Franz Leuninger

Franz Leuninger (28 December 1898 – 1 March 1945) was a German trade unionist, politician and resistant against the Nazis' rise to power and regime. Working as a bricklayer after school, he became a member of the trade union for construction workers early on, serving as its regional leader in Silesia in the 1920s. He was a member of the city council of Breslau for the Zentrumspartei from 1930, and ran for the German Reichstag in 1933, as a strong opponent of the Nazi party.

Franz Leuninger
Franz Leuninger.jpg
Born(1898-12-28)28 December 1898
Died1 March 1945(1945-03-01) (aged 46)
Plötzensee Prison, Berlin, Germany
Cause of deathExecution
  • Construction workers' trade union
  • Deutsches Heim

After the 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler, he was arrested as one of the personalities planned for leading positions in a new beginning. Months later, he was sentenced to death and executed. He is remembered as a man who sacrificed his life consciously, based on his Christian faith, to fight against an unjust regime. He was introduced as a martyr of the 20th century by the Catholic Church, and a school and streets were named after him.

Early life and careerEdit

Leuninger was born in Mengerskirchen in the Westerwald region, the third of nine children[1] of the farmer and smith Weinand Leuninger and his wife Elisabeth.[2] He was raised with a strong Christian background, laying the foundation for his belief in human rights such as dignity and freedom of conscience (Menschenwürde und Gewissensfreiheit).[3] After elementary school, despite his abilities, the family could not afford to enroll him in higher education.[4] He took jobs in building farm roads in his hometown, then, not even 14 years old,[4] helping one of his brothers in construction work in Remscheid.[1] He then worked as a bricklayer in the Siegerland region.[2] In the winter season, when construction stopped, he assisted his father in smithing.[1]

During the First World War, he was drafted and served until the end of the war. He ended the war with the rank of Unteroffizier.[1] Afterwards, he worked as bricklayer in the Aachen region.[2] He joined a Christian trade union for construction workers early on, the Christlicher Bauarbeiterverband, a subdivision of Christian trade unions.[1] He became its local secretary in Aachen in 1922.[1] In 1924, he married Anna Paulina Meuser in Mengerskirchen.[2] He rose to district secretary, and worked in the same function in Euskirchen. He was then called to service in Krefeld, where the couple moved into a first apartment together, and three sons were born, Franz, Walter and Herbert.[1] From 1927, not even 30 years old, he led the trade union in Breslau where he was responsible for Silesia.[1][5] He was a member of the Deutsche Zentrumspartei, elected to the city council of Breslau in 1930. In March 1933, he ran for the German Reichstag; in his campaign, he was a strong opponent of the Nazi party.[2] He warned urgently of the consequences of them taking over the government, foreseeing the damage to the trade unions in particular, and democracy, justice and freedom in general.[2] He said in an election meeting in 1932 that all present would lose their homeland (Heimat) if Hitler came to power. [6] Some were irritated by the combination of union manager and Zentrumspartei, but Leuninger clarified that his sense for justice would demand him to stay faithful to the interests of workers even against party interests.[6]

Under the NazisEdit

After the Nazis came to power, the free trade unions were banned, and Leuninger was laid off.[1][7] After a short time of unemployment, he took over the management of a non-profit housing association (Siedlungsgesellschaft) called Deutsches Heim (German home),[2][8] for which he had already worked voluntarily.[1] In this function, he was able to offer jobs to people who criticized the regime.[6] He came into contact with the resistance groups around Carl Goerdeler, the mayor of Leipzig, Ludwig Beck, Generalstabschef des Heeres (Chief of General Staff of the Army) and a leader in the resistance against Hitler, and the Christian trade unionist Jakob Kaiser.[2][8][3]

