The evaluation of my father, Otto Wächter

Nazi Germany Governor's son argues, in letter to Opera Mundi, that "good beliefs" guided his father

Horst Wächter

There were two conditions my father had to cope with, which must be absolutely clear before one even thinks about judging my father and his position within the Nazi system in Poland:  the double German administration and his completely different status as Governor of Krakow and as Governor of Lemberg.

These conditions I admit are difficult to understand, possibly grasped only by somebody who was part of the absolute subordination, the deadly command structure - or at least willing to imagine it - that made unlawful behaviours to a most dangerous undertaking. (My grandfather Josef Freiherr von Wächter fighting the Russians against expressive orders in the First World War was rewarded with nobility connected with the supreme Order of Empress Maria Theresa.)

The tactics employed by my father to cope with it and to pursue his humanitarian goals consisted in outraging statements as well as wearing his SS uniform in service. He intended to show his loyalty to the Nazi regime up to the extreme and to camouflage his actual deeds as harmless as possible.

Dual German administration in besieged Poland meant that SS and Police matters were exempt right from the establishment of the General government and its responsibilities subsequently enlarged until it formed an independent corpus outside the Civil Government, until there were practically two administrations interfering which each other. Thus the possibilities of my father to influence these matters became successively smaller until non-existent. Most important, his rank as SS-General was purely honorary, he was conferred to him by Heinrich Himmler to make him dependent of him.

Regarding his two roles as Governor, in Krakow he had Hans Frank, the omnipotent General Governor right above him in the Wawel. This meant that he had to carry out orders with hardly any clearance for himself. He was about to give up his office, when he got the call to Lemberg.

Roberto Almeida/Opera Mundi

Horst in his castle in Austria, during interview to Opera Mundi 

There the situation was completely different; he practically was independent in his decisions. This city with its three names Lemberg, Lwow and Lviv. It had been - after Vienna and Prague the largest in the Austrian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were Poles, Ukrainians and Jews had lived together for centuries. And he immediately started to draw on that past. Here – together with his friends Dr.Ludwig Losacker and Otto Bauer – he could realize his ideas of, even if they lay well beyond administrative matters; as long as they were outside of the sphere of the SS.

Instead of “smearing around” in history I want to expose two precise moments in his biography, in which his extant words were taken as evidence of his evil character, whereas his intentions and the resulting deeds remain in the dark.

During the government session on October 20 1941 in Krakow he camouflaged his attempt to ease the conditions of Jews -when even a statement in favour of the Jews would have meant at least the immediate degradation. The protocol states: "With regard to the solution found in the Krakow Jewish residential districts, the governor mentioned that according to the view which would have been followed here in Krakow, the Jew is to be forced to help himself."

Yet the protocol ends as follows: "The governor points out, however, that ultimately a radical solution of the Jewish question is inevitable and that no consideration of any kind then - as certain artisanal interests - could be taken“.

Wikipedia takes it as proof that my father favoured the extermination of Jews by gassing, when he had no means whatsoever to influence the final fate of the Jews, which was “Geheime Reichssache” – secret matter of the Reich that was entirely to the SS.

At the governmental session of February 17 1942 in Krakow Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger, highest SS leader in the East was present. He had already started expulsions in Zamosc in the district of Lublin and was ready to drive out the population of Lemberg too to settle Germans there. My father stood up and said something that had nothing to do with the tasks of the Civil Government, in an issue he had absolutely no right to interfere: "I am convinced that a settlement on a larger scale during the war in Galicia can not be performed because we lack the mass of the settlers." He concluded, that  "anyway after the victory we could then proceed without any restraint." This remark is taken as a proof that he only wanted to postpone the total resettlement and had no intention whatsoever to protect the population. Contrary of current understanding Krüger immediately saw through the intention of my father: "You may wear the uniform of an SS Brigade Leader, however you have never been guided in carrying out your tasks by the fact that you are member of the SS". In fact, after this intervention of my father and the gruesome experiences made in Zamosc Lemberg never became germanised.

Instead, he succeeded in involving Ukrainians to fight against the Soviets, an intervention taken up earlier on larger scale, would have had a tremendous impact on the fate of the war.

“It should not have come like it did “ – as my mother wrote in her diary on April 12 1945, one month before the final collapse of the Nazi regime – “if the heads would have had just a little more brain”.

A third crucial moment in the biography of my father exists, an act of sublime courage, were his intervention should be better seen as suicide trip. At the moment I won’t trample on it - those concerned will understand what I mean.

Let me add a final remark on the equality of men:

People have been the same in all history: there are always good and bad, stupid and intelligent ones.

Only the circumstances change; and they were totally different 80 years ago The Germans did not follow the Nazi system because they were bad, but in the belief that the system was good and would work to the benefit of all.