Most Wanted — The Nine Worst Nazi War Criminals (and How They Died)

Sixty-nine years ago today, judges at Nuremberg began handing down sentences to the worst war criminals of the Third Reich. (image source: WikiCommons)

Sixty-nine years ago today, judges at Nuremberg began handing down sentences to the worst war criminals of the Third Reich. Sadly, not every architect of the Holocaust stood trial. (Image source: WikiCommons)

unnamedTo mark the release of The West Point History of World War II, Volume 1—the latest interactive digital book from Rowan Technology—the historians and designers at Rowan present nine case studies on the fates of the Third Reich’s most infamous war criminals.   

AS ALLIED FORCES penetrated ever deeper into the Third Reich in the closing days of World War Two, the true scale of Hitler’s “Final Solution” was becoming all too evident.

British, American, and Soviet armies were appalled at the conditions they found in each new concentration camp they liberated. As the scope of the tragedy was revealed to a dumbfounded world, the victors vowed to bring the Nazi officials behind the wholesale slaughter to justice.

Following the war, the Allies established an International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg to prosecute the twenty-two major war criminals that represented the absolute worst of the Third Reich. Their ghastly crimes were grouped into four broad categories.

Count One, “Common Plan or Conspiracy”, dealt with the creation of totalitarian rule in Germany, as well as waging an aggressive war, and persecuting Jews. Count Two concerned “Crimes Against Peace”. The third count addressed “War Crimes,” such as murder, harsh treatment of civilians and deportation to slave labor camps. Count Four defined “Crimes Against Humanity,” which included the establishment of concentration camps as well as “murder, extermination, enslavement” and “persecution on political and racial grounds.”[1]

SS chief Heinrich Himmler inspects a POW camp in Russia. (Image source: German Federal Archive)

SS chief Heinrich Himmler inspects a POW camp in Russia. (Image source: German Federal Archive)

Not all of the architects of Nazi horrors faced trial at Nuremberg. Some escaped justice for a number of years. Yet for all but one, their final resting places remain cloaked in secrecy. Following their deaths, either at the hands of the military tribunal, Allied armies, partisans, Israeli Forces, or by suicide, the remains of the Third Reich’s worst war criminals were destroyed and scattered to ensure that no loyal followers would be able to pay tribute mass murderers. No tombs, plots, or shrines exist. Though their crimes can never be forgotten, the victors made certain that these war criminals became ashes in the dustbin of history.

Here are nine of Nazi Germany’s most heinous war criminals.

Adolf Eichmann

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

Eichmann was the Nazi official responsible for overseeing the deportation of European Jews to various ghettos, camps, and extermination centers across the continent. He joined the Geheime Staatspolizei or Gestapo in 1939 and in this new capacity oversaw “clearing operations”, a sanitized euphemism for the deportation Jews from German-controlled territory. Eichmann, 35, also participated in the 1942 Wannsee Conference during which a handful of Nazi officials devised what chillingly became known as “the final solution to the Jewish question” in Europe. While American forces detained Eichmann at war’s end, he used false papers to hide his identity from his captors. After moving through a series of prison camps for Schutzstaffel (SS) officers, Eichmann escaped. With the assistance of Catholic Church officials, he eventually reached Argentina. In 1960, Israel’s security service, the Mossad, tracked Eichmann to Buenos Aires and arrested him. He was extradited, tried, convicted and in 1962 hanged at a prison in Ramla. Israeli officials cremated his remains and scattered them in the Mediterranean Sea.

Alfred Jodl

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

Between 1939 and 1945, Jodl served as chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) or Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command. Though he was an army commander and not a member of the SS, Jodl still authorized the 1941 Commissar Order and the 1942 Commando Order, which together permitted the execution of enemy commandos, partisans and Soviet political commissars. On May 7, 1945, Jodl signed the German instrument of surrender at Reims, France. He went on trial at Nuremberg in 1946, to face charges of conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, waging wars of aggression, and conspiracy to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. The tribunal found him guilty. American forces hanged him on Oct. 16, 1946. He was 56. Jodl’s remains were cremated at Munich and scattered into the Isar River.

Josef Mengele

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

Mengele, also known as Auschwitz’s “Angel of Death”, was notorious for the human experiments he conducted on prisoners there. In addition to selecting inmates for the gas chamber, he performed hideous medical procedures, particularly on dwarfs and twins. Immediately after the war, Allied occupiers had no idea who the 34-year-old doctor of anthropology was and released him. In 1945, U.S. forces were just beginning to implement their occupation policies and the name ‘Mengele’ had yet to appear on a war criminal list. Eventually, the former SS captain obtained falsified papers and in 1949, fled Germany for Argentina. He later settled in Brazil. Mossad agents spent decades tracking him without success. Mengele drowned in Brazil in 1979 at the age of 67 and was subsequently interred under an assumed name in a Sao Paolo suburb. International investigators discovered his grave in 1985, and a team of forensic scientists exhumed and positively identified him. In 1992, DNA tests confirmed earlier findings. Mengele’s family in Germany declined to have his remains returned to them. His corpse is stored at the Sao Paolo Institute for Forensic Medicine.

Wilhelm Keitel

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

Field Marshal Keitel was chief of the OKW and responsible for overseeing military operations on both the eastern and western fronts. Like Jodl, Keitel was a signatory of the famous Commissar Order that condemned Soviet political officers to summary execution. He also authorized the “Barbarossa Decree”, which advocated harsh treatment of civilians and POWs during the German invasion of the U.S.S.R., as well as the “Night and Fog Decree”, which permitted the execution of resistance fighters and political prisoners captured in occupied territory. On May 8, 1945, Keitel, 63, signed Germany’s unconditional surrender document in Berlin. The Allied tribunal at Nuremberg found him guilty on the same four counts as Jodl. American forces similarly hanged him and then scattered his cremated ashes in an undisclosed river in Germany.

