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Christian Wirth

Last Update 18 July 2005

Wirth *
Christian Wirth was born on 24 November 1885 in Oberbalzheim, (former German state Württemberg). He was a joiner, and since 1910 policeman. He served on the Western front during WW1. After the war, he spent several years as a builder, then he became a police officer in Stuttgart (murder squad) in the 1930ís. He was notorious for the manner in which he conducted his investigations and his dedication to duty.

Wirth's personal SS Sheet
Wirth's personal SS Sheet *
Wirth joined the NSDAP in 1931, the SA (1933), SD (1937) and SS (1939). Already in 1922 he became member of the NSDAP the first time.
By 1939, he had risen in rank to Kriminalkommissar in the Stuttgart criminal police, a department of the Gestapo. In October 1939 he was sent as a Kriminaloberkommissar and SS-Obersturmführer to the Grafeneck psychiatric clinic for service in the Euthanasia Programme, meanwhile being a member of the SS (SS number 345,464).
At Grafeneck he became chief of the office and met Josef Oberhauser, a crematorium attendant, who was to become his adjutant in the death camps in Poland. Kurt Franz, who later became camp commander of Treblinka, was chief of the kitchen.

At the end of the year 1939 Wirth was ordered to Brandenburg an der Havel, where a part of the former Zuchthaus (prison) has been converted into a euthanasia establishment. There he was in charge of administration, and organized its office. He led the first gassing experiment: A small group of insane criminals from the prison was gassed with CO gas. Philipp Bouhler and Viktor Brack, both from the Führerís Chancellery, observed the gassing. Bouhler then suggested to disguise the T4 gas chambers as shower-rooms.
A short time later, Wirth returned to Grafeneck and was promoted in mid-1940 to become inspector of all euthanasia establishments in Germany and Austria.
Later he became chief of the "registry office" at the Hadamar euthanasia centre, and chief of the Hartheim euthanasia centre.
Franz Stangl, who was to be commandant of Sobibor and Treblinka, first met Wirth at Hartheim, and recalled in an interview in 1971 with Gitta Sereny, that
"Wirth was a gross and florid man and my heart sank when I met him. He stayed at Hartheim for several days that time, and came back often. Whenever he was there, he addressed us daily at lunch, with an awful crude language."

In September 1941 Brack and Bouhler sent Wirth to Lublin to set up a new euthanasia establishment, the first of its kind outside the Reich, but the project was abandoned. Wirthís activities during this period, prior to his appearance at Belzec, are obscure. Shortly before Christmas 1941 Wirth arrived in Belzec, a village in the far south-eastern corner of the Generalgouvernement. He took with him a small group of T4 men, among them Erich Fuchs, a driver and mechanic. Fuchs stated:
"One day in the winter of 1941/42, Wirth put together a transport. I was selected with about 8-10 men, and transferred to Belzec in three lorries. In my group were Borowski, Niemann, Graetschus, and Barbel."

Wirth *
Wirth was the first commandant of Belzec; he told the SS-men that "in Belzec all the Jews were to be killed". A number of the SS staff nicknamed him "Christian der Grausame" (the savage), and according to SS man Ernst Zierke, "Wirth went over bodies". At Belzec Wirth developed the camp hierarchy, and the very brutal manner in which the mass gassings were to be carried out. Josef Oberhauser said of him:
"His dominant features were an iron hardness, unconditional obedience, belief in the Führer, absolute heartlessness and ruthlessness."

