Amon Goeth

07 Feb 2019
Perhaps the most internationally known icon of Nazi evil after Hitler himself, Amon Leopold Goeth (1908 – 1946) was made famous after Ralph Fiennes’ critically acclaimed portrayal of the Kraków-Płaszów Nazi concentration camp commandant in Steven Spielberg’s highly successful film Schindler’s List. Born in Vienna, Goeth joined the Nazi party in 1932, before progressing to the ranks of the Gestapo in 1940. Originally sent to German-occupied Lublin, Goeth displayed a talent for mass slaughter during the liquidation of the Lublin Ghetto, and so impressed his superiors that he was promoted to camp commandant of Płaszów in 1943. In the same year he supervised the brutal clearing of the Kraków Ghetto in the Podgórze district, as well as the Tarnów Ghetto.

Fond of accepting bribes, Goeth used his position to steal property and valuables confiscated from Jews. Notorious for his corrupt nature, heavy drinking and bouts of extreme violence, he soon developed a reputation, even amongst his Nazi peers, as one of the most sadistic and feared men in the SS. In the words of survivor Poldek Pfefferberg, “When you saw Goeth, you saw death.” Though his characterisation in Spielberg’s film is regarded as accurate, some scenes from the film never actually occurred in real life. Goeth never murdered his stable boy (who survived the war), nor was he able to take pot shots at prisoners from his balcony, seeing that his house (which still stands today at ul. Heltmana 22) backed directly onto a hill; he did, however, exercise this apparent pleasure from a ridge overlooking the camp.

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In 1944 Goeth was relieved of his position and charged with theft of Reich property, though Germany’s looming military collapse meant he was never brought to tribunal. Diagnosed with diabetes and mental illness by SS doctors he spent the remainder of the war in a sanatorium, where he was arrested by American troops in 1945. Charged with the murder of 2,000 Jews during the evacuation of the Podgórze ghetto, and 8,000 deaths during his time in Plaszów he was sentenced to death and hanged in Kraków's Montelupich prison in 1946. [Legendary footage of the execution, which depicts two failed attempts before successfully carrying out the sentence on a third try, was recently determined to not actually be of Goeth's execution, but that of Ludwig Fischer - the former Nazi Governor or Warsaw; no known footage of Goeth's execution exists.]

Twice married, twice divorced and the father of four children with three different women, Goeth’s mistress, Ruth-Irene Kalder, remained loyal to him long after his death and the full scale of his evil was revealed. Giving an interview in 1983 she declared him a ‘charming man’ before committing suicide the following day.

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