Dr. Hans Münch was written about in The Nazi Doctors by Robert Jay Lifton and described as "a human being in an SS uniform" (Lifton 303). It was not until 1995 that my acquaintance with Dr. Münch began.
Dr. Münch had been interviewed by Eva Mozes Kor in 1993. She had found a statement in a Justice Department Report on Josef Mengele that referred to a visit made to Münch by Mengele's son and the family attorney. At that visit, supposedly, Münch was asked whether or not he thought Mengele would have to stand trial and would he be found guilty if he did stand trial. Mrs. Kor felt this was very strange. Mengele's body had been reported as having been found in South America in 1979. Autopsies by leading pathologists had confirmed his death. If Mengele was dead, why was his family asking what would happen if he were to stand trial? Mrs. Kor contacted ZDF in Germany and arranged an interview and meeting with Dr. Münch.
When she visited Dr. Münch, she was quite impressed with the kindness of the man. He talked about his experiences at Auschwitz and verified he did know Mengele. He told Mrs. Kor at that visit that he thought Mengele was probably still alive or the inquiry would never have been made.
At that meeting, Mrs. Kor described Münch as "very kind, very considerate". After he answered Kor's questions regarding Dr. Mengele, she wanted to know what he knew about Auschwitz, if he, by any chance, knew something about the operation of the gas chambers, and she asked him and he said, "This is the nightmare I live with." He said, "I had to watch the operation of the gas chambers and then, when the bodies were dead, I had to sign the death certificates."
When she began preparations for her return to Auschwitz for the 50th observation of the liberation, she called Münch and asked him to come with her. She also asked him to sign a document about the existence of the gas chambers. As an SS doctor at Auschwitz, she believed this would definitely establish the reality of the gas chambers and the deaths there. He agreed to do so.
His history is relevant here to help readers understand why he would sign such a document. Münch had become associated with the party in his student days because it was not possible to hold on to a job without party membership. As he completed his medical studies, he began to believe that it was necessary to participate in an officially sponsored organization (Lifton 314). He became active in a scientific society and was drawn into a competition for finding an "indigenous German product that could be used for a culture medium in bacteriological work." which he won. With the success of that effort, Münch received praise from the party and took a leadership role in advising scientific teams on what could be grown in certain Bavarian forests and what must be cut down to promote such growth (Lifton 314). He received a prize from the Nazi party. As a result, he did join the Party, was awarded an assistantship and a hospital position at the university and allowed to retain his position in the bacteriological department. When the war broke out he began practicing general medicine in his village and the surrounding area. He was declared "essential" and was not to be drafted. However, swept up by the patriotic fervor of the Germans, he began to pursue enlistment.
Münch described his efforts to join the army in an interview for CANDLES in 1995: " When I was at home, I didn't have to go to war. I volunteered because I believed in the propaganda. First of all because I thought if all others risked their lives for Germany, then it wasn't right for a young person like me to live like I did with a family, in a nice part of the country, with a good profession and everything you could hope when times were bad. I volunteered and that's how I ended up in the SS, you know?
"I often drove to Munich in an attempt to join the military. And the last time I ran into an old friend whom I had not seen for 15 years since we attended school together. We talked. "How are you, what you doing these days?" He answered, "I'm well off, I have a job with the government." And I told him then that I wanted to join the armed forces but found it impossible to succeed. He answered, "Oh, I can arrange that. You should join the SS, that will work well." When I joined I was told that everything had been arranged, you'll have to go near Kraków. Nobody said anything about a concentration camp."
While Münch admits that he had heard of Dachau and maybe one or two camps in northern Germany, he claimed he was totally unprepared for what he found at Auschwitz. According to Lifton, when he arrived at the camp with his wife (who had been visiting him at his previous assignment) and drove through the camp, they were shocked by what they saw (Lifton 304). Münch's wife was to leave the camp and return to the home in Germany.
Münch was assigned to the Hygiene Institute of the Waffen SS which was about 3-4 km. outside the Auschwitz camp. There he was to work under Dr. Bruno Weber, the friend who had secured his assignment there. Münch was assigned to bacteriological research, an area where he had experience.
After assignment to the Auschwitz camp, Münch soon learned about the camp and what went on there. "You had to sign a lot: that was top secret. That was just a formality. And then my boss arrived. And as I said before I had known him earlier, we had worked together in the same laboratory, and he told me everything, what it is all about in Auschwitz, and I could not understand how he could stay, how he could endure all of it."
Münch proved to be an unusual Nazi in his work at the Hygiene Institute of the Waffen SS at Raisko. One prisoner who worked with him on a daily basis described him thus: "He was friendly, showed personal interest in people, never humiliated anyone. He seemed oddly out of place." (Micheels, 101)
At the Institute, Münch was involved in experiments with typhus. He was also responsible for "keeping the barracks more healthy". In that role he did visit the camp, on occasion. His primary work, however, was done at the Institute. At the institute, he quickly established himself as "unusual".
