An anomaly within the history of the Third Reich was the series of investigations conducted by SS Criminal Police against serving personnel of the Nazi Concentration Camp System. These were undertaken, for the most part, with the clear blessing of SS Chief Heinrich Himmler who wished to clean up the SS of what he saw as the blatant corruption of some of his most depraved executioners. An SS Judge, Konrad Morgen, was given the authority to investigate suspects in criminal cases of murder within a state that was conducting mass murder on an industrial scale.
The Reichskriminalpolizeiamt (RKPA) was the central criminal investigation department of the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo) within Nazi Germany. It was founded on 1936 and was later merged with the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo) on 17 June as the two sub-sections of the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo). The SiPo/Security Police was under the direct control of Reinhard Heydrich and was later incorporated into his plan for a unified German Police and Security Service. The SiPo was then absorbed into this service which was established in September 1939 and the combined organisation became known as the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security office; RSHA).
After seeing combat during the invasion of France in 1940, Konrad Morgen was appointed as a Judge within the SS Judiciary and assigned to a court in Cracow. During his service there he investigated several high ranking SS officers for corruption. Amongst these was Hermann Fegelein, a favourite of SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler and the future brother in law of Hitler's mistress Eva Braun. He also quarrelled with Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger, the Higher SS and Police Leader of the General Government over his investigations and as a result Morgen requested a transfer which was refused by Himmler who instead dismissed him from the Hauptamt SS-Gericht, transferring him to the Waffen-SS where he would serve with the 5th Waffen SS Division Wiking on the eastern front.
Prior to the main investigation, several personnel of the concentration camps were under suspicion of wrongdoing and their activities were scrutinised. Hans Loritz, had worked in several camps beginning with Esterwegen in July 1934, where he tightened the already strict rules and was in charge of interrogating prisoners. When he became Commandant at Dachau in April 1936 his corruption began when he used prisoners to work at his private villa in St. Gilgen and Wolfgangsee. This brought scrutiny from the SS-Verwaltungsamt, however nothing further came of these and he continued his work within the concentration camp system. In 1942 he became a section leader of the Allgemeine SS in Klagenfurt and his previous corruption was once again investigated. However these charges were later dropped and he was simply transferred to northern Norway where he worked overseeing several camps, once again using forced labor to construct roads and military installations.
Karl Künstler became the Commandant of Flossenbürg Concentration Camp after the previous Commandant, Jakob Weiseborn committed suicide on 20 January 1939. Under Künstler's reign the death toll rose sharply and he was responsible for ordering the mass executions of Polish and Soviet prisoners of war. In August 1942 he was relieved of his command and placed under arrest. He was succeeded by his deputy Karl Fritzsch and later Egon Zill was appointed to replace him. Under the SS courts investigation Künstler was charged with debauchery and drunken misconduct. He was found guilty and demoted in rank and sentenced to front line combat duty. He was subsequently sent to serve with the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division "Prinz Eugen" and fell in combat during the Battle of Nuremberg in April 1945. In mid-1943 Himmler recalled Morgen from his posting with the Waffen SS and appointed him to oversee RKPA corruption investigations, but forbid him from dealing with political cases.
On 1 February 1942, Hans Aumeier was transferred to the Auschwitz camp system and was appointed head of Department III and was named Schutzhaftlagerführer at Auschwitz I. There he was responsible for numerous beatings, torture and executions of inmates. On 19 March 1942 he personally ordered 144 women to be shot at the execution wall in the courtyard of blocks 10 and 11 and again on 27 May 1942 when 168 prisoners were executed using the same method. He served in this capacity until the 18 August 1943, when he was arrested by the SS for theft and corruption. These charges stemmed from Auemier's practice of stealing gold from the victims who were gassed at Auschwitz. As punishment he was transferred at the request of Commandant Hoess to the Vaivara camp in Estonia.
