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administrator of Eastern Poland and the Ukraine during the Nazi Occupation
Erich Koch was born in Elberfeld, Germany, on June 19, 1896. Little else is known about his early life except that he served without distinction as a German soldier during World War I and then worked as a railway clerk. He was dismissed from his railway position in 1926 because of anti-republican activities.
Koch joined the Nazi Party in 1922 and subsequently served in a variety of party positions in the Ruhr Region. An active participant in the 1922-1926 revolt against French occupation of the Ruhr, he was frequently imprisoned by the French authorities. In 1928 he became Gauleiter (leader) of the Nazi Party in East Prussia. He became a member of the Reichstag (representing East Prussia), was appointed to the Prussian State Council in July 1933, and was made Oberpresident (President) of East Prussia in September 1933. As Oberpresident, Koch's efforts to collectivize agriculture made him very unpopular with pesants and his ruthlessness in dealing with critics made him unpopular with virtually everyone else; he was, however, regarded fairly highly by Adolf Hitler.
At the commencement of World War II Koch was named Reichskommissar for East Prussia. He was transferred to Poland on October 26, 1939, and there he quickly gained a reputation for cruelty. His "realm" was extended to the Ukraine in October 1941, and his reputation for cruelty grew even greater. He also allegedly amassed a personal fortune from Nazi plunder, partly from his reported responsibility for overseeing transport of artwork and material from Warsaw to Germany after the defeat of Polish fighters in the 1944 Warsaw uprising. His brazen plundering and use of concentration camp inmates for his private benefit offended even the Nazi authorities, and he was tried before a Nazi SS court on charges of corruption in 1944. He was sentenced to death, but was quickly reprieved and restored to favor.
Transferred to Königsberg after Germany lost the Ukraine in November 1944, Koch managed to escape ahead of the advancing Red Army in 1945. He managed to elude capture until the end of May 1949, when he was captured by British security officers in Hamburg, Germany, where he had been living under the name Rolf Berger. Wanted for war crimes by both Poland and Russia, Koch was delivered to a Warsaw prison on January 14, 1950.
On October 19, 1958, Koch became the only Nazi to be tried for war crimes in Poland. On March 9, 1959, he was found guilty of killing 72,000 Poles and sending about 200,000 others to labor camps and sentenced to death. The death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, however, because he was already in poor health. He died in Barczewo Prison (in northeastern Poland, the territory he once controlled), on November 12, 1986.
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This page was last updated on 09/24/2017.