Frankfurt Auschwitz trials
Buergerhaus at Frankenalle in Frankfurt am Main-Gallus. Courthouse for the first Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial in 1963-65, 2009 photo.
The Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, known in German as der Auschwitz-Prozess, or der zweite Auschwitz-Prozess, (the "second Auschwitz trial") was a series of trials running from December 20, 1963 to August 19, 1965, charging 22 defendants under German criminal law for their roles in the Holocaust as mid- to lower-level officials in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death and concentration camp complex.
Overall, only 63 individuals of the approximately 7,000 SS personnel who served at Auschwitz and its sub-camps have ever been tried. Unlike the first trial in Poland held almost two decades earlier, the trials in Frankfurt were not based on the legal definition of crimes against humanity as recognized by international law, but according to the state laws of the Federal Republic.
Prior trial in Poland
Most of the senior leaders of the camp, including Rudolf Höss, the longest-standing commandant of the camp, were turned over to the Polish authorities in 1947 following their participation as witnesses in the Nuremberg Trial. Subsequently, the accused were tried in Kraków and many sentenced to death for violent crimes and torturing of prisoners. SS-Sturmbannführer Richard Baer, the last camp commandant, died in detention while still under investigation as part of the trials. Only SS-Untersturmführer Hans Münch was set free. That original trial in Poland is usually known as the first Auschwitz Trial.
Course of proceedings
Defendants ranged from members of the SS to kapos, privileged prisoners responsible for low-level control of camp internees, and included some of those responsible for the process of "selection," or determination of who should be sent to the gas chambers directly from the "ramp" upon disembarking the trains that brought them from across Europe ("selection" generally entailed inclusion of all children held to be ineligible for work, generally under the age of 14, and any mothers unwilling to part with their "selected" children). In the course of the trial, approximately 360 witnesses were called, including around 210 survivors. Proceedings began in the "Bürgerhaus Gallus", in Frankfurt am Main, which was converted into a courthouse for that purpose, and remained there until their conclusion.
Hessian Generalstaatsanwalt (State Attorney General) Fritz Bauer, himself briefly interned in the concentration camp at Heuberg in 1933, led the prosecution. Bauer was perhaps at least as concerned with establishing the character of the camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau as he was with pursuing individual defendants, which may explain in part why only 22 of an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 SS members thought to have been involved in the administration and operation of the camp were charged. The men on trial in Frankfurt were tried only for murders and other crimes that they committed on their own initiative at Auschwitz and were not tried for anything that they did at Auschwitz when following orders, which was considered by the courts to be the lesser crime of accomplice to murder. At a 1963 trial of a KGB assassin named Bohdan Stashynsky who had committed several murders in the Federal Republic in the 1950s was found by a German court not legally guilty of murder. Instead, Stashynsky was found to be only an accomplice to murder as the courts ruled that the responsibility for his murders rested only with his superiors in the KGB who had given him his orders. The legal implication of the Stashynsky case were that the courts had ruled that in a totalitarian system only executive decision-makers could be convicted of murder and that anyone who followed orders and killed someone could be convicted only of being accomplices to murder. The term executive decision-maker was so defined by the courts to apply only to the highest levels of the Reich leadership during the National Socialist period, and that all who just followed orders when killing were just accomplices to murder. Someone could be only convicted of murder if was shown that they had killed someone on their own initiative, and thus all of the accused of murder at the Auschwitz trial were tried only for murders that they done on their own initiative. Because of this, Bauer could only indict for murder those who killed when not following orders, and those who had killed while following orders could be indicted as accomplices to murder. Moreover because of the legal distinction between murderers and accomplices to murder meant that a SS man who killed thousands while operating the gas chambers at Auschwitz could only be found guilty of being accomplice to murder because he had been following orders while a SS man who beaten one inmate to death on his initiative could be convicted of murder because he had not been following orders.
Bauer is said to have been opposed in the former purpose by the young Helmut Kohl, then a junior member of the Christian Democratic Union. In furtherance of that purpose Bauer sought and received support from the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich. The following historians from the Institute served as expert witnesses for the prosecution; Helmut Krausnick, Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, Hans Buchheim, and Martin Broszat. Subsequently, the information the four historians gathered for the prosecution served as the basis for their 1968 book, Anatomy of the SS State, the first thorough survey of the SS based on SS records.
