Dachau Trials

US vs. Martin Gottfried Weiss, et al

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American Military Tribunal proceedings were held in this building at Dachau

The first "Dachau Trial," which began on November 15, 1945, is sometimes called "the trial of Martin Gottfried Weiss and 39 others," but it was officially known as US vs. Martin Gottfried Weiss, et al. The proceedings took place in a courtroom set up in one of the buildings inside the former Dachau camp complex, as shown in the photo above.

The "Dachau trials" were actually the proceedings of an American Military Tribunal, not trials in the ordinary sense. The accused were considered to be guilty as charged, and the burden of proof was on them, not on the prosecution.

The attorneys on both sides were American military officers, as were the members of the panel which acted as the judge and jury. The chief prosecutor was Lt. Col. William Denson. He was assisted by Captain Philip Heller, Captain William D. Lines, and Captain Richard G. McCuskey.

Lt. Paul Guth was the chief interrogator who was in charge of getting signed confessions from the accused before the proceedings began. Lt. Guth was a Jew who had emigrated to the United States from Vienna, Austria in 1941.

Capt. John Barnett identifies US Army photos of Dachau

Chief prosecutor Lt. Col. William Denson is the man on the right

The defense team was led by Lt. Col. Douglas Bates. The other team members were Major Maurice McKeown, Captain John May, and Captain Dalwin Niles. The accused were allowed to have a German lawyer represent them and they chose Baron Hans Karl von Posern, a former inmate in the Mauthausen concentration camp who was incarcerated at Dachau, awaiting trial himself. Von Posern proved to be such a good lawyer that he was given a job on the prosecution team during the proceedings against the Mauthausen concentration camp staff.

The tribunal which sat in judgment of the accused consisted of 8 senior officers: Brig. Gen. John Lenz, who was the President of the Court, and Col. Laird Richards, Col. Wendell Blanchard, Col. George E. Brunner, Col. G. R. Scithers, Col. Lester Abele, Col. Peter O. Ward, and Col. John R. Jeter.

On November 2, 1945 and November 4, 1945 charges against the following 42 men, who were the accused in the proceedings, entitled US vs. Martin Gottfried Weiss, et al, were read in the courtroom at Dachau in German and in English:

1. Martin Gottfried Weiss
2. Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert
3. Josef Jarolin
4. Franz Xaver Trenkle
5. Engelbert Valentin Niedermeyer
6. Josef Seuss
7. Leonard Anself Eichberger
8. Wilhelm Wagner
9. Johann Kick
10. Dr. Fritz Hintermayer
11. Dr. Wilhelm Witteler
12. Johann Baptist Eichelsdorfer
13. Otto Foerschner,
14. Dr. Hans Kurt Eisele
15. Dr. Klaus Karl Schilling
16. Christof Ludwig Knoll
17. Dr. Fridolin Karl Puhl
18. Franz Boettger
19. Peter Betz
20. Anton Endres
21. Simon Kiern
22. Michael Redwitz
23. Wilhelm Welter
24. Rudolf Heinrich Suttrop
25. Wilhelm Tempel
26. Hugo Alfred Erwin Lausterer
27. Fritz M.K. Becher
28. Alfred Kramer
29. Sylvester Filleboeck
30. Vinzenz Schoettl
31. Albin Gretsch
32. Johann Viktor Kirsch
Hans Aumeier
33. Emil Erwin Mahl
34. Walter Adolf Langleist
35. Johann Schoepp
36. Arno Lippmann
Hans Bayer
37. Fritz Degelow
38. Otto Moll
39. Otto Schulz
40. Friedrich Wetzel

Although Hans Aumeier and Hans Bayer were included in the charges read on November 2nd, they were not among the accused when the proceedings began, so they were not assigned a number. SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Aumeier was tried by a Polish court in Krakow for war crimes committed when he was an assistant to Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz. He was convicted and hanged on January 28, 1948. Bayer was prosecuted in a subsidiary proceeding at a later time; he was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, but his sentence was commuted to 15 years in prison.

The charges against Martin Gottfried Weiss, et al were brought by The General Military Court, appointed by Par. 3, Special Order 304, Headquarters Third United States Army and Eastern Military District, dated 2 November 1945, to be held at Dachau, Germany, on, or about, November 15, 1945. Two charges of Violation of the Laws and Usages of War were brought against the defendants.

The first charge alleged that the Dachau accused "acting in pursuance of a common design to commit the acts hereinafter alleged, and as members of the staff of Dachau Concentration Camp and camps subsidiary thereto, did, at, or in the vicinity of DACHAU and LANDSBERG, Germany, between about 1 January 1942 and about 29 April 1945, willfully, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the subjection of civilian nationals of nations then at war with the then German Reich to cruelties and mistreatment, including killings, beatings, tortures, starvation, abuses and indignities, the exact names and numbers of such civilian nationals being unknown but aggregating many thousands who were then and there in the custody of the German Reich in exercise of belligerent control."

The second charge was worded exactly the same as the first, except that it specified "members of the armed forces," instead of civilians. Like the first charge, no names of victims or specific acts against members of the armed forces were listed.

