The Dachau trials were held for all war criminals caught in the United States zones in occupied Germany and Austria, as well as for those individuals accused of committing war crimes against American citizens and its military personnel. The trials, which were held within the walls of the former Dachau concentration camp, were conducted entirely by American military personnel whose legal authority had been conferred by the Judge Advocate General's Department within the U.S. Third Army.
The Dachau Military Tribunal's chief prosecutor was 32 year-old William Denson, a U.S. Army lawyer. The chief defence counsel was Lieutenant Colonel Douglas T. Bates Jr., an artillery officer and lawyer from Centerville, Tennessee.
Unlike the International Military Trials in Nuremberg that prosecuted the major Nazi war criminals under the jurisdiction of the four Allied Occupying Powers, the Dachau tribunals were held exclusively by the United States military between November 1945 and August 1948. The proceedings were similar to the 12 post-1946 Nuremberg trials that were also conducted solely by the United States.
All the hearings were held within Dachau because it was, at the time, the best known of the Nazi concentration camps and it would act as a backdrop for the trials by underlining the moral corruption of the Nazi regime.
During almost three years, the American military tribunals tried 1,672 German alleged war criminals in 489 separate proceedings. In total 1,416 former members of the Nazi regime were convicted, of these, 297 received death sentences and 279 were sentenced to life in prison. All convicted prisoners were sent to War Criminals Prison #1 at Landsberg am Lech to serve their sentences or to be hanged.
Two of the most highly publicised trials concerned the activities of German forces during the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944. In the Malmedy massacre trial, 73 members of the Waffen-SS were found guilty of summarily executing 84 American prisoners of war during the attack. In another trial, former German commando Otto Skorzeny and nine officers from the Panzer Brigade 150, were found not guilty of breaching the rules of war contrary to the Hague Convention of 1907 for wearing American military uniforms in a false flag operation, Operation Greif.
- The Dachau Camp Trials: 40 officials were tried; 36 of the defendants were sentenced to death on 13 December 1945. Of these, 23 were hanged on the 28 May and 29 May 1946, including the former commandant Martin Gottfried Weiss and the camp doctor Claus Schilling. Smaller groups of Dachau camp officials and guards were included in several subsequent trials by the U.S. court. On 21 November 1946 it was announced that, up to that date, 116 defendants of this category had been convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment.
- The Mauthausen Camp Trials: 61 officials of this camp were tried by a U.S. military court at Dachau in March/April, 1946; 58 defendants were sentenced to death on 11 May 1946. Those executed included the commandant of the SS-Totenkopfverbände.
- The Flossenbürg Camp Trial: 52 officials and guards of this camp were tried between 12 June 1946 and 19 January 1947. Of the defendants, 15 sentenced to death and 25 to terms of imprisonment.
- The Buchenwald Camp Trial: Between April and August, 1947, 31 defendants were found guilty. Of these 22 were sentenced to death; 9 to imprisonment.
- The Mühldorf Camp Trial, five officials were sentenced to death by a U.S. war crimes court at Dachau on 13 May 1947 and seven to imprisonment.
- The Dora-Nordhausen Trial: On 7 August 1947 it convicted 15 former SS guards and Kapos (one was executed). The trial also addressed the question of liability of Mittelwerk V-2 rocket scientists.
Notable death sentences
a* August Eigruber: Ex SS-Obergruppenführer, Gauleiter of Oberdonau (1939-1945) and Landeshauptmann of Upper Austria (1938-1945). Condemned to death on 11 May 1946 for his involvement in the establishment and administration of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. Executed on 28 May 1947.
- Otto Förschner: Ex SS-Sturmbannführer and former commandant of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp (1943-1945) and commander of the Dachau satellite-camp of Kaufering (February–April 1945). Sentenced to death on 13 December 1945 for crimes against humanity committed during his tenure at Kaufering. Executed in Landsberg prison on 28 May 1946.
- Eduard Krebsbach: Ex SS-Sturmbannführer and chief medical officer of Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp (1941-1943). Convicted on 11 May 1946 of killing hundreds of ill and disabled inmates by administering lethal injections of the chemical compound Benzene. Executed on 28 May 1947.
- Julius Ludolf: Ex SS-Obersturmführer in the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp system (1940-1945). Served as commandant of the satellite-camps of Loibl, Großraming and Melk. Condemned to death on 11 May 1946 and executed in Landsberg prison on 28 May 1947.
- Hans Möser: Ex SS-Obersturmführer and commander of the Protective Custody Camp at Mittelbau-Dora (1944-1945). Condemned to death on 30 December 1947 for his involvement in the executions of camp inmates. Executed in Landsberg prison on 26 November 1948. The only defendant of the 19 in the Dora Trial to receive a death sentence.
- Joachim Peiper: Ex SS-Standartenführer and commander of the 1st SS-Panzerregiment/"Kampfgruppe Peiper" during the Battle of the Bulge. Sentenced to death on 16 July 1946 for his role in the Malmedy massacre. Sentence was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment and later to time served, following an investigation conducted by the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee which concluded that improper pre-trial procedures by U.S. authorities had unfairly affected the trial process. Released from prison in December 1956.