Wirth personally selected from the initial transports 80-100 young and fit males as the nucleus of the camp work force, to be led by a Jewish camp leader, assisted by two Oberkapos. They in turn selected other Kapos to oversee the individual work-brigades. Wirth provided the Jewish camp leaders with detailed instructions about the duties of the work brigades and their role in the destruction process that he had devised. In the early days of Belzec, Wirth addressed the Jews upon arrival at the camp, informing them that they were to have a bath before being resettled. The Jews often cheered him after his speech.
SS-Lieutenant Kurt Gerstein, who was in charge of the Technical Disinfection Department of the Waffen-SS, visited Belzec in the late summer of 1942, having been ordered by SS-Sturmbannführer Günther of the RSHA to test methods of disinfecting clothing, and to change the current method of gassing (prussic acid or exhaust fumes). In May 1945, Gerstein described the extermination process:
"A transport of Jews from Lwow (Lemberg) arrived at Belzec, and was sent to the gas chambers. Wirth, standing on the platform, whipped a Jewess of about 40 in the face and chased her into the gas chamber. SS-Unterscharführer Hackenholt tried to set the diesel (?) engine moving, but it did not start. Captain Wirth came along. He was furious and dealt the Ukrainian who was helping Hackenholt 11 or 12 lashes in the face with his whip. The diesel (?) engine started up, after 2 hours 49 minutes."

Wirth asked Gerstein not to recommend any other type of gas chamber in Berlin. Gerstein obliged by saying that the prussic acid he had brought with him had been damaged. Gerstein then buried the Zyklon B somewhere at Belzec.
The Belzec survivor Rudolf Reder also encountered Wirth, and described him:
"He was tall, broad shouldered man in his middle 40ís with a vulgar face. He was a born criminal, 'The extreme beast'."

The Ukrainian Trawniki-Männer referred to Wirth as "Stuka", the German dive-bomber that made a screaming noise as it went into a dive. Wirth attempted to instil some discipline into the Belzec garrison, both German and Ukrainian, by ordering route marches outside the camp. Wirth himself marched at the head of the column, closely followed by Niemann, Oberhauser, Schwarz, and Franz.
He was a rabid anti-semite, and his depraved behaviour plumbed the depths. Chaim Hirszmann witnessed how, when a transport of children and infants arrived at Belzec, they were buried alive in a large pit. At the height of Aktion Reinhard, Wirthís brutality became even more pronounced. SS-man Werner Dubois, who served at Belzec and Sobibor, stated:
"Wirth was more than brutal. In my opinion, his brutality was grounded more in his human nature, than as an emanation of his political mentality. He bellowed, screamed and threatened us, and hit members of the German camp garrison in the face. Other than Oberhauser, there was no-one in Belzec who was not afraid of Wirth."

In June 1942 Oberhauser returned to Belzec to find the camp practically deserted; there were only about 20 Ukrainian guards under the command of SS-Scharführer Feix. Wirth had disappeared. Oberhauser stated:
"I discovered that Wirth had gone to Berlin, via Lemberg and Krakau, without first reporting to Odilo Globocnik. This attitude of Wirth shows that he did not consider Globocnik to be his superiorat, least at this juncture."

The reason for Wirthís sudden departure from Belzec has never been satisfactorily explained, but it is probable that he was summoned to Berlin to receive instructions for the main phase of Aktion Reinhard.
On 1 August 1942, SS-Obersturmführer Gottlieb Hering, Wirthís police comrade for over 20 years, replaced him as Commandant of Belzec, since Odilo Globocnik, the head of Aktion Reinhard, had appointed Wirth as Inspekteur der SS-Sonderkommandos Aktion Reinhard. Wirth based himself in two rooms of the Julius Schreck Kaserne, the Lublin Headquarters of Aktion Reinhard.

