There are five different versions of the untimely death of Josef Schillinger, the SS man who was allegedly shot by Franceska Mann, a beautiful Polish Jewess, in the undressing room of the gas chamber in Krema II at the Auschwitz II death camp, also known as Birkenau.
All versions of the story agree on these points:
1. The killing took place at Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau.
2. Josef Schillinger was shot in the stomach by a woman, and he died on the way to the hospital.
3. The shooter was a strikingly beautiful woman.
4. After the shooting, all of the prisoners in that same transport were killed.
These are the five versions of the story that I know of:
1. The story told by Auschwitz Commandant, Rudolf Hoess, in a deposition that he gave to the British after he was captured; this deposition was entered into the proceedings of the Nuremberg IMT.
2. The story told by Filip Müller in his book entitled “Eyewitness Auschwitz, Three Years in the Gas Chambers.”
3. The story told by Auschwitz survivor Tadeusz Borowski in a short story entitled “The Death of Schillinger,” published in the book “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen.”
4. The story told by escaped Auschwitz prisoner Jerzy Tabau, whose report, called “The Polish Major’s Report,” was entered into the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal as Document L-022.
5. The story told in a book written by Eberhard Kolb and sold at the Museum at Bergen-Belsen from where this ill-fated transport originated.
I will start with the Filip Müller version of the story:
Before he gets to the part about Schillinger being shot, Müller cleared up one point that I had always wondered about. Where did they put the bodies of prisoners who died of starvation or disease at Birkenau?
According to Müller, there were three underground rooms in the Krema II gas chamber building: an undressing room, a gas chamber and a morgue. The shooting of Josef Schillinger took place in the undressing room and it happened after dark, when Müller was on night duty at Krema II.
Before he reported for duty that night, Müller says that four SS men (Voss, Georges, Kurschuss and Ackermann) were already there, making sure that everything was perfect for a transport that was due to arrive.
“They checked to see if the fire in the ovens was burning well; they checked the door to the mortuary to make sure it was properly locked; they checked that there were no traces of blood anywhere; they checked the fans; and they switched the light in the gas chamber on and off a few times.”
Müller wrote that the concrete floors in the undressing room and the gas chamber were normally wet, but for this “clearly out-of-the-ordinary transport,” they had set up stoves that burned all day to dry the floors, and then Kurschuss sprayed a sweet fragrance in the rooms.
In another part of his book, Müller wrote that the gas chamber in Krema II had fake shower heads, but for this transport, the SS men wanted the victims to be doubly reassured, while they were still in the undressing room, that they were going to take a shower.
Then five more SS men arrived (Quackernack, Hustek, Emmerich, Schillinger and Schwartzhuber) together with Dr. Thilo, the medical officer on duty.
Müller noticed two things about this transport that were unusual: none of them wore a Star of David on their clothes, and none of them had any luggage.
The 1,000 prisoners on this transport were assembled in the yard outside Krema II and a representative of the Foreign Ministry made a speech in which he told them that this was their last stop before their departure for Switzerland.
Now here’s the really interesting part: The man from the Foreign Ministry was in reality Franz Hössler, the SS man whose job it was to calm the prisoners before they went into the gas chamber. His nickname among the prisoners was “Mosche the Liar” because of the way he lied to the people just before they entered the gas chambers. Hössler was hanged by the British in December 1945 after he was convicted of war crimes committed at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Filip Müller wrote that he was one of 18 prisoners who were brought to the crematorium to help with this transport. They were taken down in the lift (elevator) and “There we waited in the corridor from which doors led to the gas chamber, the mortuary, and the changing room.”
Hössler “that cunning fox” gave another speech, telling the victims to take off their clothes, but some of them were becoming suspicious and were hesitant to undress. Half of the prisoners (500 people) who had already undressed were hurriedly herded into the gas chamber.
The SS men began to shout at the reluctant victims and beat them with sticks to get them to undress.
“Quackernack and Schillinger were strutting back and forth in front of the humiliated crowd with a self-important swagger. Suddenly, they stopped in their tracks, attracted by a strikingly handsome woman with blue-black hair who was taking off her right shoe.”
According to Müller’s story, this beautiful woman, whom he does not identify, began to undress as though she were doing a strip tease. Then, she grabbed her shoe and slammed the high heel of the shoe violently against Quackernack’s forehead.
As Quackernack covered his face with both hands, the beautiful woman grabbed his pistol and shot Josef Schillinger; then she fired the pistol at Quackernack but missed him. A panic broke out and the SS men started leaving the undressing room. Then SS man Emmerlich was shot; he survived but was crippled for life.
The lights went out in the undressing room and the door was bolted from the outside. Müller was inside the undressing room the whole time.
In the darkness, one of the prisoners in the undressing room spoke to Müller:
“I don’t understand what this is all about. After all, we have valid entry visas for Paraguay; and what’s more, we paid the Gestapo a great deal of money to get our exit permits.”
The doors to the undressing room were flung open and the Sonderkommando prisoners, including Müller, were ordered out. Outside the door to the undressing room, two machine guns had been set up. At this point, Commandant Rudolf Höss showed up, just in time to see the prisoners shot in “a terrible blood-bath,” including the beautiful woman. While all this was going on, the SS men had dropped Zyklon-B into the gas chamber and gassed the 500 people already inside.
