The One That Didn’t Get Away
Gerhard Wasner (1921-1983)
Written by Clarissa Schnabel and posted at her blog on December 17, 2022
Originally from https://clarissaschnabel.wordpress.com/tag/gerhard-wassner/
I have some papers here . . . dangerous ones; would you like to see them?“ said I to the tall and handsome young German walking by my side along the underground passage that led to the platform from which I was to take my train, in the station of Cologne, the night between the 13th and 14th of February 1949. I had met the man a few hours before, at the “Catholic Mission” of the same station, and we had talked enough for him to become convinced that he could trust me, as I could trust him — to say the least.
He stopped for half a second and looked around to see if anybody was following us, or if any passer-by could possibly have overheard my words. But we were the only people in the long, gloomy corridor. The young man turned to me and answered in a low voice: “Yes; give me one.”
Thus, memorably, begins Savitri Devi’s narration of her arrest, trial, and imprisonment for distributing National Socialist propaganda in post-war Germany, Defiance. And thus also the reader is introduced to her collaborator “G. W.“ or “Herr W.”, identified as Gerhard Waßner in the Counter-Currents Publishing edition of her book.
The young German came out of his corner. There was a strange light in his bright grey eyes and a strange assertiveness in his voice. “Give me as many of these posters as you have. I shall stick them up for you!“ said he. He was no longer the lonely, hungry, dreary prisoner of war who had just returned home after four long years of all manner of ill-treatment at the hands of Germany’s enemies. He had become once more the soldier of a victorious Germany — of an invincible Germany — and the herald of Hitler’s eternal Idea; once more his old self, that nothing could kill. . . .
Through the windows of the train, I could see, in the dim artificial light, the torn outlines of what had once been a wall — ruins, nothing but ruins wherever one sets one’s eyes in unfortunate Germany; the torn and prostrate body of Hitler’s martyred country. But before me, against that background of desolation, stood the young man (he could not have been more than thirty) fifteen times wounded on the battlefield for the cause of the New Order, over three years a prisoner of the French in a slave labour camp in the burning heart of Africa, under the whip of African auxiliaries; hungry; without work; apparently without a future (he had told me of his plight) but now erect and hopeful, once more aware of his invincibility.
Paul Gerhard Wasner, also Wassner in some documents, and — erroneously — Wassmer in Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s Hitler’s Priestess, and Wasener in several newspaper reports, was born on 29 August 1921 in Zschornewitz, Germany to parents Gustaf Bernhard Wasner and Anna Bertha Emilie, née Runge. His father’s profession is given as Schmied: blacksmith. It is possible that Bernhard Wasner worked in some capacity for the power plant that put Zschornewitz on the map in 1916.
Until the late nineteenth century, hardly more than 200 inhabitants had lived in the village. That was to change when in 1915, construction of a power plant began, only about 2 kilometres from the Golpa open-cast mine. At the same time, the “Kolonie,” a garden city housing estate, was built for the workers. In 1916, eight 16-megawatt turbines generated a total of 128 megawatts was constructed. This made the Zschornewitz power plant the first large-scale power plant in Germany and, at the time, the largest lignite-fired power plant in the world. It supplied Berlin and parts of Saxony with electricity. In 1929, two 85-megawatt turbines were put into operation, the largest in Europe at the time. 13 large chimneys characterised the image of the community for decades. In 1945, the power plant was partially dismantled as reparations to the Soviet Union. The remaining population in the village between 17 and 70 years of age was used for the work.
But that was still in the far future when, on 5 November 1922, a second son was born into the Wasner family, Kurt Herbert — himself, ironically, also a victim of misspelling, as the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge, the German war graves commission, lists him as “Wahsner” in their database.
Young Gerhard probably apprenticed to his father, as by the time he entered military service, he, too, had become a blacksmith. While it might seem strange to us today for an 18-year-old to be a full-blown craftsman, back then teenagers who did not move on to higher education after Volksschule left school at age 14 and entered an apprenticeship.
France is one of the countries where the young SS men, easy to recognise, were deliberately subjected to the greatest hardships: made to lie for weeks upon the cold damp earth; starved; beaten; tortured. Many were sent to slave labour camps in the French (or Belgian) equatorial colonies, that they might die there of exhaustion coupled with malnutrition, ill-treatment, and tropical diseases. I met one — Herr W — who, in 1945, after his capture by the French, was sent from Marseilles to Sidi-bel-Abbes with 18,000 others, and from there, through the Sahara Desert under the escort of half-wild Moroccan auxiliaries, to the Belgian Congo. These Africans, alone with the unarmed prisoners in the burning solitude, made it a pastime of firing at them under the slightest pretexts or even under no pretext at all. . . . Many of the prisoners who were not killed off in this fashion died nevertheless on the way of malignant fevers. They had no medicine, no opportunity for medical aid whatsoever; no care, save from their comrades.
