Ernst-Heinrich Schmauser (18 January 1890 in Hof, Bavaria – 10 February 1945 in Breslau) was an officer of the Schutzstaffel (SS) who held the rank of SS-Obergruppenführer with date of rank from 1937. He holds the distinction of being the last peace time promotion to that rank before the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Ernst-Heinrich Schmauser was also a member of the German Reichstag representing the NSDAP.
Life and work
Schmauser was born the son of a businessman. He attended elementary school and junior high school in Hof an der Saale, then the secondary school in Bayreuth. After graduation, he pursued a military career. First, he spent a year with the 11th Bavarian Infantry Regiment "von der Tann" in Regensburg. He then joined the 9th Royal Saxon Army, 133rd Infantry Regiment in Zwickau.
After training at the Military Academy in Hanover, Schmauser served in the First World War (1914-1918) as a company commander. He fought in the Western Theater with the 133rd and 183rd Infantry Regiments. He was wounded three times in battle and decorated on multiple occasions, receiving the Iron Cross (First and Second) Class, the Silver Wound Badge, and the Knight's Cross of the Order of Albert (Second Class) with Swords. On 9 November 1915, he received the Knight's Cross of the Military-St. Heinrich's Order. Following Schmauser’s demobilization from the Kaiser’s Army in 1919, he was promoted to captain and given permission to continue wearing the uniform of the 133rd Infantry Regiment.
From 1919 to 1933, Schmauser worked in banking as a cashier in Zwickau. It was a temporary career path which he considered beneath his social standing. He married in 1921, and had two children by his wife. As early as 1924 Schmauser belonged to the right-wing conservative voting alliance known as the Völkisch-Social Block and was head of the Sturmabteilung (SA) in Zwickau. He was sporadically active on the political scene as were many other former military officers in the wake of the collapsing Weimar economy.
In early March 1930, Schmauser joined the NSDAP (Nazi Party member: 215,704) and on 14 October 1930 he was awarded the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer (SS number: 3,359). From mid-December 1930, he led the 7th SS-Brigade in Saxony and from August, 1932, he headed SS Section XVI (Province of Saxony).
In the Reichstag elections of July 1932, Schmauser was the candidate for the 20th District (Leipzig) representing the Nazi Party in the Reichstag, where he served until November 1932. In the Reichstag elections of November 1932, Schmauser lost his mandate. A year later, in November 1933, Schmauser returned as a member of the Nazi Party and helped govern Germany until his death in February 1945. Throughout his service in the Nazi Reichstag, he represented the 24th District of Upper Bavaria-Swabia (November 1933 to February 1936), and then he served for the 26th District of Franken (March 1936 to February 1945).
The Nazi years (1933 - 1945)
In late July 1933, Schmauser, on request of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, took over the leadership of the SS Group South. On 1 April 1936, he was appointed SS Upper Main section leader, headquartered in Nuremberg. During the Night of the Long Knives (30 June to 2 July 1934), in which SA leader Ernst Röhm was killed, Schmauser was considered one of the few ranking members of the SS trustworthy enough to be involved (despite his past as an SA officer). Earnest work garnered more attention for Schmauser, and on 10 April 1937 he was promoted to SS-Gruppenführer.
During the Second World War, Schmauser was promoted again to SS-Obergruppenführer and Higher SS and Police Leader as of 20 May 1941 in Breslau. He was later named leader of the SS-Oberabschnitts South East. He remained a faithful Nazi and a consummate technocrat. A telling example is witnessed in the fact that Schmauser had no qualms about using Jewish slave labor, as he reported in April 1942 to Himmler how pleased he was to have Jews working for his operation, since workers were otherwise scarcely available. When the first gas chamber was tested at Auschwitz in the summer of 1942, Higher SS and Police Leader Schmauser was present, as were Gauleiter Fritz Bracht of Upper Silesia and Reichsführer-SS Himmler. Himmler appointed Schmauser General of the Waffen-SS on 1 July 1944.
Early in the summer of 1944, the SS began transferring the 130,000 prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau to other camps since the Red Army was moving rapidly East. By 21 December 1944 the Red Army had drawn close enough that orders were issued for Auschwitz to be totally evacuated. It was Schmauser who followed Himmler’s order to expedite the camp’s inmates away as he was in charge in Silesia. Not knowing exactly how to handle the matter, however, he telephoned SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl, who told him that Himmler wanted no 'healthy' prisoners left alive in the camp.
More than 56,000 prisoners were marched westwards in harsh winter conditions. In accordance with Higher Police Headquarters (HSSPF Breslau), Schmauser ensured to the best of his ability that no inmates would end up in the hands of the Soviets. Despite the fact that Schmauser instructed the guards to evacuate everyone, some inmates too sick to make the trek were just left behind. Nonetheless, camp guards shot those too weak to continue or those who failed to keep pace, which amounted to upwards of 25 percent of them. A small percentage eventually made it to the Groß-Rosen concentration camp in Lower Silesia where they were transited away westwards.
On 20 January 1945, SS-Obergruppenführer Schmauser issued instructions to liquidate the remaining inmates. An SS detachment shot 200 Jewish women and then blew up the buildings that housed crematoria I and II. Under order from Schmauser, 700 prisoners from Auschwitz-Birkenau and other sub-camps were killed by SS units. The 1st Ukrainian Front of the Red Army arrived on 27 January 1945 and liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp. Nearly 8,000 inmates escaped death because the remaining SS units had fled as the Red Army arrived.
On 10 February 1945, Schmauser was driving to Breslau when he encountered some German troops near Altenrode. They pointed out that the Soviet armored spearheads had already broken through. For unknown reasons, Schmauser did not heed their warnings and drove on. He has been missing since that date. It is believed that he fell into the hands of the Red Army and was either killed immediately or executed later in captivity.
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