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German Security Services:
The police emerge as the middle managers in
euthanasia and leaders in the death camps

The “industrialized” mass murder integral to the Final Solution was instigated and supervised by a relatively small group of politically motivated state and security functionaries. Although the ultimate end was accomplished by combined expertise, there was a clear delineation of function and its progression may be divided into two quite separate enactments. The first was within the euthanasia program in which the methodology and machinery of the extermination of groups of people were first perfected and the perpetrators thereafter retained for subsequent duty within Reinhardt. The second enactment was the delegation of authority by Hitler's Chancellery (KdF) to the SS Administration headquarters in Berlin (RSHA) to implement genocidal policies outside of the death camps. The Nazi 'New Order' with its visionary concepts was generally conducted openly and was answerable to the protocols of government. However, Aktion Reinhardt was an exception. This distinction is important for the basic understanding of the integral parts of the Nazi genocidal machine. The catastrophic consequences of the Final Solution are of such magnitude that it is difficult to comprehend how it was possible for such a small group of men to implement it so successfully. Of course, in the wider sense, a multitude of sympathetic or apathetic government personnel was also essential to its implementation and indeed many were eager to rally around the Nazi flag.

The degree to which the activities of the Nazi State contravened all normal standards of judicial and police procedure meant that a significant number of different state-sponsored organizations were involved in its various actions. With this in mind, some explanatory note may be helpful.

Leading this security dominated resurgence of German Nationalism, under the eyes and dominance of their Führer, were the security executives, the mandarins of the Party: SS Heinrich Himmler and SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhardt Heydrich (HHE). These two men held the reigns of the Nazi Party's destiny, which was dominated by a web of internal security departments: Gestapo, Kripo, and working SD (Sipo-SD) and, of course, the SS. Waiting in the wings to shape and decide Hitler's Jewish policies was the Führer's Chancellery (KdF).

There is a difference between the police service of the Weimar Republic, before the Nazis came to power in 1933, and the National Police State (NPS), which evolved under Himmler's direction during 1936 - 1939. The police State after 1933, and the uncontrolled terror which accompanied it, could not have survived in its existing form pre 1933; therefore the HHE re-organization of the security apparatus was an important change of direction which guided the NPS towards carrying out one of its primary objectives - solving the 'Jewish Question'.

It is neither assumed nor concluded that the State was driven solely by the 'Jewish Question.' In fact, its early priorities were directed equally against other sections of society: enemies of the State, sects and churches (including Jews), Party Affairs, the Occupied Territories, counter-intelligence and the frontier police – all targeted in accordance with the Nazi 'Weltanschauung' ('world view')[1]. It would take some time for the State, under the cover of the security services, to evolve as the main perpetrators of the Nazi genocidal policies.In 1936, Himmler bestowed on himself the title of 'Reichsführer-SS' (a Party function)-und Chef der Deutschen Polizei' (a State function). This double designation was used in the occupied territories between 1941 and 1944.

The abbreviation for the title of Himmler's SS leaders in Nazi-occupied Europe: SS-und Polizeiführer - SSPF, likewise reflected the dual origin of a unified police apparatus - SS (Party) and Polizeiführer (State). The amalgamation was sealed when Himmler issued a decree on 27th September 1939, establishing the SS Administration Office in Berlin: Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA.), the Reich Main Security Office.

The Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories was organized according to a structure in which an SS-und Polizeiführer was directly subordinate to the relevant civil administration (i.e., Dr Hans Frank in the General Government). Accordingly, there was a Höhere SS-und Polizeiführer (HSSPF), Higher SS and Police Leader at Reich Kommissariat level (HSSPF – Friedrich Wilhelm Krüger in Kraków), an SSPF at General Kommissariat level (Odilo Globocnik in Lublin) and the police commander at local government level (Kommandeur der Sipo (KdS).

With the reconstruction of the security services in 1936 there were all kinds of difficulties to overcome. In the early days, Heydrich's security men (SD) had to contend with an identity crisis involving their image and acceptance by the public; it was something of a ramshackle organization with no budget, borrowed typewriters, cardboard boxes for files and very few personnel[2]. Winds of change were sweeping across Germany and many officials of all ranks who were considered to be politically unreliable were being purged. Others, who had shown their loyalty and commitment, were accepted for inclusion in the 'New Order'. In general, it is predictable that the Nazi State would adopt radical measures to improve the operational efficiency of their police and security agencies that were so central to its agenda.[3] High on the agenda of this radical thinking was the dispersal of 'old wood' - officers who did not measure up - to the outer reaches, bringing in convinced Nazis to replace them.[4]

Himmler, as the police supremo, immediately divided the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo), the Criminal Police (equivalent to the British CID) into two departments: 1) the Kripo, and 2) the Sicherheitspolizei (Sipo), the Security Police whose combined operational activities brought together the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo), the Secret State (Political) Police, with the Kripo, thereby ensuring that the two departments worked closely together.[5] This situation displeased many professional officers of the Kripo. This joint security agency was headed by SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhardt Heydrich and became known as Sipo und SD.

