“Adolph Rübe is diagnosed as a person with pathological sexual sadism.”
The phrase “banality of evil” does not fit this story. There is nothing banal about it. The only banal aspect is the attitude of the authorities in retrospect.
I did not know and was not prepared for what I discovered that day at the General State Archives Karlsruhe near Stuttgart. To tell the truth, after six years of research on the subject of Hamburg Jewry and my family, the revelations that followed, I thought I was immune to any jolt.
It’s clear to me nothing is banal about these years. In many cases, it was a period of expression and prosperity for abusive, hateful and self-loathing, characters.
The banality is the cool, formal legal attitude that took place in the years after World War 2. The banality of how we compare every expression of fascism today to events like that summer in 1943 in ghetto Minsk.
It infuriates me, the ease with which we compare everything to the Holocaust, to the Nazis, to the victims.
Marion Baruch was a sensitive girl. A special and gentle artist. She played on the piano, painted and skillfully created theater posters, fashion and paintings.
Marion was a girl who dreamed of love and at the same time, laughed at being alone. Once she told her older sister Helga:
“I always look for the impossible in boys.”
Marion Baruch is my grandmother’s younger sister, Helga Baruch. My grandmother emigrated to Israel in 1936 and Marion, who remained with her father in Hamburg, was deported with him to the Minsk ghetto.
For years, we knew some brief details of Marion’s murder at ghetto Minsk:
“Marion painted an ornate sign – “Welcome” – for the barracks in the ghetto. At one point an officer appeared and asked who had painted the sign. When Marion admitted that this was her, the officer took her to the cemetery and shot her.”
But in the past year, a slightly different story has been discovered… The truth was buried for many years under a pile of documents and negatives in the archives of Baden-Würtemerg, Karlsruhe.
On one of my visits to the Museum of Topography of Terror in Berlin, I asked, as usual, if there is an archive in place. The archives in Germany are rich in information, but do not share a database, so in every archive, there is a chance to find a treasure that you didn’t know existed.
I ran a number of queries about Marion in the database and suddenly found the following quote:
… Regarding the murder of Marion Baruch, the defendant came to her quarters after he learned of her relationship with a non-Jew in the ghetto. He ordered his Latvian driver to take her to the cemetery and shoot her.”
What I did not know at that stage is how far this story is from the real story I will reveal later on.
Adolf Rübe was born on May 18, 1896 in Karlsruhe. He enlisted in the police and moved quickly up the ranks of the SS.
After the war, he was arrested for his actions in ghetto Minsk, interrogated and trialed in Karlsruhe.
He denied that he was a master sergeant only after his wife had been broken in her interrogation did he admit that it was a procedural way to command a ghetto, nothing more.
When the Germans, under the auspices of the American “occupier,” were looking into Rübe’s actions in ghetto Minsk, they published ads in newspapers around the world and throughout the United States for anyone who had information or testimony.
And the testimonies flowed.
The interrogation files and the trial
I found the verdict. The end of the story. It completely changed what we knew, but it was only a thread. The logic said that if there is a verdict there is evidence and there is a category and a defense. There’s a whole story about Marion’s end. The last days of this wonderful girl. A story we should know.
Almost a year after the discovery of the verdict in the Berlin archives, after locating the original documents, I reached an archive with a friend who helped me with the research, in order to check hundreds of pages of yellowing paper, and then hundreds of pages that were scanned into old negatives.
We were the first to open these files, seventy years after they were closed.
Testimonies, investigations, letters (even the letters between AR and his mother and his wife were archived), court records, appeals, food orders, budget, search warrants and whatnot.
The arrest documents, the investigation, the psychiatric diagnosis, the trial, the prison time, the appeal and finally, the release of this monster.
We started working.
The deportation of the Jews of Hamburg
Beginning in July 1941, the Jews of Hamburg were deported to ghetto Minsk.
This is testimony from Rübe’s trial, by one of the survivors of the ghetto:
“In a small apartment in the ghetto we had wooden bunks, all the furniture was smashed on the floor, everything was on the floor: books, clothes, kitchen utensils, blood stains everywhere, we realized that people were being exterminated.
About 7,000 people came from Germany. We were in the first transport of about 1,000 Jews from Hamburg. Our mission was to prepare the ghetto for the others; The men cleaned the thorn bushes, the women cleaned the apartments, the children brought water from the well. We did not have cleaning materials.
A little food was given to us. Those who ate only those quantities, died of starvation. You had to find ways to get food and sometimes you would just be shot.
Adolf Rübe was called to our ghetto commander. Some said he did not face young Jewish women”
Marion and her father Georg were deported to Minsk in 1941.
As it happens, this girl, Marion, in her short life, was forced to live under the command of this subhuman, who, years after her murder, was described by the psychiatrist who was responsible for him during his interrogation and detention:
“Adolph Rübe is diagnosed as a person with pathological sexual sadism.”
He was married, but the Rübes never had children, and he had one sister, and as we read and were exposed to more details about him, we found hatred towards women. He hated women.
Most of the witnesses from ghetto Minsk remember his fondness for young Jewish women and his affection for murder.
He would instruct them to go to the cemetery, undress, and march naked to the burial area, and then would shoot them himself with his pistol.
