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Helmut Bischoff
Born 1 March 1908
Died 5 January 1993(1993-01-05) (aged 84)
Place of birth Glogau, Lower Silesia
German Empire
Place of death Hamburg, Germany
Allegiance Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Service/branch Flag of the Schutzstaffel.svg Schutzstaffel
Rank SS-Obersturmbannführer Collar Rank.svg SS-Obersturmbannführer
Unit Gestapo (1935-1939)
RSHA (1939-1945)
Battles/wars World War II

Helmut Bischoff (March 1, 1908 – January 5, 1993) was a German SS officer and Nazi official. During World War II he was chief of the Gestapo departments in Posen (Poznań) and Magdeburg. He later served as director of security for Germany's V-weapons program. Between 1967 and 1970 Bischoff was the principal defendant in the Essen-Dora war crimes trial.

Early life[edit | edit source]

Bischoff was born on March 1, 1908 in the city of Glogau (Głogów) in Prussian Silesia, then a part of the German Empire. He was the son of a local butcher and attended the Glogau Gymnasium where, in 1923, he became a member of the Wikingbund, a German-nationalist paramilitary organization. Following completion of his primary education in 1926, he went on to study law at the University of Leipzig and the University of Geneva. It was during his time as a law student that Bischoff became a member of the Nazi Party in March, 1930 (Member # 203122) and later joined the Sturmabteilung (SA) in 1933. After receiving his doctorate in 1934 he worked as an assessor at the district court offices in Schweidnitz and Strehlen.[1] During this time Bischoff also began working unofficially as an agent for the Sicherheitsdienst (SD).

Gestapo[edit | edit source]

Bischoff joined the Schutzstaffel (SS) in November, 1935 (SS # 272403) and was recruited by the Gestapo, becoming director of the organization's office in the city of Liegnitz. He would go on to hold leadership posts with the Gestapo departments in Harburg-Wilhelmsburg (1936-1937) and Köslin (1937-1939).[2]

Following the outbreak of World War II, Bischoff was commissioned as an SS-Sturmbannführer (major). During the invasion of Poland he commanded a detachment of Einsatzgruppe IV, operating in the Pomerania-Podlasie-Warsaw area. Bischoff's unit was heavily involved in the bloody pacification of Bydgoszcz along with the mass killings of Polish civilians carried out as part of Operation Tannenberg, the Nazi extermination campaign against members of Poland’s upper-class and intelligentsia. Bischoff would also play a key role in the expulsion of the Jews from the city of Pułtusk into the Soviet administration zone in eastern Poland.[3]

After Einsatzgruppe IV was disbanded in the late autumn of 1939, Bischoff remained in Poland as director of the Gestapo in the city of Posen (Poznań). As chief of the Posen Gestapo, Bischoff also had authority over Fort VII, an early concentration camp used to intern Jews and Polish political prisoners from the nearby Wielkopolska region. During Bischoff's tenure Fort VII was the site of one of the first instances of carbon monoxide gas being used by the Nazis as means of mass execution when 400 Polish psychiatric patients were gassed there by Herbert Lange between October and December, 1939 as part of Action T4.[4]

Bischoff was promoted to the rank of SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) in September, 1941 and returned to Germany, taking over as director of the Gestapo in Magdeburg. Between November, 1942 and March, 1943 he had a central role in organizing the deportation of Magdeburg’s remaining Jewish population, along with those from the surrounding communities of Stendal, Dessau, Bernburg and Aschersleben. The majority of these deportees would be sent to the concentration camps of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz.[5]

V-weapons security chief[edit | edit source]

In December, 1943 Bischoff was reassigned to the SS-Main Economic and Administrative Office. He joined the staff of SS-Obergruppenführer Hans Kammler as the chief of counter-intelligence and counter-sabotage for Germany’s V-weapons program. In this capacity Bischoff held authority over the various Nazi security services operating in and around Mittelwerk, a massive armaments factory housed in an elaborate subterranean tunnel system in the Kohnstein.[6] Much of the work done to produce Germany’s V-1 flying bombs and V-2 ballistic missiles took place at Mittelwerk and was performed by thousands slave-laborers drawn from the inmate population of the nearby Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. As chief of security, Bischoff was responsible for maintaining the secrecy of the missile production program and preventing organized attempts by the camp's inmates to sabotage the V-weapons during the assembly process.

