Klehr in custody of the Frankfurt Police.
|Born||17 October 1904|
Langenau, Province of Silesia, German Empire
|Died||23 August 1988 (aged 83)|
Leiferde, West Germany
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Josef Klehr (17 October 1904, Langenau, Upper Silesia – 23 August 1988, Leiferde) was an SS-Oberscharführer (master sergeant), supervisor in several Nazi concentration camps and head of the SS disinfection commando at Auschwitz concentration camp.
Klehr was born as the son of a teacher. After attending the Volksschule in Wohlau until 1918 he got an apprenticeship with a cabinet maker, passing the exam in 1921 that allowed him to do it by trade. As of 1934 he worked as a night porter in a community home, then subsequently as a nurse in a sanatorium. From 1938 he was assistant sergeant at Wohlau prison.
Klehr was a member of the Nazi Party and Allgemeine SS as of 1932. He participated in military exercises with the Wehrmacht and received training to become a medic. Shortly before the beginning of the war he was drafted into the Waffen-SS. In August 1939 he was transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp as a guard, then to Dachau concentration camp as a medical orderly a year later. In January 1941 he was promoted to SS-Unterscharführer and transferred to Auschwitz, working as a medical orderly in the prisoners' infirmary.
Klehr was renowned for killing by phenol injections into the heart, something he essentially took over as of some time in 1942. He devised ways to optimise the speed of the killing process, such as experimenting with the positioning of prisoners before their injection.
Klehr occasionally conducted selections himself, and when he was informed that the camp doctor was unavailable, stated immediately, "Today I am the camp doctor." Due to various descriptions of him standing against a background of corpses "wearing either a white coat or "a pink-rubber apron and rubber gloves" and "holding a 20-cc hypodermic with a long needle" in his hands, Klehr has been described as the "ultimate caricature of the omnipotent Auschwitz doctor." He was famed for his sadistic cruelty.
In 1943 Klehr became head of the disinfection squad (Desinfektionskommando). As a handler of Zyklon B his tasks included not only delousing living quarters and clothes, but direct involvement in the mass gassing of prisoners. He was one of those responsible for inserting the gas. He was present during selections where those incapable of working were sent to the gas chambers, and drew up a schedule as to who under him was to insert the Zyklon B.
On 20 April 1943 Klehr was awarded the War Merit Cross second class with swords. He was transferred to the Gleiwitz subcamp in 1944 where he was head of the prisoners' hospital and was medically responsible for Glewitz camps I to IV.
After the war
Upon the evacuation of Auschwitz Klehr guarded prisoners being transported to Gross-Rosen concentration camp, after which he was taken under command by an SS combat unit. In the beginning of May 1945 he was taken prisoner in Austria by Americans and was held until 1948. He returned to his family in Braunschweig and resumed work as a cabinet maker. In April 1960 the Frankfurt prosecutor's office issued an arrest warrant which was executed in September after Klehr's whereabouts was determined.
On 19 August 1965, the court convicted him of murder in at least 475 cases, assistance in the joint murder of at least 2730 cases, and sentenced him to life imprisonment with an additional 15 years. The witness Glowacki testified in court that Klehr killed the women who survived the massacre after the alleged uprising at the Budy female subcamp by phenol injection.
While in prison, Klehr was interviewed by journalist and film-maker Ebbo Demant. When Demant brings up Holocaust denial, Klehr said:
Jews never gassed? No? Yes, I have already been asked about that. ...Three elderly ladies come to visit us here. That is such an official society. They always want to support us a little bit, to give us a present on our birthdays, and so on, and one of them asked me once if people were gassed in Auschwitz? I said - I will tell you openly and honestly, but if it were someone else, I would have answered that I did not know. But because it is you, I will tell you precisely, that people were gassed. And anyone who maintains that there are no gassing. ... Yes, I don't understand him, he must be crazy or on the wrong. ... When you are three, four years in Auschwitz and experienced everything, then I cannot get myself to lie about it and say that no gassings were ever conducted.— Josef Klehr, "Auschwitz-"Direkt von der Rampe weg..."
On 25 January 1988, Klehr's sentence was suspended due to unfitness for custody (Vollzugsuntauglichkeit). On 10 June, he was ordered to serve the remainder on probation. After seven months of freedom, he died at age 83.
- Demant, Ebbo (Hg.): Auschwitz — "Direkt von der Rampe weg…" Kaduk, Erber, Klehr: Drei Täter geben zu Protokoll: Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1979; ISBN 3-499-14438-7
- Ernst Klee: Das Personenlexikon zum Dritten Reich: Wer war was vor und nach 1945. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2005; ISBN 3-596-16048-0
- Hermann Langbein: Menschen in Auschwitz. Frankfurt am Main, Berlin Wien, Ullstein-Verlag, 1980; ISBN 3-548-33014-2.
- Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum: Auschwitz in den Augen der SS. Oswiecim 1998; ISBN 83-85047-35-2.
- "Josef Klehr" (in German). Retrieved 29 November 2008.
- "Josef Klehr Kurzportrait" (in German). Retrieved 29 November 2008.
- "Josef Klehr" (in German). Der Spiegel. 29 January 1979. Retrieved 29 November 2008.
- Lifton, Dr. Robert Jay. The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. p. 265.
- "Karl Lill" (in German). Retrieved 29 November 2008.
- Naumann, Bernd. Auschwitz (NY:1966), pp 76-77.
- Kulka, Erich (1966). Soudcové, žalobci, obhájci (in Czech). Prague: Svoboda. p. 62.
- "The Budy Massacre - A grim anniversary". Auschwitz-Birkenau. Memorial and museum. 10 October 2007. Archived from the original on 21 May 2011. Retrieved 9 December 2008.
- Demant, p. 114, cited in Jan van Pelt, Robert: The case for Auschwitz. Indiana University Press, 2002, pp. 290-91.