In Memoriam: Nikolay Daniel Nikolaeff-Hamazaspian

Nikolay Daniel Nikolaeff-Hamazaspian

We first met Nikolay at the September 2007 conference in Orenburg, Russia. He was a fascinating character, intense, intelligent, passionate. He offered fresh new insight into the personhood of Alexander Schmorell, a man Nikolay called friend.
     To Nikolay, Alexander was not a historical figure. He was a fellow student who likewise cared about POWs and forced laborers. Together, Alexander and Nikolay would take bread and tobacco to French (and later, Russian) POWs. Nikolay talked about those days with the easy familiarity we have when we remember good times spent with friends of our youth. Clearly to Nikolay, Alexander Schmorell was but a heartbeat away.
     We were distressed, however, when Nikolay told us in private conversation how angry he was with Lilo Fürst-Ramdohr. He perceived Lilo's memoirs as falsely taking credit for Alexander's forged passport. We explained to him that she plainly wrote that Alexander had gotten the passport from Nikolay, and that her involvement solely lay in her neighbor's subsequent insertion of Alex's photograph and forging of the official seal. Nikolay would only be partly mollified.
     When we returned from Russia, we talked to Domenic Saller (Lilo's grandson) about Nikolay's perception of Lilo's memories. True to Domenic's character, he broached the subject with Nikolay head-first, no beating around the bush. A curious friendship emerged between the older Armenian gentleman and the brash young Bavarian. In 2010, Nikolay sat down for a four-hour "official" interview with Domenic.
     It was only natural, then, to ask Domenic to pen our tribute to Nikolay. We greatly appreciate his willingness to do so.- Denise Heap.

     Nikolay’s family was of Armenian descent. They came from the southern Russian Caucasus region that was controlled by the White Army. In 1920, Nikolay’s family fled the terror of war on a British ship, on which Nikolay was born November 3, 1920. They first went to Turkey, then on to Bulgaria. Nikolay grew up in Sofia and attended a private Russian high school (Gymnasium, or college preparatory school).
     Nikolay’s father – Daniel Nikolaeff-Hamazaspian – worked as a civil engineer in Sofia. Because of the hostilities in the region resulting from the Balkan Wars and the Armenian genocide, the family changed its name, choosing to omit Hamazaspian, the hyphenated portion that identified them as “of Armenian descent”. Therefore the forged passport that Alexander Schmorell carried bore only the name Nikolaj Nikolaeff.
     Nikolay learned many languages in that school in Sofia, among them Russian, Bulgarian, and German. His father sent him to the Technical University in Munich to study civil engineering.
     In the autumn of 1939, Nikolay went to Munich. A classmate named Georg Schlee, who likewise hailed from Sofia but was a Volksdeutscher (ethnic German living abroad), brokered Nikolay’s first residence: A room with a landlord named Kessler. The room was located at Promenadenstrasse 15.
     Towards the end of 1939, Nikolay’s housemate Konstantin Petroff (also a civil engineering student) invited Nikolay to a Russian-German wedding celebrated by Alexander Schmorell’s family circle. Petroff was the nephew of Elisabeth Hoffmann, Alexander Schmorell’s stepmother.
     Nikolay and Alexander quickly became friends. They began to meet up frequently. Nikolai received invitations to the Schmorells’ home in Harlaching (Benediktenwand Strasse 12). They would often discuss literature, especially Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov. They saw that character as analogous to the so-called allgemeines Gluck (common happiness, that is, the happiness of the Volk) that had been ‘bought’ on the backs of mountains of corpses in the early years of Hitler’s regime. ...
     On January 14, 1943 (the date the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the beginning of new year), Alexander told Nikolay and Nikolay’s sister Anna about the protests against the speech of the Nazi student leader [should be Gauleiter] the day before at the Deutsches Museum.
     Alexander also appeared in Nikolay’s room on February 3, 1943 and enthusiastically asked him if he knew “what was happening in the city and at the university.”
     Likewise after the meeting with Falk Harnack and Professor Huber (February 9?, 1943 – the date is uncertain), Alexander visited Nikolay and drank a glass of cognac with him, spending the night talking, since it was too late to catch a street car to Harlaching. Alex told Nikolay about the dispute that had arisen regarding the possibility of “cooperation with someone who was allegedly a Communist”, as well as his reservations about the risky expansion of their circle.
     Early afternoon on February 18, 1943, Alexander showed up at Nikolay’s room and told him about the Gestapo patrols in front of the university. He was wearing a gray coat and carrying a briefcase. Independent of Nikolay’s recollection, Lilo Fürst-Ramdohr also remembered that Alexander was carrying a briefcase that day. (See her June 6, 2010 interview with Michael Kloft of Spiegel TV.) Alexander would later tell the Gestapo that he had first heard of the arrests from a classmate named Hans Eichhorn, as he sat in a streetcar. Shortly thereafter, Alexander left Nikolay’s apartment.
     Alexander had wanted to get to Hans Scholl’s apartment at Franz-Joseph-Strasse 13. As he approached that rear building, and while he was still in the passageway between the main house and the “garden house” where the Scholl siblings lived, a stranger (a different classmate) warned him about the Gestapo agents who were lying in wait at the Scholls’ apartment.
     Alexander then returned to Nikolay’s room. Nikolay offered to let him stay there, since it was clear the Gestapo would not limit their search to the Scholl siblings. Also, thanks to a 25 pound package from his father in Bulgaria, Nikolay was extraordinarily well-stocked with food and supplies.
     He also suggested a Bulgarian student in Berlin as possible escape route for Alexander. ...
     Shortly thereafter, Nikolay returned to Bulgaria and applied for a continuation of his studies in Sweden, which was a neutral country. This application was submitted on the basis of an invitation from a Swedish acquaintance who lived in Munich.
     By December 1943, Nikolay was back in Munich, waiting for his Swedish visa. However, he was arrested on January 14, 1944 and imprisoned in the full-to-overflowing basement of the Gestapo jail in the Wittelsbacher Palace, then transferred to police headquarters located in the Ettstrasse. He had to sleep in the corridor and was given food (bread) rations by a Czech woman who had been condemned to death.
     Nikolay suffered interrogations that lasted for days on end. They threatened to send him to a concentration camp. Finally they put him in a police transport to Vienna, where he spent six months in prison (the Viennese Gestapo prison Roßauer Lände) under the most atrocious conditions. ...
     In September 1944, Nikolay was deported to Bulgaria. The SS transported him and his sister Anna to the Hungarian border by train. At that border, Nikolay had a dangerous encounter with drunken SS men on the train platform. They shouted at him through the open train window and tried to provoke him. His sister Anna convinced him to retreat within himself and not give in to their provocations. Anna would later emigrate to Paris to live with their aunt. ...
     Following Nikolay’s death on October 1, 2013, the funeral service and interment took place on October 9 following Russian Orthodox rituals. His grave is located in the same row as the graves of Alexander Schmorell and Alex’s half-brother, Erich Schmorell.
     With his death, we lost another important contemporary witness who personally knew Alexander Schmorell. Nikolay Daniel Nikolaeff-Hamazaspian, November 3, 1920 – October 1, 2013. His memory is for a blessing.

To read all of Domenic's tribute to "Niko" (the above is about 1/3 of the full article) or to ask questions, click here. Learn more about Alexander Schmorell's harrowing escape attempt, the other Bulgarian-German friend who joined with Nikolay to put together a plan to free Alex from prison, and about Nikolay's life after the war. 

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Photo of Nikolay Daniel Nikolaeff-Hamazaspian © Denise Heap, 2007.
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