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Kurt Gerstein
Kurt Gerstein
(11 August 1905 – 25 July 1945) was a German SS officer and member of the Institute for Hygiene of the Waffen-SS
Waffen-SS
and Head of Technical Disinfection Services. He witnessed mass murders in the Nazi extermination camps Belzec and Treblinka. He gave information to the Swedish diplomat Göran von Otter, as well as to members of the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
with contacts to Pope Pius XII, in an effort to inform the international public about the Holocaust. In 1945, following his surrender, he wrote the Gerstein Report
Gerstein Report
covering his experience of the Holocaust. He died, an alleged suicide, while in French custody.

Contents

1 Biography

1.1 Education 1.2 Religious faith 1.3 Relations with the Nazi Party and Government

2 World War II

2.1 Reporting 2.2 Arrest and death

3 Depictions 4 See also 5 References

5.1 Citations 5.2 Sources

6 External links

Biography[edit] Kurt Gerstein
Kurt Gerstein
was born in Münster, Westphalia
Westphalia
on 11 August 1905, the sixth of seven children in a Prussian middle-class family, described as strongly chauvinistic and "totally compliant to authority".[1] His father, Ludwig, a former Prussian officer, was a judge and an authoritarian figure. Ludwig Gerstein proudly proclaimed that in his family's genealogical tree there was only Aryan blood and exhorted future generations to "preserve the purity of the race!"[2] As late as 1944 he wrote to his son Kurt: "You are a soldier and an official and you must obey the orders of your superiors. The person who bears the responsibility is the man who gives the orders, not the one who carries them out."[3] Kurt Gerstein
Kurt Gerstein
married Elfriede Bensch, a pastor’s daughter, on 31 August 1937. They had a daughter, Adelheid. Education[edit] Kurt was no more tolerant of discipline in secondary school than within the family. However, in spite of earning many bad reports, he managed to graduate at the age of 20. Going directly on to study at the University of Marburg for three semesters, he then transferred to the technical universities in Aachen
Aachen
and Berlin/Charlottenburg where he graduated in 1931 as a mining engineer.[4] While he was in Marburg he joined, at his father's request, the Teutonia, "one of the most nationalistic student associations in Germany".[5] While he was uncomfortable with the frivolity of the fraternity students, he didn't seem to mind their ultra-nationalism.[5] In 1936 he moved to Tübingen where he started studying medicine at the local University and lived with his wife, Elfriede Gerstein, née Bensch, after he had married her on August 31, 1937.[6] However he interrupted his medical studies in 1938. Religious faith[edit] Although his family was not a particularly religious one, Gerstein received Christian
Christian
religious training in school. While at university, almost as an antidote to what he saw as frivolous activities of his classmates, he began to read the Bible.[7] From 1925 onwards, he became active in Christian
Christian
student and youth movements, joining the German Association of Christian
Christian
Students (DCSV) in 1925 and in 1928 becoming an active member of both the Evangelical Youth Movement (CVJM-YMCA) and the Federation of German Bible Circles where he took a leading role until it was dissolved in 1934 after a takeover attempt by the Hitler Youth
Hitler Youth
movement.[8] At first finding a religious home within the Protestant
Protestant
Evangelical Church he gravitated toward the Confessing Church, which formed itself around Pastor Martin Niemöller in 1934 as a form of protest against attempts of the Nazis
Nazis
to exercise increasing control over German Protestants.[9] His religious faith caused conflict with the Nazis
Nazis
and he spent time in prison and concentration camps in the late 1930s.[10] Relations with the Nazi Party and Government[edit] Like many of his generation, Gerstein (and his family) were deeply affected by what they saw as the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles and were attracted by the extreme nationalism of the Nazis. In July 1933, he enrolled in the SA, the Storm Troopers of the Nazi Party. Friedlander describes the contradictions in Gerstein's mind at the time: "Firm defense of religious concepts and of the honour of the Confessional youth movements, but weakness in the face of National Socialism, with acceptance of its terminology and shoddy rhetoric; acceptance, above all, of the existing political order, of its authoritarianism and its hysterical nationalism".[11] However, in early 1935 he stood up in a theater during a performance of the play Wittekind protesting against its anti- Christian
Christian
message and was beaten by Nazi Party members in the audience.[12] He also came into conflict with the Nazi government for distributing anti-Nazi material. He was arrested on 4 September 1936, held in protective custody for five weeks, and expelled from the Nazi Party. The loss of Nazi Party membership meant he was unable to find employment as a mining engineer in the State sector. He was arrested a second time in July 1938, but was released six weeks later because no charges could be found against him. With the help of his father and some powerful party and SS officials, he continued to seek reinstatement in the Nazi party until in June 1939, when he obtained a provisional membership.[6] World War II[edit] In early 1941, Gerstein enlisted in the SS. Explanations for this are varied and confusing. One document indicates it was the result of his outrage over the death of a sister-in-law, who apparently was killed under the euthanasia program directed at the mentally ill, Action T4.[13][14] However, other documents suggest he had already made his decision before she died and that her death reinforced his desire to join the SS to "see things from the inside", try to change the direction of its policies, and publicise the crimes they were committing.[15] Browning describes him as "a covert anti-Nazi who infiltrated the SS",[16] and in a letter to his wife Gerstein wrote: "I joined the SS ... acting as an agent of the Confessing Church."[17]

