February 17, 2017

An unknown German eyewitness of the Armenian Genocide: Helene Stockmann

By Dr. Hayk Martirosyan

Helene Stockmann was born on July 24, 1866 Świdnica (Schweidnitz, now in the southeast of Poland). Her father was a lawyer. Helene had four younger sisters and a brother who she had to take care of. At the age of 28 she attended teacher’s seminary of Wrosław (Breslau) in two years she successfully graduated from it and started working in Switzerland. In 1902 she worked as a teacher, and in the spring of 1903 she undertook the administration of one of the educational institutions in Legnica (Liegtnitz town).

In 1906 Helene entered Malche Bible House and on graduation from it on October 2, 1907 she left for Marash with Brunnemann and Palentinat spouses, as well as with Christine Eckert, Lina Jakob and Ina Meincke thus arriving at the town on October 15. Helene started working as a teacher at girl’s “Bethel” orphanage under the supervision of B. Rohner simultaneously undertaking Armenian lessons. Helene administered the girls’ school of “Bethel” founded on October 1908 where initially 96 children learned in four classes. In the next academic year the number of learning children grew abruptly as the number of the orphans multiplied in the result of the massacres of 1909. The school started the academic year with 207 children divided into seven classes. During the first school years children learned Armenian, Turkish in Armenian script and Ottoman language. In time children passed lessons of religious studies, algebra, singing, handicrafts, national history, physical trainings and drawing. Starting from the sixth year children learned history, geography, nature study and German. Among the issues linked to the conduct of the educational process Helene pointed out the lack of teachers and textbooks.

Already mastering the Armenian Helene taught also at the Sunday school, made some translations with Armenian teacher Yeghia for teaching purposes. Though in 1911 the station received an official permission of keeping schools Helene was very much concerned about the 15 neighboring villages which lack any Apostolic or Protestant priest, male or female teacher, where there was not even a person who could read or write. One of the main concerns of Helene was the issue of education in rural areas thus she regularly asked for additional help for children from different villages so as to provide them with education and care. In this issue Hedvig Büll and Mary Levonyan who received education in Basel also were helpful to her.

After the opening of Haruniye station for some period Helene also worked here and was impressed by the children’s level of knowledge of German language. In autumn of 1912 the new school’s opening ceremony took place under Helene’s supervision which by its educational standards greatly differed from other schools; here, already from the third year children wrote dictations whereas there was no precedent in other educational institutions. The school had both Armenian and European teachers such as Ovsanna Gyonjyan, Mariam Samilyan, Armenuhi Zhirikyan, Altun Yapujyan (all of them were former pupils of the orphanage), Mary Levonyan, Hedvig Büll, Helene and others. In the fifth year German was taught. The academic week closed with holly mass. Besides the children of the station children from the town also attended the school whose number reached 40. In her letters Helene often mentioned about first year pupil Gyurju, forth year pupil Gyuluza, third year pupil Siranuysh who attended school from the town and was not the station’s pupil as well as others frequently mentioning also their number in the orphanage.

In July 1913 Helene left for Germany for a rest thus arriving on July 19 and again returned to Marash on February 7 of the next year with Zeller spouses. Also during her stay in Germany Helene continued to be useful for the common business, took part in meetings, where she presented the work done, asked for additional financial aid from her proponents in order to prepare female teachers who would educate more children and teach in rural areas. Helene also regularly visited villages, including Chyuruqkoz, had a meeting also with a priest of the Armenian Apostolic Church, then she visited Mets Gyugh (Yenicekale) where there were Apostolic, Protestant and Catholic Armenians, here the Franciscan Catholic Congregation was active in its time and the American Protestant missionary built a church, priest house and classrooms. Despite the obstacles linked to the World War I in 1914 lessons restarted in seven classes and were conducted in boys’ orphanage “Bethshalum” under Helene’s supervision. Among ten female teachers eight were of Armenian nationality. They refused to get a salary so as to reduce the station’s expenses. Under Helene’s supervision especially during the war years the teaching of German was highly promoted though the level of German language here was lower than in Haruniye station. In 1918 she took care of teacher Ovsanna Gyonjyan who had caught with tuberculosis who according to Helene the destiny of own people and relatives had left its traces on. At that period Helene was the sole German who worked among the Armenians.

Helene is one of the German eyewitnesses of both 1909 massacres of the Cilician Armenians and the Armenian Genocide. As there was a general censorship in the whole territory of the Empire and not only the letters but any notes sent by messengers used to be checked, in order to inform the German Consul Walter Rößler in Aleppo on the events of Marash and Zeitun risen from March 1915 and to ask for a support and mediatory, Helene, the directress of the school left for Aleppo in March 1915 and personally met the Consul and told him about the perpetrated horrors, passed him her report dated by March 21, 1915. After this notification Rößler came to Marash, stayed there for some period and in the result the situation in the town a little calmed down. Besides, Consul Rößler sent a part of Helene’s written report to Reichschancellor Bethmann-Hollweg. Here Helene mentioned that the severest measures were undertaken against the Armenians; sometimes the innocent were punished and beaten in a way that all of them confirmed the charges brought against them saying “yes”. Mentioning about the measures undertaken against the Armenians of Zeitun she added that “those cruelties were indescribable, even women were beaten”.

In 1916 Helene once more visited Aleppo to support B. Rohner who worked at the local station founded in previous December. In June 1916, on her way back from Aleppo to Marash Helene was attacked by the gang and robbed at the site called Kapuchan. Fortunately, the missioner was not killed. By the demand of the English and French Helene left Marash with her colleagues of Haruniye and Marash stations in September 1919. The group of missioners first left for Constantinople from where with big difficulties to Germany and on November 21 they arrived at Hamburg. Firstly, Helene with Johanna Hacker and Adele Herold stood in Uchtenhagen and then in Tübingen in order to rehabilitate her health at one of the local clinics.

Helene died in 1927.

Excerpt translated from the book “German Missionary Activity in the Ottoman Empire: Marash Station (1896-1919).”


Dr. Hayk Martirosyan was born in 1980. In 1997-2003 he studied at the Department of Turkish Studies of the Faculty of Oriental Studies of Yerevan State University (Bachelor’s and Master’s School). In 2003-2005 he served at the RA Armed Forces. He worked at RA NAS Armenian Genocide Museum –Institute as well as at RA NAS Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography. In 2014 he defended his PhD thesis at RA NAS Institute of Oriental Studies which was entitled “The Frankfurt Committee of the German Aid Society for Armenian Relief and its Activities in the Armenian-populated areas of the Ottoman Empire in 1896-1919”. He was DAAD and KAAD scholarship student, a winner of ANSEF grant, authored the monograph “German Missionary Activity in the Ottoman Empire: Marasch Station (1896-1919)”, masters Armenian (native), German, Turkish, Russian, English languages.

Currently, Dr Martirosyan is a guest scholar of EKD scholarship and carries out research at Erlangen-Nurnberg Friedrich-Alexandre University of Germany.

He is also Guest Researcher at the History and Theology Chair of Christian Orient of the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany