Sandberger, Martin



While the attention of the international media was focused on the trial against camp guard Ivan Demjanjuk in May 2010, another Nazi war criminal died that year who had been living a comfortable life for decades. He had never gone into hiding in South-America, was not registered on any wanted list, even that of Simon Wiesenthal and could easily be found in the telephone directory. He sure had been sentenced, even to death. His death sentence, imposed on him in April 1948 may have been changed to life imprisonment but his release followed as soon as seven years later.

His name was Martin Sandberger, former SS-StandartenfŁhrer. As commander of Sonderkommando 1a, later renamed Einsatzkommando 1a of Einsatzgruppe A and chief of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and Sicherheitspoolizei (SIPO) in Estonia, he was responsible for the execution of hundreds of Communists and Jews in this Baltic state. Benjamin Ferencz, the American chief prosecutor during the Einsatzgruppen trial in Nuremberg, called him "an active and probably even an industrious member of the gang of murderers that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people." In his opinion, the death penalty was well earned in his case. (See Einsatzgruppen Art.)

Historians, including German Michael Wildt in his standard work "Generation des Unbedingten"(generation of the unsure) have shown that Sandberger was a fanatic Nazi. That was already so during his years as a student when he was active in the Nationalsoziallistische Studentenbund, making a considerable contribution to the Nazification of TŁbingen University. Even during his study of law, he was recruited by the SD (Sicherheitsdienst, security service) of the intelligence service of the SS. A career within the R.S.H.A. (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, head office of state security) was on the horizon of this young and gifted lawyer.

As an employee of the R.S.H.A., Sandberger was not just a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, which might more or less apply to Demjanjuk. As for the Ukrainian however, his participation in the Holocaust was a way out of the starvation and misery in the prisoner of war camp where he was. But Sandberger and his fellow officers in the Einsatzgruppen "were no small cogs in an anonymous machinery of destruction" as Michael Wildt states: "on the contrary, they were the men who drafted the blueprints, built and operated the machinery that made murder of millions of people possible."

How could Martin Sandberger, according to Canadian historian Hilary Earl: "an ideological soldier of the Third Reich", escape the death penalty, enjoy accelerated release and could live undisturbed in Germany for decades? This article attempts to provide an answer to this question. A biography of the man who was one of the few managerial Holocaust perpetrators still alive until his demise in Stuttgart on March 30th, 2010.

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Martin Sandberger, defendant during the Einsatzgruppen trial in Nuremberg, March 1st, 1948.
(Source: NARA)

Benjamin Berell Ferencz, chief prosecutor during the Einsatzgruppen trial. He considered Sandbergers death penalty "well earned".
(Source: USHMM)


Translated by:
Arnold Palthe
Article by:
Kevin Prenger
Published on:
Last edit on:
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