born February 14, 1912, in Brixen, South Tyrol; died December 3,2004, in Hohenasperg prison hospital in Ludwigsburg, Germany
SS Oberscharführer Josef Schwammberger, joined the National Socialist Party in 1933 when it was still an illegal organization in Austria. Between 1941 and 1943 he was the commander of the forced labor camps at Rozwadow and Mielec in the District of Cracow and of Ghetto A in Przemysl. In 1991 a trial began in Stuttgart, in which Schwammberger faced charges for personally murdering 12 Jewish prisoners and being an accessory to murder in 3,377 cases; in 1992 the court sentenced him to life in prison.
The road leading to this trial and to his conviction was long and wearisome. For Simon Wiesenthal the case began in 1947, when he obtained eyewitness testimonies about crimes committed by Schwammberger in Poland. The man had been apprehended in July 1945 in Innsbruck and detained in the French POW camp Oradour in Tyrol. During his arrest, a variety of ornamental objects valued at approximately 50,000 RM were found in his home. Since many of these objects were monogrammed, it was assumed that they had been taken from prisoners during the war. In 1948 Schwammberger managed to escape from Oradour, and subsequently fled to South America.
Because the Documentation Center was inactive between 1954 and 1961 and also due to a lack of funds, Wiesenthal did not take up the Schwammberger case again until 1963. He first turned to the court in Innsbruck which had jurisdiction in the case and learned that all of the valuables confiscated from Schwammberger’s home had been auctioned off by the court for 26,000 Austrian Schillings in 1958. Simon Wiesenthal raised protest against this unusual sale of important evidence, which was now lost. Exhibit materials are normally only put up for auction when they consist of perishable goods.
From an informant who had established contact with Schwammberger’s family, he learned that Schwammberger had entered Argentina with an Italian passport in 1949 and had received citizenship there in 1965. Even his exact place of residence in La Plata was known. Wiesenthal passed on this information to the Stuttgart office of prosecution responsible for Nazi crimes committed in Galicia, and Germany thereupon requested his extradition from Argentina. Information about an arrest warrant issued there in 1972 was leaked in advance and Schwammberger was able to escape once more. In subsequent years Wiesenthal repeatedly followed up on information suggesting that the former SS man might possibly be in Canada – but without success.
The decisive turning point in the case finally came in 1987. The office of public prosecution in Stuttgart had posted a reward in the amount of DM 250,000 for information about Schwammberger and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles published a list of the ten most wanted Nazi criminals including Schwammberger. After the press reported this in Argentina, the German ambassador in Buenos Aires received an anonymous tip that Schwammberger was living in Cordoba. Thus Schwammberger was able to be arrested and, after numerous attempts, finally extradited to Germany in 1990.
While attending the first day of the trial, Simon Wiesenthal was attacked by a group of neo-Nazis - members of the organization, Nationale Offensive - holding signs demanding the release of Schwammberger.