- Alexander Piorkowski: Ex SS-Sturmbannführer and commandant of Dachau concentration camp (1940-1942). Executed on 22 October 1948.
- Hermann Pister: Ex SS-Oberführer and commandant of Buchenwald concentration camp (1942-1945). Sentenced to death in August 1947 but died of natural causes in Landsberg prison on 28 September 1948, before sentence could be carried out.
- Claus Schilling: Former civilian medical specialist at Dachau concentration camp (1942-1945). Sentenced to death on 13 December 1945 for his involvement in medical experimentation on camp inmates. Executed on 28 May 1946.
- Jürgen Stroop: Ex SS-Gruppenführer. Sentenced to death on 21 March 1947 for ordering the summary execution of captured Allied airmen. Later extradited to Poland to stand trial for his role in the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto. Condemned to death by Polish authorities on 23 July 1951 and executed in Mokotów Prison in Warsaw on 6 March 1952.
- Erich Wasicky: Ex SS-Hauptsturmführer and medical officer in the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp system (1941-1945). Oversaw the establishment and operation of the gas chambers in the Mauthausen main camp and the satellite camp of Hartheim. Sentenced to death on 13 May 1946 and executed on 28 May 1947.
- Martin Gottfried Weiss: Ex SS-Obersturmbannführer in the Dachau concentration camp system. Served twice as commandant of the Dachau main camp (1942-1943 and April 1945). Also commanded the satellite-camp of Mühldorf (1944-1945). Sentenced to death on 13 December 1945 for atrocities committed during his first command at Dachau, which included the initial construction and use of the camp's gas chamber and human experimenation conducted using camp inmates. Executed in Landsberg prison on 29 May 1946.
- Georg Johannes Rickhey: Former senior official with the Reich Ministry for Armaments and War Production (1942-1945) and director of the Mittelwerk GmbH munitions facility located in Mittelbau-Dora (1944-1945), where he oversaw V-weapons production. Arrested by the United States Army in May 1945 and later brought to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio and employed under the terms of Operation Paperclip. Subsequently indicted by U.S. authorities in August 1947 for his alleged involvement in war crimes at Mittelbau-Dora, including the use of forced labor, collaboration with the SS and Gestapo, and responsibility for the catastrophic working conditions at Mittelwerk. Acquitted due to lack of evidence on 30 December 1947.
- Heinrich Schmidt: Ex SS-Hauptsturmführer and medical officer in the Dachau and Mittelbau-Dora concentration camps. Indicted by US authorities in August 1947 for suspected war crimes committed during his service as chief physician of the Nordhausen sub-camp of Mittelbau-Dora (March–April 1945). Acquitted due to insufficient evidence on 30 December 1947. Later indicted by the District Court of Düsseldorf in November 1975 for alleged crimes against humanity perpetrated during his service as a medical officer in the Majdanek concentration camp (1942-1943). Again acquitted due to lack of evidence on 20 March 1979, after what became the longest and most expensive criminal trial in German history.
- Otto Skorzeny: Ex SS-Obersturmbannführer and commander of SS-Panzer Brigade 150 during the Battle of the Bulge. Indicted by U.S. authorities in August 1947 for allegedly violating the Hague Convention of 1907 stemming from his leadership of Operation Greif, a false flag operation in which German troops infiltrated Allied lines in the Ardennes forest while wearing British and US Army uniforms and using captured Allied vehicles. Acquitted of all charges on 9 September 1947.
- Belzec Trial before the 1st Munich District Court in the mid-1960s, of eight SS-men of the Belzec extermination camp
- Chełmno Trials of the Chełmno extermination camp personnel, held in Poland and in Germany. The cases were decided almost twenty years apart
- Dora Trial
- Majdanek Trials, the longest Nazi war crimes trial in history, spanning over 30 years
- Mauthausen-Gusen camp trials
- Nuremberg Trials of the 23 most important leaders of the Third Reich, 1945–1946
- Subsequent Nuremberg Trials
- Sobibor Trial held in Hagen, Germany in 1965, concerning the Sobibor extermination camp personnel
Notes and references
- Greene, Joshua (2003). Justice At Dachau: The Trials Of An American Prosecutor. New York: Broadway. p. 400 pp. ISBN 0-7679-0879-1.
- The trial of Otto Skorzeny and others in the General Military Government Court of the U.S. Zone of Germany.
- Some Noteworthy War Criminals Source: History of the United Nations War Crimes Commission and the Development of the Laws of War. United Nations War Crimes Commission. London: HMSO, 1948
- "A Booklet with a Brief History of the "DORA" - NORDHAUSEN Labor-Concentration Camps and Information on the NORDHAUSEN War Crimes Case of The United States of America versus Arthur Kurt Andrae et al.".
- "United States of America v. Kurt Andrae et al. (and Related Cases)" (pdf). United States Army Investigation and Trial Records of War Criminals. National Archives and Records Service. April 27, 1945 – June 11, 1958. Retrieved 2008-05-27.
- Franklin, Thomas (1987). American in Exile, An: The Story of Arthur Rudolph. Huntsville: Christopher Kaylor Company. p. 150.
- United States Law and Practice Concerning Trials of War Criminals by Military Commissions and Military Government Courts. United Nations War Crimes Commission.