Information about the actions of those accused and their whereabouts had been in the possession of West German authorities since 1958, but action on their cases was delayed by jurisdictional disputes, among other considerations. The court's proceedings were largely public and served to bring many details of the Holocaust to the attention of the public in the Federal Republic of Germany, as well as abroad. Six defendants were given life sentences and several others received the maximum prison sentences possible for the charges brought against them.
The trial attracted much publicity in Germany, but was considered by Bauer to be a failure. Bauer complained that the media treated the accused in such a manner as to imply that they were all freakish monsters, which allowed the German public to distance themselves from feeling any moral guilt about had happened at Auschwitz, which was instead presented as the work of few sick people who were not at all like normal Germans. Moreover, Bauer felt that because the law treated those who had followed orders when killing as accomplices to murder it implied that the policy of genocide and the Nazi rules for treating inmates at Auschwitz were in fact legitimate. Bauer wrote that the way that the media had portrayed the trial had supported the "wishful fantasy that there were only a few people with responsibility ... and the rest were merely terrorized, violated hangers-on, compelled to do things completely contrary to their true nature." Furthermore, Bauer charged that the judges in convicting the accused had made it sound like Germany in Nazi era had been an occupied country with most Germans having no choice, but to follow orders. "But this," he said, "had nothing to do with historical reality. There were virulent nationalists, imperialists, anti-Semites and Jew-haters. Without them, Hitler was unthinkable."
|Name||Rank, Title, or Role||Sentence|
|Stefan Baretzki||Blockführer (block chief)||Life plus 8 years imprisonment|
|Emil Bednarek||Kapo||Life imprisonment|
|Wilhelm Boger||camp Gestapo||Life & 5 years imprisonment|
|Wilhelm Breitwieser||camp uniforms, Häftlingsbekleidungskammer||Released|
|Perry Broad||camp Gestapo||4 years imprisonment|
|Victor Capesius||pharmacist||9 years imprisonment|
|Klaus Dylewski||camp Gestapo||5 years imprisonment|
|Willi Frank||Head of SS dental station||7 years imprisonment|
|Emil Hantl||Sanitätsdienstgrad (medical orderly)||3½ years imprisonment|
|Karl-Friedrich Höcker||adjutant||7 years imprisonment|
|Franz-Johann Hofmann||Head of protective custody camp||Life imprisonment|
|Oswald Kaduk||Rapportführer (SS NCO)||Life imprisonment|
|Josef Klehr||medical orderly||Life & 15 years imprisonment|
|Dr. Franz Lucas||SS Obersturmführer||3 years, 3 months imprisonment|
|Robert Mulka||adjutant||14 years imprisonment|
|Gerhard Neubert||HKB Monovitz||Released|
|Hans Nierzwicki||HKB Auschwitz 1||Released|
|Willi Schatz||SS dentist||Acquitted & released|
|Herbert Scherpe||SS Oberscharführer||4½ years imprisonment|
|Bruno Schlage||SS Oberscharführer||6 years imprisonment|
|Johann Schobert||Political Division||Acquitted & released|
|Hans Stark||camp Gestapo||10 years imprisonment|
In September 1977 an additional trial was held in Frankfurt against two former members of the SS for killings in the Auschwitz satellite camp of Lagischa (Polish: Lagisza, and on the so-called "evacuation" (i.e. death march) from Golleschau (Goleszow) to Wodzisław Śląski (German: Loslau). This trial was portrayed in the film The Reader
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- Verdict on Auschwitz, The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial 1963-65 at DEFA Film Library, 2006.
- Fritz Bauer Institute
- Book review comparing Wittmann's and Pendas's monographs about the trial
- Subset: "Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials Witnesses", Archive "Forced Labor 1939-1945"
- Shortfilm "Testifying in Nazi Trials", Archive "Forced Labor 1939-1945"
- Sonderkommando page in French
- G. Álvarez, Mónica. "Guardianas Nazis. El lado femenino del mal". Madrid: Grupo Edaf, 2012. ISBN 978-84-414-3240-6
- Devin O. Pendas,The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, 1963–65: Genocide, History and the Limits of the Law (Cambridge University Press, 2006)
- Rebecca Wittmann, Beyond Justice: the Auschwitz Trial (Harvard University Press, 2005)
- Hermann Langbein, Der Auschwitz-Prozess.Eine Dokumentation. 2 vols, Europa Verlag, Vienna, Frankfurt, Zurich, 1965.
- Review of "The Investigation," a play written by Peter Weiss (1965)