Derek Niemann recalls what it has been like to live with a Nazi in his family, as his grandmother married a senior SS officer who oversaw slave labour during World War Two.
Minna Niemann lived in Berlin when the war broke out in 1939, but she wasn’t convinced by Nazi propaganda and distrusted the new regime.
When she gave birth to her fourth child she was awarded with a Mutterkreuz, which was the Nazis way of celebrating the growth of the Aryan race. Minna threw it away in disgust.
Concentration camp prisoners attended Minna’s house to take care of general maintenance, build furniture for the family and ensure they had an air-raid shelter. Minna did her best to provide them with food and hot coffee, even though she was not meant to.
Towards the end of the war, the Nazi regime had become desperate trying to hang on to the remnants of its once grand scheme and any dissenters were shot or hanged immediately. Minna became even more outspoken and her children worried that she might get herself killed.
However much the Nazis disgusted Minna, she did fall for one of them – Karl Niemann. Karl was an SS officer for the Nazis and held management roles at several concentration camps including Auschwitz, Dachau, and Buchenwald.
Today Derek struggles to come to terms with how his grandmother could live a life of such contradiction. But Minna had met Karl many years before the war even started and even before World War One. They met in 1912 when they both lived in the town of Hamelin, Minna was a seamstress and Karl worked in the local bank.
Karl enlisted and fought during World War One and was taken prisoner of war by the French and was away for six years. When he returned Minna and Karl were married.
Over the next decade or so, Germany, and the world, experienced mass unemployment and economic decline. It was in the 1930s when Karl joined the Nazi party since they seemed to provide a solution. As a part official, Karl was ordered to report any dissenters or those with alternative political views to the Gestapo.
Karl lost his job and was given a role within Heinrich Himmler’s SS. Derek does not know what his grandmother thought about this, but from what he can tell she tried to distance herself and her children from the concentration camp environments.
As the war was coming to an end, Karl, Minna and their children, along with many other SS officers were sent to the Alps to escape the incoming Allied and Soviet troops. On their way they had to sleep overnight at Dachau and Minna questioned Karl about the smell of burning bodies, which Karl denied.
Karl was eventually captured by American soldiers and served three years in prison. Minna returned to Hamelin where she got her children back to a normal life without the Nazis, The Guardian reports.
Karl’s trial records show that he did try to save some of the concentration camp inmates, and even took one in to work at the family’s home, which looked favourable during his trial. However Karl showed no remorse for his actions and advocating slavery.
To this day, Derek does not know if Karl did ever feel remorse. In regards to Minna, Derek believes she did what any mother would do and put her family first.