Franz Stangl

Franz Stangl

Franz Stangl was an SS commandant of the Treblinka and Sobibor camps, where he was nicknamed the “White Death”. He supervised the transformation of the camps into places where killing was carried out on a vast scale - he is believed to have overseen the deaths of around 900,000 people.

Having joined the Nazi party in 1931 he became involved in the Public Service Foundation for Institutional Care (Gemeinnützige Stiftung für Anstaltspflege), a front organization of the T-4 Euthanasia Programme. Through his work in this programme Stangl rose to become the head of the death camp at Sobibor, a role he held until September 1942. At this point Stangl was moved to the Treblinka death camp.

Upon arrived at Treblinka found that the euthanasia programme was run innefficiently, with the gas chambers frequently breaking down - this flew in the face of Stangl’s reputation as being ruthlessly efficient. Indeed, Odilo Globocnik, an SS-Obergruppenführer, said that Stangl was the Nazi’s "best camp commander". He transformed the state of the camp, making the killing process far more efficient; 99 per cent of the prisoners who arrived at the camp were murdered within two hours and in total, during the time Treblinka was open around 850,000 people are believed to have been killed there.

Stangl was arrested by the American Army towards the end of the war, but he escaped to Italy in 1948 by concealing his true identity. He was then able to acquire a Red Cross passport to go to Syria, where he was later joined by his family. In 1951, Stangl relocated to Brazil where he found work at a Volkswagen factory in Sao Paulo. It was not until 1967 that Franzl was arrested in Brazil, even though the Austrians issued a warrant for his arrest in 1967.

Stangl was eventually extradited to West Germany where he stood on trial - he was charged with crimes against humanity. Like many SS officers involved in the death camps, Stangl’s defence was that he was simply following orders. Such claims were dismissed and, on 22 October 1970, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

In 1970 Stangl had an interview with Gitta Sereny in 1970, in which he explained how he managed to cope during the atrocities he carried out. Here the interviewer asks him whether he ever considered the parents of the children at the camp:

"There were so many children, did they ever make you think of your children, of how you would feel in the position of those parents?"

"No," he said slowly, "I can't say I ever thought that way." He paused. "You see," he then continued, still speaking with this extreme seriousness and obviously intent on finding a new truth within himself, "I rarely saw them as individuals. It was always a huge mass. I sometimes stood on the wall and saw them in the tube. Bu t- how can I explain it - they were naked, packed together, running, being driven with whips like ..." the sentence trailed off.

Stangl died of heart failure, six months after being sentenced.

MLA Citation/Reference

"Franz Stangl". 2023. Web.

Key facts

Name: Franz Stangl
Nickname: The White Death
Birth Date: 26 March 1908,
Death: 28 June 1971,
Rank: SS captain
Known for: SS commandant of the Treblinka and Sobibor death camps