Karl Kaufmann, 1900-1969
The "Führer" of Hamburg
Karl Kaufmann was born on 10 October 1900 as the son of a middle-class laundry owner in Krefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia. After numerous school transfers, and dropping out of secondary school without attaining his university qualifications, he finally gave up his apprenticeship in the family business after a quarrel with his father. He then became an unskilled labourer, supplementing his income with secret remittances from his mother. In 1918, shortly before the end of the First World War, he was drafted into the navy, but did not reach the frontline.
Kaufmann then began seeking recognition in right-wing paramilitary organisations. In 1920 he was active against the "Red Ruhr Army", a year later he fought with the Upper Silesian Freikorps against Polish insurgents, and in 1923 with the illegal "Heinz" organisation against the French occupation of the Ruhr. He joined the Nazi Party in 1922, encouraging Hitler shortly before his attempted putsch of November 1923 "towards the liberation struggle against the inner and outer enemy", and advanced to the position of Gauleiter for North Rhineland in 1925. The parliamentary salary was his first regular income.
After heavy skirmishing within the party, Hitler transferred Kaufmann, who seemed "restive, unripe, and immoderate", as his friend Joseph Goebbels described him in 1926, to Hamburg. There, Kaufmann took over leadership of the local Gau (Nazi administrative region) in May 1929 and built up a power base. To his favourites, and "deserving Party comrades", he awarded cash handouts, fictitious offices, and material goods, including some acquired through "Aryanisation" receipts. After 1933, an extraordinary combination of political power lay in his hands: besides Gauleiter, he was appointed Reichsstatthalter Chief of the Hamburg State and Municipality Administration, Reich Defence Commissioner for Military District X (Hamburg, parts of today's Lower Saxony, as well as Schleswig-Holstein), and, as of 1942, Reich Commissioner for German Maritime Shipping.
While on the one hand he pushed to establish the notorious "Kola-Fu" concentration camp in Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel, because the treatment of dissidents was "too slack" for him, on the other hand he held weekly citizens' meetings. His social populism afforded him the nickname "Kuddel Kaufmann". When it seemed opportune, he would use his power to annul administrative decisions, which seriously aggravated legal uncertainties. He punished any protests.
Kaufmann fought not only for the implementation of National Socialist policies, but also for regional Hamburg interests. In 1939, he began arranging positions for his followers within the administrations of the occupied territories, including that of the Generalgovernment in Poland and the Soviet Union. Hamburg companies profited greatly from the looting of these territories. In September 1941, Kaufmann seized the initiative and got Hitler to approve hid plan of "evacuating" Hamburg's Jews, so that "bombed-out citizens could be allocated housing." This "request" was the trigger for the deportations that began across the Reich in October 1941.
Near the war's end, against Hitler's orders, Kaufmann unconditionally surrendered Hamburg to the British - which later contributed to the legend built around him as the "Saviour of the City." He was interned on 4 May 1945 and remained in prison, except for a temporary medical discharge, until he was set free in 1950. After renewed attempts at becoming politically active in radical right-wing groups, he was arrested and imprisoned again for a short period in 1953. Despite several preliminary investigations into crimes against humanity, Kaufmann was never prosecuted again. In 1959, he was made senior executive of an insurance company founded by Otto Wolff, his former deputy economic advisor in the Gau administration.
Kaufmann died in Hamburg on 4 December 1969, a well-connected citizen.