Furtively presented in stray paragraphs of the world press during October and November 1958, an assiduous student might find traces of a weird, sacrificial, and Kafka-like Polish trial. The defendant was a solitary German war criminal who had been immured in Warsaw’s Mokotow prison for nearly nine years, and whose crimes were at least fourteen years old. A querulous invalid of sixty-two, wild-eyed and haggard, the subject bore little resemblance to the large, pink, boyish, and truculent face of the Erich Koch who had been Hitler’s tyrant for the Ukraine. Only the abundant swept-back hair and the Hitler mustache, now running to grass, conveyed something of that former hero.
Sixteen years ago, when the Germans still held most of the Soviet Ukraine, Koch was a name to frighten children with. It meant the most outright die-hard Nazi, a man who could hardly talk about any subject at all without mentioning shooting, a man for whom there were only conquerors and sub-humans, a man whose utterances became so notorious that even Stalin noticed them. Koch, Stalin is alleged to have said, reminded the Soviet citizen every day of what he had to fight against.1
Ironically, however, the Russian authorities have never demanded Koch’s body—the same Russians who once tried a German SS general in the morning and hanged him in the afternoon. At the beginning of 1950, when the British occupation authorities reluctantly extradited Koch to Poland, the Russians staked no claim for him. A state trial of the former tyrant to take place in Kiev or in Rowné, his former capital, would have been only fitting. To the Poles of Warsaw Koch was, it is true, a war criminal of some consequence, who had misgoverned the annexed Kommissariat of Bialystok, but to the Ukrainians Koch was much more than that. He was the epitome of two years of repression, resistance, and anarchy, unequaled even in Ukrainian history. In a dozen Ukrainian cities the trial of Erich Koch would have been a joyous occasion, but that begged the question. Did those in power want any joyous occasion for the Ukraine? Stalin was said never to have forgotten the fact that his terrible campaign to collectivize Ukrainian agriculture in the early 30’s had ended in some degree of compromise. And, as for Stalin’s present successor, the former secretary of the Communist party for the Ukraine, Nikita Khrushchev, his attitude toward the subjects and victims of Erich Koch was perhaps no different. In 1944, shortly after the complete reconquest of the Ukraine from the Germans, Khrushchev is reported to have used these words:2
If one asks the “Ukrainian German” nationalists how many German occupiers they destroyed, how many German formations they wiped out, how many bridges they blew up in order to prevent the aggressors from transporting arms for subjugating and annihilating the Ukrainian people, they can make no reply.
One may hazard a guess that in 1949, when Erich Koch was discovered to be among the living, the memory of the Ukrainian nationalists who had fought Germans and Russians alike was. too recent for a Ukrainian state trial to be desirable. So the Russians made no efforts to obtain Koch’s extradition. That, however, does not explain the reluctance of the Poles to try their man. Koch based his defense in October 1958 on a document which he had prepared eight years ago and which he called “Political Sketch of My Struggle.” “It was made to sound,” wrote the correspondent of the London Times, “like the personal file of a good Communist party member.” Rumors of these literary labors of Erich Koch had reached the German press in 1950. It was even said that the Polish government had released him in order to write them. If that was not precisely true, why was Koch enabled to delay his trial so long? Even the Polish indictment, occupying several volumes of typescript, had been prepared as far back as 1955. Perhaps we shall never know the answer.
Erich Koch was born in the Ruhr town of Wuppertal in 1896, the son of a worker in a synthetic coffee factory. Koch told the Warsaw court that he had been converted to revolutionary socialism at the age of twenty, when he shared a dug-out in the trenches of the Russian front with a soldier called Schmitz. He did not add that he had after the armistice joined the ultranationalist, anti-Communist Freikorps Rossbach and that this had decided his political future far more than “Father Schmitz.” Koch served in the Freikorps with a fellow townsman, the Nazi proto-martyr Leo Schlageter. Together they took part in the storming of the Annaburg Fortress, which was occupied by Polish infiltrators in 1921. Together they took part in sabotaging the French military occupants of the Ruhr in 1923, and Koch was one of the pallbearers at Schlageter’s great public funeral after he had been shot by a French firing squad.3
Already after his return from Silesia in 1921 Koch had joined the National Socialist party—as party member number 90, he liked later to recall. He was not yet a close associate of Hitler, whom he only got to know well in 1926 when his anti-Weimar Republic activities lost him his livelihood as a booking clerk on the State Railways. To Koch, disillusioned with the mere unreasoning chauvinism of the Freikorps movement, Hitler could still offer the bait of a nationalism that was at the same time socialist. While Hitler had been in Landsberg prison, the socialist Strasser brothers had ousted the Russian-born conservative mystic, Alfred Rosenberg, from the leadership of the party. Koch’s passionate devotion to the Strassers lay behind his remorseless antagonism to Rosenberg in later years, when he governed the Ukraine for Rosenberg’s Ministry. Of that devotion the following well-attested incident provides a good example.
