Bach Zelewski, Erich von dem, born Erich Julius Eberhard von Zelewski on 01-03-1899, in Lauenburg, Pomerania, to Kashubian parents, Otto Jan Józefat von Zelewski, a Roman Catholic and his Lutheran wife, Elżbieta Ewelina Szymańska. Erich von Zelewski legally added “von dem Bach” to the family name late in 1933. He went on to have the Polish sounding “Zelewski” officially removed from his name in November 1941. His great-great-great-grandfather was Michał Żelewski (c. 1700-1785), a Kashubian Polish nobleman , who owned the villages of Milwino, Niepoczołowice and Zakrzewo in Pomerania. Von dem Bach’s grandfather was Otto August Ludwik Rudolf von Zelewski, born 1820, Zakrzewo – died 28-06-1878, Zęblewo, according to Roman Catholic Church sources. His father, Otto Jan Józefat von Zelewski, born 19-05-1859, Zęblewo; died 12-04-1911 in Dortmund, married Amalia Maria Eveline Schimanski about 1890. They had three daughters and three sons, including Erich.
Apparently, Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski manipulated his genealogy numerous times in his career, to impress his superiors. Despite his aristocratic genealogy, he seems to have grown up in poverty; his father, Otto, proved unable to establish a career and undertook a range of jobs, including agriculture. At the time of his death, Otto von Zelewski was an insurance clerk. Erich’s uncle, Oskar von Zelewski, a soldier, developed a close relationship with his nephew and encouraged him to also pursue a military career. In November 1914, Erich volunteered for the Prussian army, becoming one of the youngest recruits and serving until the end of the first war. He was wounded twice, and awarded the Iron Cross . Zelewski, like Adolf Hitler , was gassed in 1918, which had a long-term effect on his health. After the war, Zelewski allowed in the new Reichswehr. He fought in the Freikorps against the Polish Silesian Uprisings. In 1924, Zelewski left the army on his own volition, and went back to his farm in Düringshof. Zelewski enrolled with the border guards the same year. On 23-10-1925, he legally changed his surname to von dem Bach-Zelewski. He left the Grenzschutz, Boarder Guards , in 1930, when he joined the Nazi Party, becoming a member of the SS in 1931. Bach-Zelewski was rapidly promoted and, by the end of 1933, had reached the rank of SS Brigadeführer
. He is also known to have quarreled with his staff officer Anton von Hohberg und Buchwald . Von Hohberg was one of the few SS-members, and probably the highest-ranking one, killed in the Röhm-Putsch on 02-07-1938, age 48, ordered by Bach-Zelewski. A source of considerable annoyance for von dem Bach was the fact that all three of his sisters had married Jewish men. In 1946, he claimed under interrogation that this had ruined his reputation in the army, forcing him to leave the Reichswehr. A Nazi Party member of the Reichstag from 1932–44, Bach-Zelewski participated in the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, taking the opportunity to have von Hohberg und Buchwald murdered, age 48 on 02-07-1934. From 1934 on, he served as leader of SS main districts, initially in East Prussia and after 1936 in Silesia. By 1937, Bach-Zelewski had become the Higher SS and Police Leader in Silesia and also served as the Commander of SS main district South East.
Bach-Zelewski did not participate in the invasion of Poland personally, although the units under his command took part in reprisal actions and the shooting of POWs in the course of the September Campaign. Instead, on 07-11-1939, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler offered him the post of Commissioner for the Strengthening of Germandom in Silesia. His duties included mass resettlement and the confiscation of Polish private property. By August 1940, some 18.000–20.000 Poles from Żywiec County were forced to leave their homes in what became known as the Action Saybusch. On 22-06-1941, Bach-Zelewski became the HSSPF, Higher SS and Police Leader , in the region of Silesia. He provided the initial impetus for the building of Auschwitz concentration camp at the Polish artillery barracks in the Zasole suburb of Oświęcim, Auschwitz, due to overcrowding of prisons. The location was scouted by his subordinate Oberführer Arpad Wigand . The first transport arrived at KL Auschwitz on 14-06-1940, and two weeks later Bach-Zelewski personally visited the camp. Oberführer Wigand died age 77 on 26-07-1983 in Mannheim. During Operation Barbarossa, Bach-Zelewski served as the SS and police leader in the territory of Belarus 4, extending all the way to the Urals. He oversaw the activities of the Einsatzgruppe B, led by Arthur Nebe and responsible for the extermination of Jews in Riga and Minsk between July and September 1941. Nebe was executed, age 50 on 21-03-1945, after the failed attempt to kill Adolf Hitler in July 1944 He went back to Berlin in February 1942 for medical treatment. Bach-Zelewski was hospitalized with intestinal ailments, and described as suffering from “hallucinations connected with the shooting of Jews”. He asked Himmler to be reassigned from managing executions to anti-partisan warfare. Bach-Zelewski resumed his post in July. In June 1942, after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague, Hitler wanted Bach-Zelewski to take Heydrich’s place as the leader of the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. When Himmler argued that Bach-Zelewski could not be spared due to the prevailing military situation, Hitler relented and appointed SS Oberstgruppenführer Kurt Daluege
to the position. Daluege was tried for his many war crimes committed in the Protectorate. He was convicted on all charges and hanged in Pankrác prison in Prague on 24-10-1946, age 49. He is buried in an unmarked grave at Prague’s Ďáblice cemetery. In July 1943, Bach-Zelewski became commander of the so-called “Bandenkämpfverbände” “Band-fighting Unit”, responsible for the mass murder of 35.000 civilians in Riga and more than 200.000 in Belarus and eastern Poland. The authorities designated him as the future HSSPF in Moscow; however, the Wehrmacht failed to take the city. Until 1943, Bach-Zelewski remained the HSSPF in command of “anti-partisan” units on the central front, a special command created by Adolf Hitler. Bach-Zelewski was the only HSSPF in the occupied Soviet territories to retain genuine authority over the police after Hans-Adolf Prützmann and Friedrich Jeckeln lost theirs to the civil administration. Prützmann committed suicide in Lunenburg, age 49 on 24-10-1946 and Jeckeln was hanged at Riga on 03-02-1946, age 51.
