Franz Grassler

Language of Description
Alt. Identifiers
  • 1996.166
  • RG-60.5042
1 Jan 1978 - 31 Dec 1981, 1 Jan 1985 - 31 Dec 1985
Level of Description
  • German
EHRI Partner


Biographical History

Claude Lanzmann was born in Paris to a Jewish family that immigrated to France from Eastern Europe. He attended the Lycée Blaise-Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand. His family went into hiding during World War II. He joined the French resistance at the age of 18 and fought in the Auvergne. Lanzmann opposed the French war in Algeria and signed a 1960 antiwar petition. From 1952 to 1959 he lived with Simone de Beauvoir. In 1963 he married French actress Judith Magre. Later, he married Angelika Schrobsdorff, a German-Jewish writer, and then Dominique Petithory in 1995. He is the father of Angélique Lanzmann, born in 1950, and Félix Lanzmann (1993-2017). Lanzmann's most renowned work, Shoah, is widely regarded as the seminal film on the subject of the Holocaust. He began interviewing survivors, historians, witnesses, and perpetrators in 1973 and finished editing the film in 1985. In 2009, Lanzmann published his memoirs under the title "Le lièvre de Patagonie" (The Patagonian Hare). He was chief editor of the journal "Les Temps Modernes," which was founded by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, until his death on July 5, 2018.