In 1925 the Nazi party was split by the Strassers’ demand that the German princes should be expropriated. Hitler made an illogical stand on behalf of the princes, partly because he was keeping himself going on an allowance of 1,500 marks a month from a divorced duchess. So illogical was it that Hitler found only two supporters, his tame economist, Gottfried Feder, and the future founder of the “Labor Front,” Robert Ley. At a meeting in Hanover in November 1925, Goebbels jumped to his feet and actually demanded the expulsion of the “petty bourgeois,” Adolf Hitler, from the party. But in the following February Hitler contrived to manipulate a party meeting at Bamburg, where the Strasser influence was outvoted. Goebbels recanted publicly and the expropriation of the princes was removed from the party program. But Erich Koch, who had attended both meetings, was unassuaged. He wrote a newspaper article denouncing Goebbels as a traitor to the National Socialist revolution, a man who had played the part of Talleyrand. Till the end of his days Goebbels remained an enemy of Erich Koch.4
Hitler, however, had not lost his use for radicals. The days of his obsession for power through Legalitaet, of his break with the Strasser brothers, were far ahead. In 1928 he made Koch Gauleiter, or party leader, for the province of East Prussia. As Hitler explained fourteen years later, the great East Prussian landlords had joined the party in the belief that they could manipulate it, so long as it was represented by some nincompoop. “When I put Koch on their backs as Gauleiter, they soon realized that this was a different proposition and then they immediately joined the camp of the opponents of the National Socialist party.”5
East Prussia, separated from Germany by a Polish corridor to the sea, was the key post in the campaign against the Diktat of Versailles, and Hitler’s choice of a hero of the Annaburg fight was not made casually. Koch had no love of Poland, but he was far from sharing Hitler’s contempt of the Slavs, which was an aftermath of a guttersnipe life in the Vienna of the declining Hapsburg monarchy. Koenigsberg, the seat of Koch’s power, was not a mixed city, like Danzig or Posen, but an almost purely German city with a tradition of tolerance. In the days of Immanuel Kant, Koenigsberg’s provincial university culture had been shared by Poles and Russians. As governor of the Ukraine, Koch was to fill the best posts in his administration with Koenigsberg tradesmen and borough councillors, grotesque Stendhalian figures who had acquired importance as courtiers of a country-town big shot. Like Koch himself, they were expected to talk about the master race and the primitive peoples, but this was far from being the language of their childhood. For Koch, the guardian of Nazi doctrine on its extreme eastern borders, remained an ardent admirer of the Soviet Union long after Hitler’s seizure of power, when he became a monarch without a parliament in East Prussia.
In 1934 a Breslau firm brought out in Koch’s name a book called Aufbau im Osten. It was a typical Nazi production, printed in a Gothic black-letter type of exceptionally Teutonic aspect and consisting mainly of excerpts from Koch’s speeches in praise of the “Fuehrer” and all his works. But among the honey there is a small essay, ‘The Orient of German Youth.” A literary ghost, one Weber-Krohse, was said to have written it, but the views purported to be Koch’s and they were remarkable. The youth of Germany were bidden to look away from the decadent capitalist West and to join their fortunes with the virile classless youth of Russia. They were to share the great land spaces of the East, not (as Koch was to advocate after 1941) in the role of armed settlers chasing Kaffirs or Red Indians, but in the role of comrades and brother pioneers.
It was a dangerous assertion of a view which was the very reverse of the principles of Mein Kampf, and which savored of “Strasserism.” Within a few weeks of the publication of Aufbau im Osten, Gregor Strasser and many other Nazi old-believers were murdered in the purge of Roehm and his followers. Koch was spared, perhaps because in the previous December he had endeared himself to Roehm’s opponents by an officious piece of tale-telling on behalf of Himmler’s criminal investigator.6 In the “political sketch” read out at Koch’s trial, there is a singularly different story. Shortly before the murders, Koch had had a secret meeting with Gregor Strasser at Merano, where he had tried to persuade him to form an opposition party against Hitler. Koch was, therefore, high on the list of victims. He was fortunately hidden in Koenigsberg by Ludwig Mueller, Hitler’s Evangelical Reich Bishop. In the meantime, Goering dismissed Koch from his office of Oberpraesident in East Prussia and raided his home and office. Before Koch was reinstated by Hitler personally, there was an attempt to murder him in a Berlin restaurant.
That Koch had feared for his life at this time can be confirmed from another source. In a vivid conversation in the compartment of a Mitropa sleeping car in April 1936, Koch told Hans Gisevius, a former member of the Gestapo, that the purge of June 1934 was not the end of the killings. “They would be coming for him any day now, he said. And by ‘they’ he did not mean only Himmler’s henchmen; he was also thinking of the Fuehrer.”7
Yet Koch’s pro-Soviet sympathies did not end with Aufbau im Osten. He maintained a friendship with Theodor Oberlaender, a Koenigsberg professor of economics who re-Cruited a battalion of Soviet deserters during the war and was dismissed from the army for an attack on German methods in Russia. He is today the Minister for Refugee Affairs in Bonn. Barely two months after the Roehm killings, in August 1934, Oberlaender undertook a mission to Moscow with the blessing of Erich Koch. He had an interview with Radek and Bukharin, at which both sides deplored the hostile drift of their respective governments, and Karl Radek (a Galician Jew and once a member of the German Social-Democratic party) made the lapidary remark, “There are some fine lads in the SA and SS.”8
As governor of the Ukraine in 1941, one of Koch’s first acts was to rid himself of the embarrassing presence of Oberlaender. Hitler had not endorsed Koch’s appointment in any spirit of forgetfulness, and no one was better aware of it than Koch. In 1939 he had admitted to Carl Burckhardt, the League of Nations commissioner in Danzig, that he welcomed the Moscow pact as one who had been almost a Communist.9 But Hitler, who knew of certain softnesses in the old party fighter, had found the post for him where these softnesses were least likely to show. A poacher, as he used to remark, made the best gamekeeper. Once at least Hitler made a sly dig at Koch’s past. On September 7, 1942, when the position of a German governor for the Ukraine seemed assured for life, Hitler declaimed by the log fire at his headquarters in the presence of some honored guests who included Erich Koch. Observing that the youth of ancient Greece went into battle grouped round their teachers, Hitler remarked: “I should very much like to see our youth led into battle by their teachers.” At this point his eye must surely have fallen on the putative author of “The Orient of German Youth.”10
