Dr. Karl Gebhardt

Dr. Karl Gebhardt

Possibly a childhood friend of SS chief Heinrich Himmler, SS-Gruppenführer Dr. Karl Franz Gebhardt was born in Haag/Upper Bavaria on November 23, 1897.  He was wounded in action and the winner of the Iron Cross 1st Class, while assigned to the 4th Bavarian Infantry Regiment, in World War I; he was also a British prisoner of war for a short time.

He later graduated the University of Munich as a physician.  In 1923, he was a member of the Freikorps/Bund Oberland and participated in the Beer Hall Putsch.  He joined the Nazi Party and SS in 1933.  In 1937, he became chair holder for orthopedic surgery at the University of Berlin. Gebhardt subsequently a personal physician to Heinrich Himmler.  His other titles included Chief Surgeon to the Reich Physician to the SS and Police, President of the German Red Cross.

In 1940, Dr. Gebhardt served a tour of duty in the 2nd SS Division Das Reich.  On May 27, 1942, Himmler sent Dr. Gebhardt to Prague to assist Reinhard Heydrich, who had been gravely wounded in an assassination attempt.  Gebhardt disdained the use of sulfonamide, expecting Heydrich to make a full recovery without antibiotic use (which Gebhardt thought worthless).  Heydrich died of sepsis.

During the war, Dr. Gebhardt conducted horrific medical experiments on several dozen female inmates at the women’s concentration camp of Ravensbrück.  For his achievements, Gebhardt received the Knights Cross of the War Service Cross; he also received the German Cross in Silver.  The “Doctors’ Trial” convicted him of crimes against humanity and issued a death sentence on August 20, 1947.  Karl Gebhardt was executed by hanging on Wednesday, June 2, 1948 at the Landsberg Prison.  His remains were transferred to Munich, where he is buried in the Ostfriedhof (Plot 8, Row 5, Grave 1/2)

Dr. Karl Gebhardt2017-01-27T08:21:18-06:00

Dr. Roland Freisler

Roland Freisler

Dr. Roland Freisler served as the Secretary of the Reich Ministry of Justice and President of the People’s Court (Volksgerichtshof.)  Freisler was born on October 30, 1893 in Celle, in Lower Saxony.  The son of an engineer, Roland attended school at the Kaiser Wilhelm grammar school; in 1912, he took his Abitur test for university admission, finishing first in his class.  He went to the University of Kiel, but his schooling was interrupted by World War I.

After the outbreak of the war, Freisler joined the 167th Infantry Regiment in Kassel.  In November 1914, attached to the 26th Reserve Corps, his unit attacked Langemarck in Flanders.  Freisler was wounded, and after convalescing for several months in Germany, he returned to his regiment, which was transferring to the northern sector of the Russian front.  He was promoted to lieutenant and won the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class.  Russian troops later captured Freisler, while he was on a reconnaissance patrol.  He remained in a prisoner of war camp north of Moscow until July 17, 1920, when he returned to Germany.

He then resumed his academic career, attending the University of Jena and the University of Berlin.  He joined the extreme right wing Völkisch-Sozialer Bund and followed that by joining the Nazi Party, with membership number 9,679.  He was married and had two sons.

In February 1933, Hitler appointed Freisler a department head in the Prussian Ministry of Justice. He became Secretary of State in the Prussian Ministry of Justice in 1933–1934, and served in the Reich Ministry of Justice from 1934 to 1942.  In October 1939, Freisler introduced the concept of the “precocious juvenile criminal” in the Juvenile Felons Decree.  This law provided the legal basis for imposing the death penalty and penitentiary terms on juveniles for the first time in German legal history.  Freisler represented the Reich Ministry of Justice at the Wannsee Conference, where he stood in for provisional Minister Dr. Franz Schlegelberger.

On August 20, 1942, Hitler named Freisler to be the President of the People’s Court.  During his time there, 90% of all proceedings ended with death sentences or life imprisonment.  His most infamous trials occurred in August 1944, when he sentenced numerous major participants, to include Generalfeldmarschall Erwin von Witzleben, in the failed July 20 attempt to assassinate Hitler at Rastenburg.