Wirthís first task after this appointment was to re-organise Treblinka, following the complete breakdown of the camp - caused by the incompetent commander, Dr Irmfried Eberl. Wirth visited Treblinka on 19 August 1942. He remained there, and Franz Stangl was brought from Sobibor to take over command of the camp. Wirth held daily meetings with the campís SS staff, where he described how he envisaged the future running of the camp, and assigned individual SS men specific tasks, in the same manner as he had done at Belzec. Globocnik ordered all transports from Warsaw to be stopped. Wirth was directed to enlarge the camp, and to inform Globocnik when the camp was ready to receive transports again. Wirth ordered the construction of bigger gas chambers. Lorenz Hackenholt, who Wirth had brought from Belzec, drew up the plans. SS-man Erwin Lambert, the T4 expert in gas chamber construction, was also summoned to Treblinka by Wirth to build the larger gassing facilities.
Once the re-organisation of Treblinka was complete, Wirth visited Sobibor to ensure that the camp was functioning satisfactorily. In Sobibor there were also capacity problems with the gas chambers.
As at Treblinka, Wirth ordered that the facilities in Sobibor be increased, and Erwin Lambert and Lorenz Hackenholt were ordered to report to commandant Reichleitner to achieve this task.

Wirth's House at the Airfield Camp
Wirth's House at the Airfield Camp
In December 1942, he was given the responsibility of managing and continuing the construction of the DAW (Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke / German Equipment Works), slave labour camps in the Lublin district. Shortly before Christmas 1942, he moved into a two-storey villa on Chelmska Street, at the north-west corner of the disused Lublin airfield. The ground floor rooms were used as offices by Wirth, Oberhauser, Hausler and a couple of secretaries. A first class dining room and living quarters for Wirth were located on the first floor.

Here at the Airfield Camp, from the summer of 1942, three hangars had been used as the main sorting depot for the heaps of clothing, belongings and valuables taken from the victims of Aktion Reinhard. This depot was known as "Bekleidungswerke der Waffen-SS, Aussenstelle Lublin". Behind Wirthís house was a tar-paper factory, and SS-man Erich Bauer witnessed how Wirth treated the Jewish workers there:
"I myself have seen and remember for certain how the Jews employed there were pouring fresh, hot tar onto the pasteboard with bare hands. I also saw the raw flesh peeled from their fingers, so that their bare bones could be seen. I am convinced that all these people died of their bad burns. I remember this work with the tar-paper so well, because I was upset by it at the time, and Wirth hit me in the face with his whip."
The "Airfield Camp" was also used throughout Aktion Reinhard as a mustering centre for personnel transferred from the euthanasia institutions in the Reich. They were often met by Wirth, on occasions accompanied by Reichleitner from Sobibor, and Stangl from Treblinka. All three Aktion Reinhard commanders wore the uniform of officers from the Schutzpolizei.

Wirth's Funeral
Wirth's Funeral *
Wirth was promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer in the summer of 1943.
Following the revolt in Treblinka (2 August 1943), Globocnik, Stangl, and Wirth together with other SS men of Aktion Reinhard, drove in a convoy of lorries to Trieste. When Wirth reached Trieste, he set up his headquarters at Via Martine. A KZ was created at San Sabba in an old disused rice mill, where a small gas chamber and incinerator was constructed by Lambert to kill the Jews of the Trieste region.

Wirth temporarily returned to Lublin in November 1943, where he was involved in the final destruction of the slave labour camps in the Lublin district, the so-called Aktion Erntefest (Harvest Festival). Sporrenberg, who had taken over from Globocnik, as HSSPF Lublin, confirmed under interrogation that Wirth had been placed in command of this action by Globocnik, and that it was Wirth who had read out the order from Himmler to exterminate all Jews working in the labour camps of the Lublin district.

On 26 May 1944* Wirth was killed in street fighting by Yugoslav partisans. Franz Stangl stated that he saw Wirthís body.
Wirth was buried in the German military cemetery at Costermano.

Photos:
GFH *
Tregenza Collection *
Grafeneck Memorial *
Axis History Forum *

Sources:
Michael Tregenza: Belzec Death Camp. Wiener Library
Michael Tregenza: Zeszuty Majdanka, Lublin 1992&1993
Routledge: Whoís Who in Nazi Germany
Gitta Sereny: Into that Darkness
Arad: Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka
Personal File of Christian Wirth - BDC

© ARC 2005