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SS Corruption

An interesting aspect of the major SS internal investigations ordered by Himmler was their nearly exclusive concern with theft and corrupt practices by his most senior officers. In the eyes of the HHE, there were only two types of criminality: authorized and unauthorised. If authorised, it was strictly 'ecret Reich business and untouchable. Unauthorized practices were considered a betrayal of the Party and were dealt with most severely. Himmler's speech before his senior SS officers in Poznan in October 1943 deals with exactly this point:

“The wealth they possessed we took from them. I gave a strict order which has been carried out by SS-Obergruppenführer Pohl that this wealth will, of course, be turned over to the Reich in its entirety. We have taken none of it for ourselves. Individuals who have erred will be punished in accordance with the order given by me at the start, threatening that anyone who takes as much as a single Mark of this money is a dead man. A number of SS men – they are not very many – committed this offence, and they shall die. There will be no mercy.

We had the moral right; we had the duty towards our people, to destroy a people that wanted to destroy us. However, we do not have the right to enrich ourselves by so much as one fur, a watch, or a single Mark or cigarette, or anything else.”[1]

Nontheless the corruption that was endemic within Reinhardt and took place on the periphery of events was extravagant in its extent.

Himmler controlled all judgments and decisions concerning prosecution made by SS/Police Sondergerichte (Special Courts) throughout occupied areas. Even such trivial matters as road traffic offences were submitted to him for authorization before a prosecution could take place.[2] SS examining magistrates who had SS and/or Kripo rank were specially appointed to pursue allegations of serious criminal malpractice within the SS.[3] However, because of the secrecy and isolation that surrounded Globocnik's Reinhardt death camps and his property empire in Lublin, the SS-investigators were unable to respond to rumors until their closure. When Reinhardt was disbanded and the SS- garrison transferred away from Lublin to Italy, information of criminality by this group started to emerge. At least two SS/Kripo investigations were underway in Lublin in the summer of 1943, while Sobibor and Treblinka were still functioning.

Amon Goeth, architect of early ghetto operations in Reinhardt until he quarrelled with Höfle and was transferred to take command of the Plaszów concentration camp, was imprisoned for similar offences. The only reason why Goeth did not suffer the same fate as Lasch and was dealt with more leniently was simply that he had not been disloyal to the Party. SS-Sturmbannführer Koch, commandant of Majdanek, was arrested, tried, and executed for unauthorized practices: mishandling Jewish property and corruption…against the Party.

Generally, committing unauthorised crimes, particularly in the East, did not warrant execution. The same applied to anti-Jewish policy orders that were not immediately acted upon for one reason or the other. The line was drawn however, when the perpetrator clearly disobeyed orders and in so doing had shown disloyalty to the Party. This was a clear principle that was not negotiable, whatever the circumstances. Providing this principle of loyalty to the Party was adhered to, no real harm came to those officers who transgressed, and many were subsequently promoted.[4]

As the SS-judiciary increased the pressure, more potential witnesses began to come forward and cooperate with the investigations. There was now a very real threat of their exposure during the Reinhardt period and the SS began to cover up their past deeds. In Buchenwald camp, SS-Hauptsturmführer, Koehler, a material witness to SS prosecutions, was found dead, believed murdered.[5]Although themass shootings were part of Nazi policy, it was certainly convenient for the SS because it eliminated potential witnesses who could incriminate them by testifying to the investigators.

SS-Judge Konrad Morgan was central to these investigations and now had his eye on Globocnik for misappropriation of Reich property and obtaining personal pecuniary advantages. Before arriving at this Reinhardt investigation, the background needs to be explored.

Central to Reinhardt were the camps within the jurisdiction of the Globocnik and the Toebbens industrial work camp empire: Trawniki, Poniatowa, Dorohucza, Old Airport (Lublin) and Budzyn. The periphery industries at Plaszòw near Kraków and the SS-camp and labor camp in Janowska, Lvóv, were not aligned to Globocnik, but firmly under the central administration of Oswald Pohl and the WVHA.

