Oswald Pohl as a defendant before the Nuremberg Military Tribunal
|Born||30 June 1892
|Died||8 June 1951
Landsberg Prison, Landsberg am Lech
|Cause of death||Execution|
|Occupation||Naval paymaster, political operative, Nazi official|
|Criminal penalty||Death by hanging|
|Criminal status||Carried out|
|Conviction(s)||War crimes and crimes against humanity committed as the business administrator of the Nazi concentration camp system|
Oswald Ludwig Pohl listen (help·info) (30 June 1892 – 8 June 1951) was a Nazi official and member of the SS. He rose to the rank of SS-Obergruppenführer, and was involved in the administration of Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. Involved in the mass murders of Jews in concentration camps, the so-called Final Solution. After the war he went into hiding and then was found in 1946, was judicially tried in 1947, repeatedly appealed his case, and finally was executed by hanging in 1951.
Pohl was born in Duisburg-Ruhrort on 30 June 1892 as the son of blacksmith Hermann Otto Emil Pohl and his wife Auguste Pohl (née Seifert); he was the fifth of a total of eight children. After graduating from school in 1912, he became a full-time sailor in the Imperial Navy, being trained in Kiel and Wilhelmshaven as well as the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. During World War I, he served in the Baltic Sea region and the coast of Flanders. Pohl also attended a navy school, and became paymaster on 1 April 1918; most of his time in the navy from then on was spent in Kiel. On 30 October of the same year, he married.
After the end of the war, Pohl attended courses at a trade school, and began studying law and state theory at the Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel; he dropped out of university soon again though, and became paymaster for the Freikorps "Brigade Löwenfeld", working in Berlin, Upper Silesia and the Ruhr basin. In 1920, like many others involved in the Lüttwitz-Kapp Putsch, he was accepted into the Weimar Republic's new navy, the Reichsmarine. Pohl was transferred to Swinemünde (now in Poland) in 1924.
One year later, in 1925, Pohl became a member of the SA, then finally joined the re-founded Nazi party on 22 February 1926 as member #30842. Sometime during 1929 Pohl became a member of the SS. He met Heinrich Himmler in 1933 and became his protégé. He was appointed chief of the administration department in the staff of the Reichsführer-SS ("National leader SS") and given the rank of SS-Standartenführer on 1 February 1934 and began to influence the administration of the concentration camps.
His career continued when he was made Verwaltungschef (chief of administration) and Reichskassenverwalter ("Reich treasurer") for the SS on 1 June 1935, then initiated the Inspektion der Konzentrationslager ("Concentration Camps Inspectorate"), an organization to organize and oversee the administration of the concentration camps. He also founded the "Gesellschaft zur Förderung und Pflege deutscher Kulturdenkmäler" ("Society for the preservation and fostering of German cultural monuments"), which was primarily dedicated to restoring Wewelsburg, an old castle that was supposed to be turned into a cultural and scientific headquarters of the SS at Himmler's request. The "society" soon became a part of Pohl's SS administration office. Pohl also left the Roman Catholic Church in 1935.
Concentration camp administrator
In June 1939 Pohl became chief of both the Hauptamt Verwaltung und Wirtschaft ("main bureau [for] administration and economy", part of the SS) and the Hauptamt Haushalt und Bauten ("main bureau [for] budget and construction", part of the Reich's ministry for the interior). Himmler stated that: "The supervision of the economic matters of these institutions (concentration camps) and their application to work is the responsibility of SS Gruppenfuehrer Pohl". On 1 February 1942, both institutions were combined into the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (SS-WVHA, "SS main bureau for economic administration") with Pohl in charge. As the head of the economics division of the SS, Pohl was appointed to run the Deutscher Wirtschaftsbetrieb (German Industrial Concern), which was nothing more than a front company for the massive business interests of Himmler's SS, taking in profits from the slave labour of concentration camp prisoners. While already a significant figure in the regime, this appointment strengthened his position greatly. Behind Himmler and Heydrich, Pohl eventually became the third most powerful figure in the SS.
Pohl oversaw the organization of the concentration camps, deciding on the distribution of detainees to the various camps and the "rental" of detainees for slave labour until 1944. The exploitation of the captives rested on the Nazi principle of “extermination through labor”. Pohl also directed the processing of the remains of the murdered Jews, and was directly involved in the management of the 1944 extermination of the Hungarian Jews. Part of his role in supervising the economic enterprises of the Nazis even included the macabre task of selling Jewish people's gold fillings, hair, clothing, jewelry and other possessions.
