Welcome to the UCL European Institute, UCL's hub for research, collaboration and information on Europe and the European Union.

Contact us

16 Taviton St
+44 (0) 207 679 8737

How to find us >>



An interview with the President of the European Court of Human Rights

Dean Spielmann, President of the European Court of Human Rights since September 2012, has served as a Judge in the Court for over a decade. In a recent interview with the UCL Law Society’s Silk v. Brief, highlights of which are condensed in the blog post below, he discusses the evolving role of human rights in Europe, and explores the complicated relationship between the UK and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Dean Spielmann
23 March 2015 More...

Starts: Mar 23, 2015 12:00:00 AM

In Defence of Rights

Philippe Sands, Professor of Law at UCL and practising barrister in international law, and Helena Kennedy, a leading barrister and academic in human rights law, civil liberties and constitutional issues, were members of the 2011 Commission on a Bill of Rights. In highlights from a recent article in the London Review of Books, they discuss how human rights intersect with politics, examine the UK’s strained relationship with the European Convention on Human Rights, and question the possible motivations lying behind the proposed Bill.
Prof. Philippe Sands 
Helena Kennedy
1 April 2015 More...

Starts: May 2, 2015 12:00:00 AM

Exploring ‘Exploratory Governance': the Hertie Governance Report 2015

With the Eurozone crisis not yet over, Albert Weale, Professor of Political Theory and Public Policy at UCL, reviews the Hertie Governance Report 2015 as it analyses the key issues facing the European Institutions in terms of economic governance. As ad hoc solutions are found to deal with urgent matters, what does this mean for political accountability and reform in the EU, and what lessons have been learnt?
Prof. Albert Weale
14 April 2015 More...

Starts: May 2, 2015 12:00:00 AM

Professor Mary Fulbrook, UCL

9 September 2012

Professor of German History, Faculty of Arts and Humanities
16 September 2012

Warsaw Ghetto

The guilty tale of the German civil servant who married her godmother is revealed in a new book

A British professor of German history has published an extraordinary exposé of the secret Nazi past of the man who married her godmother.

A Small Town Near Auschwitz, written by Mary Fulbrook, who teaches at University College London, and to be published this week, tells the story of Udo Klausa, a man Fulbrook's family believed was involved only in mundane local government during the war years.

However, she has unearthed unpublished material that reveals his role as a Nazi backroom administrator of the Holocaust, operating close to Auschwitz concentration camp, where more than a million Jews died. On discovering the true nature of his activities, Fulbrook said: "I felt literally like I'd been punched in the stomach. I was angry and shocked. I partly wrote the book almost to rub his face posthumously in the murderous consequence of his actions."

Delving into Klausa's past was especially painful for her because her own mother – a close friend of Klausa's wife, Alexandra – was a German-Jewish refugee who lost friends and relatives to the Holocaust. It was through her mother's childhood friendship with Alexandra that Fulbrook obtained access for the first time to Klausa's unpublished memoir, written long after the war, and to dozens of wartime letters written by Alexandra.

They reveal a man who "produced the preconditions" for selections and deportations. Klausa was the landrat – or civilian administrator – of a sizeable county in eastern Upper Silesia, north of Auschwitz in Poland, where thousands of people lost their liberty or their lives to his civilian policies. Yet the writings suggest that he never witnessed the results of his actions and had seemingly convinced himself of his own innocence.

Fulbrook was shocked to discover how few references there were to atrocities against Jews around Bendsburg, the small town where Klausa and his family lived – even though people had been burned alive, shot, hanged or deported.

One depraved act in a neighbouring county involved forcing Jews to lie for hours forming a path of human paving-stones over which Nazis walked in heavy boots. An eyewitness recorded a German standing on a Jew's face until it was "squashed to pieces". "These omissions from his memoirs are extraordinary," Fulbrook said. "He has no memory of atrocities. This is really important in understanding how the Holocaust was possible. It shows the way in which you could live with that kind of past, cover it up and present yourself as a perfectly decent, ordinary civil servant who had nothing to do with the atrocities.

"If he'd conveyed anything like fear, regret, guilt, shame, I would have felt much more comfortable. But it's just a whitewashed past."

Letters sent in 1942 by Alexandra to her own mother suggest that Klausa was disturbed by the unfolding events – they refer to her husband's "even worse" mood. But mass killings are mentioned coldly. Alexandra wrote: "There is constant shooting, everywhere dead Jews are lying around … One simply can't avoid seeing all this, and the constant shooting drives one quite mad."

Fulbrook said the material offered a new perspective on perpetrator mentality. Other studies have focused on prominent Nazis and frontline killers or their victims, she said. But the victims only ever saw the people in the frontline of physical violence, the SS and Gestapo, the designated "perpetrators". The backroom civilian administrators were unknown to them.

She came across Klausa's story while "idly" sifting through her mother's old letters. Among them was a typed memento created by Klausa's son in memory of Alexandra. It drew on his mother's own letters. One referred to 15,000 Jews being deported. Fulbrook said: "I thought, 'Where on earth was she to witness this in one day?' "

Alexandra was writing from Bendsburg, Fulbrook said. "I'd never heard of it. I Googled it." It was the Germanised name for the occupied Polish town of Bedzin.

There was also passing mention of Klausa as a landrat. Fulbrook said that, even though she is a German historian, she does not understand a landrat's functions. There was no literature on it – "let alone a landrat close to Auschwitz".

It was after investigating further that she discovered landrats were charged with implementation of Nazi directives. Klausa went along with Nazi policies, ensuring Jews wore the yellow star, did not break the curfew, and did not use public transport or enter areas forbidden to them.

After the war, West German law for prosecuting war criminals allowed the defence of "following orders" to escape a murder charge. "Thereby, Klausa fell out of the picture completely," Fulbrook said. He was never tried and later became director of a Rhineland regional council. In the book, she writes: "One part of me wants to yell back at Klausa … to scream that, without him and countless other functionaries … Hitler could never have wrought such mass destruction.