Scrapbookpages Blog

November 7, 2012

Was the “tree hanging” (den Baum hängen) punishment used at Auschwitz?

Filed under: Buchenwald, Dachau, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 1:14 pm

A reader of my blog made a comment on my post about Father Kolbe, the priest who volunteered to die in someone else’s place at Auschwitz.   It is well known that Father Kolbe died in a “starvation cell” at Auschwitz.  I had no reason to question this story until I read the following comment:

In July 49, it was said that Father Kolbe had died from stravation and injection of carbolic acid.

In August 55 it was said that Father Kolbe had died from starvation. It was also said that he was recovering from pneumonia at that time.

In March 1960 it was said that Father Kolbe had died in a gas chamber.

What is the true version of his death? Different versions generally mean “lie”. Maybe he just died from pneumonia…

I agree with the reader who made the comment.  When there are different versions of a story, that usually means that the story is a lie.  So I decided to do a little research on the subject of punishments used in the concentration camps.

In the course of my search, I found this quote on the website of the Auschwitz Museum:

Punishments and executions
Contributed by Jacek Lachendro
Page 4 of 10

The “post” was an especially painful punishment. It was usually administered in the loft of block 11 or in the yard outside the block. The victim’s hands were tied behind his back and he was hung from a post so that his feet could not touch the ground. The punishment was usually inflicted for several hours, an hour at a time. The prisoner lost consciousness because of the intense pain. The punishment usually caused the rupture of the tendons in the shoulder, leaving the victim unable to move his arms. This put him at risk of being sent to the gas chamber as unfit for work.

I  also found this quote, about the hanging punishment, on this blog:

2) Backwards Hanging
Outside of Block 11 stands a three-meter post, with a hook near the top. Victims of this unspeakable torture had their arms tied behind their back, were lifted up, and hung onto the hook by their bonds, their arms breaking at the joints. Some died of shock and pain there on the post; others did not. The problem with the latter case was that you were no longer fit to work and therefore of no use to your captors, and were either sent to the hospital where the experimenting doctors could find you (see #5), sent to the gas chamber (see #4), or simply executed via a shot of acid, injected directly into your heart.

I copied the photo below from the blog, from which I quoted above.

Tour guide demonstrates how prisoners were hung from these poles at Auschwitz

On my trip to Auschwitz in 2005, I did not take a guided tour, but I did hear a tour guide tell her group that the two poles shown in the photo above were used for the hanging punishment.

The photo below shows an exhibit at the Buchenwald camp, which was put up for the benefit of the German citizens of Weimar who were force marched, at gun point, to the Buchenwald to see the exhibits of the atrocities committed there.

Exhibit put up at Buchenwald illustrates the “tree hanging” punishment

A close-up of the sign on the “tree hanging” punishment exhibit

The display in the photos above depicts the punishment called “tree hanging,” which was devised by Martin Sommer, the SS officer who was in charge of the bunker, or the camp prison. This punishment was reserved for serious offenses such as sabotage in the factories at Buchenwald, where the prisoners were forced to work. It was discontinued in 1942 by order of Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, who was the head of all the concentration camps.

The words on the sign, shown in the photo above, are “Ein Strafvollzug der Nazi-Kultur: Das sogenannte an den Baum hängen.” The last two words are illegible. The English translation is “A Punishment of Nazi Culture: The so-called hanging on a tree.”

Martin Sommer, the alleged innovator of this cruel punishment, was put on trial by SS officer Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen in a Nazi court in 1943 at the same time that Buchenwald Commandant Karl Otto Koch and his wife Ilse were put on trial by the Nazis for embezzlement and abuse of the prisoners at Buchenwald. After the trial, Sommer was transferred to the Russian front where he was wounded in action. Sommer was again tried by a West German court in 1958. Sommer, who was a paraplegic as a result of war wounds, was convicted of the murder of 25 Buchenwald prisoners by injection and was sentenced to life in prison.

I previously blogged about Martin Sommer here.

There were also claims by the Dachau Museum that the “tree hanging” punishment was used at Dachau.

This photo was hanging in the Dachau Museum in 2001

The photo above was taken in the Museum at Dachau in May 2001. The photo, which is a depiction of the tree hanging punishment at Buchenwald, was not included in the new Museum at Dachau which opened in May 2003.

According to Harold Marcuse, Professor of History at the University of California at Santa Barbara, this scene was created in 1958 for an East German DEFA film, which is why the photo is no longer used. Reference: H. Obenaus, “Das Foto vom Baumhängen: Ein Bild geht um die Welt,” in Stiftung Topographie des Terrors Berlin (ed.), Gedenkstätten-Rundbrief no. 68, Berlin, October 1995, pp. 3-8.

Buchenwald was in the Soviet Zone of occupation in Germany after World War II.  Why did the Soviets have to fake a photo of the “tree hanging” punishment?  The Germans took photos of everything, so why are their no real photos of the “tree hanging” punishment?

Before Heinrich Himmler banned this cruel punishment, it had apparently spread to the Auschwitz camp in what is now Poland.  You know it’s true if a tour guide mentions it.

I took the photo below in 2005, just after the tour guide moved on.

The Block 10 building at Auschwitz with two poles for the “tree hanging” punishment

Notice how short the poles are. They don’t look to be 3 meters high. The idea behind the “tree hanging” punishment was that the victims were hung by the arms so that their feet were not touching the ground and their whole body weight was on the arms.  Block 10 was a hospital building, so the victim could have been immediately carried into a hospital as soon as their shoulders became dislocated.

I personally don’t believe that this punishment was used at Auschwitz.  I am also beginning to have doubts about the “starvation cells.”

I also learned about these methods of killing at Auschwitz from this website:

In addition to the killing of prisoners who were not capable of working, children were the other target of execution. The SS men killed children by bending them over their knees and breaking their spines, then throwing them into ditches. They gassed all children under 1.2 meters tall. The adults also suffered from the brutal tortures used in the camp. The Nazis sometimes placed iron bar on the victims’ throats and stood on the bar with feet placed on the ends. Inside the Auschwitz’ starvation cell, prisoners were so desperate that they ate their own companions’ organs. The SS extracted nails from fingers, inserted needles into sensitive parts of the body and on women’s breasts, poured water down the throats.