Klausa served for part of the war as “Landrat,” or “Chief Executive of the Landkreis or County of Bedzin,” in southern Poland, not far north of what are now the borders with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Nazi Germany seized Bedzin, along with the rest of Poland, in 1939 and promptly began the ghastly process of rendering it Judenfrei, or free of Jews. At the start of the war, “nearly one-half (some 24,495 or more) of the town’s 54,000 inhabitants . . . were Jewish.” The Nazis went about their business efficiently: “Within less than four years after the German invasion, virtually half the population of the town of Bedzin — the Jewish half . . . were dead.” A survivor of Auschwitz returned to Bedzin in 1945 and reported that “only 160 [Jews] were registered . . . and I assume that even these figures are too high.”
By any civilized measure, it is an appalling story. To Fulbrook it became even more so because the Landrat’s wife, Alexandra, “had been the closest schoolfriend of my own mother; in due course, the former Landrat’s wife became my own godmother, and indeed, in one of my middle names, Alexandra, I am even partly named after her.” She “knew Klausa personally, and all my life have been connected to the Klausa family in ways that, once I discovered Udo Klausa’s former role, made me acutely uncomfortable.”
Her mother, a “committed Christian” but “of Jewish descent,” fled Germany before the war, living in Spain before settling in England; her friendship with Alexandra revived after the war, and they remained close, though certain subjects apparently never were discussed. In considering Klausa’s career as Landrat, Fulbrook has labored mightily to strike the proper balance between professional historian and family friend, and she has succeeded: The judgment she reaches is unequivocal but fair.
Born in 1910 “in a traditionally Prussian area of Silesia,” Klausa wanted “to follow in his father’s footsteps in the German civil service” and succeeded as a quite young man: “Intelligent, hard-working, ambitious, articulate, and charming in manner, conventionally handsome and with appropriate social connection,” Klausa “was in some senses paradigmatic of many who considered themselves to be ‘decent Germans’ and who sustained the Nazi regime, while distinguishing themselves from those they saw as the ‘real’ or ‘fanatic’ Nazis, and then realized only too late just what depths of criminality this regime actually entailed.” He “was not an independent initiator of Nazi policies, but he faithfully implemented directives passed on to him by his superiors.” Like Adolf Eichmann, he just followed orders.