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May 18, 2010

Who killed Dr. Sigmund Rascher and why?

Dr. Sigmund Rascher was the man who conducted medical experiments for the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) at Dachau, starting in May 1942. His wife, Nini Rascher, was a good friend of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, and she had recommended him for this job.

Dr. Rascher was allegedly shot on April 26, 1945 in prison cell #73 in the Dachau bunker by SS-Hauptscharführer Theodor Bongartz, on Himmler’s orders.  His wife was allegedly hanged, around the same time, at the Ravensbrück concentration camp.  But why would Himmler order two of his good friends to be executed at such a late date during World War II?

I won’t keep you in suspense: I don’t think that Himmler ordered the execution of the Raschers.

I believe that Captain Sigismund Payne Best, a British intelligence agent, who was a prisoner at Dachau, was involved in the murder of Dr. Rascher.  Why?  Because Dr. Rascher had allegedly told Captain Payne Best, while both men were allegedly imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp, that he had designed the Dachau gas chamber and that thousands of people were gassed there.

The problem is that Dr. Rascher was never a prisoner at Buchenwald, so he could not possibly have told Captain Payne Best anything at Buchenwald.

With Dr. Rascher dead, Captain Payne Best could testify as a hearsay witness that there was a gas chamber at  Dachau and that it was used.

Actually, Captain Payne Best never got a chance to testify because no one was ever put on trial for the crime of operating a gas chamber at Dachau.

Dr. Sigmund Rascher doing a medical experiment at Dachau

Dr. Leo Alexander, a native of Austria who fled to China and then to America when the Nazis came to power, was an investigator for the prosecution in the War Crimes Commission at Nuremberg from 1946 to 1947, gathering information for the Nuremberg Doctor’s Trial.  If Dr. Rascher had lived, he would have been put on trial at Nuremberg as a war criminal because he had done experiments on Dachau prisoners.

Dr. Alexander’s report, on the Prolonged Exposure to Cold, evaluated the Nazi hypothermia experiments conducted by Dr. Rascher at Dachau (shown in the photo above).  Dr. Alexander found inconsistencies in Dr. Rascher’s lab notes which led him to believe that Dr. Rascher had deceived Himmler about his results. According to Dr. Alexander, Rascher reported to Himmler that it took from 53 minutes to 100 minutes for the prisoners to die in the freezing water. However, Dr. Alexander’s inspection of Dr. Rascher’s personal lab notes revealed that some of the subjects had suffered from 80 minutes to five or six hours before they died.

According to Dr. Alexander, Himmler discovered that Dr. Rascher had lied in his reports and Dr. Rascher’s deception was the reason that Himmler ordered the execution of both Dr. Rascher and his wife in April 1945. Himmler allegedly committed suicide shortly after he was captured by the British so we will never know if Dr. Alexander’s theory is correct.

However, Dr. Rascher was not arrested and imprisoned because he lied to Himmler about his lab results.  According to an affidavit signed by Dr. Friedrich Karl Rascher, the uncle of Dr. Sigmund Rascher, which was entered into the proceedings of the Nuremberg IMT, Dr. Rascher and his wife Nini were arrested in May 1944 because they had registered a child, who was not born to Nini, as their own.

Dr. Rascher with the baby, Peter

During the Nuremberg Doctors Trial, the following testimony was given by Freiherr Von Eberstein, the SS officer and Police President of Munich, who had arrested Dr. Rascher:

VON EBERSTEIN: Yes. In the spring of 1944, in the course of Criminal Police investigations against an SS Hauptsturmführer, Dr. Rascher, a physician, and his wife. The Raschers were accused of Kindesunterschiebung. That is a word which is very difficult to translate. In our law it means the illegal appropriation of other people’s children.

Secondly, Rascher was accused of financial irregularities in connection with the research station at Dachau, where these biological experiments were carried on. This research station was directly subordinate to Himmler, without any intermediate authority.

So Dr. Rascher was accused of “financial irregularities” in his research at Dachau, but not falsifying the results.  If this was enough to anger Himmler to the point of killing his two good friends, why didn’t he order their execution a lot sooner?  And if Himmler did finally order Dr. Rascher’s execution on April 26, 1945, why was this done secretly, without going through the usual procedure.

Door of prison cell in the Dachau bunker

Dr. Sigmund Rascher was allegedly shot inside a prison cell in the Dachau camp prison, called the bunker, on April 26, 1945.