On February 3, 1945, Freisler was conducting a Saturday session of the People’s Court, when American bombers attacked Berlin.  The People’s Court was severely damaged.  In one report, Freisler was crushed beneath a fallen masonry column in the courtroom; another account stated that Freisler was struck by a bomb fragment, while trying to get to a bomb shelter and bled to death on the pavement outside the People’s Court.  Luise Jodl, then the wife of General Alfred Jodl, recounted more than twenty-five years later that she had been working at the Lützow Hospital, when Freisler’s body was brought in, and that a worker commented, “It is God’s verdict.” According to Mrs. Jodl, “Not one person said a word in reply.”  Freisler’s remains are interred in the plot of his wife’s family at the Waldfriedhof Dahlem cemetery in Berlin.  His name is not shown on the gravestone.   His funeral was attended by his wife, a few colleagues from the People’s Court a few Nazi Party functionaries and a representative of the Ministry of Justice.



Dr. Roland Freisler2016-03-04T20:29:12-06:00

Adolf Eichmann

Adolf Eichmann

SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann was born in Solingen, Germany on March 19, 1906.  His mother died when he was eight and the family moved to Linz, Austria.  His father fought in World War I in the Austro-Hungarian Army and survived to start a mining company in that Austrian city.  Adolf attended high school but dropped out to become a mechanic, later finding that he was unsuitable at this occupation.  He worked for his father and then two other clerical jobs, before returning to Germany in 1933.  Prior to departing Linz, he joined the Austrian Nazi Party and the SS.  Once in German, he was assigned in the SS to the administrative staff  at the Dachau concentration camp for a year.  He then transferred to the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service) and assigned to the “Freemasons’ Desk” to keep track on German members of that organization.

In 1938, Adolf Eichmann traveled to the British Mandate of Palestine to conduct an assessment of potential massive German deportations of Jews to Palestine.  After the German unification with Austria in 1938, Eichmann transferred to Austria to assist SS forces organize in Vienna.

In November 1934, Adolf Eichmann transferred to the Jewish Section at the Reich Main Security Office in Berlin.  He was promoted to SS-Hauptscharführer and later to SS-Untersturmführer, a commissioned rank.  Eichmann married in 1938; he would father three sons with his wife and a fourth with a woman in Argentina, later in life.  The same year he was selected to form the Central Office of Jewish Emigration in Vienna, Austria.  In December 1939, he moved to the Reich Main Security Office to become the head of Office IV B4, Jewish Affairs.  After submitting a report in 1940 on the potential to ship Germany’s Jews to the island of Madagascar, he became the transportation administer of the “Final Solution,” coordinating the transportation of Europe’s Jews to eastern ghettos and extermination camps, playing a key role at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942.  Eichmann, nicknamed “The Bloodhound,” hit his zenith of evil in 1944, when he went to Hungary and organized the transportation of that country’s 430,000 Jews to Auschwitz and their deaths.  In 1944, he remarked, “A hundred dead people are a catastrophe.  Six million dead is a statistic.”  He received the War Service Cross 1st Class for his efforts.  In 1945, Eichmann said, “I will leap laughing to my grave, because the feeling that I have five million people on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction!”

After the war, Eichmann was briefly detained by American forces, but escaped.  In 1950, he left Germany for Italy and subsequently fled to Argentina, where he remained in hiding for several years.  Living under the alias, Ricardo Klement, he was captured by Israeli security agents in Buenos Aires on May 11, 1960.  He said at the time, “But I had nothing to do with killing the Jews.  I never killed a Jew, but I never killed a non-Jew either – I’ve never killed anybody.”  He returned to Israel, where he was put on trial, where he was found guilty and sentenced to death.  During that proceeding, Eichmann stated, “If they had told me that my own father was a traitor and I had to kill him, I’d have done it.  At that time I obeyed my orders without thinking, I just did as I was told.”  Israeli hangman Shalom Nagar hanged Adolf Eichmann shortly before midnight on May 31, 1962 at a prison in Ramla, Israel.  The Israelis cremated his remains and scattered the ashes in the Mediterranean.


