The Quiet Death of a Nazi

Meanwhile, Sandberger had devoted himself, as usual, to the minute details of the extermination machine with the meticulousness of a model railroad enthusiast. On Nov. 16, 1943, he informed a colleague from the military administration that it was not his place to become involved in the SS's "Jewish actions currently underway," which had been ordered by Himmler, and that the SS would provide him with any pertinent information at a later date.

Most of the Jews who reached Auschwitz alive, after a four-day journey spent crowded like cattle in freight cars, died in the gas chambers soon afterwards. Meanwhile, Sandberger was recovering from dysentery in his hotel in Verona. In early December he left Italy for Berlin. There he spent the remainder of the war, about one and a half years, as the head of Group VI A in the foreign intelligence service and as a close intermediary to Himmler.

On May 1, the day after Hitler committed suicide, Sandberger, according to British intelligence reports, was seen "with Himmler in Lübeck" -- in other words, with the architect of the Final Solution. But while Himmler killed himself by taking cyanide on May 23, 1945, two weeks after the war ended, his subordinate Sandberger went into hiding in alpine cabins in Austria. On May 25 he turned himself in, "voluntarily, by showing them my identification and service book," to officers of the 42nd Infantry Division of the United States Army in Kitzbühel.

In the ensuing months of interrogations, Sandberger engaged in artful maneuvers, attempting to shift the blame to superiors or dead comrades. But the chief prosecutor and judges at the Nuremberg "Einsatzgruppen Trial," which began in 1947, were unimpressed. According to the verdict, Sandberger had "willingly and enthusiastically" subjected himself to the Nazi system, and he was unequivocally guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and membership in a criminal organization.

The court ruled that Sandberger and his co-defendants, of which there were initially 23, were responsible for the murder of more than a million people in Eastern Europe alone. Fourteen death penalties were imposed against them -- more than in the main war crimes trial against Göring, Streicher, Frank and others. Looking back, Benjamin Ferencz, the chief prosecutor in Nuremberg at the time and in his 90th year today, says, "Sandberger was an active and presumably even a zealous member of the band of murderers who killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people." The death penalty against him, says Ferencz, was "well-deserved."

Part 4: A Post-War Legal Advisor

It has become quiet in the Stuttgart retirement home. Dusk is falling, and Sandberger is mulling things over. Was his death penalty deserved? He says he would rather "not comment" on that, and that he prefers to talk about his life after the war. He wore the red jacket of death-row inmates, like all the other prisoners at Landsberg Prison, where Hitler wrote "Mein Kampf." But he was released in 1951. While five of his fellow prisoners were hung in the prison yard, Sandberger found a soft landing in postwar Germany.

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