Stalag Luft III was a POW camp set up by the Nazis during WWII that primarily housed captured air force personal that had been shot down. The camp was located in the providence Lower Silesia near the town of Sagan 100 miles south east of Berlin.
During the spring of 1943, a planned escape was devised in which the interned POW’s were to tunneling beneath the camp in an attempt to gain their freedom. The complexity of the scheme and in addition to the slow and laborious digging of the escape route, took an entire year to complete. Finally in March of 1944 it was completed and ready.
Initially, the operation called for 200 of the of the POW’s to make their way to freedom on the night of March 24th. The unexpected difficulty of maneuvering such a large number airmen inside of the narrow and dark tunnel fell short, and only 76 actually made it out of the facility. Of the 76 escapees, only 3 eventually made it to freedom. The other 73 men were hunted down and recaptured.
Upon hearing of the escape Hitler was furious. As a display of his anger and to set an example to all of the POW’s interned in Stalag Luft III, he initially called for the execution of 200 of the interned airmen from the camp. In the end, 50 of the recaptured POW’s were to be summarily murdered. The Gestapo was assigned to carry out the investigation of the escape, and the execution of the 50 POW’s in reprisal for it.
The Gestapo regional headquarters in Berlin was commanded by Oswald Schafer. Upon receiving the telegraph with Hitler’s orders regarding the execution of the recaptured POW’s, Schafer sent his driver to gather his second in command Martin Schermer, and 2 other agents, Edward Geith & Johann Schneider. After a conference with Schafer who explained the execution orders from RSHA to the other 3 agents, they all proceeded to KRIPO headquarters to retrieve 2 of the held escapees, that had been recaptured. Downed airmen Rupert J. Stevens and Johannes S. Gouws both from the SAAF, were hustled into the waiting vehicle and were driven to the German countryside during the dark of the night. The Hitler execution order for the murdering of the 50 condemned POW’s was explicit. All were to be shot in the back at close range, using a fully automatic weapon or a machine gun. Since Gestapo agent Johann Schneider was carrying such a weapon, it was decided that he would be the executioner. With the vehicle pulled over to the side of the Autobahn, POW’s Stevens and Gouws were pulled from it, and led a short distance off of the road. On Schermer order, Schneider murdered both of the airmen in cold blood.
During the subsequent trial which culminated on Sept. 3, 1947, the 17 Nazi war criminals who were responsible for the murders of the 50 POW’s from Stalag Luft III, received the death penalty. This included Berlin field Gestapo agent, Johann Schneider. In Hameln Germany on Feb. 27, 1948, Schneider as well as the others received their just reward at the hands of British executioner and hangman, Albert Pierrepoint.
Approximately 1972, well known 3rd Reich historian and antique collector Gailen David, purchase a 30 mm Gold Party Badge from a US service veteran living in Maryland. The badge was in decent condition except for the fact that half of the pin was missing (a common occurrence), and also that an attempt to deface the owner’s NSDAP number was evident. Gailen tossed the GPB in a box where it remained for over 20 years.
In 2010, Kris Meda, a new collector in 3rd Reich antiques, purchased this Gold Party Badge from Gailen. By using a pencil and paper, Kris sketched and traced over the partially effaced number on the reverse of the badge, and was able to extract and bring out the digits of the scratched NSDAP #. That simple investigating process revealed that the badge had initially been stamped with the 4 digit number, 8435. Using this information, Kris ran a check of known NSDAP party numbers on file. It revealed that GPB number 8435 belonged to none other than, Gestapo agent Johann Schneider.
That explains why there had been a half hearted attempt to scratch out and erase the identifying number on the reverse of this badge. It was clearly an attempt to hide it’s owners sinister identity, as well as his torture and murderous past. In the end, no doubt Nazi War Criminal Johann Schneider tried to slip into obscurity during the collapse of Nazi Germany. Try as he may have, he couldn’t escape the rope that was to be placed around his neck at the hangman’s gallows, in Hameln Germany.
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