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Erich Koch was born in Elbersfed on the 19 June 1896. After a relatively undistinguished military service during the Great War of 1914 -1918, Koch returned home and became a railway clerk until he was dismissed in 1926 for anti-republican political activity.
Having joined the Nazi party in 1922, he was involved in the revolt against the French occupation in the Ruhr and was imprisoned by the French occupation authorities.
During the years 1922 and 1926 he was one of the Party district leaders in the Ruhr and a supporter of the radical wing of the NSDAP led by Gregor Strasser, who was murdered by the Gestapo on the infamous “Night of the Long Knives,” on the 30 June 1934.
From 1928 Koch was Gauleiter of the Party in East Prussia and from 1930 a member of the Reichstag for East Prussia and appointed a member of the Prussian State Council in July 1933 and was then made Oberprasident of East Prussia in September 1933.
His autocratic rule never allowed the SA or SS to come to the fore, as in other Gaue, but Koch’s support of collectivisation in agriculture made him unpopular with the peasants and he was ruthless in arresting his critics, or expelling them from the party.
During the Second World War Erich Koch proved himself one of Hitler’s cruellest administrators in the conquered eastern territories, his brutal rule, caused the death of untold numbers of innocent men, women and children, who were deported to concentration and labour camps, and the destruction of countless numbers of villages, which were burnt to the ground.
In addition to his stewardship of East Prussia, he was appointed head of the civil administration in Bialystok and from October 1941 to 1944 he was Reichskommissar in the Ukraine which included the control of the Gestapo and the police.
His first official act in the Ukraine was to close local schools, declaring that “Ukraine children need no schools. What they’ll have to learn later will be taught them by their German masters.”
During a speech in Kiev on the 5 March 1943 Koch was explicit about the methods he intended to use to build a slave State in the Ukraine and his complete contempt for Slav “Untermenschen, “(German term for sub-human).
”We are a master race, which must remember that the lowliest German worker is racially and biologically a thousand times more valuable than the population here.”
Thanks to his twisted policy of brutal “Germanisation” and the repression, murder and exploitation of Poles, Ukrainians and Jews, Erich Koch’s empire was soon swarming with partisans.
The destruction of Ukrainian Jews was carried out with harsh brutality, a German engineer Hermann Graebe was an eyewitness to one action in the ghetto of Rowno on the 13 July 1942:
“On the evening of this day, I drove to Rowno and posted myself with Fritz Einsporn in front of the house in the Bahnhofstrasse in which the Jewish workers of my firm slept.
Shortly after 2200 the ghetto was encircled by a large SS detachment and about three times as many members of the Ukrainian militia. Then the electric arc lights which had been erected in and around the ghetto were switched on.
SS and militia squads of four to six men entered or at least tried to enter the houses. Where the doors and windows were closed and the inhabitants did not open at the knocking, the SS man and militia broke the windows, forced the doors with beams and crowbars, and entered the houses.
The people living there were driven on to the street just as they were, regardless of whether they were dressed or in bed. Since the Jews in most cases refused to leave their houses and resisted, the SS and militia applied force. They finally succeeded with strokes of the whip, kicks and blows, and rifle butts, in clearing the houses.
The people were driven out of their houses in such haste that small children in bed had been left behind in several instances. In the streets women cried out for their children and children for their parents. That did not prevent the SS from driving the people along the road at running pace, and hitting them, until they reached a waiting freight train.
Carriage after carriage was filled, and the screaming of women and children and the cracking of whips and rifle shots resounded unceasingly. Since several families or groups had barricaded themselves in especially strong buildings and the doors could not be forced with crowbars or beams, the doors were now blown open with hand grenades.
Since the ghetto was near the railroad tracks in Rowno, the younger people tried to get across the tracks and over a small river to get away from the ghetto area. As this stretch of country was beyond the range of the electric lights it was illuminated by small rockets.
All through the night these beaten, hounded and wounded people moved along the lighted streets. Women carried their dead children in their arms, children pulled and dragged their dead parents by their arms and legs down the road toward the train. Again and again the cries “Open the door! Open the door!” echoed throughout the ghetto. “
After the loss of the Ukraine, Koch returned to Konigsberg, and then after the fall of East Prussia, he disappeared in Germany until he was arrested by British security officers in Hamburg at the end of May 1949.
His extradition was demanded by the Polish and Soviet governments who regarded him as one of the worst war criminals, directly responsible for the extermination of Poles, Soviet partisans and hundreds of thousands of Jews in Bialystok and the Ukraine.
On the 14 January 1950 Erich Koch was delivered by the British to a prison in Warsaw but his trial did not commence for another eight years. On the 19 October 1958 his trial began when he faced charges relating to the extermination of 400,000 Poles, his crimes in the Ukraine were not investigated.
Koch was found guilty of these crimes and was sentenced to death on the 9 March 1959 by the Polish district court in Warsaw, for having planned, prepared and organised mass murder of civilians.
Due to his ill-health his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he died in Barczewo prison on the 12 November 1986.
The Final Solution by G. Reitlinger – Vallentine Mitchell &Co Ltd 1953.
Who’ s Who in Nazi Germany by Robert S Wistrich, published by Routledge, London 1995
The Holocaust by Sir Martin Gilbert, published by Collins London 1986
Holocaust Historical Society
Europe at War by Norman Davies Macmillan, 2006
Copyright: Andrew Symonis and Chris Webb H.E.A.R.T 2008
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