"It was a special company - scientific - all professors and doctors and all specialists. And they had better food and they got better food from the chief of staff who brought me there."
"On Monday, in the morning, as the working day started, a company of 100 inmates marched in with lots of commands, standing in a single file. I went downstairs, shook their hands and spoke with them and so forth...someone nudged me, that my behavior was unacceptable...that's where I saw for the first time what the situation was..."
Münch began his work at the Institute but was soon called upon to expand his duties.
"The doctor at headquarters, that is the chief of the medical staff at Auschwitz, told me that I had to cooperate, three times a week or whatever, had to spend one night making selections...I went to Berlin immediately to the head of the hygiene institute and told him "I cannot do it. I will not do it, regardless of the consequences." And, he said, "Yes, he can understand, and he'll talk with the camp commander and the chief of staff at Auschwitz."
With this move, Münch removed himself from making selections. And, more importantly, it proves that one could defy the Nazi authority without suffering severe consequences.
Münch continued his work and soon realized that the women prisoners involved in the experiments were expendable. He soon learned that being a guinea pig meant death, the Nazis wanted no eyewitness left alive, including the women being used as guinea pigs.
"These women were special women. The people in charge of the camp wanted them out and said, "Enough is enough. You can't use them any more."
But Münch - who was to be known as the humane Nazi - could not accept that.
"We thought about it for a while and adopted a method, found a way that was sure to be harmless, was significant, what was sure to be approved by Himmler. He would approve almost anything."
As a result, Münch began to expand the experiments and prolong them to keep the women involved.
"And so the inmates in the camp they all believed that the experiments were conducted "as usual". . . exactly as they had always been done. And we made sure that they believed it was so."
What Münch did was verified by these prisoners when he was tried for War Crimes in Kraków, Poland, in 1946.
Münch also made efforts to make prisoners' lives more bearable. One prisoner, Dr. Louis Micheels, wrote of becoming very ill in the summer of 1944 when his appendix burst. He wrote of visits from Münch and interpreting those visits as indication that he was to survive and return to the lab at Raisko. After five weeks he did return to the hospital but found himself weakened by his condition and a lack of food. On his first day back, Münch approached him and announced, "You must stop now, eat some of this." He pulled a sausage out of his pocket and ordered Micheels to go outside and rest. Micheels fell asleep in the warm sun. Awakened by a guard, Micheels told him that Münch had ordered himself outside to rest. The guard left, grumbling. Later, Münch appeared and asked Micheels to rest in an out-of-the-way spot. Micheels words were "The whole business was strange, an S.S. officer protecting me from his underlings." (Micheels 124)
When the Nazis fled Auschwitz, Micheels with others was force marched from the camp. They arrived at Gross Rosen. After two days there they were put on a train and taken to Dachau. To Micheels' surprise, Weber and Münch appeared one afternoon towards the end of their first week there and compiled a list of former workers at the Raisko Institute. Two days later they were moved to a less crowded barrack. They soon resumed duties in the laboratory. As Allied troops approached Auschwitz, Münch met with Micheels and two Dutch friends. (Micheels book, page 144)
"Just as the war was obviously moving into its final phase, we at the lab, all Jews, were given the unwelcome news that we were scheduled for transportation to an unknown destination....We decided to talk to Münch. He shared our reluctance to go on another transport to nowhere and offered some possible or impossible plans for escape. One was that he would take us through the gate and then provide us with SS uniforms. We decided that we would probably stand a much better chance if we went with the transport and later escaped in the mountains, closer to Switzerland. To prove his good will, he gave us a revolver and ammunition, in case we had to shoot our way out. He shook hands with each of us and wished us early freedom. That was the last I saw of him.." (Micheels, 145).
Dr. Münch went home to his village and surrendered to the authorities in 1946. He was tried and acquitted of any war crimes in 1947, after spending nearly a year in prison.. Letters from surviving Jews confirmed that Münch did not make selections and set up bogus experiments and prolonged them in order to save prisoners' lives. Dr. Louis Micheels, the prisoner who had worked with Münch at both Auschwitz and Dachau, was among those who wrote to the former Chief Administrator of the Hygiene Institute - Paul Reichel - attesting to Münch's behavior at Auschwitz as being "very different from usually hateful SS officers." It was Micheel's letter and others collected by Reichel that ultimately led to Münch's acquittal by the War Crimes Tribunal in Kraków after the war.
Statements by former prisoner Dr. Louis Micheels helped vindicate Munch: "Münch, an SS doctor in Auschwitz, the only one who had been consistently helpful to prisoners...was arrested and was the only one of forty SS arraigned before a Polish tribunal who was acquitted, thanks to the testimony of former prisoners whom he had befriended."
