- Scherwitz: Der jüdische SS-Offizier
The case of Scherwitz is "extraordinary," writes Anita Kugler in this fascinating biographical study of the life and times of Fritz Scherwitz, a police and SS official in occupied Latvia who presented himself after the war as a Jewish survivor of the Riga concentration camp. Kugler is intrigued by this individual who repeatedly reinvented himself. A journalist and historian with strong ties to the Baltics, Kugler begins with the arrest of a "Dr. Eleke Scherwitz" on April 26, 1948, on charges of war crimes. At that time, Scherwitz was serving as one of five regional directors for the Support of Victims of National Socialism. The prosecuting attorney portrayed him as a very different person—not Dr. Eleke Scherwitz but Fritz Scherwitz, former member of the Nazi Party, police officer, and SS officer who had operated two forced-labor workshops in Riga. The arrest of Scherwitz stunned the refugee community, and Scherwitz continued to insist that he was Jewish and had hidden his identity while serving in the police and SS.
The true identity of Scherwitz remains a mystery, and many fundamental details will, as Kugler concludes, never be known. While investigating the life story of Scherwitz, Kugler conducted exhaustive archival research in Germany and Latvia, examining materials on the Nazi occupation of Latvia as well as postwar investigative and court records, and interviewing numerous witnesses and survivors. Kugler offers a number of insightful observations on the strengths and weaknesses of the sources, as she takes the reader not only through the life and times of Scherwitz but along on her investigations to find the real man.
Even after careful investigative research, Kugler does not know, for example, her subject's true date or place of birth. Scherwitz gave conflicting information, including four dates of birth, three birthplaces, two nationalities, two religions (or no religion, as he wrote on his SS card), and several variations of his name. After his arrest in 1948, Scherwitz insisted his given name was Eleke, son of Yankel and Sore Sirewitz, and that he was born in 1910 in Vilnius or Siauliai. Kugler's inquiry to the Lithuanian office of vital statistics for the German, Lithuanian, and Polish spelling of his subject's name (and those of his parents) came back negative. Nor was there any record of the furniture [End Page 508] factory he claimed his father operated, or data on any other members of the family. Carefully weighing the available documentation and various personal accounts, Kugler concludes that Scherwitz was in all probability born on August 21, 1903, in East Prussia.
Scherwitz wrote in his autobiographical sketch for the SS that he was in grade school until the outbreak of World War I, and that his parents were killed in that conflict. He also claimed to have served with the "16th Landstürmen Küstrin," a unit for which no records can be found; following the war he supposedly served in the paramilitary organization Grenzschutz "Freikorps Diebitsch" in the Baltics, a unit which in fact had existed. Orphaned by the war and having found a comradely home in the Freikorps, Scherwitz remained loyal to his commander, Friedrich Erler, and journeyed with him to the latter's family estate in Silesia. Kugler documents that Scherwitz learned a trade (Scherwitz claimed to have worked as a tool maker and precision mechanic); registered in Berlin on September 9, 1925; joined the SS on November 1, 1933; married on April 2, 1938; entered the Luftschutzpolizei in 1939; and served in a police reserve unit in Poland. June 1941 found Scherwitz in Riga, where he took over the SD (Security Service) workshop on Washington Square, which employed about 100 Jews. The important and well-documented phase of his life was now to begin.
As Kugler makes clear, Scherwitz operated with great effectiveness in the gray zone between Riga's civil administration and the Security Police. He played on the rivalries between the two, keeping other officials distant from his workshop and skillfully enhancing his own position. Scherwitz led a comfortable...