Gottlieb Jakob Hering
Hering - Second from left celebrating with Groth, Bolender, Zierke and others
Commandant of Belzec 1942-1943
Gottlieb Hering was born on 2 June 1887 in the small town of Wambronn, Leonberg district in Upper Swabia, a part of the State of Württemberg, in south-west Germany. After completing seven years of elementary education he attended a two year course in agriculture at a vocational school and was then employed on various estates in the vicinity of Warmbronn and Leonberg, eventually as a farm foreman. In 1908, he was conscripted for two years military service in the Imperial German Army of Kaiser Wilhelm II in Ulm, with the Uhlan Regiment 20. Upon completion of his conscription, Hering re-enlisted for another two years service.On his discharge from the army in October 1912, Hering joined the Schutzpolizei, the regular uniformed police, patrolling the streets of Heilbronn, before transferring to Stuttgart. On 4 June 1914, he married Helene Schwarz, and a son Willy, was born on 5 December 1914. Hering was conscripted into the army on 28 October 1915. He fought with the No. 2 Machine-Gun Company of Grenadier Regiment 123, first in France and then in Flanders. Hering fought with courage and was promoted to the rank of Senior Sergeant and he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class, and the Military Service Award, 3rd Class. He was discharged from the army on 29 December 1918 and immediately he re-joined the police in Heilbronn.
In the autumn of 1925, Hering attended a three- month course at the Württemberg Police Academy in Stuttgart and successfully passed the police examinations which qualified him to train young police officers. Hering was then appointed to head the Kripo office in the town of Goppingen on 29 April 1929. Whilst performing this role, he fell out with SA- Obersturmbannführer Osterreicher, who claimed that Hering was anti-Nazi and should be removed from his post. At the beginning of October 1933, Christian Wirth, several other police officers and leading Nazis testified in his defence. Hering was finally transferred from Goppingen to the Police Presidium in Stuttgart, where he worked with Christian Wirth.
In November 1939, Hering was appointed head of the Kriminalpolizei in Schwenningen, a post he only held for six weeks. In mid-December 1939, he was ordered to report, along with other officers, to Paul Werner, deputy head of the Reich Kriminalpolizei office in Berlin. The team of officers was posted to Gotenhafen (today Gydnia) on the Baltic coast of the ‘Polish Corridor’ which separated East Prussia from the rest of the Reich, for ‘special duty’ – dealing with the resettlement in the area of Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans) from the Baltic States. At the end of 1940, Hering was assigned to the ‘T4’ euthanasia programme, and he was appointed to the post of senior registrar at the ‘Burg Sonnenstein,’ set high above the town of Pirna on the River Elbe, near Dresden, in Saxony. He served at Sonnenstein for six months, and then served at a number of ‘T4’ institutions at Hadamar, near Limburg in Hesse, Bernburg-an- der-Saale, near Dessau in Saxony, before returning to Sonnenstein – Pirna.
On 1 August 1942, Gottlieb Hering replaced Christan Wirth, as the Commandant of the Belzec death camp, in south-eastern Poland, when Wirth left to be the ‘Inspekteur der SS Sonderkommandos – Abteilung Reinhard.’ In Lublin.
Rudolf Reder, one of the few survivors of Belzec, wrote about Hering:
We knew that in the most beautiful house close to the station of Belzec lived the commander of the camp. He was an Obersturmführer. He seldom was present in the camp and came only in connection with some event. He was a tall bully, broad shouldered, age around forty, with an expressionless face. He seemed to me as if he were a born bandit. Once the gassing engine stopped working: When he was informed, he arrived astride a horse, ordered the engine to be repaired and did not allow the people in the gas chambers to be removed. He let them strangle and die slowly for a few hours more. He yelled and shook with rage. In spite of the fact that he came only on rare occasions, the SS men feared him greatly. He lived alone with his Ukrainian orderly, who served him. The Ukrainian submitted to him the daily reports.
From November 1942, Hering was also responsible for the exhumation and cremation on open-air pyres of the victims of the Belzec death camp. The cremations were supervised by SS NCO’s Fritz Tauscher and Heinrich Gley and the grisly work was carried out by members of the Jewish ‘death brigade’ lasted five months until March 1943. When some of the SS officers engaged in ‘Aktion Reinhardt’ were recommended for promotion by Odilo Globocnik, Hering was promoted to the rank of SS- Hauptsturmführer only after the personal intervention of RFSS Heinrich Himmler. Hering remained in command at Belzec until the liquidation of the camp on 8 May 1943, after this he was transferred to command the Jewish labour camp at Poniatowa, together with several SS-men from Belzec, including Heinrich Gley, Hans Girtzig, and Karl Schluch.
Poniatowa lies 35 kilometers south-west of Lublin and the camp held thousands of Jews employed as forced labourers as part of the Walter Toebbens concern, working for the German war effort. Hering was responsible for the construction of the production halls and assigning the prisoners to work. Rivalry and arguments soon arose between Hering and director Jahnke, during which time Hering beat the German director so badly with his riding whip that Jahnke had to be taken to hospital. Jahnke went into hiding but was arrested after it emerged he had been involved in illegal dealings in gold and valuables, taken from the Jews. Jahnke was executed, shortly afterwards.
On 14 October 1943, the Jews in the Sobibor death camp staged an armed revolt and 12 SS –men, and 2 Ukrainian-SS were killed and several hundred prisoners escaped from the camp. The next day Hering was sent to Sobibor to secure the camp and remained there for several days before returning to Poniatowa.
The ‘Aktion Erntefest’ (Harvest Festival) massacres in the labour camps of the Lublin District on 3-4 November 1943, which included Poniatowa, occurred. Hering was informed in his office by two police officers, witnessed by Heinrich Gley, that the camp was surrounded and the Jews were to be liquidated, without exception. Some 14,000 Jews were murdered in Poniatowa, that day, by a police squad numbering 1500 men and their bodies cremated.
At the end of 1943, Hering, and other SS men who served at Belzec death camp, as well as Poniatowa were transferred to Trieste, in northern Italy to join the majority of the ‘Aktion Reinhardt’ personnel, who had been there since the end of September 1943. Hering was appointed the commander of ‘R-1,’ one of three special SS and police units based in San Sabba. San Sabba was a disused rice mill near the harbour in Trieste. Their task, code-named ‘Einsatz-R,’ under the supervision of Christian Wirth, was to round-up and deport the Jews of the vicinity, to Auschwitz – Birkenau, and to take over their property and belongings. Hering was transferred first to Udine in northern Italy, and then back to Germany, where he was appointed head of the Kriminalpolizei office in Heilbronn, the same town, where he had started his police career almost 34 years earlier. Helene Riegraf, who had been his secretary in Italy, married Hering just before the end of the Second World War and they settled in the Stuttgart suburb of Fellbach.
At the beginning of October 1945, Hering went to visit his son Willy in Stetten-im-Remstal, Württemberg, an area occupied by the French Army, who began in investigation into his career. Gottlieb Hering died in unknown circumstances in the waiting room of the Katherinen Hospital in Stetten.
Michael Tregenza- The Nazi Guzzler – Expanded paper Lublin 2006, following a lecture presented at Poniatowa on 3 November 2005
Y. Arad, Belzec, Sobibor Treblinka, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1987
Sonnenstein- Stadtverwaltung Pirna 2001
Photograph – Ghetto Fighters House, Israel
Gottlieb Hering – Personal File – NARA Washington DC.
© Holocaust Historical Society 2014