Otto Moll and the Butcher of Auschwitz-Birkenau
Otto Moll took over command of all the crematoria in the Auschwitz-Birkenau KZ and excelled in his command. Taking new heights to the concept of wholesale murder.
Moll didn’t see his actions as wrong, psychotic even. He was simply following orders. A hardline, dedicated nazi and efficient German, saw his job as the quartermaster-sergeant of the crematoria as a privilege. It was a privilege that took on sickening ways to kill people. A tyrant for timings and perfunctory, Moll had a large pit dug at the rear of the crematorium. He would choose people at random while they were waiting their turn to enter the delousing chamber. Take them to the pit, sometime’s just by the foot and throw women and child, elderly and the disabled. Douse the victims in gasoline and watch them burn. Often Moll was seen laughing with other camp guards.
Another favourite of Moll was to take potshots at people with his pistol, especially after they had just arrived from where ever in Europe. Shooting anything at range with a Luger pistol isn’t easy, something that I have tried. The shot would often just maim the victim, leaving them to suffer incalculable sufferings.
Moll, by the FBI’s definition of a serial killer, is loose at best. However, I believe that if there was a change in history, and there was no Nazi party, no Second World War. I believe I would still write today about Otto Moll, as the serial killer from Hohen Schonberg. The Nazi war machine did not make Moll, Moll took his responsibilities to levels that were beyond the remit of the SS. And let us not forget the many thousands Moll killed with relish and ease that have been shrouded in the rest of the atrocities caused by a nation perverted by the derangement of one man.
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This killer by the modern definition is far from it, however, if circumstances were different, It’s impossible to determine if he would have become a prolific murderer.
I think the number of people that he killed has run into the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives snuffed out for an ideology, maybe even more than a million. Something that is beginning again on the shores of the United States, an alarmist statement, but as a civilisation we refuse to learn from history and that history is on a repeat cycle in America.
But here, I am talking about the Quartermaster Sergeant, and Kommander of crematorium 5 at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, one of the most sadistic killers I think I have ever read about, Otto Moll.
Called the most degenerative of all the SS at Auschwitz-Birkenau KZ, Moll oversaw the wholesale murder of the untermench that Hitler wanted eradicating from Europe, to make way for the ‘master race’ and a thousand year Riech.
Moll was omnipresent in the Birkenau camp, his insatiable thirst to kill Jews and any other undesirables was on a level that cannot be understood in the post-war dissection of how normal people can become such monsters in the name of an ideology.
Moll was born in Hohen Schöberg, Germany in March 1915. The first world war was still in its first year, and life in Germany was tough. Food shortages, very little money and news from the front was mixed. The Kaiser’s army was winning the war that would be over by the end of the year didn’t match the enormous casualty repatriation that was happening. Nothing about living in Germany at the time was easy, and the war didn’t end. It endured another three full years and the deaths of millions of people.
Life in Germany became harder. We annexed the country, over three million Germans became Polish, annexed eastern edges of the country, divided up and distributed in payment for the Great War. It brought the economy to its knees with anything that Germans had paid to the French, British and American governments to cover the cost of their war efforts. Bread became scarce, work scarcer and the woes of the German people became more and more desperate, and the along came Hitler, with the promise of a better life.
Moll grew up in his formative years under the National Socialist banner, Nazism was the cure for Germany’s struggles, and even with the thousand year Riech granted by Hitler to the German people, Germany would dominate the entire world.
Therefore, it’s fundamental to understand the mentality of the likes of Moll, and why they found killing easy, trivial even.
In 1935, two years after Hitler became the chancellor of Germany, Moll pledged his allegiance to the Nazi party and signed on the dotted line to join the Germany military elite, the Schutzstaffel or SS for short. Originally formed as a protectorate directly to Hitler.
First called the Saal-Schutz or Hall Security, the SS grew and when Heinrich Himmler became the commander-in-chief of the SS. They split it into two units, and a third, kept secret in the early years of the Nazi regime.
Allgemeine-SS was the political arm used to enforce the racial policy of the Nazi party, while the Waffen-SS was a savage combat unit that worked amongst the ranks of the Wehrmacht – the German army which one mustn’t confuse with the SS. The Wehrmacht from a military standpoint and from my own military experience was one of the best armies to have ever formed, and we should not associate them with the heinous acts of terror the SS performed behind the conventional forces. Their behaviour criticised by senior Wehrmacht officers, and the behaviour of these deaths-head units marred stunning military prowess.