The staff of the SD consisted entirely of SS men, since the SD originated from the SS, and right up to the end of the war was referred to as the SD of the Reichsführer- SS. To most people, the Sipo-SD was the guardian of Nazi policy and a despised and hated section of the security services. They were referred to as the 'black power.' In occupied Poland and the Ukraine, it had become an unyielding octopus, with tentacles reaching out to the furthermost parts of the occupied territories. No one liked the Sipo-SD; the Wehrmacht commanders cursed it, and civilian government officials wrote poison-pen letters to Berlin about it. Yet the SD was all-powerful. It is not known that anyone ever prevailed against it in the General Government, or elsewhere. The Jewish Question and all that surrounded it was emphatically in the hands of the SD.[6]

The SD was the security organization within the SS, which, after the seizure of power by the Nazis, was the first to take up leading positions in other existing security agencies. After the establishment of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), the SD played a decisive role in the political intelligence system and the suppression and elimination of elements displeasing to the Nazi state. The SD always retained its character as a Party organization, as distinguished from the Gestapo, which was a State organization. That the Jewish Question and all that came to surround it was unequivocally in the hands of the SD is powerfully illustrated by the fact that the SD was the organization that created the Einsatzgruppen (Operational Groups)-- the mobile killing squads which roamed the rear areas behind the advancing Wehrmacht, murdering their victims by shooting them in the vicinity of their homes-- and with a change of policy later organized their dispatch to the death camps, thereby with terrifying efficiency and singularity of purpose paving the way for the near total destruction of the Jews of mainland Europe.By 1939, the Sipo-SD had made great strides in establishing its credentials as the foremost security service in the Reich. After the outbreak of war on 1September 1939, the Sipo-SD quickly moved into Poland. To help progress mass murder operations in the occupied areas, Heydrich set up a Training Academy in Zakopane, and later at Bad Rabka[7] for candidates suitable for the Sipo-SD, with the unwieldy title of Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD im GG Schule des Sicherheitspolizei. By the outbreak of the German-Soviet war in June 1941, the Sipo-SD had become an elite politicized organization.[8]

The Sipo-SD always managed to keep ahead of their military partners, as the transfer and general movement of their members within the Reich was relatively infrequent, whereas the turnover of troops and administrative officers of other sections of the military was more rapid. This was the policy within the SD wherever possible, and the Sipo-SD leaders remained in the same location. As a result, the SD was significantly better organized than everyone else with knowledge and information about local situations and particular individuals. Within the confines of Operation Barbarossa, - the invasion of Russia, - it was the only stable arm of the military in the General Government.

It is a generally agreed maxim that a police force can only operate in a free society with the consent of the people. Prior to the ascent of the Nazis, the German Police was no exception to this principle and had remained a fully professional and proud service from its inception. Throughout the Weimar Republic until the arrival of National Socialism in 1933, and the major reconstruction of all security services in 1936, they strove to retain their independence as the guardians of civil law and public order.[9] In fact, the Reich Ministry never succeeded in gaining control of the police who, like the SD, remained a branch of the administration where turmoil and chaos did not exist.

To ensure that both the police and public accepted this 'New Order,” the State hierarchy formulated its own rules and regulations which broke down many of the traditional boundaries of police and judicial power. To a hard-pressed police service, there were distinct advantages in these increased powers. For a start, it untied their hands from cumbersome ethics when negotiating the intricacies of criminal law and procedure: search warrants, judges' rules for the interrogation of suspects, and applications for bail were dispensed with; complaints against the police were prohibited. Instead, executive search orders, orders for arrest and detention without any proper legal grounds, were introduced and freely applied; statutory appearances before the courts were replaced by orders for committal to the newly established concentration camps for indefinite periods. Consequently, the police were now acting outside the very law they had previously sworn to uphold, and were overtly encouraged by Heydrich to act ruthlessly.This new turn of events may not have been completely acceptable to every police officer, but the camaraderie and the subculture of the police service held them together through these initial draconian changes. Eventually, by gradual involvement, the police found themselves so deeply involved in their work for the NPS that there was little opportunity of escape. They found themselves caught up in events they had no power to change. (We have a clear view of the difficulties facing the professional police officer from interviews conducted in 1971 between the author Gitta Sereny and Franz Stangl, the former commandant of Sobibór and Treblinka, and recorded in her book Into the Darkness. Stangl, a native Austrian, exemplifies the pressure brought to bear upon the waverers in the emergence of the Nazi Police State.)

The Sipo-SD, in its role as the main security service, was now the effective defender of the Party and State, and it was impressed upon them that the Party was the State and the State the Party. Some disaffected career detectives did not welcome this all-embracing security system[10] and consequently suffered from a crisis of image and identity. They found themselves on the receiving end of SD penetration into their hitherto closely guarded police culture and struggled to resist Nazification and retain their professionalism and self-esteem. According to the Himmler dictum, the transfers between the SS, Kripo and Sipo-SD were essential for an integrated Reich Security Service.[11] To the immense annoyance of long-established career detectives, the Gestapo, which they considered an inferior branch of the police service, plundered the ranks of the Kripo of its finest men. Further resentment was caused by the transfer of 'inadequate' officers from the Gestapo to normal detective duties in the Kripo; these were usually the poorly trained elements considered unfit even for Gestapo service. Such was the concern within the Kripo that these Gestapo misfits were not permitted to enter the service with the same rank. However, the Kripo were more receptive to those Gestapo officers who had been rejected as 'politically unreliable.' The overall impression formed by the majority of Kripo officers was that these rejects from the Gestapo were arrogant and lorded it over fellow officers, considering themselves untouchable. As far as the Kripo were concerned, such men were fundamentally unsuitable for normal detective work.[12] Despite the high-minded attitude of the Kripo which implied a sense of moral standards and incorruptibility, it must not be ignored that it was from Kripo ranks that the personnel were drawn from the leadership in the death camps: the death camp commanders, Wirth, Hering, Stangl and Reichleitner, were all serving officers of the Kripo at the time of their engagement in the euthanasia program (T4) and Reinhardt.

The reorganization resulted in many police officers becoming disillusioned and frustrated, and they consequently sought transfer or retirement rather than serve under the Himmler-Heydrich 'umbrella.' This is perhaps the reason why several of the Kripo were encouraged to transfer to other agencies, one of which was T4. These misgivings were fully understood by Heydrich, who appreciated that his ideas would only be fully accepted by future generations of security personnel. Only later, when his policies had time to become established, would his vision of a fully integrated security apparatus be accomplished.

