(Atzgersdorf near Vienna 1905 - Vienna 2000): Lawyer, anti-fascist, communist
Last camp elder at the “main camp”, September 1944 to January 1945
Heinrich Dürmayer was born on 10 April 1905 in Atzgersdorf near Vienna, the son of the locksmith Peter Dürmayer and his wife Karoline. Both parents later became members of the Nazi Party. Dürmayer studied Law at Vienna University and then worked as a lawyer. Still a Social Democrat at the time, he fought in the Civil War of 1934. He then became an active member of the Austrian Communist Party, which earned him a 17-month prison sentence after the party was banned by the Austrofascist federal government, followed by internment in the Wöllersdorf detention camp. From January 1937 Dürmayer fought in the International Brigades against the Spanish Franco regime. His wife Renée worked as a pharmacist in the central pharmacy of the International Brigades.
Like many Austrians, after the defeat of the Republicans he fled to southern France where he was interned in various camps. After the occupation of France by the German Reich he was extradited from France, taken to the Viennese Gestapo headquarters and from there to a concentration camp. Flossenbürg concentration camp was his first stop. In January 1944 he was transferred to the “main camp” of at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In the space of just a few months Dürmayer took up positions there in the camp guard, then in the typing pool and then as Kapo in the SS clothing store. From September 1944 until the liberation of Auschwitz, he held the position of camp elder, the highest rank of a prisoner functionary in the concentration camp system. As such, he was directly subordinate to the protective custody camp chief warden and had to ensure the smooth running of the camp’s daily routine, but he also received numerous privileges in terms of clothing, accommodation and rations.
Heinrich Dürmayer had already been involved in the camp resistance at Flossenbürg concentration camp. At Auschwitz he quickly became a leading member of the “Auschwitz Combat Group”. His later second wife Judith/Janka was also in the camp resistance at Auschwitz – Heinrich Dürmayer thought his first wife Renée had not survived; in fact she was active in the French Résistance. Heinrich Dürmayer was Hermann Langbein’s successor among the international leadership in the Auschwitz Combat Group, responsible for influencing the SS to reduce repressive measures and improve the situation of the inmates. Two days before the liberation of the camp by the Red Army, Dürmayer was deported to Mauthausen, where he again became a leading member of the camp resistance. On 4 May 1945, one day before the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp, he became its final camp elder there as well.
That same month he was appointed Head of the State Police in liberated Austria by Renner’s provisional government. In this function he succeeded in arresting Maximilian Grabner, the former Head of the Political Department at Auschwitz-Birkenau, as soon as August 1945. The inclusion of numerous communists in the police service as well as his pronounced pro-Soviet policy led to his dismissal in September 1947 in the course of the incipient Cold War.
In the subsequent decades Dürmayer again worked as a lawyer. He founded the Austrian Association of Former Spanish Civil War Fighters and was Secretary General of the International Mauthausen Committee for many years. As far as Auschwitz remembrance work was concerned, Dürmayer was embroiled in a decades-long dispute with Hermann Langbein: Langbein had accused him of cultivating excessively close contact with the camp SS as a member of the camp resistance and was opposed by Dürmayer on several levels. He used Langbein’s public criticism of the secret trial against the Hungarian Head of Government Imre Nagy as an opportunity to travel to Poland and secure Langbein’s deposal as Secretary General of the International Auschwitz Committee. Throughout his life, Dürmayer campaigned for the establishment of a communist dictatorship. He passed away in Vienna on 22 September 2000.
Hermann Langbein, Menschen in Auschwitz, Frankfurt 1980.
Raphael Gross, Werner Renz (eds), Der Frankfurter Auschwitz-Prozess (1963–1965). Kommentierte Quellenedition, Frankfurt 2013 (= Wissenschaftliche Reihe des Fritz Bauer Instituts, volume 1).
Cross-examination of the witness Heinrich Dürmayer in the 1st Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial at the Frankfurt am Main Regional Court, 22 June 1964: https://www.auschwitz-prozess.de/zeugenaussagen/Duermayer-Heinrich/ (27.08.2019).
Bruno Baum, Widerstand in Auschwitz, Berlin 1949, 1957and 1962.