People who excelled in not only physical and mental aptitude and a certain political persuasion towards the Untermench, or undesirables joined the SS-Totenkopfverbände, which meant death’s head unit which further split into four command structures called the Einsatzgruppen. It was these units that followed the regular army throughout Europe dealing with the racial minorities that lived right through Europe. Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled, Muslims, Slovaks, the afflicted were methodically rounded up and in organised pogroms, and slaughtered. Mass graves bring together much of Eastern Europe where hundreds and thousands of innocent woman, men and children were murdered.
Soldiers involved were struggling for several reasons. The mandate was clear, kill anything that didn’t fit the Nazi remit and make way for the new Reich, a new Germany. Massacres that have become infamous such as Babi-Yar, Baltic States, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania happened where thousands of people slaughtered with the bullet. It required a more strategic method, a method that didn’t expose the soldiers in the Waffen-SS, as these criminal acts were taking its toll on the soldiers.
Camps that were already popping up around the occupied territories holding political prisoners, government officials from toppled countries and communists. Journalist, outspoken people not excused this humiliation. Without trial, held under armed guards in buildings or camps. These concentration camps or KZ’s for short numbered over a thousand during the Nazi regime. The SS, where ethics and morals became blurred, ran wholly among these camps. Life was cheap in the camps, and it often served death for some for the most trivial of matters.
It didn’t take long for the Nazi party to realise the lucrative method of using forced and slave labour. The vision of Hitler was a Romanesque grandeur that needed a workforce the German people couldn’t supply. There was also a war effort to consider. Weapons, munitions, vehicles, civic defences that were all built by the millions of people that incarcerated in these KZ’s.
Moll singled out and recruited in the SS-Totenkopfverbände and started his Nazi career at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, a short jump north west from Berlin.
Sachsenhausen was a KZ for political prisoners, a stand out occupant of this KZ was Stalin’s brother, Yakov Dzhugashvili. The camp provided a workforce for the corporations that fed into the German war machine. It housed during the war years a gas chamber, a medical experiment laboratory. Over 200,000 people worked inside the camp, fed almost nothing and receiving little to no medical treatment. They were sent there to work and die while working. The work parties killed 100,000 prisoners.
The famous quote that intertwined the wrought iron main gate Arbeit Macht Frei – Work Shall Set You Free, which was a favourite of the new commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolph Hoess, a previous senior officer at the Sachsenhausen KZ, had the same words suspended over the main gate of Auschwitz in Poland which had since become synonymous of the atrocities inflicted on the whole of Europe by the Nazi regime.
Moll realised while at Sachsenhausen KZ that he could do anything. He could meat out any manner of brutality on the occupants. Although the SS were brutal, there were still lines in which SS officers couldn’t cross, Moll frequently ignored these rules. One of his favourite punishments was a bullet to the back of the hand. If the prisoners didn’t reach the desired standard of work, Moll would shoot the prisoner in the hand. A gunshot wound to the hand didn’t excuse the prisoner from their obligation to work. Work was the only passport to survival in the KZ’s, remember work shall set you free. If you couldn’t work, you were shot, hung or beaten to death by the camps Sonderkommando. This wasn’t lost on Moll, he took a perverse enjoyment from seeing the suffering of people and after the infamous Wannersee meeting between senior SS officers and the Allgemeine-SS and party leaders, the Jewish Question and the formation to the final solution was set in stone.
They selected Auschwitz for one of the principle hubs to exterminate the masses that were being held in enormous ghettos throughout Europe. Originally, the people were going to be shipped to Madagascar, a German colony. But the cost of this would but prohibitive. The Allies weren’t interested in a deal to take these minority groups, so the only logical solution – if you was a Nazi, was to slaughter or in their chosen word, exterminate these people on a grand scale.
Auschwitz was small. Occupying a Polish military Barracks that had a railway running right past the main gate, with large-scale industrial opportunities and too far for Allied bombers to reach, Auschwitz needed expanding. Across the railway track, past the huge industrial complex that became one of IG Farben factories.
A chemical and synthetic rubber corporation who exploited the Nazi regime’s use of slave labour and were actively involved in the rearmament of Germany after the First World War. They found the five board members of the corporation guilty at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trail of purposely siting their factory next door to Auschwitz-Birkenau KZ with the sole purpose of exploiting this slave labour.
It involved IG Farben in every aspect of the German war machine which included the wholesale manufacture of Zyklon-B, the caustic gas used to exterminate millions of Jews and other minority groups that didn’t fit the Nazi ideology.
