Review: Michael Grabher, "Irmfried Eberl. 'Euthanasie'-Arzt und Kommandant von Treblinka" (Peter Lang - Europäischer Verlag der Wissenschaft, Frankfurt am Main 2006)

Published: 2009-07-23 13:04:20+00:00


Dr. Irmfried Eberl (b. 1910), former medical director of the euthanasia institutes in Brandenburg and Bernburg, was the first commandant of the Treblinka II "death camp" from the beginning of the camp's operation in July 1942 to the end of August the same year, when reportedly he was fired due to incompetence and replaced by the former commandant of Sobibór, Franz Paul Stangl.

In his short book from 2006, Michael Grabher traces Eberl's life from his upbringing and early medical career to his suicide in Austrian custody on February 16, 1948. Except for medical records and some post-war trial material, the author quotes from Eberl's correspondence - including personal letters sent to his first wife, Ruth (who died during the war) - which has been preserved, at least in part, in the Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden (HHStaW) under the file designation "631a 1631". The bulk of the brief volume is devoted to Eberl's activity at the euthanasia institutes (mostly administrative) with only a short chapter concerning the months spent as commandant of Treblinka. Perhaps not suprisingly, a large part of this chapter is taken up by a general description of the supposed genesis and purpose of Treblinka and the other Reinhardt camps, much of it derived from Yitzhak Arad's standard work Belzec, Sobibor Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, which in turn is more or less exclusively based on post-war eyewitness testimony.

Grabher presents two letters (or rather extracts from letters) to Ruth Eberl sent from Treblinka by her husband. The first (with the return adress of "SS-Untersturmführer Dr. Eberl, Treblinka b/ Malkinia, SS-Sonderkommando") is dated June 29, 1942. In it the new commandant, bearing the rank of SS-Untersturmführer, described the final phase of the construction of the camp as follows (pp. 70-71):

«Die letzten Tage waren eine tolle Hetzjagd, umsomehr als sich die Aufbauarbeiten dem Ende nähern und wir den Termin 1.7. nicht halten können, aber nur so wenig als möglich überschreiben wollen. Durch verschiedene Vorkommnisse (Liegenbleiben von Wagen, Unfall, nicht zuletzt Papierkrieg) wurde die Fertigstellung verzögert. (...) Mir persönlich geht es ausgezeichnet. Es ist viel Betrieb und das macht mir Spass».


«The last days have been an awful hurry, all the more since the construction work nears its end. We will not be able to keep the July 1 deadline but we are trying to exceed it as little as possible. Because of various incidents (stalled trains , accidents, and not least bureaucratic problems) the completion has been delayed. (...) Personally I'm doing fine. There is a lot of work to do, something which I enjoy».

Despite the complete absence of any mention of gas chambers or mass killing in this letter - in the usual conspiratorial fashion of the exterminationists, non-evidence becomes evidence, and connections are drawn at will - Grabher makes the contents of this letter out to be evidence of Eberl's anti-Semitic fervor and enthusiasm for the alleged mass killing of Jews (p. 71):

«How fanatically Eberl pursued his task is shown by the fact that, despite the "awful hurry" he felt well and took pleasure in the work. This does not sound like man plagued by bad conscience for the soon to be commenced mass extermination».

The second letter quoted was sent about a month later, on July 30, 1942, when deportees from the Warsaw ghetto where arriving to the camp in large numbers:

«Daß ich in der letzten Zeit etwas wenig geschrieben habe weiß ich, konnte dies aber nicht ändern, da die letzten Warschauer Wochen von einer Hetze begleitet waren, die unvorstellbar war, ebenso hat hier in Treblinka ein Tempo eingesetzt, das geradezu atemberaubend ist. Wenn ich vier Teile hätte und der Tag 100 Stunden, dann würde das wahrscheinlich auch noch nicht ganz reichen. (...) Es ist mir, allerdings unter Rücksichtslosem Einsatz meiner Person gelungen, in den letzten Tagen mit nur dem halben Personal meine Aufgabe zu meistern. Allderdings habe ich auch meine Leute rücksichtslos überall eingesetzt, wo es nötig war und meine Leute haben wacker mitgezogen. Und auf diese Leistung bin ich froh und stolz (...) Denn da Du die schöne Seite in meinem Leben darstellst, sollst Du von allem nichts wissen».


«I know that I have not written much to you lately, but I could not help this, since the last Warsaw weeks have been accompanied by an unbelievable agitation and likewise here in Treblinka we have reached a pace that is downright breathtaking. Even if there were four of me and each day was 100 hours long, this would surely not be enough (...) By employing myself ruthlessly, I have nevertheless managed the last days with only half of the personnel at my command. I have deployed my people ruthlessly wherever it was necessary and they have struggled along valiantly. I am happy and proud of this achievement. (...) Since you represent for me the beautiful part of my life, you should not know everything about it»

Again Grabher tries to make the most of Eberl's words:

«This letter is interesting (...) because it contains Eberl's only - if indirect - comment on the mass extermination»

This "indirect comment" is constituted by the last sentence of the letter:

«Since you represent for me the beautiful part in my life, you should not know everything about it».

That these words are a comment on "mass extermination" is, of course, not proven by anything, unless we accept Grabher's pious belief in said alleged "mass extermination" as evidence. The comment could perfectly well relate to anything unpleasant, whether it be quarrels with superiors or staff, disgusting sanitary conditions, outbreaks of disease, the handling of people who died on board the deportation trains, or general hardship in the camp life. It is obvious that Grabher has failed to discover any real incriminating documentation on Eberl's time as Treblinka commandant.

Like many other members of the vanquished German forces, Eberl spent the last days of the war and the months following it as a POW. As with his successor as Treblinka commandant, Franz Stangl, he was not (officially at least) recognized as an alleged war criminal during his time spent as a POW. After his release in the summer of 1945, Eberl settled in the small town of Blaubeuren bei Ulm in southern Germany, where the parents of his late wife Ruth also lived. In Blaubeuren Eberl practiced as a physician under his own name. He remarried and had a son in 1947. Soon thereafter he was arrested by occupation authorities, suspected of involvement in the euthanasia program. On February 9, 1948, a former nurse from the Grafeneck euthanasia center identified Eberl for the Tübingen police. Some days later, while still in custody, an unidentified fellow prisoner reportedly showed Eberl a copy of the newly published book Der SS-Staat by Eugen Kogon, in which Eberl's activity in the euthanasia program was mentioned (but not his role as Treblinka commandant). On February 16, 1948 Eberl committed suicide by hanging himself with a sheet. He left behind a letter to his wife and son, in which, as Grabher puts it, "one will look in vain for an admittal of guilt or words of regret and remorse" (p. 100).

One wonder: could this be because Eberl had nothing to feel guilty about, or at least not any mass gassings of Jews at Treblinka? Grabher, while providing a few references to interesting rare material (primarily the letters of Eberl, which, one may suspect, were quoted rather selectively) presents no new evidence whatsoever for the already untenable hypothesis that Treblinka II was a "pure extermination camp" for Jews.


Thomas Kues

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Author(s) Thomas Kues
Title Review: Michael Grabher, "Irmfried Eberl. 'Euthanasie'-Arzt und Kommandant von Treblinka" (Peter Lang - Europäischer Verlag der Wissenschaft, Frankfurt am Main 2006)
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Dates published: 2009-07-23 13:04:20+00:00, first posted on CODOH: July 23, 2009, 8:04 a.m., last revision: n/a
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