Müller ends his story with these words:
“The promises of the SS, ranging from work inside the camp to emigration to Switzerland, were nothing but barefaced deception, as they had proved to be for these wretched people who had wanted to emigrate to Paraguay.”
At this point, the version told in a book written by Eberhard Kolb and sold at the Bergen-Belsen Museum will clear up any questions the reader might have:
On October 23, 1943, a transport of around 1700 Polish Jews with foreign passports was transported out of the Special Camp at the Bergen-Belsen Exchange camp in Germany; they arrived on passenger trains at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, although they had been told that they were being taken to a transfer camp called Bergau near Dresden, from where they would continue on to Switzerland to be exchanged for German POWs.
One of the passengers was Franceska Mann, a beautiful dancer who was a performer at the Melody Palace nightclub in Warsaw. She had probably obtained her foreign passport from the Hotel Polski on the Aryan side of the Warsaw Ghetto. In July 1943, the Germans arrested the 600 Jewish inhabitants of the hotel and some of them were sent to Bergen-Belsen as exchange Jews. Others were sent to Vittel in France to await transfer to South America.
The controversial photo above was allegedly taken outside the Hotel Polski where Franceska Mann was staying, but it was included in the Stroop Report of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Kolb wrote that all the prisoners on the transport were gassed; none of them were shot in his version of the story.
Now here is the story told by Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss in the deposition which he gave to the British:
“Sometimes it happened that prisoners knew what was going to be done. Especially the transports from Belsen knew, as they originated from the East, when the trains reached Upper Silesia, that they were most likely (being) taken to the place of extermination.
“When transports from Belsen arrived, safety measures were strengthened and the transports were split up into smaller groups which we sent to different crematoriums to prevent riots. SS men formed a strong cordon and forced resisting prisoners into the gas chamber. That happened very rarely as prisoners were set at ease by the measures we undertook.
“I remember one incident especially well.
“One transport from Belsen arrived, approximately two-thirds, mostly men were in the gas chamber, the remaining third was in the dressing room. When three or four armed SS Unterfuhrers entered the dressing room to hasten the undressing, mutiny broke out.
“The light cables were torn down, the SS men were overpowered, one of them stabbed and all of them were robbed of their weapons. As this room was in complete darkness wild shooting started between the guard near the exit door and the prisoners inside.
“When I arrived I ordered the doors to be shut and I had the process of gassing the first party finished and then went into the room together with the guard carrying small searchlights, pushing the prisoners into a corner from where they were taken out singly into another room of the crematorium and shot, by my order, with small calibre weapons.”
Note that Höss mentioned the dressing room, the gas chamber and “another room of the crematorium” which must be the morgue which Müeller described.
The story as told by Jerzy Tabau has a few minor points that are different:
According to Jerzy Tabau, the new arrivals were told that they had to be disinfected before crossing the border into Switzerland. They were taken into an undressing room next to one of the gas chambers and ordered to undress. The beautiful Franceska caught the attention of SS Sergeant Major Josef Schillinger, who stared at her and ordered her to undress completely. Suddenly Franceska threw her shoe into Schillinger’s face, and as he opened his gun holster, Franceska grabbed his pistol and fired two shots, wounding him in the stomach. Then she fired a third shot which wounded another SS Sergeant named Emmerich. Schillinger died on the way to the hospital.
According to Tabau, in his report, called “The Polish Major’s Report,” the shots served as a signal for the other women to attack the SS men; one SS man had his nose torn off, and another was scalped. Tabau’s report was quoted by Martin Gilbert in his book entitled “The Holocaust.”
The story, as written by Tadeusz Borowski in his short story entitled “The death of Schillinger” is based on hearsay, and it disagrees with the other stories almost entirely.
Borowski wrote that the incident happened in August 1943 and that the transport consisted of Polish Jews from Bedzin. (Other versions say that it was in October 1943 and the transport was from Belsen.)
Borowski’s version, as told to him by the Sonderkommando foreman, is as follows:
“On Sunday, after the midday roll-call, Schillinger came to the cremo courtyard to visit our chief. The chief was busy as the first truckloads of the Bedzin transport had just been brought over from the loading ramp.”
The foreman told Borowski that these were Polish Jews who “knew what was up. And so the whole place was swarming with S.S. and Schillinger, seeing what was going on, drew his revolver.”
According to Borowski’s version, as told to him by the foreman, “Schillinger took a fancy to a certain body” and walked up to her and took her by the hand.
“But the naked woman bent down suddenly, scooped up a handful of gravel and threw it in his face, and when Schillinger cried out in pain and dropped his revolver, the woman snatched it up and fired several shots into his abdomen. The whole place went wild. The naked crowd turned on us screaming. The woman fired once again, this time at the chief, wounding his face. Then the chief, as well as the SS men made off, leaving us quite alone. But we managed, thank God. We drove them all right into the chamber with clubs, bolted the doors and called the S.S. to administer Cyclone B. After all, we’ve had some time to acquire some experience.”