Scope and Content

Franz Grassler was assistant to Heinz Auerswald, the Nazi commissioner of the Warsaw ghetto. Lanzmann tries to get him to talk about the ghetto, but he claims that he remembers very little.. Lanzmann asks about Adam Czerniakow and his suicide, typhus, the black market, the ghetto wall, filming in the ghetto, and more. Grassler conveniently remembers things when he thinks they might be documented in Czerniakow's diaries. FILM ID 3402 -- Camera Rolls #1,2,3 -- 00:01:24 to 00:27:52 CR 1 00:01:24 Franz Grassler sits on a red couch, presumably in his home. In response to a question from Lanzmann Grassler explains that Palais Bruehl was the headquarters of the Warsaw governor [Ludwig] Fischer. Grassler objects to Lanzmann's use of the term "Adjutant" to describe his own relationship to Heinz Auerswald (governor of the Warsaw ghetto); instead he calls himself an "Assessor." He explains how he came to be posted in Warsaw. He cannot remember exactly when he started to work for Auerswald but it was not when he first arrived. He began to work with Auerswald in approximately summer 1941. Lanzmann asks Grassler to describe Auerswald physically and psychologically. He says that Auerswald was a lawyer from Berlin who had a Polish or a Russian wife. Grassler and Auerswald worked together but did not share the same personal interests. Lanzmann asks Grassler how and when Auerswald died; Grassler says he doesn't know but then remembers that there were preliminary proceedings (Ermittlungsverfahren) against Auerswald and against Grassler, and Auerswald died in 1970, in the course of these proceedings. Lanzmann asks Grassler about his relationship with Adam Czerniakow. Grassler says that Czerniakow came often to the Palais Bruehl and preferred to deal with Grassler rather than Auerswald CR 2 00:12:42 Lanzmann asks Grassler if he really can't remember much from the war. Grassler says he remembers touring in the mountains before the war much better and that it is a natural psychological phenomenon to remember good times better than bad times. Lanzmann says he will help him to remember and hands him a book: "The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniakow." Grassler looks at the photograph of Czerniakow in the book. He says again that Czerniakow preferred to deal with him instead of with Auerswald, perhaps because Auerswald was brusque whereas Grassler, as someone from Bavaria, was nicer to deal with. Lanzmann asks Grassler whether Czerniakow was afraid of him and Grassler says he was not. Czerniakow spoke German with him. Audio only between 00:16:20 and 00:16:50: Lanzmann says that the diary has just been published and that he is mentioned in an entry from July 7th, 1941. There is a cut in the film and then Lanzmann asks Grassler about [Abraham] Ganzweich, who was in charge of investigating the black market in the ghetto. The video cuts out again. Audio only while Lanzmann asks Grassler whether he visited the ghetto and Grassler says that he did so only a few times. The video returns after a cut in the middle of Grassler saying that the greatest danger in the ghetto was typhus. Two more cuts in the film before the end of the reel. CR 3 00:18:59 Grassler says that neither he nor the people with whom he worked were aware of the extermination of the Jews. He says their job was to maintain the ghetto, not destroy it. Lanzmann points out that Auerswald was always asking that the size of the ghetto be reduced, despite the fact that so many people died every day. Audio only as Lanzmann asks Grassler if he knows how many died per day in the ghetto in 1941. After the cut Grassler says the ghetto was already in existence for some time by the time he himself came to Warsaw. Grassler challenges Lanzmann's assertion that the ghetto first came into existence in fall 1941. Lanzmann asks a "philosophical question:" in Grassler's opinion, what is the meaning of a ghetto? Grassler says that ghettos existed in history and that the Poles also persecuted the Jews. Audio only as he repeats that it was his duty to maintain the ghetto. Video returns (after the cut) at 00:24:13. Grassler says that he and his colleagues always tried to raise the ration limit in the ghetto. He agrees with Lanzmann that Czerniakow was always asking for greater rations but they had no power [to grant them]. Lanzmann assures Grassler that he is not interested in his actions. Grassler says that neither he nor Auerswald could change German policy. Grassler agrees with Lanzmann that Auerswald did not like the Jews but says that didn't mean he wanted to destroy them. Lanzmann points out that the Jews were destroyed every day in the ghetto through various methods, including shooting. Grassler blames this on the SS. Lanzmann asks Grassler what he thought when he visited the ghetto. Grassler says he asked to be transferred from Warsaw because the conditions in the ghetto were so awful and disturbing to him. The last few seconds contain audio and no video. FILM ID 3403 -- Camera Rolls #4, 5, 6 -- 02:00:04 to 02:32:17 CR 4 02:00:04 Lanzmann asks Grassler about the Aktion during which the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto were forced to surrender their fur coats in the bitterly cold winter of 1941-1942. Grassler says that the Germans too were required to give up their furs for the