Christian Wirth

Christian Wirth

Christian Wirth gained the nickname “Christian the Savage” during his at the Belzec death camp, where he held the role of first commander. Born in November 1885, Wirth began life his professional life by training as joiner, before later entering the police force and then seering service on the Western Front during World War One. It was in 1939 that he joined the SS and he would soon build a reputation, as his nickname would suggest, for his brutal and efficient approach in the extermination of the Nazi’s enemies.

When World War Two broke out, Wirth was in Stuttgart where he was working for a police department that was connected to the Gestapo. It was in October 1939, that Wirth become involved in the Nazi party’s euthanasia programme when he was sent to a psychiatric clinic at Grafeneck. It was here that he would met Josef Oberhauser: the two would later work together closely at the Belzec camp.

By 1940, Wirth was working at euthanasia unit at Brandenburg in north Germany. It was here that he was placed in charge of carrying out the first experiments that involved using carbon monoxide gas to kill people. It was also during his time at the Brandenburg unit that one of Wirth’s colleagues - Philip Bouhler - suggested that the gas chambers should be disguised as shower rooms. These two things came together to form the Nazi death camp as it is best known today.

Wirth’s position within the death camps and his role in executing ‘the final solution’ had been well established by the second half of 1940; he was promoted to become the head of the euthanasia programme in Germany and Austria. Within this role Wirth met with Franz Stangl, who himself would later become the head of the deaths camps at Treblinka and Sobibor, and the pair shared their ideas of how to efficiently carry out the killings.

It was at the end of 1941 that Wirth travelled to Belzec to work, where he was joined with many of the key figures that he had previously worked with during his euthanasia programme.

It was during his time at the Belzec camp that Wirth earned his nickname “Christian the Savage”. He was so-called by the SS staff because of the extreme, unforgiving approach to his work.

Such was his brutality - which extended beyond the prisoners and sometimes involved him beating other guards - that SS officers themselves were often taken aback by Wirth’s behaviour. One observer, SS Lieutenant Kurt Gerstein, recalls that Wirth would whip the Jewish prisoners to get them into the gas chambers while he also beat an guard who had failed to start up the engine which was to release the carbon monoxide into the chamber.

For unknown reasons Wirth lef Belzec to travel to Berlin in June 1942. It is suggested that he might have been ordered to go to the capital so that he could discuss with senior Nazi personnel who they could best eradicate all the Jews in Poland.

When Wirth came back on the radar he was in a new role as the Inspector of SS-Sonderkommandos Action Reinhard. Within this role he went to the death camps at Treblinka and Sobibor to improve the euthanasia practices, which in both cases involved expanding the size of the gas chambers. He later took charge of the slave labour camps in the Lublin area where the belongings of the Jewish prisoners was sorted - Wirth is said to have subjected the prisoners to appalling treatment.

In the summer of 1943, was charged with setting up a death camp at Trieste, to be used to rid the area of Jews. As the end of the war approached Wirth worked to destroy the death camps he had built.

Wirth died during some street fighting with partisans in Yugoslavia on 26 May 1944.

Below are some accounts of Wirth and his brutality:

Werner Dubois, SS guard at Belzec:

“Wirth was more than brutal. In my opinion, his brutality was grounded more in his human nature than his political mentality. He bellowed, screamed and threatened us, and hit members of the German garrison in the face. There was no-one at Belzec who was not afraid of Wirth.”

Rudolf Reder, a survivor from Belzec:

“He was a tall, broad shouldered man in his middle forties with a vulgar face. He was a born criminal, the ‘extreme beast’.” 

MLA Citation/Reference

"Christian Wirth". 2023. Web.

Key facts

Name: Christian Wirth
Birth Date: 24 November 1885,
Death: 26 May 1944,
Occupation: SS officer and first commander at Belzec death camp