Reinhold Strassmann was born on 24 January 1893, the third son of Prof. Dr. Dr. Fritz Strassmann and his wife Rose, née Borchardt, and baptized a Protestant in 1897. Fritz Strassmann is considered the father of forensic medicine and one of the most eminent medical examiners of his day. In 1923 Reinhold graduated with honours as a doctor of maths, although he had not only sustained a serious shrapnel injury in the First World War but, an ardent patriot, had even returned to service on his recovery, and suffered the after-effects on his health all his life.
During his first stay in the military hospital, he fell deeply in love with a nurse. Initially hesitant, she agreed to marry him when he was admitted for treatment a second time. In the seventh year of their marriage they separated, but they never divorced. Reinhold returned to his parents, and spent frequent periods in Swiss sanatoria, having contracted tuberculosis during the war.
In 1936, under the Nuremberg Laws, he was dismissed from his job as a statistical actuary for the Allianz insurance company. He henceforth attended devotedly to the affairs of his father, who had been paralyzed by a stroke, and lived at Ahrenshooperzeile 35, Schlachtensee, supported by his father’s pension. His love for his father and his sense of duty prevented him from applying to emigrate while his father was still alive. But when his brother Georg emigrated to the United States in October 1938 he started preparing to leave in earnest. In 1939, Reinhold accommodated relatives in his father’s house. They got on very well and were a great help to him. When they, too, managed to emigrate, he took in other relatives; this time, Marie and Richard Lewy-Lingen.
Reinhold’s father died in January 1940. In 1941 Reinhold was forced to sell his father’s house. He and the two other occupants, like most of the remaining Berlin residents defined by the Nazis as Jewish, were forced to move to the Berlin ghetto of Bayerisches Viertel. Here they lived in cramped, sometimes bombed-out, accommodation, with access only to very limited basic foodstuffs, yet they had to perform hard labour clearing bomb damage.
Reinhold was twice due for deportation. His wife, who lived in Freiburg, travelled to Berlin both times to plead for his release as his Aryan spouse—with success. Reinhold managed to hold out for two years under these terrible conditions—thanks to his profound Christian faith. All those years, his faith had been a huge comfort and support to him. Seeking to give his life meaning even in his desperate situation, he had devoted much time to studying the Bible, talking to Pastor Schade, who had courageously helped run the St John parish in Schlachtensee, and reading many religious books. But in February 1944 he was deported to Theresienstadt. Despite being so frail he was confined to the ghetto hospital for many weeks, he survived until he was deported again on 23 October 1944 to Auschwitz—not without first giving away his coat and other winter clothing. He continued to try and live out his faith to the last and derive strength, humaneness and dignity from it, even in Theresienstadt. Reinhold was more than an unsung hero. The Catholics who remember him call him a saint.