Majdanek trials

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Majdanek trials
Majdanek - Anton Thernes (1944).jpg
Former SS-Obersturmbannfuehrer Anton Thernes (standing, left) in front of a penal court on trial for crimes committed at Majdanek, 1944, Lublin, Poland
Submitted November 27, 1944
Decided June 30, 1981, Düsseldorf
The case of the Majdanek death camp
Majdanek concentration camp (June 24, 1944) from the collections of the Majdanek Museum, lower half: the barracks under deconstruction; in the upper half, functioning barracks
Preserved original ovens in the second Crematorium at Majdanek, built in 1943 by Heinrich Kori.[1]
Original gas chamber with visible Zyklon B blue stain on the back wall, permanently burned into the cement

The Majdanek trials were a series of consecutive war-crime trials held in Poland and in Germany after World War II, constituting the overall longest Nazi war crimes trial in history spanning over 30 years.[2] The first judicial trial of Majdanek extermination camp officials took place from November 27, 1944, to December 2, 1944, in Lublin, Poland.[3][4] The last one, held at the District Court of Düsseldorf began on November 26, 1975, and concluded on June 30, 1981. It was Germany's longest and most expensive trial, lasting 474 sessions.[5][6]

A number of former high ranking SS men, camp officials, camp guards, and SS staff were arraigned before the courts on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed at Majdanek in the period between October 1, 1941, and July 22, 1944. Notably, only 170 Nazis who served at Majdanek had been prosecuted at all, of the 1,037 camp personnel known by name. Half of the defendants charged by the West German justice system were set free after complaining of aches and pains in detention, acquitted of killing. By contrast, those tried earlier by Poland were usually found guilty. During the 34 months of camp operation, more than 79,000 people were murdered at Majdanek main camp alone (59,000 of them Polish Jews) and between 95,000 and 130,000 people in the entire Majdanek, system including several subcamps.[7] Some 18,000 Jews were killed at Majdanek on November 3, 1943, during the largest single-day, single-camp massacre of the Holocaust,[6] named Harvest Festival (totalling 43,000 with 2 subcamps).[8]

Notably, two KL Majdanek concentration camp commandants were put on trial by the SS themselves in the course of the camp operation partly because of what Majdanek was initially, merely a storage depot for gold, money and furs stolen from trainloads of Holocaust victims at death factories in Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.[9] Both SS men were charged with wholesale stealing from the Third Reich to become rich. Karl-Otto Koch (serving at Majdanek from July 1941 till August 24, 1942) was executed by firing squad on April 5, 1945; Hermann Florstedt, the third chief of Majdanek (from October 1942 on) was executed by the SS on April 15, 1945.[10]

First Majdanek trial[edit]

Retreating Germans did not have time to destroy the facility. It remained the best preserved example of an Holocaust death camp in history, with intact gas chambers and crematoria.[11] The advancing Soviets were shocked into disbelief after discovering it, and initially overestimated the total number of victims.[12]

A group of six members of Majdanek personnel – who had not managed to escape – were arraigned before the Soviet-Polish Special Criminal Court immediately following the camp's liberation of July 23, 1944. After the trial, and deliberations which lasted from November 27, 1944 to December 2, 1944 all accused were found guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and sentenced to death by hanging.[6][11] They included SS-Obersturmführer Anton Thernes, SS-Hauptsturmführer Wilhelm Gerstenmeier, SS-Oberscharführer Hermann Vögel, Kapo Edmund Pohlmann, SS-Rottenführer Theodor Schöllen and Kapo Heinrich Stalp,[13] all of whom were executed by hanging on December 3, 1944 except for Pohlmann, who had committed suicide the night before.[14]

Second Majdanek trial (1946–1948)[edit]

The series of trials which took place between 1946 and 1948 in Poland – usually referred to as the Second trial of Majdanek – consisted of trials of many kinds. Some 95 SS-men, mostly guards (including those apprehended hiding in postwar Germany), were charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. Seven of the defendants were given the death penalty. The most prominent of them was Elsa Ehrich, Oberaufseherin of the women and children camp division (liquidated in spring of 1944). She was responsible for the selections to gas chambers. Ehrich was found guilty of all charges, and hanged in July 1948. Apparently, Ehrich made an attempt to launch a Nazi brothel in 1943, but the project was abandoned before fruition after one of her slave sex-workers was diagnosed with typhus.[15]

Most other SS men were sentenced from 2 to 12 years' imprisonment.[16] Some of the more prominent defendants in the 1946–1948 series of trials included over 60 SS-Schütze camp guards. The multiple proceedings were held in Lublin, as well as in Radom and Świdnica (1947), Kraków, Wadowice, and Toruń (1948) and in Warsaw (1948), where the last appellate court case of Jacob Gemmel took place in November 1950.[10]

