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Hermine Ryan Gets Life Sentence, Seven Co-defendants Get Lesser Terms in Longest War Crimes Trial

July 1, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan, the first and to date only Nazi war criminal to be stripped of U.S. citizenship and extradited, was sentenced to life imprisonment in Duesseldorf today ending West Germany’s longest war crimes trial. The 61 year-old former New York housewife was convicted of the murders of over 1,100 prisoners while serving as a guard at the Maidanek death camp in Poland from 1942 to 1944 and of complicity in the killing of more than 700 others.

Judge Guenter Bogen sentenced seven of her codefendants to prison terms ranging from three to 12 years and acquitted one. All were former guards or ranking officers at Maidanek. The prosecution had asked for life sentences for five of the defendants, including Ryan.

The trial, which opened in Duesseldorf more than 5 1/2 years ago, was prolonged by legal disputes and difficulties in mustering evidence concerning events that occurred over 30 years earlier. But a parade of Maidanek survivors, Jewish and non-Jewish, provided devastating eye-witness testimony to Ryan’s brutal treatment of camp inmates. She was known to them as “the mare” for her habit of kicking prisoners with her heavy boots. Some 250,000 died in Maidanek’s gas chambers or were shot or beaten to death.


The saga that lifted Ryan from the obscurity she had sought in a middle class neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. and brought her to the bar of justice in West Germany, began in August, 1968 when the Justice Department first moved to revoke her U.S. citizenship. Ryan entered the country in April, 1959, as the wife of an American, Russell Ryan, who met her while he was a construction worker in West Germany. She became a citizen in January, 1963.

The Justice Department’s case was based on her concealment, when she applied for citizenship, of the fact that an Austrian court had convicted her in 1949 of torturing and mistreating concentration camp inmates. She was sentenced at that time to three years’ imprisonment. She also failed to note on her application that she had been a member of the Nazi SS. According to the Justice Department had those facts been known she would have been denied admission to the U.S. for permanent residence and denied naturalization.

Ryan’s trial, which began in New York in 1972, ended the following year with the revocation of her citizenship and the opening of deportation proceedings. A warrant of the West German Federal Republic signed by a Duesseldorf judge in March, 1973 was transmitted to the Justice Department and she was subsequently extradited to stand trial there.

The second longest prison sentence pronounced by Judge Bogen today was 12 years for Hildegard Laechert, 61, who was known to Maidanek inmates as “Bloody Brigitta.” Hermann Hackmann, 67, the former deputy camp commandant got ten years; former SS Corp. Emil Laurich eight years; Heinz Villain, six years; former SS Sgt. Fritz Petrick four years; former Lt. Arnold Strippel 3 1/2 years; and Thomas Ellwanger three years. Defendant Heinrich Groffmann was acquitted.

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