On the expansion of Auschwitz-Birkenau KZ, 10,000 Soviet prisoner of war were drafted into the Birkenau site in October 1941, some three kilometres of Auschwitz 1, by the May 1942, only 925 of the 10,000 prisoners were still registered as working, this small group wouldn’t have seen the rest of the year out. Take a moment to consider this, 10,000 men which most would have perished through starvation, execution, infection, injury or suicide in a space of seven months. Take all the time you need to think about that.
They sent Moll from Sachsenhausen in the May 1942 to deal with the growing piles of corpses rotting out in the open air, the temperatures in the Polish summer tipped 35 degrees centigrade. The smell drifted as far as a village called Babice, some twenty kilometres from the camp.
Molls first appointment was to deal with the mass graves, to get rid of the thousands of corpses that occupied the fields behind the Birkenau site. It was here that Molls sadism and cruelty were witnessed.
Apart from the shooting of prisoners in the hand, Moll took great pleasure trying to shoot people with his Luger pistol at a distance. Now anyone that has fired a semi-automatic pistol will know first hand, that the use of this weapon is a real skill. Moll took great delight in trying to kill people at some distance with his sidearm.
On the completion of the crematoriums, Moll was given the command of Crematoria V. The crematoria was tailored for wholesale slaughter. They corralled the people off the railway stock carriages, some coming from the locality in the Poland district of Gliwice, which was a fortunate journey. Some people came as far as the eastern side of Greece, a journey that took weeks. The attrition rates on these carriages were enormous. No food, no water, no sanitary facilities and only enough room to stand or sit.
Staffed by SS officers, it dedicated the heavy work and dealing with the mass of dead to the Sonderkommando, a group of chosen people to manage the exodus of people coming off the trains and all of their luggage. The Sonderkommando wasn’t the respite from a death sentence, in that it postponed your death. Most Sonderkommando had a twelve week shelf life. The SS was aware of the toll it took to exterminate the victims, and on such huge scales, they would recruit continually new members to the Kommando to maintain fresh eyes.
The processing of the work groups and the flick of the finger to the left, the group sent to the gas chambers. Here, the women and children along with the elderly were herded into the delousing chamber, where after the long journey, the victims would have a warm shower after having their heads shaved. This was a rouse, the delousing chamber was in fact a gas chamber that could house upwards of 2000 people in. With the doors locked, SS officers wearing respirators would scale the roof, and drop IG Farben’s Zyklon-B through the gas hatches. Here, the SS along with the Sonderkommando would wait. An hour later, the blowers would vent the chamber, the doors unlocked and the 2000 still warm corpses would have to be moved to the next level through elevators to the crematorium. The evidence of the crimes and a ‘very German’ solution to a problem is well documented with the SS’s succinct and meticulous record keeping.
It was here that Moll excelled. His final executive appointment after many roles was the Kommadoführer, the officer in charge of the Sonderkommando, his sadism and cruelty reaching unimaginable heights.
Trains coming from the East and the West was as much as twenty per day, each filled with up to 3000 people on board. The crematoriums worked throughout the day and night, seven days per week, even Sundays. The amount of people the Sonderkommando had to cope with was extraordinary. Moll, frustrated, had large pits dug out of the back of the crematorium. The indentation in the ground can still be seen at the rear of crematorium V. Wood with gasoline was used to get the fire going, Moll would throw people into the raging fire. Children were not spared, they were especially sought for this insanity. Picking toddlers and babies in front of the siblings, mothers and grandmothers would watch Moll throw these poor children into the flames. The screaming of the children would fill the air, often, the parent of the child would run into the flames after their child.
Alter Fainsilber, a Sonderkommando watched in horror as Moll, incandescent with rage, would prowl the lines of people heading towards the gas chamber, still oblivious to what was about to happen to them, would single out people. It didn’t matter if you were young, old, male, female. There was no rationale for his choosing. If he chose you, you were to die in the flaming pits at the rear of the crematorium. Moll stemmed any struggle from the procession of people heading into the gas chamber, shooting the person.
Moll required a 1000 Sonderkommando, it was bigger than the average German infantry battalion. He would treat them worse than animals. Strafing their ranks by thrashing them, he didn’t care if they died. He replaced who ever died from the next raft of victims on the next train.
Another eye witness to Molls cruelty watched a pregnant woman. She stood at the precipice of the fire pit, pleading with Moll. He shot her once in the stomach, kicking the still alive woman into the flames, laughing as the woman screamed to death.
For Moll, it wasn’t all about the killing. Moll was on the take as was most of the SS. Auschwitz-Birkenau if nothing else was a money making regime, it had become a money laundering service for the nazis.
They only allowed victims that came on the trains to bring one suitcase per person. What does the average person bring when forced to leave one’s home – the family silver, cash, jewellery, air looms and pieces of art were carried? In most situations, the Nazis forced the victims travelling to purchase a ticket to board the train. Failure to comply in the host country would have been a death sentence.