Adolf Eichmann2016-03-04T20:30:31-06:00

Albert Widmann

Dr. Albert Widmann on trial after the war

SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Albert Widmann, the son of a railroad engineer, was born in Stuttgart, Germany on June 8, 1912.  Studying at the Stuttgart Technical Institute, he received his doctorate in chemical engineering in 1938.  The year before he graduated, Widmann joined the Nazi Party.   After his schooling, Albert Widmann found himself employed with the Technical Institute for the Detection of Crime, a forensic laboratory.  By 1940, he had risen to be the institute’s chief of the section for chemical analysis.  By that time, Widmann was also a member of the SS, holding the rank of SS-Untersturmführer.

Widmann’s section provided technical advice to the Nazi T4 Euthanasia Program.  He took part in the early discussions about killing methods, participated in the first carbon monoxide gassing experiment at the Brandenburg State Hospital and Nursing Home, and through the institute, obtained the necessary carbon monoxide gas and poisons for T4.  He also obtained and provided the lethal chemicals used in fatal injections in the children’s euthanasia program, sharing shared his technological knowledge with others in the T4 program that were in charge of supervising and administrating the program.  Widmann visited other T4 centers, when solutions to technical problems needed to be tested, such as, when the crematorium in Sonnenstein Euthanasia Center malfunctioned.

In Russia, Dr. Widmann and Arthur Nebe conducted an experiment using explosives as the killing agent.  They locked 25 mentally ill patients in two bunkers in a forest outside of Minsk.  The first explosion did not kill every victim and it took so much time preparing the second explosive charge that the results were deemed unsatisfactory.  Several days later, they conducted an experiment with poison gas in Mogilev.  SS personnel hermetically sealed a room with twenty to thirty of the insane patients in the local lunatic asylum.  Two pipes were then driven into the wall and attached by Dr. Widmann to the exhaust pipe of a car parked outside.  A driver turned the car engine on and Widmann ensured that the exhaust began seeping into the room.  However, after eight minutes, the people in the room were still alive.  A second car was connected to the second pipe and through simultaneous operation, and a few minutes later, all those in the room were dead.

Widmann reportedly conducted other experiments back in Germany at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, along with Dr. Joachim Mrugowsky, concerning testing poisoned ammunition on prisoners – most of the tests ended in death.

After the war, Dr. Albert Widmann fled Berlin to Austria and finally returned to Stuttgart.  He took a job with a paint company and ended up as the chief chemist.  Widmann avoided prosecution until 1959.  He served only six years and six months in jail for his crimes.  Dr. Albert Widmann died in Stammheim on December 24, 1986.

Albert Widmann2016-03-04T20:37:56-06:00

Arthur Nebe

Arthur Nebe

SS-Gruppenführer Arthur Nebe served as the commanding officer of Einsatzgruppe B in Russia, although that was not his most-important function in the Third Reich.

Born in Berlin on November 13, 1894 to an elementary school teacher, he graduated from the Leibniz-Gymnasium in Berlin (high school) and served in the 17th Pioneer Battalion, a combat engineer organization in World War I.  At the front, he was wounded twice by poison gas and was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class.

After the war, in 1920, Nebe joined Berlin’s detective force, the Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Police), called Kripo for short.  By 1924, he had advanced to the rank of Police Commissioner; that year he married Elise Schaeffer – the couple had one daughter two years later.  In 1928, he assumed responsibility for the Kripo offices in Potsdam and Frankfurt an der Oder, where he investigated numerous narcotics and murder cases.  Nebe joined the Nazi Party on July 1, 1931.

In 1932, Nebe helped form the National Socialist Civil Service Society of the Berlin Police and became friends with Kurt Daluege, a police official and prominent Nazi.  Daluege recommended that Nebe be appointed the Chief Executive of the State Police.  In July 1936, the Kripo became the criminal police department for the entire Third Reich.  It was merged, along with the Gestapo into the Security Police under Reinhard Heydrich.

Arthur Nebe, who formally entered the SS on December 2, 1936, was promoted to SS-Gruppenführer and appointed head of the entire Kripo, making him a direct subordinate of Heydrich.  Evidence shows that about this time, Nebe began to dislike the methods of Himmler and Heydrich, although he continued to have lunch with them frequently.

By 1938, Nebe’s dislike turned to hostility and he joined anti-Nazi conspirators Dr. Karl Sack and Hans Oster.  Nebe provided information on SS forces to the conspirators involved in the September 1938 coup attempt, a plan to overthrow Hitler if Germany went to war with Czechoslovakia.  However, Britain and France caved in to Hitler’s demands and there was no war over Czechoslovakia.

