August Becker (17 August 1900 – 31 December 1967) was a mid-ranking
functionary in the SS of
Nazi Germany and chemist in the Reich Main
Security Office (RSHA). He helped design the vans with a gas chamber
built into the back compartment used in early Nazi mass murder of
disabled people, political dissidents, Jews, and other "racial
Action T4 as well as the
Nazi death squads) in the Nazi-occupied portions of the Soviet Union.
Generally his role was to provide important technical support, but on
at least one occasion he personally gassed about 20 people.
1 Early life
2 Early SS career
Action T4 killing program
3.1 Setting up the first gas chamber
3.2 Ongoing gassing program
3.3 The Einsatzgruppen
Gas van operations
4 Trial and conviction
7 External links
August Becker was born on 17 August 1900 in Staufenberg in the German
state of Hesse. He was the son of a factory owner. He was inducted
into the German Army towards the end of World War I. Afterwards,
Becker studied chemistry and physics at the University of Giessen
where, in 1933, he earned a
PhD degree in chemistry. From 1933 to
1935, he remained as an assistant at the university.
Early SS career
By September 1930, Becker had joined the Nazi party, and in February
1931, he also became a member of the SS. From February to April 1934,
he was occasionally active in the
Gestapo office at Giessen before he
finally left the university in 1935. At his trial on 4 April 1960,
Becker testified that in May 1935 he was assigned to the SS-regiment
"Germania" at Bad Arolsen, a small resort town near Kassel, the major
city in the northern part of the German state of Hesse, in central
Germany. During this time, Becker held the rank of SS-Oberscharführer
and was concerned only with military affairs. He remained with this
regiment up to 28 February 1938.
According to his 1960 testimony, Becker was then transferred to
Berlin, to the Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt
or RSHA), Office (Amt)VI, foreign intelligence. This agency was on the
Bernerstrasse in the Grunewald. At this time
Werner Best was in charge
RSHA Amt VI. Becker was responsible for the department replicating
inks and photocopies. He was employed to detect whether written
communications used invisible ink. At this time, he was promoted to
SS-Untersturmführer (Second Lieutenant).
Action T4 killing program
Olga Benário Prestes
Olga Benário Prestes in 1928, later murdered at Bernburg Euthanasia
Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler who was murdered at
Sonnenstein Euthanasia Centre
Becker remained with
RSHA Amt VI until December 1939, when, shortly
before Christmas, he received an order by telephone to report to
Victor Brack in the
Reich Chancellery (Reichskanzlei).
Becker went to Brack's office that same day. Brack was part of the
office of the Führer Chancellery (Kanzlei des Führers). According to
Becker, Brack told him the following:
At the personal command of (Reichsführer-SS) Himmler, Becker was
deputed to Brack;
Becker's assignment would be to carry out a "euthanasia" program to
destroy all idiots and mental patients;
The killing would be done with carbon monoxide gas. This gas had
already been studied by a chemist, Dr. Albert Widmann, with the Office
of the National Criminal Police (RKPA) in Berlin to assess its
Becker "didn't need to have any scruples with this thing, because the
killing of these people would be made lawful by a Führer
This program was known as Action T4.
Becker participated in the first "test", gassing 18 to 20 mentally ill
convicts in a former prison known by the euphemistic name of The
Brandenburg an der Havel
Brandenburg an der Havel National Institute, which later became known
to history as a Nazi killing center (NS-Tötungsanstalt).[citation
needed] Among the Action-T4 personal, Becker was called "the Red
Becker" because of his hair color and also probably to avoid confusion
with the similarly named Hans Joachim Becker, director of the
Zentralverrechnungstelle welfare and institutes for care. After the
war, Brack was placed on trial for war crimes and crimes against
humanity. Brack named Becker among 24 main responsible people for the
action T4 in a list Brack produced for the Allied occupying
Setting up the first gas chamber
According to Becker's testimony at the trial of Werner Heyde, the
first medical director of Action T4, in the first half January 1940,
Becker drove to the Brandenburg institute, where buildings had been
prepared specially for this purpose. An area resembling a shower room
with showerheads was laid out, about 3 meters by 5 meters in floor
size, with a ceiling about three meters high.