For many years neither Münch nor his wife said much to his children about his Auschwitz experiences. They only knew he had stood trial and had been found innocent.
Of those times, his son said, "Mother was a person who didn't want to talk about that; she wants to keep it away from the children, and I think my father was somewhat paralyzed. He could not talk very much to his children about what he saw and felt. But, imagine if my father would not have done these things, he would have been condemned and he would have been hanged like the other 40 doctors from Auschwitz."
Of those times, Münch himself has said, " I was there...and all that had seen me no one said: "You've done terrible things" But I have a bad conscience when I think, one could have done more. But afterwards it's tough to talk about it. You can hardly do anything about it. It's not a good feeling. As a German you are in a bad situation. When you see other people not always behave like that, then you feel better and say to yourself, That's my fate, you can't escape it. But I did what I could."
Münch's daughter, Ruli, confirms these feelings of her father's, " I was very fortunate belonging to that small group which didn't have to feel guilty. I felt guilty at the beginning for my people, but in a way for myself, I didn't feel guilty because I know my father, as much as he could, had helped people."
By 1995, Eva Mozes Kor, CANDLES founder, was trying to figure out some way to deal with her past. Through the years, Kor had suffered because of her early experiences. Her daughter noted, "It bothered my mother. When our house would get corned at Halloween, it was awful. Halloween was just hell to her. She tried to explain it to the neighbors. She couldn't explain how it took her back to the time when she was a child and "Nazi hooligans" surrounded her home in Hungary and harassed the family for hours."
Her son noted, "My mother even chased them away from the house. They didn't understand."
Kor suffered through her bad times. In 1977 when the television mini series, Holocaust, was produced, she was asked to appear on local television and tell her story. She found that at that time people began to understand what she had endured and experienced and she then began to talk. She wanted people to know what hatred and prejudice had done. In 1984 she began to look for the other twins used in the experiments at Auschwitz, hoping to find out what had been done to the Mengele twins. As she spoke and pursued her past, she began to work out the complex myriad of feelings that had been hidden inside all those years.
When she met Münch, she was surprised at that visit in August of 1993, she thought about the significance of Münch's statement "This is the nightmare I live with" and then said, "Dr. Münch, I really need a favor from you. The 1995 fifty years to the liberation of the camp is coming up and it would be wonderful if you could go with me and sign a document just exactly about what you told me about the existence of the gas chambers. I said that it would be you as an SS doctor at Auschwitz who could help us accomplish this."
Münch agreed and plans were made for a reunion of the Mengele twin and Nazi doctor at Auschwitz in 1995. By 1995, Eva's years of speaking out and soul searching had finally given her an inner peace ...a desire to put the experiences behind her...
"When I met Dr. Münch and he was willing to go to Auschwitz, I thought it would be nice just for my own sanity to sign an amnesty - if I somehow would be that lucky that that information would go to the people who need to hear about it, then we might remove the political strain and maybe some other Nazi criminal will come forward to testify." Kor also found that by forgiving those who had taken away her family and her childhood, she was taking charge of her own feelings for the first time in years. She found she was in control. She was not being driven by hatred or by any other emotion. She believed she was finally free.
In Dr. Hans Münch she found a person who also wanted to find peace. And so, at the remains of one of a gas chambers...a place where so many had died...on January 27, 1995, the fiftieth observance of the liberation of Auschwitz, Eva Mozes Kor and Dr. Hans Münch signed documents...hers a document which forgave the Nazis, his a document which verified that the gas chambers had existed...Eva read both documents...as media personnel and other survivors gathered at the site.
Those documents, in part, read as follows:
"I...Dr. Hans Münch hereby attest that as an SS physician on duty in Auschwitz in 1944, I witnessed the selection process of those who were to live and those who were to die. Other SS physicians on duty in the camps made selections at the barracks. I was exempt from performing selections because I had refused to do so.
I further attest that I saw thousands of people gassed here at Auschwitz. Children, old people, the sick and those unable to work were sent to the gas chambers. These were innocent human beings: Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, Hitler's political opponents...anyone who did not fit Hitler's idea of a pure Aryan race.
I am signing this paper of my own free will to help document the cruel intolerance of my fellow SS.
I, a former SS Physician, witnessed the dropping of Zyklon B into simulated exhaust vents from outside the gas chambers. Zyklon B began to work as soon as it was released from the canisters. The effects of the gas were observed through a peephole by an assigned doctor of the SS officer on duty. After three to five minutes, death could be certified, and the doors were opened as a sign that the corpses were cleared to be burned.
This is the nightmare I continue to live with fifty years later.
I am so sorry that in some way I was part of it. Under the prevailing circumstances I did the best I could to save as many lives as possible. Joining the SS was a mistake. I was young. I was an opportunist. And once I joined, there was no way out."
