US vs. Martin Gottfried Weiss, et al
Dr. Franz Blaha identifies Martin Gottfried Weiss
In the courtroom of the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, Martin Gottfried Weiss wore a card with the number 1 around his neck. He was the main one of the accused by virtue of having been the highest ranking SS officer and the acting Commandant for two days before the camp was liberated by the US Seventh Army on April 29, 1945.
In the photograph above, the man on the right is Martin Gottfried Weiss. The star witness for the prosecution at Dachau was Dr. Franz Blaha, who is shown on the left in the photo above.
Dr. Blaha was a 50-year-old Czech surgeon who had been imprisoned by the Gestapo for two years before being brought to Dachau in 1941. He was a member of the International Committee at Dachau which consisted of prominent and privileged Communist prisoners. The Committee had taken charge of the concentration camp just before the liberation and afterwards, they were the administrators of the camp under the authority of the US Army. The original Museum at Dachau was set up in 1965 under the direction and control of the Committee. It was the Committee that was credited with bringing the Dachau atrocities, including the gas chamber, to the attention of the American liberators.
In his direct testimony, Dr. Blaha described the "air pressure" and "cold water" experiments that had been conducted by Dr. Sigmund Rascher at Dachau. Dr. Rascher was not on trial, but Martin Gottfried Weiss was held to be responsible for the experiments because he was the Commandant of the camp during the time that the experiments were done.
Dr. Blaha identified Martin Gottfried Weiss in the courtroom after he testified that Weiss was the Commandant at Dachau during the time that Dr. Sigmund Rascher and Dr. Klaus Karl Schilling had conducted medical experiments there. He also testified that Dr. Walter and Dr. Brachtel had been the chief doctors who were in charge of all the medical experiments at Dachau. Because neither of them was on trial, the defense moved to strike this testimony from the record, but Lt. Col. Denson argued that the testimony should stand and the court agreed.
The prosecution argument was that Weiss was equally guilty for the alleged crimes committed by Dr. Walter and Dr. Brachtel, which had not been proved in a court of law, because he had been the Commandant in the camp during the time that the alleged crimes had taken place.
According to Martin Weiss's testimony at Dachau, the subjects used in the medical experiments were German "professional criminals" and Russian Commissars who had been condemned to death by order of Adolf Hitler.
Below is an excerpt quoted from an account in a German newspaper called the Suddeutsche Zeitung, dated December 1,1945, in which Weiss tries to explain to the court that he was not involved in the medical experiments carried out at Dachau:
"I was absolutely powerless in the face of experiments of Dr. Rascher and Prof. Dr. Schilling. I had already heard in Berlin of Prof. Dr. Schilling's malaria department and the cold water experiments for the air force led by Dr. Rascher. I was told in Berlin that Reichsführer SS Himmler was personally responsible for these two experimental departments and that I should not interfere. On Nov 10, 1942, Himmler made a personal appearance in Dachau and visited the Rascher department. He sent for me and I was made to attend an experiment which had already begun. Afterwards Himmler said: Rascher and Shilling are responsible to me personally for their experiments and you must obey their orders."
Dr. Blaha's testimony that Martin Weiss was the Commandant at Dachau when these experiments were conducted was enough to convict Weiss of participating in a "common design" to violate the Laws and Usages of War because the Russian Commissars, used as subjects, were POWs who came under the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929, even though the Soviet Union had not signed the convention and was not following it with regard to German POWs.
Weiss had previously been the Commandant of the Neuengamme concentration camp from 1940 to 1942. From September 1942 until the end of October 1943, Weiss was the Commandant of Dachau until he was transferred to the Majdanek camp in Lublin on November 1, 1943. During his time as the Commandant of Dachau, some of the worst atrocities had occurred, including the building of the gas chamber and the medical experiments conducted for the German air force.
Martin Gottfried Weiss should not be confused with another man named Martin Weiss, who was named by one of the prosecution witnesses at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal as the man that he saw killing Jews in Vilna, Lithuania in 1941. Martin Gottfried Weiss was the Commandant at Neuengamme during that time.
