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Erich Koch (June 19, 1896, Elberfeld - November 12, 1986, Barczewo) was a Gauleiter of the NSDAP in East Prussia from 1928 until 1945, and Reichskomissar in Ukraine from 1941 until 1944.
Early life and First World War
Erich Koch was born on June 18 1896 in Elberfeld, today part of Wuppertal, as son of foreman. As skilled trader Koch joined railway service as aspirant for the middle grade of the civil service. In First World War he was soldier from 1915 till 1918 and later fought as member of Freikorps Rossbach in Upper Silesia.
Rise in NSDAP
Erich Koch joined the NSDAP in 1922. During Occupation of the Ruhr he was member of Albert Leo Schlageter group and was imprisoned several times by the French authorities. In 1927 he became Bezirksführer of NSDAP in Essen and later deputy Gauleiter of NSDAP-Gau Ruhr. Koch belonged to the left wing of the party and was a supporter of the faction led by Gregor Strasser.
In 1928 he became Gauleiter of East Prussia province, and from September 1930 a member of Reichstag. After Machtergreifung he became Oberpräsident of East Prussia. In 1938 Koch was appointed SA-Obergruppenführer.
Second World War
At the beginning of World War II Koch was appointed Reichsverteidigungskommissar for East Prussia. After the end of the Polish September Campaign he had to cede the West Prussian district, on October 26, 1939 to the new Reichsgau Westpreußen, later renamed to Danzig-West Prussia, and was instead added to Regierungsbezirk Zichenau. These new areas approximately covered the area between the rivers Vistula and Narew. Soon after the invasion of the Soviet Union, Koch was appointed Zivilkommissar on August 1, 1941, and later as Chief of Civil Administration in the Bialystok district. On September 1, Koch became Reichskomissar of Reichskommissariat Ukraine. His domain was extended from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea; it comprised German, Polish and Ukrainian areas.
As the Russian forces advanced into his area during 1945, Koch escaped through the Baltic Sea between April 23, 1945 and May 7, 1945 on the icebreaker Ostpreußen. From Pillau through Hel Peninsula, Rügen and Copenhagen he arrived at Flensburg, where he hid himself. He was captured by British forces in Hamburg in May 1949.
Trial and imprisonment
The Soviet Union demanded Koch's extradition, but the British government decided to pass him on to the Polish government instead. Extradited to Poland, he was sentenced to death on March 9, 1959 for war crimes against the Poles, but was never put on trial for crimes committed in Ukraine. His death sentence was never carried out, and many people believed that he traded his life for information about art looted by the Nazis during the war, including parts of the famous Amber Room. There is no proof of this story. He died of natural causes in prison at Barczewo (Wartenburg), near Olsztyn (Allenstein), in the heart of (former) East Prussia, on now Polish territory. Koch appeared in a tv report on Königsberg's history in 1986, interviewed by West German journalists in his Polish prison cell.
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