In the Congo, they were parked in a camp, also entirely under the supervision of wild North African and Negro troops, and made to work like slaves in the lead mines twelve hours a day — from dawn to sunset — with water up to their waists and hardly anything to eat. They were not allowed to write or to receive any letters, not allowed to have any books that would have helped to make their lives less wearisome, less gloomy, less desperate, in that hell in which they remained three long years!
Of those 18,000 men who had sailed from Marseilles in 1945, only 4,800 lived to see the shores of Europe again in 1948. . . .
After he had told me that he and the other SS men, prisoners in the same camp, were not allowed to have any books, Herr W added: “But I managed all the same to keep this.” And he produced from his pocket a tiny volume. I read upon the cover Selected Thoughts of Friedrich Nietzsche. And Herr W said again: “A few golden words of the author of The Will to Power; that is what sustained me all through these hellish years.”
Gerhard Wasner, the man of many names, joined the Waffen-SS on 20 November 1939 as part of the SS Totenkopf Recruits Regiment at Dachau and took his oath of allegiance on 30 January 1940. He would stay with Division Totenkopf until early 1943, in different motorised units, fighting both on the Western and on the Eastern, and possibly even on the Northern front (as part of Kampfgruppe Nord).
Almost like a shape of things to come, his Wehrpaß lists 32 days of arrest for five disciplinary offences between October 1940 and January 1941 — although apparently for the armed forces this was a matter of course, as a Wehrpaß in foresight included three pages for such entries; Wasner’s fill just half a page.
So what happened? First, four days of arrest for showing up with a “dirty and rusty rifle” (I was strongly reminded of Band of Brothers). Next, five days of arrest for getting into a brawl; only a few days later, three for “endangering the reputation of the SS through undisciplined behaviour.” Three weeks later, 10 days for creating some property damage, and finally, again only two weeks later, for getting back to barracks one hour after curfew. (Still, Wasner’s SS-Obersturmführer [First Lieutenant] and company leader would attest him good behaviour “in general” two years later.)
The strange cluster of disciplinary measures could be explained by a report from 26 November 1940 by SS-Hauptsturmführer and SS judge Thumm:
An overview of the work of the Division Court shows a fairly even picture. In 100 cases, criminal acts of members of the division have been punished by judgement and in 37 cases by penalty order, evenly distributed over the months of the year. The only exceptions are the months of May and June, when the court only had to take action in a few cases due to the division’s deployment in the West. However, a number of offences committed during the deployment, but which only became known later, still had to be punished later.
At the top of the list of punishable offences are traffic offences, including negligent homicide and negligent bodily injury, as well as disobedience in connection with traffic accidents. Encouragingly, the number of serious crimes has remained very low. Only in exceptional cases were serious thefts from comrades and cases of looting brought to trial, which were then punished with correspondingly high prison sentences. In the case of all these dishonourable offences, the punishment was not only imprisonment but also expulsion or dismissal from the SS.
By July 1942, Sturmmann Wasner had been wounded by grenade splinters in his right shoulder, right hip, lumbar spine, right thigh, right foot, left upper arm, and head, and had suffered frostbite of the second to third degree in both feet. He had also been awarded the Iron Cross second class, the Verwundetenabzeichen — Schwarz (Wound Badge — Black) and the Ostmedaille (Eastern Medal), sarcastically known among soldiers as the Gefrierfleischorden.
The man at the desk addressed me again.
“You know a certain Herr W., a former SS officer, don’t you?”
And for the first time I realised — I knew, as clearly as if the man had told me so — that Herr W. had been arrested. . . .
“I have met him,” I replied, paling a little. . . .
“Where and when did you meet him?”
“Here in Cologne, some time ago.”
“Here, in this railway station, exactly a week ago,“ replied the man. “And you had an appointment with him. You said so when you were asking for his address, at the Catholic Mission, just now. Do you imagine you are not observed? What business had you with that young man?”
“I just wanted to see him again.” . . .
Then, he pulled out of my handbag one of my leaflet-posters twice folded in four . . . He unfolded it, and laid it before the officer at the desk. “Exactly the same ones as those found on G. W.,” said he. “Those Nazis! More active and more arrogant than ever, if you ask me! What do you think of that?”
