SS command of Auschwitz concentration camp

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The SS command of Auschwitz concentration camp refers to those units, commands, and agencies of the German SS which operated and administered the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II; it is not a list of all personnel who served at Auschwitz, but does include those in command positions. Due to its large size and key role in the Nazi genocide program, the Auschwitz Concentration Camp encompassed personnel from several different branches of the SS, some of which held overlapping and shared areas of responsibility.

There were over 7,000 SS personnel who served at Auschwitz from the time of the camp's construction in 1940 to the camp's liberation by the Red Army in January 1945. Fewer than 800 were ever tried for war crimes, the most notable of which was the trial of camp commander Rudolf Hoess as well as several others tried between 1946 and 1948.

Senior chain of command[edit]

The supreme commander of the SS, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, was the highest SS official with knowledge of Auschwitz and the function which the camp served. Himmler was known to issue direct orders to the camp commander, bypassing all other chains of command, in response to his own directives. Himmler would also occasionally receive broad instructions from Adolf Hitler or Hermann Göring, which he would then interpret as he saw fit and transmit to the Auschwitz Camp Commander.

Below Himmler, the senior most operational SS commander involved with Auschwitz was SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl, who served as head of the SS-Economics Main Office, known as the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt or SS-WVHA. Pohl's subordinate, SS-Gruppenführer Richard Glücks, served as the Amtschef (Department Chief) of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate which was known as "Department D" within the WVHA. It was Glücks who may be seen as the direct superior to the camp commandant of Auschwitz, SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss.

In addition to this direct chain of command, the geographical location of Auschwitz placed some of its supply and wartime functions under the authoirity of Regional SS and Nazi Party leaders. When the camp was first constructed, Auschwitz was located within the borders of the newly established General Government, under the control of Reichsleiter Hans Frank. Before Auschwitz was a death camp, Frank left the running of the camp mostly to the SS, although he did know of the camp's existence since the early Auschwitz fell under his geographical authority. Simultaneously, all SS activities at Auschwitz were under the authority of the Higher SS and Police Leader "Ost" (east) who, during most of Auschwitz's existence, was Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger (Wilhelm Koppe also held this position from late 1943 to early 1945). Krüger's subordinate, the SS and Police Leader of Krakow was also technically senior to the Commander of Auschwitz and could issue orders concerning wartime needs.

By 1942, the territory in which Auschwitz lay had been absorbed into the German state of Upper Silesia and thereafter was under geographical control of the corresponding Gauleiter. For most of the camp's later half of existence, this person was Karl Hanke, who both visited Auschwitz and had full knowledge of the camp's operation. During Hanke's tenure, the SS command of the region stayed the same, with the addition of Auschwitz now falling under the administrative realm of the Allgemeine-SS division SS-Oberabschnitt Südost. The 23rd SS-Standarte also was a General-SS counterpart to the Waffen-SS personnel of the region, many of whom were stationed at Auschwitz.

As well as falling under a direct and geographical chain of command, the nature of the work at Auschwitz also had the camp coming under the sphere of the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt, or RSHA. Both Reinhard Heydrich and later Ernst Kaltenbrunner routinely were briefed on activities at Auschwitz through Adolf Eichmann, assigned head of RSHA Referat IV B4 (RSHA Sub-Department IV-B4), who dealt with supervising the transportation of Jews to Auschwitz and had visited the camp on several occasions.[1]

A final group which had interest in Auschwitz were the various German ministries concerned with war production, slave labor, and manpower. During the Nuremberg trials, heavy emphasis was placed on the knowledge which the civil government of Nazi Germany had of Auschwitz, which was a primary source of labor for such major firms as IG Farben. Both Fritz Sauckel and Albert Speer were directly accused of having knowledge of Auschwitz, although both denied knowing the scope of the genocide program in place there.[2]

Senior chain of command

Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler (Supreme Commander of the SS)
SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl (Commander, SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt)
SS-Gruppenführer Richard Glücks (Concentration Camps Inspectorate)

Lateral senior commands

SS-Obergruppenführer Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger
SS-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Koppe
SS-Oberführer Julian Scherner

Camp leadership and personnel[edit]

The camp commander of Auschwitz, as well as the senior camp officers and non-commissioned officers, were all members of the SS-Totenkopfverbände, or the SS-TV. Due to a 1941 personnel directive from the SS Personalhauptamt, members of the SS-TV were also considered full members of the Waffen-SS. Such personnel were further authorized to display the Death's Head Collar Patch, indicating full membership in both the SS-TV and Waffen-SS.

