ON THIS DAY, April 4, 1949, one of Germany's most elusive war criminals was finally captured. Sturmbannführer Fritz Sühren, Commandant of the notorious Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, was arrested by Major Rees, Public Safety Officer of the 115th Detachment, Military Government of Germany, in Grafenan, Germany.
But that meant nothing, at least from his prior record of incarceration. At the end of the war, on May 1, 1945, Sühren had driven his convertible Mercedes to American lines and surrendered. In the car with him was his "insurance," SOE agent Odette Sansom, courier to the SPINDLE circuit. Because the commandant believed that Odette was married to the nephew of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, he had kept her alive for months, half-starving her in a pitch black bunker (per Gestapo orders). By handing her over, he thought that he'd get credit to offset his Ravensbrück atrocities. No harm, no foul, right?
Sühren was incarcerated at the Neuengamme Detention Center and quickly learned that the crimes he authorized and supervised—starvation, beatings, medical experiments, and murder—would soon be on his mantle and the hangman's noose would not be far behind. So he did the only logical thing.
Slipping out with another German inmate, Hans Pflaum, Sühren immediately went to ground. In mid-November 1946 he was seen in Hamburg but managed to disappear before authorities were alerted. Settling in the small village of Eppenschlag with the alias of "Herbert Pakusch," he worked in a brewery and assumed a relatively normal life. In October 1948, however, a former Ravensbrück secretary recognized him and notified the police. Once again, though, the slippery German went into hiding before he could be arrested.
Not until April 4, 1949 was he captured in Grafenan.
Would he escape again?