This was a side of Koch’s nature which could not fail to commend itself to those who came to be known as the Resistance Circle. Ulrich von Hassell noted sadly, in February 1942, that Koch had joined the ranks of the extremists who talked of making the Ukraine a land of the Goths. Yet he had once been thought “half-way decent.”11 Another member of the conservative group, Hjalmar Schacht, had some clashes with the stormy Gauleiter of East Prussia in the days when he was Minister for Economic Affairs, yet he remained friendly with him. There was an odd occasion at the Ostmesse celebrations at Koenigsberg in August 1935, when Himmler’s local police chief, Obergruppenfuehrer Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, clanked noisily out of the hall while Schacht was speaking. At the Nuremberg trial, Bach-Zelewski explained that it was because he could not tolerate Schacht’s praise of Erich Koch, whose corrupt practices he had investigated and exposed. But Schacht says that Himmler’s man walked out on account of his criticism of the persecution of the Jews. Koch, who was sitting next to Schacht, patted him on the shoulder and gave him the admonition once conveyed to Martin Luther: “Little monk, little monk, you are traveling a hard road.”12
If these two versions of the same incident depict two totally different Erich Kochs, it can only be said that both existed. Whether Koch was utterly corrupt remains an open question. The former railway clerk from Wuppertal liked to think of himself as a financier, an economist, and an agricultural expert. It is to be noticed that Rosenberg, who had more cause to hate Koch than anyone, did not accuse him of personal peculation even in his death-cell memoirs. Rosenberg’s charge against Koch is rather one of boasting of things that he had not performed: of negotiating a trade agreement with Brazil, which was in reality the work of a member of Rosenberg’s own Foreign Political Office; of pretending to be the first Gauleiter to abolish unemployment; of fathering another man’s book; of creating a plan for rearing pigs, which Koch accused Goering’s staff of sabotaging when he ruled the Ukraine—and so on.13
Gisevius makes these qualities of Erich Koch much more intelligible and picturesque. According to him, Koch’s projects commended themselves to Hitler and Goering because he did not bore them with statistics, but made them sound novel and impressive. Yet Koch himself was swindled by a fake alchemist and by some Rumanian Jewish grain dealers.14 If half the ludicrous projects which Gisevius ascribes to Koch were ever seriously entertained, then one is forced to conclude that the Nazi leaders were not just brutally savage, but childishly silly as well. Neither conclusion, however, is wholly true. That so much confidence was placed in the half-fanatical, half-leg-pulling Koch sprang from the nature of Hitler’s system of rule. Hitler could not replace the old salaried officials and he dared not dispense with the generals and admirals, but he dearly loved an amateur or two from the ranks of “the revolution,” a Gottfried Feder or an Erich Koch, to work alongside the professionals and to give him contradictory advice. Eventually one of these amateurs, Martin Bormann, who possessed no talent beyond recording everything that was said, became the master of Hitler’s soul.
The eighteen-day war in Poland in September 1939 increased Koch’s standing rather than his territory. It left East Prussia no longer severed from the Reich, and among the red-gabled roofs of Koenigsberg the Gauleiter could breathe more freely. Koch was not yet an Oriental satrap. Much of the Polish Corridor had gone to the Gau of Danzig-West Prussia. The rest of Poland was partitioned and allotted half to the German Gaus of Silesia and Warthegau, and half to a German “Government-General,” a sort of colonial administration. Koch gained only Memel from Lithuania and the districts of Mlawa and Ciechanow from Poland. Nevertheless there were now a fair number of Poles among his subjects, and Koch was consequently made local deputy to Himmler as chief of the Office for Strengthening German Nationhood (RKFDV). This meant that he was responsible for Germanizing suitable Poles. The unsuitable Poles he had to remove, together with the Jews, to Hans Frank’s Government-General, a leper colony and universal dustbin. Koch resented this task, not from aversion to pushing people about, but from jealousy and contempt for Himmler. He had grown in stature since 1936, and the fear of another purge of the Old Guard no longer prevented him from opposing Himmler. In the first place Koch succeeded in getting the resettlement job out of the hands of his old enemy, von dem Bach-Zelewski; and in the second place he neglected to carry it through, even threatening to boot Professor Meyer-Hetling, Himmler’s pet Akademiker, out of East Prussia. For more than two years Koch delayed the preparation of the Volksliste, Himmler’s elaborate categories for the subjects of annexed territory. Koch would neither decide who were the Poles who had to go, nor would he find room for the Germans from Lithuania who had been expelled under the Moscow protocols. Himmler wanted to settle some of them in the Ciechanow district, which Koch, however, reserved for one of his pre-war projects, the “Koch foundation” for East Prussian land settlement.15 The squabble with Himmler’s resettlement officials went on till long after Koch had added the Ukraine to his empire. In the Ukraine Koch used the same tactics, neglecting to provide for the native-born Volksdeutsche, simply because Himmler was in charge of the arrangements.
When on June 22, 1941, Hitler attacked Russia, the memory of Koch’s “Orient of German Youth” was not so strong as the general impression that Koch had made himself a little monarch, who would stand no interference from anyone. It was because Koch was an “absolutely ruthless person” that Alfred Rosenberg, the future Minister for the Eastern Territories, recommended him to Hitler as a possible Reichskommissar for Great Russia, the kernel land of Muscovy, which, as Rosenberg explained to his staff two days before the invasion, would have to be moved back toward the Urals, “a task requiring the strongest personalities.”16
Rosenberg, the author of The Myth of the Twentieth Century, may have reckoned that Moscow was so far from Berlin that Koch would be out of the way of doing harm or simply that the Wehrmacht would not reach Moscow. But on July 16, on Hitler’s special train at Angerburg, Rosenberg was horrified to find Goering ganging heavily for Koch’s appointment as Reichskommissar for the Ukraine in place of his own nominee, Fritz Sauckel, the Gauleiter of Thuringia. Rosenberg protested, but all had been pre-arranged between Hitler and Goering. Before the conference ended, Hitler read out his list of civil governors for Russia, and in it Koch appeared as governor of the Ukraine.17
For Rosenberg this was the destruction of a dream. In 1923 his newspaper, Der Voelkische Beobachter, had been financed by the Hetman Skoropadsky, who in 1918 had been briefly and ineffectively backed by Austro-German arms as the president of an independent Ukraine. From Skoropadsky and other counter-revolutionaries, Rosenberg had acquired the ideological blank cartridges of the defeated White armies: passionate anti-Semitism and a terror of Freemasonry and international finance. By June 1941, however, Rosenberg’s Ukrainian patriots had provided him with something more up-to-date: the belief that only a revived Ukrainian nation could prevent the rebirth of the Soviet multi-nation state, the hothouse of world revolution. Soon the Germans would be in Kiev and Kharkov, as they had been in 1918. The Ukrainian language must therefore be revived as a medium of education and a regional culture must be discovered at all costs.
