Beginning March 1945, the collapse of Germany seemed just a matter of time. The Red Army had moved into Pomerania and Silesia and the Americans and British had crossed the Rhine and were advancing into central Germany. The county of Muehldorf wasn’t immune from war damage either. Allied air attacks from March 19 to April 20, 1945 had destroyed the Muehldorf train station and nearby installations killing 150 Muehldorfers. A low altitude air attack by US fighter aircraft on an airfield in Mettenheim claimed many destroyed aircraft as well as killing nine inmates at the nearby camp.
Due to a disruption in supplies and building materials, work at the bunker could not be carried out on a daily basis and eventually, with the end of the war in sight, was abandoned.
Camp discipline and rules became more relaxed during the last weeks of the war, which gave the inmates hope. Some of the SS guards even started friendly conversations with some of the inmates.
However, on the 26th of April 1945, the order to depart was announced to all camps in the region. The official explanation that was told to the inmates was that they were being brought to safety from the advancing Allied armies. Sick inmates were left behind and the majority of prisoners were to now go through some of their worst experiences as slaves of the Third Reich. 4,000 prisoners were crammed into freight trains (100 per wagon) and given a small slice of bread and cheese, then the journey began. Destination unknown. Rumors among the prisoners theorized that they were going to be taken to an extermination camp. It soon turned out that the train was traveling south to the fictional Alpenfestung (National Redoubt). During the journey south, the train had stopped in Poing on the outskirts of Munich.
On the morning of April 28, 1945, the accompanying SS guards opened the doors of the trains and told the prisoners that the war is over and they’re free to go wherever they wish, then the guards fled. After plundering the supply train, the former inmates dispersed throughout the area. Suddenly, shots and screams were heard. An SS field police unit had materialized and with them, some of the former Muehldorf camp guards. The prisoners were rounded up and forced back into the freight train and locked up. The incident was not without fatalities. Some inmates had been bayoneted and shot during the skirmish and were either dead or dying.
This sad incident can be traced back to the failed actions of the “Freiheitsaktion Bayern” group, a small breakaway unit of the German Army that tried to prevent fighting in Bavaria and was willing to surrender to the Allies. In the night from April 27 to 28, Hauptmann Gerngroß of the Wehrmacht had ordered the occupation of the radio broadcasting station Freiman. The SS guards in Poing, having found out about the incident responded with the utmost brutality by killing civilians and Wehrmacht soldiers belonging to the freedom group.
To make matters worse, a low-level air attack by American fighter aircraft, which had mistaken the train for a troop transport, claimed the lives of several inmates. Nevertheless, the train went underway and for days, traveled around aimlessly with no set destination before coming to a halt near Tutzing and Seeshaupt. On April 30, 1945, American troops finally liberated the prisoners.
The American occupation forces took over the Muehldorf prison camps in early May. Most of the SS guards had already fled. Prior to doing so, they had dumped their supplies of alcoholic drinks in the nearby forests out of fear that the freed inmates would obtain these, become drunk and vengeful towards the local population. With the end of the war in sight, the prisoners became anxious and threatened to break down the fence of the now heavily understaffed Waldlager camp. In order to maintain peace and quiet, the camp commander sent a trusted civilian from Ampfing to meet the advancing Americans and lead them to the camp.
In the Mettenheim camp, a medical orderly who had stayed behind with the sick contacted the Americans and gave the location details of the camp. Prior to the liberation, one of the camp commanders, possibly Hauptmann Ostermann, had sought written assurance from the inmates that he had treated them well, which for the most part was true. In his defense later in court, Ostermann produced a written order that had charged him with the destruction of the camp, which he disobeyed. This and the fact that Ostermann had indeed treated camp inmates fair ensured that the former captain came away with a light sentence. Captured SS guards were interned and sent to an American prisoner-of-war camp.
The American liberators immediately fed the freed inmates. The many sick were transported to Muehldorf’s main city hospital and to the military hospital in Ecksberg as well as setup facilities in Ampfing. Due to a shortage in medical manpower, local women and girls, including some from the NS-Frauenschaft (an organization that trained German women as workers, nurses and a variety of other useful tasks) and the Bund Deutscher Maedel (League of German Girls) were recruited to aid in caring for the sick.
Many former inmates were not able to enjoy their freedom for long. They died from sickness and disease as well as the consequences from months, if not years, of ill treatment. The lack of suitable living conditions for the liberated inmates caused the Americans to accommodate inmates with local families for a period of two years, until they could return home or immigrate. Some survivors found a new home in Bavaria.
The US Army was quick to take to court guilty SS as well as some Organization Todt personnel and also the management of Polensky & Zoellner. The trials were held in Dachau. The first trial, on December 1945, former camp commander W.A. Langleist and former SS-Oberscharfuehrer J.V. Kirsch were sentenced to death. In another hearing, G. Schallermair was also sentenced to death. The court found these three men guilty of war crimes and for encouraging the brutal treatment of prisoners. Langleist and Kirsch were executed on May 28, 1946 in Landsberg. Schallermair survived until 1951. He was executed on June 8th. Five other defendants were sentenced to death, including Dr. Flocken during the Muehldorfer trials (April - May 1947). However, their sentence was later reduced to prison sentences. Captain Ostermann was spoken free. The former SS-Oberscharfuehrer F. Auer was put to death on November 28, 1948 in Landsberg.
There were also trials in a German court against former camp commander Sebastian Eberl and other former SS men as well as the camp elder H. Rohr and Kapo “L”. The trials were inconclusive due to a lack of convincing eyewitness accounts and evidence and were ultimately shut down.
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