The labor camps are significant as many of the Belzec SS-garrison were transferred there after the Belzec camp closed in June 1943. This must have come as welcome relief to some of them, even though their murderous duties replaced gas with the bullet.

At the top of the administrative ladder regarding all property that originated from Reinhardt operations was the Wirtschafts-und Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA), the SS Economic and Administration Main Office, headed by SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl who, from February 1,1942, was the principal administrator of a vast empire of concentration camps in the occupied territories, including Auschwitz and Majdanek. Himmler had invested Pohl with the power to receive, account for, and distribute all valuables from the Jewish resettlement operations and the labor camps for the benefit of the Reich.

All property taken from the Jews became Reich property: precious metals, precious stones, currency of all kinds, artefacts, and jewelery of gold and silver, even the dental gold and hair from Jewish corpses. Pohl knew about the criminal activities by his camp commanders and strove to protect them, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.[6] He gave an insight into the movement of these valuables at Nuremberg in 1947.

Since the inception of Reinhardt, a secure system of transporting valuables directly to the coffers of the KdF had been perfected. A continual flow of specially designated couriers traveled between individual camps to Reinhardt's Lublin headquarters and to Berlin. Two regular couriers, Erich Fettke and Phillip Rost, were protected from outside interference from any source by a warrant signed by Himmler.[7] To convey the most valuable property, two security chests with padlocks were used for delivery and collection. A special security office was set up to deal with these transactions in Lublin. There is much evidence that the transfer of valuables was observed. When Werner Blankenburg (KdF) stopped-off at the Reinhardt offices in Lublin to deposit “important items for the front,” the duty supervisor contacted Globocnik directly to obtain the necessary permission. Globocnik was abrupt and told the supervisor “to mind his own business.”[8] Some days later, Blankenburg returned, removed the items and, in loading the crates onto a motor vehicle, a crate was damaged, dropping gold items (probably ingots) onto the ground. The supervisor concluded that these items were the subject of Jewish measures. Dieter Allers (KdF) was also dabbling in Jewish gold. Allers ordered one of his T4 administrators, Adolf Kaufmann, to go to Belzec to collect sealed crates and take them directly to Berlin.[9] SS-Scharführer Werner Dubois (Wirth's driver) recalled conveying sealed sacks and iron chests containing banknotes from Belzec to Lublin.[10] Local villagers in Belzec watched, knowing very well what they were seeing, as chests containing gold and valuables weighing 320 kg were loaded onto a passenger train at the railway station.[101] At Treblinka, SS-Scharführer Franz Suchomel recalls stuffing ammunition boxes with one million Reichsmarks and handing the cash to a courier to be taken to Berlin.[12] The millions of Polish zloty did not attract such attention as they were simply paid into the Reinhardt bank account in Lublin for later transfer to the Reichsbank in Berlin.

The 72 railway wagons of processed gold obtained from the teeth of Auschwitz victims, which were credited to Nazi bank accounts in Berlin and, no doubt, at least in part, went into the pockets of the leadership[13] places this 'robbery' into perspective and reveals the enormity of the crime.

From the offices of the WVHA in Berlin, two separate property accounts and administrative avenues were adopted for Reinhardt and KZ camps. One avenue was registering Jewish property in Auschwitz KZ, where Hoess retained overall responsibility and accounted to Pohl in Berlin; the second avenue was via Lublin, where a special staff of the WVHA had an office within the Reinhardt administration. It is clear that Globocnik's death camps were treated as a separate enterprise.

