Years of service
17 January 1914, Dusseldorf, German Empire (
SS-Untersturmfuhrer (Second Lieutenant)
Doll (Yiddish: Lalke)
4 July 1998 (aged 84) Wuppertal, Germany
Kurt Hubert Franz (17 January 1914 – 4 July 1998) was an SS officer and one of the commanders of the Treblinka extermination camp. Franz was one of the major perpetrators of genocide during the Holocaust.
- Kurt Franz
- Early career
- Action T4
- Barry the dog
- The Treblinka song
- Torment of prisoners
- Post war trial and conviction
Курт Франц (Kurt Franz)
Kurt Franz was born in 1914 in Düsseldorf. He attended public school in Düsseldorf from 1920 to 1928, and then worked as a messenger and as a cook. Franz's father, a merchant, died early. His mother was an observant Catholic. When she remarried, it was to a man with a strong right-wing nationalist outlook. Franz joined several right-wing national groups and served in the voluntary labor corps. He also trained with a master butcher for one year.
Franz joined the Nazi Party in 1932, and enlisted in the German Army in 1935. He fulfilled his military obligation and after his discharge, in October 1937, he joined the SS-Totenkopfverbände. First he received training with the Third Death Head Regiment Thuringia at Weimar, and then served as cook and guard at the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he attained the rank of Unterscharführer (Corporal).
In late 1939 Franz was summoned to Hitler's Chancellery and detailed to take part in the Action T4 euthanasia program. Franz worked as a cook at Hartheim, Brandenburg, Grafeneck and Sonnenstein. In late 1941, he was assigned as cook at T4 headquarters.
On 20 April 1942, Franz was promoted to Oberscharführer (Staff Sergeant). In spring of 1942, Franz, along with other veterans of Action T4, went to Lublin concentration camp complex in the Generalgouvernement, and was posted to the Bełżec extermination camp, where he stayed until the end of August 1942.
With a change of command in the Operation Reinhard death camp system, Franz was transferred to Treblinka extermination camp. He quickly became the camp's deputy commandant on the orders of Christian Wirth. He was promoted to serve as the last camp commandant from mid August till November 1943 to conclude the Holocaust in Poland.
At first, Kurt Franz supervised work commandos, the unloading of transports, and the transfer of Jews from the undressing rooms to the gas chambers. Franz had a baby-like face, and for this he was nicknamed "Lalke" ("doll" in Yiddish) by the prisoners. But Franz's appearance belied his true nature. He was the dominant overseer in day-to-day interactions with prisoners in Treblinka, and he became the most feared man at Treblinka for the cruelty which he visited upon them.
In Treblinka I was commander of the Ukrainian guard unit as I had been in Belzec. In Treblinka as in Belzec the unit consisted of sixty to eighty men. The Ukrainians' main task was to man the guard posts around the camp perimeter. After the prisoners' uprising in August 1943 I ran the camp more or less single-handedly for a month; however, during that period no more gassings were undertaken.
Facts prove otherwise. Despite visible damage to the camp during the revolt, the gas chambers were left intact and the killing of Polish Jews under Kurt Franz continued, albeit at a reduced speed with only ten boxcars "processed" at a time until the last transport of victims arrived on 19 August with 7,600 survivors of the Białystok Ghetto Uprising. Franz followed Globocnik to Trieste in November 1943.
Barry the dog
Franz was known for being unusually cruel and sadistic. Franz made his rounds of the camp, often riding a horse, and he would take his St. Bernard dog, Barry, along with him. Barry was trained to follow Franz's command, and Franz's command was usually to bite the genitalia or buttocks of the prisoners.
Barry's first owner was Paul Groth, an SS officer at Sobibor. Depending on his mood, Franz set the dog on inmates who for some reason had attracted his attention. The command to which the dog responded was, "Man, grab that dog!" (German: Mensch, faß den Hund) By "man" Franz meant Barry; the "dog" was the inmate whom Barry was supposed to attack. Barry would bite his victim wherever he could catch him. The dog was the size of a calf so that, unlike smaller dogs, his shoulders reached to the buttocks and abdomen of a man of average size. For this reason he frequently bit his victims in the buttocks, in the abdomen and often, in the case of male inmates, in the genitals, sometimes partially biting them off. When the inmate was not very strong, the dog could knock him to the ground and maul him beyond recognition. But when Kurt Franz was not around, Barry was a different dog. With Franz not there to influence him, the dog allowed himself to be petted and even teased, without harming anyone.
The Treblinka song
As reported by lower-ranking SS officers and soldiers, Kurt Franz also wrote the lyrics to a song which celebrated the Treblinka extermination camp. Prisoner Walter Hirsch wrote them for him. This song was taught to the few newly arriving Jews who were not killed immediately and were instead forced to work as slave laborers at the camp (Sonderkommandos). These Jews were forced to memorize the song by nightfall of their first day at the camp. The melody for the song came from an SS officer at Buchenwald concentration camp. The music was written in a happy way, as though the deaths were a joyful process rather than one of mourning, in the key of D major. Franz's lyrics for the song are listed below:
Looking squarely ahead, brave and joyous, at the world. The squads march to work. All that matters to us now is Treblinka. It is our destiny. That's why we've become one with Treblinka in no time at all. We know only the word of our Commander. We know only obedience and duty. We want to serve, to go on serving until a little luck smiles on us again. Hurray!
