Next Stop

01.11.14

A Serial Killer on the Loose in Nazi Berlin

Berlin, 1940. Late one a night a railway worker boards her train home and chats with a man. Then everything goes wrong. An excerpt from Scott Andrew Selby’s A Serial Killer in Nazi Berlin.

On the evening of November 4, 1940, thirty-year-old Elizabeth Bendorf had just finished her shift as a train ticket salesperson at the S-Bahn station Friedrichshagen and was waiting for a train to arrive in the station to take her home. The S-Bahn was part of Berlin’s rapid transit system.

It was common in 1940 for German women like Bendorf to work outside the home. As a result, women often rode the S-Bahn alone at night when their shifts ended. With so many men away in the military, women had come to dominate the factories of Berlin, working to churn out the industrial products needed for the war effort. While the Nazis would have preferred to have women at home in a traditional role as mothers and homemakers, the war required that female labor be used to produce the armaments and other materials required to fight. And with men away, there were openings at non-war-related jobs as well, such as selling tickets for the S-Bahn.

Other powers fighting this war had similar issues with needing women to leave the realm of domestic work to do factory work that had previously been done by men. In the United States, the character of Rosie the Riveter was used to encourage women to leave the household sphere and do assembly line work at factories. One example of U.S. government propaganda aimed at getting women to work said, “Can you use an electric mixer? If so, you can learn to operate a drill.”

A German propaganda poster captures this sentiment with a foreground image of three women (a factory worker, a nurse, and a farmer), behind them a factory and a farm, and in the sky above them a drawing of a man wearing a combat helmet. The idea being that these women would free up men to fight. The text stated, “Starting with You!”

Such propaganda was based on the idea that women would temporarily perform tasks in traditionally male-dominated fields and then return to their domestic work when the war was over and the men came home.

Paul Ogorzow saw Elizabeth Bendorf waiting by herself for the train. He indicated with an inviting motion of his hands that she should use the second-class compartment, instead of the third-class one for which she was ticketed. Since he was wearing a railroad company uniform, and she was wearing hers, she thought this was a professional courtesy to let her upgrade to a better compartment. She was not worried that there was anything more nefarious involved. Second class was more comfortable and so would be a more relaxing ride for her after a long day at work.

The main difference between second and third class was the seating. Third class had hard wooden benches, worn down from decades of Berliners sitting on them. Most of the seats were in pairs facing each other with a narrow aisle between them. The seating looked like what many modern trains use in their dining car, minus the tables. On a crowded train, each bench could hold two people, who would then be stuck staring at the two people sitting inches away from them. This made for much more cramped travel seating than most modern subway systems, which use seats facing the same direction or a long line of seating along the two outer walls of the compartment.

selby-nazi-killer-cover
‘A Serial Killer in Nazi Berlin’ By Scott Andrew Selby. 320 pages. Berkeley. $26.95. ()

Second class featured the same basic seating arrangement as third class, but with upholstered seating. In addition to this added bit of comfort, second class offered a generally quieter and roomier compartment, as the vast majority of S-Bahn passengers rode third class.

In reality, Ogorzow did not care about this woman’s comfort or extending her any kind of courtesy; he wanted her in the second-class compartment for his own reasons—it was likely to be empty, while the third-class compartment was more likely to have other passengers riding in it.

Their train arrived after eleven in the evening. They sat across from each other in the otherwise empty train compartment and made small talk. This was later characterized as a discussion about trivial things. This shows that Ogorzow was able to handle himself in social situations. He was not a misfit. He could converse easily with women, even to the extent of making a woman he did not know, who was traveling alone on a train at night, feel at ease. It helped, of course, that he wore a uniform, which gave him an aura of authority.

Ogorzow saw that they were alone. But he waited; he was not yet ready to attack. He wanted to make sure that he had the maximum amount of time to attack his victim and dispose of her body. Having made small talk, he’d already wasted much of the time between the station where they’d boarded the train and the upcoming one.

At the Hirschgarten station, Ogorzow waited by the train compartment’s door, hoping that no one else would enter the second- class section. The train doors did not automatically open when the train reached a station; instead, any passengers that wanted on or off the train had to manually pull on a door handle. The only automatic function was the closing of doors before the train left the station. So Ogorzow was listening in the darkened compartment for the sound of anyone pulling a door open. During peacetime, the windows on the train, including the ones built into the doors themselves, would have let him see if anyone was about to board, but with the blackout they were covered.

The older S-Bahn series had four doors on each side, while the newer ones only had three. In the dark, it could be hard to tell which side of the train the platform was on. Ogorzow had to remember where it was at the Hirschgarten station and keep an eye out on the doors on that side of the compartment.

As the moments passed, it seemed less and less likely that anyone would board. Finally, the train started to leave the station, and he knew that it was now safe for him to attack. Without wasting time, he lowered the thick piece of lead cable he had hidden in his jacket so that it was now in his hand. He then raised his arm up and hit Elizabeth Bendorf hard in the head with this blunt metal instrument.