A pipe ran around the walls of the room, and in the pipe were small
holes, out of which the carbon monoxide gas flowed. The gas bottles
stood outside the area and were already attached to the supply pipe.
The assembly of the plant was accomplished by a mechanic of the
SS-principal office Berlin. The gas-tight entrance door (Gasdichttur)
included an observation port through which the behavior of the
delinquents (Delinquenten) could be observed during the course of the
Gas chamber in Hadamar Euthanasia Centre
For the first gassing the maintenance personnel led about 18 - 20
persons into the disguised gas chamber. These men had had to undress
in an antechamber (Vorraum), so that they were completely naked. The
door was locked behind them. According to Becker, the victims went
calmly into the area and showed no signs of agitation. As Widmann let
in the gas Becker watched through the observation port. After about
one minute, the victims fell down and lay on top of one another.
Becker said he saw no scenes or tumult. After a further five minutes
the area was aired out. At this point, using specially designed
stretchers, SS personnel cleared the bodies out of the area and took
them to the incinerators.
Becker's boss, Victor Brack, and his office had designed the
stretchers and the incinerator equipment, which was intended to allow
mechanical feeding of the corpses into the furnace. Brack was present
at this first gassing to observe his system in operation. According to
Becker, afterwards Brack appeared satisfied, and made some remarks,
saying that "this action should be accomplished only by the
physicians" and recited the saying that "the syringe belonged into the
hand of the physician." Subsequently, professor Dr. Brandt spoke and
stressed likewise that only physicians would carry out these
gassings. At the same time, Widmann informed the institute
physician Dr. Eberl and Dr. Baumhart, who later took over
extermination efforts at Grafeneck and at Hadamar. The second gassing
trial and later extermination measures were accomplished thereafter by
Dr. Eberl alone and on his own authority.
Ongoing gassing program
The Brandenburg gassing, together with the gassings of Polish mental
patients that the SS-Sonderkommando had carried out in the autumn 1939
gas chamber in Fort VII at Posen, led to the
specification that the T4 victims should also be killed with CO gas.
Becker was assigned to instruct the physicians, who were to set up six
"institutes" for gassing, the first of which was at Grafeneck.
According to Becker's later testimony, around the end of January 1940,
he brought the gas bottles out from Brandenburg to Grafeneck Castle,
to put the institute there "into operation", that is, to start the
killing program there. Originally, a Dr. Schumann was to operate the
CO valve, but Schumann let the gas flow too quickly, causing it to
hiss loudly inside the "shower room." This caused the victims, whom
Becker called, even years later, the "delinquents" to become agitated.
Becker took over manometers from Schumann. He slowed down the gas
infusion into the chamber, which caused the victims to calm down and
die shortly thereafter.
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Letter of Bishop Hilfrich to Reich Justice Minister
Up to the end of
Action T4 in August 1941, Becker's job was to arrange
delivery of CO bottles from the
I.G. Farben plant in
the killing facilities. The purchase orders for the gas were made by
Albert Widmann of the Criminal Technology Institute
(Kriminaltechnische Institut) or (KTI), of the Central National
Security Office (RSHA). Like Becker, Widman was also tried in a German
court after the war. In Widman's case, the court, based in Stuttgart
found that Widman's role was to order the CO gas bottles to conceal
the fact that the purchase orders were coming from a party agency, and
in particular, from the Führer Chancellery. This was decided upon by
Becker and Widman's superior, Victor Brack, at the Führer
Chancellery, but it had been previously suggested by Arthur Nebe.
Widmann received from the individual killing institutes their CO
demand. He then ordered the CO gas bottles from the Baden Aniline and
Soda Works in
Ludwigshafen orders, giving KTI as the purchaser.