The man at the desk did not reply to him, but read the paper . . . and spoke to me:
“How do you account for the presence of this in your bag?” he asked me. “Did Herr W. give it to you? Or someone else?”
I knew it was now useless to try any longer to hide the truth from the police. This time, I would not “get away with it.” And the more accurately I would tell the truth, the lesser would Herr W.’s responsibility in this affair appear in comparison with mine, and the lighter would be his sentence — the sooner he would be free. He deserved to be free, after all his years of service during the war and his three years of captivity in the horror camp, in the middle of Africa. . . .
I looked straight at the man at the desk and replied clearly and firmly, almost triumphantly: “Those posters are not Herr W.’s; they are mine. I wrote them. And it is I who gave Herr W. all those he had — I alone.”
From 31 January to 23 March 1943, Wasner served in the SS-Kradschützen-Ersatz-Bataillon, 6th Company, in Ellwangen/Jagst, from which a new unit, the “Schnelle Regiment” (fast regiment) of the 10th SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division was formed. The Kradschützen-Ersatz-Bataillon had a so-called convalescents’ company (Genesungskompanie), made up of men of all SS divisions, awaiting transfer to their next place of action. Several of them would go on to serve in the new Kradschützen regiment, among them Franz Widmann, who had served in the 15th Company of Totenkopf Infantry Regiment 1 with Gerhard Wasner before both men were wounded on the Eastern front just a week apart. Widmann would later write a book about his wartime and POW experiences. As a large part of the Schnelle Regiment consisted of young recruits, 18 to 19 years old, those older soldiers like Widmann (still mostly in their early to mid-twenties) provided necessary frontline experience, and also often became much-needed Non-Commissioned Officers.
Gerhard Wasner, too, became part of the Schnelle Regiment on 24 March 1943: I Kradschützen-Bataillon, 3rd Company. Only a day later, transfer of the Schnelle Regiment to France for training began. On 26 May 1943, the Schnelle Regiment was reorganised into SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 10 (SS-Pz-AA10) of Division Frundsberg, where it was intended for Gerhard Wasner to become a tank driver — or, more specifically, a Schützenpanzerwagen driver.
That is the last entry in Wasner’s file at the Bundesarchiv, so it remains unclear how long he stayed with Division Frundsberg. No mention of him can be found in Stephan Cazenave’s book on the SS-Pz-AA10, unless his name was misspelled again as “SS-Unterscharführer Wagner(?).” As Wasner ended up in French captivity, it seems reasonable to assume that he was captured at some point during the fighting on the Western front in the second half of 1944 or early 1945. (“Frundsberg” was transferred to the Eastern front in February 1945.)
On 26 December 1943, Gerhard Wasner’s younger brother Herbert died as a sailor in the Kriegsmarine.
At the end of March 1944, divisions Frundsberg and Hohenstaufen were moved east, where SS-Pz-AA10 first saw action in Galicia. Ironically, they thus missed what they had been training to do for months: the Allies’ Normandy landings on 6 June 1944. When the news broke, they were hastily transferred back to L’Aigle.
Many men of SS-Pz-AA10 managed to break out of the Falaise Pocket, but suffered heavy losses there and in the subsequent fighting. It’s possible Wasner was taken prisoner during that time. As Franz Widmann wrote: “Some of [my old comrades] had been killed or taken prisoner during the operations on the retreat from France.”(13)
A newspaper article later gave Gerhard Wasner the rather unspecific rank of Sturmführer (which, depending whether it’s Unter-, Ober-, or Hauptsturmführer, can mean anything from second lieutenant to captain). Provided this was not a mix-up of the complicated SS ranks by the reporter, Wasner must have been promoted quite a few times and/or gone to an officer school between 1943 and his capture near the end of the war, as did for example Sturmmann Karl Stein of the SS-Pz-AA10:
In the corridor, as I came out, I saw my comrade and collaborator, Herr W., dragged along by a tough German policeman who held him by his sleeve. He looked thin, exceedingly pale, and dejected — the shadow of himself. He had swollen eyelids and (at least, it seemed to me) a blue mark — doubtless the mark of a blow — upon his face. I was neither enchained nor held, and I had undergone no ill-treatment, thanks to my British-Indian passport. I gazed at him — who fortunately did not see me — and remembered the last words he had addressed to me in the empty train: “I shall never betray you . . . The mark does not come off . . . I was in command of SS men.“ And tears filled my eyes. I knew he had not betrayed me.
