One at a time, they dropped through the trap door of the hangman’s scaffold and fell still.
Gestapo boss Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Hans Frank, governor-general of occupied Poland. Slave-labor czar Fritz Sauckel. Austrian Nazi Arthur Seyss-Inquart.
In all, 10 of the men who led the Third Reich were hanged in Nuremberg on Oct. 16, 1946, for crimes against humanity.
“It was a pleasure doing it,” said 78-year-old Joseph Malta, the U.S. Army military policeman who held the noose 50 years ago as the hangman, U.S. Army Master Sgt. John C. Woods, carried out the executions. “I’d do it all over again.”
Malta helped hang 60 Nazi government and military leaders but became known as Hangman 10 for his role in executing 10 top Nazis on that one night in the gymnasium of Nuremberg’s Landsberg Prison.
“These were the ones that gave the orders,” he said. “They weren’t sorry for anything.”
Malta was a 28-year-old MP when the Army asked for volunteers to hang the men condemned by the International Military Tribunal. He stepped forward, he said, because he had learned during his short time in occupied Germany about the Nazis and their newly exposed crimes.
“Being there and talking to the people there, it was easy for me to decide to do it,” said Malta, who had sanded floors in civilian life. “It had to be done.”
Malta soon found himself in Nuremberg and face to face with Hermann Goering, the Allies’ prize catch.
“He was still the boss then,” Malta said. “He told us we wasted too much time. I told him we had to do things by the book. He said, ‘When the time comes to get me, I’ll be dead.’ ”
Goering kept his promise, cheating Malta’s noose by taking poison two hours before he was to have been executed.
As for the others, they were escorted one by one before dawn to two portable scaffolds Malta had designed so that the trap doors wouldn’t swing back and strike the condemned in the head. Stacked nearby were 11 empty wooden coffins, one for Goering and one each for the 10 other condemned men.
A dozen somber journalists and generals from the major Allied powers--the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France--looked on as black cloth hoods were placed over the prisoners’ heads. A German priest recited a short prayer. When he reached “Amen,” the trap door was opened by Woods, and Malta went beneath the scaffold with a U.S. Army doctor to cut down the corpses.
Besides Kaltenbrunner, Frank, Sauckel and Seyss-Inquart, Malta executed Hitler’s foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop; chief military advisor, Field Marshal General Wilhelm Keitel; interior minister, Wilhelm Frick; Gen. Alfred Jodl; and anti-Jewish propagandists Alfred Rosenberg and Julius Streicher.
None of the men expressed remorse, Malta said. Streicher spit in his face, then shouted, “Heil Hitler!” Ribbentropp exclaimed, “God save Germany!” Seyss-Inquart, the last to die, exclaimed: “I believe in Germany!”
The hangings took just one hour and 15 minutes.
“Many people felt that once those hangings were done, justice was done,” said Bruce Staves, a professor of history and director of the Center for Oral History at the University of Connecticut, where many of the Nuremberg documents are archived. “The grievances had come to an end and let’s get on with a new world.”
Malta left the Army in 1947 and returned to his civilian job. He keeps a tiny replica of the Landsberg Prison scaffold in the apartment he shares with his wife in this community near Boston.