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Apr 18, 2024

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This Week In History – 1948

On January 28, 1948, 23 death sentences that had been issued by the Polish Supreme National Tribunal to ex-Nazi, Waffen-SS and Gestapo war criminals from World War II were carried out. All of the executions took place at the Kraków Montelupich Prison. The location was known to be one of the most notorious Nazi prisons in occupied Poland. Terrible atrocities were committed there by the Gestapo throughout World War II.

War criminals Maria Mandel and Therese Brandl were the first to be executed.

In photo: Head guard, Maria Mandel, known as ‘the Beast’, while at the Ravensbrück slave labor camp in Germany, is shown here during her war criminal trial in 1947.

Imprisonments ranging from life sentences to three years were extended to 17 others.   One Nazi, SS-Untersturmführer (second lieutenant) Dr. Hans Münch, was acquitted. During the war, he had refused to participate in the selection process to send Jewish victims to the gas chambers.

Mandel and Brandl along with Luise Danz, Hildegard Lächert and Alice Orlowski were women hung in 1948 after the Auschwitz Trials. Brandl started in March of 1940 at Auschwitz and was a protégé of SS-Oberaufseherin Maria Mandel at the Ravensbrück concentration camp, part of the large Auschwitz-Birkenau complex. Mandel was known as the Beast and she was found guilty of having been directly complicit in the deaths of over 500,000 female prisoners. Most of the prisoners that were murdered and the largest single national group incarcerated at Ravensbrück consisted of Polish women.

It was on January 27, 1945 that Auschwitz had been liberated by the Soviet Army. Just the week before, Heinrich Himmler ordered the SS-Totenkopfverbände (camp guards) to move most of the living inmates (40,000). They were put on a forced death march toward Wodzisław Śląski. Eventually, only 20,000 arrived alive at Berger-Belsen concentration camp.

At Auschwitz, the Red Army found only 7,500 non-ambulatory prisoners left behind. Among the items found by the Soviet soldiers were 370,000 men’s suits, 837,000 women’s garments, and over seven tons of human hair.

The liberation of Auschwitz received little press attention at the time. This was attributed to the previous discovery of similar crimes at the Majdanek concentration camp. Also, competing news from the Allied summit at Yalta was front and center at the time. The Soviet Union’s propaganda interests in minimizing any attention to atrocities visited on Polish Christians and Polish Jewry also helped hide what was being shared about Poland in world news.

History has found that no member of the Wehrmacht and Heer German Army or the Waffen-SS, Allgemeine-SS, Germanic-SS and the Auxiliary-SS, either officers or enlisted men, were ever punished for refusing to murder Jews, whether in field operations or at the extermination camps. If they invoked that it was immoral or demoralizing for a soldier to kill civilians, they would be just reassigned.



Polish Supreme National Tribunal Findings:

Excerpts from Explanation of Jury Decisions:

Torturing of prisoners (at Auschwitz) already tormented to the extreme (by extrajudicial means), is the evidence of inhuman savagery perpetrated by those defendants who as a result of the trial were sentenced to death. The listed violent crimes committed by named defendants, who all took smaller or larger part in the mass murder of prisoners, also reveal that the accused were involved in the acts of killing for pleasure, and not pursuant to orders of their superiors. If it were not for their expressed desire to kill, they would have otherwise displayed elements of sympathy for the victims, or at least show indifference to their plight, but not torture them to death.

W uzasadnieniu wyroku Najwyższego Trybunału Narodowego:

Znęcanie się nad i tak nadmiernie udręczonymi więźniami dowodzi wielkiego zezwierzęcenia tych oskarżonych, którzy w wyniku przewodu sądowego zostali skazani na karę śmierci. To znęcanie się ze strony tych oskarżonych, którzy wszyscy brali mniejszy lub większy udział w zabijaniu więźniów, wskazuje też na to, że ci oskarżeni brali udział w tych zabójstwach z potrzeby wewnętrznej zabijania, a nie w wykonaniu rozkazu przełożonych. Gdyby bowiem nie odczuwali potrzeby zabijania, to albo okazywaliby więźniom współczucie, albo też byliby dla nich obojętni, lecz nie znęcaliby się nad nimi.

 By Raymond Rolak