Decorated 'resistance fighter’ exposed as concentration camp guard

Historian digs up truth about Irmgard Kroymann, who claimed she was held at Gross-Rosen camp but had actually volunteered to work there


A woman fêted for her anti-fascist resistance during the Nazi era has been posthumously exposed as a concentration camp guard.

In post-war Germany, Irmgard Kroymann, who died in 2005, was known by journalists, historians and MPs as a heroine who had been arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the Gross-Rosen concentration camp, in Lower Silesia.

After the war, Kroymann became a trade union leader who fought for women’s rights and a model citizen with seemingly finely tuned Jewish sensibilities.

When Jewish gravestones were desecrated at Dinslaken cemetery, in Nordrhein-Westfalen, in 1956, for example, she rounded up 50 young people in the area and directed them to repair the burial ground.

During her life, the German government decorated Kroymann with orders for her civic services, including the Grand Cross of Merit and the Order of Merit of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia. In 1993, the then German president Johannes Rau personally awarded her the Federal Cross of Merit.

But when historian Anne Prior, who lives in North Rhine-Westphalia, began to research Kroymann, she discovered that her account of her life during the war years had been a lie.

Kroymann hadn’t been imprisoned in Gross-Rosen concentration camp: she had volunteered to work there as a guard.

Now she has revealed her findings in an essay entitled A camp guard plays the concentration camp victim, in Gotz Aly’s anthology Our National Socialism, published last month.

“Something Frau Kroymann didn’t appear to have considered was that the division of Germany after the war would ultimately work against her,” Prior told the JC.

“Unlike West Germany, documents in East Germany were archived meticulously and when the regime collapsed in 1989 an entire wealth of information was suddenly made available.”

The archive included Kroymann’s personal work files and her job application to work at the Nazi camp.

At the same time, the historian learned from interviews that Kroymann had given to journalists in West Germany that she had applied for financial compensation from the state as a victim of the Nazi regime.

“That for me was the most shocking thing,” she told the JC. “To put yourself on the same level as those poor, terrified Jewish women when all the while you were a concentration camp guard.”

Her horror is shared by Christoph Heubner of the International Auschwitz Committee: “Kroymann lied to herself and the public about her true role during the Nazi years.”

Asked how he thought she had been able to dupe journalists and historians, he said Kroymann had cleverly caught the social mood of the post-war years.

“Nobody wanted to have been a Nazi, and every wanted to be someone who had helped their Jewish neighbours. Somehow, everyone was in the resistance.”

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