Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Memoir from the Daughter of Auschwitz Commandant Arthur Liebehenschel

By Mike Parker in LA
June 7,2009

FOR more than 40 years, Barbara Cherish has concealed a terrible secret. The smiling, divorced mother of two sons has hidden the fact that her father was one of Nazi Germany’s most reviled figures – Auschwitz commandant Arthur Liebehenschel.

He was responsible for sending tens of thousands of Jews to their deaths and was hanged for war crimes after being arrested by the US Army at the end of the war.

Now, Mrs Cherrish, 66, has decided that the truth must be told. She has made an extraordinary apology for her father’s horrific crimes and she has published an astonishing memoir based on two extensive journals her father wrote while awaiting execution.

“He was a kind, loving man,” said Mrs Cherish, “he tried to stop the selections and he tried to stop the gassings, but he could not. He was acting under orders from Berlin and those orders came from Himmler.”

Her book, The Auschwitz Kommandant: A Daughter’s Search for the Father She Never Knew, will be available in Britain next week and in America in August.

Auschwitz, in southern Poland, was the largest of the Nazi concentration camps, where an estimated 1.1 million people died – 90 per cent of them Jews from almost every country in Europe.

In a meeting near her home in California, Mrs Cherish said: “I do realise my book is likely to receive a hostile reaction from many quarters. I apologise for that. From the bottom of my heart, I apologise. I could not bear to translate my father’s journals from German to English for more than five minutes at a time. The tears would well up inside me and I would have to stop. This was a cathartic exercise for me. I grew up without ever really knowing who my father was. Writing from the standpoint of his journals has helped me discover my own past.”

Mrs Cherish, her married name from the husband she divorced 28 years ago, was born in 1943, the year her father took over from Rudolph Höss as camp commandant at Auschwitz.

“I was too young to know what was going on and have no physical memories of my father,” she said. “I was adopted by a German woman and her American husband when I was six years old, after the war. They brought me to America and told me I should never, ever talk about my father. This was forbidden, strictly forbidden. I grew up with this gaping hole in my life, without ever really knowing why.”

In 1963, however, her elder sister – one of three girls and a boy fathered by Liebehenschel – visited her in America. She brought with her two journals written by her father in Dachau and Nuremberg, while awaiting trial for war crimes. Two other journals were lost. What the surviving ones amounted to, said Mrs Cherish, was a series of love letters to his mistress, or “second wife”.

“That opened my eyes to the man he was; not a monster but a man capable of great love who hated the position he found himself in at Auschwitz,” she said.

As a child, Mrs Cherish had simply been told that her father was dead. So she had no idea that he had been arrested, tried and found guilty at the infamous Auschwitz trial in Krakow, where he was sentenced to death and then hanged in January, 1948.

Mrs Cherish’s US publisher, History Press, describes her book as: “A unique insider’s view of the dark heart of the Third Reich. It is also a heartbreaking tale of a family torn apart that will open the eyes of even the most well-read historian.” She says she has already written a sequel dealing with her later life and has been approached by an independent British production company interested in turning The Auschwitz Kommandant into a documentary.

Mrs Cherish also revealed that she is planning to move to Las Vegas later this year, adding: “I don’t feel any need to hide because of who my father was. Writing this book has been a life-changing experience.”

Yesterday, however, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles, told the Sunday Express: “If, Heaven forbid, my father had been Arthur Liebehenschel, I would run away from that memory. I would run away and hide.

“He was responsible for everything that happened at Auschwitz when he was commandant. So many, like him, used the ‘just following orders’ excuse, but there can be no excuse for the atrocities that happened under his command. Auschwitz was Hell on Earth and he ran that camp. Fifteen thousand men, women and children were murdered there every day. This continued even after the D-Day landings, even then the murder continued.”

He concluded: “If this woman is claiming her father railed against what he was doing, I don’t buy it at all. She should not be profiting from this book. Her father is an embarrassment to mankind.”