Tears of a monster: Unearthed WWI diary of German U-boat officer reveals his heartbreak at losing crewmates and pining for his girlfriend… before going on to order massacre of thousands of Jews in WWII
- EXCLUSIVE: Hans Kawelmacher wrote diary from October 1916 to March 1917
- He served on board German minelayer SM U-80, which sank an ocean liner
- The seaman told of how he had ‘found happiness’ with his girlfriend
- Also worried about the ‘poor parents’ of a crewmate who was washed overboard
- In 1941, was appointed naval commandment in occupied town of Libau in Latvia
- He ordered the acceleration of the massacre of thousands of Jewish people
The diaries of a First World War U-boat officer who went on to order the massacre of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust have come to light after lying unseen for more than 100 years.
Hans Kawelmacher, who was then an Oberleutnant – the equivalent of a British First Lieutenant – wrote the diary between October 1916 and March 1917 while serving on SM U-80, a Type UE I mine-laying submarine.
In it, he wrote movingly about losing crewmates and how he ‘worried’ about his girlfriend, who he went on to marry and have children with.
In one passage, he told how now he had ‘found happiness’, he wanted to ‘grasp it and never let it go’.
In another, he expressed sorrow about the ‘poor parents’ of a crewmate who was washed overboard while on watch.
However, in the Second World War, Kawelmacher became the naval commandant in the Nazi-occupied city of Libau (Liepaja in Latvian) in Latvia.
In 1941, he ordered the acceleration of the public killings of men, women and children in the town. Around 5,000 Jewish people were murdered. Incredibly, some of the killings were caught on film.
Despite his crimes, Kawelmacher escaped justice after the war and opened a solicitor’s practice before dying of natural causes in 1965.
His diary has been in the hands of a private collector in Germany and has now been brought to public attention by German military historian Robin Schafer.
The diaries of First World War U-boat officer Hans Kamelwacher, who went on to order the massacre of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, have come to light after lying unseen for more than 100 years. Pictured: The war criminal with his newborn baby and in the Second World War (right)
Mr Schafer said the ‘unique’ diary is a ‘fantastic depiction’ of the ‘daily danger’ the men who served on the rudimentary vessels faced, ‘even without enemy contact’.
He added: ‘Even though the daily entries are brief, it reads well, it is very detailed. He seems to be very caring and cares about his family but turns into this other being 25 years later.’
Throughout the course of the war, the Imperial German Navy’s 375 U-boats sank astonishing 5,554 Allied merchant ships but suffered heavy losses themselves, with 187 boats lost and 5,000 sailors killed.
A mine laid by Kawelmacher’s vessel sank the British transatlantic ocean liner the SS Laurentic off the coast of Ireland in 1917, leading to the loss of 354 lives.
The ship had been carrying 43 tons of gold bars worth £5million (around £354million in today’s money) when she sank.
In the Second World War, Kawelmacher became the naval commandant in the Nazi-occupied city of Libau (Liepāja in Latvian) in Latvia. In 1941, he was one of the men who ordered the public massacre of around 5,000 men, women and children in the city. Incredibly, some of the killings were caught on film
The treasure was going to be used by the UK to buy munitions from the US and Canada.
While on board U-80 in October 1916, Kawelmacher worried during bad weather about how he may never see his girlfriend, Dita, ever again.
‘The boat is being thrown from one side to the other,’ he wrote.
‘And then I am worried about Dita! So far during this war I was always carefree and unconcerned and now that I have found happiness I want to grasp it and never let it go.
If I will ever see her again? If only there was fresh air and sunshine, that would get rid of the gloomy thoughts.’
The same month, he went on to describe the moment a crewmate was washed overboard while on watch when the vessel was at the surface of the ocean, near the Shetland Islands.
‘Oberleutnant Schliemann is swept overboard! Both strap supports are broken. A terrible wave coming in from astern.