As discussed earlier, Reinhardt was a special operation, incomprehensible even to some of the Nazi Leadership. Now that internal SS investigations were taking place, the SS men targeted for investigation preferred the more convenient defense of “acting under orders” (as we shall see in the Belzec trial), or simple ignorance of the activities of their comrades. At this time, the outcome of the war was very much in the balance and many officers began to disassociate themselves from the more nefarious aspects of German policies, lest they be implicated and tainted by association. It is inconceivable that Jewish destruction was unknown within the inner and outer circles of the military and civil government, but it is quite possible they knew nothing of the extent of the vast riches resulting from it.

“Die grosse Genauigkeit” (The greatest accuracy) - so said Himmler to Krüger and Pohl on January 15, 1943. After a flurry of correspondence concerning the seizure and disposal of Jewish property[14], government agencies finally agreed to share the proceeds, which were distributed to the needy throughout the Reich.[15] A certified return document signed by Globocnik was sent to the RSHA in Berlin, which listed all items of property that the administrators of his death camps had accrued between October 1,1942 and August 2,1943.[16]

By late 1943, Reinhardt was a self-financing operation, running on the proceeds of the loot taken from murdered Jews.[17] The economic gain in the death camps was even more profitable as there were very few expenditures.[18] In the Galician District, SSPF Katzmann, in his report of June 30,1943 to the HSSPF in Kraków, refers to recent seizures: “Apart from furniture and large quantities of textiles, the coins, watches, and rings, the items were all recorded in kilos.”[19] Despite the precautions taken against corruption and theft by those handling the valuables, it was necessary for Himmler to remind his SS once again that if they misappropriated Jewish property they could expect to die without mercy.[20]

Globocnik's explicit orders to his camp commandants to register all property from Reinhardt were being seriously compromised. We have seen the clash of loyalties as portrayed by Globocnik and Wirth with regard to Reinhardt, which was usually sorted out amicably, but when money and valuables became involved, it was every man for himself., When temporarily at Treblinka, Franz Stangl warned Globocnik that Wirth and Dr. Eberl, the commandant, were not complying with the order to register all Reinhardt property. 100,000 Jews had been processed at Treblinka but no property had been registered in Lublin; it had been sent directly to the KdF in Berlin. (As referred to earlier, Wirth obeyed Hitler's Chancellery in Berlin rather than his police superior, Globocnik, in Lublin.) In addition to malpractice by the camp leaders, the camp personnel were stealing valuables and cash daily from the victims. This interesting information, which came from Stangl, may have been the reason why Dr. Eberl was removed from Treblinka and replaced by Stangl, leaving the death camps totally in the hands of the police.

Valuable property was also leaking from the death camps to several senior SS personnel in Berlin. Globocnik, no doubt wanting to impress his bosses, acquired a large quantity of valuable mink furs, which he sent to the KdF for the personal attention of Reichsleiter Phillip Bouhler. No money changed hands and the furs were never recorded, mentioned thereafter, or returned.[21] As both Globocnik and Wirth had mixed loyalties to those in high places, it is not surprising that underhanded deals took place. Globocnik and his camp commanders conspired together to keep SS-accountants away from the death camps.[22] When in December 1942, Belzec received a visit from SS-Unterscharführer Wilhelm Schwarzkopf, the chief accountant from the SS-Standortverwaltung in Lublin, Hering told him on arrival, “We don't need any snoopers here,” and kept him out of the camp. After two weeks waiting for permission to enter the camp, the accountant gave up and returned to Lublin, empty-handed.[23]

In mid-1943, Himmler, stung by the vastness of the corruption now exposed, initiated a number of criminal investigations and indictments were issued against the higher echelons and 18 others of lesser rank of his SS, SD and staff of his concentration camps. He adopted the premise that a man could not be an idealist and at the same time line his pockets, make love to Jewish women, or engage in drunken orgies. It was on this initiative that Himmler ordered an investigation into Globocnik's empire in Lublin. He probably hoped all was well, and I suspect, considered this just a routine operation, which would disarm his critics. However, Himmler had overlooked the tenacity of his investigator, SS-Judge and Sturmbannführer George Konrad Morgan.