Location of Bełżec (lower centre) on the map of German extermination camps marked with black and white skulls

Because of his technical education, Gerstein quickly rose to become Head of Technical Disinfection Services, working with Odilo Globocnik and Christian
Christian
Wirth on the technical aspects of mass murder in the extermination camps. He supplied hydrogen cyanide (Zyklon B) to Rudolf Höss in Auschwitz
Auschwitz
from the company called Degesch
Degesch
(Deutsche Gesellschaft für Schädlingsbekämpfung, or Vermin-Combating Corporation) and conducted the negotiations with the owners.[18] On 17 August 1942, together with Rolf Günther
Rolf Günther
and Wilhelm Pfannenstiel, Gerstein witnessed in Belzec the gassing of some 3,000 Jews who had arrived by train from Lwow
Lwow
and the next day he went to Treblinka
Treblinka
which had similar facilities where he observed huge mounds of clothing and underwear.[19] At that time, motor exhaust gases were used for the purpose of mass murder in both extermination camps. Reporting[edit] Main article: Gerstein Report Several days later, he had a chance encounter on the Warsaw to Berlin train with Swedish diplomat Göran von Otter, who was stationed in Berlin. In a conversation that lasted several hours, he told the diplomat what he had seen and urged him to spread the information internationally.[20] (Von Otter did talk with high-ranking officials at the Swedish Foreign Ministry, but Gerstein's revelations were never passed on to the Allies or to any other government.[citation needed]) In the meantime Gerstein tried to make contact with representatives of the Vatican, the press attaché at the Swiss Legation in Berlin, and a number of people linked to the Confessing Church.[21] One of his contacts was Dutch citizen J.H. Ubbink whom he asked to pass on his testimony to the Dutch resistance. A little later a member of the Dutch government in exile (in London) noted a testimony that is very similar to Gerstein's report in his diary. Gerstein's statements to diplomats and religious officials over the period of 1942 through 1945 had disappointingly little effect. After his surrender in April 1945, Gerstein was ordered to report about his experiences with the extermination camps, first in French, followed by two German versions in May 1945. Gerstein's report has been criticized, especially by Holocaust deniers. Distinguished French historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, in Assassins of Memory, discusses such criticism.[22] Historian Christopher Browning has written: "Many aspects of Gerstein's testimony are unquestionably problematic. ...[In making] statements, such as the height of the piles of shoes and clothing at Belzec and Treblinka, Gerstein himself is clearly the source of exaggeration. Gerstein also added grossly exaggerated claims about matters to which he was not an eyewitness, such as that a total of 25 million Jews and others were gassed. But in the essential issue, namely that he was in Belzec and witnessed the gassing of a transport of Jews from Lwow, his testimony is fully corroborated .... It is also corroborated by other categories of witnesses from Belzec."[16] Arrest and death[edit] On 22 April 1945, two weeks before Nazi Germany's surrender, Gerstein voluntarily gave himself up to the French commandant of the occupied town of Reutlingen. He received a sympathetic reception and was transferred to a residence in a hotel in Rottweil, where he was able to write his reports. However, he was later transferred to the Cherche-Midi military prison, where he was treated as a Nazi war criminal. On 25 July 1945 he was found dead in his cell, an alleged suicide.[23][24] Depictions[edit] A semi-fictional movie about his emotional search for Christian
Christian
values and ultimate decision to betray the SS by attempting to expose the Holocaust through informing the Catholic Church, Amen., was released in 2002, starring Ulrich Tukur
Ulrich Tukur
as Kurt Gerstein
Kurt Gerstein
and directed by Costa-Gavras. Amen. was largely adapted from Rolf Hochhuth's play The Deputy.[25] William T. Vollmann's Europe Central, the National Book Award fiction winner for 2005, has a 55-page segment, entitled Clean Hands, which relates Gerstein's story. Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler's List, wrote a dramatic play, Either Or, on the subject of Gerstein's life as an SS officer and how he dealt with the concentration camps. It premiered at the Theater J in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
in May 2007. In 2010, a group of film students from Emory University
Emory University
produced a short film entitled "The Gerstein Report" that chronicled the events leading up to Gerstein's death. The film won Best Drama at the 2010 Campus MovieFest International Grande Finale in Las Vegas, Nevada.[26][27] See also[edit]

