|Birth name||Karl August Wilhelm Frenzel|
20 August 1911|
Zehdenick, German Empire
2 September 1996 (aged 85)|
|Other work||Carpenter, stage lighting technician|
|Paramilitary SS career|
|Years of service||1930 (SA)–1945|
|Rank||Staff Sergeant (Oberscharführer)|
|Unit||Death's Head Units|
|Commands held||Sobibór extermination camp|
Karl August Wilhelm Frenzel (20 August 1911 – 2 September 1996) was an SS non-commissioned officer in Sobibór extermination camp. As the commandant of Camp I, he supervised the Special squad of Jewish prisoners who were forced to handle the killing procedure and also herded the victims into the gas chambers.
After World War II, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes and served 16 years in prison, but was ultimately released.
Frenzel was born in Zehdenick, Templin district on 20 August 1911. His father had worked for the railroad and was a local official of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. Karl completed primary school from 1918 to 1926 in Oranienburg and then apprenticed as a carpenter. During this time, he was a member of the socialist carpenter's union. However, after passing the qualifying carpentry exam in 1930 he found himself unemployed. Later he found work for a short time as a butcher.
The Nazi Party promised that there would be more jobs after the seizure of power, a reason which motivated Frenzel when he joined both the party and the Sturmabteilung (SA) in August 1930. His brother, a theology student, had joined the Nazi Party the previous year. His father joined the party in 1934. Frenzel claimed that antisemitism was an aspect of the politics to which they were indifferent. He later claimed that he was appalled by the early persecution of Jews in Germany.
In 1929, at the age of eighteen, Frenzel met his first girlfriend, who was Jewish. Their relationship dissolved after two years when her father heard that Frenzel was a Nazi Party member. She and her family emigrated to the United States in 1934.
In 1934, Frenzel married his wife. Karl and his wife were Christians. They were married in a church and they went to church "if not every Sunday, at least every other or third Sunday". All of their five children were baptized. They bought the furniture for their new home from a Jewish merchant. Towards the end of the war, in 1945, Frenzel's wife was raped by Soviet soldiers. She developed abdominal typhus and died soon thereafter.
At the start of the Second World War, Frenzel was drafted into the Reich Labor Service. However, he was soon released because he had many children to support. His brothers were in the army and he felt left out of the action. Responding to an appeal to loyal party members, Frenzel applied for special service in the military through his SA unit, but instead he was assigned to Action T4, the Nazi state's program to kill all people with disabilities. When the Wehrmacht later called for his service, T4 prevented his transfer.
Along with other T4 recruits, Frenzel reported to the Columbia Haus in late 1939, where he was first checked for political reliability and then watched a film on the supposed degeneration of handicapped people. He first worked in the laundry and as a guard at Grafeneck Castle, then he worked in construction at Bernburg Euthanasia Centre, and finally became a stoker at Hadamar Euthanasia Centre. As a stoker, he was responsible for removing the dead bodies from the gas chambers, breaking out gold teeth, and burning the bodies, as well as various other tasks around the gas chambers and crematoria.
It has been speculated that Frenzel helped in the design of the gas chambers at Hadamar. Like his colleagues, this was Frenzel's first experience with gassing and burning people, which proved useful later in the extermination camps. On 20 April 1942, he was assigned to Operation Reinhard and sent to Sobibór extermination camp.
Frenzel claimed that when he received his orders, he was told that Sobibór was merely a work camp which he had to guard. When he found out the camp's true nature, he was forbidden from discussing it with anyone, as it was to be kept a state secret. The penalty for violating this was imprisonment at a concentration camp or death.
Frenzel was the commandant of Camp I, which was the forced labor camp, at Sobibór. He also commanded the Bahnhofkommando. He served as Gustav Wagner's replacement as the quartermaster-sergeant of the camp when Wagner was attending to duties elsewhere or was on vacation. During these times, Frenzel selected which prisoners from the newly arrived transports would work in and outside the camp (in effect, also selecting the vast majority that would go to the gas chambers). In this capacity, Frenzel carried out genocide, taking part in the industrial-scale extermination of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, as part of Operation Reinhard for which he was tried and convicted in December 1966. Frenzel freely used his whip on inmates without reservation. Erich Bauer, one of the commanders of Camp III, stated: "He [Frenzel] was one of the most brutal members of the permanent staff in the camp. His whip was very loose." For instance, in spring 1943, when a worker prisoner tried to take his own life and was found dying, Frenzel shouted that Jews had no right to kill themselves — only Germans had the right to kill. Frenzel whipped the dying man and killed him with a bullet.
