Unfortuanately, we have no photo of Jakob Barbian until now. However, we can imagine what he looked like. His prison file from Ulm describes him as 180 cm tall, powerfully built, well-nourished, with large gaps between his teeth.
Jakob Barbian was born on 23 November 1900 in Neunkirchen /Saar as a miner’s son, and was baptised a Protestant. Jakob’s father died when he was ten years old, which almost certainly meant that his childhood was spent in poverty. On completion of elementary school he followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a miner.
At the age of 17 he volunteered for military service and served as an infantry soldier in the First World War. He reportedly suffered gas poisoning, and was wounded by mine shrapnel at Cambrai, losing the thumb, middle and index finger of his left hand. During the course of his military service he was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class and the Bavarian Order of Merit.
After the First World War he worked as a train driver in a mine near Dortmund and in 1921 married Gertrud Wiederhost. In the following year their son Jakob Bernhard was born. The marriage did not go well, and by mutual consent the couple divorced in 1932.
His career was also plagued with bad luck. As the result of an explosion in the Anna Pit, in which 262 miners were killed, Jakob Barbian suffered a back injury. His last shift was on 03.02.1932.
At this point there are inconsistencies concerning possible employment and an accident in Alsdorf on 21.10.1932. And we know that the following years were characterised by unemployment, theft, smuggling runs to The Netherlands, and prison sentences. In 1937 things started looking up for Jakob Barbian after he took the plunge and moved to Geislingen an der Steige, gaining employment as a train driver in the Karl Pit, part of the GHH concern, or Gute-Hoffnungs-Hütte.
On his second day at work, fate struck again and he was injured in an industrial accident and was admitted Göppingen hospital. It is here that he must have met his second wife Katharina, twice widowed, and twelve years older, née Kingeter. They married on 18.9.1937 and Jakob Barbian moved into her apartment in Metzgerstrasse 72, Göppingen.
Mrs. Barbian wrote later in a compensation claim: “The only assets that my husband brought into our marriage were his clothes.”
Jakob Barbian built up a good relationship with his two children by marriage, and his career went well – he was given a job as carpenter and painter at Boehringer.
He did not settle down in the long term. In 1939 he was on sick leave with asthma for five months while his wife suffered from chronic high blood pressure and heart problems. Perhaps this was the reason that he was open for extramarital adventures when the opportunity arose at the end of 1939, when a friend introduced him to Göppingen housewife Regina Kurz, who was described as “fun-loving and fond of men’s company”. Fate took its course. Regine Kurz was pregnant by her mother-in-law’s Czech sub-tenant and asked Barbian for help. At first he refused, citing the drastic punishments for abortion. Then he gave her the tip of trying crushed curd soap. Was he hoping for a romantic encounter?
Mrs. Kurz’s husband, Karl Kurz came home on leave in 1940 and heard of Barbian’s relationship with his wife, and charged him with insult, humiliation and the offence that he had “seduced and committed adultery with the wife of a national comrade on active service” and “acted as an accessory to abortion”.
It is not known why Kurz charged Barbian of all people, when his wife had had so many affairs. It is important to note at this point that Karl Kurz was a shady character who lived a double life. In Düben an der Mulde in, Saxony, he had an affair with a woman he later married. The couple had a son, and after the Second World War, Karl Kurz was found guilty of bigamy.
The abortion lead to a tragedy that ultimately ended in Jakob Barbian’s death. He was arrested by the Gestapo Stuttgart on 27.02.1940, and transferred via Göppingen remand centre to Welzheim concentration camp. On 3.5.1940 he was sentenced by the court in Göppingen on charges of insult and accessory to abortion to five months prison, and ordered to bear to the costs of the trial.
The proclamation of sentence listed the grounds: “Insulting a member of the Wehrmacht while on active service by forging of sexual relations with his wife Regina Kurz, née Oesterle ”and“ Accessory to abortion, having given the advice to Regina Kurz, who had extramarital relations with Czechs, to abort using soap.”
Jakob Barbian was now in the clutches of the Nazis from which there was no escape. First he was brought to the penal institution in Ulm. After serving his sentence, on Gestapo instructions he was transferred to Police Prison II on 3.8.1940, pending the results of an investigation into the possibility of him being taken into “protective custody.” Due to his history of smuggling and his 3-year prison sentence in the 1930s, he was branded a criminal and sentenced to protective custody for political activities.
On 11 October after “examination” he was transferred to Dachau concentration camp where he was given the inmate number 20494. From 9 May to 12 May he was placed under commandant’s arrest or bunker, a particularly hard punishment within concentration camps:
“The bunker was a part of the penal system designed to break the inmate’s personality. Commandant’s arrest generally meant solitary confinement in total darkness and food deprivation; sadistic assaults by guards were commonplace. Minor infringements were sufficient to earn this kind of punishment. A more intense form of arrest was a standing cell.”*
On 12 July 1941 he was transferred to the ‘Arbeitskommando’ (labour gang) at KZ Buchenwald, with the inmate number 8300.
On 18 March 1943 at 6.55 am, Jakob Barbian allegedly died at Buchenwald, the recorded cause of death was nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys).
His widow Käthe Barbian made the following statement in a compensation process which failed to grant her damages: “In the clothes that were returned to me, I found a hand-written note by my husband sown into a jacket: ‘Viel erlebt, u. viel gelitten, mitten durch den Dreck geschritten, ausgehalten bis zum Schluß. Lazarus’ “Seen a lot and suffered much, walked right through the muck, endured it to the very end, Lazarus”
(18.02.2016 at / mw)