Biebow's early life is summarized by the following curriculum vitae which he submitted to the German Ghetto Administration (German language: Gettoverwaltung) on 10 May 1940:
I was born December 18, 1902, in Bremen, the son of Julius Biebow, an insurance company director. After graduating from secondary school, I entered my father's company — the district branch of the Stuttgart Insurance Company — as an apprentice, planning on eventually assuming my father's post. I received thorough training, remaining there an additional year as an employee. Since the insurance business had come almost completely to a standstill during the inflation, I then gave up my position to join the cereal and foodstuff bank in Bremen as a trainee. From there I went into the cereal business and stayed in this trade until I was 22. I should mention that I managed a large branch of an Eichsfeld cereal company in Göttingen for half a year. When the inflation ended, I became particularly interested in the reviving coffee trade. After a short training period with a business friend of my father's, I opened my own business with very little capital, building it, in the course of 18 years, into one of the largest such companies in Germany. At the end I employed about 250 workers and office personnel.
After working as a coffee importer in his hometown of Bremen, Biebow became the overseer of the Łódź Ghetto. He realized that the Lodz Ghetto could make a profit for the Germans if it were converted into essentially a slave labor complex.
Under his administration, the 164,000 Jews of Poland's second largest city were crammed into a small area of the city. Communication between the Ghetto inhabitants and the outside world was completely cut off and the supply of food was severely limited, ensuring that many of the inhabitants of the Ghetto would slowly starve. Over the course of its existence, the population of the Ghetto swelled to 204,000 with more Jews from Central Europe being sent there. The Ghetto Administration remained in operation from April 1940 until the summer of 1944, but there were transports out of the Ghetto to extermination camps (primarily Auschwitz and Chelmno) beginning at the end of 1941.
Biebow was a ruthless administrator, concerned with the ghetto's productivity and his own personal gain. He was directly responsible for starving the ghetto's population beyond limits of endurance, and he assisted the Gestapo in rounding up Jews during deportations. In the days just before the liberation of Lodz by the Red Army, Biebow ordered large burial pits to be dug in the local cemetery, intending that the Gestapo execute the remaining 877 Jews who served as a clean-up crew in the ghetto. This might have been an attempt by Biebow to eliminate witnesses to his role in the workings of the Ghetto.
Biebow exercised his control in part through a Jewish administration headed by Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski. Rumkowski believed that the Jews could survive if they produced cheap, essential goods for the Nazis. Biebow profited substantially from the sale of the products of Jewish labour as well as from the seized properties of Jews. He is also said to have provided less food to Ghetto inhabitants than was paid for, pocketing the difference. The Ghetto factories produced products such as boots for German soldiers and were profitable for the Germans because the Jews, cut off from all resources, worked for wages that consisted only of bread, soup, and other essentials. The German profits from the Jewish factories have been estimated at $14,000,000 and the productivity of the Ghetto was a factor in its comparatively long survival. The inhabitants endured four years of starvation, illness and overcrowding before being sent to the extermination camps of Chełmno and Auschwitz. Of the 204,000 inhabitants, approximately 10,000 survived.
Among the Nazi hierarchy, Biebow was an early exponent of using the Jews as cheap labor rather than killing them, but he readily adapted to the extermination policy. Survivors report his encouraging the last surviving Jews of the Ghetto in the summer of 1944 to board the trains to Auschwitz with a speech that began "My Jews...” and promised them work in the West.
Biebow was able to escape into hiding in Germany in 1945 after the unconditional surrender, but was recognized by a survivor of the ghetto and subsequently arrested in Bremen. After he was extradited by the Allies to Łódź, he stood trial from April 23 to April 30, 1947. He was found guilty on all counts and executed by hanging.
- Adelson, Alan and Lapides, Robert. Łódź Ghetto: Inside A Community Under Siege, p. 496-497. Penguin Books, 1989.
- Wolf Oschlies, German „Ghetto Litzmannstadt“ in Polish Lódz, on shoa.de
- Exhibition Ghetto Litzmannstadt,1999−2000
- Ghetto Lodz/Litzmannstadt
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