The RKPA was contacted by the Higher SS and Police Leader of Weimar, Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck und Pyrmont who oversaw the Buchenwald concentration camp within his juristiction.1941 Prince Waldeck had checked over the camps death list and noticed the name of a head hospital orderly by the name of Walter Krämer. He recognized this name because Krämer had successfully treated him in the past, then discovered that the camp Commandant, Karl Koch, had ordered the execution of both Krämer and another hospital attendant by the name of Karl Peixof as politcial prisoners.
When he looked into the matter further Waldeck found that the Commandant, Karl Koch had been treated for syphillis by Krämer and Peixof and wished to keep the matter secret and so had them murdered as well as another prisoner who had been shot whilst attempting an escape. In the meantime Koch had been transferred as Commandant at Majdanek in September 1941 until August 1942 when he was dismissed after 86 Soviet POW's escaped the camp. He was then sent to Berlin where he worked at the SS Personalhauptamt as a liaison official between the German Post-Office and the SS. His wife, Ilse Koch remained at Buchenwald where she now had limited influence in the camp administration under the new Commandant Hermann Pister, but continued a reign a terror against the prisoners.
Waldeck requested the RKPA investigate these events and stipulated the officer must be a serving member of the Waffen SS. Morgan was an SS-Obersturmführer of the Waffen SS and was selected to lead the investigation. He rented a room at the Elephant Hotel in Weimar and began a check of Koch's bank account records and intercepted letters from his wife. He first set his sights on Bornschein, a local Nazi leader in Wiemar who had business connections to Koch. Borschein had been investigated by Emil Holtschmidt a criminal police official for some time and when he began asking too many questions, Borschein joined the Waffen SS and had himself transferred to the headquarters staff at Buchenwald. This meant the SS/Police court was powerless to act because their juristiction did not extend to criminal acts within the camps.
The deeper Morgan delved, the more he could see that this corruption case had spread to almost every facet of the camp infastructure which centrered around the former Commandant Karl Koch. Firstly, he to presented his findings to the head of the Kriminalpolizei, Arthur Nebe, who became hesitant at the ramifications of such an inquiry. Because of Nebe's unwillingness to act, Morgen explained himself to the head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Müller. Müller then suggested he speak with the head of RSHA, Kaltenbrunner who also passed Morgen on, this time to the chief of the Hauptamt SS-Gericht. SS-Obergruppenführer Franz Breithaupt believed the only person with enough influence was the SS Chief Himmler himself. Himmler then gave his permission for Morgen to proceed against Koch and his accomplices in the Buchenwald case.
Morgen ordered Koch to report back to Buchenwald and arrested him and his wife Ilse on 24 August 1943. Koch then received a harsh interrogated and eventually confessed to everything. He implicated others in his crimes, most notably Martin Sommer a sadist in charge of barracks blocks, Dr. Waldemar Hoven, the camp doctor Blancke and Hermann Hackmann, the protective custody officer. The charges against them included the deaths of the inmates Krämer and Peixof, embezzlement and unlawful murders, which involved an SS Officer known as Köhler who was given a lethal injection of phenol by Dr. Hoven to remove him as a potential witness. Karl Koch was charged, sentenced to death and executed on 5 April 1945.
His wife Ilse, known as the "Witch of Buchenwald" was sentenced to a prison term for her involvement. Her lover, the doctor Waldemar Hoven was also sentenced to death but later pardoned and released on 2 April 1945 because of the need for experienced medical personnel. Martin Sommer, also known as the "Hangman of Buchenwald", was arrested on 28 August 1943. He was considered one of the more depraved members of the SS staff at Buchenwald and regularly tortured inmates in his private quarters, keeping their bodies under his bed and then disposing of them the next morning. He was found guilty of unlawful killings, reduced in rank and sentenced to a penal unit on the eastern front where he was wounded, losing his left arm and right leg. He was then captured by the Red Army and spent the next 5 years as a POW, until released in 1950.
The Schutzhaftlagerführer Hermann Hackmann was feared considerably amongst the inmate population and was known as a strict enforcer of camp rules who enjoyed creating new and unique punishments for the smallest infractions. He once ordered two block leaders to bend a birch tree and then made a Jewish prisoner hold onto the branch which was then released, catapulting the Jewish man into the air where he landed in the stone quarry. Hackmann was arrested and charged with embezzlement and murder and sentenced to death, which was later commuted to a prison sentence.
