It was in Tübingen, before Hitler's "takeover," that the core of what would later become a terror group in the east developed. Four future commanders of SS special commandos attended the University of Tübingen. Sandberger, a member of the Nazi Party's Sturmabteilung (SA) since 1931, was in the front ranks. He hoisted the swastika flag over the roofs of his alma mater on March 8, 1933 and, in the fall, listened to philosopher Martin Heidegger telling students: "The National Socialist revolution is and will become the complete re-education of people."
Sandberger was ambitious and distinguished himself on all fronts. He earned the highest grade in nine years in the state bar examination, and spent his spare time corresponding with his fellow Nazi Party member and later mass murderer in occupied Poland, Hans Frank, and received the seal of fitness for higher Nazi offices from Gustav Adolf Scheel, the future student leader of the German Reich. Sandberger, Scheel wrote, was "quick and decisive," had a sharp mind and was "capable of everything."
Reinhard Heydrich had a similar opinion of Sandberger. Six weeks after the war began Heydrich, the head of the security police and later mastermind of the extermination of the Jews, appointed Sandberger to head the "immigrant center" in Gdingen, the present-day city of Gdynia, Poland. Ethnic Germans living in the Baltics had to be brought home to the Reich, while Jews and Poles were to be deported to the General Government. Sandberger proved to be effective in his new position. He was later involved in the deportation of Jews in Strasbourg, France and, because he was clearly trustworthy, was informed early on, in the spring of 1941, of the Nazis' plans to launch an offensive against the Soviet Union.
What happened in the following four years under Sandberger's command is documented in the minutes of the Nuremberg Trials, as well as on thousands of pages kept in German, Russian, Estonian and Italian archives. The documents describe nothing less than the execution of communists, the mass shooting of Jews and gypsies and the last days at the headquarters of the SS's foreign intelligence service.
The trail of blood that Sandberger left behind during his campaign through Europe has since dried up. The facts are safely locked away in bundles of files and on computer hard drives. What remained forgotten, until his death on March 30 of this year, was the culprit himself.
Sandberger is mentally alert as he talks about his years in the SS, while other residents of the retirement home make their last rounds of the afternoon with their rolling walkers in the park outside his window. As soon as the issue of racial fanaticism and genocide comes up, he says, unswervingly and without hesitation: "I wasn't heavily involved in all that."
Records from the machine room of the Holocaust prove him wrong. Incident reports and reports of Special Commando 1a of Special Operation Unit A, which was under Sandberger's command, read like this: "All conditions met for active deployment in the final solution of the Jewish problem" (September 1941); all Jewish men in Estonia, except doctors and confidants, "executed under the control of the Special Commando" (October 1941); 243 gypsies shot (summer 1942); enough with this nonsense about "objectivity and humanity" toward communists (May 1943).