The era of the career detective was almost over with the introduction of career civil servants and academics of the higher social order - the officer class - appointed from outside to senior command posts in the security services and police. The majority of Sipo-SD personnel who filled the lower ranks came from a lower social status and had a lower standard of education.[13] Considerable emphasis was therefore placed on education and training which would continue throughout a candidate's career. Officer training lasted many months during which the candidate would serve in all sections of the security offices (Abwehr, Sipo-SS, SD, Kripo, etc.) to obtain the necessary experience, earn the entitlement to wear the uniform, and gain the respect of their subordinates.[14]

Heydrich maintained tight control of Sipo-SD recruitment. A distinct disadvantage to joining or remaining in the Sipo-SD was Catholicism, whose adherents were continually being purged. In the Gita Sereny – Franz Stangl interviews it is interesting to note Stangl's observations on this point. Known to be a Catholic and of suspect loyalty to the Nazis, Stangl was targeted for demotion. After the police re-organization of 1939, when he moved to Gestapo headquarters in Linz, he was re-designated from Kriminalbeamter (established Detective and Civil Servant with pension rights) to Kriminalassistent (temporary appointment with no pension rights). Stangl successfully challenged this realignment of rank and was re-instated with the rank of Kriminaloberassistent.Having tried and failed to downgrade him, the establishment then attacked his religious views. As it was known that he was a regular church-goer, Stangl was served with an official document to sign which confirmed that he was a 'Gottgläubiger' (lit. 'Non believer'), and that he had relinquished his religion and all further contacts with the Catholic Church.[15] After some misgivings – or so he claims – Stangl signed as directed. By thus surrendering his religious principles to the Nazi creed, Stangl had compromised himself and was set on a slippery slope.[16]

With the plundering of other related agencies for recruits to the security services, it was accepted initially that some candidates would compromise the philosophy of the Sipo-SD. These elements, such as the rowdy uneducated members of the SA as well as the 'Old Guard,' were therefore purged. To maintain the momentum of the recruitment drive, those who were sub-standard physically or unmilitary in demeanor were not automatically excluded from membership of the Sipo-SD. In order to emphasize the obsession with the notion of a pure German Volk, Himmler set genealogical requirements: Sipo-SD non commissioned officers and their wives were required to supply certified details of family blood lines going back to 1750. Refusal to comply or unacceptable results meant dismissal.[17]

There was such a degree of overlap between the SS, SD, and Sipo that it was often difficult to establish the difference. For example, although Eichmann was a Gestapo officer, he wore SD uniform. Gestapo officers serving in Germany tended to wear civilian clothes, while those serving in the occupied territories usually wore SD uniform. With few differences, the color of the uniforms was the regulation Wehrmacht 'Feldgrau' - field grey, the same as the Waffen-SS. The shirt was yellowish to indicate Nazi Party affiliation. A telltale sign of a Sipo-SD officer was the high-brimmed field-grey cap with a black cap band bearing the silver 'Totenkopf' (Death's Head) insignia. Most of the personnel serving in the Einsatzgruppen, regardless of whether or not they were members of the SD, wore full service uniform of the SS with indications as to which type of SS they belonged: Allgemeine, Totenkopf, or Waffen-SS. Those who were actually SD men wore a small black diamond-shaped insignia on the lower left sleeve that contained the letters 'SD' embroidered in silver. Those who had served in the Gestapo wore similar badges, but with a silver cord edging. The Sipo-SD held the mantle of leadership in the Einsatzgruppen in Poland and Russia, and in many wartime photographs of executions it is often difficult to differentiate between uniforms.[18] At the end of the day, the Sipo-SD under the guidance of the HHE would be the main body responsible for guiding and organizing the mass extermination of the Jews - men, women, and children.

The leadership and management in T4, and later of all three Reinhardt death camps, were placed in the hands of co-opted middle-ranking Kripo officers who had all previously been engaged in T4.[19] This employment of the police in State-sanctioned euthanasia operation and the death camp system sees the emergence of a dramatic change in police functions and structures by more control between the role in 'normal society and in the racial state,' where their functions included 'purification' and 'racial hygiene' of the state. This led logically to euthanasia and genocide.

The middle-ranking police officers had been the business managers of euthanasia who supervised many aspects of the killing operation as registrars, office chiefs, accountants, compilers of statistics, and managers of the victims' estates. When transferred to Reinhardt, they undertook similar tasks in the Lublin HQ of Reinhardt and the Kommandantur in Belzec, Sorbibór, and Treblinka. Of course, in the death camps their management duties assumed a much more lethal role; in Belzec a few of the lower-ranking police officers were engaged in office duties: Erwin Fichtner, Werner Borowski, and Rudi Bär were all office bound.[20] Police officers Fritz Hirsch and Ernst Schemmel were permanently engaged in the administration office in Belzec and seldom if ever entered the camp. Another police officer, Arthur Dachsel, was an on-site maintenance worker in Belzec and rarely involved in the killing process. It is interesting to note that although these men were serving police officers initially seconded to T4 and later to Reinhardt, they continued to wear their police uniforms well into the destruction program. It was in December 1942 that all camp commanders were issued with uniforms of the Waffen-SS, suggesting that it was only at this stage that they were finally consolidated as a collective uniformed presence in the death camps. By this time, of course, although Belzec had ceased to function as a death camp, there was plenty of 'work' still to be done.

