Rapportführerin Hermine Braunsteiner
|Nickname(s)||Mare of Majdanek
(Stute von Majdanek)
July 16, 1919|
Vienna, Republic of German-Austria
|Died||April 19, 1999
|Service/branch||Schutzstaffel women's auxiliary|
|Years of service||1939-1945|
|Awards||Kriegsverdienstkreuz 2. Klasse, 1943|
|Other work||Hotel and restaurant worker
Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan (July 16, 1919 – April 19, 1999) was a female camp guard at Ravensbrück and Majdanek concentration camps, and the first Nazi war criminal to be extradited from the United States, to face trial in Germany. Braunsteiner was known to prisoners of Majdanek concentration camp as "Stomping Mare" and was said to have whipped women to death, thrown children by their hair onto trucks before being taken to their deaths in gas chambers, hanging girl prisoners and stomping an old woman to death with her jackboots. She was sentenced to life imprisonment by the District Court of Düsseldorf on April 30, 1981 but released on health grounds in 1996 before her death 3 years later.
Braunsteiner was born in Vienna, the youngest child in a strictly observant Roman Catholic working class family. Her father, Friedrich Braunsteiner, was a chauffeur for a brewery and/or a butcher. Hermine lacked the means to fulfill her aspiration to become a nurse, and worked as a maid. From 1937 to 1938 she worked in England for an American engineer's household.
In 1938 Braunsteiner became a German citizen after the Anschluss. She returned to Vienna from England and the same year relocated to Germany proper for a job at the Heinkel aircraft works in Berlin.
Camp guard at Ravensbrück
At the urging of her landlord, a German policeman, Braunsteiner applied for a better paying job supervising prisoners, quadrupling her income in time. She began her training on August 15, 1939, as an Aufseherin under Maria Mandel at Ravensbrück concentration camp. She remained there after the start of World War II, and the influx of new prisoners from occupied countries. After three years, a disagreement with Mandel led Braunsteiner to request a transfer in October 1942.
Majdanek and Alter Flughafen
On October 16, 1942, Braunsteiner took up her duties in the forced-labor apparel factory near the Majdanek concentration camp, established near Lublin, Poland a year earlier. It was both a labour camp (Arbeitslager) and an extermination camp (Vernichtungslager) with gas chambers and crematoria. She was promoted to assistant wardress in January 1943, under Oberaufseherin Elsa Ehrich along with five other camp guards. By then most of the Aufseherinnen had been moved into Majdanek from the Alter Flughafen labor camp.
Her abuses took many forms in the camp. She involved herself in "selections" of women and children to be sent to the gas chambers and whipped several women to death. Working alongside other female guards such as Elsa Ehrich, Hildegard Lächert, Marta Ulrich, Alice Orlowski, Charlotte Karla Mayer-Woellert, Erna Wallisch and Elisabeth Knoblich, Braunsteiner was infamous for her wild rages and tantrums. According to one witness at her later trial in Düsseldorf, she "seized children by their hair and threw them on trucks heading to the gas chambers”. Other survivors testified how she killed women by stomping on them with her steel-studded jackboots, earning her the nickname "The Stomping Mare". (In Polish "Kobyła", in German "Stute von Majdanek".) She received the War Merit Cross, 2nd class, in 1943, for her work.
Ravensbrück again and the Genthin Subcamp
In January 1944, Hermine was ordered back to Ravensbrück as Majdanek began evacuations due to the approaching front line. She was promoted to supervising wardress at the Genthin subcamp of Ravensbrück, located outside Berlin. Witnesses say that she abused many of the prisoners with a horsewhip she carried, killing at least two women with it. A French physician, who was interned at Genthin recalled the sadism of Hermine while she ruled the camp: "I watched her administer twenty-five lashes with a riding crop to a young Russian girl suspected of having tried sabotage. Her back was full of lashes, but I was not allowed to treat her immediately."
Post war Austria
The Austrian police arrested her and turned her over to the British military occupation authorities; she remained incarcerated from May 6, 1946, until April 18, 1947. A court in Graz, Austria, convicted her of torture, maltreatment of prisoners and crimes against humanity and against human dignity at Ravensbrück (not Majdanek), then sentenced her to serve three years, beginning April 7, 1948; she was released early in April 1950. An Austrian civil court subsequently granted her amnesty from further prosecution there. She worked at low-level jobs in hotels and restaurants until emigrating.
Emigration and marriage
Russell Ryan, an American, met her on his vacation in Austria. They married in October 1958, after they had emigrated to Nova Scotia, Canada. She entered the United States in April 1959, becoming a United States citizen on January 19, 1963. They lived in Maspeth, Queens, where she was known as a fastidious housewife with a friendly manner, married to a construction worker.
Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal picked up on her trail by chance on a visit to Tel Aviv. He was at a restaurant there when he received a call from his friend that he could not make it to their luncheon. The maitre d' announced the "phone call for Mr. Wiesenthal" and this led to his recognition by the other patrons—who stood up to applaud him. When he returned to his table there were several Majdanek survivors waiting and they told him about her and what she had done. On this he followed her trail to Vienna to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and then, via Toronto, to Queens. In 1964 Wiesenthal alerted the New York Times that Braunsteiner might have married a man named Ryan and might live in the Maspeth area of the Borough of Queens in New York. They assigned Joseph Lelyveld, then a young reporter, to find "Mrs. Ryan." They first lived at 54-44 82nd Street in western Elmhurst and moved to 52-11 72nd Street in Maspeth. He found her at the second doorbell he rang and later wrote that she greeted him at her front doorstep and said: "My God, I knew this would happen. You've come."
Braunsteiner Ryan stated that she had been at Majdanek only a year, eight months of that time in the camp infirmary. "My wife, sir, wouldn't hurt a fly" said Ryan. "There's no more decent person on this earth. She told me this was a duty she had to perform. It was a conscriptive service." On August 22, 1968, United States authorities sought to revoke her citizenship, because she had failed to disclose her convictions for war crimes; she was denaturalized in 1971 after entering into a consent judgment to avoid deportation.
A prosecutor in Düsseldorf began investigating her wartime behavior, and in 1973 the German government requested her extradition, accusing her of joint responsibility in the death of 200,000 people.
The United States court denied procedural claims that her denaturalization had been invalid (U.S. citizens could not be extradited to Germany), and that the charges alleged political offenses committed by a non-German outside West Germany. Later it rejected claims of lack of probable cause and double jeopardy. During the next year she sat with her husband in United States district court in Queens, hearing survivors' testimony against the former SS guard. They described whippings and fatal beatings. Rachel Berger, alone among the witnesses, testified she would celebrate retribution against the former vice-commandant of the women's camp at Majdanek.
The judge certified her extradition to the Secretary of State on May 1, 1973, and on August 7, 1973, Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan became the first Nazi war criminal extradited from the United States to Germany.
Trial in Germany
She was remanded in Düsseldorf in 1973, until her husband posted bail. The German court rejected Mrs. Ryan's arguments that it lacked jurisdiction, because she was not a German national but Austrian, and that the offenses alleged had occurred outside Germany. It ruled she had been a German citizen at the time and more importantly had been a German government official acting in the name of the German Reich.
She stood trial in West Germany with 15 other former SS men and women from Majdanek. One of the witnesses against Hermine testified that she "seized children by their hair and threw them on trucks heading to the gas chambers." Others spoke of vicious beatings. One witness told of Hermine and the steel-studded jackboots with which she dealt blows to inmates.
The third Majdanek trial (Majdanek-Prozess in German) was held in Düsseldorf. Beginning on November 26, 1975, and lasting 474 sessions, it was West Germany's longest and most expensive trial ever. The defendants included Ryan, former SS guard Hermann Hackmann and camp doctor Heinrich Schmidt. The court found insufficient evidence on six counts of the indictment and convicted her on three: murder of 80 people, abetting the murder of 102 children, and collaborating in the murder of 1000. On June 30, 1981, the court imposed a life sentence, a more severe punishment than those meted out to her co-defendants.
Complications of diabetes, including a leg amputation, led to her release from Mülheimer women's prison in 1996. Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan died on April 19, 1999, aged 79, in Bochum, Germany.
After the publicity surrounding Ryan's extradition, the United States government established (1979) a U.S. DOJ Office of Special Investigations to seek out war criminals to denaturalize or deport. It took jurisdiction previously held by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
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...Hermine Braunsteiner-Ryan's pay at... Majdanek ... four times what she earned in a munitions factory.Original from the University of Michigan. Digitized March 18, 2008.
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The prosecutor's office began an investigation into the case of the former concentration camp supervisor Hermine Braunsteiner-Ryan who had been extradited by the United States to Germany where she was wanted for participating in the murder of 2,000 Jews.
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In the winter of 1973 in New York City, deportation hearings were held for Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan, wife of an American citizen, a resident of Queens, New York. Former SS guard at Ravensbrueck and Majdanek, Mrs. Ryan stood accused of beating inmates to death during the years 1939-1944 while performing her duties as vice-commandant of the women's camp at Majadanek; of being responsible, also, for the death selection of hundreds of others.(Conflates extradition and deportation.)
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She ran as far as the United States, to a marriage with an American and a home in Maspeth, Queens. But Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan couldn't hide indefinitely and, finally found out, she was stripped of American citizenship in 1971 and deported in 1973. And last week, after a five-year trial, she was convicted of murder as a guard in the Maidanek concentration camp near Lublin, Poland, during World War II.
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- Ryan v. United States, 360 F. Supp. 264 (E.D.N.Y. 1973), No. 73-C-439, 24 Apr. 1973; United States v. Ryan, 360 F. Supp. 265 (E.D.N.Y. 1973), No. 68-C- 848, 24 Apr. 1973.
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