To Koch this was plain nonsense. If he needed Russian political leaders, he preferred them to be Bolsheviks, while Ukrainian collaboration was the one subject of all subjects on which he could not afford to misinterpret Hitler. Ribbentrop, Rosenberg, and Canaris wanted a Ukrainian alliance; the High Command wanted at least their friendship; but Hitler, unaware how far pro-German collaboration had already gone, believed the Ukrainians to be too treacherous and too divided among themselves to deserve a minute’s encouragement. In 1918 the Ukrainians had failed to support the Austro-German forces against the Bolsheviks. Their unity had dissolved, even before the Germans had capitulated in the West, and they had killed a German field marshal; that was enough for Hitler.
To Koch the course of action was plain. He could rid himself of the interference of Rosenberg, and perhaps even of Himmler and Goering, if he supported Hitler against all dissident voices. He would forget his old political sympathies in order to reign like a satrap. It was easy, fatally easy. With him were the old party fighters, the most intransigent Bonzes and Gauleiters, who had been brought up for the past twenty years and more on the doctrine that the Germans were a master race, destined to rule the East. What Koch failed to reckon with—what no opportunist as blatant as himself could have imagined—was the chance that Hitler might fail to win the expected three-months blitzkrieg; that Hitler himself might be forced to make concessions; and that the conception of the subhuman Slav, fit only for subjection or slavery, might be abandoned. So Koch remained a professional blood-drinker long after the fashion had ceased. But certain illusions about him must be dispelled. He was never truly the tyrant of the Ukraine. At best, and that only between September 1942 and February 1943, Koch’s territory embraced half the former Soviet Ukrainian Republic, a dominion over some seventeen million people. The Wehrmacht controlled the rest.18 Moreover, Koch contrived to rule at the same time as Gauleiter of East Prussia, to which Bialystok was added in July 1941. He spent more time in Koenigsberg and Berlin than in Rowné, his Ukrainian capital. From his assumption of office on August 28, 1941, till the loss of Rowné in February 1944, it is unlikely that Koch spent altogether more than six months in the Ukraine.
Then again, German government in the Ukraine was not entirely the embodiment of the views expressed by Koch. Of his six Generalkommissars, two criticized him openly and favored a more liberal policy: Leyser at Zhitomir and Frauenfeld at Melitopol. Furthermore large areas never came under German rule at all, owing to the lack of protection troops. After the first winter of the campaign almost the whole northern fringe of the Ukraine, the belt of scrubland, swamp, and heath which separates the steppes from the forests of White Russia and Great Russia, stayed in the hands of Red Army partisans. In the early summer of 1943 a Russian partisan force under Major-General Sidor Kovpak raided through the outer rim of the Reichskommissariat and penetrated 700 miles to the Carpathians, one of the most astonishing and least publicized feats of Allied soldiers in the entire war. In Volhynia, the westernmost Kommissariat, there was also an area which was almost continuously occupied by nationalist partisans, fighting against both sides.
With so many reservations, it is hard to say whether Koch governed the Ukraine. Even his capital, Rowné, had belonged to Poland till September 1939, and was partly inhabited by Poles. Koch would have liked a capital at Kiev, but dropped the matter when Hitler ruled that this would encourage the idea of a historic Ukrainian state.19 It must, however, be conceded that while Koch was Reichskommissar the Ukrainians suffered the bitterest repression in the whole of their history, a history which included Stalin’s collectivization campaign. The key to this repression was the removal of over two million Ukrainians as slave workers to Germany and the removal of five and a half million tons of wheat. Yet even in these matters Koch was only an executive officer for Sauckel, the plenipotentiary for labor recruitment, and for Goering, the head of the “Four Year Plan” administration.
In putting his staff almost entirely at the disposal of these organizations, the truculent Gauleiter of East Prussia acted with surprising meekness, in fact no differently from the military government officers in the Wehrmacht’s part of the Ukraine. The only difference was that Koch defended his action with vulgar and scandalous speeches, while the soldiers pretended they only did such things under protest. On one occasion Rosenberg wrote to Hitler that Koch should not compare himself with the British in India, since the British kept silent about their harshness and only boasted of the blessings they conferred on the Indians. Rosenberg had missed the point: Koch was compelled to boast about excesses in the Ukraine in order that Hitler might give him the sole credit for them.20
Apart from the exactions in men and wheat, which were decided over his head, Koch worked hard on his own to restrict the concessions which Rosenberg and even Hitler were prepared to grant the Ukraine. He opposed, in some cases effectively, the partial de-collectivization decree of the Rosenberg ministry, which Hitler finally sanctioned in February 1942. As to the total restoration of private land-ownership which Rosenberg decreed in June 1943, Koch had hardly any need to resist, for the Red Army gave the Germans no time to carry it out. In these matters, contempt for Rosenberg went hand in hand with Koch’s old admiration for the Soviet system. Indirectly, the same held true for Koch’s opposition to Rosenberg’s attempts to reopen the universities and technical high schools. Koch would permit nothing beyond the elementary stage. In June 1943, he wrote to Hitler that, since he had ‘lost half a million Jews” in the Ukraine, one could not even get a pair of boots mended. “Which is more important? That I train Ukrainians to make boots or that I send them to high school so that they can build up the Ukrainian state?”21 The point in Koch’s complaint was that Rosenberg had not ceased to regard Ukrainian higher education as a means for creating a powerful anti-Soviet nationality. But in Rosenberg’s theory Koch saw only a revival of the White Armies of Denikin and Wrangel, with all their bankrupt philosophy, including the lunatic “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” which Rosenberg had once solemnly printed.