April 26, 1945 was the day that a bunch of VIP prisoners at Dachau were taken to the South Tyrol, allegedly because Himmler wanted to use them as hostages in his negotiations with the Allies.  However, Captain Payne Best wrote in his book The Venlo Incident, that the VIP prisoners, including himself, were taken to the South Tyrol to be killed.  If this was the case, why wasn’t Dr. Rascher taken to the South Tyrol to be killed along with the others?  Why wasn’t he at least taken to the execution spot at Dachau, instead of being shot inside a prison cell?

The execution spot at Dachau with the “blood ditch” in the foreground

According to two different sources, Dr. Sigmund Rascher was, in fact, on the trip to the South Tyrol.

The following quote is from the book entitled The SS, Alibi of a Nation, 1922 – 1945 by Gerald Reitlinger:

Rascher remained at work in Dachau til May 1944, when Freiherr von Eberstein, higher SS and police leader for Munich, came to arrest him — but not for his experiments. It had been discovered that the children whom Frau Rascher had borne after the age of forty-eight had in reality been kidnapped from orphanages. The camp commandant and the chief medical officer at Dachau thereupon discharged a flood of complaints against Rascher, whom they described as a dangerous, incredible person who had been under Himmler’s personal protection for years, performing unspeakable horrors. Himmler naturally refused to have the Raschers tried, but they were confined in the political bunkers of Dachau and Ravensbrueck, the fate under the Third Reich of people who knew too much. Captain Payne-Best met Sigmund Rascher during the southward evacuation of the Dachau political bunker at the beginning of May 1945. He found Rascher garrulous and sympathetic. One of Rascher’s boasts to Captain Payne-Best was that he had invented the gas chamber. Perhaps that was why Sigmund Rascher disappeared soon afterwards, and likewise Frau Rascher who was last seen in Ravensbrueck.

Nerin E. Gun, a journalist who was a prisoner at Dachau, wrote in his book The Day of the Americans, published in 1966, that Dr. Sigmund Rascher was with the other prisoners that had been evacuated from Dachau and taken to the South Tyrol, and that Dr. Rascher was shot in Innsbruck. Upon arrival in Innsbruck, Edgar Stiller (the SS man in charge of the evacuation) had turned the VIP prisoners over to Captain Payne Best, according to Payne Best’s account in his book The Venlo Incident.

According to Nerin E. Gun, Captain Sigismund Payne Best was the most privileged of all the privileged prisoners. The following quote is from his book entitled The Day of the Americans:

Captain Best, who was fifty at the time of his arrest, had all the leisure he wanted in prison and was even allowed a typewriter. He was able to write a book in which he related all the tiresome details of his captivity. But he carefully avoided explaining what he was really doing in Holland at the time, or how much, if at all, he was implicated in the unfortunate affair at the Burgerbrau.

[...]

Best himself, in his book, admits that if he had remained free he would have known greater deprivation in wartime England, not to mention the risk of being buried under a German bomb.

According to Nerin E. Gun’s book, Captain Payne Best was allowed to keep his monocle and his personal possessions while in prison and he was given a radio capable of receiving London broadcasts. All the prisoners in the bunker were fed from the SS kitchens, but Captain Payne Best was given “double the normal SS ration of food,” according to Gun.

In his book, Nerin E. Gun wrote that when you read the memoirs of Captain Payne Best, “you feel that he had more affection for his SS guards, whom he considered to be nice everyday people who had somehow been forced to don a uniform, and worried more about what would happen to them than he did about the poor prisoners dying all around him.”

From Nerin E. Gun’s description of Captain Payne Best’s close relationship with the SS guards, it is clear that he might have had the means and the opportunity to get rid of a fellow prisoner in the last chaotic days of the Dachau camp if that prisoner knew any secrets that were best kept hidden.

What was it that Captain Payne Best did not want Dr. Sigmund Rascher to testify about in court?  Maybe about the conversation that Captain Payne Best claims that he had with Dr. Rascher in the Buchenwald Concentration camp.  Dr. Rascher was put into a prison in Munich in May 1944,  and then transferred to Dachau in April 1945; he was never a prisoner at Buchenwald.

