Auschwitz Commander's Prisoner Barber Dies at 95

For much of World War II, Jozef Paczynski was led to Rudolf Hoess' home and ordered to cut the hair of one of the worst mass murderers in history.

Jozef Paczynski, January 5, 2015.
Jozef Paczynski, January 5, 2015.Credit: AFP

Jozef Paczynski, a Polish political prisoner at Auschwitz who became the personal barber to camp commander Rudolf Hoess, has died. He was 95.

For much of World War II, Paczynski was led to Hoess' home and ordered to cut the hair of one of the worst mass murderers in history.

For decades afterward he was repeatedly asked why he didn't use his sharp tools to slit the throat of the man responsible for over a million deaths at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most notorious of the Nazi death camps. His answer: It would not have stopped the killing, but would have meant certain death for himself and many others.

"I thought about it," Paczynski said in a speech in January in Krakow. "But when I realized what the consequences would be I simply could not do it."

Paczynski died on Sunday in Krakow, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum said Thursday. Officials didn't say what the cause of death was.

Paczynski was imprisoned at Auschwitz in June 1940 as punishment for trying to flee German-occupied Poland to join the Polish army in France. He was arrested after crossing into Slovakia and was taken in the first transport to Auschwitz, becoming prisoner number 121.

At the camp he was assigned to work in a barber shop where the SS men got their haircuts. One day Hoess showed up and singled out Paczynski from other barbers to come to his family home at the edge of the camp to trim his hair.

Paczynski recalled in a lecture in Krakow earlier this year that he was terrified when he was brought to cut Hoess's hair.

"My voice was shaking, my hands were shaking and my legs were shaking," he said.

Yet Hoess was apparently satisfied and had Paczynski return over and over, although he never said a word to him.

Paczynski, who remained at Auschwitz until Jan. 18, 1945, was one of the prisoners who survived there the longest. He was among a group that the Nazis moved out just days before the Soviet army liberated the camp and was later freed by U.S. soldiers in Germany.

Paczynski said he never witnessed any brutality by Hoess, who developed and oversaw the implementation of gas chambers where over a million Jews and others were murdered. Hoess was tried by Polish authorities after the war and was sentenced to death by hanging in 1947. The sentence was carried out at Auschwitz next to a crematorium.

A 1944 photo of SS officers outside of Auschwitz, Poland. From left Richard Baer, Dr. Josef Mengele, Josef Kramer and Rudolf Hoess.Credit: AP

After the war, Paczynski became a mechanical engineer and an educator. In 2001 he was honored with the Commander's Cross of the Order of the Rebirth of Poland.

No information was immediately available about funeral arrangements.

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