Herbert Lange was the first commandant of Sobibor death camp. Lange, like Christian Wirth, had been involved in the euthanasia programmes introduced by the Nazis. Like Wirth, he escaped a post-war trial for his crimes as he was killed in battle.
Herbert Lange was born in September 1909 in Pomerania. He studied law at university but failed to graduate. Like many disillusioned young men in Weimar Germany, he joined the Nazi Party in May 1932. Just three months later he joined the SA – the Brownshirts led by Ernst Röhmn. In 1934, he joined the SS.
In 1938, Lange was promoted to SS-Untersturmfűhrer and in 1939 he joined Einsatzgruppe VI which consisted of about 150 men who, following the invasion of Poland, followed on behind the army and became a mobile killing unit.
As part of his duties, Lange was ordered to build a concentration camp at Poznan. This became known as KZ Fort VII and for a very short time, Lange was its commander. Once the camp was up and running, Lange moved on. Lange was ordered, possibly by Heinrich Himmler, to visit mental asylums in Poland and to kill inmates as part of the ‘euthanasia’ programme introduced by the Nazis.
For this work, Lange used a mobile gas chamber. At one mental home in Owinska, between September and December 1939, 1,100 people were murdered by Lange’s group. At the Koscian mental home, 3,334 were murdered between January and February 1940. Just over 1100 were murdered at three other mental homes in Poland.
Lange’s effectiveness in organising these murders was highly regarded by the SS hierarchy. He was promoted to SS-Obersturmfűhrer in April 1940 and in December 1941, he was appointed as the first commandant of the Chelmno extermination camp. He held this position until February 1942 when he was dismissed from this post. He went to Berlin where he worked at the Reich’s Main Security Office. In 1944, he was involved in the investigations that took place after the July Bomb Plot. His work in this was so highly regarded that he was promoted to SS-Sturmbannfűhrer.
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