By February, 1944 much of the Nazi police and security apparatus in the areas surrounding Mittelwerk was consolidated under Bischoff’s control and major counter-sabotage operations began. Most of these targeted the informal resistance organizations which existed among the various prisoner groups working in the tunnels.[7] In November, 1944 the Gestapo rounded up much of the resistance leadership among the French and inmates. Most of those taken into custody were interrogated under torture with some later being executed and the remainder interned in solitary confinement.[8]

Following the reorganization of Mittelbau-Dora’s SS administration in February, 1945, former Auschwitz commander Richard Baer took over as camp commandant. Under this new arrangement, Bischoff was given authority over the camp's internal SD unit, thereby expanding the reach of his security apparatus into the camp itself. The following month he began a second wave of repressive action inside Mittelbau-Dora, which saw over a hundred prisoners, mainly Russian POWs, killed in a series of mass-hangings. Bischoff also ordered much of the surviving leadership of the camp's resistance organizations to be shot by firing squad just prior to the liberation of Mittelbau-Dora by the US Third Armored Division in April, 1945.[9]

Post-war[edit | edit source]

Following the German defeat Bischoff returned to Magdeburg. He was initially able to evade capture but was eventually arrested by Soviet occupation authorities in January, 1946. He was interned in NKVD Special Camp No. 2 (formerly the Buchenwald concentration camp) until 1950, at which point he was transferred by the Soviets to a prisoner of war camp located in Siberia. In 1955 he would be among the last German prisoners to be released from captivity by the Russians. After returning to West Germany he worked for the German Red Cross Tracing Service, where he was employed from 1957 to 1965.[10]

The Essen-Dora war crimes trial[edit | edit source]

Bischoff was one of three former SS staff members of Mittelbau-Dora to be indicted for war crimes by the district court of Essen in November, 1967. Most of the charges against him stemmed from his involvement in the series of mass executions that occurred between February and April 1945 and the use of torture during interrogations of prisoners. Bischoff entered a plea of not guilty to the charges.[11] The trial (known as the Essen-Dora Process) began on November 17, 1967 and would continue for two and a half years. The process included the testimony of over 300 witnesses, among them former Nazi Armaments Minister Albert Speer and the famed inventor of the V-2 rocket, Wernher von Braun.

Three days prior to the announcement of the verdicts on May 8, 1970 Bischoff was granted a reprieve from sentencing and dismissed from the trial proceedings due to reasons of poor health.[12] Other efforts to prosecute Bischoff for his wartime activities also met with little success. An attempt by the district court in West Berlin to indict him for his involvement in the Einsatzgruppen killings in Poland was discontinued in 1971 citing a "lack of evidence". A further effort at prosecution, this one relating to Bischoff's time as Gestapo chief of Posen, was likewise abandoned in 1976, once again owing to reasons of his poor health. Bischoff would spend the remainder of his life living in West Germany before dying of natural causes in Hamburg on January 5, 1993.[13]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Jens-Christian Wagner:Produktion des Todes: Das KZ Mittelbau-Dora, Göttingen 2001, S. 666.
  2. Ernst Klee: The Encyclopedia of persons to the Third Reich. Wer war was vor und nach 1945. Who was that before and after 1945. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Zweite aktualisierte Auflage, Frankfurt am Main 2005, S. 51. Penguin Books, second edition, Frankfurt am Main 2005, p. 51.
  3. Ernst Klee: The Encyclopedia of persons to the Third Reich. Wer war was vor und nach 1945. Who was that before and after 1945. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Zweite aktualisierte Auflage, Frankfurt am Main 2005, S. 51. Penguin Books, second edition, Frankfurt am Main 2005, p. 51.
  4. hospital Owinska and Fort VII in Poznan at deathcamps.org
  5. Alfred Gottwaldt, Diana Schulle: The Deportation of Jews from the German Reich 1941-1945 - An Annotated Chronology, Wiesbaden, 2005, ISBN 3-86539-059-5.
  6. Ernst Klee: The Encyclopedia of persons to the Third Reich. Wer war was vor und nach 1945. Who was that before and after 1945. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Zweite aktualisierte Auflage, Frankfurt am Main 2005, S. 51. Penguin Books, second edition, Frankfurt am Main 2005, p. 51.
  7. Jens-Christian Wagner, Production of Death: The Mittelbau-Dora, Göttingen, 2001 S. 666th.
  8. Sellier, Andre. A History of the Dora Camp. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. 2003.
  9. "Mittelbau: Last Phase". Ushmm.org. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007320. Retrieved 2012-05-30. 
  10. Jens-Christian Wagner, Production of Death: The Mittelbau-Dora, Göttingen, 2001 S. 666th.
  11. André Sellier: Forced Labor in the missile tunnel - History of the Dora camp, Lüneburg, 2000, p. 518.
  12. Ernst Klee: The Encyclopedia of the Third Reich persons, Fischer Taschenbuch 2005, S. 51, Quelle: 24 Js 549/61 (Z) OStA Köln. Penguin Books 2005, p. 51, source: 24 Js 549/61 (Z) OSTA Cologne.
  13. Sellier, Andre. A History of the Dora Camp. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. 2003.

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