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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.


  1. “this scene was created in 1958 for an East German DEFA film”
    Do you know what film it is from?
    It is not from Nackt unter Wölfen / Naked Among Wolves which actually tells/shows very little cruelty anyway…

    Comment by Mikael Olafsson — January 17, 2016 @ 4:09 am

    • I don’t know what film the scene is from, but you could ask Professor Marcuse, the person who told me about the film. Google him to find his e-mail address and phone number.

      Comment by furtherglory — January 17, 2016 @ 5:25 am

  2. I don’t know whether you (furtherglory) went into the blocks; but in the cells where Father Kolbe was held, there are small areas where prisoners were placed, sometimes two and three at a time, in isolation, where they were left to starve.

    As the Russians advanced into Poland and liberation was a matter of time, Germans began destroying much of the documentation that we seek is now not in circulation. In Baden-Baden there is a centre of research where statements were taken from German citizens of Baden-Baden during the period 1933-1945 in their zest to get rid of their Jewish neighbours. Files were made of each Jewish neighbour that was arrested with the consequences of their fates, including the sending to Auschwitz or whatever camp they were interned and such was the zeal of procedure and documenting, the documentation was completed with ‘how’ they died, including those who encountered the ‘hanging pole’ and the ‘starvation cells’.

    How Father Kolbe died is quite irrelevant in some respect; he died in Auschwitz. The Nazis did not differentiate. He, like all the Jews that died, shouldn’t have, but they did, under the banality of evil of Nazism.

    Comment by mogseyward — November 23, 2012 @ 4:27 am

    • You wrote: “the documentation was completed with ‘how’ they died, including those who encountered the ‘hanging pole’ and the ‘starvation cells’.”

      I didn’t know that there is documentation on the deaths by “hanging pole.” I didn’t know that a person could die from having their shoulders dislocated. This punishment was “invented” by an SS man at Buchenwald. I don’t think that this punishment was used at any other camp. The man who invented this punishment was put on trial by an SS judge and he was sent to the Eastern Front as punishment. If anyone had died from this punishment, the inventor would have been executed; two camp Commandants were executed after they were sentenced to death by this same judge.

      As for the “starvation cells,” I am beginning to suspect that the prisoners in these cells died of other causes.

      Comment by furtherglory — November 24, 2012 @ 7:24 am

  3. “As the Italian saying goes: ‘Se non è vero, è ben trovato.’ (Even if it’s not true, it’s well invented).”
    — Rachel Auerbach, In the fields of Treblinka.

    Rachel Auerbach! She and C.D. Jackson are “the Sonny and Cher of Nazi atrocity propaganda.” Auerbach was in a Polish communist cell that included Jakub and Adolf Berman “The Smothers Brothers of Treblinka Tall Tales.” See Children of the Revolution: Communism, Zionism and the Berman Brothers by Marci Shore in The Journal of Jewish Social Studies, Vol 10, Issue 3, 2004 (pages 23-86). Also:

    Comment by who dares wings — November 8, 2012 @ 9:33 am

  4. “Auschwitz … four million people, mostly Jews, who died there. … Roman Catholic priest, Maksymillian Kolbe, prisoner number 16670, was murdered in 1941. Kolbe volunteered to die so that Franciszek Gajowniczek, a father of five children, might live. Eyewitness survivors said the priest did not succumb to the gas and the Nazis dispatched him with an injection of phenol poison into the heart. … The crematoriums, preserved intact, could dispose of 60,000 bodies a day, and did.”
    — Sarasota Herald Tribune – June 8, 1979, p.3

    The Vad Yashem has a “postwar” photo of Block 11 with non-boarded up windows, and no cork/log thing in front of the Wall of Death. If the honest Soviets made those two amendments and claimed they were original, it seems fairly likely they installed the “tree-hanging” posts as well.

    “As the Italian saying goes: ‘Se non è vero, è ben trovato.’ (Even if it’s not true, it’s well invented).”
    — Rachel Auerbach, In the fields of Treblinka.

    Comment by The Black Rabbit of Inlé — November 7, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

    • “The SS men killed children by bending them over their knees and breaking their spines, then throwing them into ditches.”

      “As the Italian saying goes: ‘Se non è vero, è ben trovato.’ (Even if it’s not true, it’s well invented).”
      — Rachel Auerbach, In the fields of Treblinka.

      Comment by The Black Rabbit of Inlé — November 7, 2012 @ 4:10 pm

      • Incidentally, more on David Irving and gassings at Auschwitz

        “THIS was precisely the position that I adopted in the Lipstadt Trial: that there had been NO mass killings in Krema II, and any gassings that did occur were in the so-called “bunkers” outside the camp.

        It is a pity that Meyer lacks the courage of his convictions. Having attacked me gratuitously in his opening paragraphs, in order to earn the right to probe into the taboo subject of the Auschwitz death-toll at all, he approvingly quotes Mr Justice Gray’s perverse Judgment, on the absurdity of even questioning the homicidal nature of Krema I and II, — and then proves quite brilliantly that (contrary to what Prof Van Pelt argued in his expert witness report and during the Lipstadt trial) I was in fact right: The killing, such as it was, was done off-campus in the two Bauernhäuser outside the camp perimeter, and not in the big concrete state-of-the-art crematorium (Krema) buildings.”

