Arthur Liebehenschel, Commandant
Arthur Liebehenschel was the Commandant
of Auschwitz 1, the main camp, for five months, beginning on
December 1, 1943. He replaced Rudolf Hoess, who was sent to Oranienburg
to take over Liebehenschel's former job in the WVHA, the Economic
office which controlled the administration of the concentration
camps. Hoess had been the Commandant of all three Auschwitz camps
(Auschwitz I, Birkenau and Monowitz) but Liebehenschel was only
the Commandant of the Auschwitz I camp.
Liebehenschel's daughter, Barbara, has
written a book about her father, entitled "The Auschwitz
Kommandant." She describes her father as a man of contradictions,
who performed acts of compassion and was stricken with guilt
for his role in the deaths of women and children.
At his trial after the war, a German
who had worked with Liehehenschel testified that the Commandant
had once traveled to Oranienburg in an attempt to stop the gassing
of 500 prisoners. All punishments in the concentration camps
had to be authorized by the WVHA in Oranienburg.
Several former prisoners at Auschwitz
testified for the defense that Liebehenschel had improved conditions
in the camp. Liebehenschel has been credited with tearing down
cells in the basement of Block 11, which have since been
reconstructed for the benefit of tourists.
In her book, Barbara credits her father
with the release of prisoners who had been held in the camp prison
for months and with building a swimming
pool for the inmates at Auschwitz I. He ended punishment
for minor crimes and stopped the informer network among the prisoners.
In the Epilogue of the book entitled
"Death Dealer," the editor of the book, Steven Paskuly
wrote the following:
Liebehenschel ordered the indiscriminate
beatings of the prisoners stopped. Some Kapos thought that this
new Kommandant was just saying this for the record and continued
their abusive ways. Liebehenschel took away their positions of
authority and put them back into the ranks of the general prison
population. The beatings in Auschwitz stopped.
Piotr Setkiewicz, the head of research
at the Auschwitz Museum, described Liebehenschel as "not
the ordinary bad guy among the high ranking SS."
"There is one testimony from a prisoner
that said Liebehenschel heard some prisoners had inadequate shoes,
so he ordered them to have new ones.
"Perhaps he was being humanitarian,
or perhaps it was because at that time the SS were using the
prisoners as slave labour and he wanted them to work harder.
But I never heard anyone say something like this about Hoess,
However, the Report of the Soviet War
Crimes Commission, dated 6 May 1945, has this to say about Liebehenschel:
The killing of prisoners in any manner
was permitted by the camp administration. Obersturmbannfuehrer
LIEBEHENSCHEL issued an order in which he offered the SS 50 marks
for every inmate killed "trying to escape". To receive
this reward, the guards murdered without being punished.
The Hitlerians demanded inceasingly
more and more murders from their subordinates. On 24 February
1944, the chief of the Auschwitz garrison, Obersturmbannfuehrer
LIEBEHENSCHEL, issued an order stating: "Lengthy personal
observations have enabled me to observe that there are too many
prisoners working on all worksites, with the exception of the
armaments factories -- and their working strength is not being
exploited. They loaf around. We are aware that tougher supervision
by young SS officers would be necessary to increase the working
yield from the prisoners, but we also know that we have no additional
contingents available for this purpose, since they are either
at the front or are doing service in other important sectors.
We must help ourselves. It is obvious that we must act quickly,
and I hope that every one will do what is necessary on his own
The result of this order was that
frightful processions could be seen every evening, drawing along
the roads -- from all sides of Auschwitz camp, from the factories,
the swamps, from the mines back to the barracks -- surrounded
by SS men and overseers with huge packs of dogs; blood-bespotted,
exhausted prisoners carried the corpses of their comrades on
At roll call, the prisoners were made
to stand in long lines; the bodies of those tortured to death
were laid out before them, and the overseers reported to their
superiors regarding fulfilment of the LIEBEHENSCHEL order. The
administration expressed its gratitude to the columns with the
greatest number of corpses. Those guilty of misdemeanours were
beaten with clubs before the eyes of the prisoners.
Liebehenschel chose for his second wife
a woman named Annelise, who had been, from an SS point of view,
far too friendly with Jews.
"Liebehenschel initially held a
high-ranking position in the SS, but Heinrich Himmler was unhappy
that he left his wife and family for another woman, who was linked
to Jews, and so he was given a lower-level position in the SS
administration," says Setkiewicz.
If this had not been the case, Barbara
explains, he would never have ended up at Auschwitz.
As her research progressed, Barbara began
to feel sorry for her father.
"I felt badly because he didn't
really want to be there. He didn't want to go to Auschwitz. He
was sent there as a punishment," she says.
When Barbara traced Annelise and interviewed
her, she painted a picture of what this punishment meant for
According to Annelise, he would come
home after watching new arrivals to Auschwitz and cry "oh
no, women and children," suffer headaches, take walks and
have long showers, which his daughter says was "to wash
away that evil, which of course he couldn't."
In Piotr Setkiewicz's view, a "careful
analysis of all the evidence is needed before you can come to
a final statement" about Liebehenschel's record. But whatever
improvement he represented, when measured against the worst Auschwitz
commandants, these were in the end only "minor differences,"
By the time that Liebehenschel became
the Commandant of Auschwitz I, the gas chamber in that camp was
no longer in operation and Liebehenschel had no authority to
send prisoners to the gas chambers at the Birkenau camp. However,
Setkiewicz believes that Liebehenschel still participated in
genocide and countless innocent people were sent to their deaths
during his time there.
One Auschwitz survivor, Dr Franz Danimann,
told Barbara that her father's death sentence was "probably
historically and legally a just verdict," but that he "should
have been given amnesty" because of his "diverse and
positive initiatives which helped many prisoners."
However, the prisoners who take a positive
view of Liebehenschel's record are contradicted by others, also
quoted in Barbara's book.
Former Auschwitz prisoner Wladyslaw Fejkiel
said that during Liebehenschel's command "there were no
positive changes for the care of the prisoners, related to food
or medications. The sanitary conditions remained insufficient."
Fejkiel reports that Liebehenschel asked
to be told about prisoners in poor health so that they could
be considered first among those to be released from the camp.
But he adds that he did "not know of a single case of those
prisoners brought to his attention who were therefore released."
Liebehenschel said he attempted to ease
conditions at Auschwitz, but his daughter concedes her father
did not always tell the truth when interrogated by his captors
after the war, and does not believe his claim that he did not
know about the gas chambers at Auschwitz prior to his arrival
at the camp.
She underlines that he was loyal to Hitler
and voluntarily joined the SS, but she also sees him as someone
"caught in a web."
This page was last updated on January