Had Moscow been occupied by Hitler in 1941 and had Koch been appointed Reichskommissar of Great Russia, as Rosenberg had once proposed, I suspect that Koch would have fought all comers to perpetuate the Soviet system. Unlike Hitler, when he spoke of subhumans Koch meant Ukrainians and not Russians. Where he had to employ large numbers of native local government officials, as for instance in the city administration of Kiev, he preferred to employ Russians. But in spite of all Koch’s bloodcurdling talk, the German administration could not dispense with the Ukrainian nationalists. Compared with the wholesale slaughter of suspected White Russian partisans, the racial murder of the Jews, and the callous “loss” of two million prisoners of war, the Germans treated the armed Ukrainian bands with uncustomary restraint. In September 1941, when Koch took over the first three Generalkommissariats, it was already too late to extinguish movements which German military government staffs had encouraged. Political involvements remained to the end, and the current picture of a Ukraine groaning under a German administration, down to the lowest levels, is nowhere near the complicated reality.
Before the invasion of Poland, the Abwehr (German Intelligence Corps) had sought the collaboration of a highly esteemed leader of the Ukrainian political groups in Galicia, then under Polish rule. But, realizing that a less academic figure than that of Andrei Melnyk would be needed, the Abwehr released a certain Captain Stepan Bandera from a Warsaw prison. Soon the moderates under Melnyk and the militants under Bandera split and became the dissident Ukrainian parties, OUN-M and OUN-B, the latter being far less inclined to cooperate with the Germans. The cost of a couple of Ukrainian sabotage battalions for the Abwehr was therefore very high, nothing less than an out-and-out declaration of Ukrainian independence in Lvov.
Somewhat sheepishly the security police of the SS intervened and abolished the “Ukrainian State.” Bandera and other OUN-B leaders were interned in concentration camps, but in the meantime considerable numbers from both OUN groups penetrated the Soviet Ukraine and were given responsible posts by the German military rear-area commanders. By July 16, 1941, Hitler had decided that Galicia was a political hotbed which must be kept rigorously separated from the great bulk of Ukrainians living in former Soviet territory. Lvov was therefore added to the Government-General of Hans Frank. This, however, was no simplification of the problem, because Frank favored the Ukrainians against their enemies, the Poles, thereby enabling both OUN groups to retain a base of operations against Koch’s Reichskommissariat. At the beginning of 1942, when Kiev was handed over by the Wehrmacht to Erich Koch, the city swarmed with these infiltrators. In February the first Ukrainian mayor of Kiev was executed by the Generalkommissar.22 Nevertheless Kiev and even cities further east were filled with OUN agents from Galicia right up until the German evacuation.
Freedom for political activities in the big Ukrainian cities was an unlooked-for result of the peculiar German order of priorities. Wheat, grown in the Ukraine, was acquired by German agencies primarily to feed the army. After this, the export quotas for Germany had to be satisfied. The Ukrainian cities were not in the picture, because, under the terms of Goering’s notorious “Green Folder,” non-food-producing populations were to be ignored. The Soviet distribution system was scrapped, and the cities were left to get along as best they could on the black market. Their internal affairs were of so little consequence that they could run an unofficial and parallel administration to deal with the illicit feeding system without much intervention from the Germans. Believing that his standing with Hitler depended solely on his deliveries of food and slaves, Koch ignored the dangers of this situation. Thus, at a critical moment in his fortunes, he presented Goebbels, as Gauleiter for Berlin, with a trainload of Ukrainian butter. During the Stalingrad crisis, when the Wehrmacht commandeered all the trains, he pressed loads of food on the soldiers going home on leave.23 Such small gestures concealed the real truth, namely that Koch had lost his bristling independence. He had become the underling of Goering and Sauckel.
In one respect alone Koch retained his self-assertiveness, and that was in his relations with Rosenberg. The Eastern Ministry sent innumerable directions from Berlin through a “Political Department” which bristled with experts. Koch had decided to ignore them even before he had been appointed. He would be a real Reichskommissar, serving immediately under Hitler, like Frank in Poland, Terboven in Norway, and Seyss-Inquart in Holland. On August 25, 1941, the day of his appointment, Koch left the doors of the Ministry with this parting shot: “I want only one advance payment. That advance will be returned to this office in a year’s time and then we shall be quits for ever.” It was the first shot in a battle of accusations and protests which Koch had the poor satisfaction of winning only when his kingdom was slipping back into the hands of the Red Army.24
The combatants offered a colorful contrast. Rosenberg, a Baltic German, was scared of violence, a bohemian, an artist, a peddler of ideas with enough talent to cover a peanut. Koch was the child of an industrial town, remote from feudalism or snobbery, cunning, bumptious, worshiping toughness and realism, an early Arnold Bennett character in a vulgar tie. At first the honors were with Rosenberg. On December 19, 1941, Hitler promised him not to receive Koch except in his presence, a promise he failed to keep. Lammers, the Chancellery chief, was instructed to tell Koch that his claim to act under Hitler’s direct orders was untenable. Koch thereupon descended on the Ukraine, which he had avoided throughout the winter, and enlivened the months of March and April 1942 with addresses to his staff, instructing them how to treat a “nigger people.” Rosenberg sent his censures in writing. In May 1942, when he next had an interview with Hitler, he was too scared to bring the matter up, but sent a circular to Koch’s subordinates, criticizing the tone of Koch’s instructions. Rosenberg warned them in particular against the use of corporal punishment.25 Koch complained to Hitler that this circular had made his position intolerable.
