"This is Purim Fest 1946!" was Julius Streicher’s apt comment before he was sucked down into death via a gallows trap-door in the Nuremberg Prison gymnasium on 16 October 1946.
He was the seventh of ten International Military Tribunal defendants hanged that day in fulfillment of the sentences imposed. (Hermann Göring had cheated the hangman the night before with a cyanide capsule, a final gesture of contempt.) It was certainly a travesty that any of the 22 original defendants should have been put on "trial" before, let alone condemned by, such a collection of raving Western idiots and cynical Soviet criminals as constituted the IMT. But the case of Julius Streicher, former National Socialist Gauleiter of Franconia, editor and publisher of Der Stürmer, was especially ludicrous. He was unique among the convicted defendants in that he was tried not for anything he was alleged to have done, or ordered, or acquiesced in, but for what he had thought and written. In his case the Allied prosecutors made few bones about it – there was no attempt to dress up the indictment by accusing him of actual participation in or even knowledge of any "crimes against peace" or "war crimes." (They knew that this would have been rather difficult, given that Streicher had held no official post since February 1940, and had been out of favor and devoid of official influence since long before that time.) He was charged under Counts One and Four of the Indictment: "common plan or conspiracy to wage aggressive war, " and "crimes against humanity." No real attempt was made to nail him on the first count, and he was acquitted. On the other count he was convicted and condemned to death. As Germany’s world-famed Jew-baiter numero uno, Streicher was to be made an example of on this Point – essentially on the point of being a vociferous anti-semite. The tribunal’s final judgement was that
…Streicher’s incitement of murder and extermination at the time when Jews in the East were being killed under the most horrible conditions clearly constitutes persecution on political and racial grounds in connection with war crimes as defined by the Charter, and constitutes a crime against humanity.
The attempts made during the proceedings to prove that Streicher has at least known about the alleged extermination program were not very successful, based as they were on the issue whether Streicher had read claims of extermination in foreign Jewish newspapers; Streicher did admit this – he was aware of foreign allegations. (It is instructive that the prosecution had to base its claim of Streicher’s "knowing" on such a thing, rather than on anything coming to him from the Reich government itself, or from anywhere within the Reich.) In the event, the final judgment against Streicher was not on the question of such "knowledge" of murder but purely on the question of alleged incitement to murder, via his pre-war speeches and his writings throughout the years in Der Stürmer. Not Göring, not Ribbentrop, not Rosenberg, nor Sauckel, Frank, Jodl, Keitel – not any of the other convicted defendants[*] were put on trial for merely their dissemination of views on a social-political issue. They were all in the dock because of things they had allegedly done or been directly involved in which the IMT determined to have been violations of its interpretation, as codified in its charter, of "International Law." Streicher joined them in the dock and on the gallows because of what he thought, and because he said publicly what he thought. There was not even any real attempt to obscure this fact within legal mumbo-jumbo. Nor was the IMT concerned with the fact that Streicher’s "incitement" happened to violate no law – not in Germany nor, for that matter, in any of the Allied countries. This was some trial.
But Streicher’s case was unique in another way also. He was the only IMT defendant to have been systematically, physically tortured while under Allied custody awaiting trial. Some of the other defendants did have complaints about various aspects of their treatment since arrest (Hans Frank mentioned being beaten up once by American negroes), in particular the humiliating, pettily-harassing conditions of their cell-life – but none made a claim to having been treated as horrendously as Streicher described. These were after all the "Major War Criminals," the "first string" Nazis upon whom the spotlight of world attention was to glare at Nuremberg; claims of torture would have been most embarrassing to the Allies, who were bragging about how just and fair and legally high-minded they were behaving toward their captives. When Streicher brought up during the IMT proceedings his claim of having been tortured, it was clear that the prosecution was surprised and at something of a loss. The claim was stricken from the official record; otherwise an investigation would have been required.
What Streicher had vainly tried to relate on the record were his experiences shortly after his arrest, before he had been brought to Mondorf in Luxembourg, the "holding center" for the IMT defendants before the trial began. His torture was not sanctioned by the IMT or, apparently, any high authorities. His reputation had preceded him: it was a simple case of low-level revenge and sadism.
Streicher and his wife were arrested on 22 May 1945 in the village of Weidring (Waidring), just southwest of Berchtesgaden. He was first taken to Berchiesgaden, then passed through Salzburg and Munich before winding up at Freising, northwest of Munich, where he stayed three days before being transferred to Wiesbaden. After one day there he was taken to Mondorf, where he remained until finally being taken to Nuremberg in late August.[**]
It was between Berchtesgaden and Wiesbaden, particularly in Freising, that Streicher was tortured in direct violation of the Geneva Convention. (At this time he was not even indicted or accused of a crime.) Historian Werner Maser devoted two pages to this in his 1977 book Nuremberg: Tribunal der Sieger (the 1979 American edition of which suffered a strange, toned-down metamorphosis in title: Nuremberg: A Nation on Trial). Maser’s source, which he quoted chillingly in full, was a manuscript account by Streicher describing the most unspeakable tortures and degradations inflicted upon him by U.S. Army negroes and Jews. The manuscript was written for Streicher’s lawyer, Dr. Hanns Marx, and is now in Maser’s possession. Maser accepted the truth of this account, commenting that
… For two decades Streicher had reviled, slandered and insulted world Jewry, had offered them up to racial fanatics as vermin; so. eighteen months before his execution by hanging, he found himself with a personal account to square; the "holy wrath" of his victims led them to apply the Old Testament law of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."
