Walter Gerhard Martin Sommer, the Face of Evil

Of all the brutal and inhumane guards who served at Buchenwald, one of the most cruel and evil was a man named Walter Gerhard Martin Sommer.

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Walter Gerhard Martin Sommer

Gerhard Martin Sommer was the son of a farmer, born in Schkölen, in the German free state of Thuringia in 1915. In 1931 at age sixteen, Sommer joined the Nazi Party and in 1933 became a member of the SS. One year later, Sommer joined the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV), the Death’s Head unit responsible for running the concentration camps. The SS-TV was commanded by SS-Oberführer (Colonel) Theodor Eicke. Eicke fostered an attitude of “inflexible harshness” on his men who were trained to have no sympathy or compassion for prisoners.

In 1935, Sommer worked at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp before being assigned to Buchenwald in 1937. At that time, Buchenwald was a camp for male political dissidents and others politically opposed to the Nazi Regime. In 1938, 10,000 Jewish prisoners were sent to Buchenwald following Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, where Nazi organized pogroms attacked German Jews and their property.

Sommer was put in charge of a cell block where he reigned over his prisoners with impunity. He was later promoted to head the punishment bunker and was promoted once more to Chief Penal Officer. Sommer was quick to use his position to act out his natural sadistic tendencies. He enjoyed a punishment of hanging prisoners from trees with their arms tied behind their backs and raising them off the ground. This torture slowly pulled the shoulders from their sockets and broke wrists and shoulders bones. The screams of the victims caused the Germans to call the area “the singing forest”. As his victims suffered, Sommer and other SS guards beat the prisoner’s faces, limbs and genitals.

Sommer also enjoyed rubbing prisoner’s backs with steel brushes then pouring acid on the wounds. He summoned prisoners to his quarters at night and killed them by injecting air or carbolic acid into their veins. After the prisoner died, he hid the bodies under his bed and went to sleep. Sommer took pride in coming up with ways to kill people. He killed one German pastor by hanging him naked outside in the winter then continuously throwing buckets of water on him until he froze to death. Sommer’s ruthlessness did not go unnoticed by his superiors who promoted him to SS Hauptscharführer (master sergeant).

In 1943, Sommer was sent to an SS tank unit in France. Later that year, Karl Koch, the former commandant of Buchenwald was arrested and tried along with his wife Ilse Koch by a Nazi court for corruption and misconduct. Sommer was also implicated and he soon found himself a prisoner in his own former cell block at Buchenwald. In 1945, Sommer was again assigned to a tank unit, but this time he was part of a penal unit comprised of “shamed” men who were sent to combat to “redeem” themselves. Gerhard Martin Sommer was severely wounded in an explosion and lost his right thumb and leg. He also lost the usage of his left arm and had wounds in his abdomen from grenade splinters.

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American GI’s enter the Buchenwald concentration camp after its liberation on April 4, 1945

Sommer spent the remainder of the war in a hospital. When the American Army got close, he destroyed his identification documents but was recognized by a former concentration camp inmate who alerted the Americans.

Though his crimes were well known, efforts to bring Sommer to justice were frustrated by legal red tape and a doctor’s judgment that Sommer’s wounds were too severe for him to stand trial.

Sommer ended up in a state run hospital in Bayreuth after he was declared unfit for trial. By 1956 Sommer had married his nurse, fathered a child and had applied for veteran’s benefits. The former SS guard received free government provided health care, paid no taxes, received a pension of 280 marks a month and had filed for back pension of over 10,500 marks. In 1958, the German government decided that Sommer was healthy enough to go to court. Sommer’s trial caused a sensation in a post-war Germany still coming to grips with its recent Nazi past. Gerhard Martin Sommer himself was unemotional and showed little remorse. When he admitted to the many whippings he gave to prisoners he said “I cannot claim to have hit the last blow as hard as the first, you always get a little tired”. He was convicted of 38 murders and sentenced to life in prison. He appealed his sentence but it was upheld in 1959.

Walter Gerhard Martin Sommer was imprisoned until 1971 when he was exempted from prison and died in a nursing home in 1988.

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2 thoughts on “Walter Gerhard Martin Sommer, the Face of Evil

  • Peter Kubicek says:

    Like many members of the SS, Walter Sommer obviously enjoyed his work and, after the War spent the rest of his life in tranquility, blending with the German population.

    Peter Kubicek,
    Former inmate of Sachsenhausen
    and author of “Memories of Evil — Recalling a World War II Childhood.”

  • Violet Henry says:

    I really wonder if such Evil people could ever live a tranquil life, before or after war. To carry out such Horrendous cruelty + Horrifying acts, I suspect such people always had that within them. War was just a passage way for them to act out that Evilness within them.

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