Scrapbookpages Blog

November 16, 2015

The whipping of prisoners in the concentration camps

My photo of a whipping block on display at the Dachau memorial sire

My photo of a whipping block on display at Dachau memorial site

A new reader of my blog recently made a comment about the prisoners in the concentration camps being whipped.

In the Dachau Museum, a whipping block, that was used to punish the prisoners, was on display when I visited the Dachau Memorial Site in 2007.  It is shown in my photo above.

Visitors to the Museum are told that prisoners were given 25 lashes for such minor offenses as having a button missing from their uniform or putting their hands in their pockets.

One visitor to the Dachau Museum wrote this on his blog:

In the shower room they had set up a table where they used to whip people if they did anything against the rules. The rules included things such as having a dried spot of water on the bowl you ate out of.

What visitors to the Dachau Museum are not told is that all punishments had to be authorized by WVHA, the Central Office for Economic Administration in Oranienburg, after a report was filed; punishments for women had to be personally approved by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Imagine someone at the central office in charge of the camps reading a request for punishment of a prisoner who had a “dried spot of water” on his bowl.

Visitors to the Dachau Museum are not told that the whipping block was no longer used after 1942 when Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler gave an order that the SS men in the concentration camps were forbidden to “lay violent hands on the prisoners.”

American generals watch a demonstration of the whipping block at Ohrdruf camp

American generals watch a demonstration of the whipping block at Ohrdruf camp

A whipping block was constructed for a demonstration at Ohrdruf. Notice that it is not a real whipping block, like the one in the photo at the top of this page.

Rudolf Wolf, a former prisoner at Dachau, demonstrates the whipping block at the Dachau trial of Franz Trenkle

Rudolf Wolf, a former prisoner at Dachau, demonstrates the whipping block at the Dachau trial of Franz Trenkle

In the photo above, Rudolf Wolf, a former prisoner at Dachau, demonstrates the whipping block. Notice that this appears to be an ordinary table, not a whipping block like the one on display in the Dachau Museum.

Wolf testified that Franz Trenkle was in charge of punishments in the camp. In the photograph above, Wolf shows how he had to bend over the whipping block when he was punished at Dachau. Franz Trenkle was convicted and hanged on May 28, 1946.

Fake photo of the hanging punishment at Dachau

Fake photo of the hanging punishment in the Dachau Museum

The hanging punishment, shown in the photo above, was originated by Martin Sommer, an SS officer at Buchenwald. This punishment was abolished at Dachau by Commandant Martin Weiss in 1942.

Sommer was dismissed from his job at Buchenwald and sent to the Eastern front after being put on trial in 1943 in SS judge Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen’s court for abuse of the prisoners.

The photograph above, taken inside the old Dachau Museum in May 2001, shows a scene at Buchenwald that was created in 1958 for an East German DEFA film. (Source: 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)

This fake photo was not included in the new Dachau Museum which opened in 2003, but all the tour guides at Dachau were still dwelling at length on the hanging punishment during my visits to the Memorial Site.

I previously blogged about Martin Sommer on this blog post:

August 11, 2013

Holocaust survivor Steve Ross, recovering from a stroke, can’t remember details of Dachau liberation

Steve Ross is the young boy on the far left, standing at the barbed wire fence around Dachau

Steve Ross is the young boy on the far left, standing at the barbed wire fence around Dachau

According to a news article, which you can read in full here, Holocaust survivor Steve Ross, shown in the photo above, is recovering from a debilitating stroke that he suffered late last November.  I can relate because I suffered a stroke a little over three years ago.  There are a lot of things that happened in 1945, which I can’t remember, due to brain damage caused by the stroke.

Steve Ross (real name Szmulek Rozental) is famous for being a Jewish boy who survived 10 different concentration camps in 5 years.

According to the news article:

In places like Budzyn, Krasnik, Czechna in Radon, Bietigheim, Vaihingen, Unterriexingen, Grossachsenheim, Neckarsulm, Auschwitz, and lastly, Dachau. Nazi concentration camps where he was imprisoned, tortured, starved, and beaten for five years, from the age of nine to 14. Yet try as they did, the Nazis couldn’t break him. And in the end, Steve survived.

Note that Steve Ross survived Auschwitz, although he was under the age of 15.  Why wasn’t he sent to one of the Auschwitz gas chambers?  This is easily explained.  Dr. Mengele could not estimate age to within 5 years, so many children got through the selection process by lying about their age.