In 1941, perhaps sensing some reluctance on the part of his subordinate to get his hands dirty, Reinhard Heydrich selected Nebe to command Einsatzgruppe B, which would follow the Wehrmacht’s Army Group Center in the invasion of the Soviet Union.  Nebe asked for a transfer to the International Police Commission to avoid this duty, but Heydrich insisted; anti-Nazis Ludwig Beck and Hans Oster urged Nebe to accept, so they would have direct evidence of SS crimes and organization.  During Nebe’s tenure in the east, Einsatzgruppe B murdered about 46,000 victims.  With the technical assistance of Dr. Albert Widmann, Nebe experimented with the use of explosives and carbon monoxide gas vans (used to suffocate victims) to kill the mentally defective in lunatic asylums in Minsk and Mogilev, to spare his men the anxiety of shooting them.

Nebe served in Russia from June to November 1941, returning to Berlin to command the Kripo once again.  In March 1944, after the mass escape of Allied prisoners of war from Stalag Luft III, Nebe helped select fifty re-captured prisoners for execution.  He also reportedly suggested in June 1944 to SS physician Dr. Ernst Grawitz that the Gypsies held at Auschwitz would be good patients for medical experiments at Dachau.

Arthur Nebe appears to have been on the fringe of the July 20, 1944 bomb plot to kill Hitler at Rastenburg.  Supposedly, his mission in the plot was to lead a team of twelve police officers to assassinate Heinrich Himmler, but his whereabouts on the day remain in question (He may have been in Berlin with conspirator General Paul von Hase) as does the method by which he was to have received the signal to act.

In any case, Nebe – using various disguises after a warrant was issued for his arrest on July 24 – fled into hiding.  There are many versions of what happened next; one of the most logical is that Nebe contacted a female acquaintance in the police, one Adelheid Gobbin at the end of July, requesting help.  She took him to her apartment and then arranged a hiding place with the Walter Frick family at Motzen on Lake Motzen, twenty miles south of Berlin.  Gestapo investigator Willy Litzenberg appears to have tracked Gobbin down in January 1945 and in a later interrogation, she revealed Nebe’s hiding place.  Nebe, who according to one source attempted to fake his own suicide in January, was arrested in February 1945 and sentenced to death by the People’s Court.

On March 21, 1945, executioners at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin hanged Arthur Nebe (and Walter Frick.)  After the war, there were reports that he had been sighted in Turin, Italy and Ireland, but nothing has ever confirmed that he survived the war.

Arthur Nebe2016-03-04T20:41:34-06:00

Heinrich Himmler

Heinrich Himmler

Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was born in München on October 7, 1900 in a Roman Catholic middle-class family.  His father, Gebhard Himmler, was a teacher; his mother was Anna Maria Heyder.  He had one older brother Gebhard Ludwig and one younger, Ernst.  Heinrich was named after his godfather, Prince Heinrich of Bavaria of the royal family of Bavaria, who had been tutored by Gebhard Himmler.  Heinrich attended grammar school in Landshut, where Gebhard served as deputy principal. He did well in his schoolwork, although he struggled in athletics.

Young Heinrich’s health was poor; he would have lifelong stomach complaints and other ailments.  To remedy this, he trained daily with weights as a youth and exercised to become stronger.  Fellow students recalled him as studious but awkward in social situations.  In 1915, Himmler began training with the Landshut Cadet Corps.  His father used his connections with the royal family to get Heinrich accepted as an officer candidate, and Himmler enlisted with the reserve battalion of the 11th Bavarian Regiment in December 1917.

After the war, Himmler completed grammar school.  Following an apprenticeship on a farm and a subsequent illness, he studied agronomy at the Technische Hochschule in München.  In his second year, he joined an Anti-Semitic nationalist group, the Reichskriegflagge.

Himmler joined the Nazi Party in August 1923, with a Nazi Party number of 14,303.  He was involved in the Beer Hall Putsch on November 9, 1923.  From mid-1924, Himmler worked under Gregor Strasser, a leading party leader, as a party secretary and propaganda assistant.  Travelling across Bavaria agitating for the party, he gave speeches and distributed literature; within months, he became the head of the party office in Lower Bavaria and was responsible for integrating the areas membership with the ‘Nazi Party, under Hitler, when the party was re-founded in February 1925.

