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During the Second World War, Schwammberger was a commander of various SS Arbeitslager (forced-labor camps) in the Kraków district (late August 1942 until spring 1944). He was arrested in Innsbruck, Austria, in the French occupation zone after the war on July 19, 1945, but escaped in January 1948 and within months was able to enter Argentina, where he lived under his own name and obtained citizenship. West German authorities sought his extradition beginning in 1973, and Argentine officials tracked him down on November 13, 1987. After two years of fighting extradition, he was returned to West Germany in May 1990 for trial. His capture cost the German state of Baden-Württemberg just under 500,000 Deutschmark.
At his trial, which lasted nearly a year (1991 until 1992), Schwammberger denied being guilty of the crimes of which he was charged; he simply admitted that "Ghetto A" was taken to the Przemyśl camp. On May 18, 1992, he was sentenced by the Stuttgart regional court (Landgericht) to life imprisonment, which he was to serve in Mannheim. He was found guilty of seven counts of murder and 32 counts of being an accessory to murder.
The court ruled that on Sept. 21, 1942, which was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, Mr. Schwammberger sought out and killed a Jewish rabbi in Rozwadów, a crime that Judge Luippold called one of his "most despicable and reprehensible." In addition, the judge found that Mr. Schwammberger was an organizer of a mass execution in the Przemyśl camp on Sept. 2, 1943, in which at least 500 Jewish prisoners were shot by Gestapo soldiers.
In August 2002, the Mannheim regional court declined a parole request due to the unusual cruelty of his offences; he had been found guilty of carrying out arbitrary murders based on racial hatred against Jewish people.
His wife Käthe Schwammberger would die in 2003 at the age of 87 in Argentina before Schwammberger himself would die in prison on December 3, 2004, aged 92.
- Kinzer, Stephen (May 19, 1992). "'Last' Nazi Criminal Gets Life Sentence". The New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2010.
- Fox, Margalit (December 3, 2006). "Elliot Welles Is Dead at 79; Indefatigable Nazi Hunter". The New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2010.
- Other sources
- "Joseph Schwammberger, 92, Nazi Labor Camp Commander, Dies". The Associated Press. published in The New York Times. December 4, 2001. Retrieved December 22, 2010.
- Christian, Shirley (March 25, 1990). "Argentina to Extradite Ex-SS Man". The New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2010.
- Christian, Shirley (July 10, 1988). "NAZI VICTIMS SEEK ARGENTINE JUSTICE". The New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2010.
- Christian, Shirley (September 3, 1989). "Argentine Court Moves to Extradite Ex-Nazi". The New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2010.
- "Joseph NAZI COMMANDANT INDICTED BY BONN". The Associated Press. published in The New York Times. August 21, 1990. Retrieved December 22, 2010.