The Quiet Death of a Nazi

In 1955 President Heuss, an acquaintance of Sandberger's father, interceded on behalf of Sandberger and asked US Ambassador James Conant to release him from prison. "Imprisonment may -- and I only say, may -- have brought reformation," said Heuss, "and clemency is the most appealing aspect of the law."

Carlo Schmid, the deputy floor leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the Bundestag and Sandberger's professor before the war, argued: "He was a diligent, intelligent and gifted jurist who, on the one hand, succumbed to the intellectual nihilism of the day and, on the other hand, frantically clung to the orderly world of middle-class life." Sandberger would have become a decent civil servant, according to Schmid's artistic sleight of hand, "if it hadn't been for the advent of Nazi rule."

"Oh, Carlo Schmid," says Sandberger, shortly before his death, sounding almost nostalgic as he reminisces about the days when he hoisted the swastika flag over the University of Tübingen. "I was his teaching assistant at the time." Efforts to intercede on behalf of the former SS colonel by members of the Free Democratic Party in southwestern Germany demonstrate that the Sandberger family's pre-war connections were still effective after 1945. Even a US senator felt called upon to write to President Harry Truman.

"Just as you were in World War One an officer in a field artillery unit," the lobbying senator argued in a note to Truman, "so Martin Sandberger was an officer in a German army unit, fighting in Russia during World War Two. By order of a higher authority, he had many unpleasant things to do, including some executions. Some of his decisions must have cost him as much soul torture as your decision to drop the atomic bomb."

Meticulous as a Model Railroad Enthusiast

But Sandberger never mentioned the agony of his decisions in any of his deployment reports. After being recalled from Estonia, the SS officer arrived in Verona in September 1943, where he had been assigned to a group charged with building an intelligence service in the occupied zones. Official Italy had just changed sides, Mussolini was in custody, and the Germans were preparing to deport the Jews.

The Allies were advancing on Rome, and time was short. Hitler had already given the order, as SS General Karl Wolff later said, to bring Pope Pius XII to Germany. Lichtenstein Castle near Reutlingen in southwestern Germany was under consideration as a residence for the pontiff.

Sandberger traveled to Rome and sounded out the situation. According to wiretapping reports by British intelligence, on Oct. 1, 1943, at 4:24 p.m., Sandberger reported to his superiors in Berlin that the Vatican feared both communism and a Europe that would be subdued and controlled by "Anglo-Americans." "If, after all necessary arrangements have been made, a relocation to Lichtenstein were proposed to the pope, he could agree," Sandberger reported.

It would not come to that. Sandberger and his fellow SS officers were otherwise occupied. Mussolini had been liberated from a hotel in the Apennines where he was being held, and the "Jewish Action" was getting underway. Sandberger's superior sent the following report to SS leader Himmler: "The deportation of the Roman Jews to Auschwitz began on October 18, at 9 a.m. (train number X70469)."

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