“He was never famous, and hardly anyone now remembers his name, but he was a very special kind of man …. It was his honesty which led to his death. He refused to tell lies to his friends at a time when telling the truth was a crime.” From Ice Set Free: The Story of Otto Kiep by Bruce Clements.
Otto Carl Kiep was born on July 7, 1886, in Saltcoats, Ayrshire, Scotland, to the Imperial German Consul for Glasgow and Western Scotland Johannes and Charlotte Kiep. His father and uncle had a timber importing business in Glasgow. Otto had three brothers and one sister. By 1909 the family had moved back to Germany and lived in Ballenstedt in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt.
Otto Kiep earned a Bachelor of Law degree in London, England, and a Doctor of Law degree from the University of Leipzig in Germany.
In 1925 when he met his future wife, Hanna Alves, Dr. Kiep was the Reich Chief Press Officer of the Weimar Republic (1918-1933).
Hanna Alves was born February 10, 1904, in Braunschweig, Lower Saxony, Germany. She studied law and political science in Berlin, Germany; Geneva, Switzerland; and Oxford, England.
Otto and Hanna met at a party in Berlin in February 1925 at the home of a mutual friend. They were married December 14, 1925, at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin.
On December 20, 1926, Hanna gave birth to their first child, a son, they named Nikolaus Friedrich Albrecht Kiep. They called him Albrecht.
From December 1926 to 1929 Otto served as Counselor to the German Embassy in Washington, District of Columbia (D.C.), in the United States (US). It would be the first of his two German government postings there.
The Kiep family returned to Germany in 1929, and their second child, Hildegard, was born August 10, 1929, in Berlin-Dahlem.
In 1932 Dr. Kiep was in New York City, New York, serving as the German Consul General.
Eleven months after the above photograph was taken Adolph Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. The Weimar Republic had ended, and so began the rise of the Third Reich which lasted until May 1945.
On March 16, 1933, Dr. Kiep spoke at a dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in honor of German mathematician Dr. Albert Einstein. He made complimentary remarks about the United States and Dr. Einstein in the speech. The comments were brought to the attention of the German government and Chancellor Hitler. Dr. Kiep was summoned back to Germany and had a personal meeting with Hitler. In the Bruce Clements’ book From Ice Set Free: The Story of Otto Kiep Otto told of being lectured for ten minutes by Adolph Hitler on the future of the Third Reich. He also observed that Hitler did not just look at you, but he “watched you.”
Their third child, Hanna Charlotte, was born in New York City on June 2, 1933.
After continuing pressure from the National Socialist Party, Otto wrote a letter of resignation as German Consul General on July 15, 1933.
From 1934 to early 1936 Dr. Kiep represented the German Foreign Ministry in business negotiations in South America and East Asia. In 1936 he was chosen as the German representative to the International Committee on Non-Intervention in London, England. He and Hanna would return to Germany in August 1939.
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. WWII began.
The Abwehr … a secret nest of German Resistance. By the end of September 1939 Otto had been drafted into the German military counter-intelligence service, the Abwehr, and worked for Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Chief of the Abwehr, and Wehrmacht General Hans Oster. Shortly before the start of WWII, Hans Oster recruited Hans von Dohnányi, a German jurist into the Abwehr.
[Hans von Dohnányi was the brother-in-law of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In 1941 he brought Dietrich into the Abwehr under the pretense that his “ecumenical contacts” would be of assistance to Germany. Dietrich would become a courier within the German Resistance movement.
Admiral Canaris, initially supported Hitler, but by 1939 he and other anti-Nazis were working secretly to subvert the Nazi government. He and many other resisters would eventually be arrested for treason and executed.]
The Solf Circle. Dr. Kiep and others had social connections to resistance groups. One such group was the Solf Circle. Hanna Solf, the widow of Dr. Wilhelm Solf who had served in the Weimar Republic, would bring together German intellectuals to discuss the war. A member of the Solf Circle, Elizabeth von Thadden, on September 10, 1943, hosted a birthday party and invited Dr. Paul Reckzeh who claimed to be a Swiss physician and sympathetic to the German Resistance. He was in reality a Gestapo spy. Many of the guests at the party would later be arrested. [Dr. Reckzeh would be the main witness at Otto Kiep’s trial that began on July 1, 1944. He took the witness stand wearing his SS uniform.]
Dr. Otto Kiep was arrested at his home at Taubertstrasse 15, Berlin-Grunewald on January 16, 1944, at four o’clock in the morning. Hanna Kiep was arrested later that month.
Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. After days of interrogation Otto was transported to the German concentration camp of Ravensbrück 56 miles (90 kilometers) north of Berlin. He was put in a cell below ground in the cell building. Hanna was also taken to Ravensbrück and imprisoned on the top floor of the cell building. Neither knew the other was there until they caught a glimpse of one another in late February when both were being moved within the building; they knew to give no sign of recognition of each other.
[Ravensbrück concentration camp was established as a women’s camp in 1939, but in 1944 the “Lange Special Commission” of the Gestapo, which had moved from Berlin because of Allied air raids, used the Ravensbrück cell building to hold and interrogate “special prisoners” such as those involved with the Solf Circle and those later arrested in connection with the 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler.
Nina Schenk Countess von Stauffenberg, wife of 20 July failed assassin Colonel (Oberst) Claus von Stauffenberg, was one of the “special prisoners” held at Ravensbrück.]
Some of the “special prisoners” managed to write letters and keep a diary during their incarceration and had added privileges as compared to other prisoners in the main camp. Being able to secretly communicate with one another through letters and notes was a way Otto and Hanna provided each other solace. Otto knew he would be executed, and while in Ravensbrück he wrote his memoir for his children.
In their communications with each other at Ravensbrück Otto and Hanna would recall past times in their lives. Before Christmas of 1944 they had read aloud the novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder. In a note to Hanna, Otto recalled a passage from the book: “… soon we shall die and … be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” He wrote a poem to her “The Bridge of Love.” While walking in the yard of the cell building compound during an allowed prison exercise period, Otto looked up at the window of the cell that he knew was hers. Hanna had written the word BRIDGE on a note card and held it up to the glass window.
In June 1944, on a Sunday afternoon, Otto and Hanna were allowed to meet for a short time. The SS guards were not on duty on weekends. Another guard, knowing Otto would soon be moved to Berlin for his trial, allowed them a visit.
Both Otto and Hanna had shared a love of the play Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In the play Faust, the protagonist, speaks of spring and Easter. He goes on an Easter Walk (Osterspaziergang) and during the walk in nature, begins to feel that Easter is a time symbolic of a personal rebirth. This is a sentence of Faust’s speech as quoted in Bruce Clements’ book:
“From ice set free are brooks and river,
Touched by spring’s fair, life-giving glance,
And in the valley new hope blooms.”
As Otto Kiep walked out of Ravensbrück concentration camp for the last time to be put on trial in Berlin, he glanced up at Hanna’s cell window and saw cards with the words “From ice set free…”
Dr. Otto Carl Kiep’s trial began in Berlin on July 1, 1944. He was convicted and sentenced to death.
Hanna Kiep was released from Ravensbrück on July 6, 1944.
On August 26, 1944, Dr. Kiep was hanged at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin.
After WWII Hanna Kiep worked in the American occupation zone to establish a civil administration. While working with the Americans she recognized one of her interrogators at Ravensbrück. Her testimony led to his arrest.
In 1946 Hanna was Vice-President of the Bavarian Red Cross in Munich.
From 1951-1969 Mrs. Hanna Kiep was the Women’s Affairs Secretary of the German Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Hanna Kiep died in Pullach, Germany, on August 22, 1979.
She was survived by her daughters, Hildegard and Hanna. Her son, Albrecht, was killed on the Eastern Front in WWII.
The personal accounts of the lives of Otto and Hanna Kiep used in this story are found in the book From Ice Set Free: The Story of Otto Kiep written by Bruce Clements. Mr. Clements was the son-in-law of Hanna Kiep and the husband of Hanna’s daughter, Hanna Charlotte.
Thank you to German historian Dr. Susanne Meinl for assistance in locating information sources and in the research for this story about Otto and Hanna Kiep.
Thank you to Dr. Insa Eschebach, Director, and Cordula Hundertmark, Deputy Director and Head of Scientific Services Department of the Ravensbrück Memorial Museum, for their assistance in my research for this story.
Thank you to G. L. Lamborn for his research assistance.
Thank you to Professor Charles Hansen for the translation of German documents used in this story.
In August 1971 on a trip with my uncle, US Congressman Alvin E. O’Konski and his wife, Bonnie, I met Mrs. Kiep at a luncheon in Munich, Germany. They had become friends in Washington, D.C., when Hanna was posted there with the German Embassy. I remember her as a gracious lady. Little then did I know of her life and losses in WWII.