Hans Biebow was the most senior Nazi official who oversaw the manufacturing work done in the Lodz Ghetto. Biebow held this position from April 1940 until the destruction of the ghetto in the summer of 1944. Biebow also oversaw the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews to Chelmno or Auschwitz.
Hans Biebow was born on December 18th, 1902. He was seen by his superiors in the Nazi Party as a skilled administrator and was given control of the Lodz Ghetto after the fall of Poland in September/October 1939.
During his time in charge of the ghetto, Biebow developed a working relationship with Chaim Rumkowski, leader of the Jewish Council, who was effectively head of government within the ghetto. Rumkowski planned to work with the Nazis as opposed to organising any form of resistance. His approach remains controversial but he believed that the only way for the Jews in the ghetto to survive was proving to Biebow that their work was indispensable.
The Jewish Council in the Lodz Ghetto created 117 workshops that manufactured a great deal of military equipment for the Nazis. In return for the goods, Biebow promised food and medical supplies. Rumkowski argued that it was the only way ahead for the Jews if they were to survive. The work rate of those in the ghetto was such to attract the attention of Albert Speer, Minister of Armaments, who argued for the ghetto’s continued existence after Heinrich Himmler threatened to destroy the ghetto in 1943.
The evidence from the ghetto itself indicates that the Jews did what they could to manufacture military goods but that Biebow reneged on agreements regarding food and medical supplies. On paper, the ghetto was doing extremely well and Biebow got the credit for this working arrangement. In reality, he may well have created a situation whereby those in the ghetto did not work as well as they might have simply because their bodies were starved of food. However, there can be little doubt that he personally profited from the work done by the Jews in the ghetto. An unsubstantiated figure put the value of the work done in the ghetto at $14 million. Evidence at his later trial showed that Biebow took a large amount of property from those in the ghetto and profited from their sale. With the ghetto currency valueless outside of the ghetto, many inside it had to trade their goods for food and medical supplies. Biebow appears to have been at the heart of this ‘trade’.
Biebow also oversaw the deportation of Jews to the death camps of Chelmno and Auschwitz. At its peak it is thought that 204,000 Jews and some Roma’s were forced to live in the Lodz Ghetto. By the time the city was freed by the Red Army in January 1945, only 900 remained. Biebow preferred to see Jews as a form of lucrative cheap labour but he swiftly adjusted his views when the deportation orders came through.
As the Red Army swept through Eastern Europe and approached Lodz, Biebow fled back to Germany. When World War Two ended in Europe in May 1945, Biebow was in hiding and escaped arrest. On one of his ventures out, he was recognised and arrested. He stood trial for crimes against humanity at Lodz in April 1947. His arguments about ‘obeying orders’ fell on deaf ears and he was found guilty and sentenced to death. His execution was carried out on April 30th 1947.