I have just learned of the death of Gitta Sereny, at the age of 91, in June 2012. She is the famous author who wrote about evil people and their crimes, including Franz Stangl, who was involved in the euthanasia program in Germany before he became the Commandant of the Sobibor death camp for six months and then the Commandant of the Treblinka death camp. Her book about Stangl, entitled Into That Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder was published in 1974, and is still in print.
You can read one of her obituaries here.
Franz Stangl was imprisoned by the Allies after the war, but was released two years later without ever having been put on trial. Following his release, he went to Italy where he was helped by the Vatican to escape to Syria, where he lived with his family for three years. In 1951, he moved to Brazil where he lived openly, using his real name.
Stangl was a native of Austria, but for years the Austrian authorities declined to bring him to justice for the murder of thousands of Jews at Treblinka. Finally in 1961, a warrant for his arrest was issued, but it was not until six years later that he was captured in Brazil by the famous Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal; he had been working at a Volkswagen factory in Sao Paulo, still using his own name.
In 1969, Dr. Wolfgang Scheffler submitted an expert opinion, based on more recent research, that the total number of persons killed at Treblinka was 900,000.
Franz Stangl was finally put on trial in the Second Treblinka Trial by the court of Assizes at Düsseldorf on October 22, 1970, charged with the deaths of 900,000 people at Treblinka. Stangl confessed to the murders, but in his defense, he said, “My conscience is clear. I was simply doing my duty …”
After his six-month trial in the German court, Stangl was found guilty on December 22, 1970 and sentenced to life in prison in January 1971; he died in prison at Düsseldorf on June 28, 1971, shortly after he was interviewed by Gitta Sereny.
Franz Stangl got his start when he was appointed by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler in 1940 to be the superintendent of the T-4 Euthanasia Program at Schloss Hartheim. He was transferred to the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland in March 1942 where he was the Commandant until September 1942 when he was transferred to the extermination camp at Treblinka.
Stangl is pictured on the poster above, which is in the Museum at Hartheim. His photo is on the far right in the left-hand column.
The exhibit at Hartheim makes it clear that Euthanasia started in America before it was done in Germany. One room in the exhibit area at Hartheim has posters from America, as shown in the two photographs below.
These posters from America promote the idea that heredity is to blame for the mentally and physically handicapped. In Hitler’s Germany, deformed and mentally retarded persons, who had been institutionalized by their families, were sent to Hartheim Castle or the five other euthanasia centers, where they were killed. The Nazis kept track of how much money the government had saved by putting these people to death. After the war, these documents were found by General Patton’s army. The total amount saved by killing over 70,000 handicapped people was 885,000,000 Reichsmark or over 3 billion dollars in today’s money.
Gitta Sereny talked about her interview with Franz Stangl in a YouTube video.
This quote about Franz Stangl and his work at Treblinka is from Wikipedia:
Stangl assumed command of Treblinka on September 1, 1942. “He proved to be a highly efficient and dedicated organizer of mass murder, even receiving an official commendation as the ‘best camp commander in Poland’. Always impeccably dressed (he attended the unloading of transports at Treblinka dressed in white riding clothes), soft-voiced, polite and friendly, Stangl was no sadist, but took pride and pleasure in his ‘work’, running the death camp like clockwork.” Stangl wanted his camp to look attractive, so he ordered the paths paved and flowers planted along the sides of Seidel Street, near camp headquarters and SS living quarters. Despite being directly responsible for the camp’s operations, Stangl limited his contact with Jewish prisoners as much as possible. Stangl rarely interfered with unusually cruel acts (other than gassing) perpetrated by his subordinate officers at the camp. Stangl usually wore a white uniform and carried a whip, which caused prisoners to nickname him “The White Death”. He claimed that his dedication had nothing to do with ideology or hatred of Jews. He viewed the prisoners as objects of his work rather than as people, and he regarded his job the same as he would any job: [...]
In September 1942, Stangl supervised the building of new, larger gas chambers to augment the previously existing gas chambers. The new gas chambers became operational in early autumn 1942. It is believed that these death chambers were capable of killing 3,000 people in two hours, and 12,000 to 15,000 victims easily every day, with a maximum capacity of 22,000 deaths in 24 hours. According to Jankiel Wiernik [a survivor of Treblinka]: “When the new gas chambers were completed, the Hauptsturmführer [Stangl] came and remarked to the SS men who were with him: ‘Finally the Jewish city is ready’ (German: Endlich ist die Judenstadt fertig).” [...]
At the end of the war, Stangl concealed his identity and fled. He was detained by the American Army in 1945 and was briefly imprisoned pending investigation in Linz, Austria in 1947. Stangl was suspected of complicity in the T-4 euthanasia programme. But on May 30, 1948, Stangl escaped to Italy with his colleague from Sobibor, SS officer Gustav Wagner. The Roman Catholic Bishop Alois Hudal, a Nazi sympathizer forced in 1952 to resign by the Vatican, helped him to escape through a “ratline” and to reach Syria using a Red Cross passport. Stangl was joined by his wife and family and lived in Syria for three years before they moved to Brazil in 1951. After years of other jobs, Stangl found work at the Volkswagen plant in São Bernardo do Campo with the help of friends, still using his own name. [...]
The court Schwurgericht Düsseldorf found Stangl guilty on October 22, 1970, and sentenced him to maximum penalty, life imprisonment. While in prison, Stangl was interviewed extensively by Gitta Sereny, for a study of him published as Into that Darkness….
I find it very strange that Franz Stangl was not put on trial by the Allies. As the Commandant of both Sobibor and Treblinka, he could have been included among the defendants at the Nuremberg IMT where testimony about Treblinka was given by the survivors of the death camp.
The American Military Tribunal had no jurisdiction over Stangl since his crimes did not include Allied victims. The British had no jurisdiction over him since he had not served at Bergen-Belsen which was in their zone of occupation.
Stangl was able to live in Brazil, under his own name, and it was left up to the Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal to track him down, so that he could finally be put on trial by the Germans. By that time, Germany had a law against Holocaust denial, so Stangl did not claim that Treblinka and Sobibor were transit camps, from where Jews were “transported to the East.” If he had used that as his defense, Stangl would have been imprisoned for Holocaust denial.