In 1940, SS-Obersturmführer Christian Wirth[21] of the Stuttgart Kriminalpolizei was 55 years old. He joined the Schupo in Heilbronn in 1910 and was later transferred to Stuttgart where in 1913 he transferred to the Kripo. In 1914 he volunteered for frontline duty and as a non-commissioned officer in World War I was awarded the Eiserne Kreuz, I-u. II Klasse (Iron Cross, I and II Class), the Goldene Militärverdienstkreuz (Gold Military Cross), and earned two field promotions for bravery. From 1917-1919 he served in the Military Police in Stuttgart and then returned to the Kripo where he made a name for himself not only as an expert criminal investigator but also as a punctilious administrator and organizer. His achievements as a detective were legendary and in 1938 he was appointed the heads of Kommissariat 5, the Serious Crimes Squad, which included the Murder Squad. He was a zealous disciplinarian on duty, but in spite of his abrasive, over-bearing bullying personality, his fellow officers had a grudging admiration for his dedicated sense of duty and successes in criminal investigation. A very early illegal member of the Nazi Party from 1921, he resigned after the failed Hitler 'Putsch' in 1923 and re-entered as an 'Alter Kampfer' (Old Fighter) in 1931, again illegally. In 1933, he joined the Stormtroops (SA) and in 1939, after a decree by Himmler that all Kripo officers had to join the SS, he became a member and within a month was promoted to SS-Obersturmführer. In March 1939, Wirth was sent to Vienna on undisclosed 'political duties,' most likely service with the Gestapo.[22]

In April 1939, his file was marked 'z. V. Führer' (zur Verfügung Führer), which means 'at the disposal of the Führer.' Christian Wirth had been selected for future 'special tasks for the Führer.' After a short attachment to the SD in Prague in the summer of 1939, Wirth returned to Stuttgart and in the autumn was summoned to the KdF in Berlin. He was never to return to Stuttgart on police duty and in Berlin was engaged in setting up the bureaucracy for the T4 euthanasia operation. At the beginning of January 1940, he supervised the installation of a gas chamber and cremation facility at an abandoned prison in Brandenburg, near Berlin, and in mid-January, he participated there in the first experiments in killing patients which were witnessed by the euthanasia big wigs - Bouhler and Brack, among others - from Hitler's Chancellery. Two experimental killing methods were employed over a period of two days: gassing and lethal injections. Although both of these methods would continue to be used, gassing became the preferred and authorized method.[23] The gas chamber was a unique invention of Nazi Germany and once the technology had been tried and tested, it was Wirth who invented the procedures to get the victims into the chamber with as little disruption as possible. But if persuasion failed, brute force was used.

In May 1940, Wirth was appointed 'Läuterungsinspektor' (lit. 'clean-up' inspector) of the T4 killing institutions with a roving brief; this was because of mistakes in the T4 administration which resulted in the euthanasia operation becoming publicly known, and because of a breakdown in moral and discipline in the killing centers (disposal of bodies and accounting for personal property)[24]. In June 1940, Wirth was selected as a candidate for the Sipo-SD Academy in Berlin-Charlottenburg, where he passed the exams for the rank of Kriminalkommissar. He was promoted in October 1940[25]. Wirth was an innovator and was credited with disguising the T4 gas chambers as shower rooms after the Brandenburg experimental gassings. In the Reinhardt camps he pioneered the Jewish 'death brigades' who removed the bodies from the gas chambers and buried them in the mass graves.[26]

Wirth: called by his people 'Christian and cruel,' was a screaming, swearing monster who always went around the camp with a whip and a pistol, spreading fear and terror wherever he appeared. They all described him as a brutal and inconsiderate Nazi unsurpassed by any other. Without bothering with an SS Court, those who refused to obey orders threatened with summary execution. The accused stated that Wirth frequently whipped the Ukrainian guards under his command, as well as members of the camp SS garrison[27]. [Ibid., Oberhauser, 13.12.1962 ]

According to Franz Stangl, in Hartheim, Wirth spoke openly of 'doing away with useless mouths' and that 'sentimental slobber about such people made him puke'. This was Wirth, 'this awful crudity.'[28] When the Chancellery decided to accelerate the Jewish destruction in July 1942 and to 'rationalise' the slaughter, a new post was devised to oversee the operation of all three death camps.[29] Only Wirth was considered suitable for such a task and was duly designated and moved, taking Joseph Oberhauser with him, to Globocnik's headquarters in Lublin as 'Inspekteur der SS-Sonderkommandos Aktion Reinhardt'. Christian Wirth was the driving force at every stage of euthanasia and mass murder in the death camps of Reinhardt. Wirth's personality was stamped not only on every procedure devised in both of these killing institutions, but also in the hearts and minds, even the very souls, of men who worked under him. About the early days in Belzec, Josef Oberhauser has stated:[30]

Wirth then began, with exceptional harshness, the preparations for the first test gassing: an open refusal to obey orders would, without question, have led to suicide. When, for example, a member of the Ukrainian guard detachment seemed 'lukewarm' in carrying out an order, Wirth immediately hit him with a whip. With the training Kommando for the Ukrainians in Trawniki, I also heard that he once killed a Ukrainian. The expressions he also used against members of the SS who fell out of favor were consistent with Wirth's mentality.[31] I still remember his often-repeated words: “Little man, I'll kill you!” and '”You dope, I will finish you.[32]” [Ibid., Oberhauser, 13.12.1962 ]

According to Oberhauser, his closest associate in Reinhardt, “Wirth was a Jew hater on an unimaginable scale[33].” It was recognized by everyone in T4 (and Reinhardt) that Wirth wielded the real power and once he had gained total control over the killing process no one would dare challenge his authority, not even his immediate superiors, the medical grandees in T4, Globocnik in Lublin or Krüger, the Higher SS and Police Leader in Kraków. He was untouchable for one simple reason - he had direct unobstructed access to Hitler's Chancellery, a position he held until his death in 1944.[34] Wirth's commitment to and expertise in the organization of murder may be exemplified by just three incidents among many.

  1. He personally gassed fourteen mental patients at Brandenburg institution[35] during the experimental gassings in mid-January 1940.

