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[ OSR's #8 - #195 ]



Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski  


General of the Higher SS and Police Leader Corps, responsible for anti-partisan warfare

on the Eastern Front during World War Two.





Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski

Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski was born on 1 March 1899 in Lauenburg, Pomerania. A professional soldier from a Junker military family, handsome and typically East Prussian in manner, he served in World War One, then in the Freikorps and as a Reichswehr officer.  In 1924 he transferred to the border guards' units (Grenzschutz), where he remained until 1930.


After quitting the Grenzschutz he joined the German Nazi Party (I.D. card No. 489101) in 1930 and became a member of the SS in 1931. He gained rapid promotion and by the end of 1933 had reached the rank of SS-Brigadeführer.


From 1932 until 1944 he was a member of the Reichstag, representing the Breslau electoral district, and after 1934 he commanded SS and Gestapo units in East Prussia and Pomerania. It was at this point he began using his mother's maiden name "Bach", in order to sound more Germanic.


In 1939 Bach-Zelewski was promoted to the position of SS General and two years later he became a General of the Waffen-SS assigned to the Central Army Group on the Russian front until the end of 1942.


In this period Bach-Zelewski was responsible for many atrocities in which he took a personal part. On 31 October 1941 after 35,000 people had been executed in Riga, he proudly wrote: “There is not a Jew left in Estonia.”


He also participated actively in massacres of Jews in Minsk and Mogilev in White Russia, his headquarters was based in Mogilev. Himmler visited Minsk on the 15 August 1941 and witnessed an execution of Jews.


Von dem Bach-Zelewski claims to have lectured Himmler after the Minsk executions, telling him that the firing squad were now ruined for life, that they were destined to become either nervous wrecks or ruffians.  After the speech Himmler, Nebe, von dem Bach and Wolff inspected an insane asylum at Novinki.


Himmler ordered Nebe to end the suffering of these people as soon as possible, yet at the same time Himmler asked Nebe “to turn over in his mind” to various other killing methods more humane than shooting. Nebe asked permission to try out dynamite on the mentally ill people.


Von dem Bach and Wolff protested that the sick people were not guinea pigs, but Himmler decided in favour of the attempt. Much later Nebe confided to von dem Bach that the dynamite had been tried on the inmates with woeful results.


Arthur Nebe

Unique film of one of the gassings undertaken by Nebe at Novinki was found in Nebe’s flat in Berlin after the capitulation in 1945.


In June 1942, after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague, Adolf Hitler wanted von dem Bach-Zelewski to take Heydrich's place as Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. When Himmler argued that von dem Bach-Zelewski could not be spared due to the prevailing military situation, Hitler relented and appointed Kurt Daluege to the position.

On 12 July 1943, von dem Bach-Zalewski received command of all anti-partisan actions in Belgium, Belarus, France, the General Government, the Netherlands, Norway, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, and parts of the Bezirk Bialystok. In practice, his activities remained confined to Belarus and contiguous Russia, s
ubsequently he claimed that in this role he had tried to protect Jews from the Einsatzgruppen.


Bach- Zelewski was in command of the German units which suppressed the Warsaw uprising in the summer of 1944, being awarded the Knights Cross in connection with these operations. The uprising concluded with the surrender of Polish General T. Bor –Komorowski to the Germans.


The negotiations began in Bach-Zelewski’s command post at Ozarow at 8am. General Bor-Komorowski did not take part himself but sent a four –strong delegation, under Colonel Iranek-Osmecki and Lieutenant – Colonel Dobrowolski. Bach Zelewski himself negotiated on behalf of the Germans, together with two police officers and an interpreter.


Later Bach wrote in his diary, “They were extremely tough negotiators, haggling over every word. They wanted to surrender as honourably as possible and obtain all guarantees to ensure their complete recognition as regulars.”   


Highly regarded by Hitler for his brutality and improvisational skills – he was able to conjure armies out of very unpromising material, he ended the war as an Army Commander.


Walter Schellenberg made the following statement about Bach-Zelewski to Leon Goldensohn during the Nuremberg trials in 1946:


"But to go back to Bach-Zelewski - I think Bach-Zelewski has the kind of personality that can't differentiate between the truth and lies. He gets himself so much into the whole thing he can't differentiate. He convinces himself and believes he has gone so far that he has to die for the cause. Originally it was not the truth, but he so convinces himself - he's ready to die for it."

The fact that he testified for the prosecution at Nuremburg denouncing Himmler and his own fellow police chiefs, spared him from extradition to Russia.