One day, he decided to send the whole staff of the garden maintenance girls to the cemetery. He also ordered them to undress, leave their clothes in the garden house, and shot them. A number of witnesses told the same story.
He would send the clothes to the orphanage in the neighboring town.
Herman Hauptman testified:
“They were ordered to have 16 young women running to the cemetery … As an electrician, I worked close to the place and saw everything: he shot them.”
Marion was a very talented girl. In all the testimonies on the case, she is mentioned as “the Jewish painter” or “artist Marion Baruch” – no other name is mentioned by the witnesses. She was known in the ghetto for her talent. Apparently, she was a person who could not be ignored. Marion was allowed to draw freely on the walls of the ghetto houses. Rübe noted in his testimony that he met her for the first time when he toured the ghetto after he was appointed commander and saw her painting on one of the walls, and one of the prisoners told him that Marion was also drawing people in the ghetto and asked the new commander if he wanted her to paint him too. He claimed that he had no such will.
Her best friend, Margot Aufrecht, attests to an incident that occurred a few months later in the summer of 1943:
“My good friend Marion was forced to paint Rübe. I told her not to, but she could not refuse the order. After she drew, he came. He asked her to get into his car. When he returned, she was not in the car. I later heard about her death.”
Edgar Cowen, who worked in the cemetery, testified:
“Marion was forced to walk on foot, naked, in a cold of minus 30. She walked from the church area, was placed over the grave and he shot her with his pistol.”
Document after document of investigations, evidence, accusations and defense.
All the witnesses from ghetto Minsk remember the Marion Baruch case, some from witnessing it, and some only knew about the story. Marion is mentioned by name and profession in every testimony.
In the lineup, they presented the witnesses with a page with five photographs. They all identified him immediately.
“Martin Stock said immediately, ‘That’s him!’ Pointing to line number 3, without looking twice,”
the investigator noted.
In his interrogation, when asked about the murder of Marion, Rübe referred to her as “die Baruch,” “The,” as if the she was an object; the table or the chair.
From the investigation:
Researcher: “Are you photographed?”
R.: “No, I was not photographed.”
Investigator: “Did they paint you?”
R.: “No, no, I know that was the rumor, Epstein, the Jew, told me that there is a Jewish girl who paints very good people, and I told him that I had no interest in doing so.”
Researcher: “Did you see the Jewish girl?”
R.: “Yes, her name was Baruch, she was shot by the Latvian driver.”
Investigator: “Were you there?”
R.: “No, I was not there.”
Investigator: “Why did he shoot her?”
R.: “I have no idea, she was there…”
Investigator: “Did you have a car in Minsk?” (According to the testimonies, Rübe put her in his car before he murdered her).
R.: “I did not have a car.”
R: “I had nothing to do with the shooting, I did not shoot your friend.”
Investigator: “How many people did you shoot?”
R.: “I did not shoot anyone.”
Once, he accused his commander of ordering him to shoot Marion because she had a relationship with a non-Jewish man, for stealing military equipment (paints, painting the walls), and finally, his version of a relationship with a non-Jewish prisoner, and asked his driver to take her to the cemetery and carry out the punishment.
For the dozens of patients he had murdered in the ghetto’s hospital as well as for the dozens of young girls who he had murdered in the same way, naked, cold, with his gun, in the cemetery, most of them in their twenties, for the hundreds or more, Jews and Russians, he only got life sentence + 15 years.
He appealed his punishment. He wrote letters to anyone he could. Defeated and pointless claims. His appeal was denied.
In the appeal, his lawyer argued:
“He had nothing to do with the murder of the four girls in the cemetery …
He had nothing to do with the murder of the baby and his mother in the cemetery …
He had nothing to do with the murder of Marion Baruch, he heard about it later … “
And so on.
Finally, he was released in 1972 after a few years and continued to receive a pension from the state. He died free at his home in Karlsruhe.
During those years, there were no diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany. My grandmother, Marion’s sister, lived in Tel Aviv and knew nothing about the ghetto commander’s trial or her sister’s fate – nothing.
Until the day of her death, my grandmother did not know the story. The mystery was not solved. The trial took place many years before. From the 1960s, she lived in Hamburg while the murderer was free, living a few hundred kilometers away.
And maybe she did not know.
There is no banality of evil in what happened in that summer of 1943, just a sadistic hater of women and a Nazi. There is no justice in what happened in those sentences of ‘47, and the 50’s.
With my partners in this historic journey, I have disagreements. Should his name be mentioned? Should it be turned into a sadistic killer story rather than a story of a greedy murder machine made up of thousands or millions of collaborators? Does an individual murder diminish what is important in the Holocaust story: systemic mass murder? Does this reduce the group’s responsibility?
Still, I chose to tell Marion’s story. The story of the Hamburg girls. The story of a community, where most of its Jewish daughters died.
This story sheds light on an important subject that has been receiving attention only in recent years, and it is important that we emphasize it: wherever women are, even in the horrors of the war when it seems to us that the worst is done to human beings – if there are women, they will suffer more. The sexual interest will be there and there will be those who knew how to exploit it.
I would like to thank to the people who supported my with this research:
To Oliver H]פ for this day in Karlsruhe.
To Rüdiger Pohlman and Mimi Swalski, my partners for this journey.
To Ayelet Mohar for the grammatical editorial.
To Liat Bar-Stav for the advisement and special insights.