The Private Lives of the SS in Auschwitz
An unusual book has been published in Polish language by the Auschwitz Museum: The Private Lives of the SS in Auschwitz.
The publication takes a look at the perpetrators of the crimes committed in Auschwitz from another, little known and sometimes surprising perspective. It contains a section concerning the testimonies of young Polish women who, during the war, were forced to work at the homes of officers and non-commissioned SS officers from the crew of the German Nazi concentration camp. The English edition of the book is being prepared.
Private Lives is a portrait of 22 SS men and their families: from the commander of the camp, Rudolf Höss, his deputy and head of the camp, Karl Fritzsch, the doctors responsible for the selection of Jews deported to the camp on the ramp: Horst Fisher, Werner Rohde, as well as Gerhard Palitzsch, who personally carried out hundreds of executions at the Death Wall, to the lower ranking SS — guards and chauffeurs. The testimonies were selected by Dr Piotr Setkiewicz, Museum historian and renowned expert on the subject, who also provided the introduction and footnotes.
The authors relating the stories — colourful descriptions of family life and the conditions prevailing in the homes of the SS — are mostly teenage residents of Oświęcim. In accordance with the Nazi law that at that time was binding on the area, after 14 years of age, all youth were obliged to perform a designated job by the occupation authorities. “Girls at this age were therefore sent to the families of the local Germans, especially to officers and non-commissioned SS officers of the camp staff, for whom they washed, cooked, shopped, scrubbed floors and cared for the children,” said Setkiewicz.
As underlined by the historian, the ambiguities of the source materials often make it difficult to obtain a clear picture of the SS at Auschwitz. “If the SS tried to present themselves in as favourable a light as possible in their post-war testimonies, the former prisoners, in turn, painted their image almost entirely in dark colours. A historian, in the pursuit of the objective truth, and having at his disposal material that were so difficult to assess, would welcome the testimony of a third party that was not so emotionally involved in the events reported. In this context, the publication is a unique collection of material on a European scale, showing the private moments of the SS and their families, which are described neither by themselves nor by the prisoners, hence supplementing, in an interesting manner, the picture known from more classic sources of the whole,” said Setkiewicz.
The book also included private photographs of the SS men, their wives and children. German construction plans of the houses inhabited the SS, including an accurate description of the home of commander Höss with a detailed description of furniture and appliances, are also included.
The publication is available in Polish language in the online bookstore of the Auschwitz Museum and at sales points within the grounds of the Museum.
Fragments of testimonies
Rapportführer Gerhard Palitzsch
[Gerhard Palitzsch, born in 1913 in Grossopitz-Tharandt near Dresden. One of the first SS men transferred in May 1940 to KL Auschwitz, where he served as a non-commissioned officer as Report Leader (Rapportführer) in the main camp, in the men's camp BIb and BIId, the Roma camp BIIe in Birkenau and in the sub-camp in Brünn (Brno in Czech Republic). Responsible for conducting executions by shooting at the Death Wall in the courtyard of block no. 11. Sentenced by the SS court to a penal unit, then transferred to the front, where he died in 1944.]
The Palitzch family lived quietly and they loved each other. They didn’t receive guests, they didn’t organise libations. I arrived at 8 am. I looked after the children. I would go on walks with the girl, usually on the road to the "Record" or near the galvanising plant. Sometimes I would find myself at Haus 7 for some shopping. I finished work at 4 pm. For the heavier work in the house or the garden, the prisoners came. Of course, they were always watched over by a post. When Palitzsch was at home, I could not speak to the prisoners. The prisoners themselves warned me against this. They were afraid that he would write down their number and they would die in the camp. Away from Palitzsch, I had the courage to talk to the prisoners. I did this with caution. Then I found out that the terror of the camp is Palitzsch. I could not believe it. At home, he was a wonderful man. His regard for me was good as well. He loved his children madly.
(SS-Hauptscharführer Gerhard Palitzsch as related by Helena Kłysowa, 19 years of age)
SS-Obersturmführer Wolfgang Güssgen
She was not a faithful wife. When only Mr Güssgen went away somewhere, various SS men would appear at the house, or a trusty prisoner from the locksmith shop who won her favour. She was not embarrassed by my presence at all and would lead her guests straight to her bedroom. It would happen that Güssgen, upon returning home, would find one of these guests. Then he would order me to go do the laundry or to the basement, and when I returned, the guest would not be in the house. Mrs Güssgen was often covered in bruises, so I guessed that it was Mr Güssgen. This didn’t seen to dissuade her, and she exploited every opportunity. It got to the point that Güssgen shot a certain SS man, and as punishment, he was transferred to Oranienburg, and shortly after from there to the front.
(SS-Obersturmführer Wolfgang Güssgen as related by Danuta Rzempiel, 16 years of age)
SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss
[Rudolf Höss, born in 1901 in Baden-Baden. Member of the NSDAP and the SS. Service in concentration camps began in 1934 in Dachau. From May 1940 to November 1943, commander of Auschwitz, then transferred to Berlin, to Wirtschaftshauptamt. After the fall of the III Reich, he hid under the name of Franz Lang. Arrested in the area of Flensburg, sentenced to death by judgment of the Supreme National Tribunal. The sentence was carried out on 16 April 1947 in Oświęcim.]
The attitude of Mrs Höss towards us was loyal. She did not really watch us much when the prisoners worked in her home. The Höss children, even the oldest, Klaus, did not do any wrong to the prisoners working there. He would run around the garden, watching them work. On one occasion, the children came to me and asked me to sew bands with signs for them, just like the ones worn by the prisoners. I was not aware of what the consequences would be from this. Klaus put a “capo [trusty]” band on his sleeve, and the other children had the coloured triangle sewn to their clothing. The happy children, running around the garden, met their father, who noticed the signs and took them into the house. I was not punished, only because it was forbidden to do such a thing to me.
(SS-Obersturbannführer Rudolf Höss as related by Janina Szczurek, 32 years of age)