Prison for Nazi propaganda
Düsseldorf, 15 March. (Own report.) The former SS soldier Wasener stood before the British military court in Düsseldorf for distributing National Socialist leaflets in the Ruhr area. Wasener explained that he had received the propaganda material from an Englishwoman in Cologne and had been paid by her to distribute it. This woman, Savitry Mugirgy, is the daughter of a Frenchman and a Greek woman who obtained English citizenship through her marriage to an Indian. She also appeared before the court, which after a brief discussion referred the case to a higher court. When the accused was led away, she greeted the press photographers with the Hitler salute. Wasener received six months in prison.
(I would love to know if that photo still exists somewhere!)
The German newspapers . . . do not dare criticise too openly the robberies of the Military Government of the Zone in which they are printed. For obvious reasons, the impeachment of the occupant of one Zone is only to be found in the papers of another one.
My own research certainly proved that statement. When searching the British-licensed Rheinische Post, for example, I despaired at first of finding even a mention of Savitri Devi’s or Gerhard Wasner’s arrest and trial, as anything detrimental to the occupation was limited to reports from the American, French, and especially the Soviet zone. However, the events of February 1949 proved too big to miss, and so the press resorted to Plan B — Judge Freisler style.
New “movement” marched
. . . to prison! — Foreign woman distributed little swastika tracts
A slender woman of very advanced middle age [she was 44 at the time] stands before the military court. Her name is Mukheri Savitri. Her father was French, her mother Greek. Her marriage to an Anglo-Indian gave her English citizenship. Thus, Mrs Savitri seemed to have all the preconditions to develop into a fanatical National Socialist post festum in 1948. She wants to start or has started a “movement” whose goal is a united Europe under German rule. An odd psychiatrist has attested to this woman’s high intelligence.
Towards September last year, Mrs Savitri infiltrated the English zone for the first time from the French zone, armed with little swastika-emblazoned tracts of disarming content. “Servitude will only last a short time,” it read, and — “our Führer is alive and will soon rise again with unheard-of power.” Around the midnight hour of 13 to 14 January, the prophetess thought she had found a disciple in the waiting room of Cologne’s central station. His name was Gerhard Wasner, he was 27 years old, had belonged to the SS Totenkopf Division as a volunteer, and was now cash-strapped and hungry, since working in the mines had not been to his taste. Miss Savitri gave him some fat and cocoa and fortified him with peanuts. Wasner agreed to help distribute a batch of these ominous slips. He did this so skillfully that right at the beginning of his propaganda activities he attracted unpleasant attention and was arrested. Soon his master was also caught. While the former was almost bursting with confession to National Socialism, Wasner explained to the court in scanty words that he had only been concerned with earning money in some way. He received six months in prison.
Mrs Mukheri Savitri, on the other hand, who with rapture incriminated herself far more than the prosecution did and declared that she was proud to be able to promote and fight for the National Socialist idea, was referred to the High Court. When she is led away and, stepping out of the court building, notices that a press photographer wants to take her picture, she emphatically raises her hand in the Hitler salute and smiles, flattered. What does she look like, this Aryan? A small, lanky woman, with abrupt movements and fanatically sparkling eyes. Her precisely drawn parting is crossed by two pitch-black Gretchen plaits. In combination with her reform dress, we have here the type of the National Socialist Wandervogel in a Levantine variation.
Does anyone besides me wonder why, to this very day, every man attempting to criticise a woman’s politics, behaviour, or words makes some remark on her looks? They hardly ever do that with men.
At Düsseldorf, I was confronted in Court with my unfortunate collaborator — Herr W. — I, on the bench of the accused; he, although still himself a prisoner on remand, in the witness box. He looked dejected — if not quite so much so as when I had had a glimpse of him, two days after my arrest. Doubtless, he had suffered in prison.
He gave a very clever account of how we had started talking at the “Catholic Mission” of the railway station of Cologne. We had talked in the presence of the woman on duty at the mission on that night. And after a while — in order that she might not follow the conversation (for who knew what views she held?) — we had talked in French. Herr W. had related to me the horrible story of his three years’ captivity in the heart of Africa; and I, practically sure that he was one “of the right sort,” had translated to him, from the English original, passages from the third chapter of my Gold in the Furnace. Now, before the Court, Herr W. said nothing that could lead one to believe that, as a National Socialist, or even simply as a German, he had liked the spirit of my writing.
“She read to me, in French, a few passages from some book,” said he — he did not, in fact, state that it was from that one — “but it was much too difficult for me to understand, as my French is not good. I just nodded my head in assent, out of courtesy, without grasping what it was about.”
In reality, he had agreed enthusiastically with whatever I had read to him. But I was glad he did not say so, for his sake and for mine. “The less attention is drawn upon that book of mine the better,” thought I. Herr W. pursued: “As for the lady’s views . . .” He was probably going to say that he never even suspected them. But I was only too glad to proclaim them.
