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Kurt Gerstein (August 11, 1905 - July 25, 1945) was a German SS officer and member of the Institute for Hygiene of the Waffen-SS. He witnessed mass murders in the Nazi extermination camps Belzec and Treblinka. He contacted the Swedish diplomat Göran von Otter as well as members of the Catholic Church with contacts to Pope Pius XII in order to inform the international public about the Holocaust. In 1945 he wrote the Gerstein Report about this. Afterward he committed suicide.
Gerstein was born in Münster in Westphalia. He completed his first degree, in Engineering, in 1931. While studying he was, like all male members of the Gerstein family, a member of the Corps Teutonia Marburg. In 1933 he became a mining inspector for the Nazi government and joined the Nazi Party. As a committed Protestant and member of the YMCA, he came into conflict with the Nazi government. He was arrested for the first time on 4 September 1936, held in protective custody for five weeks, and expelled from the Nazi party. He was arrested a second time in July 1938, but was released six weeks later because no charges could be found against him.
On 4 September 1937, Gerstein started studying Medicine at the University of Tubingen. In early 1941 he joined the SS, and rose to become Head of Technical Disinfection Services, liaising with Odilo Globocnik and Christian Wirth on technical aspects of mass murder in the extermination camps. Guilt-ridden, he made multiple attempts from 1942 through 1945 to inform others about the magnitude and details of the holocaust atrocities that he witnessed; however, his statements to diplomats and religious officials achieved disappointingly little effect. He died in a prison in Paris in July 1945, apparently a suicide.
A semi-fictional movie about his emotional search for Christian values and ultimate decision to betray the SS by attempting to expose the Holocaust through informing the Catholic Church, "Amen.", was released in 2002, starring Ulrich Tukur as Kurt Gerstein and directed by Costa-Gavras. "Amen." was largely adapated from Rolf Hochhuth's The Deputy.
William T. Vollmann's Europe Central, the National Book Award fiction winner for 2005, has a 55-page segment, entitled "Clean Hands," which relates Gerstein's story.
Thomas Keneally, author of the novel Schindler's List, has written a play entitled "Either Or" on the subject of Kurt Gerstein's life as a SS officer and how he dealt with the concentration camps. It is impeccably researched and will premier at the "Theater J" in Washington, DC in May 2007.
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