Dachau trials

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Ex-SS-Sturmbannführer Friedrich Weitzel, who was the officer in charge of distributing food and clothing in the Dachau concentration camp, testifies during the Dachau Trials.

The Dachau trials handled the prosecution of every war criminal captured in the U.S. military zones in Allied-occupied Germany and in Allied-occupied Austria, and the prosecutions of military personnel and civilian persons who committed war crimes against the American military and American citizens. The war-crime trials were held within the compound of the Dachau concentration camp by military tribunals authorized by the Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Third Army.

The Nazi war criminals were held and tried at the Dachau Concentration Camp because the camp had buildings adequate to housing the many personnel required for and involved in realizing the legal proceedings of a war-crimes trial, and because the Dachau prison camp had many jail cells in which to hold the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS officers and soldiers accused of war crimes.[1] The American Military Tribunal for the war-crime trials at Dachau featured the JAG attorney William Denson as the chief prosecutor,[2] and the attorney Lt. Col. Douglas T. Bates Jr., an artillery officer, as the chief defense counsel.[2]


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.They were held by the American Military Tribunal, without a jury, but instead by a panel of seven men, one of whom was versed in international military law.[3] The prosecution was different from most trials, in that the burden of proof was on the defense.[4]

The charges to be carried out by the United States Military were against Germans such as camp guards, some SS units and medical personnel, who had taken part in war crimes against allied nationals.[5] The Dachau Trials consisted of 465 trials of individuals from not only the Dachau concentration camp, but also Flossenbürg concentration camp, Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp complex, Nordhausen concentration camp, Buchenwald concentration camp, and Mühldorf concentration camp complex and consisted of four main categories of charges: main camp offense, subsidiary camp offenses, atrocities against downed fliers, and then a catchall category mainly consisting of details about the Malmedy Massacre.[6]

The trials started in November 1945 and were adjourned the following month. By December 13, 1947[7] when the trials adjourned again, roughly 1200 defendants had been tried with roughly a 73% conviction rate.[8] During the almost three years in total, 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.[9][10]

The war-crime trials[edit]

  • 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 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 were 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.[11][12][13]
  • The most notable case starting on 15 November 1945 was the first case of the Dachau Concentration Camp Trials was the trial of the commandant of the Dachau Concentration Camp Martin Gottfried Weiss and others under his command.[14] In all 40 men were tried, 36 were sentenced to death, 28 of the deaths were carried out, and one, Peter Betz, was sentenced to life with hard labor, which was commuted from the death penalty.[15] The 40 men that were tried represented the departments that were at Dachau, some of which may not have had personal ties with the crimes against the Allied nationals.[16]

Death sentences[edit]

Jürgen Stroop (center, in field cap) with his men in the burning Warsaw Ghetto, 1943

Acquitted defendants[edit]

Post–War political aftermath[edit]

After the verdict, the way in which the court had functioned was disputed, first in Germany (by former Nazi officials who had regained some power due to anti-Communist positions with the occupation forces), then later in the United States (by Congressmen from heavily German-American areas of the Midwest, notoriously Sen Joseph McCarthy). The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which made no decision. The case then came under the scrutiny of a sub-committee of the United States Senate.[17] This drew attention to the trial and the judicial irregularities that had occurred during the interrogations that preceded the trial. But, before the United States Senate took an interest in this case, most of the death sentences had been commuted, because of a revision of the trial carried out by the US Army.[18] The other life sentences were commuted within the next few years. All the convicted war criminals were released during the 1950s, the last one to leave prison being Peiper in December 1956.

A distinct case about the war crimes committed against civilians in Stavelot was tried on July 6, 1948, in front of a Belgian military court in Liège, Belgium. The defendants were 10 members of Kampfgruppe Peiper; American troops had captured them on December 22, 1944, near the spot where one of the massacres of civilians in Stavelot had occurred. One man was discharged; the others were found guilty. Most of the convicts were sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment; two officers were sentenced to 12 and 15 years.

Towards the end of his life, Joachim Peiper settled in Traves, Haute-Saône, in eastern France. In 1976 a Communist historian obtained the file on Joachim Peiper from the Gestapo document archive in East Germany, and used the information to denounce the presence of a Nazi war criminal living in France. In June of 1976, there appeared political flyers denouncing the presence of SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Peiper in the village of Traves. Later, a newsmagazine article the left-wing L'Humanité identified Peiper's presence and residence in Traves, and he received threats of death. In the early morning of 14 July 14, Peiper's house was set afire, and killed him.[19]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Background & Overview of the Dachau Trials". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  2. ^ a b Greene, Joshua (2003). Justice At Dachau: The Trials Of An American Prosecutor. New York: Broadway. p. 400 pp. ISBN 0-7679-0879-1.
  3. ^ "Background & Overview of the Dachau Trials". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  4. ^ "Background & Overview of the Dachau Trials". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  5. ^ "Background & Overview of the Dachau Trials". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  6. ^ "Background & Overview of the Dachau Trials". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  7. ^ "Prosecution closing statement – American Military Tribunal at Dachau". www.scrapbookpages.com. 2009-09-09. Retrieved 2019-11-25.
  8. ^ "Background & Overview of the Dachau Trials". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  9. ^ The trial of Otto Skorzeny and others Archived October 2, 2008, at the Wayback Machine in the General Military Government Court of the U.S. Zone of Germany.
  10. ^ Some Noteworthy War Criminals Archived 2005-12-13 at the Wayback Machine 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
  11. ^ "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".
  12. ^ "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.
  13. ^ Franklin, Thomas (1987). American in Exile, An: The Story of Arthur Rudolph. Huntsville: Christopher Kaylor Company. p. 150.
  14. ^ "Background & Overview of the Dachau Trials". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  15. ^ "Prosecution closing statement – American Military Tribunal at Dachau". www.scrapbookpages.com. 2009-09-09. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  16. ^ "Opening statements at first American Military Tribunal at Dachau". www.scrapbookpages.com. 2008-04-07. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  17. ^ Malmedy massacre Investigation–Report of the Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services. United States Senate Eighty-first Congress, first session, pursuant to S. res. 42, Investigation of action of Army with Respect to Trial of Persons Responsible for the Massacre of American Soldiers, Battle of the Bulge, near Malmedy, Belgium, December 1944. 13 October 1949.
  18. ^ Parker, Danny S. (August 13, 2013). "Fatal Crossroads: The Untold Story of the Malmedy Massacre at the Battle of Bulge" (paperback ed.). Da Capo Press. p. 239. ISBN 978-0306821523.
  19. ^ Westemeier, Jens (2007). Joachim Peiper: A Biography of Himmler's SS Commander. Schiffer Publications. ISBN 978-0-7643-2659-2.