“Don’t be afraid of saying that I am a National Socialist,“ shouted I from my corner. “Now that I am caught, let the whole world know it! I am proud of it.” . . .
The judge asked me “not to interrupt,” and Herr W. resumed his account. He pretended that he had no political faith whatsoever since the end of the war — he could hardly say he had never had any before, being a volunteer SS man since 1939 — and he stated that he had taken my posters to stick up merely because he was expecting that I would have paid him for doing so! He added that he was out of employ, and in dire need of money — which, doubtless, was true.
I listened from my bench and compared what I was hearing with what Herr W. had told me a month before, in the empty train. I remembered his enthusiastic readiness to stick up my posters as soon as he had seen one of them. I recalled the devotion with which he had spoken of the Führer: “Our beloved Hitler! So it is for the love of him that you have come to us, from the other end of the world!” His words, and the warmth with which he had uttered them, I could never forget. And now . . . he denied in public that common sacred faith that bound us! . . . And why? No doubt, to avoid a heavy sentence for himself in his own coming trial. “I would never do that — I, who never was even a member of the NSDAP, let alone of the SS élite,” thought I.
Yes; but then, I reflected, I had not toiled three years in a slave labour camp in the Congo, under the whip of Negroes, with hardly anything to eat. And I had not been wounded fifteen times in the Führer’s service. And I had not, now, undergone cross-questioning under the same horrid conditions as this young man probably had; nor had I, in prison, to endure the same hardships. What had I been doing, at least up till 1942, while he was fighting upon the battlefields of Europe? Walking down Chowringhee Avenue under my bright-coloured parasol, feeling happy; boasting of Germany’s lightning victories and talking of the coming world New Order, in Indian tea parties! And even after that, I had not incurred any danger. So, naturally, now, I could afford to be defiant.
I felt deeply ashamed of my first reaction of self-righteousness and severity. “Poor boy!” thought I, “he has the right to try to avoid further useless suffering. He has proved who he is, in ten long years of action. And nobody believes him, anyhow, when he says that ‘he no longer clings to any ideology.'” . . .
During our midday meal, Miss Taylor commented upon my collaborator’s attitude and spoke of his “lack of moral courage.”
“Aryan woman” has to go back to India
Three years imprisonment for Savitri Mukherrji — High Court verdict
Savitri Mukherrji was fully aware of the magnitude of the day she had to face the “English High Court” for National Socialist propaganda. Something Aryan-symbolic adorned her chest. From its size, it could have been the world tree Yggdrasil. Perhaps it was the sign of the rising Sun, a swastika. For the Hakenkreuz [swastika], like so many things from the “Third Reich,” is of foreign origin. It comes from India. Only when the bent ends turn to the right is the Hakenkreuz called a “swastika” and is considered a sign of success. When the ends tun to the left, it becomes a sign of doom and is called sauvastika. We witnessed the evolution from swastika to sauvastika from close quarters. Mrs Savitri Mukherrji is not so rich in experience. The Sun sign on her chest and the words coming out of her mouth prove it. The indictment and the examination of witnesses present the same picture as at the summary court hearing. Miss Savitri confessed to having carried out propaganda in Germany in September 1948 and June 1949 by distributing 1000 swastika-emblazoned leaflets. — She pleads not guilty to the other charges, possession of foreign currency and forbidden entry into English-occupied territory, and is acquitted.
By confessing to the first charge of “Nazi propaganda,” she has given up the opportunity of exploiting the case widely. She is no longer questioned about the crime, but only about the motives. Nevertheless, the judge has to apply the brakes so that the trial does not end up in the riverbed of “political speak” that the accused is longing for. The judge finds that the accused, with full knowledge of the law prohibiting Nazi propaganda in Germany, has transgressed it and sentences her to three years in prison. Afterwards she is to be taken to India, her husband’s homeland.
