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Press Information published by the International Auschwitz Committee


100th anniversary of the Bauhaus: "Architect of mass murder" in Auschwitz

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Simply by studying at the Bauhaus and encountering the creative and cosmopolitan approach of the founders and teachers in Dessau was clearly not enough to prevent this humane and artistic approach from being transformed into the opposite in later professional life. In fact it even became possible to implement the basic teachings of the Bauhaus for the crimes of the SS in Auschwitz. For instance, the Austrian architect Fritz Ertl, who was born in 1908 and studied at the Bauhaus from 1928 to 1931, rose to become deputy chief of the SS Central Planning and Construction Office in Auschwitz in 1942.

Ertl joined the National Socialist Party and the SS immediately after the German takeover of Austria in 1938. And on 27 May 1940 he became a member of the SS Auschwitz New Construction management. In Auschwitz he was a leading architect in the design and construction of the profoundly inhuman, deeply demoralizing and degrading architecture surrounding the prisoners in the camp. To this day, the wooden housing that was originally designed for 52 horses in the Birkenau camp bears witness to his unscrupulous methods. At various times more than 750 people were forced to languish in these buildings. In 1961 the Auschwitz survivor and then Secretary General of the International Auschwitz Committee, Hermann Langbein, reported this to the authorities. It was only in 1972 that the case against Fritz Ertl and Walter Dejaco, another Auschwitz architect, was brought before the Vienna District Court. The charges drawn up by the prosecutor accused Ertl and Dejaco of precisely this deliberate unscrupulous inhumanity in their architectural constructions:

"From the very beginning your architectural activity was geared towards the short-lived languishing of the prisoners, and it scorned even the most elementary principles in building technology. The fact that the accused were very well aware that the windowless and insufficiently ventilated, densely built barracks offered too little living space for human beings, becomes clear from their efforts to improve the ventilation of the barracks created specifically for guard dogs and cattle in order to ensure they had a healthy environment." Despite this, the reality of Auschwitz and Birkenau was ignored, and both Ertl and Dejaco were acquitted in Vienna on 10 March 1972 following a trial that received little attention. They were acquitted because they were not “the originators of the gas chambers”.

The architect and independent designer Franz Ehrlich, who was born in Leipzig in 1907, studied at the Bauhaus at the same time as Fritz Ertl from 1927 to 1930. But his fate was entirely different. The Nazis arrested him in 1934 as a member of the communist resistance and from 1937 on he was imprisoned in Buchenwald concentration camp, where he was forced to work for the SS Construction Office: to this day the inscription facing inside the camp Jedem das Seine (To each what he deserves) is regarded as the work of a free-thinker and as a decisive sign of resistance. It was secretly designed by Franz Ehrlich using the characteristic typeface of the Bauhaus which the Nazis had banned. The SS intended their cynical inscription to add to the scorn and degradation to the suffering of the prisoners. In deliberate defiance, Franz Ehrlich secretly created the 1-metre wide Bauhaus sign that weighs 15 kilograms and is set above the camp gate. It was a clear and courageous gesture designed to ridicule the Nazi oppressors and to give hope to the prisoners for an end to their horrific ordeals.

Commenting during a visit to the Auschwitz Memorial, Christoph Heubner, Executive Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee said:

"The lives of Fritz Ertl and Franz Ehrlich tell young people visiting the memorial a lot about opportunism, unscrupulousness and greed for a career on the one hand, and rectitude, humanity and empathy on the other. Professional knowledge and skills can enable an individual to build concentration camps, or to shape humane conditions for life in society – that’s the message from these two lives. The decision is ours, and ours alone."


For further Information

Christoph Heubner

Executive Vice President
International Auschwitz Committee
Phone ++ 49 (0)30 26 39 26 81