This quote is also from the news article:

As a boy, [Steve Ross] watched as those big green tanks with white stars crashed through the gates of Dachau that spring morning in 1945, followed by lots of tall men in uniforms he’d never seen, shouting a language he’d never heard. They fanned out around the fence perimeter, then like some rapid parade in motion, poured into the camp. There were so many, so fast. Yet he and dozens of his fellow prisoners could only watch from their barracks, for they were too weak from starvation, overwork, disease, and injuries to move.

It is understandable that, after having a stroke, Steve Ross can’t remember everything about the day that he was liberated from Dachau.  I can relate.  So I am going to help him to remember what actually happened.

There were no big green tanks with white stars that crashed through the gates of Dachau.  The photo below shows the scene just after General Linden had accepted the surrender of the camp by a tall  SS soldier, Lt. Wicker, accompanied by a Red Cross man, wearing an arm band.

General Linden standing at the gate into Dachau after the camp was surrendered

General Linden standing at the gate into the Dachau camp after the camp was surrendered

American tanks had not been able to get to Dachau, to crash through the “Arbeit macht Frei” gate, which is shown intact in the photo above.

This quote, about the time line on the day of the liberation of Dachau, is from this website:

09:30 Tanks of the 101st Tank Battalion enter the city of Dachau after an alternate river crossing is found.

10:30 I Company and elements of M Company (3rd Battalion) are dispatched in the direction of the concentration camp. Tanks are held up by a bridge over the Amper River which is blown when armor is within 20 yards, killing a large number of German soldiers who are unable to cross in time.

10:45 1st Lt. L.R. Stewart and 1st Sgt. Robert Wilson of L Company find a footbridge defended by a lone German machine gunner. After firing one belt of ammunition the German retreats and I Company then crosses. Tanks and L Company remain behind to clear Dachau and continue the attack toward Munich.

The news article continues with this quote:

He saw the guards put up their hands, as if to surrender. But wait, was he seeing things? Was his chronic malnutrition causing him to be delusional? No, this time it was real. But who were these strange big men whom his all-powerful Nazi overlords were cowering before? As if to answer his thoughts, one of his fellow prisoners shouted one word.


The American Army had arrived. His long nightmare was finally over. He would live. The American soldiers had saved him from certain death. And as 14-year-old Steve Ross walked out of Dachau that day in 1945, a tall American soldier on a big American tank called him over. The soldier gave him some cans of food, smiled, and warmly touched his head. Steve cried. For the first time in five years, he cried. His emotions, bottled up through a half decade of hell, had finally poured out. The soldier told him something he couldn’t understand, then handed him a colorful cloth with stars and stripes.

The regular guards at Dachau had fled the night before the Americans arrived.  The “guards” who put up their hands, “as if to surrender” were SS men who were inside the SS garrison next to the camp.  Steve Ross was in the concentration camp, where he could not have seen the SS men with their hands in the air.  He might have seen the guards, who were in Tower B, come down with their hands in the air.  These guards, who had surrendered in good faith, were shot by the Americans and their bodies thrown into the moat, where the Americans continued to shoot at their dead bodies.

Steve Ross could not have walked out of the Dachau camp on the day that it was liberated.  The prisoners had to be kept inside until the typhus epidemic, that was going on, could be brought under control.

Fortunately, I wrote about Steve Ross on my website before I had a stroke that wiped out some of my memory.  The following information is from my website:

The young boy at the far left in the photograph [at the top of my blog post] is Stephen Ross, a 14-year-old Jewish orphan from Poland, who said that he had survived 10 different concentration camps in 5 years before he was liberated at Dachau. Standing next to him is Juda Kukieda, the son of Mordcha Mendel and Ruchla Sta.

According to the book “Dachau 29 April 1945, the Rainbow Liberation Memoirs,” edited by Sam Dann, Stephen Ross (real name Szmulek Rozental) was one of the lucky few who was rescued in the nick of time when Dachau was liberated. Ross was interviewed for the book and according to his own story, he was one of the 1,800 prisoners who were crowded into one quarantine barrack, which was designed to hold only about a hundred prisoners.

Ross said that the prisoners in the quarantine barrack had not been fed for two weeks before the Seventh Army arrived. Food was scarce, and according to Ross, the prisoners were fed only occasionally when they were given “a biscuit, hard as a rock and covered with mold.”

From the quarantine block, Ross said that 80 to 100 prisoners a day were carried out and put on the pile of dead bodies near the barbed wire fence, from where they were taken to the crematory. According to Ross, the quarantine block was where the German SS Doctors Sigmund Rascher and Klaus Schilling selected prisoners for their ghastly experiments. The doctors “removed thirty to forty prisoners on a daily basis for experiments” according to Ross.