The same tone, by the way, dominated the press covering of Veit Harlan’s trial (of Jud Süß infamy) that took place at about the same time as Gerhard Wasner’s and Savitri Devi’s:
Gertrud Romboy’s account of the enthusiastic manner in which Herr W. had spoken of me, was, from the standpoint of the Court, most damaging to the young man. It showed as plainly as could be that, although he might have been hungry, nothing else but a sincere National Socialist faith had prompted him to help me. And, while I would have admired Herr W. had he boldly stated this himself, I was indignant as I heard Gertrud Romboy imply it so obviously, as though she were doing all she could to render the sentence against him as heavy as possible. . . . But even more than her apparent desire to bring punishment upon Herr W. (as well as upon myself), the hasty confidence with which Herr W. had spoken to her and given her a leaflet of mine on his return from the platform of the station, amazed me. Could he not have, first, taken the trouble to find out whether the woman was safe or not? I recalled the fact that, if Herr W. had been arrested at all, it was because, after sticking up as many as he could of my posters all night, he had not stopped doing so when day had dawned; that, actually, thinking himself alone in the midst of a ruined part of Cologne, he had applied fifteen of them in a row against the smooth surface of what had once been the wall of a bank, at 8:30 a.m. or so — in broad daylight. . . . Now, for the second time I thought — notwithstanding all the respect I had for the young man’s sincerity and zeal, and for the genuine efforts he had made to save me from arrest — “I never would have believed that an SS man could be such a clumsy fool!”
The Austrian Wiener Zeitung of 16 March 1949 also gets many facts wrong, but at least it simply reports:
Neo-Nazi propaganda puzzle solved
Recently increased Nazi propaganda in West Germany has been solved in a court of the British Control Commission in Düsseldorf. The soul of this propaganda is a Greek-born woman of British Indian nationality who is accused of having distributed over 10,000 Nazi propaganda leaflets in recent months — “not for money, but,” as she put it, “for the glory of Hitler.” In this context, the former SS-Sturmführer Wasener was recently given six months in prison in Cologne after confessing that he had not only received leaflets for distribution from this woman, but had also been promised financial support.
Since I have been unable to get ahold of Wasner’s court file or prison file, it’s unclear whether he, like Savitri Devi, was sent to Werl prison, but it is likely. The director of Werl prison at that time was Lt. Col. Edward R. Vickers, who is vividly described as a disciplinarian in Defiance, and his remarks in Savitri Devi’s prison file confirm that description. However:
Lieutenant Colonel Vickers, director of Werl prison from 1946 to 1954, who was very strict with the “normal” inmates, treated the generals of the former German Wehrmacht particularly generously and downright devotedly. Each of these was given two adjoining cells and a prisoner as a “squire” in another cell. That was by no means all; to recover from the privations of warfare, they were allowed to go for a walk in a small garden specially laid out for them. Not infrequently, they were invited by Lieutenant Colonel Vickers to his service villa for tea, notwithstanding the Allied ban on fraternisation.
British officers‘ class consciousness was still intact, it seems.
As for Savitri Devi’s prison term in Werl, it is described in Defiance:
Shortly after the [Second World] War, for the first time in the history of Werl prison, a section for female prisoners was established. This was a necessity for the occupation regime because the number of crimes committed by women had increased rapidly. This new responsibility required not only the extensive employment of female prison staff, but also some structural and organisational measures to separate the female prisoners from the male inmates. Accordingly, the isolated atrium of Detention House II was set up for female prisoners; 20 female staff members were responsible for over 120 female prisoners. Despite all prohibitions and sanctions, female and male prisoners naturally tried to come into contact with each other. Communication between the two groups of prisoners could take place in church, in the military hospital or — which was, of course, strictly forbidden — through the staff.
* * *
At some point before 1955, Gerhard Wasner got married and had at least one child; however, his wife died. Since the war, he had studied as an engineer.
Wasner’s career in the penal system did not end at Düsseldorf. While visiting his parents on 6 December 1955, who had by then moved to Leipzig, he was again arrested — this time by East German police. His file notes that he had been denounced by a young woman, Karin Wichert, whom he had met in a pub, for “drawing comparisons between East and West.” In March 1956, Wasner was sentenced to three years and six months’ hard labour, to be served in the infamous Waldheim prison:
In the years after the Second World War until after the founding of the GDR, the penal system in Waldheim, as in most penitentiaries, again functioned according to the customs of the Weimar Republic. The prisons were subordinate to the judicial authorities of the federal states. Due to denazification, there had been an exchange of personnel, but the traditional patterns of the first decades of this century were adhered to — from the admission and release procedures to the daily routine.
This changed radically when from 1950 — with Waldheim as the first prison — the penal system was placed under the administration of the Ministry of the Interior, under the sovereignty of the People’s Police. Treatment became more severe; a new, military tone took hold. The “201ers” who had been brought together in Waldheim from the Soviet special camps felt this particularly hard. They had come with great hope for sympathy and understanding, but they were met with the hatred of the police officers who received them, for whom all the prisoners had the stigma of being the worst Nazi criminals.
