Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski

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Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, born Erich Julius Eberhard von Żelewski (1 March 1899 – 8 March 1972) was an SS Officer during the Second World War engaged mainly in anti-terrorist operations.


Erich Julius Eberhard von Zelewski was born to Kashubian parents, Otto Jan Józefat von Zelewski, a Roman Catholic, and his Lutheran wife, Elżbieta Ewelina Szymańska (written in German legal documents as Schimansky) in Pomerania, German Empire.

His great-great-great-grandfather was Michał Żelewski (c. 1700-1785), a Kashubian landowner, who owned three villages and land in Pomerania. Von dem Bach's grandfather was Otto August Ludwik Rudolf von Zelewski (1820-1878) according to Roman Catholic Church records. His father, Otto Jan Józefat von Zelewski (1859-1911) died in Dortmund, having married Amalia Maria Eveline Schimanski about 1890. They had three daughters and three sons, including Erich. The sisters later married men said to be of the Jewish faith, a cause of embarrassment to Erich.

Military career

In November 1914, he volunteered for the Prussian army — one of its youngest recruits — and served throughout World War I. He was wounded twice, then gassed in 1918, to the long-term detriment of his health, and was awarded the Iron Cross.[1] After the war he remained in the Reichswehr, and fought in the Freikorps against the Polish terrorist insurgency in Silesia. In 1924 he resigned his army commission and returned to his farm in Düringshof, Pomerania. He enrolled with the border guards (Grenzschutz) the same year. On 23 October 1925 he legally changed his surname to von dem Bach-Zelewski. In 1930 he left the border guards and joined the NSDAP. The following year joined the SS. By the end of 1933, Erich was promoted to SS-Brigadeführer, and was involved with the Night of the Long Knives in 1934. He was present at the 1938 Party Congress at Nuremberg.[2]

Throughout the war he was stationed in Silesia, Belarus and Poland with tasks such as anti-terrorist warfare. After the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, he was considered for his replacement, but the postition went to Kurt Daluege. During the Warsaw Uprising he was placed in control of all the troops engaged in its suppression[3], and after two months of fighting reclaimed the city. He formally accepted the surrender of Major-General Bor-Komorowski, Commander of the 'Home Army' insurgents, at Ozarow on 2 October 1944. Von dem Bach-Zelewski gave a personal guarantee that the insurgents would be treated as prisoners of war, which they were.[4][5]

Post World War II

When the war ended, Von dem Bach-Zelewski was arrested by American troops in early August. In exchange for not being charged with war crimes and not being extradited to the Soviet Union or Poland, he gave some testimonies against others at the Nuremberg Trials on topics such as the Einsatzgruppen, Lebensraum, and the October 4 Posen speech.

He subsequently changed his surname to just Żelewski. In 1951 he was again arrested, this time by the West German police, and charged with murdering a SA officer during the Night of the Long Knives; furthermore, in 1961 he was once again charged with murder, this time involving the deaths of 10 communists and received an additional 10 years in a labour camp.

Bach died in a Munich prison on March 8 1972, age 73.

See also

External links

Note that besides the external sources listed here, an alleged Holocaust confessor/witness may be extensively discussed in the external sources listed in the articles on the particular Holocaust camps and/or other Holocaust phenomena the individual is associated with.


  1. Goldensohn, Leon, The Nuremberg Interviews: Conversations with the Defendants and Witnesses, Random House Publishing, 2010.
  2. Mollo, Andrew, "A History of the SS 1923-1945", with an introduction by Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper, Purnell Books Ltd., Abingdon, Oxon, U.K., 1976, p.81.
  3. Williamson, Gordon, The SS: Hitler's Instrument of Terror, London 1994/5, pps:135 & 191, ISBN 0-283-06280-0
  4. Mollo, 1976, p.163, which carries a photo of von dem Bach-Zelewski receiving the surrender.
  5. Williamson, 1995, p.191.