Wilhelm Reich and the first „Unity Association“ in Düsseldorf

by Andreas Peglau [0]


It was already clear that Düsseldorf and the Lower Rhine region played an important role for the sexual reform organization that Wilhelm Reich was involved in founding and leading. It was also known that Reich had a significant influence on the founding conference of the first „Unified Association for Proletarian Sexual Reform and Maternity Protection“ (UA), which took place in Düsseldorf on May 2, 1931 (see here). A number of things can now be added to this.

In May 2015, I received documents from the Institute for Newspaper History of the City of Dortmund that made it possible to identify the location of the UA founding meeting:

Freiheit No. 101 (Hagen edition), April 30, 1931, p. 12 (Source: Institute for Newspaper History of the City of  Dortmund)

The head of the Düsseldorf City Archives, Mr. Benedikt Mauer, was then able to find out exactly which house it was: the „Ball- und Konzerthaus Lettmann“, Kölner Str. 84.

Thanks to a resident of Worringer Platz, I found a photograph from the 1920s that shows this building at least from a distance:

The restaurant „Lettmann“, place of the founding of the first UA in 1931


Apparently, events of the „left“ spectrum were often held in the „Lettmann,“ which was located in the middle of traditionally proletarian Düsseldorf neighborhoods. A document from the Düsseldorf city archives proves that the „Gaststätte Lettmann“ was used in 1932 for a KPD event with Willy Leow, the Second Chairman of the Red Front Fighters‘ League.[1]

The second speaker at the PA meeting of May 2, 1931, Hans Fladung (1898-1982), was also no stranger, at least to Düsseldorf Communists: From 1930 to 1933 he was a city councilor for the KPD, and had also been a member of the Prussian state parliament since 1924. After imprisonment and emigration, he returned to Düsseldorf in 1946 and became, among other things, state secretary of the Democratic Cultural Association of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (FRG).

And „Comrade Schröter, MdR (member of the Reichstag“), Berlin,“ also mentioned in the announcement, was Johannes Schröter, the chairman of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft sozialpolitischer Organisationen (Working Group of Socio-Political Organizations, ARSO), which must have been responsible for more than a million members. Soon after, he, together with Wilhelm Reich, belonged to the six-member „Preparatory Unity Committee for the Unity of All Sexual-Political Organizations“ (see again here).

Even afterwards, the regional KPD newspaper Freiheit reported on the meetings of 2 and 3 May 1931:

Freiheit No. 103 (Hagen edition), May 4, 1931, p. 2 (Source: Institute for Newspaper History of the City of Dortmund).


If you take a closer look at the composition of the delegates to the ARSO conference of 3.5.1931, you will come across the fact that 66 of the 206 delegates were „sexual reformers“, what means members of the first UA. Since it is impossible that an organization founded only the day before had already so much members, this can probably only mean: the delegate numbers did not represent the respective size of the organizations represented. Most likely, many participants of the UA foundation were also present at the ARSO congress and shaped its course.
It seems to me, therefore, not too bold a speculation that among the 25 people who took part in the „very lively discussion“ at the ARSO meeting was Wilhelm Reich.

The connection between Wilhelm Reich and Düsseldorf remained. For example, the UA journal Die Warte was produced in Düsseldorf by the company „Westdeutsche Buchwerkstätten“, which in turn belonged to a center of communist activity not far from the Lettmann: at Kölner Street 44. This was the location of the party headquarters and the Lower Rhine district leadership of the KPD, as well as the headquarters of the Communist Youth League and the League Against Fascism. The KP newspaper Freiheit was also produced here, at the Freie Verlag Düsseldorf.

Reich and other members of the „Preparatory Unity Committee“ traveled to the Düsseldorf region several times starting in 1931 to give lectures. For example, in December 1931, under the heading „Sexualnot und ihr Ausweg,“ one could read in the Warte:

„Dr. Reich, Berlin, spoke on this subject in the Lower Rhine district in four events. The speaker knew how to deal clearly and simply with all the questions which weigh on the majority of people and which, as a result of today’s sex education, are never voiced, and to loosen the inhibitions of his listeners.“

From the November 1931 issue at the latest, the committee also acted as editor of the Warte, in which Reich published articles on several occasions.

