December 11, 2004 by

Josef Schwammberger

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Categories: Criminals, Military

Josef Schwammberger, an SS lieutenant during World War II, spent 40 years living openly in South America before he was arrested and charged with war crimes. The Austrian was the commander of three labor camps in Poland — Przemysl, Rozwadow and Mielec — from 1942 to 1944. His reputation for cruelty against the Jewish inmates was so notorious that he appeared on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s “Most Wanted” Nazi list.
Schwammberger was arrested in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1945, but he escaped three years later while en route to his trial. He immigrated to Argentina, where he lived under his own name and worked at a petrochemical plant. In 1965, Schwammberger obtained Argentine citizenship, a calculated move that helped him in the 1970s when the West German authorities sought his extradition.
Argentine officials finally took Schwammberger into custody in 1987, but it would take another two years of appeals before he was returned to Germany for trial. In court, he was charged with murdering or helping to murder 3,377 people, including more than 40 by his own hand.
Survivors and witnesses traveled from all over the world to attend Schwammberger’s 11-month trial and testify to his crimes. They shared stories of how he set his German shepherd on camp inmates and personally shot Holocaust victims for being pregnant, stealing bread or hoarding their valuables. A lack of direct evidence forced prosecutors to reduce the number of charges to 34 inmates killed by Schwammberger and at least 275 who died as a result of his orders.
He was convicted in 1992 of seven counts of murder and 32 counts of accessory to murder and sentenced to life in prison. Schwammberger tried to appeal his incarceration in 2002 on the grounds that he was too frail, but the court ruled that his “particularly cruel” crimes outweighed his health concerns.
Schwammberger died on Dec. 3 in a hospital prison in Hohenasperg, Germany. Cause of death was not released. He was 92.

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