SS Hauptscharführer Walter Gerhard Martin Sommer, “Hangman of Buchenwald”


Walter Gerhard Martin Sommer (Schkolen, February 8, 1915 – Schwarzenbruck, June 7, 1988), nicknamed the “Buchenwald Hangman”, was a German SS sub officer with the rank of Hauptscharführer in the Nazi concentration camps Sachsenburg and Buchenwald.
Sommer  was the son of a farmer in Schkölen. He lived at primary school and became, like his father, a farmer. In 1931 he joined NSDAP and SA. In the summer of 1933 he became a member of the SS and in 1934 of the SS-Sonderkommando Saksen under the battalion commander Karl Koch .
From 1935 he was in charge of concentration camp Sachsenburg and from 1937 in Buchenwald. From 1938-43 he tortured prisoners with particularly painful methods and killed, among others, the pastor Paul Schneider and the politician Ernst Heilmann  through a deadly injection, and about 100 others. He was notorious for hanging prisoners on trees with their wrists behind their back in the forest near Buchenwald concentration camp. The forests became known as the “singing forest” because of the cries that originated from the area. American GI’s enter the Buchenwald concentration camp after its liberation on April 4, 1945 

In 1943, Sommer was convicted of cruelty and corruption by an SS judge. He was sent to the East Front, where he lost his left arm and right leg in a tension explosion. He was imprisoned by the Red Army and remained prisoner of war until he received the status of war crimes in 1950. In 1955 he was released and returned to West Germany, where he married and got a child. In 1958 he was sentenced to life imprisonment by a West German court for his role in the death of 25 concentration camp victims.

Martin Sommer, was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of prisoners during his service in Buchenwald.

This is the testimony of a Buchenwald survivor, Andreas Pfannenberger, during the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials:

“Another punishment was to hang prisoners from trees by their arms, which were tied behind their backs .. Sommer hanged 30 to 40 prisoners daily in this manner, leaving them swaying about one foot off the ground for several hours.

Among his victims were men as old as 65 years. In the pain of their torture, these old men would cry for their wives and children some even for their mothers and fathers, in spite of their own advanced age and the fact that they were, many of them, grandfathers themselves.

Others appealed to the Virgin Mary or to the Savior. It was a horrible scene to witness. And while it was going on Sommer and his henchmen would walk among the trees making fun of the spectacle, and with their clubs they would smash the faces of their helpless victims.”

Another Buchenwald survivor, Willy Apel, later recalled:

“I was sentenced to hanging for half an hour .. I was led up to the tree. The hanging is carried out as follows: the arms are tied with rope behind the back, and afterwards the prisoner is raised up to the column and the rope is tied onto a large nail fixed at a height of two meters, so that the prisoner’s feet are off the ground. All the body’s weight is concentrated on the wrists.

The result of this was often fractures in the shoulder bones, involving horrible pain .. the screams of pain filled the forest.

SS Sergeant Sommer would even beat the legs, faces, and genitals of the hanging prisoners. The torture brought the hanging prisoners to the point of insanity. Many pleaded with the SS men to shoot them out of their misery ..”

In July 1958 Martin Sommer was tried in Bayreuth, charged and convicted of 38 murders and was sent to life imprisonment.

His excuse of poor health was finally brushed aside ..Martin Sommer died in the prison hospital in Schwarzenbruck on 07-06-1988, age 73..



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