Note that the charges included killings, beatings, tortures, starvation, abuses and indignities, but there was no specific charge of gassing, although a film of the Dachau gas chamber was shown on November 29, 1945 at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, two weeks after the Dachau proceedings began. It was not known whether any victims who might have been killed in the Dachau gas chamber were from Allied countries, so this charge was not included.

Crimes against German citizens, and others who were not civilians or military personnel in an Allied country, were not included; it was left up to the German courts to bring charges against the concentration camp staff members for crimes against victims from non-Allied countries. The charges included only Violations of the Laws and Usages of War and not Crimes against Humanity.

In 1963, charges of gassing prisoners were brought by a German court in Frankfurt against 22 former staff members of the Auschwitz death camp, but the staff members at Dachau never had to answer to a German court for gassing prisoners at Dachau. In fact, the head of the Institute for Contemporary History, Martin Brozat, had declared in 1960 that there was no gas chamber at Dachau.

The charges against Martin Gottfried Weiss, and the 39 other members of the Dachau staff, were based on the theory that all of them had participated in a "common design" to run the concentration camp in a manner which had caused the prisoners great suffering, severe injury or death. The period of time covered by the charges was from January 1, 1942 until April 29, 1945. Although the camp had been in operation since March 22, 1933, this was roughly the period of time that the Dachau camp had been in existence while America was at war with Germany.

The basis for the prosecution of staff members of the Nazi concentration camps was that some of the inmates had been captured enemy soldiers who were Prisoners of War and consequently they should have been treated according to the rules of the Geneva Convention, including the Russian POWs, although the Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention and had not followed it during the war. Other inmates in the Nazi camps were political prisoners, partisans, resistance fighters or insurgents from German-occupied countries; they were considered by the American prosecutors to be comparable to Prisoners of War although the 1929 Geneva Convention did not give insurgents the same rights as POWs. In fact, the resistance fighters in German-occupied countries had violated the rules of the 1929 Geneva Convention themselves by continuing to fight after their countries had surrendered.

Of the 40 men who were prosecuted in the main Dachau case, all had held some position of authority in the concentration camp, although not all of them had served at the same time and they did not necessarily know each other. Nine of the men had at one time been camp commandants or deputy camp commandants; one was an adjutant and three were on the administrative staff of the commandant. Five of the accused were medical officers and two were medical orderlies. Three were guards and one was an officer in charge of a battalion of guards. Four were Kapos, or prisoners who were in charge of other inmates, and one was the supply officer. Four of the accused were block leaders who were SS men in charge of a barrack, as well as being in charge of work parties.

Johann Kick, one of the accused, was in charge of the political department at Dachau. Otto Schultz was a carpenter in the Dachau camp. Engelbert Niedermeyer had worked in the crematorium. Vinzenz Schoettl had previously worked at the Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp and Otto Moll was a former staff member at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Moll was put on trial at Dachau because he had preventd prisoners from escaping as he led an evacuation march from the Kaufering II sub-camp to the Dachau camp. Albin Gretsch and Johann Schoepp were guards who had prevented prisoners from escaping from transports to Dachau.

These 40 were not selected, out of the thousands of SS men who had worked at the camp, because their crimes were the most heinous. Rather, they were selected as a representative group because included among them were staff members from every category of personnel in the concentration camp. The purpose was to show that anyone connected with a Nazi concentration camp was guilty of a crime, regardless of his personal behavior.

Witnesses for the prosecution were former prisoners in the Dachau concentration camp who were given room and board and a payment of 1,000 Deutschmarks for their testimony, according to Joshua M. Greene, in his book ""Justice at Dachau." They were housed in the SS buildings on the former Avenue of the SS, which was named Tennessee Road by the Americans who were working on the trials. The photograph below shows one of these buildings which is still standing.

Building where prosecution witnesses were housed

There were seats for 300 spectators in the courtroom at Dachau and for each day of the trial, there were 300 tickets issued to German civilians in the nearby towns.

The following quote is from "Witness to Barbarism," written by Horace R. Hansen, one of the prosecutors at Dachau:

For each day of the trial, we issue 300 tickets to civilians in different towns near Dachau. American personnel trucks will pick them up. They will receive a warm lunch and be returned to their homes about 5:30 P.M. Signs to this effect are posted in each town.

The tickets go quickly. The German civilians who attend the trial see each prisoner point out his torturer, according to a defendant number (1 to 40) hung on his chest. This is the first time that most of the spectators hear the truth. American soldiers who dress as locals and speak in the local dialect give us before-and-after reactions of the civilians. Before distributing tickets for each town, two soldiers listen to groups of civilians, who usually say, in effect: "Those Americans on the radio are lying about what went on in the Dachau camp." The two then return to the town to listen again, after the civilians have heard some of the testimony. This time they say, "It was terrible what went on in that camp."

From the accumulation of evidence, we know that German civilians living near main camps or subcamps occasionally saw the gaunt, ill-clad prisoners being marched along roads toward nearby factories. At times, a civilian close to a main camp caught the stench from a tall chimney and perhaps deduced cremation. The civilians certainly knew the prisoners were foreigners working against their will. But the only information the civilians received from the controlled media was that the workers were common criminals or enemies of the Reich.

Opening of the Trial

Martin Gottfried Weiss

Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert

Medical Experiments

Other Defendants

Kaufering Sub-camp

Prosecution Summation

Dachau gas chamber

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This page was last updated on April 6, 2008