Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Happy Hangman Put Nazis on Rope

REVERE, Massachusetts -- One at a time, they dropped through the trap door of the hangman's scaffold and fell still: Gestapo boss Ernst Kaltenbrunner; Hans Frank, governor-general of occupied Poland; slave-labor czar Fritz Sauckel; Austrian Nazi Arthur Seyss-Inquart.


In all, 10 of the men who led the Third Reich were hanged in Nuremberg on Oct. 16, 1946 for crimes against humanity.


"It was a pleasure doing it,'' said Joseph Malta, the U.S. Army military policeman who held the noose 50 years ago Wednesday. "I'd do it all over again.''


Malta hanged 60 Nazi government and military leaders but became known as Hangman 10 for executing 10 top Nazis on that one night in the gymnasium of Nuremberg's Landsberg Prison.


"These were the ones that gave the orders,'' he said. "They weren't sorry for anything.''


Malta was a 28-year-old military policeman when the army asked for volunteers to hang the men condemned to death by the International Military Tribunal. "They can't order you to do that,'' he said.


He stepped forward, he said, because he had learned during his short time in occupied Germany about the Nazis and their newly exposed crimes.


"Being there and talking to the people there, it was easy for me to decide to do it,'' said Malta, who had been a floor sander in civilian life. "It had to be done.''


Malta soon found himself in Nuremberg and face to face with Hermann Goering, the Allies' prize catch.


"He was still the boss then,'' Malta said. "He told us we wasted too much time. I told him we had to do things by the book. He said, 'When the time comes to get me, I'll be dead.'''


Goering kept his promise, cheating Malta's noose by taking poison two hours before he was to have been executed.


The others were escorted one by one before dawn to two portable scaffolds Malta had designed.


A dozen somber journalists and generals from the major Allied powers -- the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and France -- looked on as black cloth hoods were placed over the prisoners' heads.


A German priest recited a short prayer; when he reached "Amen,'' the trap door would be opened by U.S. Army Master Sergeant John Woods, and Malta went beneath the scaffold with a U.S. Army doctor to cut down the corpse.


Beside Kaltenbrunner, Frank, Sauckel and Seyss-Inquart, Malta executed Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop; chief military adviser, Field Marshal General Wilhelm Keitel; Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick; General Alfred Jodl; and anti-Jewish propagandists Alfred Rosenberg and Julius Streicher.


"They were nothing when they were on death row,'' said Malta. "Just criminals.''


None of the men expressed remorse, Malta said. Streicher spit in his face, then shouted, "Heil Hitler!'' Ribbentropp exclaimed, "God save Germany!''


The last to die, Seyss-Inquart exclaimed, "I believe in Germany!''


The hangings took just one hour and 15 minutes.


As for Malta, he left the army in June 1947 and returned to his career of sanding floors, serving briefly as commander of his local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.


Now 78, he still keeps a tiny replica of the Landsberg Prison scaffold in the apartment he shares with his wife in this seaside community near Boston.


"I did what needed to be done,'' he said. "It was all part of the job.''