As a good friend of Dr. Kurt Heissmeyer, Pohl gave him the authorisation to organise a special secluded barrack in the Neuengamme concentration camp, in which he was allowed to experiment with adults and children whom he infected on purpose with tuberculosis. Just before the German capitulation, Pohl gave the order to make disappear all "compromising material". All surviving victims and their caretakers were murdered on 20 April 1945 and burned. (More details see: Bullenhuser Damm)
Late in 1944, control of the concentration camps was removed from Pohl, with the Rüstungsministerium (ministry of armament) taking over; at the same time, the responsibility for construction was also taken away from the SS-WVHA. Pohl remained in charge of the administration of the Waffen-SS for the remainder of the war.
After the end of World War II in 1945, Pohl first hid in Upper Bavaria, then near Bremen. He was captured by British troops on 27 May 1946 and sentenced to death on 3 November 1947 by an American military tribunal - following the first Nuremberg trials - for crimes against humanity, war crimes and membership in a criminal organization as well as for mass murders and crimes committed in the concentration camps administered by the SS-WVHA while he was in charge. Without denying his knowledge of the mass killings of Jews, Pohl presented himself as a mere executive, accusing the prosecution of being guided by feelings of hatred, influenced by its Jewish representatives.
Pohl was not executed right away. Time and again Pohl appealed his death sentence. Moreover, during the Nuremberg trials, he started to see a Roman Catholic priest. Officially, Pohl had never left the Catholic Church, although he stopped attending church in 1935. In 1950, his reconversion resulted in the appearance of his book Credo. Mein Weg zu Gott ("Credo. My way to God"), which was published with permission of the Catholic Church. Pohl was hanged shortly after midnight on 7 June 1951 at Landsberg Prison in Landsberg am Lech.
Awards and decorations
- Iron Cross of 1914, 2nd Class
- Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918
- Turkish War Medal (World War I)
- Knights Cross of the War Merit Cross in Silver with Swords (10 October 1944)
- German Cross in Silver
- War Merit Cross 1st and 2nd Class with Swords
- SS Honour Sword
- SS Honour Ring
- Golden Party Badge of the NSDAP
- Wistrich 2001, p. 192.
- Jewish Virtual Library (2015). "Oswald Pohl (1892 - 1951)". Glossary, bibliography, original documents. Cyber encyclopedia of Jewish history and culture. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
- Zentner & Bedürftig 1991, p. 711.
- USA v. Pohl et. al - Opening Statements of the Prosecution and Defense. Cited from the Avalon Project at Yale University. Stable URL: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/open4.asp
- Read 2005, p. 672.
- Laqueur & Baumel 2001, p. 476.
- Jan Erik Schulte, Zwangsarbeit und Vernichtung: Das Wirtschaftsimperium der SS. Oswald Pohl und das SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt 1933-1945, Paderborn, München, Wien, Zürich: Schöningh, 2001. Nachdem das oberste Bundesgericht der Vereinigten Staaten einen Aufschub der Urteilsvollstreckung abgelehnt hatte, wurde Oswald Pohl in den frühen Morgenstunden des 7. Juni 1951 in Landsberg am Lech hingerichtet.
- Laqueur, Walter; Baumel, Judith Tydor (2001). The Holocaust Encyclopedia. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-30008-432-0.
- Read, Anthony (2005). The Devil's Disciples: Hitler's Inner Circle. New York: Norton. ISBN 978-039332-697-0.
- Schulte, Jan Erik (2001). Zwangsarbeit und Vernichtung: Das Wirtschaftsimperium der SS. Oswald Pohl und das SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt 1933-1945. Paderborn: Schöningh.
- Tuviah Friedman (Direktor), spezial Collection: Oswald Pohl 161 Documente, Literatur Institute of Documentation Israel
- Wistrich, Robert (2001). Who's Who In Nazi Germany. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-41511-888-0.
- Zentner, Christian; Bedürftig, Friedemann (1991). The Encyclopedia of the Third Reich. (2 vols.) New York: MacMillan Publishing. ISBN 0-02-897500-6.
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