        – Irving,

        Comment by The Black Rabbit of Inlé — November 7, 2012 @ 4:32 pm

        • I would not give any credence to Irving’s views on gassing in Auschwitz . An interesting historian who has dug in the archives and found lots of hidden history he is no expert on the Holocaust. Irving’s claim on the farmhouses reminds me of Eichmann’s claim that gassings he saw occurred at Belzec in ” hermetically sealed hovels ” one does wonder how a hovel was hermetically sealed and how many people could fit in. Then of course at the same trial Eichmann claimed to see “geysers of blood spirting from the ground ” .

          Comment by Pete — November 7, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

          • I just posted it to prove to our host, as I promised I would last week, that Irving accepts gassings happened in the “Bunkers”. You’re right he is an interesting historian, whose performance at the Lipstadt trial was immensely impressive.

            Although I don’t agree with his gas chambers theories, he certainly deserves sympathy for the hatred flung at him by the media. His detailing, during his 5hr closing speech at his trial, of the campaign of hate waged against him by Jewish groups since the 1970s makes very interesting reading.

            It was Wiesel’s friend who saw the “geysers of blood”, but Wiesel likely lifted the idea from the *blood fountains* Eichmann saw in Lemberg.


            Comment by The Black Rabbit of Inlé — November 7, 2012 @ 5:38 pm

        • The Lipstadt Trial took place in 2000. At that time, I don’t think that David Irving had ever been to Auschwitz-Birkenau. So he had not yet seen the location of the “bunkers” at that time. In 1998, I was told that the locations of the bunkers were unknown. In 2005, the ruins of one of the bunkers, the one known as “the little white house,” had been reconstructed.

          The location of the ruins of “the little white house” is just behind the Sauna building. When “the little white house” was being used, the Sauna was under construction. In order for the Sauna to be used for showers, it had to have running water. So the water pipes were extended to that location and probably also to “the little white house”.

          The location of “the little white house” makes me think that it was used for showers for the incoming prisoners, not for gassing prisoners. This was not a convenient location for a gas chamber. The bunkers might have been used for disinfection of clothing, as well as for showers.

          The proper location for a gas chamber at Birkenau would have been near the gate into the camp, where the quarantine barracks were located. The bunkers were at least a mile away from the gate. It was not until 1944 that the railroad tracks were extended inside the camp.

          Comment by furtherglory — November 7, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

          • Just over 3 months before his trial started, in Sept 1999, the day Irving buried his daughter, who’d committed suicide (she’d lost both legs and was paralysed in a car accident in 1996) he was sent an expensive wreath of lilies, with a note that read: “This was truly a merciful death”, signed “Philip Bouhler and friends”. Bouhler was head of the T4 programme.

            Irving claimed that Lipstadt told an Israeli audience after the trial: “My lawyers did all they could to destabilize Irving in the weeks before the trial.”

            Comment by The Black Rabbit of Inlé — November 7, 2012 @ 7:44 pm

        • The genocide of the Jews was the most important objective of the “Third Reich.” It had been ordered by Hitler himself. Such an important goal would have been organized like the building of the V2 rockets and the building of jet airplanes. It would NOT have begun by converting two old Polish farm houses into temporary homicidal gassing facilities. No, the best German engineers would have been put to work to design and build a large facility similar to the small two-man gas chamber in Jefferson City, MO but with a capacity of perhaps 100 victims at a time. The homicidal gassing facility would NOT have been put close to the shower facilities for the incoming prisoners who were selected for work. The gassing of the Jews would NOT have been done in a slip-shod manner in some old farmhouse. That is not the way that the German people do things. There is a huge difference between the way a German person thinks, and the way a Hasidic Jew thinks. (The Germans don’t say “some things didn’t happen, but are true.”)

          Comment by furtherglory — November 8, 2012 @ 8:22 am

          • I totally agree.

            At the AR camps, they killed 1.8 million Jews with some old Soviet tank engines they’d chanced across.

            But we know how they did it:

            Comment by The Black Rabbit of Inlé — November 8, 2012 @ 11:44 am

  5. <>

    It would be interesting to know when the Soviets started to talk about these Nazi “starvation cells”. If it was after March 45, I wouldn’t be surprised the Soviet propagandists invented these “starvation cells” after seeing the pictures of emaciated typhus victims which were taken by the British and American reporters in the last Nazi camps of exhausted Germany (Buchenwald, Dachau, Belsen, etc.). Turning typhus victims into starved people was a common trick used by the propagandists of that time.

    I find the “starvation cells” story a bit weird because the Nazis could torture prisoners if they wanted to punish them. Pain would have been a “better” punishment than starvation. And if the Nazis wanted to make prisoners die, they could simply shot or “gas” (according to the classical Holocaust narrative) them.

    Comment by hermod — November 7, 2012 @ 3:11 pm

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