Torment of prisoners
Kurt Franz reviewed the prisoner roll call and participated in meting out punishments. For instance, when seven prisoners attempted to escape the camp, Franz had them taken to the Lazarett and shot. He ordered a roll call and announced that if there were further attempted escapes, and especially if they were successful, ten prisoners would be shot for every escapee.
Franz enjoyed shooting at prisoners or those still in the rail cars with his pistol or a hunting rifle. He frequently selected bearded men from the newly arriving transports and asked them whether they believed in God. When the men replied "yes", Franz told each man to hold up a bottle as a target. He would then say to them, "If your God indeed exists, then I will hit the bottle, and if He does not exist, then I will hit you." Then Franz would shoot at them with a gun.
Undoubtedly, [Kurt Franz] was the most terrifying of all the German personnel in the camp... witnesses agree that not a single day passed when he did not kill someone.
Kurt Franz also had experience as a boxer before arriving at Treblinka. He put this training to sadistic use by victimizing Jews as punching bags. On occasion he would "challenge" a Jew to a boxing duel (of course the prisoner had to oblige), and gave the prisoner a boxing glove, while keeping one for himself, to give the illusion of a fair fight. But Franz kept a small pistol in the glove that he kept for himself, and he would proceed to shoot the prisoner dead once the gloves were on and they had assumed the starting boxing position.
Oscar Strawczinski wrote:
He rode through the camp with great pleasure and self-confidence. Barry, his big, curly-haired dog would lazily drag along behind...."Lalke" would never leave the place without leaving some memento for somebody. There was always some reason to be found. And even if there were no reason—it made no difference. He was an expert at whipping, twenty-five or fifty lashes. He did it with pleasure, without hurrying. He had his own technique for raising the whip and striking it down. To practice boxing, he would use the heads of Jews, and naturally there was no scarcity of those around. He would grab his victim's lapel and strike with the other hand. The victim would have to hold his head straight so that Franz could aim well. And indeed he did this expertly. The sight of a Jew's head after a "training session" of this sort is not difficult to imagine.
Once Lalka was strolling along the platform with a double-barrelled shotgun in his hand and Barry in his wake. He discovered a Jew in front of him, a neighbour of mine from Czestochowa, by the name of Steiner. Without a second thought, he aimed the gun at the man's buttocks and fired. Steiner fell amidst cries of pain. Lalka laughed. He approached him, commanded him to get up, pull down his pants, and then glanced at the wound. The Jew was beside himself with pain. His buttocks were oozing blood from the gashes caused by the lead bullets. But Lalka was not satisfied. He waved his hand and said, "Damn it, the balls haven't been harmed!" He continued his stroll to look for a new victim.
Franz also frequently enjoyed kicking and killing babies from the arriving transports.
Franz was promoted to Untersturmführer (Second Lieutenant) and became an appointed official on 21 June 1943 on the orders of Heinrich Himmler. On 2 August 1943, Franz along with four SS men and sixteen Ukrainians went for a swim in the nearby Bug River, which depleted the security at Treblinka significantly and helped to improve the chances of success of the prisoner revolt that took place at the camp that day. After the revolt, the camp's commandant Franz Stangl left. Kurt Franz served as his replacement, and he was instructed to dismantle the camp and to eliminate every trace of evidence that it had ever existed. Franz had at his disposal some SS men, a group of Ukrainian guards and about 100 Jewish prisoners who had remained after the uprising. The physical work was carried out by the Jews during September and October 1943, after which thirty to fifty prisoners were sent to Sobibor to finish dismantling there, and the remainder were shot and cremated on Franz's orders.
After Treblinka, in late autumn 1943, Franz was ordered to Trieste and northern Italy, where he participated in the persecution of partisans and Jews until the war's end. He was wounded on end 1944 and, after recovery, employed as security officer on the Görz-Trieste railway line.
Post-war trial and conviction
Following the war, Kurt Franz first worked as a laborer on bridges until 1949, at which point he returned to his former occupation as a cook and worked in Düsseldorf for 10 years until his arrest on 2 December 1959. A search of his home found a photo album of Treblinka with the title, "Beautiful Years".
At the Treblinka Trials in 1965, Franz denied having ever killed a person, having ever set his dog on a Jew, and claimed to have only beaten a prisoner once. On 3 September he was found guilty of collective murder of at least 300,000 people, 35 counts of murder involving at least 139 people, and for attempted murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released in 1993 for health reasons. Kurt Franz died in Wuppertal in 1998.