Shocked by rumors that a Jewish wedding had taken place with 1,100 guests, including the SS who had revelled in the proceedings with gluttonous consumption of food and drink,[24] Morgan set about a criminal investigation within the DAW. This organization was run by Globocnik in partnership with his co Director, Walther C. Toebbens, the powerhouse of SS eastern investments.[25]

Confirmation that the whole Reinhardt operation, from inception to closure, was closely supervised and administered, not by the WVHA or the RSHA, but by the KdF, was finally confirmed at Nuremberg in August 1946. The testimony before the Court by Konrad Morgan, who appeared as a witness for the indicted SS, exposed the most protected of all Nazi secrets.[26] From Morgan's evidence during cross-examination by defense counsel for the SS, it was learned, that the Reinhardt camps were run by an impenetrable cadre appointed by T4 and led by Globocnik and the Stuttgart policeman, Christian Wirth. The whole point of Morgan's testimony was that the operation was run not by the SS, but by the police (Kripo), namely Wirth, under orders from Hitler's Chancellery (KdF). Morgan wanted to absolve and distance the SS from Reinhardt, but forgot that some of those concerned who held police ranks also held equal rank in the SS!

The connection between the perpetrators of mass murder and KdF/T4 was exposed when Morgan found the T4 pay books for the SS-Scharführers. Other correspondence between Bouhler (KdF) and Werner Blankenburg to Wirth in the Reinhardt offices in Lublin were also found.[27] Wirth had willingly handed-over incriminating documents to Morgan as he had nothing to fear: he was under the direct orders of and had the personal protection of the Führer.

Through the Nuremberg proceedings the fog was gradually lifted to expose the entire Jewish extermination policies of the Nazi state. The connection between the KdF and T4, and the SD (RSHA) was now emerging as the powerhouse for the extermination of the Jews.[28]

This world of Kafkaesque proportions is further emphasized by Wirth's relationship with the Jews he was murdering by the thousands every day. On his visit to Belzec in August 1942, Dr. Pfannenstiel was standing with Wirth in the camp when Wirth asked a work-Jew who was passing by how he was! The Jew remarked, “I am fine now thanking you very much. You are so kind to us, Herr Hauptmann.[29]” Within the Jewish work-brigades who were toiling daily at the Old Lublin airfield, Wirth was known as Papa Wirth.[30] In the light of the ongoing investigation by Morgan and, as already mentioned, to forestall the Jews from giving damaging testimony, it was fortuitous that the entire Jewish workforce of 43,000 employed in the SS-run manufacturing enterprises in the Lublin Distict were shot in a single day, bringing much relief to those SS under investigation.

When Morgan confronted Wirth with the rumors that he had allowed Jewish weddings to take place at Sobibór and Treblinka, to his great astonishment, Wirth readily admitted it and described what had taken place-- namely, that many hundreds of Jews and camp personnel had attended this wedding banquet with the best foods and wines available.[31] This admission by Wirth was a very clever maneuver that had the desired effect - Morgan was dumfounded. Wirth quickly countered this by saying it was all part of the big deception necessary in the bigger picture of exterminating the Jews: “One has to beat the Jews at their own game; one has to shit on them.” (Man muss die Juden mit ihren eigenen Waffen schlagen; man muss sie bescheissen).[32] Wirth explained that selecting Jews directly from the transports and appointing them as Zugführers (Brigade Leaders) increased the overall efficiency of the destruction system. He also found that by giving the column leaders the authority to select their own deputies from the Jewish prisoners enhanced the efficiency of the extermination program. When Morgan asked how he killed the Jews with his Jewish “agents,” Wirth described the whole procedure to him. Wirth added that the camps were like Potemkin villages and never failed.[33] Wirth further explained how he had made the Jews part of the extermination operation by giving them, so to speak, a financial interest in the proceeds. Former SS-Scharführer Heinrich Unverhau:

“In actual fact, the extermination operation - as strange as it may seem - was essentially carried out by the Jews themselves who, in fear of their lives, showed absolute compliance and were used for every task.”

