Karl Chmielewski, born 16 July 1903 in Frankfurt am Main, the city where also Anne Frank, was born, was a German SS officer and concentration camp commandant. Such was his cruelty that he was dubbed Teufel von Gusen or the Devil of Gusen.
After an unschooled education, Chmielewski becomes at the age of 16 an in-carcassist and carpenter. In the evenings, he follows an education of craft industry. A few years later he becomes the owner of an art workplace.
As a result of the economic crisis of the thirties, he becomes unemployed. Like many other German unemployed, he is employed by the SS. Within the world of Nazi concentration camps, he quickly makes career. After initially serving in the office of Heinrich Himmler he was transferred to the Columbia concentration camp in 1935 before moving to Sachsenhausen concentration camp the following year. He was promoted to Untersturmführer in 1938 and attached to the Schutzhaftlagerführung (the ‘Protective custody’ units of the SS-Totenkopfverbände .
From 1940 to 1942 Chmielewski, by then a Hauptsturmführer , served as Schutzhaftlagerführer at Gusen concentration camp and it was here that he developed a reputation for extreme brutality. He then became commandant of the newly established Herzogenbusch concentration camp or camp Vught, where he further became a by-word for cruelty.
In the period when Chmielewski is a commander, a small hospital is built in the camp, which is usually called Revier. In addition, he is commissioned to build a reinforced prison, the “Bunker” and let him establish a gallows. This is taken immediately for the execution of foreign resistance fighters.
Amongst the claims made against him was that during inspections he ordered the drowning of prisoners in buckets of water. Fellow camp commandant Franz Xaver Ziereis claimed after the war that Chmielewski had used the skin of prisoners to make wallets, book binding etc., something Ziereis claimed was strictly forbidden by the Nazi authorities. Ziereis himself fled with his wife on 3 May 1945. He attempted to hide out in his hunting lodge on the Pyhrn mountain in Upper Austria. He was discovered and arrested on 23 May 1945, by an American army unit. He was shot three times in the stomach while trying to escape and brought to a U.S. military hospital set up in Gusen where he eventually died shortly after interrogation by a former inmate of Mauthausen, Hans Marsalek . Ziereis’s corpse was later hung on the fence of Gusen I by former prisoners of Gusen. Maršálek died on December 9, 2011 in Vienna, age 97.
Chmielewski’s reign at Herzogenbusch also garnered a reputation for corruption and he was eventually tried for personally enriching himself through stealing diamonds from prisoners. He was deprived of his position and rank, being succeeded as commandant by Adam Grunewald in 1943, and ended the war as an inmate at Dachau concentration camp. SS Sturmbannführer Adam Grunewald finished the war with the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf under command of SS Gruppenführer Max Simon and died during a German counteroffensive in the siege of Budapest. Chmielewski was proud of his ‘Philips’ Commando and, therefore, wants to show the workplace to his visitors. He keeps a guestbook of high visitors and even lets to print a calendar used as a “promotional gift”. Having disappeared in Austria, Chmielewski was not tried until 1961 when he was found and received a life sentence of hard labour. The trial pronounced him a sadist who took pleasure in killing prisoners, whom he did not see as human, by scalding them with boiling water. He was ultimately found guilty of causing the deaths of prisoners through his brutality. He was eventually released in March 1979 on mental health grounds and spent his last years in a care institution at Chiemsee. Chmielewski died 1 December 1991 in Bernau am Chiemsee, age 88
His son Walter Chmielewski wrote his war memories in a book
The last camp commander of camp Vught was the 50-year-old First World War veteran SS-Sturmbannführer Hans Hüttig. After camp Vught was closed down, Hüttig served in the 34. SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Division Landstorm Nederland under command of SS Standartenführer Martin Kohlroser in the last months of war. After the war, Hüttig was sentenced to life imprisonment, however, he was released early in 1956. Hüttig died age 85 on 23-02-1980 in Wachenheim. In a the interview he admitted that “I knew very well what I was going to do in the SS”
The last commander of Camp Vught was SS Obersturmführer Albert Gemmeker. Gemmeker, who was born in 1907, died in the 1982 in his beloved Fatherland to which he gave “the best years of his life”.
Gemmeker’s special war tribunal was held in Assen 15 miles north of the place where he served the Nazi cause so well. Even so, while he was in charge of Westerbork, he managed to gain the confidence and even respect from some of his hapless victims. A legend in kind existed regarding his so-called good-natured disposition. Some referred to him as:
- The gentleman/crook. After all, all the dirty work was carried out by his accomplices Pisk and Schlesinger.