arno Hering was both mentally and physically marked by his experiences in Spain and in prison. The wounds from the shrapnel had never healed properly which resulted in the scars hurting for the rest of his life. Even decades after the war and his imprisonment, Arno Hering still woke up at night, screaming. What burdened him the most, was his father’s death for which he blamed himself. Interestingly, he never sought revenge, even though the people who sentenced him to twelve years in prison successfully continued their careers in judiciary in West Germany. Arno Hering often said that he wanted to build a new society for which he needed people, even if that meant former members of the NSDAP.

© Všechna práva vycházejí z práv projektu: CINEMASTORIES OF WWII - Documentary films featuring WWII survivors and members of resistance as awareness and educational tools towards unbiased society

  • Witness story in project CINEMASTORIES OF WWII - Documentary films featuring WWII survivors and members of resistance as awareness and educational tools towards unbiased society (Viola Wulf)