- A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust by Mary Fulbrook
A Small Town Near Auschwitz is infuriating on the one hand and redemptive on the other. Fulbrook sets herself an impossible task—to be an objective [End Page 264] historian trying to make sense of the lies told by her godmother's husband. Her research is impeccable; she spent years studying the testimony of perpetrators in the archives of the Central Office of the Judicial Authorities for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes in Ludwigsburg, as well as the testimony of Holocaust victims in the archives of Katowice and Warsaw. She interviewed Polish and Jewish survivors whenever possible, gathering a massive armory of information. The initial result was a prior book, Dissonant Lives: Generations and Violence through the German Dictatorships (New York, 2011). But when she realized that the documents that she had uncovered deserved to be discussed separately and on their own terms, she wrote this new book.
As Fulbrook notes, the German Landrat (district manager) is a respectable civil-service position that is not generally considered to be controversial. The Landratsamt, the office that the Landrat supervises, is the link between any given district (Kreis) in Germany to the land, or state, within which the district is located. It transmits orders from the state to the towns and villages within its jurisdiction and collects information from its district, eventually to redistribute it in one processed form or another. In A Small Town Near Auschwitz, Fulbrook painstakingly traces the function of a particular Landrat during the Nazi years—Udo Klausa, in whose wife’s company she spent her childhood years, totally oblivious to his terrible past. As Fulbrook carefully shows, Klausa and, by inference, many other Landraete and civil servants in general became devil’s accomplices during the Third Reich.
Klausa was ambitious, ostensibly too young for the coveted position that his family’s connections won for him; his father had been a Landrat, too. Putatively ill-informed about the Nazis’ devious plan to murder all of the Jews of Europe, he eagerly accepted the post in the annexed town of Bedzin, Silesia, twenty-five miles from Auschwitz and close to Sosnowiec and Bielitz—the hometown of Gerda Weismann, author of All but My Life: A Memoir (New York, 1957). Fulbrook convincingly shows how indispensable even pencil pushers such as Klausa were to the Final Solution. Fulbrook calls them “desk perpetrators,” who acted “as loyal servants of the Reich,” forming and implementing policies (65, x). As Fulbook correctly states, their administrative policies included the “ousting of Jews from their home, the expropriation of their property and means of livelihood, the rounding-up and deportation of able-bodied adults to forced labor, the break-up of families, restrictions on freedom of movement, reduction of rations, maltreatment of those transgressing newly imposed regulations, and the spreading of a general atmosphere of terror in the face of unpredictable brutality” (123). The perceived harmlessness of “simply obeying orders” led to the murder of millions of innocent victims (97). Without Klausa, and others in the civil-service hierarchy, the Holocaust could not have happened.
Fulbrook’s evidence—numerous documents, depositions, and interviews—is as damning as Klausa’s insistence on his own innocence is brazen. When he testified before the Ludwigsburg commission on war crimes, he walked away with a clean shirt, eventually writing a memoir [End Page 265] that cemented the fiction that he had fabricated. As a result, he died a free man with a good name.
Fulbrook bravely published her dissenting account with the full knowledge and support of Klausa’s son, with whom she discussed the project extensively. Her mission was not to seek revenge or retribution but to expose the lies of a Nazi functionary and recount the tragic experiences of his victims. Her overwhelming evidence overturns Klausa’s exoneration, showing that the real innocent victims were those whom he helped to trap in the Nazi dragnet of deportation and murder, guilty only of...