That same year, Himmler joined the SS (SS #168), initially holding a position of SS-Gauführer for Lower Bavaria.  He soon became the deputy propaganda chief for the party as well.  In September 1927, Himmler briefed Adolf Hitler on his vision to transform the SS into a loyal, powerful, racially pure elite unit.  Hitler’s response was to appoint Himmler as the Deputy Reichsführer-SS, with the rank of SS-Oberführer, under Erhard Heiden.  Heiden fell into disgrace, after allegations surfaced that parts of his uniform were customized by a Jewish tailor, and on January 5, 1929, he was dismissed by Adolf Hitler and succeeded by Heinrich Himmler as Reichsführer-SS.  Never one to underestimate a potential rival, in April 1933, Himmler ordered Erhard Heiden arrested members of the Sicherheitsdienst.  Heiden was killed shortly after, presumably at SD headquarters in München, but his corpse was only found in September 1933; he was buried on September 15, 1933.

During the 1930s, Himmler set up an SS empire in Germany, to include the concentration camp system in March 1933.  He led the purge of the SA, Sturmabteilung Brownshirts on June 30, 1934 (known as “The Night of the Long Knives.”)  In addition to assuming control of the police, Himmler established an SS military branch that later became known as the Waffen-SS.  Growing the Waffen-SS became a Himmler priority, as did establishing the Einsatzgruppe beginning in 1939 with the invasion of Poland.  During the war, he was a major architect of the “Final Solution.”

The Waffen-SS grew in scope to several dozen divisions and 800,000 troops.  Hitler relied on these forces even more after the failed July 20 Bomb Plot against his life.  Hitler appointed Himmler the commander of Army Group Vistula on the Eastern Front in January 1945, but replaced him on March 20, 1945, when Himmler’s military incompetence proved too great.  That spring, Himmler attempted to negotiate an independent peace settlement through the Swedish Red Cross, using Jewish prisoners as bargaining assets.  The Allies refused.  Himmler and Hitler met for the last time on April 20, 1945, on Hitler’s birthday, at the Führer bunker, where Himmler swore total loyalty to Hitler.  At a military briefing later that day, Hitler stated that he would not be leaving Berlin, in spite of Soviet advances. Along with Hermann Göring, the head of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) Himmler quickly left the city immediately after the briefing.  Himmler made his way to Flensburg in northern Germany, where he reported to Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who had been named by Hitler as his successor.  Dönitz, knowing that Himmler was of no value at this point, dismissed Himmler from all his positions.

At the end of World War II in early May 1945, Heinrich Himmler attempted to go into hiding. Although he had not made extensive preparations for this, as other high-ranking Nazis had, he had equipped himself with a forged paybook under the name of Sergeant Heinrich Hitzinger.  With a few companions, he headed south on May 11, 1945 to Friedrichskoog, without a final destination in mind.  The group continued to Neuhaus, before splitting up; Himmler and two aides were stopped at a British checkpoint on May 21, 1945 and detained.  Over the following two days, Himmler – still in disguise – was moved around to several camps, before arriving at the British 31st Civilian Interrogation Camp near Lüneburg on May 23, 1945.  During a routine interrogation, Himmler admitted who he was and was immediately searched.  After finding nothing, military police took him to the headquarters of the Second British Army in Lüneburg, where a physician conducted a medical exam.  When the doctor attempted to examine the inside of Himmler’s mouth, Himmler jerked his head away, bit into a hidden cyanide pill and collapsed onto the floor.  He was dead within fifteen minutes.  Shortly afterward, the British buried Himmler’s body in an unmarked grave near Lüneburg.  The precise location of the grave remains unknown.  Since the war, pictures of the deceased Himmler appear to show that his nose had been broken, and rumors still persist that a British physician gave him an injection of some unknown substance just before he died.

