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(photo credit: Courtesy)
The publication of a salacious memoir by a Gestapo secretary, which spurred a legal battle with her one-time Nazi lover, has exposed the existence of a commander of the Warsaw Ghetto who was never prosecuted for his war crimes, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said Monday.
Erich Steidtmann, 92, had launched unsuccessful legal action in a German court against the book's publication, since it portrayed him as a philanderer and womanizer who abandoned a woman he had an affair with when she became pregnant.
The case emerged thanks to Steidtmann's bruised ego, according to the Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, and highlighted the failure of the German judicial authorities to bring Holocaust perpetrators to justice. "The unusually extensive coverage of the case stemmed from the prurient interest of the media rather than the failure of the German judiciary to prosecute Steidtmann," he said.
Zuroff, who is also the Wiesenthal Center's Israel director, said German authorities had previously accepted the SS commander's "patently false" claims that he had fought against 400 German deserters who joined the ghetto fighters against the Nazis, which led to the decision not to prosecute him.
"It is now clear that he lied through his teeth," Zuroff said.
The memoir, An Ordinary Life by Lisl Urban, does not mention Steidtmann by name. But he has identified himself as the person in question and, asserting that his "honor has been besmirched," took legal action to stop the memoir's publication.
A Leipzig court on Monday allowed publication of the memoir to proceed.
Meanwhile, at the urging of the Wiesenthal Center, the German authorities have opened an investigation, Zuroff said.
After the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939, more than 450,000 Jews from Warsaw and its environs were forced into the squalid confines of the ghetto, where many died of disease and starvation. Beginning in 1942, some 300,000 Jews were deported from the ghetto to death camps throughout German-occupied Poland, mostly to Treblinka.
The Warsaw Ghetto uprising broke out on April 19, 1943. It was the first urban uprising in Nazi-occupied Europe, and took the Germans 27 days to suppress.
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