1946: The Neuengamme camp war criminals

Add comment October 8th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1946, eleven men convicted by a British war crimes court of war crimes at the Neuengamme concentration camp hanged at Hamelin prison.

Neuengamme held about 106,000 prisoners from 1938 until the British overran it on May 3, 1945. (In a tragic coda, many of the last prisoners died when the ships to which they had been transferred were mistakenly strafed by the Royal Air Force that same day.)

Though its primary purpose was slave labor — Neuengamme inmates cranked out bricks and armaments — rather than extermination, close on half of its residents died of the maltreatment. Anne Frank’s elderly roommate-in-hiding “Albert Dussel” (his real name was Fritz Pfeffer) died there of enterocolitis in 1944; Suriname national hero Anton de Kom succumbed to tuberculosis at Neuengamme days before it was liberated.

Nor was Neuengamme above more direct methods — of course it wasn’t. As the Third Reich collapsed, Neuengamme was used to dispose of 71 leftists for no better reason than the Nazis begrudged their potential postwar life; meanwhile, Jewish children who had been subjected to medical experiments were hanged by their stonehearted SS doctor.

That gentleman, Alfred Trzebinski, was one of the men in the dock for Neuengamme, and ultimately, one of the men on the scaffold.*

Camp commandant Max Pauly and SS Schutzhaftlagerführer Anton Thumann were among the 10 others executed for Neuengamme, all together on October 8, 1946.

* Sigmund Freud’s grandson Walter worked for the War Crimes Investigation Unit on (among other cases) Trzebinski’s Bullenhuser Damm school hangings.

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1945: The children of Bullenhuser Damm

4 comments April 20th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1945, as Adolf Hitler celebrated his 56th birthday within a Red Army cordon, one of the Second World War’s more tear-jerking little crimes against humanity happened in Hamburg.

Bullenhuser Dammstill to be found today — was a former Hamburg school which fell out of use as World War II progressed, owing to the devastation Allied bombings wrought on the surrounding area.

The school itself sustained little damage, however, which eventually facilitated its appropriation as a satellite building for the nearby Neuengamme concentration camp.

Over at Neuengamme, the SS doctor Kurt Heissmeyer had been conducting a litany of horror medical experiments on 20 Jewish children — mostly from Poland — culled from the concentration camps, seeking medical evidence for Nazi racial theories further to a cushy professorship. But as April 1945 was obviously endgame for the Third Reich, thoughts naturally turned to disposing of evidence of indictable offenses.


Photos of the eventual Bullenhuser Damm victims showing their surgical scars after Heissmeyer injected them with tuberculosis.

Bullenhuser Damm was just the place for disposal.

On April 20, the 20 kids were loaded up on trucks with their four adult caretakers — two French, two Dutch — plus six Soviet prisoners of war.

At Bullenhuser Damm, the kids were parked in a room and hung out, blissfully ignorant of their danger. “They had all their things with them — some food, some toys they had made themselves, etc,” physician Alfred Trzebinski later recalled at his own trial. “They sat on the benches and were happy that they had gotten out. They didn’t suspect a thing.”

In the next room, the 10 adults were being hanged.

According to Admitting the Holocaust, Trzebinski was impressed with his own compassionate use of this bit of down time: he generously gave the children morphine shots to sedate them before their own executions. Or rather, their murders … since the doctor could not but agree that “you cannot execute children, you can only murder them.”

I must say that in general the children’s condition was very good, except for one twelve-year-old boy who was in bad shape; he therefore fell asleep very quickly. Six or eight of the children were still awake — the others were already sleeping … Frahm [an orderly] lifted the twelve-year-old boy and said to the others that he was taking him to bed. He took him to a room that was maybe six or eight yards away, and there I saw a rope already attached to a hook. Frahm put the sleeping boy into the noose and with all his weight pulled down on the body of the boy so that the noose would tighten. (Trzebinski, again)

The other 19 children were disposed of in like manner, and then all 30 corpses cremated overnight … just in time for what must have been a much-needed 5 a.m. coffee.

After the war, the facility went back to use as an actual (creepy!) school, but it was eventually renamed Janusz Korczak School, for a Polish-Jewish educator gassed with his young charges at Treblinka. There’s a permanent exhibition (German) at the site, as well as a memorial rose garden with a variety of plaques commemorating the victims of Bullenhuser Damm.

Trzebinski’s take on his conduct this horrible night might have been good enough for his conscience, but it didn’t pass muster with his judges: he was hanged on a war crimes rap prominently including Bullenhuser Damm on October 8, 1946. Kurt Heissmeyer, however, avoided detection until 1959 and only received a long prison sentence in 1966, shortly before his death.

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1945: The women of the Endphaseverbrechen at Neuengamme

1 comment April 21st, 2012 Headsman

On the night of April 21, 1945 (possibly verging into April 22), 12 women political prisoners were hanged at Hamburg’s Neuengamme concentration camp.

This forced labor camp had its own nasty history during the war, including medical experiments on children that would get the camp doctor hanged after the war. Those unfortunates had just been disposed of the day before.

It was in the spirit of disposing that Neuengamme on April 21 received 71 political prisoners from the Fühlsbüttel prison/satellite camp. This site, one of the very first concentration camps in Germany, was being emptied out (as Neuengamme also soon would be) with the approach of Allied forces from the west: many Fühlsbüttel prisoners were released outright, while several hundred were sent on a death march to another camp.

These special 71, who weren’t especially major antifascists and hadn’t been convicted of anything, thought their transfer to Neuengamme was just a halfway house to their own release — whether directly by the Germans, or via the imminent arrival of Germany’s foes.

All were elated. They showed each other pictures of their husbands and children (Erika Etter did not know that her husband had been executed), made their clothes as nice as possible. Erika, the youngest, wore white knee socks and borrowed lipstick, with her pretty hair down. (From the German Wikipedia page about these killings)

They were in for an unpleasant surprise: although Nazi Germany was going down, there were elements within it still looking to cripple the Left of whatever would emerge postwar. These 71 people — 58 men and 13 women — were communists, or White Rose activists, or other ideological foes whom the camp bureaucracy had tagged as “non-transferrable” elements.

Annemarie Ladewig, a young artist who’d been booted from the academy due to a partial Jewish ancestry, painted this watercolor of a dancer. (More.) Ladewig’s brother and father were among the 58 male political prisoners killed at Neuengamme over the next few days.

They were eliminated over the period from April 21 through April 24.

The women were the first to be put to death on this night, hanged naked in two groups of six. Either the aforementioned Erika Etter or else the actress Hanne Mertens (German link) was killed separately; the other was hanged, along with these eleven (all links below are to German Wikipedia pages):

From the Themed Set: The Death Rattle of the Third Reich.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Women

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