Heinrich Himmler2016-03-04T20:45:26-06:00

Reinhard Heydrich

Reinhard Heydrich

SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich served as the chief of the Reich Main Security Office, Deputy Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, and one of the main architects of the Holocaust.   Historians regard him as the darkest figure within the Nazi elite.  Even Adolf Hitler called him “the man with the iron heart.”  Heydrich was born on March 7, 1904 in Halle an der Saale to composer and opera singer Richard Bruno Heydrich and his wife Elisabeth Anna Maria Amalia Krantz.  Young Reinhard was very intelligent and excelled in his schoolwork at the Reformgymnasium; he was a talented athlete and became an expert swimmer and fencer.  However, Reinhard was shy and insecure; he was frequently bullied for his high-pitched voice and rumored Jewish ancestry, which earned him the nickname “Moses Handel.”

After World War I, Heydrich joined a Freikorps, a paramilitary unit that fought Communists near his hometown.  In 1922, he joined the German Navy and became a naval cadet at Kiel.  On April 1, 1924, he was promoted to senior midshipman and sent to officer training at the Mürwik Naval College.  Two years later, he advanced to the rank of ensign and was assigned as a signals officer on the battleship Schleswig-Holstein, the flagship of Germany’s North Sea Fleet.  Admiral Erich Raeder dismissed Heydrich from the Navy in April 1931, after a charge of “conduct unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman,” for breaking an engagement promise to a woman he had known.   Heydrich was devastated by the dismissal and the absence of prospects for a career.  Six months later, he married Lina von Osten, a Nazi Party follower.

The same year, Heydrich joined the SS and began establishing a counterintelligence division.  Heinrich Himmler interviewed him and was so impressed that he appointed Heydrich to a position as chief of the new “Ic Service” (intelligence service).  Heydrich set up office at the Brown House, the Nazi Party headquarters in Munich and created a network of spies and informers for intelligence-gathering purposes and to obtain information to be used as blackmail.  [29] Information on thousands of people was recorded on index cards and stored at the Brown House.  In the summer of 1932, Himmler appointed Heydrich chief of the renamed security service – the Sicherheitsdienst (SD).  Himmler named Heydrich to head the Gestapo on April 22, 1934.  Two months later, the SD was declared the official Nazi intelligence service.  In 1934, Heydrich assisted Himmler and Hitler in crushing the SA in the “Night of the Long Knives.”  He helped organize Kristallnacht, a series of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on November 9–10, 1938.  On September 27, 1939, the SD and the Security Police (made up of the Gestapo and the Kripo) were subordinated into the new Reich Main Security Office or SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA), which was placed under Heydrich’s control.

By late 1940, the Wehrmacht had swept through most of Western Europe, to include France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway.   The following year, Heydrich’s SD was given responsibility for carrying out the Nacht und Nebel (Night-and-Fog) decree.  According to the decree, “persons endangering German security” were to be arrested in a completely discreet way: “under the cover of night and fog.”  Thousands of people disappeared without a trace and no one was told of their whereabouts or their fate.  Prior to the June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, Heydrich established four Einsatzgruppe, each with several Einsatzkommando, whose mission was to kill undesirable elements and potential partisans in Russia immediately after the German Army conquered the area.

On September 27, 1941, Hitler appointed Heydrich as Deputy Reich Protector of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (the part of Czechoslovakia incorporated into the Reich in 1939), sending the actual Reich Protector, Konstantin von Neurath, on permanent leave, based on his soft approach to the Czechs.  Upon his appointment, Heydrich told his aides that he would “Germanize the Czech vermin.”  Heydrich, from his headquarters in Prague, enforced German policy, fought resistance to the Nazi regime and maintained production quotas of Czech military equipment and weapons, vital to the German war effort.

Heydrich chaired the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, which laid out plans for the Final Solution to the Jewish Question, comprising the deportation and extermination of all Jews in German-occupied territory in Europe.

A British-trained team of Czech and Slovak agents attacked Heydrich was in Prague on May 27, May 1942.  The group had been sent by the Czechoslovak government-in-exile to kill him in an operation code named “Operation Anthropoid.”  Himmler sent Dr. Karl Gebhardt to Prague to assist.  Gebhardt disdained the use of sulfonamide, expecting Heydrich to make a full recovery without antibiotic use (which Gebhardt thought worthless).  Heydrich died of sepsis a week later.  When hearing of Heydrich’s death, SS-Obergruppenführer Sepp Dietrich proclaimed, “Thank God that sow’s gone to the butcher.”  The Nazis retaliated for Heydrich’s death by linking the assassins to the village of Lidice, razing Lidice to the ground, executing all adult males and sending most of the women and children to concentration camps.