The Auschwitz Commandant was assigned a full-time administrative staff to which answered a primary adjutant as well as several other SS officers in charge of supply, finance, and other administrative needs. Auschwitz also maintained a motor pool as well as an arsenal from which all the SS personnel would draw weapons and ammunition, although several of the SS were known to purchase their own handguns and other weapons.

Administrative and supply SS personnel were assigned mostly to the camp headquarters at the Auschwitz I camp. Such personnel, many of whom were Waffen-SS members but not members of the SS-TV camp service, were usually "out of the way" of the more horrific activities of the camp. Oskar Gröning is one such well known Auschwitz clerk, who has appeared on several documentaries speaking about life in Auschwitz for the SS, and how living in the camp was in fact an enjoyable experience.[3]

Garrison commanders

SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss (1940 - 1943/1944)
SS-Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel (1943–1944)
SS-Sturmbannführer Richard Baer (1944–1945)

Senior adjutant officers

SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer (Auschwitz I)
SS-Hauptsturmführer Robert Mulka (Auschwitz I and II)

Junior adjutant officers

SS-Obersturmführer Karl-Friedrich Höcker (Auschwitz I)

Headquarters staff

SS-Hauptscharführer Detlef Nebbe (Head NCO, Commandant's Staff)

Pay office

SS-Unterscharführer Oskar Gröning (Currency Exchange Clerk)

Post office

SS-Sturmscharführer Robert Heider (Post Office NCO)

Legal office

SS-Obersturmführer Wilhelm Bayer
SS-Obersturmführer Heinrich Ganninger

Directors of administration

SS-Obersturmbannführer Karl Möckel

Camp administration main office

SS-Unterscharführer Franz Romeikat (Administrative assistant)

Prisoner property office

SS-Obersturmführer Theodor Kratzer (Property director)

Camp personnel department

SS-Hauptscharführer Friedrich Schimpf (Personnel accommodation)
SS-Oberscharführer Hans Zobisch (Personnel NCO)

Camp technical section

SS-Scharführer Georg Engelschall (Technical section NCO)

Internal camp order[edit]

Internal camp order was under the authority of SS-TV members answering directly to the Camp Commander through officers known as Lagerführers. Each of the three main camps at Auschwitz was assigned a Lagerführer to which answered several SS-non-commissioned officers known as Rapportführers. The Rapportführer commanded several Blockführer who oversaw order within individual prisoner barracks. Assisting the SS with this task was a large collection of Kapos, who were trustee prisoners.

Camp labor section

SS-Unterscharführer Heinrich Oppelt (Director of camp labor)
SS-Unterscharführer Heinrich Schoppe (Labor service NCO)

Women's camp sub-section

SS-Unterscharführer Richard Perschel (Women's camp labor director)
SS-Unterscharführer Johann Ruiters (Women's camp labor administration)

Camp guards[edit]

External camp security was under the authority of an SS unit known as the "Guard Battalion", or Wachbattalion. These guards manned watchtowers and patrolled the perimeter fences of the camp. During an emergency, such as a prisoner uprising, the Guard Battalion could be deployed within the camp. The Guard battalion was organized on military lines with a Battalion Commander, Company and Platoon Leaders, as well as non-commissioned officers and enlisted SS soldiers. Camp guards were either members of the SS-TV or Waffen-SS veterans rotated into the concentration camp system due to wounds in action or for some other administrative reason.

Ironically, contrary to the stereotypical image of the "Concentration Camp Guard", members of the Guard Battalion seldom, if ever, had direct contact with prisoners. Exceptions occurred due to prisoner escapes or uprisings, of which the 1944 Crematorium Revolt (depicted in the film The Grey Zone where the Guard Battalion enters and machine guns a crematorium) is one such example.

Battalion Commanders

SS-Sturmbannführer Max Gebhardt
SS-Sturmbannführer Arthur Plorin

Guard Company Commanders

SS-Sturmbannführer Otto Stoppel

Guard Platoon Leaders

SS-Obersturmführer Josef Kollmer

Guard Battalion NCOs

SS-Hauptscharführer Adolf Becker
SS-Hauptscharführer Matthias Tannhausen
SS-Oberscharführer Emanuel Glumbik
SS-Oberscharführer Vinzent Klose

Guard Battalion Sentries

SS-Rottenführer Erich Dinges
SS-Rottenführer Richard Böch

The "rank and file" of the Guard Battalion consisted primarily of junior SS soldiers holding the rank of Schütze, Oberschütze, and Sturmmann.