  2. He personally shot seven female victims who had signs of typhus to avoid contaminating anyone else.

  3. When Franz Stangl visited Sobibór in late April 1942, he found Wirth cursing and swearing, standing by the newly erected gas chambers wiping the sweat off his cap. Wirth immediately seized 25 work Jews who happened to be nearby and said, “Right, we will try it out right now with those 25 Jews: get them up here.” He pushed them into the gas chamber, cursing as he did it because the gas chamber doors were too small.[36]

The brutality and arrogance towards his men was no less evident as we shall see.

As another example of Wirth's rabid anti-Semitism, he tied a Jew to the back of his car and accelerated along the village street dragging the Jew to his death.[37] In addition to their hardness and brutality, there was a more macabre side to their thinking. From the very beginning in Belzec, Wirth issued the order “No Jewish children are to be allowed to live under any circumstances!”[38]

Another middle-ranking Kripo police officer, Gottlieb Hering[39], who had served with Wirth for 20 years in the Württemberg police, joined him in T4, and was later to replace him as commandant at Belzec. The SS-Garrison hoped that there would be an improvement in the morale and running of the camp with this change, but they were disappointed. Hering adopted all the procedures previously established by Wirth and at the same time quickly stamped his individual authority on the SS-garrison and Ukrainian guards.[40]

Hering, like Wirth, was a committed family man and a very competent police officer. He was also seconded to special duty to the Führer at the beginning of 1940 when he became embroiled in T4, being placed in charge of registration at the Hadamar and Sonnenstein euthanasia centers. Hering, unlike Wirth, was not in the SS because of his alleged anti-Nazi attitude in the Weimar days, but like Wirth, wore the uniform of the Schutzpolizei until December 1942, when both men appeared in the uniform of the Waffen-SS showing aligned ranks.

Franz Stangl joined the police service at the age of 23 during the depression and social conflict of 1931. He graduated from the Vienna Police Academy in 1933. By 1934, Stangl was a uniformed constable with no particular career aspirations. His subsequent career and ultimate fate were guided by the simple premise of luck and opportunity. In 1935 he transferred to the Kripo as a Detective Constable in the Political Police dealing on a day-to-day basis with political agitators and other subversive elements.[41] Basically an intelligent man but not gifted academically, he was capable enough in his daily duties, and in normal times would have progressed through the ranks until his retirement, causing very few ripples. However, these were not normal times, even in the tranquillity of Wels, where he was stationed, and commuting daily from his home in Linz.In March 1938, the “Anschluss” of Austria took place with the introduction of Nazism on a scale more fanatical than in Germany. However, although there was generally an overwhelming welcome for the New Order, others were not so happy. The HHE had carried out their preparatory intelligence work and were in a position to stamp out any dissent by using their previously prepared lists of opponents. The Austrian Police were high on the list. In Stangl's office, three out of the five detectives on duty were arrested by the Gestapo and removed to a concentration camp.[42] In the Police headquarters in Linz, two senior officers were shot without arrest or trial.[43] Interesting about Stangl's recollections of those times are the actions that he took to head off trouble. He states that he removed all evidence from the police files that implicated him and his colleagues in any anti-Nazi activity. By calling in past favors, Stangl managed to falsify official records by adding his name and a false membership number to the list of the Nazi Party in Austria which, prior to the 'Anschluss,' had been a proscribed political Party. Stangl backdated his membership by two years, thus appearing more committed to the Nazi party than he actually was at that time. By October 1938, Stangl was fully integrated into the Nazi system. In January 1939, with the re-organization of the German security services, he was now established in the Gestapo HQ in Linz, the first step on the ladder towards the 'Final Solution'. The police and security services had changed from being an authority administered (state-by-state) by the individual Länder (States) in Germany to a national security force that extended throughout the entire Reich to root out and eliminate all opposition to the Nazi regime. The Kripo was now the protector of 'social order,' backed up by the Schupo.[44]

When the Reich security services were amalgamated in September 1939, Stangl found himself entangled in the politicization of the police, and according to him, this was a most unhappy time as he was in direct conflict with his immediate superior, Georg Prohaska, the chief of the Linz Gestapo. Despite Stangl's emphatic assertion in the Gitta Sereny interviews that he was never a Nazi sympathizer, he certainly showed his conversion to Nazi ideology when he voluntarily transferred to the Judenreferat (Jewish Department), moving about the country registering Jewish communities.[45] Then, inexplicably (so he claims), a transfer order signed personally by Himmler, instructed Stangl to report to SS-Oberführer Viktor Brack[46] at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin, where he was interviewed for duty in T4.[47]

When, in a later interview, Sereny asked Stangl if he knew at that time what Tiergartenstrasse 4 was, he replied, “I had no idea. I had heard it vaguely referred to now and then as T4, but I didn't know what their specific function was.”[48]

Stangl's accounts of his involvement with T4 are replete with contradictions. It was perhaps the product of years of thinking-through convenient answers to probing questions, which he knew would arise at some time. About the time of Stangl's appointment, other police officers were also seconded to T4: Franz Reichleitner, who succeeded Stangl at Sobibór, and in the lower ranks, Friedrich Tauscher, Fritz Hirsche, Franz Schemmel, and Kurt Küttner, who were all prominent police appointments in T4 and Reinhardt.