The flood of memoranda and counter-memoranda which followed left Hitler unmoved, and possibly he would not have intervened but for the interference of Martin Bormann, who came into the tearoom at Hitler’s headquarters at Vinnitsa on the night of July 22, 1942, after a long drive in the Ukrainian countryside. Hitler was goaded by Bormann’s expatiation on the fruitfulness of Ukrainian families. He embarked on a dissertation on the future of the Ukraine, picturing the inhabitants huddled into kraals outside the handsome new German towns, deprived of education or health services (beyond the pretty notion that the Jews might be encouraged to sell them contraceptives). For that sort of thing no centralization was needed, no decisions at ministry level. It would be sufficient if minor German officials conveyed their orders to the Ukrainian headmen, provided that no Ukrainian civil service was thereby created.26
Not only did Bormann have the precious words recorded, but he worked the whole thing up into a “Fuehrer directive” which was placed in Rosenberg’s hands next day under the title, “Eight Principles for the Eastern Territories.” Rosenberg was petrified with fear that Hitler was going to confirm the eight principles in the form of a decree, but, being more Russian than German, he had the wisdom not to answer. Somewhat surprisingly the next communication from Fuehrer headquarters was a brief from Hitler, appointing Rosenberg sole delegate in matters of policy in the former Soviet Union. So Rosenberg had now to write a letter of gratitude and what else could he do but praise Bormann’s eight principles?27 To his protesting staff this seemed a complete renunciation of all the pious homilies Rosenberg had dispatched to Koch, but their fears were groundless. Rosenberg made no changes of policy and even permitted a ghostly health service to continue its functions in the Ukraine. Moreover, armed with the new brief from Hitler, he issued another circular on August 21, forbidding Koch’s officials to have any direct communication with Hitler’s headquarters.
For Koch, Bormann’s heavy guns had misfired, while on August 6 he had the further mortification of a public snub from his patron, Goering. “Tour miserable half million workers! How many has Sauckel brought? Nearly two millions. Where did he get the others?”28 Koch was under fire from both sides, but he pursued his course. On October 28, 1942, he decreed the closing of the Ukrainian technical high schools. Since Koch cited the terms of a “Fuehrer order,” applicable to Germany, Rosenberg could not challenge him outright, but he sent a moral homily to which Koch reacted quicker than usual, since he was no further away than the Adlon Bar in Berlin. On December 15, he abused Rosenberg to his face in his own office. He also threatened to smash the nose of the chief of Rosenberg’s cultural section, using an old street-fighter’s weapon, a heavily jeweled ring.29
Henceforward Koch forbade his officials to visit the Ministry and he banned Ministry officials from entry into his Reichskommissariat. On February 23, 1943, Rosenberg issued a decree reopening the technical schools. Koch intercepted it, altered it, and instructed his staff to get themselves rubber stamps with the words “inessential to the war effort” for dealing with further Ministry instructions.30 After calling in another Rosenberg directive, which urged caution in press-ganging Ukrainian labor, Koch appealed to Hitler on March 16 in a memorandum which occupied fifty-two foolscap pages of typescript.31 There now ensued a tremendous battle of words, both sides memorializing every item in the dispute since the beginning. For good measure Rosenberg added an accusation, which he was not successful in sustaining, that Koch had massacred the inhabitants of a huge forest domain near Rowné in order that his guests might hunt.
It was not till May 19, 1943, that Hitler consented to receive Rosenberg and Koch at his East Prussian headquarters. Although Hitler decided none of the issues, he showed in a long dissertation that Koch had acted according to his own views. He proposed that Rosenberg should visit the Ukraine forthwith and that in future there should be regular consultations between him and Koch. Rosenberg was to confine his directions to basic principles and not send detailed instructions. The written decision, which did not reach Rosenberg until a month later, was even less favorable to him. Koch was to have the right to submit counter-proposals, and if Rosenberg contested them, the arbiters were to be Bormann and Lammers who were Koch’s best friends.32 Neither Koch nor Rosenberg knew this during Rosenberg’s tour of the Ukraine. Uncertain of his position, Koch dogged Rosenberg’s footsteps, watching him and scaring him, while the Field Marshals, Manstein and von Kleist, the Generalkommissars, Leyser and Frauenfeld, aired their bitter complaints. Rosenberg returned so shattered that he invited a strong man from the SS to take over the Political Department so as to keep Koch in order. The strong man was Himmler’s military chief of staff, General Gottlob Berger. But Berger took on the task only in order to secure the armed deserters from the Red Army and their German-controlled national committees for the SS. He was content to leave Koch alone.
Thus the month of July 1943 found Koch completely victorious. Insofar as his staff controlled any towns, he stopped the opening of schools. Insofar as they controlled any agricultural districts, he stopped the restoration of the land to private ownership, but that was not very far. On June 17, Rosenberg learned from Leyser that in Zhitomir Kommissariat the partisans collected 60 per cent of the harvest and even supplied the peasants with seed. Soon there was an end to that too.33 In August the Red Army retook Kharkov, in September Poltava and the Donetz basin, in October everything up to the Dnieper, in November Kiev. By the beginning of February 1944, the Reichskommissariat Ukraine was extinct.