Auschwitz Dog Squad

SS-Obersturmführer Hans Merbach (Dog Squad Commander)

Camp medical personnel[edit]

Auschwitz maintained its own medical corps, led by Eduard Wirths, whose doctors and medical personnel were from various backgrounds in the SS. The infamous Josef Mengele, for example, was a combat field doctor in the Waffen-SS before transferring to Auschwitz after being wounded in combat.

Office of the Garrison Physician

SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Eduard Wirths
SS-Obersturmführer Dr. Franz von Bodmann

Medical administration section

SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Eduard Krebsbach (Temporary assignment - served less than 2 months)

Medical staff officers

SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Josef Mengele
SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Alfred Trzebinski
SS-Obersturmführer Dr. Franz Lucas
SS-Untersturmführer Dr. Hans Wilhelm König

Civilian medical personnel

Dr. Carl Clauberg (Civilian physician)
SS-Untersturmführer Dr. Walter Goebel (Assistant to Dr. Clauberg)

Medical service staff

SS-Oberscharführer Josef Klehr (Senior medical staff NCO)
SS-Unterscharführer Adolf Theuer (Sanitary orderly)

Office of the Garrison Dentist

SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Raimond Ehrenberger

Staff Dentists

SS-Obersturmführer Dr. Willi Schatz

Dental service staff

SS-Untersturmführer Josef Simon (Dental technician)

Camp Pharmacists

SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Victor Capesius

Pharmacy staff

SS-Obersturmführer Gerhard Gerber (Pharmacist's assistant)

Camp Veterinarians

SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Ludwig Boehne
SS-Hauptsturmführer Armand Langermann

Auschwitz Hygiene Institute

SS-Untersturmführer Dr. Hans Münch (Deputy hygiene director)

Camp Gestapo command[edit]

The Gestapo maintained a large office at Auschwitz, staffed by uniformed Gestapo officers and personnel.

Political office directors

SS-Untersturmführer Maximilian Grabner

Political office directorate

SS-Hauptscharführer Helmut Westphal
SS-Oberscharführer Josef Wietschorek
SS-Unterscharführer Hermann Kirschner

Political records office

SS-Untersturmführer Hans Stark (Death register)

Camp identification department

SS-Hauptscharführer Bernhard Walter (ID Department NCO)
SS-Rottenführer Ludwig Pach (Identification checks)

Camp interrogation department

SS-Oberscharführer Klaus Dylewski (Lead interrogator)

Camp escape department

SS-Oberscharführer Wilhelm Boger (Escape department NCO)

Camp Gestapo agents

SS-Oberscharführer Josef Erber
SS-Unterscharführer Perry Broad
SS-Rottenführer Hans Hoffmann

Personnel involved in genocide[edit]

SS personnel assigned to the gas chambers were technically under the same chain of command as other internal camp SS personnel, but in practice were segregated and worked and lived locally on site at the crematorium. In all, there were usually four SS personnel per gas chamber, led by a non-commissioned officer, who oversaw around one hundred Jewish prisoners (known as the Sonderkommando) forced to assist in the extermination process.

The actual delivery of the gas to the victims was always handled by the SS. This was accomplished by a special SS unit known as the "Hygiene Division" which would drive Zyklon B to the crematorium in an ambulance and then empty the canister into the gas chamber. The Hygiene Division was under the control of the Auschwitz Medical Corps, with the Zyklon B ordered and delivered through the camp supply system.[4]

Female camp personnel[edit]

Female personnel assigned to Auschwitz were considered members of the SS Women's Auxiliary and were known as SS-Helferin. Such women served in a variety of roles from secretaries, nurses, and (most notoriously) guards of female compounds within Auschwitz.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lumsden, Robin (2001), A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine – SS, p. 84
  2. ^ "Nuremberg Trial Transcripts", One Hundred and Sixtieth Day (Friday, June 21, 1946), Part 1 of 12 (Testimony and Examination of Albert Speer)
  3. ^ Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State, PBS (2004-2005)
  4. ^ Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account (Dr. Miklós Nyiszli)
  • Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State, PBS (2004–2005)

External links[edit]