Years later in an interview, Frenzel claimed that he was always fair in doling out "punishments". In the spring of 1943, after two Jews from Chelm escaped from the camp, the staff consulted among themselves and Frenzel announced the verdict that every tenth prisoner at the morning roll call would be executed. Frenzel personally walked along the lines of the roll call and pulled the victims out of line to be shot at Camp III. Twenty prisoners were shot as a reprisal for the two who escaped.
Unlike many SS men, Frenzel supposedly had his limits. He testified that he tried to avoid participation in the more murderous actions of the camp. For instance, when he was put in charge of the trolley that transported Jews to the gas chambers, he protested. Frenzel stated:
After the disembarking of the train, the children and the feeble Jews were forcibly thrown onto the trolley. Terrible scenes happened then. The people were separated from their families, pushed with rifle butts, lashed with whips. They cried dreadfully, so I could not cope with this task. Reichleitner complied with my request, and he appointed Bredow to escort the trolley.
Erich Bauer later remarked:
I estimate that the number of Jews gassed at Sobibor was about 350,000. In the canteen at Sobibor I once overheard a conversation between Karl Frenzel, Franz Stangl and Gustav Wagner. They were discussing the number of victims in the extermination camps of Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor and expressed their regret that Sobibor "came last" in the competition.
After the prisoner revolt of 14 October 1943, Frenzel helped in dismantling the camp. He was then sent to participate in Sondertruppe R in Trieste and Fiume, which confiscated the houses of deported Jews in Italy.
Arrest and trial
At war's end, he was arrested by United States troops at a prisoner of war camp near Munich, but was soon released. Frenzel found a job in Frankfurt as a stage lighting technician. On 22 March 1962, while on a break at work, he was again identified, arrested and brought to trial along with other former SS officers at the Sobibór trial on 6 September 1965.
Frenzel's justification for his activity at Sobibór:
As I already pointed out, under the prevailing war conditions, which are now difficult to comprehend, I unfortunately believed that what was going on in Sobibor was lawful. To my regret, I was then convinced of its necessity. I was shocked that just during the war, when I wanted to serve my homeland, I had to be in such a terrible extermination camp. But then I thought very often about the enemy bomber pilots, who surely were not asked whether they wanted to carry out their murderous flights against German people in their homes in such a manner.
On 20 December 1966, Frenzel was sentenced to life imprisonment for personally murdering six Jews, and for his participation in the mass murder of a further 150,000 Jews as Commandant of Sobibór's Lager (camp) No. I. He was released on a technicality in 1982, re-tried, and again sentenced to life imprisonment on 4 October 1985. Due to his advanced age and poor health, the sentence was not imposed and he was released.
Sobibór survivor Thomas Blatt was among those called to testify as a witness against Frenzel at the post-war trial, and when Blatt traveled to the court venue city, Blatt and Frenzel met at a hotel in order to discuss historical questions and technical details about camp operation for the history of the uprising Blatt was then writing; the event is presumed to be the only time that a Nazi death camp supervisor was interviewed by a death camp prisoner. In the years after the war, Frenzel frequently expressed remorse for his actions, but explained that he had simply complied with his duty. He renounced his belief in the Nazi Party.
Ever since 1945, I have been cursing the Nazis — for everything, for what they did, and everything they stood for. I fought against the devil. Since 1945 I have refrained from any involvement in politics.
Karl Frenzel spent the last years of his life in a retirement home in Garbsen near Hannover, where he died on 2 September 1996.
In a 1983 interview, Frenzel — who was at the camp from its inception to its closure — admitted the following about Sobibór:
When my children and friends ask me whether it is true, I tell them yes, it is true. And when they say, but this is impossible, then I tell them again, it is really true. It is wrong to say that it never happened.
- Sobibor - The Forgotten Revolt Archived 2008-05-04 at the Wayback Machine.
- Frenzel interview Archived July 11, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
- Sobibor Interviews: Biographies of SS-men
- Schelvis, Jules: Sobibor: A History of a Nazi Death Camp, Berg: Oxford 2007, p. 250
- Thomas Blatt. From the Ashes of Sobibor, pp. 235-42. Northwestern University Press, 1997.
- Klee, Ernst: Das Personenlexikon zum Dritten Reich. Wer war was vor und nach 1945?. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Zweite aktualisierte Auflage, Frankfurt am Main 2003 ISBN 3-10-039309-0
- Henry Friedlander (1995). The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, p. 241. ISBN 0-8078-2208-6
- Yitzhak Arad (1987). Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pg. 192.
- "The Sobibor Trial". Holocaust Research Project. Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
- Klee, Ernst, Dressen, Willi, Riess, Volker. The Good Old Days: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders, p. 243; ISBN 1-56852-133-2.
- Yitzhak Arad (1987). Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pg. 266.
- Sobibor Trial