Can you imagine a Jew serving in the Nazi SS for years and getting away with it? This is the true story of Fritz Scherwitz
Fritz Scherwitz was born in 1903, the son (he later claimed) of a Jewish craftsman in the Baltic village of Buscheruni.
He grew up speaking Yiddish, German and Russian. As a 17-year-old he joined the Freikorps and in 1933 became an early member of the SS. The Nazi troop did not investigate his family tree and accepted his “Aryan” credentials, backed up by references from Nazi colleagues. His village, he said, had been destroyed along with his birth certificate; in fact he may have invented the place.
Scherwitz rose through the SS ranks and belonged to the notorious Einsatz Gruppe A2 which, with Latvian collaborators, murdered about 32,000 people — mostly Jews — near Riga in 1941. Scherwitz later denied that he was present at the massacre but the Nazis clearly trusted him to supervise a labour camp. Once installed he played off one section of the SS against another. Some 90 Jewish workers earmarked for liquidation were assigned by him to renovate SS villas and given life-saving identity papers. He converted the camp into a massive tailors’ workshop producing uniforms, evening gowns, stockings and silk underwear for the families and friends of the SS. As a result many Jews survived; the camp swelled to 900 inhabitants. Even so, he was in charge when Jews were deported to death camps.
During the war he kept his Jewish identity secret. After the war, having fled to Bavaria, he hid his role in the camp but declared his origins to the American occupation forces, who allowed him to head a trust fund aimed at compensating Jewish victims. The German authorities did not investigate his war record too closely, being nervous that their wartime anti-Semitism would be exposed.
In 1948, however, he was denounced and sentenced by a German court to six years’ jail for killing three people who tried to flee from his labour camp. The judges ruled that the punishment should be severe since “it was a reprehensible case of a Jew killing members of his own race”.
Some argue that Scherwitz, who died in 1962, was a fraud who pretended to be a Jew after the war in the hope of misleading war crimes investigators.