Josef Schwammberger was born on February 14, 1912, in Brixen, Südtirol.
During the Second World War, Schwammberger was a sadistic commander of various SS forced-labor camps in the Krakow district (late August 1942 until spring 1944). Schwammberger was arrested in Innsbruck, Austria, in the French occupation zone, on July 19, 1945, but he escaped in January 1948 from a train taking him to U.S. military authorities in Austria where he was to be tried.
Thanks reportedly to Odessa, he escaped to South America. From 1948 until 1987, Schwammberger lived in hiding in Argentina. He lived under his own name and became an Argentine citizen in 1965. He worked for some time in a petrochemical plant. West German authorities sought his extradition beginnin in 1973, when they notified Argentine authorities Schwammberger might be living there and that he was on the top 10 list of most wanted Nazis.
Argentine officials found Schwammberger in 1987. After two years of fighting extradition, he was extradited to Germany.
At his trial, Schwammberger denied being guilty of the crimes of which he was charged; he simply admitted that "Ghetto A" was taken to the Przemysl camp. Originally, he was charged with murdering or helping to murder 3,377 people, including 40 by his own hand. Most of the victims were Jewish inmates of three Polish camps, Przemysl, Rozwadow, and Mielec. Toward the end of the 11-month trial (1991 until 1992), prosecutors reduced the number of charges because of a lack of evidence.
On May 18, 1992, he was condemned by the Stuttgart regional court (Landgericht) to life imprisonment, which he was to serve in Mannheim. He was found guilty of seven counts of murder and 32 counts of accessory to murder.
In August 2002, the Mannheim regional court declined a parole request due to the unusual cruelty of his offenses; he had been found guilty of carrying out arbitrary murders based on racial hatred against Jewish people.
His wife Käthe Schwammberger died in 2003 at the age of 87 in Argentina. Josef Schwammberger died in prison on December 3, 2004, aged 92.