September 8, 1910|
|Died||February 16, 1948
|Years of service||1931—1945|
|Rank||Obersturmführer, SS (First Lieutenant)|
|Commands held||Treblinka, 11 July 1942 — 26 August 1942|
SS-Obersturmführer Irmfried Eberl (8 September 1910 – 16 February 1948) was an Austrian Nazi (First Lieutenant) who helped set up and was the first commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp where he worked from July 11, 1942 until his dismissal on August 26, 1942. As a psychiatrist, Eberl was the only physician to command an extermination camp. In January 1948, he was arrested. Before his trial could begin, he hanged himself.
Irmfried Eberl was born in Bregenz, Austria on September 8, 1910. He joined the Nazi Party on December 8, 1931 while still a medical student at Innsbruck University. Eberl graduated from the medical program in 1933 and gained his doctorate a year later. After February 1935 he served as an assistant physician. Trained and practising as a psychiatrist, he was a firm supporter of the mass murder of people with mental disorders.
Murderer of disabled persons
When the T-4 Euthanasia Program commenced, Eberl was a willing participant. On February 1, 1940, at just 29 years old, Eberl became the medical director of the killing facility at Brandenburg. In the fall of 1941 he assumed the same position at Bernburg Euthanasia Centre. Despite not being formally ordered to take part, psychiatrists such as Eberl were at the center of every stage of justifying, planning and carrying out the mass murder of those with mental disorders, and constituted the connection to the later annihilation of Jews and other "undesirables" in the Holocaust.
When public outcry against Action T-4 forced its abandonment in Germany, Eberl found himself out of work. This did not last long, as the Nazi leadership made the decision to use the Action T-4 personnel to murder much larger numbers of people in Poland, using variations of the methods used in the T-4 killings. Eberl was first transferred to Chełmno extermination camp for a brief stint. On July 11, 1942, Eberl was transferred to command of Treblinka as part of Operation Reinhard. Eberl's poor management of the camp soon proved to be disastrous in the opinion of his colleague Willi Mentz; although historians point out that the number of transports that were coming in also reflected the high command's wildly unrealistic expectations of Treblinka's ability to "process" these prisoners.
He was very ambitious. It was said that he ordered more transports than could be "processed" in the camp. That meant that trains had to wait outside the camp because the occupants of the previous transport had not yet all been killed. At the time it was very hot and as a result of the long wait inside the transport trains in the intense heat many people died. At that time whole mountains of bodies lay on the platform. Then Hauptsturmführer Christian Wirth came to Treblinka and kicked up a terrific row. And then one day Dr. Eberl was no longer there....
According to SS-Unterscharführer Hans Hingst:
Dr. Eberl's ambition was to reach the highest possible numbers and exceed all the other camps. So many transports arrived that the disembarkation and gassing of the people could no longer be handled.
Eberl was dismissed from Treblinka on August 26, 1942, for incompetence in disposing of the bodies of the thousands of people who had been killed, and was replaced by Franz Stangl, who was previously the commandant of Sobibor extermination camp. Eberl was also relieved of his duty because he was not killing people in an efficient and timely enough manner, and also because he was not properly concealing the mass murder from locals. For instance, the stench from decomposition of unburied bodies was such that it could be smelled 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) from the camp, such as at the nearby village of Treblinka, Masovian Voivodeship, which in turn would make it self-evident that unnatural numbers of death were happening nearby, causing concern among locals. The Nazi leadership wished to avoid any inconveniences to their operations that would result from local outcries. Eberl was apparently also part of a ring at the camp that was stealing the possessions of the people whom they had murdered and sending them back to cohorts at Hitler's Chancellery in Berlin. This last activity had been expressly forbidden by Himmler, as he wanted this property to be contributed to the German war effort.
In 1970, Stangl, then in prison for his own crimes, described Treblinka when he first came to the death camp while it was still under Eberl's command:
I drove there, with an SS driver....We could smell it kilometers away. The road ran alongside the railway tracks. As we got nearer Treblinka but still perhaps fifteen, twenty minutes' drive away, we began to see corpses next to the rails, first just two or three, then more and as we drove into what was Treblinka station, there were hundreds of them – just lying there – they'd obviously been there for days, in the heat. In the station was a train full of Jews, some dead, some still alive – it looked as if it had been there for days.
When I entered the camp and got out of the car on the square I stepped knee-deep into money; I didn't know which way to turn, where to go. I waded in notes, currency, precious stones, jewelry, clothes... The smell was indescribable; the hundreds, no, the thousands of bodies everywhere, decomposing, putrefying. Across the square in the woods, just a few hundred yards away on the other side of the barbed-wire fence and all around the perimeter of the camp, there were tents and open fires with groups of Ukrainian guards and girls – whores from Warsaw I found out later – weaving, drunk, dancing, singing, playing music – Dr Eberl, the Kommandant showed me around the camp, there was shooting everywhere ... .
Later career, apprehension, and suicide
In 1944 he joined the Wehrmacht for the duration of the war. After the war, Eberl found himself a widower following his second wife's death, and continued to practise medicine in Blaubeuren until he was arrested in January 1948, and hanged himself the following month to avoid trial.
Subject of later documentary film
Eberl was one of two subjects of the 1998 film Healing by Killing, the other subject being Carl Clauberg.
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