Historian Uncovers Her Family Link to Secret Nazi’s Role in the Holocaust
A British professor of German history has published an extraordinary exposé of the secret Nazi past of the man who married her godmother.
A Small Town Near Auschwitz, written by Mary Fulbrook, who teaches at University College London, and to be published this week, tells the story of Udo Klausa, a man Fulbrook’s family believed was involved only in mundane local government during the war years.
However, she has unearthed unpublished material that reveals his role as a Nazi backroom administrator of the Holocaust, operating close to Auschwitz concentration camp, where more than a million Jews died. On discovering the true nature of his activities, Fulbrook said: “I felt literally like I’d been punched in the stomach. I was angry and shocked. I partly wrote the book almost to rub his face posthumously in the murderous consequence of his actions.”
Delving into Klausa’s past was especially painful for her because her own mother – a close friend of Klausa’s wife, Alexandra – was a German-Jewish refugee who lost friends and relatives to the Holocaust. It was through her mother’s childhood friendship with Alexandra that Fulbrook obtained access for the first time to Klausa’s unpublished memoir, written long after the war, and to dozens of wartime letters written by Alexandra.
They reveal a man who “produced the preconditions” for selections and deportations. Klausa was the landrat – or civilian administrator – of a sizeable county in eastern Upper Silesia, north of Auschwitz in Poland, where thousands of people lost their liberty or their lives to his civilian policies. Yet the writings suggest that he never witnessed the results of his actions and had seemingly convinced himself of his own innocence.
Fulbrook was shocked to discover how few references there were to atrocities against Jews around Bendsburg, the small town where Klausa and his family lived – even though people had been burned alive, shot, hanged or deported.
One depraved act in a neighbouring county involved forcing Jews to lie for hours forming a path of human paving-stones over which Nazis walked in heavy boots. An eyewitness recorded a German standing on a Jew’s face until it was “squashed to pieces”. “These omissions from his memoirs are extraordinary,” Fulbrook said. “He has no memory of atrocities. This is really important in understanding how the Holocaust was possible. It shows the way in which you could live with that kind of past, cover it up and present yourself as a perfectly decent, ordinary civil servant who had nothing to do with the atrocities.
“If he’d conveyed anything like fear, regret, guilt, shame, I would have felt much more comfortable. But it’s just a whitewashed past.”