Wehrmacht. Lanzmann asks Grassler about Czerniakow's proposal [to Auerswald] that, in exchange for the furs, the Germans should release prisoners from the jail. He points out a reference to Grassler in Czerniakow's diary, from January 30th, 1942, regarding the surrender of the fur; Lanzmann's interpreter translates the diary entry for Grassler. Lanzmann says there were many who died because it was so cold and their coats had been confiscated. Therefore his question is whether this was not destruction, rather than maintaining [of the Jews and the ghetto]. Grassler says again that destruction was not the duty of his office, but they had to follow orders. Lanzmann asks Grassler if he was an antisemite. Grassler says he wasn't, and in fact he often read books by Jewish authors. Lanzmann asks him if he remembers instances of cannibalism in the ghetto. After a pause Grassler says that perhaps Czerniakow mentioned something of the kind. Lanzmann tells him that Czerniakow wrote of telling Grassler of a case where a woman ate a piece of her dead child. Lanzmann asks Grassler if he remembers Auerswald's trip to Berlin on January 19, 1942. He points out that Auerswald was in Berlin during the Wannsee conference, although he was not at the conference itself. CR 5 02:11:28 Lanzmann asks Grassler whether he remembers Czerniakow's suicide and Grassler says yes, because that was the reason he finally asked to be transferred from Warsaw. The transfer was refused by Fischer so Grassler went on vacation to Munich and refused to return. Lanzmann asks him whether he remembers the great deportations from the ghetto in September 1942. Audio but no image as Lanzmann asks Grassler to speculate on the reason for Czerniakow's suicide. Grassler asks Lanzmann if Czerniakow announced his intention to commit suicide in the diary. Lanzmann says no, he killed himself after Globocnik ordered that the children be deported to Treblinka. Grassler claims that he and his colleagues thought that Treblinka was a labor camp where prisoners received better treatment than they did in the ghetto. Grassler agrees with Lanzmann that Auerswald was aware that the ghetto was coming to an end. Lanzmann asserts that Grassler knew what Treblinka was, which Grassler disputes. Lanzmann says the Poles all knew: how could Grassler be the only person in his circle who didn't know? Grassler says that he thinks the Jews knew more than some of the Germans did. He found out later that there were Jews who had been sentenced to death and were sent to Treblinka for execution, but denies that he knew Treblinka was an extermination camp. In response to a question from Lanzmann, Grassler says there should have been no executions in the ghetto after the early period, but they may have occurred. Lanzmann says there were many executions in the prison, carried out by Polish police. They discuss whether the Jewish police were armed; Grassler says of course they could not have been armed with firearms. Grassler says that he himself was not armed when he went into the ghetto: he had nothing to fear. CR 6 02:20:42 Lanzmann asks whether Grassler knew Hans Galuba (?), who worked for Auerswald. He then asks if he remembers that it was his idea to require the Jews to wear armbands as they did in Berlin. Lanzmann indicates that Czerniakow wrote about this in his diary. Grassler says perhaps he carried out the order but it was certainly not his idea. He says that in Berlin the Jews wore yellow stars. He does not remember where on their clothing the Jews wore markings in the Warsaw ghetto. There is some confusion about whether Lanzmann is referring to armbands or stars worn on the breasts of clothing. In the May 28th, 1942 entry in "The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniakow," Czerniakow writes that Grassler asked him what he thought about a proposal that the Jews of Warsaw wear Star of David badges like those in Germany. [Start here w/pick for website -- 02:32:00.] In answer to a question from Lanzmann Grassler says that he kept a diary, more of a calendar, but it was burned in Munich. Lanzmann asks Grassler whether he remembers the cameramen from the Propaganda Kompanie filming in the ghetto. Lanzmann can't believe that he doesn't remember anything and Grassler says he has repressed these memories because it was an awful time. When Lanzmann says it was a bad time in retrospect but not at the time, Grassler contradicts him and says again that he volunteered for the front rather than remain in Warsaw. Lanzmann asks him whether he thinks that the wall was a security measure against the spread of typhus, and points out that in Nazi ideology the Jews and typhus and the plague were one and the same. Grassler says that perhaps Streicher or Rosenberg thought this way, but the normal German and even the normal party member did not believe this. He says that most people in the Nazi party were not antisemitic. Lanzmann asks who then killed the Jews, and Grassler says it was the SS and a minority of ideologically committed party members. He himself joined the party because of the Versailles Treaty and Germany's defeat in World War I. Audio but no video for the last few seconds of the reel. FILM ID 3404 -- Camera Rolls #7,8,9 -- 03:00:04 to 03:29:41 CR 7 03:00:04 Lanzmann says that there was anxiety in the ghetto after the extermination