Stangl had taken the bait of promises of promotion and other rewards, the kudos of working under the auspices of the KdF, accelerated promotion, and extra pay. T4 must have considered that they had the right man (no doubt on Wirth's recommendation) for the work envisaged, as these were clear bribes to induce him to accept the appointment. It certainly worked as Stangl was duly promoted to Leutnant der Poizei (Police Lieutnant), above his present rank, and sent back to Linz to await further orders.[49] In November 1940, he was sent to the Schloss Hartheim euthanasia institute where he met Kriminalkommissar Wirth, and later became his deputy. This was a decisive moment for Stangl. He had now crossed the line to become employed in State-sponsored mass murder.[50] A final seal of approval from the KdF came when Globocnik eventually appointed him as commandant of Sobibór (to replace SS-Hauptsturmführer Richard Thomalla, who had built the Belzec and Sobibór camps[51]). Stangl is an interesting example when examining the question of motivation. As the commandant of Sobibór, he proved his worth to the system and was transferred to the higher-profile Treblinka camp on 2 August 1942, the day after Wirth's appointment as Inspector of the SS-Sonderkommandos of Aktion Reinhardt[52]. Stangl's duty at Sobibór and later Treblinka was, in the first place, to obey orders and efficiently carry out his duties.[53] He intimated in conversation with Sereny that he was indifferent to the fate of the Jews and only saw them as 'material objects' that had to be 'dealt with.' By keeping his distance from the victims he was able to recede into the background, attending the inferno only when he chose to or in the event of an emergency. He then returned to his quarters and indulged himself in self -recrimination and heavy drinking, leaving the everyday unpleasant tasks to his staff. The few survivors from Sobibór and Treblinka - mainly long-term prisoners - refer to him as being softly-spoken, courteous, and impeccably dressed. Stangl was never seen with or known to carry firearms - only a short riding crop as part of his dress. The point to enforce here is that overt actions of cruelty were neither encouraged nor discouraged, as 'Jews were Jews' and not considered human within the political doctrine of Nazism. In my view, Stangl was an ardent Nazi well before the “Anschluss” and remained committed throughout the entire war, although his personality was not suited to the special role for which he had been selected. He found himself in the wrong job but was too weak to rebuff the inducements offered, but having accepted them, it was too late, and there was no way back. In a sense, he too may be considered a victim, albeit a victim of circumstances occasioned by his own human frailty and moral weakness. As for the thousands of Jews in whose murder he was directly implicated on a daily basis, Stangl was completely unconcerned about their fate. Whatever Stangl's attempts may have been to weasel his way out of the accusations by Gitta Sereny, there is one particular damming incident which, in my opinion, places him at the forefront of Jewish extermination: he personally designed and ordered the construction of the fake railway station at Treblinka to allay the fears of arriving victims. A mini-industry evolved in Treblinka which was to be a life-saving project for Jewish 'artists' and sign-writers. Stangl supervised the design and painting of a sign with black letters on a white background: 'Bahnhof Obermajdan' Umsteigen nach Bialystok und Wolkowysk!' (Obermajdan Station! Change here for Bialystok and Volkouysk!). Other signs announced: First Class, Second Class, Third Class, Waiting Room, Cashier, etc. The Jews arriving at 'Obermajdan' saw what appeared to be railway workers in uniform performing normal jobs. The final touch was a large round station clock. The reception area at Treblinka had been transformed into what appeared to be an ordinary railway station like any other in order to cruelly deceive the victims into believing they were en-route to sunnier places.[54]

The police had a certain amount of choice regarding transfers to other duties. They were not conscripted for special duty; they were recruited. No pressure was applied to induce them to join the euthanasia program and subsequently Reinhardt, but once the transfer to Reinhardt had been accomplished, the situation changed. An example is the career of Jacob Wöger. In 1936, Wöger was a serving Kriminalsekretär (Detective Sergeant) in the Stuttgart Kripo, the same force in which Wirth and Hering had served and from which they had been recruited to T4. In 1939, he was called-up by the KdF and offered a transfer to T4 at Grafeneck (one of the two euthanasia centres operating at that time[55]). Upon completion of his duty at Grafeneck he returned to the Stuttgart Kripo without any complications. Hermann Holzschuh in 1937 was also a Kriminalsekretär in the Stuttgart Kripo. In 1940, like Wöger and many others, he was selected for T4, which he also accepted. Holzschuh also served in Grafeneck as Wöger's deputy and succeeded him when Wöger returned to normal duties. Holzschuh served in T4 until he was also transferred to other duties and replaced by Franz Stangl. Neither Wöger nor Holzschuh reappeared in the Jewish extermination operation and as far as can be established, their transfers back to normal duties did not compromise them.[56]

The method of recruitment does suggest some kind of complicity conducted by the management. Wirth was probably at the center of this and no doubt influential in these appointments. It is also probable that the senior police officers engaged in T4 and then Reinhardt were fully briefed as to the nature of their duties--that is, they knew that T4 and Reinhardt were centers for group and mass murder. Because these men had come from a disciplined service, much reliance was placed on their ability to conduct themselves without supervision and their capacity for improvisation in matters of great secrecy. The police officers had proved their loyalty and abilities to the HHE and were now trusted and given autonomy in organizing and carrying out their duties. As shown in the early days of T4, they were prepared to forego their professional training and join the Führer's clique in their quest for personal advancement, even if it included in the process the cold-blooded murder of men, women and children.

The importance of the German police service within the framework of both T4 and Reinhardt should not be underestimated. It is plausible that the reason why the police superseded the SD in the death camps was Wirth's influence with Hitler's Chancellery, contending that he required his own men to be the controlling factor. The police remained the leading group in Reinhardt, even above the Allgemeine (General) and Waffen (Armed) SS/SD who, although operationally involved on the outside, had no say or influence inside the camps or of how the mass murder was to be carried out.