# Defendant [10] Born Rank Function Sentence
1 Elsa Ehrich 8.03.1914 Oberaufseherin Senior Overseer     death by hanging (carried out, 26.10.1948)
2 Friedrich Gebhardt 26.02.1899 SS-Unterscharf. Camp guard     death by hanging (carried out, 15.11.1948)
3 Kurt Möller (Moeller) 11.01.1918 SS-Oberscharf. Squad leader     death by hanging (carried out, 6.10.1948)
4 Jacob Niessner 19.01.1908 SS-Schütze Camp guard     death by hanging (carried out, 14.07.1948)
5 Michael Pelger 27.03.1908 SS-Rottenf. Squad leader     death by hanging (carried out)
6 Peter Reiss 22.02.1901 SS-Sturmmann Stormtrooper     death by hanging (carried out, 23.06.1948)
7 Franz Söss (Süss) 30.11.1912 SS-Rottenf. Squad leader     death by hanging (carried out, 20.09.1949)
8 Friedrich Buschbaum 14.09.1904 SS-Schütze Camp guard     death (commuted to 15 years imprisonment, rel. 31.05.1956)
9 Johann Weiss 24.02.1915 SS-Schütze Camp guard     death (commuted to 10 years imprisonment)
10 Wilhelm Reinartz 17.03.1910 SS-Unterscharf. Infirmary     death (commuted to 2 years by reason of terminal illness)
11 Johann Vormittag 5.08.1904 SS-Schütze Camp guard     life imprisonment (released 11.03.1953)
12 Jacob Gemmel 27.05.1913 SS-Schütze Camp guard     life (commuted to 12 years imprisonment)
13 Robert Frick 15.10.1918 SS-Unterscharf. Camp guard     15 years imprisonment (released 2.05.1956)
14 Georg Fleischer 24.11.1911 SS-Schütze Camp guard     12 years imprisonment (released 2.05.1956)
15 Johann Kessler 28.02.1910 SS-Sturmmann Stormtrooper     12 years imprisonment (d. 25.02.1950)
16 Hans Kottre (Kotre) 22.08.1912 SS-Sturmmann Stormtrooper     12 years imprisonment (released 9.5.1956)
17 Andreas Lahner 10.12.1921 SS-Sturmmann Stormtrooper     12 years imprisonment (released 2.05.1956)
18 Georg Neu 1.08.1921 SS-Schütze Camp guard     12 years imprisonment (released 9.05.1956)
19 Franz Wirth 8.11.1909 SS-Rottenf. Camp guard     12 years imprisonment
20 Andreas Buttinger 29.05.1910 SS-Schütze Camp guard     10 years imprisonment (d. 26.04.1949)
21 Jacob Jost 6.10.1895 SS-Oberscharf. Camp guard     10 years imprisonment (released 30.04.1956)
22 Martin Löx 7.02.1908 SS-Rottenf. Camp guard     10 years imprisonment (d. 26.06.1949)
23 Kasper Marksteiner 1.11.1913 SS-Sturmmann Camp guard     10 years imprisonment (d. 20.06.1949)
24 Hans Aufmuth 18.01.1905 SS-Schütze Camp guard     8 years imprisonment (released 17.03.1954)
25 Johann Betz 18.12.1906 SS-Sturmmann Camp guard     8 years imprisonment (released 3.07.1955)
26 Anton Hoffmann 17.09.1910 SS-Sturmmann Camp guard     8 years imprisonment (released 17.12.1954)
27 Johann Radler 9.09.1909 SS-Schütze Camp guard     8 years imprisonment (released 1.03.1955)
28 Thomas Radrich 19.10.1912 SS-Rottenf. Camp guard     8 years imprisonment
29 Johann Setz 26.06.1907 SS-Sturmman Camp guard     8 years imprisonment (extradited to Germany, 28.02.1955)
30 Michael Bertl 23.06.1909 SS-Sturmmann Camp guard     7 years imprisonment (released 15.07.1954)
