Last of the War Criminals:
The Mystery of Erich Koch
FURTIVELY presented in stray paragraphs of the world press during October and November 1958, an assiduous student might find traces of a weird, sacrificial, and Kafka-like Polish trial. The defendant was a solitary German war criminal who had been immured in Warsaw’s Mokotow prison for nearly nine years, and whose crimes were at least fourteen years old. A querulous invalid of sixty-two, wild-eyed and haggard, the subject bore little resemblance to the large, pink, boyish, and truculent face of the Erich Koch who had been Hitler’s tyrant for the Ukraine. Only the abundant swept-back hair and the Hitler mustache, now running to grass, conveyed something of that former hero.
Sixteen years ago, when the Germans still held most of the Soviet Ukraine, Koch was a name to frighten children with. It meant the most outright die-hard Nazi, a man who could hardly talk about any subject at all without mentioning shooting, a man for whom there were only conquerors and sub-humans, a man whose utterances became so notorious that even Stalin noticed them. Koch, Stalin is alleged to have said, reminded the Soviet citizen every day of what he had to fight against.
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