From the Buchenwald case Morgen's investigation soon spread to other camps and he setup the Kassel SS/Police court as a special court, with the permission to investigate all crimes committed within the concentration camps. There were however certain rules the RKPA were subject to and these were explained by the RSHA legal experts, concerning the three clearly defined types of murders within the framework of the Final Solution. Firstly there was the officially decreed extermination of the Jews, the orders for which came from the Fuhrer's Chancellery. The second was the state sanctioned euthanasia killings, which were equally official and nothing could be done to stop. Lastly there were the arbitrary murders of inmate prisoners, which were not sanctioned and could be pursued in the courts.
At almost every camp the RKPA installed an investigation unit with powers of inquiry to prosecute cases of corruption and arbitrary killings. In Dachau, the Camp Commandant Alex Piorkowski was arrest on 31 August 1943 and charged with corruption. He was subsequently dismissed from the SS. Karl Chmielewski was transferred from the Gusen Camp in 1942 and appointed as Commandant of the newly established camp at Herzogenbusch. It was here that he instituted a reign of terror against the inmates until October 1943 when he was arrested for corruption and theft.
It was determined he had been enriching himself by stealing diamonds from the prisoners. These items were the property of the Reich and had to be processed by the camp administration. Chmielewski was dismissed from the SS and his position as Commandant at Herzogenbusch was taken by Adam Grunewald. He was charged and sentenced by an SS court to 15 years imprisonment, which he served at the Dachau concentration camp until it was liberated by American soldiers.
Karl Fritzsch began his camp service at the newly opened Dachau camp in 1934. In May 1940 he was sent to Auschwitz as Commandant Höss' deputy where he earned a reputation for cruelty and sadism. He regularly starved prisoners to death and ordered others to the gas chambers. According to later testimony of Rudolf Höss, it was Fritzsch who first came up with the idea of using Zyklon-B as a means of mass killing and was the first to use for experimentation in the murder of Soviet POW's. Fritzsch was then transferred to Flossenbürg on 15 January 1942 and from August to October he was appointed as temporary Commandant. In October 1943 he was arrested as part of the RKPA investigation and charged with murder. As punishment he was sent to an SS penal battalion on the front lines, where he fell during the battle of Berlin in May 1945.
Morgen's investigation then took a more sinister turn when his inquiry led him to the top secret extermination camps in the East. Belzec, Sobibor, Trelinka and Majdanek were part of the Aktion Reinhardt extermination system which the SS had established to process the flow of Jews and undesirables from the conquered territories. These camps were setup as an alternative to the death squads of the Einsatzgruppen and was considered a much more efficient method of extermination, as well as humane for the executioners.
Morgen began his investigation against Hermann Florstedt, who was appointed as the Commandant of Majdanek in October 1942 and replaced Max Koegel. Florstedt was suspected of the theft of valuables which were stored and processed in the warehouses at Majdanek which had been taken from Jewish prisoners who had been murdered at other camps such as Belzec and Sobibor. He was arrested on 25 October 1943 and charged with embezzlement and the arbitrary killing of prisoner witnesses. For these crimes he was sentenced to death and executed on 15 April 1945.
Soon Morgen was investigating the crimes of SS personnel at the most notorious of concentration camps, Auschwitz. Postal inspectors intercepted two packages which had been sent to a woman by her husband who worked as a dental technician at Auschwitz. Inside the inspectors had discovered dental gold and contacted the RKPA, who realised the gold belonged to victims at the camp. Morgen sent a team of investigators to Auschwitz and later visited the camp himself and was given a tour of the killing centre at Birkenau.
Morgen was forbidden from investigating the mass murder of the Jews which had been authorised by Order of the Fuhrer himself, but he could investigate unsanctioned killings and theft of inmate property. However, this is where Morgen and his men began to encounter resistance from the camp staff, who refused to tolerate his investigations into their affairs. An RKPA informer, an Oranienburg prisoner, named Rothe was saved by investigators just as he was about to be executed as a warning to other prisoners. The camp staff were determined to set an example, so others would think twice about helping Morgen with his inquiry.
