Martin Sommer

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Martin Sommer
Martin Sommer Buchenwald.jpg
Birth nameWalter Gerhard Martin Sommer
Nickname(s)Hangman of Buchenwald
Born(1915-02-08)8 February 1915
Schkölen, German Empire
Died7 June 1988(1988-06-07) (aged 73)
Schwarzenbruck, West Germany
Allegiance Nazi Germany
Service/branchFlag of the Schutzstaffel.svg Schutzstaffel
Years of service1938–1945

Walter Gerhard Martin Sommer (8 February 1915 – 7 June 1988) was an SS Hauptscharführer (master sergeant) who served as a guard at the concentration camps of Dachau and Buchenwald. Sommer, known as the "Hangman of Buchenwald" was considered a depraved sadist who reportedly ordered two Austrian priests, Otto Neururer[1] and Mathias Spannlang,[2] to be crucified upside-down.[3][4]


In 1943 Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler appointed SS judge Georg Konrad Morgen to investigate charges of cruelty and corruption at the Buchenwald camp. Due to his excessive brutality and sadism, Sommer was indicted and tried before Morgen. Commandant Karl Koch and his wife Ilse Koch were also put on trial.

According to Morgen, Sommer had a secret compartment underneath the floor under his desk. He kept his private instruments of torture concealed within this compartment such as the needles he used to kill his victims after he had finished torturing them, he would inject them with carbolic acid, or inject air into their veins causing their death by embolism. On occasions, after private late night torture sessions Sommer would hide his victim's bodies under his bed until he could dispose of them in the morning.

Among his acts of depravity were beating a German pastor, hanging him naked outside in the winter then throwing buckets of water on him and letting him freeze to death. On another occasion, Sommer beat a Catholic priest to death for performing the Sacrament of Penance for a fellow inmate.

In the spring of 1943, Sommer was transferred to a regular combat division. He served in the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen until August 1943, when he was recalled. Sommer was then arrested and charged with embezzlement and committing unauthorized murders in the camp. Sommer initially denied his guilt, but admitted to secretly killing 40 to 50 prisoners. According to Sommer's own testimony in 1967, he was only charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. The court had refused to allow him to testify about unauthorized murders he committed on Koch's personal orders.

It is not known whether Sommer was actually convicted of any charges. However, after the trial, he was sentenced to probation on the front lines. On 8 April 1945, Sommer was critically injured after an American bomber plane with a full payload crashed next to his tank. Sommer suffered injuries to his left arm, right leg, and stomach. The injuries to his left arm and right leg were severe enough that both had to be amputated.[5]

After recovering from his injuries, Sommer was interned by American occupation authorities due to his SS membership. However, he managed to conceal his identity and thus avoid what would've been a near certain death sentence in the Buchenwald trial. Sommer was released from internment in June 1947 and sent to a home for the disabled. A former prisoner recognized him later that year, which led to his arrest in February 1950. However, the charges were initially dropped due to his wartime injuries.[6]

Retrial and imprisonment[edit]

After his release he returned to West Germany where he married, fathered a child and filed for and received a pension for his service related disabilities. In 1957, he was indicted for complicity in the death of 101 concentration camp inmates. In July 1958 in Bayreuth district court in West Germany, he was ultimately convicted of 25 deaths and received a life sentence. Upon appeal, the case was upheld in May 1959 by the Federal Court. In 1971, Sommer was released from prison since there was no facility to continue his treatment of his wartime injuries. He was transferred to a hospital and in 1973 to a nursing home where he remained until his death in 1988.[4][7][8][9][10]


  1. ^ Died 30 May 1940 Feast day of Joan of Arc
  2. ^ Died 5 June 1940 Feast day of Saint Boniface, bishop and martyr.
  3. ^ The resistance in Austria, 1938-1945 by Radomír V. Luža. University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis April 9, 1984) ISBN 0-8166-1226-9 ISBN 978-0816612260
  4. ^ a b W.R. Garscha et al.: Rudolf Watzek-Mischan, NachKriegsJustiz
  5. ^ Bernd Mayer: Martin Sommers unfassbares Leben in: Heimatkurier 1/2007 des Nordbayerischen Kuriers, S. 12 f.
  6. ^ ""beast of Buchenwald" Found Fit to Marry; Avoided Trial As Sick Man". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 2023-01-31.
  7. ^ "University of Amsterdam: Justiz und NS-Verbrechen Nazi Crimes on Trial". Archived from the original on 2011-09-28. Retrieved 2010-01-23.
  8. ^ System der NS-Konzentrationslager: 1933-1939 by Klaus Drobisch, Günther Wieland Publisher: Wiley VCH (12 Aug 1993) ISBN 3-05-000823-7 ISBN 978-3050008233
  9. ^ Konzentrationslager Buchenwald, 1937-1945: Begleitband zur ständigen ... by Harry Stein, Gedenkstätte Buchenwald Publisher: Wallstein Verlag (1999) Language: German ISBN 3-89244-222-3 ISBN 978-3892442226
  10. ^ Time Magazine; West Germany: The Monster

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