Streicher’s biographer William P. Varga, in his 1981 book The Number One Nazi Jew-Baiter (actually a fairly serious work, despite the comic-book title) mentions the allegation of torture at Freising:
[U.S. Army Intelligence Captain John) Dolibois later related that Streicher complained bitterly of his treatment at the hands of American soldiers before his transfer to Mondorf. Evidently his notoriety as a fanatic racial persecutor was known to the troops at Freising. Streicher claimed that he and his wife were forced by some black American soldiers to walk in public stripped of their clothes. These soldiers allegedly spat on them and extinguished cigarettes on their bare skin. At Mondorf, an unconfirmed report was circulated stating that some soldiers had taken photographs that showed Streicher dressed only in an open coat, with swollen testicles and a crown of thorns on his head with a sign draped over his neck with the words "Julius Streicher, King of the Jews."
However, Varga goes on to describe "most of Streicher’s complaints" of such treatment as "extremely questionable"; they were "apparently fabricated." The only basis he presents for this skepticism is a letter written by Streicher at Mondorf in June 1945 to former Stürmer colleagues, in which are mentioned "only" his uncomfortable handcuffs, and his having been forced to stamp out cigarettes with bare feet. For biographer Varga, this constitutes evidence that Streicher "fabricated" other stories. He does not seem to have considered that in writing this particular letter, Streicher may have suffered under constraints as mundane as time or as special as censorship. His argument against Streicher’s veracity here is rather obviously a grasp at the only straw – and a very thin one – available. Varga in 1981 was apparently unaware of the lengthy, detailed Streicher statement published by Maser in 1977. (Maser’s book is not listed in his bibliography.) That Streicher made a point in this statement of mentioning who had treated him well in addition to who had treated him badly, delineating clearly between these types and their actions with details as to time, place, and names where he knew them, would seem to auger the truth of what it contains.
The acceptance of the statement as a genuine, honest record by Werner Maser – a respected historian hardly partial to National Socialism, much less to the Julius Streicher variety – is unquestionably well-founded.
It is not the only piece of evidence extant. In the Fall of 1982 another document surfaced which sheds more light on the torture of Julius Streicher. It is a seven-page, handwritten statement given by Streicher at Mondorf to an American officer, who requested it after hearing Streicher’s verbal complaints. In that officer’s hands for 37 years, never published or cited, the document was sold at auction by the Charles Hamilton Autograph Gallery in New York City in October 1982, for the price of $1,200. The Journal of Historical Review was able to obtain a copy of this historically significant document. It is published on the following pages for the first time, in English translation and followed by photographs of the handwritten original. Also reproduced is a letter from the officer to the auctioneer describing the circumstances under which he obtained the document.
A comparison of this document with that presented by Maser in his book shows the consistency in events described. Its publication at last adds to our knowledge of a particularly shameful postwar episode.
– Keith Stimely
[*] Hans Fritzsche, the National Socialist radio personality stuck into the Nuremberg proceedings as a poor man’s substitute for Joseph Goebbels, who was a corpse, was like Streicher basically accused of "incitement" to crimes. He was acquitted.
[**] It was at Mondorf that Streicher composed his autobiographical political testament, a manuscript of some 15,000 words. It was published as ‘Das Politische Testament," edited and with a foreword by Jay. W. Baird, in Vierteljahrshefte fuer Zeitgeschichte (April 1978).
On 22 May [1945) I was arrested in Waidring (Tirol) and was brought into the jail at Salzburg. There my hands were put into handcuffs by a Jewish police-officer.
On 23 May, I was brought to Freising, via Toelz and Munich. During the 200 Kilometer trip in considerable cold, I was only dressed with shirt and pants, since my jacket was not given to me. My bands were handcuffed.
In Freising I was put in a cell, where there was no possibility of sitting or lying down. The window was removed and the cell was cold. During my three days stay in there (23 May afternoon to 26 May afternoon) I was subjected to the following treatment:
1) After being stripped of my clothes, two Negroes tore my shirt into two pieces. Dressed only with my underpants, and barefoot, I spent three days in the cold room. During the night and during a few hours in daytime, I was handed an old military coat. It was taken away immediately, whenever I tried to resist the tortures.
2) Two or three times daily I had to stand against a wall, with my handcuffed hands held above the head, whereupon a Negro or the police-officer kept hitting me on my genitalia, with a leather whip up to a minute long. Whenever I made a resisting move with my handcuffed hands, I received a hit with the foot in my testicles. My testicles and genitalia were badly swollen.
3) Two or three times daily I had to open my mouth, whereupon the white police-officer or the Negroes spat into it. If I kept my mouth closed, it was forcefully opened with a wooden stick.
4) When I refused to drink from the piss-bowl in the toilet, I was hit with the whip.
5) On each of his visits to my cell, the white police-officer pulled hair from my nipples and eyebrows.
6) During the three days I received no nourishment, and only once I was allowed to drink water in the toilet. When I refused to take and to eat partially decayed leftovers from a cardboard box, I was pushed to the ground, a heavy iron chain was put on my back and I was forced to kiss the feet of the Negroes.
7) At the end of each torture, I had to put out with my bare feet burning cigarette butts, thrown on the ground.
8) I was repeatedly photographed by people of the press, while wearing underpants and my genitalia were visible. The photographers were Jews.
9) On the last day, two hours before being transported to Wiesbaden, a Negro said: now comes "kill, kill" and made the corresponding gesture at the throat. He asked me what I wanted to eat or drink, I may wish. I asked for paper in order to write a letter to my wife.
10) Before being transported, a Negro called me into the toilet, then threw my civilian clothes in and ordered me to get dressed. This I had to do with handcuffed hands.
On 26 May, I was brought to Wiesbaden in handcuffs, where I arrived in the early hours of 27 May. Only in Wiesbaden, the handcuffs which I had on since 22 May (five days) day and night were removed from my greatly swollen hands and infected joints. Since then I am under medical care. The officer in charge of the jail in Wiesbaden (he said he was a Jew) acted correctly.