Despite this blow and the concussion it caused, Bendorf managed to retain consciousness. She fought back and screamed as loud as she could. Unfortunately for her, on this moving train, no one in the other compartments heard her. Ogorzow was in a panic now too. He was ultimately a coward, and he took no pleasure in his victims fighting back. He had anticipated that a hard hit to the head with this lead object would be enough to knock a woman out.

Bendorf defended herself against Ogorzow as best she could, but given that she was suffering the effects of a concussion and had no weapon with her, he managed to hit her on the head again. Each time he succeeded in hitting her, it caused her more pain and mental confusion. She could no longer process the flood of sensory information coming into her brain, let alone command her arms and legs to do anything.

He kept hitting her, hard, on the head until she finally slumped down onto the train’s floor. Only then did he halt his attacks. Paul Ogorzow now believed that his victim was either knocked unconscious or that he’d killed her. However, she was neither, but merely temporarily stunned as a result of all the blows to her head.

Ogorzow turned his back on Bendorf and opened the compartment door. The train was still moving, and a cold wind rushed into the open second-class compartment. He felt close to recreating that moment when he’d first thrown a woman from a moving train. The anticipation was building up and he began to feel a rush similar to the one he’d felt when he’d tossed Gerda Kargoll from the moving S-Bahn.

In the moments this took, Bendorf began to move again.

When Ogorzow turned around and walked toward her, he was shocked. He’d thought this attack was almost over, that the only thing left was to toss her out of the train, but here she was still alive and trying to get away. Any disappointment that he felt quickly faded, as it was readily apparent that she was not moving fast enough to pose any real threat to him. She’d already sustained a heavy beating and was barely functioning.

Ogorzow had no trouble using his piece of lead cable to hit her in the head once more. He thought that this single additional blow would be enough to knock her out or kill her.

Miraculously, even having been hit on the head one more time, Bendorf was still conscious. While aware of what was happening to her, she was now too dazed to move her body at all. Although she could do nothing to stop her assailant, she still was able to watch in horror as he dragged her to the open train door.

Ogorzow’s proclivity for hitting women on the head meant that Bendorf was not his first victim to find herself in the nightmare situation of seeing the imminent threat he posed while being unable to do anything about it. Over a year before, Lina Budzinski had suffered the same kind of horrific experience when Ogorzow hit her in the head and left her conscious for a while but unable to control her body enough to move or scream while he attacked.

Ogorzow pulled Bendorf by the feet toward the door. Once she was in front of the open door, with the Berlin cityscape rapidly passing by outside, he attacked her again.

This time, he was no longer concerned with rendering her unable to fight back. That first part of his attack had a degree of rationality to it—he didn’t want his victim to be able to resist him. But now that he’d accomplished that task, he was focused on attacking and hurting a woman for no rational reason at all.

He hit her repeatedly on her back with the lead cable and kicked her savagely.

After she endured these blows, he assumed that she was either dead or nearing death. He did not bend down to actually check whether she was still alive. He was quickly running out of time and was growing exhausted from all the energy he’d put into this attack.

While dragging her to the door, he briefly touched her in a sexual manner. She was not aware of this, as she was unconscious. Now, it was time for the part that he seemed to enjoy the most—he threw her from the moving train before it arrived at the next station, Köpenick. The night outside was black, with the lights off throughout the city. This meant that he could not see where Bendorf’s body fell.

After this attack, Ogorzow left his weapon behind on the train, hiding it in the compartment. Perhaps he didn’t want to keep what he mistakenly believed was a murder weapon any longer. He had no sentimental attachment to this weapon. It would be easy enough to get another blunt piece of metal with which he could hit women.

If he were worried about fingerprints, a careful rubbing of the handle of the lead cable against his uniform would be enough to wipe it clean and he would have needed to handle it with the sleeve of his uniform or another piece of cloth to avoid leaving behind any new prints as he hid it.

Having temporarily satiated his dark desires, Paul Ogorzow took the S-Bahn home. As he headed back to his wife and kids, he may have thought about how his latest victim screamed despite his best efforts to preemptively silence her. Perhaps this experience made him grateful that he’d attacked her on the moving S-Bahn train. If he’d been in the garden area and she’d managed to scream, based on his past actions, he would not have been able to complete his attack. Instead, he would have run away in case anyone had heard her.

Like Ogorzow’s first victim on the S-Bahn, Gerda Kargoll, Bendorf too miraculously managed to survive her attack. She did however suffer a very serious concussion that required extensive hospitalization. It took her eight days in the hospital to recover enough for the police to be able to interrogate her. Although she was able to describe how she’d been attacked, she did not recall the kind of details that the police were hoping to obtain from her. In fact, they had little more to go on than what they had learned from the first S-Bahn victim. She did not realize that her attacker had briefly molested her during this attack, so the police were not aware of this as well. If they had known, it would have provided a possible motive for these attacks, some kind of sexual perversion.

Now that a second woman had been attacked, the police no longer had doubts about the first victim’s story. It helped that, unlike Kargoll, Bendorf had not been drinking. Until now, Gerda Kargoll’s case had been investigated as an accident. The ordinary police (“Orpo”) handled accidents. Attempted murder, though, was a matter for the criminal police (“Kripo”).