Widman then sent the order and supply confirmations to Becker, who was
working at the Führer Chancellery arranging for their delivery to the
Killing of Jews at Ivangorod, Ukraine, 1942. A woman is attempting to
protect a child with her own body just before they are fired on with
rifles at close range
In October 1941, Becker was used again in the Central Reich Security
Office and assigned to department II D 3 A under Friedrich Pradel.
This was responsible for the Kraftfahrwesen of the state police. The
director of department D (technical affairs), SS-Obersturmbannführer
Walter Rauff, assigned Becker in December 1941 the inspection of the
gas vans with the Einsatzgruppen, a Nazi bureaucratic term which
technically meant "
Special Task Group." In fact, the Einsatzgruppen
were Nazi killing squads that roved about Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe
and organized the mass murder of Jews prior to the invention of the
death camps. These included, among others, Gypsies, communists, and
especially Jews. While there were some variations (see Friedrich
Jeckeln), typically the way this was done was to have a trench dug by
prisoners of war, with the local population of "undesirables" rounded
up by intimidation or force, sometimes with the aid of local
collaborators, and then they would be shot with one bullet per victim
by an SS man. In this manner, and with the aid of a good number of
people to catch, guard, and force-march the victims to the killing
site, 10 or 12 shooters could kill 12,000 people in a single day.
Gas van operations
Magirus-Deutz van found in 1945 in
Koło (Kolo), Poland,
not far from the Kulmhof (Chelmno) extermination camp. The same type
of van was used by the Nazis for suffocation, with the exhaust fumes
diverted into the sealed rear compartment where the victims were
locked in. This particular van has not been modified yet
To lessen the psychological impact on the killers of the one-on-one
style of killing that had characterized
Einsatzgruppen operations, the
SS, at the direction of Heinrich Himmler, invented the gas van, a type
of mobile gas chamber consisting of a van or truck with an air-tight
cargo area capable of carrying a number of people. The exhaust pipe of
the van could be set to exhaust into the cargo area, so that when the
van was loaded with victims, and the cargo door closed and locked, all
that was needed was to drive down a road for a time while the carbon
monoxide in the exhaust gas killed the people in the van. Once this
process was finished, the bodies were pulled out, and the van driven
on to another location to kill another group of people.
In practice, however, it was more difficult to carry out van killings
than the original theory had anticipated. Becker was assigned to solve
the problems. He later testified that when, in December 1941, he was
transferred to Rauff's command, Rauff explained to Becker that the
plan was to gas people rather than shoot them, because the
psychological burden of so many shootings could no longer be borne by
the killers. Rauff told Becker that the gas vans and drivers had
already arrived at the
Einsatzgruppe locations or they were on their
way. Rauff assigned Becker to investigate the gas van procedures used
by the Einsatzgruppen. Specifically, Becker was to ensure the mass
killings (Massentötungen) made in the gas vans were conducted
efficiently. In the middle of December 1941, Becker drove to
inspect the gas vans used by
Einsatzgruppe A. On January 4 or 5, 1942,
Becker, on the direction from Rauff, moved on to
Einsatzgruppe D in
the south, which was commanded by
Otto Ohlendorf near Simferopol. It
took Becker about three weeks to get there. Becker stayed with
Einsatzgruppe D until the beginning of April 1942, when he returned to
Einsatzgruppe A at Riga.
Becker worried however not only about the technology of the gas vans,
but was also concerned about their camouflage as well as the physical
and moral health of the SS troops carrying out the execution
procedure. Thus he reported on 16 May 1942 from Kiev to Rauff:
I ordered the vans of
Einsatzgruppe D to be camouflaged as
house-trailers by putting one set of window shutters on each side of
the small van and two on each side of the larger vans, such as one
often sees on farm-houses in the country. The vans became so
well-known, that not only the authorities, but also the civilian
population called the van "death van", as soon as one of these
vehicles appeared. It is my opinion, the van cannot be kept secret for
any length of time, not even camouflaged.
