Aloïs Brunner was born into a peasant family in 1912 in the village of Rohrbrunn. 150 kilometres from Vienna in the Burgerland region, the village was at time in Hungarian territory and known as Nadkut.
A subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Aloïs Brunner’s childhood was deeply affected by a Catholic and Anti-Semitic upbringing. At 15 he became an apprentice at a department store in Fürstenfeld in Austria, and had reached the position of Head Decorator by 1931. It was during this year that he became a member of the Nazi Party, and the following year he went on to join the SA.
He enrolled in a private police school in Graz, and in 1933 became a member of the Austrian Legion, a militia that had become a breading ground for the future orchestrators of the Holocaust. Their group solidarity was consolidated by their clandestine militant activity. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, future successor of Heydrich at the head of the Reich Central Security Office (RSHA), Odilo Globocnik, future head of the SS and the Lublin Police, Franz Stangl, future Commandant of Treblinka, and even Adolf Eichman and his deputees Franz Novak and Rolf Günther, were all members. These men, most of whom were in their twenties, made up the backbone of the Vienna Central Office for Jewish Emigration, founded by Adolf Eichmann in August 1938.
The Jewish lawyer Josef Löwenherz had held the role of First Secretary of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde since 1937. As the confirmed head of Jewish institutions in Vienna, he was made responsible for the implementation of orders emanating from the Central SS – the adding of the mandatory first names Israël or Sarah to civil registry documents in August, the prohibition of skiing and cycling in September, and the marking of identity papers with the letter J in October.
Brunner, Eichmann’s protégé, joined the SS Information Service (SD) in 1939. From 21 December 1939, Eichmann directed section IVB4 of the Gestapo from Berlin, which was responsible for Jewish affairs. Brunner took on his role at the head of the Vienna Central, which would become a model for the entire Reich. As early as October 1939, Brunner would orchestrate the first mass deportation. Around 1000 Jews were sent to Nisko, near Lublin. Brunner was promoted to Obersturmführer Lieutenant SS the following year. In Vienna, remaining loyal to the Judenrat model implanted in local Jewish communities in Poland, he attempted to involve the victims in the mechanics of the crime. The intention was to create a Jewish Police, or Jupo, as had been done in the ghettos of Central Europe. The Jupo was responsible for helping to make up the 5 deportation convoys to Lublin, which left between 15 February and 12 March 1941. From August onward, Brunner forbade the emigration of Jewish men between the ages of 18 and 45, and between 15 October and 2 November, 5 further convoys would organised, but this time the destination was the Lodz ghetto.
Brunner was promoted to Hauptsturmführer, Captain SS in January 1943, 15 days after the Wannsee conference which put the extermination of the Jews of Europe in process. In July, he went on to gain the title of Inspector of the SIPO-SD. Between 9 April and 14 June 1942, another 6 convoys of Jews left Austria for Lublin. At the end of November 1942, he made Löwenherz responsible for the implementation of the confiscation order which would remove all means of informing and communicating from the Jews, such as radios, typewriters, cameras, and so on. 5,000 Tziganes were also deported, in accordance with Brunner’s orders.
In October 1942, Eichmann called Brunner to Berlin. Following the method which had already been trialled in Vienna, he summoned Rabbi Leo Beck and Moritz Henschel, President of the Berlin Community. Once again assisted by a Jewish Order Service, within two months he had managed to organise the assembly and deportation of more than 20 000 of the 54 000 Jews living in Berlin. Brunner was then sent to Thessaloniki, as was Dieter Wisliceny. He arrived on 6 February 1943, accompanied by Ernst Brückler, Herbert Gerbing, Anton Zitta, Gesar Takkash, Mathias Schefczig and Alfred Slawek, all of the Vienna Central. Upon this occasion Zevi Koretz was set free from imprisonment in Vienna and reassigned his position as Chief Rabbi of Thessaloniki. As head of the Judenrat, he agreed to transmit Brunner’s orders to the Jews of Thessaloniki, who were assembled into two ghettos. Brunner ordered the manufacture of 45 000 yellow stars and the organisation of a Jewish police composed of 250 men. They would be lead by Jacques Albala, who had previously lived in Vienna. Deeds for property in the Ukraine and exchange receipts for zlotys were given to the deportees to fend off their suspicions. Between March and May 1943, 42 830 Jews from Thessaloniki were deported to the extermination camps in Poland, following Brunner’s orders.
