Little did the Nazis know that they had a spy in the ranks of their very own SS, Secret Police. Little did the Anti-Nazi, Kurt Gerstein, know that he would be within the ranks of the very party he despised. Both are true and makes a very interesting story.
Kurt Gerstein was born August 11, 1905 in Munster, Germany. He grew up in Germany during the First World War and the following unstable years. He was not immune to all the pressures of the time. He was raised to follow directions without question and to support the growing patriotic sentiment that came with German nationalism. Because of all this, Gerstein joined the Nazi Party in 1933. It didn’t take long, though, for Gerstein to realize that a lot of Nazi platforms went against his strong Christian convictions.
Gerstein went to school to become a mining engineer and while at school he became quite involved with local Christian youth groups and continued his involvement even after graduating in 1931. These groups helped Gerstein grow stronger in his faith and to discover the boldness he would need later. In 1935, Gerstein attended an anti-Christian play called “Wittekind” in Hagen. Even though he was sitting among a fair number of Nazis he boldly stood up and shouted, “This is unheard of! We shall not allow our faith to be publicly mocked without protest!” He was rewarded by being beat up and losing several teeth.
September 26, 1936, Gerstein was arrested and imprisoned the first time for anti-Nazi activities. The charge was distributing anti-Nazi literature to his colleagues in the mining industry. After this arrest he was excluded from the Nazi Party and when he was released from prison he found he had lost his job in the mines as well. In the meantime he studied Theology at Tubingen and then studied medicine at the Protestant Missions Institute and got married to Elfriede Bensch in 1937.
Being excluded from the Nazi Party did not stop Gerstein from his anti-Nazi activities. He continued to hand out literature and in July of 1938 he was arrested again. This time he was transferred to Welzheim concentration camp. This time the Nazi Party threw down the ultimate blow by officially dismissing Gerstein completely from the party.
Gerstein’s anti-Nazi fervor grew in strength in 1941 when his very own sister-in-law, Bertha Ebeling, died mysteriously in the Hadamar mental hospital. It was reported that she died of natural causes but Gerstain was convinved that her death was at the hands of the Nazi workers at the hospital. For that he became determined to infiltrate the Nazi Party so that he could find out the truth about Bertha’s and other patient’s deaths at Hadamar. He said, “I wanted only one thing: to see to the bottom of this witchpot and then tel the people what I would have seen there–even if my life was then threatened.” On March 10, 1941 he was successful when he joined the Waffen SS. He was assigned the medical service’s hygiene section where he successfully invented water filters for the troops. For at least a year and a half, Gerstein was able to fly under the radar and Nazi officials did not realize that the man they had dismissed previously was back in the party. When he was discovered he was considered to valuable by that point because of his work on the water filters.
In 1942, Gerstein was appointed to be head of the Technical Disinfection Department of the Waffen SS. It was here that Gerstein saw the true horrors of the Holocaust because he worked up close and personal with toxic gases, including Zyklon B (the gas ultimately used to gas millions of Jews in the death camps). On June 8,1942 he was ordered to deliver 220 pounds of Zyklon B to an unknown location and to then determine the feasibility of changing the gas chambers from carbon monoxide to Zyklon B. Utlimately, Gerstein visited the Majdanek, Belzec, and Treblinka concentration camps.
On August 19, 1942 Gerstein witnessed the entire process of gassing an entire trainload of Jews while visiting Belzec. He saw the unloading of 45 train cars, full of 6700 people, and the marching of the survivors of the train ride to their deaths in the gas chambers. He then watched the processing of the dead bodies that included pulling gold teeth and sifting through all the clothes for more valuables.
Gerstein was shocked and appalled at what he saw, needless to say, but he knew that he was in a very unique position. He forced himself to watch the entire process without ever turning away so that he could give a true account of what was happening under everyone’s noses. He knew he had to expose the horror. The first thing he did was bury all the Zyklon B canisters he was ordered to deliver and then set out to tell anyone who would listen.
Baron Goran von Otter, a Swedish diplomat, was the first to hear Gerstein’s horrific stories on the train back to Berlin. Gerstein found him relaxing and getting fresh air and couldn’t resist bursting out all the events he witnessed. The two men ended up talking for well over eight hours. Von Otter recalled that it was hard to convince Gerstein to keep his voice down because he was telling the story so passionately and feverishly. Gerstein begged the diplomat to please inform the Allies of the atrocities. He wanted the Allied air forces to drop leaflets all over Germany so that the people could know what was happening all around them. Von Otter did indeed file a report with his superiors but nothing was done because they thought the story too bizarre.
Gerstein continued to tell anybody who would listen and he became more and more desperate as he saw nothing was being done. He told his story without considering the people he spoke to could also be subjected to torture and execution for the information they knew.
Near the end of World War II, Gerstein contacted the Allies and shared all the documents he had. They placed him in “honorable captivity”. It was there that Gerstein wrote down all his experiences in French and in German. He was soon transferred to Paris, France. The French, however, did not offer Gerstein any special treatment. He was treated the same as any of the other war prisoners. On July 25, 1945 Kurt Gerstein was found dead in his prison cell, hanged by his bed blanket. Officially it was a suicide but many believe it was murder by the other Nazi officers in the same prison.
The blows to Gerstein did not end with his death. In 1950 he was condemned by a court that said that with the information he had he did not exhaust every resource possible to tell people what he knew. Because of his efforts he was included with the “tainted” instead of with war criminals Finally, in 1965, Gerstein was offered absolution when the Premier of Baden-Wuttemberg cleared him of all charges.
Kurt Gerstein, SS Officer With Conscience
Kurt Gerstein: A German Spy in the SS
The Kurt Gerstein Report
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