Richard Glücks was born April 22, 1889 in the village of Odenkirchen in the Rheinland, Germany. After graduation from the municipal gymnasium he worked as an apprentice in the fire insurance company of his parents. In 1909 he served voluntarily in a Feldartillerie-Regiment. Prior to the outbreak of war, he lived in England from 1913 onwards and a year later he went to Argentina for seven months as a salesman. When war broke out, he returned to his country in January 1915 as a sailor with Swiss papers aboard a Norwegian vessel. He immediately reported for active service in the army. During the war he was awarded the Eisernes Kreuz I and II (Iron Cross); after the war he was posted to the Peace Commission of the German army from 1920 to 1924, serving as liaison officer within the inter-allied commission for controlling the military power. Subsequently he was a member of the staff of the 6.Preussische Division. Glücks soon joined the Freikorps Lichtschlag, established on December 14, 1918 which was active in the Ruhr area.
Glücks joined the N.S.D.A.P. in 1930 and the SS in 1932. Between September 6, 1933 until June 20, 1935 he was the leader of SS-Oberabschnitt West, one of the main districts of the Allgemeine SS. In this period, he gradually rose from SS-Untersturmführer to eventually SS-Sturmbannführer. From June 20, 1935 to April 1, 1936, meanwhile in the rank of SS-Obersturmbannführer he commanded the 77.SS-Standarte which had its headquarters in Schneidemühl. A definite turning point in his career in the SS was his appointment as chief of staff to the inspector of concentration camps Theodor Eicke.
As inspector of the camps, Eicke supervised in particular the way in which the concentration camps were being run by the camp commanders and their personnel. Eicke was a ruthless man who had a profound influence on policy and the daily running of the concentration camps. He was for instance the brains behind various inhuman penalties imposed in the camps. In addition he developed an efficient but cruel camp hierarchy where even inmates were deployed to guard their fellow prisoners. As a direct subordinate to Eicke, Glücks was probably little involved in the daily running of the camps. Together with his superior, he did visit a concentration camp sometimes but his main responsibility was personnel management. Rudolph Höss, commander of Auschwitz and later on Glücks’ subordinate within Amtsgruppe D of the Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt, (W.V.H.A. or Main Economic and Administrative Office), wrote in his memoirs after the war that Glücks neither noticed anything during these visits, nor did he learn what to pay attention to. It seems various camp commanders were dissatisfied with the way Glücks handled personnel management but Eicke ignored their protests. Fact is, Eicke was very satisfied with his subordinate he described as a "chief of staff like one should be" and as a "valuable supporter one could trust."
As Eicke was involved in leading the SS-Totenkopf-Division from 1939 onwards, he was no longer able to keep his function as inspector of concentration camps. November 18, 1939, Glücks was appointed his successor. Höss argued later, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler frequently had had the intention to name someone else for this function because he did not really trust Glücks. Eicke and Oswald Pohl, the future superior of Glücks at the W.V.H.A. always stood up for him however and thus, according to Höss, he could remain in his post. In his memoirs, Höss also points out that during Glücks’ reign, nothing really changed in the camps. In his opinion, Glücks thought nothing could be changed regarding Eicke’s policy, even though it was outdated. The explanation Höss offered was that Glücks had a pathologic fear of Himmler. According to Höss, Glücks became upset whenever Himmler called him and when he was to meet Himmler personally, he was of no use to anyone days before the meeting. Höss further wrote:
These words clearly show, at least according to Höss, that Glücks, directly subordinate to Himmler, was not up to his role as inspector of concentration camps. His pathologic fear of Himmler is difficult to prove but that Glücks took escapes very seriously is a fact. He frequently wrote memoranda to the camp commanders strongly urging them to do everything they could to prevent escapes.
Höss also described Glücks as a man with an uncontrollable sense of Rheinland humor – humor that looked positively on everything in life. Glücks was able to make the worst things completely ridiculous and make jokes about it. Moreover, still according to Höss, he could not remember anything and took no decisions. Yet, Höss did not blame him for it because this matched his character after all. This character does not seem to match in the least with someone with a difficult job like inspector of the camps. Possibly, some relief was granted to him when Oswald Pohl was shoved in between him and Himmler as the new chief of the W.V.H.A.