He added, '”Wirth (confirming earlier comments) boasted that everyone (i.e. the T4/SS men) could go home as he could do the job himself with his Jewish Zugführers.”.[34] Wirth's claims, of course, were the exaggerations of an arrogant man, as the Jews would have soon engulfed him as they did the SS at Sobibór and Treblinka in the mass breakouts. It is interesting to note that when Morgan was asked at Nuremberg whether Wirth was a member of the SS, he replied, ”No, he was a Kriminalkommissar from Stuttgart.[35]

SS Judge Morgan exposed more bizarre incidents concerning both Wirth and Hering. At the camp on the old airfield in Lublin, where over 5,000 Jews were employed at sorting clothing and property from Reinhardt, Wirth selected a 10-year-old Jewish boy, fed him well, and dressed him in a specially-tailored miniature SS uniform. Although this caused much concern and distress among the Jews, it did not stop there. Wirth gave the boy a pony and taught him to ride it and use a machine pistol. Within a very short time, the boy was riding about the camp with Wirth, shooting Jews to order. One witness refers to 50 - 60 Jews being shot in this manner.[36] The boy, it was said, also shot his own parents.[37] Why Wirth acted as he did is difficult to understand, even by his standards. We have seen that the SS committed acts of sadistic brutality on the Jews in Belzec when they were bored and looking for ways to entertain themselves. In Wirth's case, it goes much deeper, and exposes his deep hatred for Jews and his total commitment to Reinhardt, even if it meant sacrificing his own work force to achieve it.

Dismissing rumors that Lublin was the center of a mass extermination program, Judge Morgan left Lublin and returned to Berlin. It is incomprehensible that very senior members of the SS were ignorant of Reinhardt, in some form or other. Morgan maintained throughout subsequent post-war investigations that he had only heard rumors and did not know for sure about the Jews being gassed. In all likelihood, Morgan knew full-well what was going on in the Reinhardt camps – he testified that he was convinced that the Jews were in fact being exterminated when he saw the huge mounds of clothing, footwear and other belongings piled up on Lublin airfield. However, this did not come within his brief from Himmler, and anyway he knew it was being carried out on orders from the highest authority.

After making further enquiries to gather his evidence, Morgan returned to Lublin to confront Wirth. He was too late, as the majority of Reinhardt personnel (including Wirth and Globocnik), had left en-bloc for Italy. The SS-Judge was persistent and after rummaging around Reinhardt offices, he found evidence that the rumors of extermination were substantiated. When Morgan visited Wirth's headquarters at the old airfield base outside Lublin, he found evidence which implicated both leadership and men in corruption.[38] Indictment warrants were issued against many of the Reinhardt personnel detailing numerous corruption charges. The warrants were never executed due to the many deaths among those involved after their transfer to Italy.


  1. Hilberg, Destruction, vol. 3, 1008: Himmler speech, 4 October 1943 in Posen Return

  2. Burleigh, Third Reich, 603. Return

  3. The SD had a separate prosecuting office. Return

  4. See as an interesting overview: Browning, Nazi Policies, 126-142. Return

  5. TAL: Konrad Morgan interview with West German Television. Return

  6. In the Koch case (Buchenwald KZ), when corruption proceedings brought by SS-Judge Morgan collapsed, Pohl wrote to Koch castigating Morgan ('this out-of-work lawyer') for interfering with his domain (Hilberg, Destruction, vol. 3, 906). Return

  7. Tregenza, Wirth, 33. English translation can be seen in the Wiener Library London. Return

  8. Ibid. Return

  9. Ibid. Return

  10. Ibid., 36. Return

  11. TAL/OKBZ: Statement of Viktor Skowronek, 16 October 1945. Four boxes of gold and other valuables, weighing a total of 320 kilos (70-80 kg in each box). Return

