NEW YORK (Nov. 15)
A new conference convened by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem last month, at which its list of 10 most-wanted Nazi war criminals was announced to the world media, appears to have reaped a large reward.
Possibly aided by information publicized by the center Oct. 13 at the King David Hotel, federal police in Argentina on Friday arrested fugitive Nazi war criminal Josef Schwammberger, accused mass murderer of Jews in the Polish towns of Przemysl, Rozwadow and Stalowa-Wola.
Schwammberger, was No. 5 on the list of the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center.
Schwammberger, 75, was arrested in the province of Cordoba in northern Argentina, about 500 miles from Buenos Aires, where he is believed to have been in hiding for about two weeks. He was flown to Buenos Aires Friday night and then moved back to La Plata, 60 miles to the south, for an extradition hearing.
Schwammberger was arrested in Austria following World War II, but it is believed he escaped to South America in 1948 with the help of the Nazi network called “Odessa,” according to the Wiesenthal Center.
Argentine authorities believe he arrived in their country in 1950. The Wiesenthal Center first reported his presence there in 1966.
HUNDREDS OF EXECUTIONS
The West German government asked Argentina for Schwammberger’s extradition 14 years ago. Documents provided by a court in Stuttgart describe Schwammberger as a former SS officer in Poland, responsible for hundreds of executions while commandant of the Rozwadow labor camp in 1942, the Przemysl camp at the end of 1943, and director of a concentration camp at Mielec in 1944 and 1945.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the center released Schwammberger’s SS file and his photo at the Oct. 13 news conference, attended by media representatives from several nations.
“This was picked up by the Argentine wire service,” said Hier. “That night in Jerusalem, I was phoned by the Argentine television station for details of Schwammberger. They already had his photograph.”
“This shows, once again, that the only thing standing between these mass murderers and the bar of justice is worldwide apathy,” he added. “We applaud the continued interest and commitment to this case of West Germany’s justice minister, Hans Engelhard.”
Argentine police, accompanied by a federal judge, Vicente Bretal, said that Schwammberger offered no resistance when he was arrested at a ranch near the town of Huerta Grande. The fugitive, living under an assumed name, readily admitted he was Schwammberger.
Bretal said he knew that Schwammberger was living in La Plata, at least until 1980, and that in recent months he had begun to follow some leads, which he did not identify.
The judge said a search of Schwammberger’s living place in La Plata turned up clues leading them to Cordoba.
Court officials indicated Schwammberger had rented a room at the ranch only two weeks earlier and appeared to be planning another move, being apparently aware that police were closing in on him.
Hier said that requests for Schwammberger’s extradition could come from either West Germany or Poland, but he thinks West Germany will exercise jurisdiction. “The Polish government has not indicated anything.”
In describing details of Schwammberger’s crimes, Hier said that on Nov. 17, 1942, when Schwammberger allegedly became commander of the Przemysl ghetto, “the policy was to execute Jewish inmates on a weekly basis,” said Hier.
“He took particular pleasure in seeing them undress. He would then either beat them or have them shot as part of a method to keep a constant fear in the camp.”
RESPONSIBLE FOR 5,000 DEATHS
In total, said Hier, “we estimate that he was responsible for the murder of close to 5,000 people in his capacity as lagerfuehrer in those 3 camps.”
Hier said the Wiesenthal Center has testimony on Schwammberger from 42 different witnesses in its files and archives and that the center has located a major witness against him in Los Angeles.
There is reportedly also a file on Schwammberger in the United Nations archives in Manhattan, which was opened earlier this month to foreign governments and Holocaust researchers.
The Wiesenthal Center has requested that any witnesses from the Przemysl, Rozwadow and Stalowa-Wola areas contact them if they have further evidence against Schwammberger.
Hier said that a full trial would be held in West Germany for Schwammberger, where he is charged with mass murder and torture.
“It is our understanding that the extradition proceedings against him will move very quickly, because Argentina has indicated its willingness to cooperate with the West German government, so that Schwammberger can be quickly handled, hopefully in the next few weeks,” said Hier.