  1. Browder, Enforcers, 35-48. In 1934, there were a number of organisations targeted by the security services: Marxists, reactionaries, foreigners, Freemasons, cults and religious organisations (including Jews). The main targets remained reactionary nationalists, monarchists and former members of proscribed organisations.
  2. Return

  3. Rupert Butler, The Gestapo, London 1992, 51. Typewriters always seemed to be in short supply and during 'operations' officers left their posts, not to join in, but to seize any typewriters that may have been left over.
  4. Return

  5. In recent times, police forces outside Germany have sought radical solutions to solve policing problems: leadership by means of direct entry to supervisory positions, amalgamations, police academies of excellence, senior command courses, special squads to deal with particular issues (terrorism, drugs, major crime, special branch, etc.).
  6. Return

  7. The HHE organised and supervised these changes from the newly-established RSHA Amt V, under the direction of Arthur Nebe.
  8. Return

  9. In most Holocaust literature there is an overuse of the word 'Gestapo' (Geheime Staatspolizei = Secret State Police). (* The early Prussian version under Goering was the GESTAPA – Geheime Staats Polizeamt). The later Gestapo had offices all over the Reich). In popular parlance, however, it is applied to all police institutions created since 1933. See: Paechter, Nazi Usage, 79. The organisation of the Sipo-SD in Galicia, of the BdS and KdS, which replicated the five departments of the RSHA: Personnel, Administration, Intelligence, Secret State Police, and Criminal Police. Department IV dealt with Jewish matters.
  10. Return

  11. The Trial of German Major War Criminals, HMSO, London 1946. IMT, Speeches, 19.
  12. Return

  13. Sipo-SD training academies were established in 1935 when they came under Zentralamt II (Personnel Office), Hauptabteilung III (Training, education and recruitment of the Sicherheitshauptamt). With the amalgamation of all security services in 1936, they crossed the corridor to the RSHA.
  14. Return

  15. The SD had its own organisation with an independent headquarters with posts established throughout the Reich and in the occupied territories. A membership of 3-4,000 professionals assisted by thousands of honorary members, known as 'V'-men ('Vertrauensmänner' = confidential agent/informer), and by spies in other lands. The Abwehr, headed by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, was the military intelligence branch and did not become amalgamated with the SD until towards the end of the war when Canaris was executed, allegedly involved in the 20 July 1944 bomb plot against Hitler.
  16. Return

  17. A large majority of Schpo and Kripo officers secretly backed the Nazis long before 1933; they saw Nazism as the only authoritarian way of getting rid of the 'red menace' and solving Germany's internal problems and welcomed the Nazi seizure of power).
  18. Return

  19. Ibid.
  20. Return

  21. All members of the Kripo had to serve a minimum period in the Gestapo.
  22. Return

  23. O'Neil, The Rabka Sipo-SD School, in which the persona of commandant SS-Untersturmführer Wilhelm Rosenbaum is fully exposed. (Publication by Yad Vashem Holocaust Studies pending).
  24. Return

  25. Browder, Enforcers, 57. Among the earliest members of the Sipo und SD, 20% came from the lower ranks of the civil service.
  26. Return

  27. 'Carrying' a uniform is a police phrase which, in this meaning, reflects a professional, hard working officer? On the other hand, it can also mean 'uniform carrier', an officer who wears a uniform, draws his pay, and does little work.
  28. Return

  29. After ignoring the Concordat with the Holy See, signed in July 1933 in Rome, the Nazi Party carried out a long and persistent persecution of the Catholic Church, its priesthood and congregation members, including police officers.
  30. Sereny, Stangl, 37.
  31. Return Return

  32. Browder, Enforcers, 212.
  33. Return

  34. Andrew Ezergalis, The Holocaust in Latvia, Washington, DC, 1996, 146.
  35. Return

  36. Only Dr Eberl (T4), who was temporarily in charge of Treblinka, was outside this police cadre. Dr Eberl could not agree with Wirth's practices and because of this, he was considered an outsider. He was later ousted by Globocnik and Wirth.
  37. Return

  38. TAL/ZStL, Belzec Case: Statement of Karl Werner Dubois, 16 September 1961. He was killed by Polish partisans on 29 March 1943 near the village of Tarnawatka on the road to Zamosc).
  39. Return

  40. BDC/YV 862: Christian Wirth: Police Constable in the city police - CID (Kriminalpolizei/Kripo) - Nazi Party (NSDAP) - SA (Sturmabteilungen). Post -1936 (Himmler re-organisation of the police service when SS membership was compulsory): Sicherheitsdienst (SD 1936) - SS (1939). RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt) - SD Academy (Berlin-Charlottenburg) Kriminalkommissar - T-4 - Reinhardt (December 1941-September 43). In the death camps, Wirth (promoted 1.1.43) continued to wear his green police uniform of Major der Schützpolizei and Kriminalrat of the Kriminalpolizei of the Stuttgart police (with the SD silver corded insignia on his left sleeve), but on occasions, he took to wearing the grey uniform of the Waffen-SS with the equivalent rank of SS-Obersturmführer.
  41. Return

  42. PRO, File No. WO/208/4209. Statement of George Konrad Morgan, 7 April 1946. See also BDC/YV: personal file 862, marked 'z. V. Führer' (zum Verfügung Führer = 'at the disposal of the Führer').
  43. Return

  44. Ibid, 86-88
  45. Return

  46. In entry No. 471, dated 15 June 1940 at Hartheim, shows death certificate in name of Ottmar Holzheu signed by Wirth - 'Registrar'. (* The doc. bears Wirth's typewritten name, but it is not signed by him). See: Barbara Distel and Ruth Jakusch (eds.), Concentration Camp Dachau 1933-1945, Munich (n.d.), 164.
  47. Return

  48. BDC/YV, 862.
  49. Return

  50. In the T4 institutions he was called 'Christian der wilde' – 'the savage Christian' and in the Reinhardt camps 'Christian der Grausame' – 'Christian the horrible').
  51. Return

  52. TAL/ZStL, Belzec Case: Remarks made by prosecuting Counsel. Also, agreed conclusion by the defendants: Fuchs, Gley, Schluch, Unverhau and Zierke, corroborated by evidence from many other sources. We can be reasonably satisfied that this, in fact, was the case. Christian Wirth was a sadist to all men, consequently, the Jews in the Reinhardt camps stood no chance whatsoever.
  53. Return