Hermann Goering

Göring

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

Goering, a World War One flying ace, was the highest-ranking Nazi official to go on trial at Nuremberg. A member of the Nazi Party from its earliest days, he founded the Gestapo in 1933, helped create the concentration camp system and was commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe (the German Air Force), ultimately becoming Hitler’s second in command. On May 6, 1945, the day before Jodl signed the surrender documents in Reims, the 52-year-old Reichsmarschall turned himself over to elements of the U.S. 36th Infantry Division, expecting more lenient treatment by Americans than from the Soviets. The Nuremberg tribunal found him guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes against peace, and conspiracy to commit those crimes. On Oct. 15, 1946, the night before he was to face the gallows, Goering committed suicide in his cell by biting into a cyanide capsule. Theories allege that either Lieutenant Jack G. Wheelis or Private Herbert Lee Strivers slipped Goering the poison. American forces cremated and scattered his remains.

Reinhard Heydrich

Heydrich

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

Reinhard Heydrich was one of the most brutal and feared members of the Nazi Party. In 1932, he founded the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Schutzstaffel’s own intelligence service. Two years later, he gained control of the Prussian Gestapo. Throughout the remainder of the decade, Heydrich helped establish one of the most oppressive police and surveillance states in history. He chaired the 1942 Wannsee Conference, during which the extermination of European Jews was plotted in horrifying detail. On May 27, 1942, two British-trained Czech exiles ambushed Heydrich as he traveled through Prague in an open-topped Mercedes. The 38-year old Gestapo chief died of his wounds several days later. In retaliation, Hitler ordered the massacre of over 1,300 people in the city of Lidice for their supposed role in providing a safe haven for the assassins. Heydrich received a state funeral and was buried in Berlin. During the Soviet occupation of the city, the Red Army removed his grave marker to prevent the tomb from becoming a shrine. Heydrich’s exact burial location remains unknown to this day.

Alois Brunner

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

Eichmann’s lieutenant and right-hand man, Brunner joined the SS in 1938 and worked in the Central Office for Jewish Emigration. He was responsible for deporting well over 100,000 Jews to death camps throughout Europe. Shortly after the German surrender, Allied forces confused Alois for another SS officer named Anton Brunner. They executed the latter, while the Eichmann aide made his way to the Middle East. It’s believed he later served as a consultant for the Syrian government on security, terrorism, interrogation methods and torture. Allied forces tried Brunner in absentia, believing he had already died. In 1961, Israel’s Mossad uncovered his whereabouts and attempted to assassinate the aging Nazi with a letter bomb. The blast cost the 51-year-old one of his eyes. A second explosive device, mailed 19 years later, blew two fingers off Brunner’s left hand. He supposedly died of natural causes in Syria in 2010. Due to the ongoing conflict in that region, his exact date of death and burial location remain unknown.

Joseph Goebbels

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

Hitler’s infamous minister of propaganda, Goebbels was a devout Nazi to the bitter end. As the Soviets closed in on Berlin in April 1945, Goebbels and his family held out in the notorious bunker under the Reich Chancellery. Shortly before Hitler committed suicide on April 30, he appointed Goebbels as the German chancellor. It was an empty gesture — the Third Reich was in its death throes. On May 1, the 47-year-old Nazi spin doctor murdered his six children with cyanide pills, shot his wife Magda and then turned the pistol on himself. SS soldiers burned all of the bodies. Several days later, Soviet forces recovered partial remains of the Goebbels, as well as Hitler’s dogs, and possibly the Fuhrer himself along with his mistress-turned-wife Eva Braun. In 1970, the KGB exhumed the remains from the Magdeburg cemetery and burned, crushed, and scattered them into the Biederitz River.

Heinrich Himmler

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

(Image source: German Federal Archive)

One of the earliest members of the Nazi Party, Himmler was the head of the SS and an architect of the Holocaust. A one-time chicken farmer, Himmler was directly responsible for the construction of concentration camps and the deaths of 6 million Jews, as well as untold other victims. One of Hitler’s most trusted advisors and colleagues until late in the war, Himmler was given command of Army Group Upper Rhine in 1944 – despite never having been a professional soldier himself. In April 1945, Himmler independently sought to negotiate surrender terms with Allied forces. Shortly before committing suicide in his Berlin bunker, Hitler removed the SS chief from power and ordered his arrest. Two weeks after the German surrender, former Soviet POWs captured Himmler and handed him over to the British army. On May 23, as a doctor searched him before an interrogation, Himmler bit into a cyanide pill that he had hidden in his mouth and died instantly. He was 44. British forces buried Himmler in an unmarked grave near Luneburg, the whereabouts of which are still unknown.

[1] G.M. Gilbert, Ph.D., Nuremberg Diary. (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Co., 1947) 36.

Now available for pre-order, Rowan Technology’s The West Point History of World War II, Volume 1 is the latest installment of the West Point History of Warfare series. Produced by Rowan Technology in collaboration with the U.S. Military Academy, these new chapters provide readers a World War II experience like never before—with animated maps, interactive timelines, and other custom-built digital tools that chronicles the period from the end of the First World War up to mid-1942, when the scales began to tip in the favour of the Allies.

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