Few documents demonstrate the fierce commitment Nazi leaders had to the evil mission of mass murder better than this Nazi Party Membership Book. It belonged to Karl Fritzsch, a former sailor who became a true innovator in the process of the Holocaust.
On the left page of this membership book, one sees the date July 1, 1930. Similar to a birthdate on a passport, this date indicates when Karl Fritzsch became a full-fledged member of the Nazi Party. The fact that this date is well in advance of the Nazi’s success in German elections in 1932 indicates that Fritzsch was truly an early adopter and supporter of the Nazi ideology.
Fritzsch joined the SS and in 1934 he was one of the camp commanders at the Dachau concentration camp, the first one the Nazis established, which originally housed political prisoners. In 1940, he was transferred to Auschwitz, where he served as the first deputy-commander to the Camp Commandant, Rudolf Hoess.
As with his boss, Fritzsch was responsible for selections and mass killings. But Fritzsch’s true contribution to the Auschwitz killing machine came when he considered better methods to kill people more quickly. Auschwitz had been a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners, Soviet POWs, and Jews. Fritzsch learned about a poisonous gas newly designed for mass killing, Zyklon B.
In late August 1941, Fritzsch tried out the effect of Zyklon B on Soviet POWs, whom he locked up in cells in the basement for this experiment. This method quickly proved to have been effective and soon became irreplaceable in mass gassing of hundreds of thousands of victims.
German chemists created Zyklon B by modifying Zyklon A, an insecticide invented by Nobel-Prize winning chemist Fritz Haber. Ironically, though he was a practicing Protestant, Zyklon B’s primary inventor had been born Jewish. If the innovator of Zyklon B represented Fritzsch’s technological dedication to the Holocaust, another incident shows his personal, murderous sadism. Several Auschwitz prisoners were found missing after a roll call on July 29, 1941. The Nazis followed a policy of collective punishment, resulting in a total of ten prisoners being sentenced to death by starvation. The Polish priest Maximilian Kolbe offered himself for punishment in place of one of the ten. Fritzsch agreed to this. After two weeks, only Father Kolbe remained alive. Fritzsch then had him killed by lethal injection. Pope John-Paul II later canonized Father Kolbe.
Fritzsch remained at Auschwitz until January 1942, then he was transferred to the concentration camp Flossenbuerg. In October 1943, he was subjected to an internal investigation for a murder of a non-prisoner. He was transferred to the front lines, where he fought with an SS battalion. His ultimate fate remains unclear. Some sources suggest Fritzsch was killed in battle for Berlin in the spring of 1945. However, other sources claim that the British intelligence service arrested him in Norway after the war but then Fritzsch managed to disappear.