In 1968, Victor Capesius and his family attended a music concert in Göppingen. It was his first public appearance after having spent 30 months in jail. Upon entering the room, the audience rose spontaneously and applauded him as if he were before a violin virtuoso.
In reality, the applause was dedicated to a virtuoso of infamy.
Despite the denazification undertaken in Germany after the end of World War II, guys like Capesius were not marginalized: on the contrary, they enjoyed a certain social prestige. The ordinary citizen saw them as victims of a system that imparted justice with thick strokes, without context.
Caepsius was not in his eyes a Nazi hierarch who had led the country towards destruction. He was just a competent official who had obeyed orders, in a wrong place and time in history.
The place: Auschwitz . The moment: from December 1943 to January 1945. Just over a year in the life of someone who reached 78.
FROM CITIZEN EXAMPLE TO PSYCHOPATH
At that time he was an exemplary citizen who paid his taxes and had a pharmacy and a cosmetics shop. A representative of the economic miracle with which West Germany amazed the world.
The man who was applauded in 1968 had worked in his native country, Romania, before the war as a sales representative in laboratories such as IG Faber and Bayer. Ethnically German, he fought with the Romanian army until the alliance with Hitler introduced him into the machinery of the Third Reich.
During the height of the Final Solution, the operation designed to exterminate the Jews of Europe, Capesius passed through the Dachau camp before being sent to Poland. There he became a kind of god, of supreme judge. When the prisoners arrived by train to Auschwitz, he decided at the same station with a simple gesture who could hold on to the hope of survival or who were directly sent to the gas chamber . A sign that reminded randomly of the Roman emperors in the Colosseum.
“An example of that power in which he interpreted God was when Adrienne Krausz arrived in Auschwitz with his parents and his sister. Everyone had met Capesius when he worked at Bayer. He placed Adrienne and his father on the right (which meant life), but had the mother and sister executed, ”says Patricia Posner , author of The Pharmacist of Auschwitz (Critical Ed.), The biography of this Nazi criminal Little known to the general public.
In the years when the Auschwitz field complex was active, 1.1 million people died. According to figures from Franciszek Piper, 90% were Jews.
In his short stay Capesius collaborated, although indirectly, with Josef Mengele, the angel of death that he experimented with humans in facilities that still remember the house of horrors. Among its different powers was also the custody of Zyklon B, the lethal gas used in the chambers.
If only this background could embarrass the foolish or uninformed who applauded such a subject at the Göppingen concert, there is still a surprise in Capesius' evil curriculum: mortuary robbery.
In Auschwitz, the executioners tore the golden teeth of the corpses that were overcrowded in the furnaces . All the loot was stored in a warehouse next to the pharmacist's dispensary. When the camp was evacuated at the end of the war, Capesius took what he could and hid it in a suitcase.
"We don't know the exact amount stolen but he did have enough to open his own pharmacy after the war," Posner explains by mail .
When everything seemed forgotten and already integrated into post-war civil society, suddenly the memory of two men encircled their voluntary amnesia . The first, Fritz Bauer, first Jewish prosecutor appointed in Germany, and, secondly, Herman Langbein, an Austrian communist who had been imprisoned in Auschwitz. Both dedicated the last part of their lives to bringing fugitive Nazi criminals to justice. Victor Capesius was one of his main objectives.
When they finally got it, the outcome was unexpected. The pharmacist turned out to be the only one of the 22 accused of murder in the great Auschwitz trial (1963-1965) that was acquitted . The testimonies of the witnesses were not taken into account. His sentence was limited to "complicity of murder." Something unheard of. "During the trial his only feeling was outrage, being on the bench of the accused," says his biographer.
Shortly after, serving only one fifth of the sentence, the Supreme Court released him when his appeal was still pending resolution . The judges justified that decision on the grounds that their business and family ties in Germany eliminated the risk of escape.
The heart attack that shortly after killed Fritz Bauer did the rest. Capesius lived the rest of his life peacefully. He never confessed to feeling any remorse.
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