... Because of the rough terrain and the indescribable road and
highway conditions the caulkings and rivets loosen in the course of
time. I was asked if in such cases the vans should be brought to
Berlin for repair. Transportation to Berlin would be much too
expensive and would demand too much fuel. In order to save those
expenses I ordered them to have smaller leaks soldered and if that
should no longer be possible, to notify Berlin immediately by radio,
that Pol. Nr ............. is out of order. Besides that I ordered
that during application of gas all the men were to be kept as far away
from the vans as possible, so they should not suffer damage to their
health by the gas which eventually would escape. I should like to take
this opportunity to bring the following to your attention: several
commands have had the unloading after the application of gas done by
their own men. I brought to the attention of the commanders of those
S.K. concerned the immense psychological injuries and damages to their
health which that work can have for those men, even if not
immediately, at least later on. The men complained to me about
head-aches which appeared after each unloading. Nevertheless they
don't want to change the orders, because they are afraid prisoners
called for that work, could use an opportune moment to flee. To
protect the men from these damages, I request orders be issued
In this letter, Becker criticized also the incorrect execution of the
The application of gas usually is not undertaken correctly. In order
to come to an end as fast as possible, the driver presses the
accelerator to the fullest extent. By doing that the persons to be
executed suffer death from suffocation and not death by dozing off as
was planned. My directions now have proved that by correct adjustment
of the levers death comes faster and the prisoners fall asleep
peacefully. Distorted faces and excretions, such as could be seen
before, are no longer noticed.
Becker continued sending messages to Rauff regarding the efficacious
use of the gas vans through the middle of 1942. On 5 June 1942, Becker
reported that "for an example, since December 1941, three vehicles
were used to process 97,000, with no down-time on the
vehicles.". In September 1942, following his return to Berlin,
Becker criticized the untidy means by which the murders were carried
out to Rauff's deputy Pradel:
I described the function of the gas cars to Pradel in an hour long
personal discussion and offered criticisms, because the subjects
(people to be murdered) were suffocated and not gassed since the
operating crew didn't follow proper instructions. I told him that the
subjects vomited and defecated upon themselves prior to death instead
of falling asleep first. Pradel thoughtfully nodded, without saying a
After his work as a gas van specialist Becker was employed at the
Central Commercial Company East (Zentralhandelsgesellschaft Ost), a
monopoly company for the agricultural products in the occupied east
areas, and afterwards in the Foreign Defense Office (Auslandabwehr) of
the Central Reich Security Office (RSHA). In 1943, he was promoted to
Lieutenant Colonel (SS-Obersturmbannführer).
Trial and conviction
Because of his membership in the SS, Becker was sentenced after end of
war to a three years prison sentence. Afterwards he worked as a
salesman and industrial worker. In 1959, he suffered a stroke and
moved to a nursing home in the upper Hessian town of Laubach.
In 1959, the public prosecutor's office in
Stuttgart began a
preliminary investigation into offenses committed by Becker, Albert
Widmann and Paul Werner. Becker was condemned to ten years prison,
but on 15 July 1960, due to his bad state of health he was released
from detention and admitted to the home for the elderly at Butzbach.
When in 1967, the State Criminal Court in
Stuttgart sent a summons to
Becker, it turned out that Becker had been taken out of the Butzbach
home on January 3, 1966, by persons unknown, and his current
whereabouts could not be determined. On June 16, 1967, the
Baden-Wuerttemburg state criminal police agency issued a bulletin to
be on the look out for Becker. By then, however, Becker had been
checked into another nursing home where he remained in a state of
almost complete mental and physical breakdown.
August Becker died
on December 31, 1967.
^ a b Friedlander, Henry (1997). The Origins of Nazi Genocide.
University of North Carolina Press. pp. 210–211.
^ a b c d (in German)Vernehmungsprotokoll der Sonderkommission des
Hessischen Landeskriminalamtes Wiesbaden, V/1, vom 4. April 1960, see
"Tötung in einer Minute". „Mitschrift der Vernehmung und
Fahndungsschreiben von Dr. phil. August Becker“
^ a b Klee, Ernst (1986). Was sie taten – was sie wurden: Ärzte,
Juristen und andere Beteiligte am Kranken- oder Judenmort (in German).