Early in September orders went out to destroy all livestock, shelter, and plant as the armies retreated. Koch’s contribution to the crisis was to obtain a ruling from Bormann and Lammers that his civil government officials should remain in charge to the last moment, even when the enemy positions were only ten kilometers away. Consequently there were conflicts between soldiers and civilians and a great deal of looting of the produce which could no longer be shipped back to Germany. Koch, however, was not deserted by his peculiar genius for avoiding dangerous and responsible posts. There is no evidence that he visited the Ukraine after September 1943.
From this point Until July 1944, Koch kept out of the limelight. A testy note from Lammers, in September 1943, suggests that Hitler may have had enough of him.34 But Koch still possessed a kingdom in East Prussia and in the Generalkommissariat of Bialystok. He had added this considerable portion of pre-war Poland to his estates in order to boast that he ruled from the Baltic to the Black Sea. But at the Warsaw trial in October 1958 Koch was armed with a better excuse. The Bialystok province was mostly forest, forest so primeval that such ancient Teutonic beasts as the aurochs still haunted it. The “Reich Hunter,” Hermann Goering, wanted it as a nature reserve and Rosenberg had agreed to a proposal to dump all its inhabitants in the Ukraine. So Koch had gone to his Fuehrer. Hitler had proposed that Bialystok be incorporated in the General Government of Hans Frank, but that, Koch argued, meant that Goering would get his way. So Hitler agreed that Koch should have Bialystok, an awkward gift as it turned out. In July 1944, neither Goering nor the aurochs roamed the Bialystok forests—but the Red Army, who were about to invade East Prussia, the first part of the homeland to become a war area. A man of consequence once more, Koch was back in Hitler’s graces—particularly after the failure of the 1944 bomb plot. When Stauffenberg brought his bomb into the Rastenburg map room, Russian gunfire was already audible, a Russian patrol had crossed the Reich border, and, as Defense Commissioner, Koch had begun the digging of trenches and the recruitment of a home guard.
Koch had never tolerated generals in his private kingdom. In 1934 he had quarreled with von Brauchitsch, who was then Wehrkreis commander in Koenigsberg, and Hitler had refused to listen to Brauchitsch. Now, when General Model of the Central Army Group criticized Koch’s amateurish defense lines, and when Model’s successor, Reinhardt, accused Koch of stealing his munition trains for the Volkssturm, Hitler would not hear a word against Koch. Moreover, Koch was rewarded with another Reichskommissariat. In August Reichskommissar Lohse had decamped from the Baltic states, when the Red Army secured a momentary foothold west of Riga. On September 8 Keitel instructed the High Command that Koch alone was responsible for securing and utilizing the local resources of the Baltic states. Koch threatened that he would apply the well-tested methods which he had used in the Ukraine. He would make short work of the Ostidioten who wanted to grant Baltic autonomy.35 It was another meaningless threat. On October 10 the fast shrinking Baltic pocket was finally severed from the Reich. There was no shipping to secure and utilize the local resources, and Koch took good care not to present himself in this dangerous, friendless place. Even Koenigsberg was now a front-line town, and Koch lived almost permanently in the deep shelter of the Adlon Hotel in Berlin.
That the next Russian offensive must bring the Red Army to the Vistula, or even the Oder, was not a thought which worried Koch. Faithful to the Bormann-Hitler principle that defeat was undiscussable and evacuation measures treasonable, Koch did nothing. Yet the ruling of September 1943 still made him the supreme authority ten kilometers from the front. Even the Wehrmacht’s heavy guns were in his jurisdiction, and the new chief of staff, Guderian, complained that not a tree could be felled nor a trench dug without coming into conflict with the Gauleiter’s officials.36 No instructions were issued for the evacuation of civilians, and on January 17, when the Red Army poured into East Prussia through a 50-mile gap, there was no time to get them out. Other Russian armored divisions fanned out along the course of the Vistula between Warsaw and Danzig, leaving Hossbach’s Fourth Army isolated among the Masurian lakes. Hitler wanted to create another Stalingrad at Loetzen, but Hossbach ignored the order and, with the support of Reinhardt, moved his 350,000 men back to the Vistula, abandoning all East Prussia except for the Koenigsberg peninsula.
As the sacred soil passed out of German hands for generations, perhaps forever, Hossbach piously blew up the hideous Hindenburg monument on the battlefield of Tannenberg. On the 26th Hitler dismissed Reinhardt and Hossbach, even threatening them with court-martial as traitors in the pay of the Moscow “Free Germany” Committee—though there could not have been a more Nazi general than Reinhardt. Koch boasted that it was he who had ruined the two generals and he would do the same to all who abandoned a yard of East Prussia.37 He promised Hitler that he would defend the remains of East Prussia with the Volkssturm alone if necessary. Nevertheless, on the grounds that he was Defense Commissioner for East Prussia and not Koenigsberg, Koch took good care to move his headquarters to Pillau which was on the open sea. At Pillau an icebreaking ship was in constant readiness for him, as well as an escape route to the Vistula front along the Frische Nehrung spit.