"I..Eva Mozes Kor, in my name only and as a twin who survived Josef Mengele's experiments at Auschwitz fifty years ago, hereby give amnesty to all Nazi's who participated directly or indirectly in the murder of my family and millions of others. I extend this amnesty to all governments who protected Nazi criminals for fifty years, then covered up their acts, and covered up their cover up. Fifty years after liberation from Auschwitz, I Eva Mozes Kor, in my name only, give this amnesty because it is time to go on; it is time to heal our souls; it is time to forgive, but never forget; it is time to open up all the classified and personal files not only for the sake of history but to alleviate human suffering. I as a Citizen of the Free World declare here in Auschwitz that I have the human right to locate my Auschwitz files so I know what germs and chemicals were injected into my body fifty years ago. I expect the leaders of the world to put politics aside and, for the sake of all humanity, assist us in getting our files. Help us make it possible for every Mengele Guinea Pig, for every survivor to find their files, their stories, their pasts. I, the only living member of a very large family, in their name and mine appeal to the U.S. Congress, to the Israel Knesset, the German legislators, and others who have the power to pass laws dismantling all Nazi-related investigative units, such as the URLs, Justice Department Office of Special Investigations, and open up all Nazi files to survivors and the public. Look up to the skies here in Auschwitz. The souls of millions of victims are with us and I am saying, with them as witness: Enough is Enough. Fifty years is more than enough. I am healed inside, therefore it gives me no joy to see any Nazi criminal in jail, nor do I want to see any harm come to Josef Mengele, the Mengele Family or their business corporations. I urge all former Nazis to come forward and testify to the crimes they have committed without any fear of further persecution. Her in Auschwitz, I hope in some small way to send the world a message of forgiveness, a message of peace, a message of hope, a message of healing. No more wars...no more experiments without informed consent...no more gas chambers...no more bombs...no more hatred...no more killing...no more Auschwitzes."
Today the two families are in agreement about the strength of the experiences that they all had at Auschwitz and the message of the Mengele twin and the Nazi Doctor:
Alex, Eva's son: "At some point in your life, you have to let bygones be bygones. I don't feel anger toward my parents, toward Germans."
Iris, Münch's granddaughter, "His main purpose is for people to hear about what happened at Auschwitz, he wants everyone to hear about it...his experiences, the Jews' experiences, we can't forget it...it's already happening in lots of different places in the world.
Ruli, Münch's daughter, "He has always wanted to say to the Germans, to the world, Please don't do that again. He wants to make it clear that this has happened and should never happen again.
Rina, Eva's daughter, "For those who say it's not useful, it isn't good, there's so much to be learned It is always good to be reminded of how easily people can be led to do anything which is the scariest thing. It's human history and the biggest lesson, of course, is that it can very, very easily happen in another time, in another country to a different group. It has happened, and, unfortunately, will happen again.
Gigo, Münch's son, "I feel he carries guilt. I feel he must speak about these things, and that is very important for him now. I feel it is very usual for him to do this. I think it is very normal. I don't think we need heroes, I think we need normal people who are not opportune. Maybe everyone can't be a hero; sometimes there will be heroes, okay, but should such a problem like the Holocaust come again, we need people who are not opportune, people who don't work against the heroes."
Meeting Dr. Hans Münch was a Holocaust experience for me. I believed there were no "good Nazis" until I met him. I can not deny that he was a Nazi. But, I can accept that he tried to do what he could, that others who were there testified that they would not be alive were it not for him, and I can believe, having met him, that he made the best choice he could make at the time. Swept up by the fervor of the Hitler years and patriotic enthusiasm, he did join the Nazi party. However, when placed in a dishonorable position, he did the best he could to remain honorable.
Before I could make such a statement, I have done extensive research on this Nazi, Dr. Hans Münch. I have read the testimony of the Kraków trials and the verdict of that court. I have found references to him in several biographies, all of which refer to him as kind. I have talked to Dr. Micheels. I believe he was a good man, and he tried to do something.
THE ONLY THING NECESSARY FOR EVIL TO TRIUMPH IS FOR GOOD PEOPLE TO DO NOTHING.
- Mary Wright, Education Director
Bibliography: Kor, Eva Mozes. Personal Interviews. Auschwitz tour, Kraków, Poland. 1995.
Kor Children. Personal Interviews. Auschwitz tour, Kraków, Poland. 1995
Lifton, Robert Jay. The Nazi Doctors. United States of America: Basic Books. 1986.
Micheels, Louis J., M.D. Doctor #117641. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1989.
Munch, Hans, M. D. Personal Interviews. Auschwitz tour, Kraków, Poland. 1995.
Munch Children. Personal Interviews. Auschwitz tour, Kraków, Poland. 1995.
Click on the link below to read the translation of the charges against Munch and his acquittal at the Kraków War Crimes Trial in 1947.
Please send any additional information or material to Shlomo Rotter at [email protected]