Harlan Coben’s Shelter: Is The Butcher of Łódź Based on a Real Nazi Officer?

Prime Video’s ‘Harlan Coben’s Shelter’ is a young adult mystery thriller that follows the story of Mickey Bolitar, who lives in Kasselton with his aunt. When his classmate, Ashley, disappears and no one seems intent on finding her, Mickey decides to look into the case himself. This ties up with the mystery of his father’s death, who he is told might still be alive. With his friends, Spoon and Ema, Mickey discovers that the thread of secrets in Kasselton ties to the events that took place decades ago, during the Second World War. He discovers that the Nazi officer known as The Butcher of Łódź might also be involved in it. While it remains to be seen how all this ties up, you might wonder if the character of the dangerous Butcher is based on a real person. Let’s find out. SPOILERS AHEAD

Is The Butcher of Łódź Based on a Real Nazi?

The Butcher of Łódź is a character that appears in the ‘Shelter’ series by Harlan Coben. The character is tied to the legend of Lizzy Sobek, a young girl known to have escaped Auschwitz and helped other children escape the concentration camps. According to the legend, Lizzy was killed by The Butcher of Łódź, who was also responsible for the death of many other children.

The character of Lizzy Sobek is made-up by the author to serve the story’s plot. However, the moniker of The Butcher of Łódź is real and was used for at least two Nazi officers. One of them was Hans Biebow, the chief of administration at the Łódź Ghetto. He is known for his plans to turn the ghettos into commercially profitable things for the Nazi administration. He devised a plan to convert the ghetto into a slave labor complex where the imprisoned Jews were overworked to the point of dying of exhaustion.

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

With around 164,000 Jews in the ghetto, Biebow limited the food supply and forced the people to work even as they starved. The ghetto was liberated in 1945, following which Biebow escaped. By then, thousands of Jews had died of starvation. He was also found responsible for the torture, rape, and murder of Jews in the ghetto while also stealing their land and money. He was later identified and arrested. He was sent to Łódź, where he faced trial for his war crimes. He was executed on June 23, 1947.

Another Nazi who was called the Butcher of Łódź was Heinrich Schwinn. He was also an administrator at the Łódź Ghetto and was put on trial for murdering at least 70 Jews. As reported in B’nai B’rith Messenger on October 31, 1952, he is said to have shot and killed Jews for “no reason whatsoever.” He was also involved in the “resettlement operations,” where he sent children and aged Jews to gas chambers because they were considered unfit for labor.

It is not confirmed whether Coben based the character in his book on one of these real-life Nazis, but we can assume that he was inspired by them and other Nazis like them to create the horrifying stories surrounding the Butcher of Łódź. In the show, the Butcher’s story takes a turn when Mickey discovers that he didn’t die following the Second World War, unlike his real-life counterparts. The Butcher is not only alive but also wreaking havoc on the residents of Kasselton. This plot point confirms that the Butcher in Coben’s book is a fictional figure created to serve the plot. However, the author created him in the image of the actual Nazis who got this title for their horrible deeds.

Read More: Is Lizzy Sobek Based on a Real Holocaust Survivor?