In World War II, he had to serve in the army in the Invasion of Poland.[7] He wrote in a letter to his brother stating "Es gibt nichts, was einen Krieg rechtfertigt, und es ist jedes Mittel erlaubt, das einen Krieg verhindert," i.e., that nothing justifies war, and all means are permitted to prevent a war.[7] Back at Breslau, he was ready to take the position of Ober-Präsident of Silesia in the Beck/Goerdeler shadow cabinet [de] in a democratic new beginning after a successful revolution.[2][9] After the assassination attempt on Hitler on 20 July 1944 failed, Leuninger was arrested on 26 September, accused of not having reported the peace negotiations of which he was aware. This was a crime of high treason (hochverräterisch) under the contemporary penal code.[3] He remained in custody for several months, while his wife escaped to the West, and their sons were enlisted.[4] He was tried by the People's Court on 28 February 1945.[2] He was sentenced to death, and executed the following day on 1 March 1945 in Plötzensee Prison in Berlin, at the age of 46.[2][10] In a sermon in an ecumenical memorial service at the site on 20 July 1999, Karl Meyer said that Leuninger walked to his execution singing psalms.[11]

Leuninger belonged to those killed when the end of the war was already near.[3] Hermann von Lüninck [de], who was in prison with him, wrote: "He lived the last days with admirable strength, which can only be explained by his deep Christian faith ... Franz Leuninger was a man who sacrificed his life for us and for his fatherland with great awareness and clear will." ("Mit bewundernswerter, nur aus seinem tief-christlichen Glauben erklärlichen Stärke hat er die letzten Tage gelebt ... Franz Leuninger war ein Mensch, der sein Leben ganz bewusst und klaren Willens für uns und für sein Vaterland geopfert hat.")[1]


The Franz Leuninger School in Mengerskirchen

The Catholic Church acknowledged Franz Leuninger as a witness of faith (Glaubenszeuge) in the German Martyrology of the 20th Century [de]. Helmut Moll [de], its commissioner for the topic (Beauftragter der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz für das Martyrologium des 20. Jahrhunderts), kept the memory of people alive who died for their Christian ideals as victims of violence (Gewaltopfer).[12] He spoke in Remscheid on 23 October 2016, opening an exhibition at St. Suitbertus [de] commemorating Leuninger and two others related to Remscheid, Sister Francis van den Berg and the priest Franz Stappers [de].[13]

Biographer Günter Buchstab summarized that Leuninger was a deeply religious Catholic, who understood Christianity as an obligation for solidarity with his fellow men. According to Buchstab, as a trade unionist, Leuninger fought tenaciously and courageously for a more just social order, for the improvement of the situation of the construction workers he represented and their families and as a patriot and upright democrat, he was a determined opponent of political extremism.[14]

The primary school of his birthplace Mengerskirchen in the Limburg-Weilburg district is named after him. A street near the Hinrichtungsstätte Plötzensee where he was executed was called Leuningerpfad in 1962.[5] A street in Hannover's Wettbergen suburb was named after him in 1984.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Moll 2002.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Günter Buchstab 1985.
  3. ^ a b c d Rauch 2004.
  4. ^ a b c Laubach 2004.
  5. ^ a b Kauperts 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Stirken 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Leuninger 1970.
  8. ^ a b Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand 2020.
  9. ^ Leuninger 2 1970.
  10. ^ Jewish Virtual Library 2020.
  11. ^ Meyer 1999.
  12. ^ Limburg 2018.
  13. ^ Remscheid 2016.
  14. ^ Günter Buchstab 1985 ...ein tiefgläubiger Katholik, verstand Christentum als solidarische Verpflichtung für seine Mitmenschen. Als Gewerkschafter kämpfte er hartnäckig und mutig für eine gerechtere soziale Ordnung, für die Verbesserung des Geschicks der von ihm vertretenen Bauarbeiter und ihrer Familien. ... Als Patriot und aufrechter Demokrat war er ein entschiedener Gegner des politischen Extremismus.
  15. ^ Helmut Zimmermann [de]: Leuningerstraße, in Die Straßennamen der Landeshauptstadt Hannover, Verlag Hahnsche Buchhandlung, Hannover 1992, ISBN 3-7752-6120-6, p. 159

Cited sourcesEdit

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