On 9 May 1943, he was posted to Paris to restart the deportation process of Jews from France. Answering directly to Berlin, Brunner’s implementation of the deportation bypassed the authority of Judenreferent SS Heinz Röthke, who had become Dannecker’s successor from July 1942. Accompanied by his mobile Austrian SS team, Brunner arrived at the Drancy camp on 18 June 1943, and within three days had screened two-thirds of the 2,500 Jewish detainees. The deportations would begin once again on 23 June. He took direct control from 2 July 1943, relegating the French Gendarmes to guarding the exterior of the camp, and modernising the running of the camp by trying in vain to involve the UGIF in its internal administration. UGIF Vice-President André Baur was arrested following his protests. The detainees were hit with a system of terror, suffering bullying and strict discipline. On the other hand, however, camp nutrition and hygiene improved thanks to collective packages provided by the UGIF.
Using techniques trialled in Vienna, Berlin and Thessaloniki, Brunner finally created a Jewish police within the crowd of detainees itself, which he had reorganised into a hierarchy. He confiscated their belongings and gave them receipts in zlotys before their deportation. From September 1943, after the signing of the Armistice between Italy and the Allies, Brunner began hunting the Jews who had taken refuge in Nice and the surrounding region. Up until 14 December, 2,500 had been arrested, transferred to the Excelsior hotel near the Nice railway station, and submitted to a medical exam by the Jewish doctor of the Drancy camp, Abraham Drücker. The Drancy camp is precisely where they would then be transferred.
In 1944, Brunner was responsible for round-ups and mass arrests in both provincial France and the capital region, through a directive he presented in April 1944 ordering the arrest of all Jews of French nationality, along with their families. This action dismantled the entire provincial UGIF assistance mechanism, where both the donors and recipients of assistance had become targets for joint operations between the SS and the militia led by Joseph Darnand. The latter was a wartime police organised by the Vichy government. As it had been provisionally the case since 1943, only those married to non-Jews were spared, to the benefit of the Todt organisation and the Parisian camps where confiscated Jewish goods were sorted.
Brunner left Drancy on 17 August 1944, accompanied by one last convoy of deportees, partially composed of Jewish children rounded up from UGIF homes. Over the year that had passed, he had deported 22 427 men, women and children, making up almost one-third of the total number of Jews deported from France. Drawing on his experience at Drancy, the following month Brunner turned to the Sered internment camp in Slovakia. He summoned Rabbi Michael Weissmandel and Tibor Kovac, both heads of the Jewish community in Bratislava, and organised the overnight round-up and mass arrest of 1,800 Jews on 25 September 1944. They would join the 5,000 detainees at Sered, an anti-chamber of Auschwitz. More than 13,500 Jews were deported from Slovakia on Brunner’s orders.
After having dismantled the Sered camp in 1945, Brunner managed to move to Vienna, and in April he moved on to Prague where Eichmann’s HQ was based. When the Soviet troops arrived, he was in possession of false papers in the name of Aloïs Schmaldienst, and managed to extricate himself from Czech partisans, before being detained in an American camp near Vienna. He was set free and lived a peaceful life in Essen, despite his appearance at the top of the Nuremberg court’s war criminal list. Threatened by discovery, he fled overseas in 1954, and traveled via Egypt to arrive in Damas, Syria. He was then able to offer his special police expertise to the Baas party and the El-Assad family.