Frankfurt am Main. pp. 152, 327. ISBN 3-596-24364-5.
^ a b c d e (in German) Heyde-Akte pages 293 ff.,
Generalstaatsanwaltschaft Frankfurt a.M. Ks 2/63, quoted from Ernst
Klee: „Euthanasie“ im NS-Staat, pages 110-111.
^ Widmann denied "personally" carrying out the gassing, see Ernst
Klee: Euthanasie im NS-Staat, page 110
^ The German article states that this was the I.G. Farben
works in Ludwigshafen
^ (in German) Judgment of 15 September 1967 Ks 19/62, quoted from
Ernst Klee: „Euthanasie“ im NS-Staat, page 85.
^ Ezergailis, Andrew (1996).
The Holocaust in Latvia
The Holocaust in Latvia 1941-1944 – The
Missing Center. Riga: Historical Institute of Latvia (in association
with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. pp. 239–270.
^ Reitlinger, Gerald (1989) . The SS: Alibi of a Nation,
1922-1945. New York: Da Capo. pp. 117, 183, and 280.
^ Nizkor Project. "Gas Wagons: The Holocaust's mobile gas chambers".
Archived from the original on 20 February 2009. Retrieved
^ a b c (in German) Statement from 26 March 1960, Zentrale Stelle der
Landesjustizverwaltungen in Ludwigsburg 9 AR-Z 220/59, Band I, pages
194 and following, quoted from Klee, Dressen, Rieß: „Schöne
Zeiten“, pages 71 ff.
^ a b Office of the United States Chief of Counsel For Prosecution of
Axis Criminality, Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, ("Red Series"),
Volume III, pages 418-419, USGPO, Washington DC 1946
^ A Nazi euphemism for murder, similar to "special treatment"
^ (in German) 13 Js 328/60, siehe "Tötung in einer Minute".
„Mitschrift der Vernehmung und Fahndungsschreiben von Dr. phil.
^ (in German) „Trauriges Bild“. „Spiegel“-Artikel vom 4.
(in German) Klee, Ernst, „Euthanasie im NS-Staat: die Vernichtung
lebensunwerten Lebens. 11. Auflage. Fischer-Taschenbuch, Frankfurt/M.
2004, ISBN 3-596-24326-2
(in German) Klee, Ernst, Dokumente zur „Euthanasie“. Frankfurt
a.M. 1985, Fischer Taschenbuchverlag, ISBN 3-596-24327-0
(in German) Klee, Ernst, Was sie taten – Was sie wurden,
Frankfurt/M. 1986, ISBN 3-596-24364-5
(in German) Klee, Ernst: „August Becker“ Eintrag in ders.: Das
Personenlexikon zum Dritten Reich. Wer war was vor und nach 1945.
Aktualisierte Ausgabe. Fischer-Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 2005,
(in German) Eugen Kogon, Hermann Langbein, Adalbert Rückerl u.a.
(Hrsg.): Nationalsozialistische Massentötungen durch Giftgas: eine
Dokumentation, Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt 1986,
(in German) Ernst Klee, Willi Dreßen, Volker Rieß (Hrsg.):
„Schöne Zeiten“ -- Judenmord aus der Sicht der Täter und Gaffer.
S.Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt a.M. 1988, ISBN 3-10-039304-X,
English translation published in the USA under the title "The Good Old
Days": The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders, Old
Saybrook, CT, Konecky and Konecky, 1991 ISBN 1-56852-133-2
(in German) Volker Rieß: „Die Anfänge der Vernichtung
‚lebensunwerten Lebens’ in den Reichsgauen Danzig-Westpreußen
1939/40“. Frankfurt am Main 1995
(in German) Henry Friedlander: "Der Weg zum NS-Genozid. Von der
Euthanasie zur Endlösung"; Berlin Verlag, Berlin, 2002,
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
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