In this journal there were also numerous contributions from the Lower Rhine region; corresponding notices took up the bulk of regional news, such as information on counseling, contraceptive distribution, UA meetings and other events. For example, in the summer of 1932, the Warte reported on a „unity rally“ in a Düsseldorf region called by the Fighting committee against the abortion paragraph 218 „, where members of several sexual reform organizations wer e represented, among them the UA.[2]
Occasionally, current events in the „Lower Rhine district“ were commented on, such as prostitution in Düsseldorf’s Harkort Street.[3]

One of the Warte articles, which was obviously written by Reich, led to a temporary ban on this journal in Düsseldorf. The article that triggered this restriction appeared in the January 1932 issue of Warte and presented several cases from counseling activities under the heading Nervöse Angst vor Schutzmitteln (nervous fear of contraceptives). Here, not only the Reich-typical formulation was used that „only through a protracted psychotherapeutic treatment“ the neurotic problems of the masses could be cured – which, however, „is out of the question under capitalism.“ As in his sexual-political „platform,“ Reich again referred to the neuroticizing effect of sexually hostile norms and lust-killing living conditions.

As reported elsewhere, Reich also had a guiding, perhaps instructing, role for the sexual counseling centers established under the UA in Berlin. Whether this also applied to Düsseldorf is unknown.

What is certain is that there was also a UA counseling center in Düsseldorf. It opened in mid-June 1931[4] and was initially located at Immermannstraße 24, in the same house where the UA secretaries Luise Dornemann and Otto Illinger lived. Dornemann apparently also served as the counseling center director.[5] In conversation with Kristine von Soden in 1985, she stated:

„Our sexual counseling center in Immermannstraße actually was only for [UA] members. Nevertheless, other women came who wanted contraceptives. We obtained caps and chemical preparations from a company in the Taunus mountains. We then sold it to them at cost price.“[6]

As von Soden found out, the consultations themselves were conducted by a doctor on Thursday, between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m:

Source: Kristine von Soden, Die Sexualberatungsstellen in der Weimarer Republik 1919-1933, Berlin 1988, p. 176f.

For 1931, the Warte mentions „every Thursday, 7-9 a.m.“ as a counseling appointment. In January 1932 at the latest, according to the Warte, the counseling center moved to the first floor of Charlottenstraße 9, where it was now open „only every 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month, 7-9 a.m.“. In addition, counseling was offered in the Düsseldorf area, e.g. in Hagen, Hilden, Kleve, Krefeld and Velbert.[7] The UA’s concern was also popularized by an exhibition on „sex education“, which was banned by the police at the beginning of May 1932, but reopened a week later.[8]

The exhibition and consulting activities probably contributed to the fact that the ARSO management was able to state in a letter at the end of 1931 that the Düsseldorf UA had „experienced a tremendous upswing in recent times“.

This development was, of course, marked by conflicts between the apparently more conventional party-political Düsseldorf UA founding circle and Wilhelm Reich, whose more radical views were to fall on far more fertile ground in his new home of Berlin than in the Lower Rhine. UA secretary Luise Dornemann still complained decades later: „We had to fight an uphill battle there against the Berlin group, who […] carried tendencies of psychoanalysis and sexual reform into this organization [sic].“[9]

As late as 1936, two women were sentenced to prison in Düsseldorf because they had arranged or performed abortions for the Düsseldorf UA in 1931/32.[10]

Since the „Lettmann“ restaurant was destroyed in World War II and this side of Kölner Straße was completely demolished at the beginning of the 1960s, no architectural witnesses to Reich’s work exist in Düsseldorf today.



[0] Please note the following:  My English skills are not very good. Therefore, I first translated my German text with DeepL and then corrected it. I am sure that there are still translation errors – and ask those who discover such errors to send a message to info@andreas-peglau-psychoanalyse.de

[1] „Iron Front: Yes! But with whom – against whom?“ Poster inviting the KPD to events in various Düsseldorf restaurants, Jan. 13, 1932 (Collections 540/ Posters until 1945, p. 286, no. 1276).

[2] Die Warte No. 8/1932, p. 15.

[3] Die Warte, February 1932, p. 8.

[4] Sparing, Frank (1995): Der Düsseldorfer „Einheitsverband für proletarische Sexualreform und Mutterschutz“, in Augenblick No. 6/9, pp.15-17.

[5] Hermann Weber/ Andreas Herbst, Deutsche Kommunisten. Biographisches Handbuch 1918 bis 1945, Berlin 2008, p. 194.

[6] Soden, Kristine von (1988): Die Sexualberatungsstellen in der Weimarer Republik 1919-1933, Berlin: Edition Hentrich, p. 136.

[7] See Die Warte No. 7/1932, p. 16.

[8] Sparing 1995, p. 16.

[9] Bundesarchiv Lichterfelde Nachlässe, NY 4278/1, Bl. 1.

[10] Sparing 1995, p. 16.