With regard to the past and the political coping with it, the idea of “reckoning” characterised the prison system anyway. Artur Angermann (1907-1995), a steelworker who wanted to “tear out Ulbricht’s beard” in the days around 17 June 1953 and was imprisoned for two years in Bautzen and Waldheim for this intent, experienced how the prison director in Bautzen flew into a rage when he questioned Angermann about the reason for his incarceration. The former Spanish [Revolutionary] fighter shouted that he wanted to “see fascists” and not such “trifles.”
One wonders to what extend Wasner’s former membership in the Waffen-SS, which they must have become aware of at some point (“The mark does not come off”), played a role in his treatment by the prison authorities.
In 1959, Gerhard Wasner was sentenced again for “seditious propaganda and agitation (severe case)” during his imprisonment. His prison term was extended for one year and six months. During this trial, he was also charged with assaulting a guard; however, witnesses stated that Wasner had been provoked by the guards and had simply defended himself against an attack by one of them “in a similar manner.”
Wasner was pardoned and released on 28 November 1960; however, upon his arrival in West Berlin, he was promptly arrested again, this time by West German police because of an arrest warrant issued in 1957 by his hometown of Ludwigshafen’s Office of the Public Prosecutor — for not paying child support. As this was somewhat difficult to do from an East German prison, the case against Wasner was dropped after 12 days, which he spent in Moabit prison and where he met a former fellow inmate of Waldheim whom he subsequently reported. His file, which was probably made by West Berlin authorities in March 1961 (as it concerns Wasner’s legal rights according to the HHG), notes:
He [Wasner] adds the following information: Arno Weber, who is registered here and currently serving time in Moabit, was one of the most feared fellow inmates in the Waldheim prison. He regularly informed the prison management about events and prisoners‘ conversations. He was officially equipped with a notepad, paper and pencil, which is not usual.
Trottmann from Duisburg is serving a criminal sentence of three years. He is as feared in Waldheim as Arno Weber was. He, too, writes up reports on prisoners and is officially in possession of writing materials.
Followed by the ominous note. “Attach reference to case Arno Weber.”
Wasner was never given any documentation of his trial and imprisonment, but luckily for him, a released political prisoner had already informed the West German authorities that Wasner was being held at Waldheim, and he was able to produce another eyewitness statement, so in the end he was believed and awarded compensation.
Curiously enough, there is no record of Wasner ever having lived in Ludwigshafen, or at least of having registered his place of residence there. There was a Ludwigshafen family Wassner/Waßner with a long tradition of naming their sons Gerhard or Gerd, but none of them matched “our” Gerhard Wasner.
It was only after having wasted the time of two employees at the Ludwigshafen town archive with unsuccessfully comparing all the Was(s)ners in question here that I suspected I might be looking in the wrong place: Of course I had assumed Ludwigshafen to be the Ludwigshafen! But in fact there was another, much humbler contender: Bodman-Ludwigshafen on Lake Constance. Given the fact that Wasner lived in Oberzell, a suburb of Ravensburg, near Lake Constance at the time of his death, this seemed far more likely to be the place I was looking for.
However, little Bodman-Ludwigshafen has no record of Gerhard Wasner, either; and it certainly never had an Office of the Public Prosecutor . . .
So the only thing to do was to retrace Wasner’s steps backwards. Before moving to Ravensburg in the summer of 1977, he lived in Friedrichshafen, also on Lake Constance, at the address Am Seewald 54. His Ravensburg registration form lists his profession simply as retiree, so apparently he moved there after his retirement — which, considering that he was barely 56 at the time, is remarkably early. I wonder if maybe this had something to do with health issues, perhaps resulting from his wartime injuries or ill-treatment during his time as a prisoner of war.
The Ravensburg registration form also gives us some information on Wasner’s second marriage that is mentioned on his death certificate. I had been unsure if it referred to his first or second marriage, but contacting the registry office cleared that up pretty quickly. Gerhard Wasner married a Fräulein or Frau Suttner in Eggenfelden (by chance or by design, not far from Braunau am Inn), but like so many other things in his life, the marriage did not work out; the couple divorced just one year later, in 1972.
Wasner’s registration form at Friedrichshafen gives us some interesting bits. He came there from Geesthacht, of all places, in the summer or early autumn of 1976 (there are confusing dates), after spending some time in hospital — so here we have another hint as to health issues. Again, his profession is given as retiree. He also moved around a lot in the short time that he lived in Friedrichshafen.
In Geesthacht there is again no record of Wasner; no entry in the address and telephone books, so — a dead end for the time being. Since he married in Eggenfelden in 1971, it seems reasonable to assume that he lived there for a time, but much more research is needed to confirm or deny that assumption. I am hoping to get to it in 2023.
