Erich Bauer (26 March 1900 – 4 February 1980), sometimes referred to as "Gasmeister", was a low-level commander in the SS of Nazi Germany and a Holocaust perpetrator. He participated in Action T4 program and later in Operation Reinhard, serving as a gas chamber operator at Sobibór extermination camp.
Erich Bauer was born in Berlin on 26 March 1900. He served as a soldier in World War I and was a prisoner of war under the French. In 1933, Bauer joined the NSDAP and SA while working as a tram conductor.
In 1940, he joined the T-4 Euthanasia Program where the physically and mentally disabled were exterminated by gassing and lethal injection. In the beginning, he worked as a driver but he was quickly promoted. Erich Bauer described in testimony one of his first mass murders:
A pipe connected the exhaust of a car to a bricked-up laboratory in the asylum. A few patients were shut into the room and I turned on the car engine. This killed the patients in eight minutes.
In early 1942, Bauer was transferred to the office of Odilo Globocnik, the SS and Police Leader of Lublin in Poland. Bauer was given an SS uniform and promoted to the rank of Oberscharfuhrer (Staff Sergeant). In April 1942, he was dispatched to the Sobibór death camp where he remained until the camp's liquidation in December 1943.
At Sobibór, Bauer was in charge of the camp's gas chambers. At the time the Jews called him the Badmeister ("Bath Master"), while after the war he became known as the Gasmeister ("Gas Master"). He was described as a short, stocky man, a known drinker who regularly overindulged. He kept a private bar in his room. While other SS guards were neatly dressed, Bauer was different: he was always filthy and unkempt, with a stench of alcohol and chlorine emanating from him. In his room, he had a picture on the wall of himself and a picture of all of his family with the Führer.
On 14 October 1943, the day of the Sobibór uprising, Bauer unexpectedly drove out to Chełm for supplies. The uprising was almost postponed since Bauer was at the top of the "death list" of SS guards to be assassinated prior to the escape that was created by the leader of the revolt, Alexander Pechersky. The revolt had to start early because Bauer had returned earlier from Chełm than expected. He discovered that SS-Oberscharführer Rudolf Beckmann was dead and started shooting at the two Jewish prisoners unloading his truck. The sound of the gunfire prompted Pechersky to begin the revolt early.
After the war
At the end of the war, Bauer was arrested in Austria by the Americans and confined to a prisoner of war camp until 1946. Shortly afterwards, he returned to Berlin where he found employment as a laborer cleaning up debris from the war.
Bauer was arrested in 1949 when two former Jewish prisoners from Sobibór, Samuel Lerer and Esther Raab, recognized him during a chance encounter at a Kreuzberg fairground. When Raab confronted Bauer at the fair, he reportedly said, "How is it that you are still alive?" He was arrested soon afterwards and his trial started the following year.
During the course of his trial, Bauer maintained that at Sobibór he only worked as a truck driver, collecting the necessary supplies for the camp's inmates and the German and Ukrainian guards. He admitted being aware of the mass murders at Sobibór, but claimed to have never taken any part in them, not engaged in any acts of cruelty. His primary witnesses, former Sobibór guards SS-Oberscharführer Hubert Gomerski and SS-Untersturmführer Johann Klier, testified on his behalf.
The court, however, convicted Bauer based on the testimony of four Jewish witnesses who managed to escape from Sobibór. They identified Bauer as the former Sobibór Gasmeister, who not only operated the gas chambers in the camp, but also engaged in mass executions by shooting as well as in a variety of particularly vicious and random acts of cruelty against camp inmates and victims on their way to the gas chambers.
On 8 May 1950 the court, Schwurgericht Berlin-Moabit, sentenced Bauer to death for crimes against humanity. Since capital punishment had been abolished in West Germany, Bauer's sentence was automatically commuted to life imprisonment. He served 21 years in Alt-Moabit Prison in Berlin before being transferred to Berlin Tegel prison. During his imprisonment, he admitted to his participation in mass murder at Sobibór and even occasionally testified against his former SS colleagues.
Bauer died at Berlin Tegel prison on 4 February 1980.
Usually the undressing went smoothly. Subsequently, the Jews were taken through the "tube" to Camp III – the real extermination camp. The transfer through the "tube" proceeded as follows: one SS man was in the lead and five or six Ukrainian auxiliaries were at the back hastening the [Jews] along. The women were taken through a barrack where their hair was cut off. In Camp III the Jews were received by SS men.... As I already mentioned, the motor was then switched on by Go[t]ringer and one of the [Ukrainian] auxiliaries whose name I don't remember. Then the gassed Jews were taken out. — Erich Bauer, 15 November 1965, StA Dortmund 45 Js 27/61.
I was blamed for being responsible for the death of the Jewish girls Ruth and Gisela, who lived in the so-called forester house. As it is known, these two girls lived in the forester house, and they were visited frequently by the SS men. Orgies were conducted there. They were attended by Bolender, Gomerski, Karl Ludwig, Franz Stangl, Gustav Wagner, and Steubel. I lived in the room above them and due to these celebrations could not fall asleep after coming back from a journey....
I cannot exclude any member of the Sobibor camp staff of taking part in the extermination operation. We were a "blood brotherhood gang" in a foreign land. We were a band of "fellow conspirators" ("verschworener Haufen") in a foreign land, surrounded by Ukrainian volunteers whom we could not trust....The bond between us was so strong that Frenzel, Stangl and Wagner had had a ring with SS runes made from five-mark pieces for every member of the permanent staff. These rings were distributed to the camp staff as a sign so that the "conspirators" could be identified. In addition the tasks in the camp were shared. Each of us had at some point carried out every camp duty in Sobibor (station squad, undressing, and gassing).
I estimate that the number of Jews gassed at Sobibor was about 350,000. In the canteen at Sobibor I once overheard a conversation between Karl Frenzel, Franz Stangl and Gustav Wagner. They were discussing the number of victims in the extermination camps of Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor and expressed their regret that Sobibor "came last" in the competition.