SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl, center, visits Auschwitz in late 1944. Officer to the right, with his back to the photographer, is Auschwitz Commandant SS-Sturmbannführer Richard Baer. Taking the photograph is SS-Obersturmbannführer Karl Hoecker. Pohl was hanged a few minutes after midnight on June 7, 1951 at Landsberg Military Prison at Landsberg am Lech. Baer had been arrested in West Germany in December 1960, and died of a heart attack in pre-trial detention in 1963.
During World War II, Master Sergeant John C. Woods served as a hangman assigned to the Loire Disciplinary Training Center at Le Mans, France; in his capacity, he hanged at least twenty-three soldiers – and possibly up to thirty-five – and was the assistant hangman for five others in the European Theater of Operation.
Woods was born in Wichita, KS on June 5, 1911. Woods, who came from a broken home and was placed in the custody of his grandmother and grandfather when his parents were divorced when he was ten, completed freshman year at Wichita High School, but the dropped out. He enlisted in the Navy in 1929, but deserted. Authorities apprehended him, convicted him by a Summary Court-Martial and dismissed him for being mentally unstable and unsuitable for military service.
He received a dishonorable discharge from the Civilian Conservation Corps after six months in 1933, when he went AWOL and refused to work. Prior to his induction in the Army on August 30, 1943, he lived in Eureka, Kansas; he was married to Hazel Chilcott on September 30, 1933 in Eureka, Kansas; the couple had no children. At his Army induction, he was listed as having blue eyes, brown hair with a ruddy complexion, standing 5’4½” tall and weighing 130 pounds.
He reported to Fort Leavenworth, KS to begin training on September 19, 1943; he was assigned to Company B of the 37th Engineer Combat Battalion in the 5th Engineer Special Brigade on March 30, 1944. Woods may have participated in the landings on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 with his unit. He was attached to the 2913th Disciplinary Training Center in October 1944; orders in December 1944 show him assigned to the Provost Marshal Section in the Headquarters of the Brittany Base Section. Woods was formally assigned to the 2913th DTC on February 12, 1945; on May 7, 1945, he was assigned to the Headquarters of the Normandy Base Section, but was attached back to the 2913th for duty. On September 3, 1945, Woods was released from attachment and assigned to the Headquarters CHANOR Base Section.
Woods gained international fame in October 1946, as the official hangman for the International Military Tribunal at Nürnberg. There, he executed ten senior German military and civilian officials previously convicted of egregious crimes against humanity, crimes against peace and war crimes. During his career as a hangman, he reportedly executed 347 men, but this is a large exaggeration.
Woods was accidentally electrocuted on July 21, 1950 on Eniwetok Atoll. He is buried in the city cemetery in Toronto, KS, a small town sixty miles east of Wichita, next to his wife. John Woods was awarded the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with one campaign star), the Good Conduct Medal, the Occupation (Germany) Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and a Distinguished Unit Badge.
John C. Woods was a central figure in The Fifth Field, but he deserves his own biography that is now in the making!
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.
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.
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.
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.
SS-Brigadeführer Erich Naumann
Naumann commanded Einsatzgruppe B from November 1941 to March 1943. Einsatzgruppe B killed at least 134,000 victims during the war. Born in Meissen, Saxony on April 29, 1905, Naumann was a high school graduate, a merchant, married and listed his religion as agnostic. He entered the Nazi Party on November 1, 1929 and the SS on July 1, 1935. He also served as the Inspector of the SD in Berlin. During his service in Einsatzgruppe B, he won the Iron Cross First Class. Naumann was convicted at trial after the war, sentenced to death and hanged at Landsberg, Bavaria on June 8, 1951.
SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel
Blobel commanded Einsatzkommando 4a from June 1941 to January 1942. In total, Einsatzkommando 4a murdered 59,018 people. Blobel then commanded Sonderkommando 1005 from July 1942 to July 1944. In the fall of 1942, this unit began disinterring corpses at various Einsatzgruppen killing sites and destroyed the remains through burning. The organization then turned to the concentration camps, especially at Treblinka, Sobibór and Belzec, to erase all traces of the crimes there. He also served as the commander of the SD in Salzburg. Paul Blobel ended the war in command of Einsatzgruppe Iltis, fighting Yugoslav partisans in the area of Carinthia, Austria. He was convicted at trial after the war, sentenced to death and hanged at Landsberg, Bavaria on June 8, 1951 – one of the last Nazi war criminals to be executed in the west. Born in Potsdam on August 13, 1894, Blobel was a Protestant, married, an architect, winner of the Iron Cross First Class in World War I, a Nazi Party member and an SS member since December 1, 1931.