The Sonderkommando sorted through person belongings, cataloguing everything. They searched the dead, gold teeth ripped out of the mouths, body cavities searched.
All the cash was accounted for and fed directly into the German war machine. A lot of the currency was converted to US dollars.
IG Farben used the workforce for their own needs, not paying a penny for back-breaking work. No union protection, food, medical cover. They dealt with any infractions with punishment. The punishment was a cruel pathway to a painful death. Ending up in a punishment block was a fate worse than death. At the end of your time in the block, you were dead, sick with infection or pleading to be killed.
Then the daylight robbery committed by the SS officers. Moll wasn’t alone. Moll would steal gold, diamonds, furs and sometime cash. There is no record of where this went. He would rob people and stick the loot in a briefcase. Dr Mengeles assistant Miklos Nyiszli who peeked inside the briefcase recorded in the incredible book witnessed the contents of the briefcase at one time I was Mengeles Assistant that I purchased visiting the concentration camp a few years ago.
Towards the end of the war, the Nazi party saw the writing on the wall. They lost worried about the reprisals if the war considering the treatment Germany received at the end of the First World War. An order was dispatched to all the KZ’s. All mass graves had to be exhumed, and the corpses had to be fed into the crematoriums. If there was no room, then pyres as tall as fifteen feet were erected in order to cremate the evidence. Burning people was something that Moll excelled in. It was a ghastly site. Dust covered the surrounding area like a grey snow, the stench of death hung heavy in the air for days. Pits that were three years old were uncovered, and the dead removed. Thousands of victims, think about that.
Moll was transferred to Dachau after the SS fled Auschwitz-Birkenau KZ as the advancing Soviets took Poland. Dachau is another one of the KZ camps that has a history filled with horror.
The day before the American army liberated Dachau, Moll arrived with a rag tag trail of prisoners from Auschwitz. To understand the full horror that happened on this death march, I urge you to read Miklos’s book.
Moll was arrested and tried for war crimes at the Dachau Trails and sentenced to death. They convicted the only charge Moll of was forcing prisoners on a death march. Even though a significant number of witnesses had come forward offering testimony, Moll was hung for his crimes on May 28th 1946 at Landsberg am Lech prison maintaining his edict that and order is an order.
It would be impossible to determine a tariff of people killed personally by Moll. If you were to include the gassing of victims to his tariff, it would run into the hundreds of thousands. But it’s reasonably considered that Moll personally, with his own hands, murdered over 7000 people while serving at the Auschwitz-Birkenau KZ. From each train that was processed and the trail leading to the gas chamber, Moll would execute upwards of 100 people at a time.
Moll always stated Befehl ist Befehl – An order is an order; which was the mantra of most SS officers and other ranks that were apprehended after the war? We cannot excuse the behaviour of individuals based on the ideology of a government. The understanding why educated people did the things they did is incomprehensible, although not entirely lost. One commander of the Einsatzgruppen held a double doctorate and a PhD, a doctorate in ethics no less, yet without conscious killed thousands of innocent people.
We see the same embers of hate and division happen in America today, with a president that has successfully divided nation. The preamble of Hitler coming to power and the behaviour of Trump, as a transparency overlay, the similarities are alarmingly identical. The oxygen Trump gives these people fans the flames of hate. We should take heed of the warnings of the past.
Understanding why people were driven to acts of absolute cruelty under this ideology is one thing. To understand Otto Moll’s behaviour is baffling. There’s no evidence to suggest that he was a psychopath. His formative years are not littered with murdering pets, bullying children or being a troublesome child. He left school and trained as a gardener. So in the short years of leaving home and his gardening job, Moll became one of the most notable characters in the story of Auschwitz-Birkenau. A story that, for the prosperity of humanity, should never be forgotten. That is what I hope for, anyway.
I urge you, as a human being, to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau KZ memorial in Poland.
For me, I visited with my wife, Sam, a few years ago. I found the trip life changing, soul searchingly transcendent on a level that connected you to a conscious I had never experienced. The love that I felt there that had paradoxically replaced the horror and misery of the ubiquitous death of the camp taught me lessons on life that I could not have quantified before setting foot in the place.
To end this, Moll received his just deserts. Everyone has a choice, and he made his choice. Whether he was a psychopath is irrelevant. A choice was made, and he aligned himself in the terror that the Nazis prevailed. I sleep soundly at night that the likes of Moll, involved in the death camp hung from a rope, I just hope, for the sake of his victims, it hurt like hell.