- A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust by Mary Fulbrook
Following “ordinary men” and “ordinary Germans,” we now have what Mary Fulbrook calls in her book A Small Town near Auschwitz an “ordinary Nazi.” The ordinary Nazi in this instance is one Udo Klausa, Landrat (district chief) during the early 1940s of the county of Będzin in territory seized by the Nazi regime from a defeated Poland in 1939 and then incorporated into the province of Eastern Silesia. As Landrat, Klausa served as the county’s chief administrative officer charged with implementing orders dictated downward to him from Berlin. A Landrat’s function was not to make policy; it was to follow orders. It was a position in the German civil service that commanded respect and enjoyed genuine social prestige, something Klausa knew well from his own father’s career as Landrat, also in Silesia. Not surprisingly, Klausa aspired to follow in his father’s footsteps, a goal he reached in 1940. His preparation required university studies in law, which, in the 1920s, led Klausa almost inevitably into the turbulent world of German right-wing nationalist politics. Within weeks of Hitler’s coming to power in 1933, he joined the Nazi Party. Though not a fanatic, he found most elements [End Page 490] of National Socialism compatible except for its anti-Christian bias—which, Fulbrook explains, he chose to overlook.
Sometime in the 1930s Udo had married a young woman from Berlin named Alexandra. By the twists of happenstance, Udo’s marriage to Alexandra led to the establishment of a personal connection to Mary Fulbrook and her family. At the time of the marriage, Alexandra had recently lost her closest school friend, who, for what Fulbrook calls “racial reasons,” had been forced to leave Germany and find refuge in England. The friendship understandably lapsed during the war, but was taken up again in its aftermath. So warm did the reestablished relationship become that in 1951 the woman who had fled Germany for England asked Alexandra to serve as godmother to her new-born daughter—a daughter who grew up to become the German historian Mary Fulbrook. Udo Klausa, in the meantime, had landed back on his feet with a position in the postwar civil service of the new Federal Republic of Germany. On the basis of postwar visits and letters, the Klausas and the Fulbrooks became close. “So I knew Klausa personally,” Fulbrook writes, “and all my life have been connected to the Klausa family in ways that, once I discovered Udo Klausa’s former role, made me acutely uncomfortable” (p. 19).
Fulbrook’s discovery of that role did not come until after Alexandra’s death, when she came to realize “that my godmother and her husband had actually been involved … in the machinery of the Nazi system” (p. 20). Crucial to this realization was a memorial booklet Alexandra’s son gave to Fulbrook after his mother’s death. The booklet included excerpts from Alexandra’s wartime letters to her own mother. The story Fulbrook eventually pieced together was essentially this: Udo Klausa had been appointed Landrat in the county of Będzin in February 1940. He and Alexandra were based there until late 1943—three years that witnessed the escalation of the persecutions of Jews that culminated in the horror of what came to be known as the Holocaust. They lived in the city of Będzin, which the Nazis renamed Bendsburg, once a town of some 50,000 people (roughly half Polish and half Jewish). Twenty-five miles to the south lay Auschwitz and twenty miles to the east lay the Polish border of Hans Frank’s Generalgouvernement.
Klausa’s responsibility as Landrat was to implement the measures dictated to him from above. These included the whole gamut of racial policies dictated by the Reich, ranging from the expulsion of Bendsburg’s Poles across the border into the Generalgouvernement to the implementation of increasingly extreme measures directed against the Jews. The latter began...