Wilhelm Cornides

References[edit] Citations[edit]

^ Friedländer 1969, p. 4. ^ Friedländer, p. 10. ^ quoted in Friedländer 1969, p. 4 ^ Friedländer 1969, p. 11 ^ a b Friedländer 1969, p. 8 ^ a b "Holocaust Encyclopedia: Kurt Gerstein". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 1 May 2015.  ^ quoted in Friedländer 1969, p. 13 ^ Friedländer 1969, p. 19 ^ Friedländer 1969, p. 35 ^ Yahil, Leni; Friedman, Ina; Galai, Hayah (1991). The Holocaust: the fate of European Jewry, 1932-1945. Oxford University Press US. 357 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-504523-9. Retrieved 2009-08-10.  ^ Friedländer 1969, p. 32 ^ Friedländer 1969, p. 37. ^ 'In memoriam Kurt Gerstein' by Hans-Georg Hollweg, 2010 repeats it was his aunt."Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-01-08. Retrieved 2014-01-08.  ^ quoted in Friedländer, p. 80 where she is referred to as "aunt [sic]", although page 73 claims it was his sister-in-law ^ Pierre Joffroy, L'Espion de Dieu, Paris, Laffont, 2002, p. 133 (taken from French edition of) ^ a b Evidence for the Implementation of the Final Solution: Electronic Edition, Browning, Christopher R. ^ quoted in Friedländer 1969, p. 215 ^ Yahil 1991, pp. 356-357. ^ Friedländer 1969, p. 112. ^ Friedländer 1969, pp. 123-125 ^ Friedländer 1969, pp. 128-129 ^ Assassins of Memory Pierre Vidal-Naquet, 1987. Ressources documentaires sur le génocide nazi / Documentary Resources on the Nazi Genocide © Michel Fingerhut, auteurs et éditeurs, 1996-98 ^ Friedländer, 1969, pp. 218–222 ^ Yahil, Leni; Friedman, Ina; Galai, Hayah (1991), The Holocaust: the fate of European Jewry, 1932–1945, Oxford University Press US, p. 360, ISBN 978-0-19-504523-9, retrieved 2009-08-10  ^ Hochhuth, Rolf (1967), The Deputy, New York: Grove Pr, ISBN 0-394-17125-X  ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-06-10. Retrieved 2010-06-28.  ^ Winning short film on YouTube
YouTube
about the Gerstein Report

Sources[edit]

Friedländer, Saul (1969). Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good. New York CVity: Alfred A Knopf. ASIN B000GQS4Z6.  Joffroy, Pierre, L'espion de Dieu. La passion de Kurt Gerstein, Robert Laffont, 1969, dernière édition 2002, 453 pages ISBN 2-221-09764-5 Joffroy, Pierre, A Spy For God: The Ordeal of Kurt Gerstein, trans. Norman Denney, Fontana 1972, 256 pages, ISBN 0006129420 Hey, Bernd u.a.: Kurt Gerstein
Kurt Gerstein
(1905 - 1945). Widerstand in SS-Uniform. Bielefeld, Verlag für Regionalgeschichte, 2003. ISBN 3-89534-486-9.

A more detailed article appears in the French edition of. It has been closely consulted for this article. External links[edit]

Biography with pictures The story of Kurt Gerstein (in Italian) Biography and picture of Gerstein Winning short film about the Gerstein Report
Gerstein Report
on YouTube [1] Short film by Jay Guy, called The Path

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WorldCat Identities VIAF: 89089114 LCCN: n85062973 ISNI: 0000 0001 0043 0316 GND: 118690914 SUDOC: 028740084 BNF: cb12051415v (d

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