  54. Sereny, Stangl, 54.
  55. Return

  56. The decision was made in early April 1942, hence the reason for Wirth's recall to Berlin and closing Belzec. (See: Witte, Himmler Diary, p. 401 n. 44)
  57. Return

  58. TAL/ZStL, Belzec Case.
  59. Return

  60. Ibid. File No. 208 AR-Z 252: Case Against Josef Oberhauser et al. (Belzec Case): Statement of Josef Oberhauser, 24.1.1963).
  61. Return

  62. Ibid., Oberhauser, 13.12.1962
  63. Return

  64. TAL/Franz Suchomel, Christian Wirth, (private report), Altötting 1972, as quoted by Tregenza, 'Wirth', in: Zeszsyty Majdanka, vol. 15, Lublin, 1993.
  65. Return

  66. From the inception of T4 and subsequently Reinhardt, Wirth had direct access to Hitler's Chancellery at all times. In the course of these duties he was untouchable, even from the highest ranks of the Nazi Party.
  67. Return

  68. TAL/ZstL 208, AR-Z 797/66. Statement of Dr August Becker (KdF chemist), 20 June 1961. Becker was engaged in gassing experiments with Wirth at Brandenburg. (* The Brandenburg experimental gas chamber was constructed by Oberhauser and others transferred from Grafeneck) to resemble shower rooms, 3m x 5m x 3m high, (panelled) lined with ceramic tiles. The gas pipe was laid around the room 10 cm above the floor and hidden beneath wooden benches. Similar facilities were to be constructed in the East. Wirth tried the system out with the gassing of mental patients.
  69. Return

  70. Sereny, Stangl, 113-114.
  71. Return

  72. TAL/OKBL, File No. Ds. 1604/45 - Zamosc (The Death Camp at Belzec): Statement of Tadeusz Misiewicz, 15.10.1945).
  73. Return

  74. The Gerstein story about the child with the pieces of string is dubious: Since when was Wirth such a 'humanitarian' that he gave a damn about 'calming Jews' before their death?.
  75. Return

  76. Gottlieb Hering: Police Constable in the city police (Schützpolizei) - CID (Kriminalpolizei/Kripo) Kriminalobersekretar - Nazi Party - (* Hering was never in the SD) - T-4 (Kriminalinspecktor) - Reinhardt (August 1942). Hering also preferred to wear his police uniform while performing duties in Belzec.
  77. Return

  78. Their lives and careers in very many respects were almost identical. They were rivals for sure on duty, but remained friends, re: horse riding together in Belzec in Aug. 1942 – they were both Swabians and stuck together, much the same as the two Bavarians, Oberhauser and Schwarz. Hering's later promotion to SS-Hauptsturmführer was rejected by the SS-Personnel office because he had never been a member of the SS. He received the promotion only after the intervention of Himmler.
  79. Return

  80. Although most applicants considered entry into the Kripo as a promotion, this was not the case. A constable is a constable whether in the uniformed branch or the investigation branch. Quite simply it was a sideways move. This perception remains today, much to the annoyance of uniformed officers.
  81. Return

  82. Sereny, Stangl, 30-37.
  83. Return

  84. Ibid. I found this interview by Sereny with Stangl very persuasive and convincing. It reflects a true situation based on language usage and police jargon.
  85. Return

  86. Schutzpolizei (Schupo) consisted of two groups: the Schupo who were heavily armed and housed in barracks were engaged for crowd control (especially strikes and demonstrations) and the suppression of revolutionary uprisings. (* The Schupo were the regular uniformed urban police force). The remainder, were assigned to urban districts for routine patrol and police work. In the countryside were uniformed Gendarmerie or Landjägerei, separate from Schupo. The remainder of the State police served in plain clothes. Units of detectives (Kriminalpolizei) were assigned to the cities and administrative police (Verwaltungspolizei) performing regulatory roles, see: activities of the Ordnungspolizei and Schutzpolizei in the town of Kolomyja between the 7 - 10 September 1942, in: Tuvia Friedmann: “Police Battalion 24/Company 7, September 1942.” See also: YVA/ZStL: Collection UdSSR, vol. 410, 'Stanislawow Reports', Haifa 1957. See: 'Schupo-Kriegsverbrecher vor dem Wiener Volksgericht: Schutzpolizei Dienstabteilung in Boryslaw', in: (Dokumentensammando ?) Institute of Documentation in Israel, Haifa 1995. (3 vols. Boryslaw, Kolomyja, Stryj).
  87. Return

  88. Sereny, Stangl, 56.
  89. Return

  90. Ibid., 81. According to Dieter Allers, Stangl's recruitment to T4 was probably on recommendation by fellow Austrian contacts. For Brack, see: BDC/YV 496.
  91. Return

  92. Sereny, Stangl, 55.
  93. Return

  94. Ibid. 49; recollections of Stangl, 80-81; recollections of Dieter Allers re: mode of recruitment.
  95. Return

  96. All the Kripo officers assigned to T4 killing institutions had to have at least one rank above the local police chief; this was so that no local officer could question or argue with a higher-ranking officer.
  97. Return

  98. Ibid., 52.
  99. Return

  100. Stangl's appointment was consistent with the times: no written orders were given, no paraphernalia, just a chat on a garden seat overlooking Lublin, talking with Globocnik at the rear of the SS-Standortverwaltung building.
  101. Return

  102. See Longerich, Ermordung, 339.
  103. Return

  104. Ibid. For overview of Stangl's interrogation and questioning at his subsequent trial in Germany, 367-8.
  105. Return

  106. Samuel Willenberg, Revolt in Treblinka, New York 1989, 96.
  107. Return

  108. Wöger was an early member of the Grafeneck staff – he was there before Wirth arrived at the beginning of Feb. 1940)
  109. Return

  110. Friedlander, Origins, 206.
  111. Return
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