Heydrich was buried in Berlin in an elaborate Nazi State funeral at the Invalidenfriedhof.  Heydrich’s grave and remains were ransacked and destroyed after the war.

Reinhard Heydrich2016-03-28T19:24:12-05:00

Johann Reichhart

Johann Reichhert in “work” clothes


Guillotine used by Reichert found in storage in 2014

Johann Reichhart was born on April 29, 1893 in Wichenbach near Wörth an der Donau into a family of executioners going back eight generations.  During World War I, he served in the trenches at Verdun.  On March 23, 1924, Reichhart applied to the Bavarian State Ministry of Justice in Munich for the position of executioner.  The administration accepted his offer, allocated 150 Goldmark for each execution he performed and announced, “From April 1, 1924, Reichhart takes over the execution of all death sentences coming in the Free State of Bavaria to the execution by beheading with the guillotine.”  His career began on July 4, 1924 – when he beheaded two men on the guillotine at Landshut – spanned the time of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich.

Application Document for Johann Reichhart

In 1929, however, his reputation was such that he fled Germany to Holland, opening a vegetable market in The Hague.  During these years, he returned to Bavaria only when he received an encrypted telegram informing him of an assigned execution.  With Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Reichhart returned to Germany and joined the Nazi Party four years later.  The Nazis proved prolific superiors and Reichhart made so much money as an executioner that in 1942 he bought a private home in the Gleisse Valley, near Deisenhofen, south of Munich.  Reichhart executed 3,165 people, most of them during the period 1939 – 1945 when, according to his own records, he put 2,876 men and women to death.  In this Third Reich era, the executions derived largely from heavy sentences handed down by the Volksgerichtshof (People’s Court) for political crimes such as treason, and included Sophie and Hans Scholl of the German resistance movement White Rose (Reichhart executed them at Munich’s Stadelheim Prison.)  Most of these sentences were carried out by Fallbeil (“drop hatchet”), a shorter, largely metal re-designed German version of the French guillotine.  Reichhart served as one of four principal executioners in the Third Reich.

Johann Reichhart (center) in 1924 at one of his first executions

Reichhart was very strict in his execution protocol, wearing the traditional German executioners’ attire of black coat, white shirt and gloves, black bow tie and top hat.  He initially served as the Bavarian State Executioner.  His work took him to many parts of occupied Europe, including Poland and Austria.  He claimed during questioning that, toward the end of the war, as the allied armies closed in, he supposedly disposed of his mobile guillotine in a river, a claim that seems to be related to almost every guillotine in Germany at the end of the conflict.

Following Victory in Europe Day in 1945, Reichhart, who was a member of the Nazi Party, was arrested for the purposes of denazification, but was not immediately tried for carrying out his duty as one of the primary judicial executioners in the Third Reich.  He was subsequently employed by the Occupation Authorities beginning in November 1945, to help execute Nazi war criminals at Landsberg am Lech by hanging.  He appears to have worked for the Americans only through May 1946.  According to a reliable source, Reichhart spoke to the prison commandant, sometime after hanging seven men on May 29, stating that he was worried that he was executing some innocent men.  He stated that, although he was afraid of repercussions, he would rather face judicial proceedings than continue as the hangman.  One source states that one of his sons assisted him at Landsberg in the executions; photographic records can not confirm that.  One source credits Reichhart with hanging 42 German war criminals after the war, but it is far more likely that he hanged only 21 condemned men at Landsberg Prison and was not involved in any way with the Nürnberg executions.

His work at Landsberg terminated, police arrested Reichhart at his home in May 1947 and took him to an internment camp at Moosburg an der Isar.  His court proceedings began on December 13, 1948 at Munich.  On November 29, 1949, in a German (probably Bavarian) tribunal, Reichhart was sentenced to strict punishment measures.  The court sentenced him to two years confinement in a labor camp and confiscation of 50% of his assets.  He was forbidden from ever holding public office, voting or the right to engage in politics.  Finally, Reichhart was forbidden to own a motor vehicle or possess a driver’s license.  He also was ordered to pay 26,000 marks for the cost of the trial.