On 12-07-1943, Bach-Zelewski here with SS Obergruppenführer Arthur Greise on the left and SS Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Karl Heinrich Koppe on the right side, received command of all anti-partisan actions in Belgium, Belarus, France, the General Government, the Netherlands, Norway, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, and parts of the Bezirk Bialystok. In practice, his activities remained confined to Belarus and contiguous parts of Russia. Bach-Zelewski’s tactics produced a high civilian death toll and relatively minor military gains. In fighting irregular battles with the partisans, his units slaughtered civilians in order to inflate the figures of “enemy losses”; indeed, far more fatalities were usually reported than weapons captured. The German troops used to encircle areas controlled by the partisans in a manner both time-consuming and conspicuous, allowing the real enemy to slip away. After an operation was completed, no permanent military presence was maintained, which gave the partisans a chance to resume where they had left off. Even when successful in pacification actions, Bach-Zelewski usually accomplished little more than to force the real enemy to relocate and multiply their numbers with civilians enraged by the massacres. In early 1944, he took part in front-line fighting in the Kovel area, but in March he had to return to Germany for medical treatment. Himmler assumed all his posts. On 02-08-1944, Bach-Zelewski took command of all German troops fighting Bor Komorowski‘s Home Army that had staged the Warsaw Uprising.
The German forces were made up of 17.000 men arranged in two battle groups: under Hanns von Rohr, and under Heinrich Reinefarth the latter included the Dirlewanger Brigade of convicted criminals. Reinefarth died on 07-05-1979, age 75 in his manor house at Sylt. This command group was named after Bach-Zelewski, as Korpsgruppe Bach. Units under his command killed approximately 200.000 civilians (more than 65.000 in mass executions) and an unknown number of POWs. After more than two months of heavy fighting and the total destruction of Warsaw, Bach-Zelewski managed to take control of the city, committing atrocities in the process, notably the Wola massacre. For his exploits in Warsaw, Bach-Zelewski was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross by the Nazi regime on 30-09-1944. Between 26-01-1945 and 10-02-1945, Bach-Zelewski commanded X SS Armeekorps, one of the “paper-corps”, in Germany, but this unit was annihilated after less than two weeks. Bach-Zelewski went into hiding and tried to leave the country. However, US military police arrested him on 01-08-1945. In exchange for his testimony against his former superiors at the Nuremberg Trials Bach-Zelewski never faced trial for any war crimes. Similarly, he never faced extradition to Poland or to the USSR. He left prison in 1949. In 1951, Bach-Zelewski claimed that he had helped Hermann Goering commit suicide in 1946. As evidence, he produced cyanide capsules to the authorities with serial numbers not far removed from the one used by Goering. The authorities never verified Bach-Zelewski’s claim, however, and did not charge him with aiding Goering’s death. Most modern historians dismiss Bach-Zelewski’s claim and agree that a U.S. Army contact within the Palace of Justice’s prison at Nuremberg most likely aided Goering in his suicide. In 1951, Bach-Zelewski was sentenced to 10 years in a labor camp for the murder of political opponents in the early 1930s; however, he did not serve prison time until 1958, when he was convicted of killing Anton von Hohberg und Buchwald, a Sturmabteilung officer, during the Night of the Long Knives, and was sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment. In 1961, Bach-Zelewski was sentenced to an additional 10 years in home custody for the murder of 10 German Communists in the early 1930s. At that 1961 trial he declared: “I am still an absolute Hitler man.” None of the sentences referred to his role in Poland, in the East, or his participation in the Holocaust, although he openly denounced himself as a mass murderer.
Death and burial ground of Bach Zelewski, Erich von dem.
Bach-Zelewski died still imprisoned in a Munich, Harlaching hospital on 08-03-1972, age 73 and is buried with his wife Ruth, born Apfeld, who died age 66 on 13-09-1967, on the cemetery in Roth.