The First Nazi Criminal Extradited from the U.S. to Germany was a Friendly Housewife

I was speaking quietly to my friend in the school cafeteria at Washington Elementary in Niles, Ohio 53 years ago when Mrs. Yuhasz snuck up behind me, yanked me up by the back of my shirt, and nailed me on the butt with a club perforated with holes that reduced wind resistance. I was so startled; I literally pissed my pants. The elementary school shared the same building with the junior high, and Mrs. Yuhasz, the junior high counselor, demanded absolute silence because school kids chattering during lunch might interfere with junior high students concentrating on their scholarly studies. Mrs. Yuhasz often slammed her club on a table, transforming the chatter into sudden silence. On other occasions she’d shock the students into silence by beating 1 of us as an example.

5 years after the butt-beating, I had an appointment to see Mrs. Yuhasz while she was performing her official duties as a middle school counselor. She said she was “glad we got along now” as if we ever had had any interaction since she’d clubbed my rear. She remembered that incident, and this suggests to me that Nazi war criminals remembered every act of violence they ever perpetrated on their victims. Mrs. Yuhasz could be nice. I’m sure she baked cookies for kids visiting her house. But I remember her as a brutal woman, and I was reminded of her while reading a history of Nazi war criminals.

Much to my surprise, the first Nazi war criminal extradited from the U.S. to Germany was a woman, and this extradition didn’t occur until 1973. Her name was Hermine Braunsteiner-Ryan. During World War II she was a factory worker when her landlord suggested she sign up to be a SS prison guard. She worked at the Ravensbruck Prison, a concentration camp for women in northern Germany where an estimated 90,000 people died. Then she transferred to the Madjanek Camp in Poland, a slave textile factory with 7 gas chambers and 2 gallows. An estimated 78,000 people died here. Hermine wore hob-nailed boots and carried a whip. She kicked and/or whipped 80 starving women to death. In addition she threw 103 children onto crowded trains headed for gas chambers. She picked the kids up by their hair when she threw them on the trains. After the war the U.S. Army arrested her, and she spent a mere 3 years in an Austrian prison.

Hermine Braunsteiner-Ryan was the first Nazi war criminal extradited from the U.S. back to Germany. She kicked and whipped 80 women to death and threw (literally) over 100 children on trains bound for gas chambers.

Simon Wiesenthal, the famous Nazi hunter, never heard of Hermine until he was eating in a restaurant while on vacation in Israel during 1964. 3 women who served time at Majdanak told him about Hermine, and he went to work locating her. After her release from prison, she worked as a waitress and met an American construction worker vacationing in Austria. They fell in love and got married. They moved to Canada, then New York City. Wiesenthal assigned a New York Times reporter, Joseph Lelyveld, the task of tracking down her exact address. He found her and conducted an interview. He described her as a big boned blonde wearing pink and white shorts and a white blouse. She was in the process of painting the interior of her house during the interview. He informed her Wiesenthal was looking to bring her to justice. She said she’d already served time, but when the reporter told her that was for crimes committed at Ravensbruck and not Madjanak, she burst into tears and lamented that her life was over. Still, her husband supported her and claimed she “wouldn’t hurt a fly.” He crowdfunded her legal defense, and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service kept bungling the case. Hermine had lied on her immigration application about serving time in prison–grounds for immediate deportation. Nevertheless, it took 9 years before she was finally extradited to Germany. She stood trial with 14 other Nazi war criminals. The trial took 2 years, and she was sentenced to life in prison but was released 3 years before her death due to poor health. She had a leg amputated because of diabetes complications. How ironic. I wonder, if this was the leg, she used to kick women to death. Hermine died in 1999.

Of the estimated 10,000 Nazi war criminals who escaped to the U.S., only 128 faced legal proceedings, and of these just 67 were extradited. 28 of these criminals died while awaiting trial. It is shocking that just a fraction of 1% ever faced justice. The Red Cross and the Vatican actively helped Nazi war criminals escape to Argentina. I have no respect for either institution. Most Nazi war criminals have died of old age by now, but many likely served as teachers and school administrators who beat baby boomers with aerodynamically designed clubs when we were in school.


Pick, Hella

Simon Wiesenthal: A Life in Search of Justice

Phoenix Paperbacks 1996


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