Josef Schwammberger, 92; Ran 3 Nazi Labor Camps
Josef Schwammberger, a former Nazi labor camp commander who was known for his sadism and hid for 40 years in Argentina before being captured and returned to Germany for trial, has died in a prison hospital. He was 92.
Schwammberger died Thursday night in the hospital in Hohenasperg, outside the southwestern city of Stuttgart, Tomke Beddies, a spokeswoman for Stuttgart’s prosecutors office, said Friday.
He had been at the hospital for treatment since Sept. 20, but Beddies said she could not comment on the cause of death.
Schwammberger, a native of Austria, was convicted in 1992 in Stuttgart of seven counts of murder and 32 counts of accessory to murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Schwammberger was originally charged with killing or helping to kill 3,377 people, including more than 40 by his own hand. But in the final days of the 11-month trial, prosecutors reduced the number of charges, because of lack of evidence, to 34 inmates killed by Schwammberger and at least 275 who died as a result of his orders.
Many victims were Jewish inmates of three forced-labor camps in World War II Poland: Przemysl, Rozwadow and Mielec. Schwammberger admitted having been an SS lieutenant in command of the three camps between 1942 and 1944, but denied the charges.
Witnesses traveled from as far as Israel, Canada and California for the trial, telling the court how he set his dog on camp inmates and how he killed a man for stealing bread for his hungry child.
Abraham Secemski recalled watching as Schwammberger killed Secemski’s uncle, apparently for wearing a ring after being told to turn over all valuables.
“His face, his actions are engraved in my brain. To my dying day, I’m going to have it,” said Secemski, who traveled to Germany from San Diego to testify in 1991.
Schwammberger was arrested in Innsbruck, Austria, after the war on July 19, 1945, but escaped in January 1948 from a train taking him to U.S. military authorities in Austria for trial.
Within months, he entered Argentina, allegedly with the help of Odessa, a shadowy group formed to help former SS officers escape punishment.
He lived under his own name and got Argentine citizenship in 1965, working for years at a petrochemical plant in La Plata, 30 miles south of Buenos Aires.
German authorities had sought Schwammberger’s extradition since 1973. Argentine officials found him on Nov. 13, 1987, in Huerta Grande, 500 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. He was returned to Germany in May 1990 for trial.