‘We kept looking for him until 3:30 pm and then dived to 27 meters.
Kawelmacher wrote the diary between October 1916 and March 1917 while serving on SM U-80 (pictured), a Type UE I mine-laying submarine
The diary reveals how he worried about never seeing his girlfriend again, and also his distress at losing a crewmate
‘The commander had spotted him briefly, floating aftwards, about 60 meters out in his bad weather gear and waving to us.
‘The commander waved back to confirm that he had been seen, but while the boat was still turning, Schliemann had disappeared. The poor, dear fellow.’
In another passage later the same day, he worried about how his lost crew member’s parents would feel upon learning of their son’s death.
‘I still can’t believe it, I just thought that Schliemann must be on watch because he isn’t in the mess with us.
‘We are still at 30 meters depth. His poor parents! It will be weeks until they’ll learn about their son’s death.
‘And if it had been my watch, then that fate would have been mine, standing in the same spot, secured by the same straps.’
He then added: ‘My parents and Dita expect me to return. I can’t believe that Schliemann is gone, and I don’t want to think about it.’
The moving descriptions contrast starkly with Kawelmacher’s actions in the Second World War.
The shootings in Libau began in June 1941, after Nazi Germany had begun their invasion of the country.
When the takeover was complete on July 10, the full-scale elimination of the Jewish and Roma population began and executions in Libau were stepped up.
On July 16, Kawelmacher was appointed the naval commandant of Libau.
Soon after, he sent a telegram ordering the sending of soldiers – including 100 members of the feared SS – to the town to carry out the ‘quick implementation of the Jewish problem’.
The shootings in Libau began in June 1941, after Nazi Germany had begun their invasion of the country
When the takeover was complete on July 10, the full-scale elimination of the Jewish and Roma population began and executions in Libau were stepped up. Pictured: Jewish women being forced to undress before they are killed
Shocking video filmed by German photographer Reinhard Wiener shows how some Jewish people were forced to stand in trenches as men above shot them while others looked on
Mass arrests then began and around 2,000 more Jewish people were killed, including at least 900 men over the course of just two days.
The witness statement of a police commander who was present at some of the killings revealed how some of the executions were carried out by Latvian civilians.
He said that he told SS commander Wolfgang Kugler that ‘it was intolerable that shootings were being carried out in front of spectators.
Shocking video filmed by German photographer Reinhard Wiener shows how some Jewish people were forced to stand in trenches as men above shot them while others looked on.
Mr Schafer said of Kawelmacher’s actions: ‘There was a genocide ongoing, what he did without any orders, he telegraphed to his superiors to say ‘the solution to the Jewish Question’ is not progressing fast enough, he ordered commandos to speed up the killing.
‘A Lithuanian killer brigade then murdered 2,000 people.’
The historian added: ‘He basically ordered the escalation of murder. He is responsible for that.’
Later in the war, Kawelmacher became the naval commandant of the occupied Greek island of Milos.
Despite his horrendous actions, Kawelmacher escaped any form of justice after Germany’s defeat in the war in 1945
In February 1943, he ordered the mass execution of 14 male civilians after they were accused of stealing German military items from a German cargo ship which had been sunk by Allied aircraft.
Despite his horrendous actions, Kawelmacher escaped any form of justice after Germany’s defeat in the war in 1945.
The war criminal happened to be friends with the head of the German Navy, Karl Donitz. He asked to be discharged from the navy in 1944.
Following the end of the conflict, he was interred along with thousands of other soldiers by British troops.
Mr Schafer said he was then ‘released very quickly’ and ‘got the certificate that he was clean and not a Nazi’.
‘He then lived a normal life. He was a doctor of law as well. He opened a solicitor’s practice,’ he said.
‘Then some sources claim that there is evidence that someone in the German ministry of interior warned him something was going on in the background and said he should change his name.
‘He did and then he died in 1965 of natural causes,’ the historian added.
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