December 27, 2017

1970. Franz Stangl Convicted of War Crimes

Stangl Sentenced in Düsseldorf
Nazi war criminal Franz Stangl in prison in Düsseldorf in 1971 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

December 23, 1970

There was bitter irony in the news from West Germany yesterday—just days before Christmas and on the opening night of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights—Düsseldorf court convicted one Franz Stangl for the murder of at least 400,000 Jews.

Of course, we ancients over the age of fifty find it a little hard to explain to today's children how this killing all came about, particularly when most Christian families are up to their necks in yuletide presents and decorations and the Hebrew children are fascinated with lighting what some call the Hanukkah bush.

But back in the 1930s and '40s, Franz Stangl was a leader of the Nazi SS elite guard, and when Hitler's armies invaded Poland he became commander of the notorious Treblinka death camp. There he earned a Nazi medal for devising ways of exterminating so-called "inferior races"—that's what the Nazi Herrenvolk called the Hebrew and Slavic peoples and all others opposing Hitler.

Heinrich Himmler's SS corps produced many mass-murder experts like Franz Stangl, because the Nazi death camps killed an estimated six million Jews before Hitler was stopped. But at Treblinka, Stangl was very efficient, murdering about 18,000 Jews a day between the years of 1942 and '43.

When World War II came to an end, SS Captain Franz Stangl escaped from an Austrian jail and made his way to Syria and the Mideast. In 1951, he and his family fled to Brazil, where he became a safety official in the Volkswagen auto plant at São Paulo.

And that's where a private Jewish organization headed by Simon Wiesenthal of Vienna, and dedicated to tracking down Nazi war criminals, located Stangl and arranged for his extradition back to West Germany to face charges of committing 400,000 murders.

The Düsseldorf court sentenced him to life imprisonment, and the 62-year-old war criminal will probably spend the rest of his life behind bars.

How do you explain this bit of twentieth century history to a child lighting his first Hanukkah candle? How do you explain how allegedly civilized men have failed to heed the moral of the birth more than nineteen hundred years ago of one Hebrew child in Bethlehem?

The man, Jesus of Nazareth, would face his own Captain Stangl in the person of Pontius Pilate a few decades hence in Jerusalem.

But take a look at our own society at this 1970 holiday season of peace and goodwill. Look into the eyes of the ghetto, the migrant farmer, the Indian reservation, the segregated school or union hall. Perhaps you will see something there of what Stangl saw at Treblinka.

The saga of Franz Stangl is not a pleasant holiday story. But history seems to be full of ironic parallels. The anti-Nazi Jewish organization which spent more than twenty years locating the former SS captain in Brazil brought about his capture on information purchased for $5,000. The money was paid to Franz Stangl's son-in-law, who also was a former SS stormtrooper.