Ross said that he “had been isolated in quarantine for experiments since 1944.” On the day of liberation, Ross made his way to the main gate, although he “was very weak and hardly able to walk.” With the help of his brother, who was also in the camp, Ross made it to the front of the crowd and was included in one of the most famous photographs of the liberation, shown at the top of this page.

After the liberation of Dachau, Ross had to stay in the camp until the typhus epidemic was brought under control. When he was released, he made his way to Munich where he was hospitalized for 6 months and treated for tuberculosis. He was then sent to a Displaced Persons camp for orphans at a former forced labor camp in Landsberg am Lech, near Munich. Finally, he was brought to America where he was able to recover his health.

Here’s my advice to young people:  Write down everything that you want to remember, because when you get old, you might have a stroke, and make a fool of yourself by telling stories about events that never happened.

The following quote is also from my website:

The following information about Stephen Ross is from The New England Holocaust Memorial:

The effort to build the New England Holocaust Memorial began with a Holocaust survivor, Stephen Ross (Szmulek Rozental), who was imprisoned at the age of 9 and whose parents, one brother and 5 sisters were murdered by the Nazi’s. Between 1940 and 1945, he survived 10 different concentration camps.

Like so many others Stephen Ross suffered terribly. His back was broken by a guard who caught him stealing a raw potato. Tuberculosis wracked his body. He once hid in an outhouse, submerged to his neck in human waste, to save himself from being shot. At one time he was hung [by his arms] for eating a raw potato. At age fourteen he was liberated from the infamous torture camp Dachau by American troops. Stephen will never forget the soldiers who found him, emaciated and nearly dead. They liberated him from a certain death.

When Stephen and his older brother, Harry, the only other surviving family member, were released from the Dachau Camp to seek medical attention, they came upon a U.S. Tank Unit. One of the soldiers jumped off his tank, gave Stephen and Harry his rations to eat and put his arms around Stephen. Stephen fell to his knees, kissed the G.I.’s boots and began to cry for the first time in five years.

The soldier took out of his pocket a piece of cloth and gave it to Stephen to wipe his tears. Stephen later found out that it was a small American Flag with 48 stars. This small flag is a treasured item and it will be kept by Stephen and his children as a symbol of freedom, life, compassion and love of the American soldiers.

At the age of 16, Stephen was brought to America in 1948 under the auspices of the U.S. Committee for Orphaned Children. He was illiterate, having had minimal education prior to the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939. Over the years, he managed to earn three college degrees. Steve made a new life in the Boston area and has worked for the City of Boston for over forty years.

He provides guidance and clinical services to inner-city underprivileged youth and families. He eventually achieved the level of Senior Staff Psychologist.

Note that Steve Ross came upon a U.S. Tank unit AFTER he was released from Dachau.

Note that Steve mentioned that he had been hung by his arms at Dachau.  The “tree hanging” punishment was used at Buchenwald, not Dachau.  I blogged here about Martin Sommer, the guard who originated this atrocity.  Martin Sommer was put on trial by the Germans in the court of Dr. Konrad Morgen. After being convicted, Sommer was sent to the Eastern front, where he was wounded, losing an arm and a leg.

Note also that Steve was submerged up to his neck in human waste in an outhouse.  Where did this happen?  Dachau had flush toilets, but no outhouses.  Steve was obviously remembering what he saw in a Spielberg movie, not what he suffered at Dachau.

However, he could have sunk down into a flush toilet at Dachau because the toilets had no seat. The photo below shows a toilet in one of the cells in the bunker, a prison within the Dachau camp.

The toilets at Dachau had no seat

The toilets at Dachau had no seat

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.

April 2, 2011

Buchenwald was a Class II camp with “Jedem das Seine” on the gate

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 10:43 am

I am currently reading the new book by Flink Whitlock, which is entitled The Beasts of Buchenwald.  The Beasts in the title are Ilse Koch and her husband, Karl Otto Koch, who was the Commandant of the camp.  I am not quite to the end yet, but so far, I have not seen any mention that Buchenwald was a Class II camp.  In January 1941, Heinrich Himmler had designated Buchenwald as the only Class II camp and Mauthausen and Gusen as the only Class III camps.

What did these classifications mean and why is this so important?  Well, to give you an idea of the importance, the main Auschwitz camp was a Class I camp.  Class I camps had a sign on the gatehouse that read “Arbeit Macht Frei” and non-Jewish political prisoners had a chance of being released.  According to the Auschwitz Museum, 1,500 non-Jewish prisoners were released from the Auschwitz main camp.   Buchenwald had a sign on the gate that read “Jedem das Seine” and the prisoners had almost no chance of being released.