of the Jews of Lublin and Lvov in March 1942. Grassler says again that the Jews knew more than the Germans, which Lanzmann again finds astounding. Grassler agrees with Lanzmann that the Jews were deceived by the Germans but claims that he and his colleagues were also deceived. Lanzmann says that the Jews were made to pay for the ghetto wall and the pedestrian bridge. Grassler objects when Lanzmann says that Auerswald thought the Jews had too much room in the ghetto. He says that Auerswald must have received orders to continually reduce the living space available to the Jews. Lanzmann asks him why he stayed a year in Warsaw if he didn't like Auerswald and he didn't like the work he was doing. Grassler says that he was a soldier following orders. Lanzmann asks whether he thought the Jews were human or subhuman and what he thought about their treatment at the hands of the Germans. He asks whether Grassler's relationship with Czerniakow was as friendly as between the two of them (Lanzmann and Grassler). Grassler says he tried to help Czerniakow but did not accomplish much. Lanzmann's interpreter reads a passage from the diary in which Czerniakow records Auerswald complaining that Jews stood too near to him when they talked to him. Grassler says again that he himself always greeted Czerniakow with a handshake. CR 8 03:11:20 Grassler and Lanzmann discuss the black market in the ghetto. Grassler says he does not remember specifically but he is sure that there was one, as there is everywhere need exists. Lanzmann points out that children were active in the black market. They discuss cabaret and other cultural life in the ghetto. Lanzmann asks Grassler which people died first in the ghetto, and if he remembers when the intelligentsia began to die. Lanzmann mentions a certain "night action" (led by [Karl-Georg] Brandt and [Gerhard] Mende) during which 50 people were seized from a cabaret and executed. Grassler says that the civil administration was powerless to prevent such killing by the SS. In response to a question from Lanzmann, Grassler says that the religious Jews would have appeared strange to him. Lanzmann asks Grassler how he could explain the behavior of SS men who shaved the beards of religious Jews, to which Grassler replies that perhaps it was a hygienic measure against lice. Lanzmann asks whether he was afraid of lice when Czerniakow was in his office, or when he "went for a walk" in the ghetto, and Grassler reiterates that he was very seldom in the ghetto. Lanzmann asks him if he saw corpses in the street. Lanzmann says that perhaps the final solution was the only solution to such conditions and Grassler replies that in his opinion neither the conditions nor the final solution should have happened. Lanzmann says his theory is that given the deplorable conditions it was easier to kill the Jews than to save them. Grassler takes issue with Lanzmann using the term "the Germans" to refer to the perpetrators of the final solution, saying it was not the Germans but rather the small circle that held power. Grassler says he feels a collective guilt but he does not feel personally guilty. Lanzmann asks him if he feels guiltier than a German citizen who was not in Warsaw. CR 9 03:22:45 Grassler repeats that the Jews were contained in the ghetto to prevent the spread of typhus. Lanzmann asks him whether he actually believed there was a connection between the Eastern Jews (but not the German) and typhus and he says he did believe it. Lanzmann asks him what measures does one take against typhus, then goes on to say that one kills the lice, just as one killed the Jews. Audio but no video from 03:27:11 to 03:27:58 as they discuss the so-called self-administration of the ghetto. Grassler agrees with Lanzmann that the air in the ghetto was very bad. Lanzmann says that he doesn't understand how Grassler loved to read poems by Heine but at the same time "deloused" the Jews. Grassler says one thing he chose to do and the other he was forced to do. FILM ID 3405 -- Camera Rolls #10,19 -- 04:00:04 to 04:08:55 Mute CUs of Grassler and then Lanzmann speaking and listening. Grassler looks at a book, presumably "The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniakow" at 04:03:24. CUs of Lanzmann begin at 04:05:13.


  • Staff-curated clips include: Clip 1, Film ID 3403, 02:00:10 - 02:20:34 Clip 2, Film ID 3403, 02:24:11 - 02:32:00 Clip 3, Film ID 3404, 03:00:08 - 03:22:28 Clip 4, Film ID 3404, 03:22:45 - 03:27:15

  • Franz Grassler is in SHOAH (1985). The parts of his interview in the final release are not available at USHMM. Claude Lanzmann spent twelve years locating survivors, perpetrators, and eyewitnesses for his nine and a half hour film Shoah released in 1985. Without archival footage, Shoah weaves together extraordinary testimonies to render the step-by-step machinery of the destruction of European Jewry. Critics have called it "a masterpiece" and a "monument against forgetting." The Claude Lanzmann SHOAH Collection consists of roughly 185 hours of interview outtakes and 35 hours of location filming.




This description is derived directly from structured data provided to EHRI by a partner institution. This collection holding institution considers this description as an accurate reflection of the archival holdings to which it refers at the moment of data transfer.