Gerhard Wasner’s address for the last years of his life is given as Hölderlinstraße 2 in Oberzell, with his profession listed as clerk. He died, age 62, on 12 October 1983 in Ravensburg, little less than a year after Savitri Devi’s death on 22 October 1982. According to the cemetery administration, there is no grave registered for him — meaning he was either buried elsewhere or the grave has been levelled in the meantime (a common practice in Germany after a certain amount of years have passed).
* * *
I must say, this has been both my most interesting and also my most frustrating research of 2022 — to the point where I consider the title somewhat misleading. Gerhard Wasner did get away in the end — not from the criminal courts, but certainly from curious biographers. I’m definitely not done with either Wasner or Savitri Devi, as I am convinced there is much more to find. It just needs perseverance and luck.
 Actually, just 1.72 meters, the minimum height for SS men, according to his Wehrpaß. BArch, R 9361-III/489810.
 Savitri Devi, Defiance, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Counter-Currents Publishing, 2021,) p. 4.
 “Wasner“ in: Geburtenregister Zschornewitz, jetzt Gräfenhainichen, Registernr. 88/1921; Sterberegister Ravensburg, Registernr. 510/1983. “Wassner” in: BArch, R 9361-III/489810. Both “Wassner” and “Wasner” in: BArch, B 285/6317.
 Geburtenregister Zschornewitz, jetzt Gräfenhainichen, Registernr. 115/1922.
 BArch, R 9361-III/489810.
 Savitri Devi, Gold in the Furnace, 4th ed. (San Francisco: Counter-Currents Publishing, 2021), pp. 86-88.
 Wolfgang Vopersal, Soldaten, Kämpfer, Kameraden — Marsch und Kämpfe der SS-Totenkopf-Division, Band 1, Eigenverl., 1983, p. 294.
 Defiance, pp. 12-14.
 Stephan Cazenave, Chronik der SS-Pz-AA10, Heimdal, 2008.
 Ibdi., p. 79.
 Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge.
 Franz Widmann: Mit „Totenkopf“ und „Frundsberg“ an Ost- und Westfront, 3rd ed. (Nation & Wissen, 2016), p. 176.
 Defiance, p. 64.
 Rheinische Post, no. 32, 16 March 1949.
 Savitri Devi: Gold in the Furnace, p. 96
Defiance, pp. 109-110.
 Rheinische Post, no. 41, 6 April 1949.
 I wonder if this is Gertrud Romboy, neé Widdenhofer, 1907-1991, who later emigrated to the United States. If so, there is a story here that might explain her behaviour. Gertrud Romboy lost her 17-year-old son Helmut, who served as a soldier, in January 1945; so perhaps she harboured bitterness towards anything National Socialist or saw it as her duty to prevent it from rising again. There is quite a bit of information about the Mormon family on the Internet, if anyone cares to look it up.
 Defiance, pp. 111-112.
 According to Savitri Devi’s Pilgrimage, Vickers had already been superseded by a new governor, Meech, before 17 May 1953.
 BArch, B 285/6317, Bd. 1317 (Wasm-Wawczy).
 Named after Order no. 201 of the Soviet Military Administration in Germany, https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1524/9783486596144.399/html?lang=en and https://books.google.de/books?id=pRyXDwAAQBAJ&lpg=PA137&ots=v4385d1JHd&dq=smad%20201%20order&pg=PA137#v=onepage&q=smad%20201%20order&f=false
 Friedemann Schreiter, Strafanstalt Waldheim (Ch. Links Verlag, 2014), p. 176.
 Häftlingshilfegesetz. “The Act on Assistance Measures for Persons Taken into Custody for Political Reasons outside the Federal Republic of Germany (Häftlingshilfegesetz [Prisoner Assistance Act] — HHG) regulates financial compensation for persons of German nationality who were taken into custody for political reasons in the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ) or in the Soviet sector of Berlin or in the states of the Eastern Bloc after the Second World War, as well as their relatives and survivors.” https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%A4ftlingshilfegesetz
 Standesamt Eggenfelden, e-mail to the author, 28 November 2022. Unfortunately, 1971 is far too recent for me to be allowed access to the marriage certificate itself (for privacy reasons), so although Wasner’s ex-wife is quite probably still alive, I have no way of finding and contacting her. This is how research is very often thwarted until the last living eyewitnesses are gone.
 Sterberegister Ravensburg, Registernr. 510/1983.
 Stadt Ravensburg, Bauordnungsamt — Abt. Friedhöfe, e-mail to the author, 2 September 2022.