German and Other Heroes – 3
Erwin Dold, a humane KZ Commander
“You simply cannot do that to people”. Your quotation from Mina Lautenschlaeger is the simple and basic norm of humanity which some Germans, certainly too few, followed even in the years of organized inhumanity in Germany. (Other brave opponents had more ideological motivations.) You would not believe it, but there even existed one humane commander of a (minor) KZ, which seems a contradiction in terms. I learned about him from a book on non-violent resistance against Hitler which my elder daughter gave me. (She has been active in non-violent civic action groups for years.)
When a French military tribunal tried KZ commanders, command leaders, block leaders, camp elders, and kapos at Rastatt in the French zone on February 1st, 1947 and sentenced 21 of them to death, it also set one man free: Erwin Dold. He was the only one of the 50 accused who had “shown sentiments of humanity” and “broken with the order of terror”.
As an adolescent, Dold had joined the „Hitlerjugend“; at 18 he volunteered for the “Luftwaffe”. His plane was shot down and he was seriously wounded. Later he worked as a military truck driver. In 1944, when the SS sent more of its members to the front and needed replacements in the camps from the Army, he was ordered to join an industrial watch command. He became a member of the staff at Haslach and then a commander at Dautmergen, two of a few dozen small dependencies of the major KZ Natzweiler-Struthof, which were put up in the final phase of the war to support German industry and the war effort.
The situation of the forced laborers was terrible; about half of them died from disease, hunger, exhaustion, neglect or violence, many were deliberately worked to death. Dold was shocked by the mountains of corpses, and when he took over responsibility he considered this, in contrast to the all the other camp commanders, a responsibility towards “his” workers as well. He saw them as other human beings, not different from himself. He stopped sending sick prisoners to work, improved the ratios of bread, worried about better shoes, and had the barracks repaired. He used false papers and orders, supplied workers with army uniforms, and together with them “organized” truckloads of potatoes and (illegally) slaughtered meat. (He was from a small town in the area, and his father helped him with money to pay the farmers and with suggestions for hidden routes.)
When the Gestapo ordered Dold to collect a firing squad to execute 22 Russian prisoners of war (in front of all other prisoners), he refused. Witnesses later confirmed that a shouting match ensued which ended with the sentence: “You will never become a good SS man.” Dold got away with his decision unharmed, but he risked his life every day.
When a watchman accused a prisoner of trading with cardboard soles of shoes and took him to the commander, Dold only had his shoes repaired. This prisoner was one of many witnesses who were willing to testify in Dold’s favor; he had more than he needed. Dold also became a witness himself in several trials against war criminals. When he returned to his old home town, he did not talk about his activities and his experience until fifty years later. Opinions about him have remained ambiguous: Some people still see him as a KZ commander first; others believe he was a hero. One thing is beyond doubt: In the camps at Haslach and Dautmergen, there was only one who actively cared for the survival of its prisoners: Erwin Dold. To be sure, there were differences in the degrees of bestiality among the KZ commanders and the watchmen and -women. As far as I know, Dold was the only humane KZ commander. He was an exception.