From the Catholic Stronghold to the "Bulwark" of the Brown Shirts

(1914 to 1945)

  • A few weeks after the end of World War II, American troops marched into Trier in December 1918. Photo: City Archives
    A few weeks after the end of World War II, American troops marched into Trier in December 1918. Photo: City Archives
  • Assembly of the “brown shirts”: Nazi Gauleiter Gustav Simon speaks to his followers at the district Nazi party congress in 1937. Photo: City Archives
    Assembly of the “brown shirts”: Nazi Gauleiter Gustav Simon speaks to his followers at the district Nazi party congress in 1937. Photo: City Archives
  • Trier under the swastika: Parade in Simeonstrasse during the Nazi party congress in July 1937. Photo: City Archives
    Trier under the swastika: Parade in Simeonstrasse during the Nazi party congress in July 1937. Photo: City Archives
  • A special identity card with a red “J” stamped on it further advanced the exclusion of the Jews in 1939. Photo: Municipal Museum Simeonstift.
    A special identity card with a red “J” stamped on it further advanced the exclusion of the Jews in 1939. Photo: Municipal Museum Simeonstift.
  • The “stumbling blocks” laid in the street paving in recent years commemorate the fate of the Jewish citizens deported from Trier.
    The “stumbling blocks” laid in the street paving in recent years commemorate the fate of the Jewish citizens deported from Trier.
  • The Cathedral was severely damaged during the allied bombing in World War II. Photo: City Archives
    The Cathedral was severely damaged during the allied bombing in World War II. Photo: City Archives
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Owing to its proximity to the western front, Trier was one of the few German cities that were bombed even in the First World War. Twenty-nine people were killed in 22 bombings, some of which were night attacks. Following the ceasefire, American troops marched into Trier on December 1, 1918. In August of 1919, the French, according to the Treaty of Versailles, assumed the occupation of the city until 1930. The relationship between the townspeople and the military was characterized, especially in 1923, the year of the occupation of the Ruhr by the French and Belgian military, by mutual mistrust, sometimes even by open enmity. In addition, in this crisis year, separatists fighting for the separation of the Rhineland from Germany, took control of Trier City Hall.

In the Weimar Republic Trier remained a stronghold of the Catholic Zentrum political party until 1933. But Hitler’s appointment as Reich’s Chancellor on January 30, 1933, celebrated in Trier with a mass rally organized by the Nazi Party, marked the end of democracy even at the communal level, as everywhere else in Germany. The Social Democratic Party’s daily newspaper, the “Volkswacht,” was forbidden; dedicated communists and social democrats were arrested and tortured; Jewish businesses were boycotted. The Trier Nazi Party leader and Gauleiter (district head) Gustav Simon pursued the goal of making Catholic Trier a bulwark of the Nazi state.

In 1933, the Jewish community in Trier, with their synagogue in Zuckerbergstrasse since 1859, numbered about 800 members. The daily harassment under the Nazi dictatorship peaked in the so-called Kristallnacht on the night of November 9/10, 1938: Violent Nazis profaned the synagogue, destroyed Jewish businesses and residences, and mistreated the residents. These events were, however, only a prelude to the horrific events during the Second World War: Between 1941 and 1943, more than 600 Jews were deported from Trier to the East. The large majority were murdered in the annihilation camps.

After the city had been bombed again and again sporadically by allied attacks since 1940, Trier experienced the first surface bombing of the inner city on August 14, 1944. During this attack the Roman Imperial Throne Room, the Protestant church, burned out completely. Owing to its proximity to the front, the city was evacuated in the autumn of 1944. Technical, medical, security, and military personnel remained behind – around 3,000 people. They experienced the heavy bombings of December 19, 21, and 23, 1944, when 420 people were killed. The damage to the centuries-old structures was significant: Among those destroyed or severely damaged were the convent St. Irmina’s, the Electoral Palace, the Steipe, and the Cathedral. Of 9,097 homes in Trier in 1939, only 1,422 survived undamaged.

In January 1945, a military commander assumed power in Trier. But the upgrading of Trier as a “fortress” propagated by the Nazis proved to be impossible; the city fell without heavy fighting on March 2, 1945, into the hands of the advancing US tank troops.

Text: Ralph Kießling
Literature: Gabriele Clemens/Lukas Clemens: Geschichte der Stadt Trier, Munich, 2007

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