While Pohl was in overall charge of the W.V.H.A., Glücks was appointed chief of one of the departments of this main office, i.e. Amtsgruppe D which was responsible for the concentration camps. Although Glücks was officially no longer inspector of concentration camps, as chief of Amtsgruppe D he still had the same duties. The big difference was he was no longer directly subordinate to Himmler but to Pohl. After the war, Pohl took great trouble to attribute all responsibility for the disgraceful state of affairs in the concentration camps to him. A post war, personal conversation between psychiatrist Leon Goldensohn and Pohl unfolded as follows:
Pohl went much further though in blaming his subordinate Glücks. During the same session with Goldensohn, Pohl claimed he did his best not to get involved in the Endlösung. He indicates Himmler considered him too weak to take the right decisions in this matter and even demanded he should not be burdened with it. Pohl only wanted to be involved in the management of the concentration camps and the work of the inmates but not in the extermination program. Subsequently, in 1942 he dispatched Glücks to Himmler as he had been asked to appoint a man within the W.V.H.A. Glücks was the men within the W.V.H.A. responsible for the support and execution of the extermination program.
It is remarkable to note that Höss indicates in his memoirs that Glücks did not want to get too deeply involved either in the extermination of Jews in Auschwitz, one of the two extermination camp under supervision of the W.V.H.A. He even badly wanted to hear nothing about Auschwitz. From Höss’ words it also appears he blames Glücks for never having shown any interest in Auschwitz, nor having helped to find solutions to solve problems within the camp. Höss considered Glücks’ refusal to support him in Auschwitz one of the reasons for the catastrophic situation in the camp that developed later. Höss claims however that the lack of any interest or cooperation by Glücks not only applied to Auschwitz. He – Glücks – often asked Liebehenschel, chief of Amtsgruppe D 1,: "and what am I to say to the commanders now? I know absolutely nothing." Those were the words of the inspector of all concentration camps, the supervisor of all camp commanders. He was supposed to lead, to give instructions to the commanders when problems occurred, many of those caused by the war itself.
Despite the serious complaints Höss voiced about his superior, Glück’s superiors always seemed to be very satisfied with his work. On November 9, 1943, he was promoted to SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS. He was also awarded the Deutsches Kreuz in Silber (German Cross in Silver) by Hitler personally, a very high decoration for display of leadership but not against the enemy.
According to Pohl, Glücks was the person within the W.V.H.A. who was directly responsible for the Endlösung in the extermination camps Majdanek and Auschwitz; according to Höss he was a totally incompetent leader who hardly knew anything about what was going on in the concentration camps. What role did Glücks actually play in the system of concentration camps? The truth will possibly be somewhere in the middle because although Glücks probably made few changes to policy in the concentration camps, he was the one who was to supervise the conditions in the camps. The large number of people who perished during the years of the war, in particular because of the extremely harsh working conditions certainly do tell against Glücks. Yet there is one remarkable document which proves that Glücks has at least once attempted to improve the living conditions in the concentration camps, albeit for economic reasons. Due to the extremely high mortality rate in the camps around 1942, which of course had a negative effect on the deployment of prisoners as slave laborers, Glücks sent the following memo to all camp commanders on December 28,1942:
There was however no obvious decrease in mortality but yet, around 1943, improvements in living conditions were actually made in some camps. This however did not last long as the conditions in the camps in the last years of the war were extremely bad and the mortality rate was high, partially caused by the growing number of prisoners. The memo mentioned above certainly does not exonerate Glücks. Let’s, for the sake of argument assume it was Pohl in particular who saw to the extraordinarily extreme working conditions and Glücks did indeed take the trouble to limit the mortality figures as a result of these circumstances, there still are various other crimes that were committed in the camps for which Glücks was responsible in the end.
In most concentration camps, horrendous (medical) experiments were carried out on prisoners, with full knowledge of and in most cases with permission from Glücks. On July 8, 1942, Glücks had a meeting with Himmler, Professor Carl Clauberg and others about the intended mass sterilization of Jewish women in the concentration camps. Auschwitz was designated as the camp where Clauberg was to start experimenting with various means of sterilization. Numerous prisoners succumbed to the consequences of these experiments; others endured excruciating pains and were maimed for the rest of their lives. Glücks has also ordered to develop gas cambers in certain camps in order to kill sick and weakened prisoners speedily and efficiently.