Jedem das Seine on Buchenwald gate

The “Jedem das Seine” sign on the gate faced the inside of the camp, so that it could be easily read by the prisoners.  This sign can be translated as “To Each his Own” or as “Everyone gets what he deserves.”  The class III Mauthausen camp, which had been designated as “Rückkehr unerwünscht” (Return undesirable) had no sign on the gate and prisoners had no chance of being released.

On March 9, 1937, Heinrich Himmler had made a new rule that criminals who had committed two crimes, but were now free, could be arrested and taken into protective custody for “rehabilitation.” This new rule included gay men who had been arrested and convicted twice for violating Paragraph 175, a German law that had been on the books since 1871.

Criminals who had already served their time in prison were sent to concentration camps, beginning in 1937, because workers were needed for Hitler’s new projects.  The Class III prisoners at Mauthausen and Gusen were men who, according to the Nazis, were “guilty of really serious charges, incorrigible and previously criminally convicted and asocials, that is people in protective custody who are unlikely to be educable.”

As a Class II camp, Buchenwald was a camp for criminals who were considered harder to rehabilitate than the criminals at the Class I Dachau or Sachsenhausen camps, but not as bad as the prisoners in the Class III Mauthausen camp.

As a young man, Hitler had had dreams of becoming an architect, but he failed the entrance exam to be admitted to architectural school. Years later, as the German Führer he had grandiose plans for uniting all the ethnic Germans in Europe and rebuilding Berlin as Germania, the capital of Greater Germany. He was also planning to rebuild Linz, Austria, the place where he intended to retire.

Rathaus in Linz, Hitler proclaimed the Greater German Reich (Großdeutsches Reich) after the Anschluss with Austria on May 12, 1938.

Hitler proclaimed the Greater German Reich (Großdeutsches Reich) from the balcony of the Rathaus in Linz, Austriaafter in 1938.

Hitler’s grandiose plans required plenty of granite and brick, as well as manual labor, so after 1937, most of the new Nazi concentration camps were located near quarries so that prison labor could be used for the production of building materials for Hitler’s projects. Besides Buchenwald and Mauthausen, other camps that were established near quarries included Flossenbürg, Gross Rosen, and Natzweiler.

The quarry at Mauthausen concentration camp

The quarry at Mauthausen concentration camp

When Germany began losing the war, Hitler’s projects were abandoned and munitions factories were built in the camps. Mauthausen became a camp where prisoners worked on building Me262 airplanes.

The prisoners, in most of the camps, now worked in building jet airplanes and V-2 rockets for the Germans, but there was a problem with workers doing sabotage in the camps.  Buchenwald was the main camp where French Resistance fighters were sent.  As could be expected, the French Resistance fighters made elaborate plans for sabotage.

To discourage sabotage, camps like Buchenwald had to resort to extreme punishments, such as the punishment called “hanging from the tree.”   Martin Sommer, the man in charge of the Bunker (the prison within the camp), originated this punishment, which is illustrated by the photo below, copied from Wikipedia; the photo has this caption:  Martin Sommer “Hangman of Buchenwald” hanging prisoners at the “singing forest” in Buchenwald

Photo of “hanging from the tree” on Wikipedia

Stay with me, dear readers, for I am about to get to the point of my post.  It is my personal opinion that the Class II and Class III prisoners told Class II and Class III lies.  In other words, Buchenwald and Mauthausen had the worst prisoners which resulted in the worst lies coming out of these camps.

I took the photo below in the Dachau Museum in 2001; it shows the famous photo that is on the Wikipedia site. This photo was hanging at Dachau until 2003 when it was taken down after it was revealed that the photo is a fake.

The picture in the photo above is a still shot from an East German DEFA film, made in 1958, which is why the photo is no longer shown in the Dachau Museum. Source: 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.

I’m not at all sure that the “hanging from the tree” actually took place at Buchenwald.  This could be in the category of the shrunken heads and the lampshades made from human skin, which are also famous stories told by the Buchenwald prisoners.  Or should I say Class II lies told by the prisoners?

March 31, 2011

the strange case of Martin Sommer, the “Hangman of Buchenwald”

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 9:29 am

I am currently reading a new book entitled The Beasts of Buchenwald written by Flint Whitlock, which has just been published.  You can read about the book here.  A lot of research has gone into this book and it has lots of good information and rare photos. The author reveals the real name of Ilse Koch’s son, who was conceived while she was a prisoner at Dachau, awaiting trial by the American Military Tribunal. He also reveals the name of the alleged father of her son.  I’m not going to tell you the names.  Get your own copy and read it yourself.