Johann Reichhart adjusting rope prior to hanging Martin Weiss, former commandant of Dachau and Neuengamme concentration camps.

Financially ruined, his marriage failed, and one son, Hans, committed suicide in 1950 (he was 23.)  In 1963, there were public demands, during a series of taxi driver murders, for the re-introduction of the death penalty in West Germany and Reichhart was vocal in his support for this legislation.  He maintained that the preferred method of killing should be the guillotine, as it was the fastest and cleanest method of execution.

Johann Reichhart died in in a nursing home at Dorfen near Erding, Bavaria, on April 26, 1972.   On May 2, 1972, his body was cremated at the crematorium at the Ostfriedhof in Munich.  He is buried in in the Ostfriedhof in a family grave (Section 47, Row 2, #21) that also contains his two sons and his uncle, Franz Xavier, a prolific executioner in his own right.

Johann Reichhart’s Grave


Johann Reichhart2016-03-28T19:29:37-05:00

Martin Steglich

Wartime photo of Martin Steglich. After Desert Storm, he said the American Army had become the “Sons of the Blitzkrieg.”

Martin Steglich, a Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves winner, was born in Breslau on July 16, 1915.  As with his friend, Heinz-Georg Lemm, Steglich’s early career saw him assigned to the 12th Infantry Division, serving many positions in the 27th Infantry Regiment in Poland, France and Russia (including the encirclement at the Demjansk Pocket.)  During this encirclement, Lieutenant Steglich was flown out of the pocket and to Berlin, where he briefed Adolf Hitler on the situation and had lunch with the German leader and his entourage!  Martin Steglich won the Iron Cross Second Class on September 14, 1939, the Iron Cross First Class on June 27, 1940 and the Honor Roll Clasp of the Army on July 28, 1941.  He gave his Infantry Assault Badge to Major MacLean in 1991 after “Desert Storm.”  Martin Steglich received several serious wounds during the war and finished the conflict as the commander of the 1221st Grenadier Regiment in the 180th Infantry Division, defending the Rhineland.  He received the Oak Leaves on April 5, 1945.  About that time, he was seriously wounded by bullets from a strafing Allied aircraft, striking him in the mouth and foot.

Between tours at the front, Martin Steglich wrote training doctrine and prepared several training films, including how to destroy a tank in close combat.

Martin Steglich joined the Bundeswehr in the mid-1950s; he was promoted to the grade of oberst (colonel) on August 1, 1962.  He owned a furniture store and lived in Ruppichteroth (in a house he nicknamed Haus MaRo) with his wife and three daughters, until his death on October 20, 1997.  Martin had little interest in politics and was truly a gentleman of the old school.

Funeral Notice for Martin Steglich


Grave of Martin Steglich shortly after his funeral

Martin Steglich2016-03-28T19:31:43-05:00

Günther Prien, U-47

Günther Prien welcoming returning U-boat

Heinrich Günther Prien, Navy U-boat Commander, was born on January 16, 1908 in Osterfeld/Thüringia, the son of a judge.  In 1923, he joined the German Merchant Navy, receiving his Master’s License in 1932.  He subsequently joined the German Navy and went into the U-boats, receiving command of the U-47 in 1938.  A year later, shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Günther Prien took his submarine into Scapa Flow and sank the British battleship HMS Royal Oak.  Upon returning to Germany, Prien and the crew of the U-47 received heroes’ welcomes in Berlin.  Prien received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.  His later career saw him promoted to Korvettenkapitän (Lieutenant Commander) and awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross.  He conducted ten wartime patrols, spending 238 days at sea.

In addition to sinking the 29,150-ton Royal Oak, Prien sank 30 merchant ships, for a total of 162,769 tons.  He and the crew of the U-47 were killed in action on March 7, 1941 in the North Atlantic.  Initially, it was believed that his submarine was sunk by the British destroyer HMS Wolverine.  But current history is unsure and the U-47 could have been the victim of an accident or mechanical failure.  Before his last patrol, Günther Prien authored Mein Weg Nach Scapa Flow (My Way to Scapa Flow.)

Günther Prien, U-472016-03-28T19:33:10-05:00
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