German Political Prisoner: Ludwig Worl

The First Righteous

Ludwig Worl was a German human rights activist who spent 11 years in Nazi concentration camps and went to extraordinary lengths to help the Jews imprisoned there.

Born in Germany in 1906, Ludwig was trained as a carpenter. As the Nazi party rose to power in the 1930’s,  Ludwig was strongly opposed to their fascist ideology and became an early anti-Nazi activist. In 1933, soon after Hitler came to power, the Nazi leader began building concentration camps to incarcerate his political opponents. Ludwig became aware of the horrific conditions in the camps, and decided to do something to raise public awareness of the human-rights abuses there. He self-published informational pamphlets about the persecution of German political prisoners and handed them out on street corners. 

The Nazis arrested Ludwig in 1934 and he was imprisoned at Dachau and held in a squalid holding cell for nine months. He was then transferred to the camp’s carpentry shop, and after that to the medical clinic, where he trained to become a paramedic. He spent eight years in Dachau and then in 1942 he was transferred to Auschwitz because of a typhoid epidemic there. Tens of thousands of prisoners and staff were dying of typhus, and Ludwig was part of a team of seventeen male prisoner/medics who went to manage the outbreak. 

Highly intelligent and effective at his job, Ludwig became the manager of the Auschwitz hospital barracks, mostly filled with Jews. Against direct orders, he covertly employed Jewish doctors in the clinic, saving them from the gas chambers. Ludwig cared for his Jewish patients with great dedication, and took significant personal risks to get medical supplies for them. He also falsified patient data lists to save Jews from being marked for death. His brave actions led to him being taken from the clinic and put in solitary confinement. After a few months, he was released because the Nazis required competent medical personnel at Guntergrube, a forced-labor camp nearby. 

At Guntergrube, Ludwig was put in charge of his fellow prisoners. In this position, he continued to break camp rules and help Jewish prisoners. He found warm clothing to help them survive the brutal Polish winter, and food rations to keep them from starving. He also exempted sick prisoners from hard labor. As the Russian Red Army approached to liberate the camps, the Nazis forced Jews onto death marches, and Ludwig helped several Jews escape. 

After the war, Ludwig started the Auschwitz Prisoners Organization to help survivors rebuild their lives. At a time when many Germans wanted to forget what had happened, Ludwig remained an outspoken opponent of Nazism. He obsessively searched for former concentration camp guards, determined that they be punished for their crimes against humanity. In 1963 he testified at the Auschwitz war crime trial in Frankfurt. He spent the final years of his life speaking publicly about Auschwitz, to make sure that the horrors he witnessed there were never forgotten.

On March 19, 1963, Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem honored Ludwig Worl as Righteous Among the Nations. He was the first person to be so honored. Eleven years in Nazi concentration camps ruined Ludwig’s health, and he died in Germany in 1967 at 61 years old.

For protecting Jews and bringing Nazis to justice, we honor Ludwig Worl as this week’s Thursday Hero.

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