Biography of a Desk Murderer

Franz Viktor Carl Freiherr Baselli von Süßenberg (BNID7155) was born on June 12, 1896, in Pinneberg near Hamburg, Germany, as the second eldest son of Justice Councilor, District Judge, Lawyer, and Notary Carl Maria Freiherr Baselli von Süßenberg, and his wife Caroline Maria (née Steiner) from St. Petersburg.

Franz was 18 when World War I started and German schools actively promoted war and hero propaganda. The prevailing "Wilhelmine Spirit" was so pronounced that when World War I began in 1914, entire school classes volunteered for military service. Franz von Baselli, a high school graduate, also served as a volunteer in the front lines during the war and was promoted to Reserve Captain while still wounded.

After World War I, although the nobility in Germany was not abolished by the Weimar Constitution, their long-standing public-law privileges were revoked. Nobles suddenly became ordinary citizens, and the previously prestigious military careers were no longer possible due to the Versailles Treaty, which prohibited Germany from maintaining a standing army. In the Baselli von Süßenberg family, many ancestors had been officers over the centuries, so they were directly affected by these changing circumstances. Consequently, like many other families in similar situations, they focused on legal careers and became politically active.

Franz von Baselli followed in his father Carl's footsteps and joined the German National People's Party (DNVP) in the 1920s. The DNVP's program included elements of anti-Semitism, nationalism, and conservative monarchism. Additionally, by 1922, Franz von Baselli had joined the paramilitary organization known as "Consul," which was also referred to as the "Black Reichswehr." This organization was responsible for numerous politically motivated acts of violence aimed at undermining the Weimar Republic. Their statutes mandated members to combat "everything anti- and international, Judaism, social democracy, and left-radical parties."

By 1930, Franz von Baselli was increasingly associated with the National Socialists. On January 1, 1931, he officially joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) with membership number 413,336. Later that same year, he was appointed leader of the local group in Pinneberg. Following the Nazis' rise to power, he also joined the SA (Sturmabteilung). In 1933, he became the mayor of Pinneberg, and in 1934, he took on the role of mayor in Schleswig.

In January 1936, Franz von Baselli was additionally appointed as the Gauamtsleiter (District Office Leader) for municipal politics. In this capacity, he played a significant role in implementing National Socialist administrative principles based on the revised 1935 municipal code in all communities across the country. His actions place him among the individuals responsible for the persecution of Jews in Schleswig-Holstein.

During Franz von Baselli's tenure, several Schleswig residents who were members of the Communist Party (KPD) were arrested in August 1935 for distributing political literature while working underground. Their subsequent fate remains unknown.

As the head of administration, Mayor Franz von Baselli bore responsibility for incitement, exclusion, and persecution during his tenure as mayor of Schleswig. In November 1937, he was transferred to the position of Oberbürgermeister (Lord Mayor) in Cottbus, a city in the state of Brandenburg with over 50,000 inhabitants at the time.

When Franz von Baselli assumed office in 1937, approximately 500 Jews still lived in Cottbus. Many of them had recently moved there from surrounding communities out of fear of persecution, hoping for greater anonymity and protection from discrimination in the larger city. However, during von Baselli's time as Oberbürgermeister in Cottbus, the Jewish population suffered significantly.

The tragic climax occurred during the Pogrom Night on November 9-10, 1938. As in the rest of the German Reich, an agitated mob led by the SA (Sturmabteilung) terrorized the Jewish population in Cottbus. The synagogue was set on fire, and the frenzied crowd looted the city and mistreated Jewish residents. The remnants of the Cottbus synagogue were demolished later that same year. By the late 1940s, the entire site, including the cemetery, had been leveled.

Around 30 Jewish men were arrested that night and transported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp days later. The Jewish community in Cottbus ceased to exist after the Pogrom Night, despite having 397 members shortly before. Starting in June 1942, the remaining Jewish individuals were forcibly moved into so-called "Judenhäuser" (Jewish houses) by order of Mayor von Baselli. The purpose of this municipal measure was to ghettoize all Jewish residents in close quarters. From these "Judenhäuser," people were collected and transported to concentration and extermination camps.

On August 24, 1942, the last deportation train left Cottbus bound for Theresienstadt, carrying 764 people crammed into the wagons. Of the 500 Jews who lived in the city when von Baselli took office in 1937, only 13 survived until the end of the war.

Not only Jews suffered due to von Baselli's actions: The Cottbus Lord Mayor also advocated a harsh approach toward Polish forced laborers. He ordered the immediate relocation of approximately 170 Polish workers from their private quarters to the Schwanert company's camp in Cottbus in July and August 1943.

Franz von Baselli's path of spreading fear and violence came to an end in April 1945 when he surrendered Cottbus to victorious Soviet officers. According to eyewitness accounts, Mayor Franz von Baselli spared Cottbus from complete destruction by disobeying the Wehrmacht's orders and surrendering the city without a fight. Despite his prior refusal to leave the city, he was immediately arrested by the Soviet secret service after the handover.

Together with dozens of prisoners, Franz von Baselli left the "Inner Prison" in Cottbus in July 1945 and, driven by Russian soldiers, embarked on a march by foot to the approximately 80 km distant Bautzen. There, he was once again imprisoned in the Soviet special detention facility. After a few weeks, the former SA Obersturmbannführer (Senior Storm Unit Leader) was transported with over 1,300 other prisoners in a freight train to Toszek in Upper Silesia. He survived the journey in the overcrowded cattle wagon, but Franz Viktor Freiherr Baselli von Süßenberg died under unclear circumstances on November 19, 1945, in the forced labor camp in Toszek. He was buried in a mass grave.

The main source for this article is Jens Nielsen’s book ‘Adel verpflichtet'. Some passages were taken verbatim and translated. The overall text was edited and editorially prepared by Mario de Baseggio (BNID0070). The image was taken from Gerd Tams’ image archive with kind permission. The brooch worn by von Baselli was pixelated to avoid unnecessary dissemination of totalitarian political symbols. However, it should be explicitly noted that Franz von Baselli is wearing a badge with a swastika in the original picture.