Upon the establishment of the Auschwitz camp in occupid Poland, Maximilian Grabner was appointed to head Department II, which dealt with internal matters. Each camp had its own political department that was under the control of the Gestapo. As the head of this department Grabner was in charge of the interrogation and torture of inmates and the suppression of the camp resistance which had formulated to stop the extermination process. Some of the most infamous torturers of Auschwitz worked within the Interrogation and Investigation Office, such as Oswald Kaduk and Wilhelm Boger.
Grabner personally undertook the execution of Soviet Commissars and ordered thousands of inmates to be executed at the inner courtyard between Block 10 and 11. With Morgan's investigation now focusing on the actions of the camp staff, Grabner would have be involved in the resistance to RKPA questioning. In one of the camps a hut was burnt down which contained RPKA files and one of Morgen's adjutants was placed into a punishment cell at Auschwitz. Grabner's corrupt actions were investigated and he was arrested on 30 November 1943 for theft and unlawful murders. Replaced by Hans Schurz, he was placed on trial a year later in Weimar, found guilty and sentenced to prison. Upon his release he returned to his previous position with the Katowice Gestapo.
In 1940, Gerhard Palitzsch was transferred to Auschwitz where he was appointed as the first Rapportführer. In this position he oversaw the daily executions of inmates at the black wall. He later boasted to another SS officer of having personally shot 25'000 prisoners. Whilst serving in Auschwitz his wife Luise was infected with Typhus through a campaign by the inmates to target SS personnel by breeding lice infected with the disease. It was thought Pazlitzsch was the actual target and after the death of his wife, he began sexual relations with a female prisoner.
In 1943 he was placed under investigation by the RKPA for theft and corruption. Due to this he was transferred from Auschwitz to a sub-camp at Brunn in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. This was a penal transfer pending his investigation and once complete he was arrested and sent back to Auschwitz and interred in the prison at block 11. He was accused of race defilement, by having sexual relations with a non-Aryan as well as cruelty. Palitzsch was sentenced to death but he was later reprieved because of the Reich's manpower shortage and instead sentenced to a penal unit. It is strongly believed he was killed during the battle of Budapest in December 1944.
Corruption investigations into other camps continued under RKPA direction. In mid-1943 Anton Endres was assigned as a camp medic to the Dachau sub-camp at Augsberg. He was arrested in November 1943 and charged with allowing unauthorised detainees to leave the camp without permission. He was expelled from the SS on 20 May and placed under pre-trial arrest at Dachau. Afterwards in September 1944 he was sent as a prisoner to the penal camp of the SS and Police in Dachau where he was imprisoned until 30 April 1945 when the American army liberated the camp. Himmler's addressed the problem of corruption within the concentration camp system in his infamous Posen speeches to an assembled meeting of some of the most senior SS leaders.
In October 1943, Hermann Wicklein was transferred as the adjutant to Commandant Grunewald at the Herzogenbusch Camp. On 15 January 1944, the Commandant Adam Grunewald ordered Wicklein and the Schutzhaftlagerführer Arnold Strippel to place 74 female inmates inside a small cell designed for less than half that capacity. By the morning ten of the women had suffocated to death. There was considerable uproar from the Dutch Government who protested over such methods and Grunewald was arrested by the SS immediately afterwards and questioned over the incident. He implicated Wicklein, who was dismissed from his position in February 1944 and arrested in March, and both were brought before the SS and Police court in the Hague.
Grunewald was charged with excesses and unsanctioned murders and sentenced to 3 and half years imprisonment whilst Wicklein was charged with unlawful killings and sentenced 6 months imprisonment. However both men were pardoned by Heinrich Himmler who had Grunewald transferred to the 3rd SS Panzer Division "Tötenkopf" where he died in combat in January 1945 and Wicklein was transferred to another position within the Neuengamme camp system. Grunewald was replaced by Hans Hüttig who was sent to Herzogenbusch to oversee the closure of camp due to the bunker tragedy incident.