31 Paul Keller 16.10.1910 SS-Sturmmann Camp guard     7 years imprisonment (released 15.7.1954)
32 Karl Müller 10.03.1907 SS-Sturmmann Block leader     7 years imprisonment
33 Walter Biernat 28.03.1920 SS-Rottenf. Camp guard     6 years imprisonment (d. 6.02.1952)
34 Josef Hartmann 22.03.1918 SS-Sturmmann Camp guard     6 years imprisonment (released 5.1.1954)
35 Hans Georg Hess 17.06.1910 SS-Rottenf. Camp guard     6 years imprisonment
36 Heinrich Kühn 16.12.1909 SS-Sturmmann Guard (Auschwitz)     6 years imprisonment (d. 16.04.1951)
37 Franz Vormittag 23.01.1920 SS-Sturmmann Camp guard     6 years imprisonment
38 Helmut Zach 19.08.1909 SS-Unterscharf. Camp guard     6 years imprisonment
39 Jacob Dialler 8.12.1913 SS-Sturmmann Camp guard     5 years imprisonment (released 23.12.1951)
40 Hans Durst 23.11.1909 SS-Rottenf. Camp guard     5 years imprisonment
41 Franz Kaufmann 23.07.1908 SS-Unterscharf. Camp guard     5 years imprisonment
42 Paul Kiss 13.07.1902 SS-Sturmmann Camp guard     5 years imprisonment (d. 26.04.1950)
43 Johann Kubasak 31.12.1909 SS-Rottenf. Camp guard     5 years imprisonment
44 Johann Lassner 26.07.1909 SS-Schütze Camp guard     5 years imprisonment
45 Johann Lienert 5.08.1915 SS-Sturmmann Camp guard     5 years imprisonment (d. 16.06.1949)
46 Stefan Mantsch 24.09.1922 SS-Schütze Camp guard     5 years imprisonment (released 12.04.1951)
47 Hans Merle 15.05.1914 SS-Schütze Camp guard     5 years imprisonment (released 2.01.1953)
48 Kurt Erwin Ohnweiler 25.03.1913 SS-Schütze Camp guard     5 years imprisonment (released 1.3.1952)
49 Michael Thal 16.01.1910 SS-Schütze Camp guard     5 years imprisonment
50 Jacob Vormittag 8.03.1909 SS-Sturmman Camp guard     5 years imprisonment
51 Martin Berger 18.01.1910 SS-Rottenf. Camp guard     4 years imprisonment (d. 15.10.1948)
52 Michael Fleischer 18.08.1912 SS-Rottenf. Camp guard     4 years imprisonment
53 Franz Habel 31.05.1912 SS-Rottenf. Camp guard     4 years imprisonment
54 Karl Brückner 5.05.1904 SS-Unterscharf. Camp guard     4 years imprisonment (released 28.02.1951)
55 Josef Janowitsch 22.08.1910 SS-Sturmmann Camp guard     4 years imprisonment
56 Johann Günesch 17.05.1913 SS-Schütze Camp guard     3.5 years imprisonment (extradited to Germany, 9.02.1951)
57 Fritz Frischolz 5.10.1911 SS-Oberscharf. Camp guard     8 years imprisonment (released 10.03.1955)
58 Michael Gall 22.07.1902 SS-Schütze Camp guard     3 years imprisonment (extradited to Germany, 15.01.1951)
59 Hans Grabert 31.05.1907 SS-Oberscharf Administration     3 years imprisonment (extradited to Germany, 16.06.1950)
60 Stefan Mantsch 24.09.1922 SS-Schütze Camp guard     3 years imprisonment (released 12.4.1951)
61 Josef Moos 24.01.1904 SS-Rottenf. Infirmary (selections)     3 years imprisonment (d. 20.04.1950)
62 Konrad Anacker 13.02.1892 SS-Schütze Camp guard     3 years imprisonment (released 26.06.1950)
63 Wilhelm Petrak 14.02.1909 SS-Sturmmann Camp guard     8 years (d. 28.07.1948 of disease after 2 years)