In his book entitled The Venlo Incident, Captain Sigismund Payne Best wrote the following regarding a conversation he had with Dr. Rascher while both were allegedly prisoners at Buchenwald:

Next morning when I went to wash, there was a little man with a ginger moustache in the lavatory who introduced himself as Dr. Rascher saying that he was half English and that his mother was related to the Chamberlain family. When I told him my name he was much interested saying that he knew about my case and that he had also met Stevens (R. H. Stevens was another British intelligence agent who had been arrested along with Payne Best.) when he was medical officer in Dachau. … He was a queer fellow; possibly the queerest character which has ever come my way.

Almost at our first meeting he told me that he had belonged to Himmler’s personal staff, and that it was he who had planned and supervised the construction of the gas chambers and was responsible for the use of prisoners as guinea pigs in medical research. Obviously he saw nothing wrong in this and considered it merely a matter of expediency. As regards the gas chambers he said that Himmler, a very kind-hearted man, was most anxious that prisoners should be exterminated in a manner which caused them least anxiety and suffering, and the greatest trouble had been taken to design a gas chamber so camouflaged that its purpose would not be apparent, and to regulate the flow of the lethal gas so that the patients might fall asleep without recognizing that they would never wake. Unfortunately, Rascher said, they had never quite succeeded in solving the problem caused by the varying resistance of different people to the effects of poison gases, and always there had been a few who lived longer than others and recognized where they were and what was happening. Rascher said that the main difficulty was that the numbers to be killed were so great that it was impossible to prevent the gas chambers being overfilled, which greatly impeded any attempts to ensure a regular and simultaneous death-rate.

Did Dr. Rascher really tell Captain Payne Best about prisoners being gassed at Dachau? With Dr. Rascher dead and gone, no one would know if this conversation had actually taken place. Or did Himmler order Rascher’s execution just three days before Dachau was liberated because he didn’t want Dr. Rascher to tell the Allies about the gas chamber at Dachau?

Captain Payne Best also mentioned in his book, The Venlo Incident, that he and Dr. Rascher had discussed the attempt by Georg Elser to assassinate Adolf Hitler on November 8, 1939, and that Dr. Rascher was of the opinion that it was an inside job, staged by the Nazis.

Captain Sigismund Payne Best was arrested and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp because he was allegedly involved in the assassination attempt on November 8, 1939.  Was he trying to prove that the British were not involved in the plot to kill Hitler, as both Himmler and Hitler believed? Is it possible that Captain Payne Best had told Dr. Rascher that British intelligence was behind Georg Elser’s attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler and that’s why Dr. Rascher had to be silenced?

On April 26, 1945, the day that Dr. Sigmund Rascher was allegedly executed in Cell #73 in the bunker at Dachau, there was complete chaos and confusion in the Dachau camp, according to a book entitled The Last Days of Dachau, written jointly by Arthur Haulot, a Belgian prisoner, and Dr. Ali Kuci, an Albanian prisoner. Reischführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had given the order that the Dachau camp was to be immediately evacuated and that “No prisoner should fall into the hands of the enemy alive…” This message was received in the camp in response to a query sent to Berlin by the camp commandant, according to Kuci and Haulot. At 9 a.m. on April 26th, the order was given by the camp Commandant to evacuate the entire camp, but according to Haulot and Kuci, the prisoners acted quickly to sabotage the evacuation plan.

According to the book by Haulot and Kuci, the SS had assembled 6,700 prisoners for evacuation by 8 p.m. on April 26th. At 10 p.m. that day, a total of 6,887 prisoners left the camp on foot, marching south toward the mountains of the South Tyrol. According to testimony given at the Nuremberg IMT, the march to the South Tyrol was part of a plan, devised by Ernst Kaltenbrunner, to kill all the concentration camp prisoners. A transport of 1,735 Jewish prisoners had already left that day on a train bound for the mountains in southern Germany.

With so much going on at Dachau on April 26, 1945, it would have been easy for one of the prisoners to kill Dr. Sigmund Rascher without attracting much attention. It would also have been easy for Dr. Rascher to sneak away that day from the group of VIP prisoners in the bunker, which was near the main gate at Dachau, and join the group of 6,887 prisoners who were being marched out of the camp that same day.  Did Dr. Rascher manage to escape that day and go into hiding in South America, like so many other Nazis?  Anything is possible.

Frau Rascher was rumored to be Heinrich Himmler’s former mistress.  Did Himmler really order the death of his former lover because she was also involved in the medical experiments?  Nini Rascher took photos of the victims during the experiments.

Russian POW appears to be unconscious during Dachau medical experiment for the Luftwaffe

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