Meanwhile Morgen's investigation into the Auschwitz camp continued to uncover more corruption and soon centred on the Commandant Höss. In 1942 Höss had an affair with a political prisoner named Eleonore Hodys and as a result she became pregnant. As punishment she was imprisoned in a standing only cell and when released she was ordered to have an abortion, wich she did in the camp hospital in 1943. As a result of this incident, Höss was relieved of command at Auschwitz and replaced on 10 November 1943 by Arthur Liebehenschel and assumed the position as head of Amtsgruppe DI of Amtsgruppe D of the WVHA.
This position was previously under the command of Liebehenschel and Höss was also appointed as deputy inspector of the Concentration Camps under Richard Glucks. Later, on 8 May 1944, Höss returned to his position as Auschwitz Commandant and Morgen then investigated the claims of Höss affair. Morgen and his assistant Wiebeck conducted the investigation and both Höss and Hodys were questioned. However, by now Heinrich Himmler had become too nervous at the prospect that these investigations would uncover state sanctioned murders and ordered all investigations to cease, including those directed at Rudolf Höss. Himmler declared that anyone who came forward voluntarily to report their crimes would be granted clemency.
Although now confined to Koch case, Morgen was able to claim success from his investigations which were still ongoing. In May 1944 Emil Laurich was arrested for embezzlement and held in the Buchenwald camp where he was later sentenced by the SS and Police court in Kassel to several months imprisonment. With the end of the Third Reich in sight, the investigations were all but over and only a handful of cases were prosecuted against camp personnel in 1944.
Amongst them were Julian Scherner, the SS and Police leader of Nazi occupied Krakow, who was previously investigated 1942 over alleged corruption. The charges included Scherner's active participation in helping his close acquaintance Heinz Klare to enter the Waffen SS and then receive extended sick leave due to a heart problem. This action enabled Klare to avoid the draft which would have certainly involved him being posted to the eastern front. Scherner was also suspected of black market dealings and of borrowing money from Klare to fund what the SS termed, a "luxurious lifestyle".
As a result of these charges Scherner was given a serious reprimand from Himmler himself who then tasked the SS court with investigating these reports. The court found Scherner had not been involved in military corruption, but did agree that he had abused his position to help his friend, but these actions were not deemed worthy of punishment. He was sentenced to 14 days house arrest which was postponed until after the war. However because of his corruption with the Commandant of Plaszow, Amon Göth in stealing confiscated Jewish goods, he was arrested in March 1944 later transferred to Dachau in April where he appeared before another SS court of the Hauptamt SS-Gericht. This time he was found guilty on 16 October 1944 and demoted in rank to SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer der Reserve and transferred to a penal unit. This punishment unit was the notorious 36th Waffen Grenadier Division der SS, better known as the Dirlewanger Brigade.
In August 1944 the Commandant at the Szebnie concentration camp, SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Kellermann was arrested for stealing property from Jewish inmates. It was rumoured throughout the camp he had a fondness for the young female inmates. He was sentenced to a term in jail for defrauding the Reich. On 13 September 1944, Amon Göth, one of the most sadistic camp Commandants was dismissed from his position and arrested on embezzlement charges. He was suspected of stealing Jewish property and failure to provide adequate food to prisoners under his charge, which was a direct violation of camp regulations regarding the treatment and punishment of prisoners.
His position as Commandant at the Plaszow Camp was given to SS-Obersturmführer Arnold Büscher and he was scheduled to appear before an SS Court presided over by Morgen. However, because of the direction of the war and the Reich's now limited resources, all charges against him were dropped in early 1945. Göth was diagnosed by SS doctors as suffering from a mental illness and he was committed to a mental institution at Bad Tolz, where he was later arrested by American troops.
In 1945 during the Nuremburg Trials, Morgen was called to testify. He claimed that in his capacity as an SS Judge and investigator he had fought for justice and to support this he cited that during a two year period he conducted 800 investigations into criminal activity with the concentration camps which resulted in 200 convictions.
Written by Nucleus