His name was Bruno Albrecht or at least that was how he was officially known in the years following the end of World War II. He worked as a traveling salesman during that time. This was a good job for someone who wanted to escape the past and those who might try to sentence him to death, as he had done to tens of thousands of others. He had a wife and five kids, four of them sons, but they would not have recognized him by the name of Bruno or Mr. Albrecht. His children would have once called him father. His wife would have called him Fritz. The new rulers of the world called him what he had been, a mass murderer. He lived his final years in the same city where he was born in southwestern Germany, Darmstadt. This city was and still is known as a city of science, but Mr. Albrecht did not come from a scientific background and was not scientifically minded. He was born to a father who worked in a mine, a good German worker. He too had been a working man. In a former life, he had made his living as a carpenter, until he lost his job and found a new career. This was a career in bureaucracy. It could be said that in one sense his career was based on numbers. He was the 98,528th member of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, known to history as the Nazi Party. In 1930 he became the 3,065th member of the Schutzstaffel, otherwise known as the SS, the feared paramilitary wing of the party. Ferociously ambitious, he rose from 2nd Lieutenant to Colonel in just under three years. Whatever it took to get ahead in the party, he was ready and willing. During the murderous culling of fellow party personnel, the notorious Night of the Long Knives, he did his part, murdering for promotion and power.
Death Grip – In The Clutches of Katzmann
When the Second World War broke out he went east, to deal with the Ostjuden (Jews of the east) in Rodem, a city in east-central Poland. He was put in charge of the police, who ghettoized 32,000 Jews, then subjected them to theft, terror and murder. He did his job thoroughly and without fail, the quintessential SS killer, part bureaucrat, part thug. His true calling came in the summer of 1941 with Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. He saw it as an opportunity. As the Nazi occupation took eastern Poland (present day western Ukraine) into its death grip, there he was clutching the levers of power. He was Fritz Katzmann, the Higher SS and Police Leader District Galizien (the German name for Poland/Lviv, Ukraine). Once again his career came down to numbers, the kind of numbers imaginable only to men who were monsters. On the orders of SS- und Polizeiführer Katzmann, approximately 60,000 Jews in Lwow were murdered by the end of 1941.
In November, he ordered 80,000 Jews confined to what was to become known as the Lwow Ghetto, the place where a reign of terror could be carried out night and day. He also helped setup the Janowska concentration camp in one of the city’s outlying districts. Jews in the ghetto and at Janowska were harassed, raped, robbed, shot, burned and just about everything else of the most evil imaginings. All of this happened because these were Katzmann’s orders. No cruelty was large or small enough for him. There was the kindergarten he created to lure Jewish youngsters out from their hiding places with the promise of milk. In a time of such terrible depredations, their mothers could not resist, soon bringing their children. A few days later Katzmann would have the kids taken away and murdered. This was how he got ahead, on the broken backs and shattered lives of an entire race of people. His ambition knew no rules or boundaries, it was of hellish proportions.
From Genocide to Domesticity – Becoming Bruno
Then there were the large cruelties where he really made his name, a name he would spend the last decade of his life hiding from. He organized the transports that took at least 80,000 Jews from Lwow to the death camp of Belzec in 1942 alone. In District Galizien where he held the power of death over everyone, he organized the destruction of over 140,000 Jews in the first half of 1943. He was so swelled with pride and deadly ambition that he declared – in what became known as the Katzmann report – the entire District Galizien under his command was free of all Jews. This was just two years after he had first arrived in Lwow. The city, in which he worked and slept, plotted and connived, that Lwow which had been home to a couple of hundred thousand Jews before his arrival now ceased to exist. Jewish Lwow was gone forever. His job there was done. And what did he get, a transfer to the same position, this time back to Poland, the land where his genocidal horrors were first conceived.
In Gdansk-West Prussia he oversaw the organization of gas chambers and crematoriums at Stutthoff Concentration Camp. Tens of thousands more died, all sacrificed on the altar of his evil ambition. His actions are beyond comprehension. He was a monstrous human being, but what is even more baffling is what happened as soon as the war ended. Katzmann vanished and went back to living a very ordinary life. Were there twinges of regret? Perhaps nightmares of his terrible deeds, maybe so, then again maybe not. What did he think when the Katzmann report was used as evidence to help convict his fellow Nazis at Nuremberg? No one will ever know. Did he feel hunted? Was he always looking over his shoulder, fearing capture, a swift trial and execution? Did he really care for anything other than his own self? He must not have cared much for his wife and kids, since he never contacted them. For all they knew, he was dead, but he was not dead, unlike the hundreds of thousands of Jews in Lwow and countless other places that had been exterminated because of his orders, on his watch.
The Circle of Hell
He lived on until 1957 as Bruno Albrecht. It was only in September of that year, as summer bled into autumn that he felt it necessary to admit who he actually was. A priest was brought to his bedside in Darmstadt. It was there on the cusp of death that Bruno Albrecht became Frtiz Katzmann once again to the world at large. But to himself, he was always Fritz Katzmann, this was something he could not escape in the twilight of his life. After all, why else would he feel the need to finally admit the truth? Maybe this was some sick form of closure, the confession that closed this Lucifer’s circle of hell.