When examined by Col. Yuri Pokrovsky at the Nuremberg Tribunal Bach-Zelewski had the following responses:


Pokrovsky: Do you know of any order prescribing the seizure of hostages and the burning of villages as a reprisal for abetting partisan units?


Bach-Zelewski: No. I do not think that written orders to that effect were ever issued, and it is precisely this lack of orders which I considered a mistake. It should, for instance, have been definitely stated how many people could be executed as a reprisal for the killing of one, or of 10 German soldiers.


Pokrovsky: Am I to understand that if certain commanders burned villages as a punitive measure against the local population, they, the commanders, would be acting on their own initiative?


Bach-Zelewski: Yes. These steps would be taken by a commander on his own initiative. Nor could his superior officers do anything against it, since orders emanating from the highest authorities definitely stated that if excesses were committed against the civilian population in partisan areas, no disciplinary or judicial measures were to be taken.


Pokrovsky: And can we assume that the same applied to the seizure of hostages?


Bach-Zelewski: Well, I think that the question of hostages did not arise at all in the anti-partisan struggle. The hostage system was more common in the West. At any rate the term “hostage” was not used in anti-partisan warfare…


Pokrovsky: If I understood you correctly, you replied to a question of my colleague, the American Prosecutor, by saying that the struggle against the partisan movement was a pretext for destroying the Slav and Jewish population?


Bach-Zelewski: Yes.


Pokrovsky: Was the Wehrmacht Command aware of the methods adopted for fighting the partisan movement and for destroying the Jewish population?


Bach-Zelewski: The methods were known generally and hence the military leaders as well. I do not, of course, know whether they were aware of the plan mentioned by Himmler.


Pokrovsky: You have told us that the Germans intended to destroy the Slav population in order to reduce the number of Slavs to 30 million. Where did you get this figure and this order?


Bach-Zelewski: I must correct that: Not to reduce to 30 million, but by 30 million. Himmler mentioned this figure in his speech at the Wewelsburg.


Pokrovsky:  Do you confirm the fact that actually all the measures carried out by the German commanders and by the Wehrmacht in the occupied Russian territories were directed to the sole purpose of reducing the number of Slavs and Jews by 30 million?


Bach-Zelewski:  The meaning of that is not quite clear to me. Did the Wehrmacht know that the Slav population was to be diminished by 30 million? Would you please repeat the question, it wasn’t quite clear?


Pokrovsky:  I asked- Can you actually and truthfully confirm that the measures taken by the Wehrmacht Command in the district administrative areas then occupied by the Germans were directed to the purpose of diminishing the Slavs and Jews by 30 million? Do you now understand the question?


Bach-Zelewski:  I believe that these methods would definitely have resulted in the extermination of 30 million if they had been continued, and if the developments of that time had not completely changed the situation.


Pokrovsky:  I have no further questions to put to the witness.




Der Spiegel article from 1972 about the death of Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski

In March 1951 he was condemned by a Munich de-Nazification court to ten years “special labour” which in practice meant being confined to his own home in Franconia. The only one among the mass murderers who publicly denounced himself for his wartime actions, he was never prosecuted for his role in the anti-Jewish massacres.


That same year Bach Zalewski claimed that he had helped Hermann Göring commit suicide in 1946. As evidence, he produced cyanide capsules to the authorities with serial numbers not far removed from the one used by Göring. The authorities never verified von dem Bach Zalewski's claim, however, and did not charge him with aiding Göring's death.


Instead he was arrested and tried in 1961 for his participation in the Rohm Blood Purge and sentenced to four and a half years, he was indicted again in 1962 for the murder of six communists in 1933.


He was tried before a jury in Nuremburg and received the unusually harsh sentence of life imprisonment. Neither indictment mentioned his wartime role, thereby suggesting that only the murder of ethnic Germans was perceived as an unpardonable crime.


Most modern day historians dismiss the von dem Bach Zalewski claim and agree that a U.S. Army contact within the prison of Nuremburg most likely aided Hermann Göring in his suicide.


He died in a prison hospital in Munich – Harlaching on 8 March 1972.








Who’s Who in Nazi Germany by Robert S Wistrich published by Routledge, London and New York 1995

The Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, 1945-46  By Michael Robert Marrus 

The History of the Second World War by Purnell & Sons –London 1966 

Warsaw Rising by Gunther Deschner, published by Pan Ballantine 1972 

The Final Solution by G. Reitlinger – Vallentine Mitchell &Co Ltd 1953

The Nuremberg Interviews by Leon Goldensohn, Robert Gellately - History - 2004





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