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Franz Stangl (March 26, 1908 - June 28, 1971) was an SS officer, commandant of the Sobibór and of Treblinka Nazi extermination camps.
The son of a night-watchman, he was born in Altmünster, Austria, on March 26, 1908. His relationship with his natural father was not a good one; he was deeply frightened by his father, who died of malnutrition in 1916. Through this relationship, Stangl claimed that he developed a ‘hate’ for his father's uniform. Later, he stated that he liked the security and cleanliness that the Austrian police uniforms appeared to offer, compared to his current, un-progressive job as a master weaver.
Early Nazi affiliation
After leaving his job as a weaver, Stangl joined the Austrian police in 1931. There is documentation clearly stating that Stangl was a member of then illegal Nazi party for two years. Stangl claimed later that he had not been a member but had his name entered on the list later as a way to avoid arrest after the Nazis had seized power in the Anschluss in 1938. Stangl also contributed to a Nazi aid fund at the time; he said that he was misled in terms of what the funds were for.
Stangl was promoted up the ranks of the German/Austrian police force, on the way pressured to sign documents acknowledging his dissolution of his affiliation with the Catholic church. The organisation also appointed new men right up the top, arresting and mistreating old leaders of the Austrian civilian police force.
Superintendent of T-4 Euthanasia Program
After Anschluss, Stangl was quickly promoted further through the ranks. In 1940, through a direct order from Himmler, Stangl became superintendent of the T-4 Euthanasia Program at the Euthanasia Institute at Schloss Hartheim where mentally and physically handicapped people were sent to be killed. It was here that Stangl first encountered Christian Wirth.
In 1942 he was transferred to Poland where he worked under Odilo Globocnik.
Commandant of Sobibór camp
Stangl was commandant of Sobibór from March to September, 1942. Stangl claimed that Globocnik told him that Sobibor was a supply camp for the army, and that the true nature of the camp only became known to him when he discovered a gas chamber hidden in the woods. Later he says Globocnik informed him that if the Jews "were not working hard enough", Stangl was fully permitted to kill them off and Globocnik would send in "new ones".
Around this time Stangl also had further dealings with Wirth, who was at the time running fully operational camps at Belzec and Chelmno. On either 16 or 18 May 1942, Sobibor became fully operational. While Stangl was the administrator, around 100,000 Jews are believed to have been killed there until the machinery broke down in October, by which time Stangl had left.
During the time he was at Sobibor, his wife heard what was happening there, and questioned him on the issue. Stangl told her "you know this is a service matter and I can’t discuss it. All I can tell you, and you must believe me: whatever is wrong - I have nothing to do with it."
Commandant of Treblinka camp
In September 1942 Stangl began his role at Treblinka extermination camp. During his time at Treblinka, Stangl conceded that he grew accustomed to the killings, even eventually regarding the Jewish prisoners as "baggage". He is quoted as saying, "I remember Wirth standing there, next to the pits full of black-blue corpses.... Wirth said ‘what shall we do with rotting garbage?’ I think unconsciously that started me thinking of them as cargo." Stangl began drinking heavily, relying on intense work and the love of his wife to fend off insanity.
At the end of the war Franz Stangl managed to conceal his identity and although detained by the American Army in 1945 and briefly imprisoned in Austria for his complicity in the Euthanasia programme, he escaped to Italy with his colleague from Sobibór, Gustav Wagner. Officials of the Vatican, notably archbishop Aloïs Hudal, helped him to escape through a "ratline", and he reached Syria on a Red Cross passport . Hudal's activities caused a press scandal in 1947, and he resigned in 1951, residing in Rome until his death in 1963. Stangl was joined by his wife and family and lived in Syria for three years before moving to Brazil in 1951. After years of other jobs, Stangl found work at the Volkswagen plant in São Paulo with the help of friends, still using his own name.
Arrest, trial and death
His role in the mass murder of men, women and children was known to the Austrian authorities but Austria did not issue a warrant for Stangl's arrest until 1961. In spite of his registration under his real name at the Austrian consulate in Brazil, it took another six years before he was tracked down by Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and arrested in Brazil.
After extradition to West Germany he was tried for the deaths of around 900,000 people. He admitted to these killings but argued: "My conscience is clear. I was simply doing my duty ...". Found guilty on October 22, 1970, Stangl was sentenced to life imprisonment.
He died of heart failure in Düsseldorf prison on June 28, 1971.
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