  12. Ibid. Return

  13. Mark Mazower, Dark Continent, London, 1998, 176. Return

  14. A number of the HSSPFs were lining up to get their hands on a share of the Jewish property that was circulating between the Reinhardt camps via Lublin and Lvóv to Berlin. From the top echelons of Nazi power, Governor Frank Lasch from Lvóv, Göeth from Kraków, etc., were all dipping their fingers in the 'Jewish pie'. Return

  15. Blatt, Sobibor, 10. Return

  16. Ibid. Return

  17. The many varieties of labour camps in the General Government had already been audited and purged under a strict auditing regime. Only the KZs were now of economic value where a profit and loss account per prisoner was kept and regularly audited. Return

  18. Höß, Auschwitz, 21. Return

  19. Yahil, Holocaust, 324: Report by Fritz Katzmann to HSSPF Friedrich Krüger, dated 13 June 1943. Return

  20. Hilberg, Destruction, vol. 3, 1008: Himmler speech, 4 October 1943 in Posen. Return

  21. Tregenza, Wirth, 1- 40. Return

  22. Ibid., 37. Return

  23. Ibid. Return

  24. PRO, File No. WO 309/521: Heinrich Wied, 27 November 1945. Return

  25. TAL/Treblinka Case: Treblinka survivor Jerzy Rajgrodzki has described a Jewish wedding that took place in that death camp, see: J. Rajgrodzki, “Jedenascie miesiecy w obozie zaglady w Treblince.” TAL/ZIHW, Bulletin, Warsaw 1958, 25. On 18 January 1968, Josef Oberhauser testified at a 'euthanasia' trial in Frankfurt-am-Main that a Jewish wedding also took place in the Sobibór death camp. (TAL/Allgemeine Zeitung, 1 September 1968). Himmler was already suspicious of Toebbens and had threatened to send him into the army and have his account books examined (Hilberg, Destruction, vol. 2, 533). Return

  26. George Konrad Morgan was a Judge before the war at the Landesgericht (District Court) in Stettin. In 1933 he was conscripted into Allgermeine-SS and in 1939 into the Waffen-SS. (* Assigned by Himmler to investigate embezzlement and corruption in the SS and KZs). The point for the defense to prove was that the SS were not the instigators or a perpetrator of mass gassings within Reinhardt, but this genocide was the work of someone else.KdF/Police Return

  27. TAL/IMT, Interrogation of George Konrad Morgan, 8 August 1946. Return

  28. Ibid. Return

  29. Ibid. ZStL, Belzec Case: Statement of Wilhelm Pfannenstiel, 21 July 1960. Return

  30. Ibid. File No. 208 AR-Z 74/60 (Case Against Georg Michalsen): Statement of Georg Michalsen, 24 October 1962. Return

  31. Ibid. IMT, Statement George Konrad Morgan, 8 August 1946. See also TAL/Sobibor Case: Statement of Erich Bauer, 11 January 1962. It was not unusual for weddings to take place between Jews. There are reports of weddings Plaszów KZ, usually conducted within the Jewish camp community and without knowledge of the Germans. Wirth's wedding arrangement was an extraordinary event. Return

  32. Ibid. Return

  33. Ibid. Return

  34. TAL/Belzec Case: Statement of Heinrich Unverhau, 21 July 1960: Tregenza, Belzec, 8. Return

  35. Ibid. This is interesting and perhaps clears the ambiguity of Wirth's SS status that has been discussed. Return

  36. PRO: Statement of former SS Judge, George Konrad Morgan, 13 July, and 7 August 1946: Investigation into the HSSPF Lublin. See also Goldhagen, Executioners, 309, n, 76-77. Return

  37. Ibid. Return

  38. TAL/IMT: Statement of George Konrad Morgan, 8 August 1946. Return

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