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Private Lives - Life and Death at Auschwitz

A book chronicling the private lives of men who were anything but ordinary has gone on sale at the site of the Auschwitz extermination camp to give a chilling insight into the off-duty hours of people whose day jobs was industrial mass murder.

'The Private Life of the SS in Auschwitz' by museum historian Piotr Setkiewicz is a watershed in postwar Third Reich history as it attempts to give a human face to inhumane people in those hours when they were off duty at the most terrible place on earth.

The testimonies about the killers is unique because it comes from the Polish maids assigned to keep their houses. They saw close up the interaction of the mass killers with their families on a day to day basis.

Included among the stories are those of camp commandant Rudolf Hoess, his deputy Karl Fritsch and Gerhard Palitzsch who personally killed hundreds of prisoners at the Wall of Death - the execution site where inmates were murdered.

Palitzsch illustrates perfectly the duality of the lives of the S.S. at Auschwitz. At the wall of death he beat prisoners and tormented them before they were killed; off duty, he was obsessed with being a "good father" to his children and making them tea and bread.

A portrait of him was supplied by Helena Klysowa, his 19-year-old Polish maid, who testifed to authorities after the war; "The Palitzch family lived quietly and they loved each other. They didn't receive guests, they didn't organise drinking parties.

"I arrived each day at 8.00 am. I looked after the children. I would go on walks with the girl. When Palitzsch was at home, I could not speak to the prisoners who worked in the house or garden. The prisoners themselves warned me against this. They were afraid that he would write down their number and they would die in the camp.

"I spoke to them anyway and found that the terror of the camp was Palitzsch. I could not believe it. At home, he was a wonderful man, so kind and loving to his children who he gave tea and bread to. He loved his children madly." He died in 1944 after being transferred to the Russian front.

S.S. man Wolfgang Guessgen, who took turns at 'the ramp' selecting those Jews who were to be gassed upon arrival and those who were to be allowed to live as slave labourers, was a cuckolded man whose wife cheated on him at every turn. He rewarded her with beatings.

Danuta Rzempiel, who was 16 when she worked at his home on the camp periphery, said; "Mrs. Guessgen was not a faithful wife. When he went away somewhere,various SS men would appear at the house, or a trusty prisoner from the locksmith shop who won her favour. She was not embarrassed by my presence at all and would lead her guests straight to her bedroom.

"It would happen that Guessgen, upon returning home, would find one of these guests. Then he would order me to go do the laundry or to the basement, and when I returned, the guest would not be in the house. Mrs Guessgen was often covered in bruises, so I guessed that it was Mr Guessgen.

"This didn't seen to dissuade her, and she exploited every opportunity."

It got to the point that Guessgen shot a certain SS man, and as punishment, he was transferred to Oranienburg, and shortly after from there to the front."

Hoess, who was hanged after the war at Auschwitz by the Polish authorities for overseeing the extermination of at least 1.2 million people and the enslavement of at least that number, was obsessively kind to animals and his five children.

He would have no moral qualms about ordering the gassing of child inmates of his camp, but in his garden he would play hide-and-seek with his five children and recited poetry to them.

Maid Janina Szczurek, 32, said; "He tucked his children into bed every night and he kissed his wife each morning. He wrote poems about the 'beauty of Auschwitz.'

"On one occasion, the children came to me and asked me to sew bands with signs for them, just like the ones worn by the prisoners. I was not aware of what the consequences would be from this. Klaus put a "capo [trusty]" band on his sleeve, and the other children had the coloured triangle sewn to their clothing.

"The happy children, running around the garden, met their father, who noticed the signs and took them into the house. I don't know what happened but he was not pleased."

Other stories feature the domestic lives of doctors who carried out selection processes of Jews and who performed horrific experiments, as well as the day-to-day lives of camp guards and lower SS ranks.

"The purpose of the book is to try and show the lives of SS men objectively," Setkiewicz told local media.

"Their image has forever been written in dark colours and in the pursuit of objective truth I wanted to view the subject unemotionally,"
he said.

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