One thing that caught my attention in the book was this sentence on page 263:

Martin Sommer: The sadistic warden of the Bunker at KL Buchenwald volunteered for combat duty.

Martin Sommer, the hangman of Buchenwald

Martin Sommer was put on trial by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, an SS judge, in 1943.  I always thought that Sommer was sent to the Eastern front as punishment for his crimes at Buchenwald.  It seems really strange that Martin Sommer was not punished for his horrific crimes.

I previously blogged about Martin Sommer here.

Here is a quote from Wikipedia about Martin Sommer:

In 1943 Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler appointed SS judge Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen to investigate charges of cruelty and corruption at the Buchenwald camp. Due to his excessive brutality and sadism, Sommer was indicted and tried before Morgen. Commandant Karl Koch and his wife Ilse Koch were also put on trial.

According to Morgen, Sommer had a secret compartment underneath the floor under his desk. He kept his private instruments of torture concealed within this compartment such as the needles he used to kill his victims after he was done torturing them, he would inject them with carbolic acid, or inject air into their veins causing their death by embolism. On occasions, after private late night torture sessions Sommer would hide his victim’s bodies under his bed until he could dispose of them in the morning.

Among his acts of depravity were beating a German pastor, hanging him naked outside in the winter then throwing buckets of water on him and letting him freeze to death. On another occasion Sommer beat a Catholic priest to death for performing the Sacrament of Penance for a fellow inmate.

With all this evidence against Martin Sommer, as told by Dr. Morgen himself, why wasn’t Sommer executed like Karl Otto Koch?  Whether he was sent to the Eastern front or volunteered, it doesn’t matter.  The question is Why did he get off so lightly after killing prisoners so cruelly?

Dr. Morgen put 5 of the concentration camp Commandants on trial in his court and sentenced 2 of them to be executed.  Yet he let Martin Sommer off with no punishment at all.

Harry Stein wrote a book entitled Gedenkstätte Buchenwald which was sold at the Buchenwald Memorial Site when I visited in 1999.  Stein wrote that Martin Sommer was arrested in connection with the proceedings against Karl Otto Koch, but that Sommer “was not sentenced.”  If he was “not sentenced” but went to the Eastern front in 1943, this indicates that he volunteered and was not forced to go.

But why was Martin Sommer not sentenced in Dr. Morgen’s court?  His crimes were far more horrible than the crimes of Koch and he had killed more people than Koch, who was only charged with ordering the deaths of two people. Koch did not personally kill anyone, but Martin Sommer had allegedly killed hundreds of prisoners with his own hands.  Heinrich Himmler, the man who authorized the trial of Koch, had given an order that the SS men were forbidden “to lay violent hands” on the prisoners.  Among Sommer’s alleged crimes was the charge that he had personally crucified two Catholic priests upside down.  How did he get by with this, without being sentenced?

The only reason that I can think of is that Karl Otto Koch enriched himself by stealing from the prisoners.  That money belonged to the Reich.  Martin Sommer didn’t get rich off of killing prisoners in the bunker, so his crimes were not so serious in the eyes of Himmler.  Frau Koch had her own bank account, which was suspicious, but that was not enough evidence for Dr. Morgen to convict her. Ilse Koch was acquitted in Dr. Morgen’s court.

Martin Sommer was finally convicted in a German court in 1958.  You can read about it in a New York Times article here.

After the war, Dr. Morgen was put into the Bunker at Dachau because he was a “war criminal” as far as the Americans were concerned.  He had a chance to hobnob with some of the SS men that he had prosecuted in his court and to learn what it feels like to be a prisoner in a Bunker in a concentration camp.

Dr. Morgen was a member of the SS, which had been designated as a criminal organization by the Allies, so that automatically made him a “war criminal.”  Besides that, anyone who had any connection whatsoever to a concentration camp came under the new Allied concept of co-responsibility, which was known as the “common design” or “common plan” to commit war crimes.  Dr. Morgen was an SS judge who investigated the camps for criminal activity, so he had a connection to the concentration camps and was thus a war criminal.

Dr. Morgen told historian John Toland that he was beaten several times in an attempt to get him to say that Ilse Koch had personally selected the victims whose tattooed skin was made into lampshades for her home, but he refused.

Flint Whitlock’s new book includes lots of quotes, from the testimony given in 1947 at the American Military Tribunal by Buchenwald survivors, that Ilse Koch did, in fact, have prisoners killed for their tattoos.