A former member of Hitler's SS has gone to court claiming his reputation has been ruined by a book -- not because it exposed his part in the Holocaust but because it accused him of abandoning a woman he had an affair with when she became pregnant.
Erich Steidtmann, 92, was furious to be portrayed as a philanderer. He launched a lawsuit in Leipzig saying his "honour had been besmirched" in the book An Ordinary Life.
In the resulting legal battle, he has revealed himself as the last known survivor of the SS squads to wipe out the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto.
As the publisher of the memoir and its author prepared their defense, they found pictures of him at the center of one of the worst crimes in history.
Steidtmann's story surfaced because he happened to read the book by Lisl Urban.
A Sudeten German, she was a secretary for the Gestapo in Prague, described by her as a "hotbed of frivolous sexual encounters," one of which she had with an SS man she nicknamed Eick, a police officer who, he claimed, was drafted into the fighting arm of the SS. He was sent to Prague from the Eastern Front for recuperation and to document his experiences in tracking down partisans.
The couple spent 1942 rowing, dining out and staying in -- and Urban fell pregnant. But Eick was posted to Warsaw to guard the Jewish ghetto, the Nazi way station for their extermination camps. Urban had hoped they would marry, but Eick spurned her for a Polish woman. For his illicit liaison he says he was court-martialled and ordered to serve on the Eastern Front.
Nowhere does former art teacher Urban refer to Eick as Steidtmann, but he recognized himself.
He alleges Urban's baby was not his but "a cuckoo's egg."
"To claim this of a captain of the uniformed police is such a reprehensible act that even at 92 I have a right to protect my reputation," he said.
In trying to preserve his reputation as an "honourable serviceman," "Eick" outed himself as the bodyguard of Juergen Stroop, tasked by Hitler with destroying the ghetto after the Jews rose up in January 1943. Over four months, 13,000 people were shot or burned to death and the remaining 50,000 sent to death camps.
Steidtmann was exonerated in a postwar trial as having "minimal involvement" in crushing the uprising, but the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel is now pressing for him to be retried, claiming the trial did not know of his closeness to Stroop.
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