Within a few days Koch was back in Berlin. The Russians had taken Pillau and the 130,000 inhabitants of Koenigsberg were cut off from the escape route. But at the end of February the besieged garrison made a bold sortie, retaking Pillau, to which Koch returned in a fast motorboat. According to Goebbels, Koch used his brief reappearance at the danger spot only to dismiss the gallant civilian Kreisleiter of Koenigsberg. For another six weeks he fluctuated between Pillau and Berlin. In the meantime conditions in Koenigsberg became inconceivable. On April 14, Koch had his last audience with Hitler in the Reich Chancellery bunker. Hitler raved about Koch’s faithful eyes. He received the old party fighter, now looking distinctly fly-blown, with tears and embraces. “Ja, Ja, es ist wieder Kampfzeit.” Goebbels wanted to be sick.38
Next day Koch told Hitler that Major-General Lasch, the commander of the Koenigsberg garrison, was preparing to capitulate. Hitler at once had Lasch condemned to death in absentia by a summary courtmartial, arresting his family as hostages. From Neutief on the Frische Nehrung, Koch telegraphed that again he had been right. Fully informed of his condemnation, Lasch had surrendered Koenigsberg to General Vassilevsky. Lasch had also allowed the Russians to publish a statement in which he denounced Hitler—a statement which did not save him from an imprisonment lasting till October 1955. Goebbels was not deceived by Koch’s play-acting. “So ends the heroic fight of a German town,” he told von Oven, “in squalor and in the baseness of party intrigue.”39 Today the German town is no more. Koenigsberg has become Kaliningrad.
Three hundred miles behind the foremost Russian positions, the Frische Nehrung spit held out until the capitulation of Germany, but it held out without Erich Koch. On April 23, he slipped out of Pillau in the icebreaker “Ostpreussen.” No refugees were taken aboard, but a large staff and quantities of furniture and loot. The “Ostpreussen” made west for Hela, only 30 miles across the bight. This seagirt stronghold still blocked the harbor of Danzig, which had fallen to the Russians on March 28, but it was no place for Erich Koch—though he continued to send Hitler ship telegrams, addressed from Hela.
The “Ostpreussen” cruised in leisurely fashion past Ruegen and Bornholm and along the Swedish coast, where on April 30 Koch learned of Hitler’s death. He put in at Copenhagen, but put to sea again when he heard that the British were about to take over. Koch slipped ashore discreetly at Flensburg, evading the hostile court of Admiral Doenitz under the false identity of Major Rolf Berger.40 The “Major” lived quietly in Hamburg until May 1949, when someone denounced him to the British occupation authorities.
Koch had little reason to complain of the attitude of his captors. The British Control Commission invoked an agreement, according to which the time limit for extradition claims had long passed. A legal battle was fought with the Polish government till January 1950, when finally Koch was removed from Düsseldorf prison to Warsaw. Koch nevertheless produced a story at his trial which was well in keeping with his taste for the extravagant: the British had delivered him out of spite, while refusing to hand over SS leaders who were the real culprits, because he had been so successful in the 30’s in attacking the British monopoly of soap and margarine in Germany.
Not even the most brazen postwar Nazi scribes have put in a good word for Erich Koch or challenged the verdict that his last role was treacherous and contemptible. That those who had still greater cause to hate him should have delayed prosecution for nearly nine years invites political speculations, but may there not be another reason which is not political at all? Koch could charm and fascinate the most inaccessible of dictators. Compared with that achievement, out-talking the Ministry of Justice of an Iron Curtain country may be quite easy.
1 Peter Kleist, Zwischen Hitler und Stalin, p. 191.
2 John A. Armstrong, Ukrainian Nationalism, 1939-1945, p. 175.
3 Robert G. L. Waite, Vanguard of Nazism, p. 237.
4 Konrad Heiden, The Fuehrer, p. 290.
5 Hitler's Table Talk (English edition), p. 533.
6 Rudolf Diels, Lucifer ante Portas, p. 290.
7 Hans Gisevius, To the Bitter End, p. 208.
8 Gustav Hilger, The Incompatible Allies, p. 268.
9 Schwerin von Krosigk, Es geschah im Deutschland, pp. 164-5.
10 Hitler's Table Talk, p. 699.
11 The von Hassell Diaries (English edition), p. 219.
12 My First Seventy-Six Years, p. 349.
13 Alfred Rosenberg, Letzte Aufzeichnungen, p. 213.
14 Hans Gisevius, op. cit., p. 207.
15 Robert L. Koehl, RKFDV (1958), pp. 121, 187.
16 Peter Kleist, op. cit., p. 141. Nuremberg Document, PS 1019.
17 Nuremberg Document L221. Full text in Arnold Toynbee, Hitler's Europe, Vol. II, pp. 230-6.
18 Hitler's Europe, Vol. I, p. 634, footnote 2.
19 Otto Braeutigam, Ueberblick ueber die besetzten Ostgebiete, p. 19.
20 Nuremberg Document, PS 045.
21 Nuremberg Document, PS 1384.
22 John A. Armstrong, op. cit., pp. 116-7.
23 Hans Baur, Ich Flog Maechtige der Erde, p. 222.
24 The battle can be pieced together from a number of printed documents in the Nuremberg trial series. There is only one consecutive account, and that by no means complete, in Alexander Dallin, German Rule in Russia. Koch's remark, recorded by one of Rosenberg's officials, will be found in Juergen Thorwald, Wen sie verderhen wollen, p. 42.
25 Alexander Dallin, op. cit., pp. 166-8.
26 Hitler's Table Talk, pp. 587-590.
27 Nuremberg Document, PS 042.
28 Nuremberg Document, USSR 170.
29 Nuremberg Document, PS 192. Thorwald, Wen sie verderhen wollen, pp. 179-180.
30 Nuremberg Document, PS 1130.
31 Nuremberg Document, PS 192.
32 Alexander Dallin, op. cit., p. 162.
33 Nuremberg Document, PS 2650.
34 Alexander Dallin, op. cit., p. 363.
35 Peter Kleist, op. cit., p. 192.
36 Heinz Guderian, Erinnerungen eines Soldaten, p. 352.
37 Juergen Thorwald, Es begann an der Weichsel, pp. 152-5, 165.
38 Wilfrid von Oven, Mit Goebbels bis zum Ende, pp. 262, 295 (Vol. II).
39 Ibid. See also Juergen Thorwald, Es begann an der Weichsel, pp . 210-217.
40 Juergen Thorwald, Es begann an der Weichsel, pp. 217-223.