Something we must emphasize in particular is that Glücks supervised two extermination camps, Majdanek and Auschwitz in the hey days of the Endlösung. By the way, Glücks was also the one to suggest Auschwitz as a location although it was not intended at the time the camp was to serve as an extermination camp. Evidence proves written and oral orders regarding the elimination of Jews in the extermination camps have reached Glücks’ desk. Glücks was also responsible for the doctors who made the selections in the camps and his agency granted Höss special permission to obtain large amounts of Zyklon-B that was used for the gassings in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
It is debatable however, how far Glücks personally could go in taking far reaching decisions regarding the extermination camps. When his most important associate, Arthur Liebehenschel, was posted to Auschwitz, Gerhard Maurer was appointed Glücks’ deputy and Rudolph Höss was appointed chief of Amtsgruppe D 1. In Höss’ words he and Maurer started ‘cleaning up the house,’ Various employees of Amtsgruppe D were relieved of their functions and it is more than likely that Höss, with the vast experienced he had gained in Auschwitz concerned himself intensively with the extermination process in Majdanek and Auschwitz. Even then it is all too easy to completely exonerate Glücks. Just as Pohl was ultimately responsible for Glücks’ actions, so was Glücks ultimately responsible for the actions of his subordinates.
We can only conclude that the function of Inspektor der Konzentrationslager and chief of Amtsgruppe D of the W.V.H.A. absolutely entail guilt for many crimes. It is harder to prove how far Glücks as an individual can be held accountable for these crimes. The continuation of Eicke’s policy is a crime in and of itself but that Glücks himself issued few new measures and orders, as Höss argues, is rather likely. Höss also argues Glücks has never witnessed an execution of maltreatment. According to him, Glücks even left permissions for physical punishment to his subordinates.
We must see Glücks as someone who operated from behind his desk, in contrast to Eicke who focused mainly on daily practice. It does not seem likely however that Glücks was a cold-blooded desk murderer, comparable to Adolf Eichmann who did make numerous decisions regarding the Endlösung on his own initiative. One thing is certain: the policy in the concentration camps in the years Glücks was in charge, is brimming with serious crimes against humanity. Taking little or no action at all and as the leader allowing these crimes to be committed, makes the person of Glücks just as guilty. As Höss described it: "Glücks was the exact opposite of Eicke in every aspect. Both were extreme and this makes the development of the concentration camps a true tragedy."
In judging Glücks’ responsibilities regarding the crimes in the concentration and extermination camps, the biggest obstacle is the fact that Glücks, in contrast to Pohl and Höss was not tried by an Allied tribunal after the war. It is fairly certain he was no longer alive at the time of the Nuremberg trials. Of course, high ranking leaders such as Himmler, Heydrich and of course Hitler could not be sentenced because of their demise but owing to their very prominent roles, their actions have been documented extensively. Having been a less prominent figure, Glücks has hardly been given a place in the history of the Third Reich and he has remained unknown to many. But when did Glücks pass away and why is there some obscurity about his fate?
According to Höss, Glücks was troubled by health problems for a number of years. He was frequently absent for weeks on end and he had a tenacious sleeping problem. By using various sorts of drugs he ruined his health more and more; in particular from 1944 onwards, when Berlin and surroundings were frequently subjected to Allied bombardments and the Allied front lines moved closer, Glücks’ health went from bad to worse. He found relief only when he was drunk.
April 16, 1945, the buildings of the W.V.H.A. in Oranienburg were destroyed by Allied bombardments and the agency was subsequently transferred to Born on the Baltic Sea. British investigators of war crimes have charted Glücks’ movements from then on. On the day of the bombardment, Glücks and his wife – they had no children – drove by car to Ravensbrück. As late as April 26, they moved to Born from where they left again in westerly direction to Warnemünde, because of the advancing Red Army. Along with various other high ranking W.V.H.A. officials they subsequently left for Flensburg on the Danish border on May 2. In the afternoon, the group of officials parked their car in a forest near Friedrichshöh and Glücks and his wife spent the night with a certain Frau Stöhr. Where Glücks and his wife subsequently stayed for a few days is unknown but in any case he probably met Himmler during this period.
On May 10, 1945, in the navy hospital in Flensburg-Mürwik Glücks, using the nickname Sonneman, allegedly committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule. Anyway, this is what was entered on a death certificate which was signed at 15:00 hours on that day by doctor Lorenzen. On order by Allied investigators the grave, possibly containing Glücks’ remains was opened. The human remains were not those of Glücks however. Yet, on September 10, 1945, Glücks’ death certificate containing the details mentioned above, was confirmed. Probably, the wrong grave had been opened and eventually the remains of Glücks were found. There is uncertainty about this however and as a matter of course, many rumors arose to the effect Glücks was still alive. Regarding his very poor physical condition his death is very likely however. Moreover, conclusive evidence proving Glücks was still alive after May 1945 has never been found so it can be assumed with great certainty that Glücks actually did commit suicide on May 10, 1945. Whatever the case may be, although having been the most important person responsible for the concentration camps, he was never sentenced.