Third Majdanek trial[edit]

At the Third Majdanek Trial held between November 26, 1975 and June 30, 1981 before a West German Court at Düsseldorf sixteen defendants were arraigned. Five were cleared of all charges, two released due to ill health, one died of old age, and eight were found guilty. They were sentenced to 3 to 12 years imprisonment.[17] The 3rd Majdanek trial was preceded by the Treblinka Trials also at Düsseldorf in 1964 and 1970.[18] The Majdanek trial lasted for six years, and concluded on June 30, 1981. There were insufficient grounds to lay charges against other suspects, according to prosecution (many of the key witnesses have died).[5][19]

Notably, the Camp deputy commandant Arnold Strippel implicated in the torture and killing of many dozens of prisoners (including 42 Soviet POWs in July 1942) received a nominal three-and-a-half year sentence. He also received 121,500 Deutsche Mark reimbursement for the loss of earnings and his social security contributions, which made him a wealthy man. He used this monetary downpour to purchase a condominium in Frankfurt, which he occupied until his death.[20]

# Defendant Born Rank Function Sentence
1 Alice Orlowski 30.09.1903 SS Aufseherin Camp overseer     died of old age during the trial
2 Hermine Braunsteiner 16.07.1919 Rapportführer Female camp deputy     3 years (Vienna), life imprisonment (Düsseldorf)
3 Hildegard Lachert 19.03.1920 Aufseherin Camp overseer     12 years imprisonment
4 Hermann Hackmann 11.11.1913 SS-Hauptst. Camp commandant     10 years imprisonment
5 Emil Laurich 21.05.1921 SS-Rottenf. Ideology     8 years imprisonment
6 Heinz Villain 1.02.1921 SS-Unterscharf. Field commandant     6 years imprisonment
7 Fritz-Heinrich Petrick 22.01.1913 SS-Oberscharf. Camp guard     4 years imprisonment
8 Arnold Strippel 2.06.1911 SS-Obersturm. Camp director     3.5 years imprisonment
9 Thomas Ellwanger 3.03.1917 SS-Unterscharf. Camp guard     3 years imprisonment
10 Wilhelm Reinartz 17.03.1910 SS-Unterscharf. Infirmary (selections)     released due to illness
11 Joanna (Johanna) Zelle SS-Gefolge Camp guard     released due to illness
12 Heinrich Schmidt 27.03.1912 SS-Hauptsturmf. Medic (selections)     acquitted and released
13 Charlotte Mayer 7.02.1918 Maintenance     acquitted and released
14 Rosy Suess or (Rosa) Süss 16.09.1920 Maintenance     acquitted and released
15 Heinrich Groffmann SS-Rottenf. Field commandant     acquitted and released
16 Hermine Boettcher-Brueckner 26.04.1918 Maintenance     acquitted and released

Post 1981 Majdanek War Crimes Trials[edit]

In 1989 Karl-Friedrich Höcker was tried and sentenced for his actions in Majdanek.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Crematorium at Majdanek". Jewish Virtual Library. 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-15. 
  2. ^ Reuter (Jun 27, 1981). "Longest war crimes trial ends". The Glasgow Herald. Retrieved 2013-04-16. 
  3. ^ Jean-michel Frodon (2010). "Majdanek Trial". Cinema and the Shoah. SUNY Press. pp. 249–. ISBN 1438430280. Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  4. ^ "Majdanek Concentration Camp". Majdanek, Poland. July 21, 2009. Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  5. ^ a b "Once Upon a Time in War". Majdanek trial in West Germany. A Photographic Retrospect. 2012. Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  6. ^ a b c USHMM (May 11, 2012). "Soviet forces liberate Majdanek". Lublin/Majdanek: Chronology. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C. Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  7. ^ Reszka, Paweł (2005-12-23). "Majdanek Victims Enumerated. Changes in the history textbooks?". Gazeta Wyborcza. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Archived from the original on 2011-11-06. Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  8. ^ Jennifer Rosenberg. "Aktion Erntefest". 20th Century History. About.com Education. Retrieved 2013-04-16. 
  9. ^ Staff Writer (2006). "Lublin/Majdanek Concentration Camp: Overview". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. ushmm.org. Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  10. ^ a b c "Procesy zbrodniarzy (Trials of war criminals) 1946–1948". Wykaz sądzonych członków załogi KL Lublin/Majdanek. KL Lublin. Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  11. ^ a b "Majdanek" (PDF). Majdanek concentration camp. Yad Vashem. 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 27, 2007. Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  12. ^ "Inside Majdanek". Nazi concentration camps. Jewish Virtual Library. 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  13. ^ Marcus Wendel (Aug 8, 2007). "SS personnel serving at Majdanek". Camp personnel. Axis History. Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  14. ^ JVL (2013). "Majdanek Trial". Majdanek extermination camp. Jewish Virtual Library.org. Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  15. ^ "SS-Oberaufseherinn Elsa Ehrich". Frauenkonzetrationslager. KL Lublin. 2004–2013. Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  16. ^ PMM (2006). "XX. Akta procesowe". Archiwum (in Polish). Państwowe Muzeum na Majdanku. Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  17. ^ JVL (2013). "Third Majdanek Trial". Majdanek extermination camp. Jewish Virtual Library.org. Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  18. ^ Christian Hofmann. "Die Treblinka-Prozesse (The Treblinka Trials)". Shoa.de (in German). Arbeitskreis Shoa.de e.V. 
  19. ^ Landgericht Düsseldorf spricht Urteile im Majdanek-Prozeß Landtag Intern vom 26. Juni 2001 (Landtag Nordrhein-Westfalen). (in German)
  20. ^ Thomas Schattner. "Strippels Blutspur durch Europas KZs – Sie begann vor 70 Jahren hier in Unshausen, im heutigen Schwalm-Eder-Kreis" (PDF file, direct download 78.2 KB). Archiv und Ausstellung der Universität Kassel (in German). Gedenkstätte Breitenau. pp. 57–62. Retrieved 2013-04-26. 

Media related to KZ Majdanek at Wikimedia Commons Media related to Majdanek concentration camp at Wikimedia Commons