The last Commandant of the Dachau Concentration Camp was Wilhelm Eduard Weiter, who replaced Martin Weiss on November 1, 1943. Weiter left the Dachau camp on April 26, 1945 with a prisoner transport to the Schloss Itter, a subcamp of Dachau in Austria. Weiter shot himself at Schloss Itter on May 6, 1945, according to Johannes Tuchel who wrote about The Commandants of the Dachau Concentration Camp in his book: Dachau and the Nazi Terror II, 1933-1945.
Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler testifies against Dachau staff members
In the photograph above, Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler, a Munich bishop who was a former prisoner at Dachau, testifies for the prosecution. Dr. Neuhäusler was one of the VIP prisoners who had a private cell in the bunker and was allowed to receive visitors; he did not have to work and was allowed the freedom to walk around the camp. He wrote a book about Dachau called "What was it like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau?" in which he described the harsh treatment suffered by the other prisoners.
In his book, Neuhäusler wrote the following about Martin Gottfried Weiss, who was the camp commandant from September 1, 1942 until he was replaced by Wilhelm Eduard Weiter at the end of October 1943:
Some of the commandants were not a (sic) all interested in the affairs of the prisoners and gave full power to their deputies, the camp leaders. I mention the commandant Weiss out of gratitude and as a proof that among the despots of the concentration camp there were also some with human feelings. He introduced many pleasant changes in the camp and checked personally if his regulations and orders were observed. He forbade the deliberate beating of the prisoners by the Capos and camp seniors, he personally inspected criminal reports, he himself determined the punishment and was present when it was carried out, lest abuses were introduced. He also removed an abuse, namely that the prisoners had to be close-cropped and had to have a still shorter strip, the so-called "path" in the middle of the head. To preserve the prisoners strength for the armaments industry, Weiss permitted them to receive food parcels which made it possible for a large number of prisoners to keep alive in the camp until the end. Often he also showed a fundamentally good heart to us "special prisoners" and procured manifold facilities for us. In the last phase he became inspector of the concentration camps.
A book by former Dachau prisoner Paul Berben, which was commissioned by the International Committee of Dachau for sale at the Dachau Museum, entitled "Dachau: 1933-45, The Official History" describes Weiss in the following quote from page 49:
Some people emphasized that he introduced a number of humane changes in camp administration and that he took a personal interest in seeing that his orders were carried out. He forbade Kapos and Seniors to strike other prisoners arbitrarily; he personally inspected reports of punishments; he decided the level of these sanctions and was present when they were administered so as to prevent abuses. According to "privileged" prisoners, he often showed consideration and obtained a good deal of relief for them.
In his book, Berben wrote that:
In spite of the great number of witnesses who spoke for him during the postwar Dachau trial, Weiss was condemned to death and executed.
Martin Gottfried Weiss was given the job of the Commandant of Dachau after Alex Piorkowski had been dismissed by Heinrich Himmler for alleged mistreatment of the prisoners. Alex Piorkowski was tried and convicted in another American Military Tribunal proceeding at Dachau.
On November 1, 1943, Weiss became the Commandant of the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland, replacing Karl Otto Koch, who was put on trial in 1943 in an SS court for crimes he had committed while serving as the Commandant of Buchenwald. Wilhelm Eduard Weiter became the new Commandant of Dachau. In May 1944, Martin Weiss was appointed department head of the Office Group D in the SS Main Office of Economic Administration (WVHA) and in the same year, he was ordered to supervise the Dachau subcamp complex at Mühldorf. Wilhelm Eduard Weiter was still serving as the Commandant of Dachau in the Spring of 1945 when Weiss came back to the main camp along with a transport of Mühldorf prisoners who had been evacuated.
Fourteen members of the staff at Mühldorf were put on trial at Dachau from April 1 through May 13, 1947 in the case of US vs. Franz Auer et al.
Martin Gottfried Weiss on the witness stand at Dachau
Martin Gottfried Weiss was finally called to the witness stand to defend himself on December 10, 1945, almost a month after the trial began. The photograph above shows him sitting on a chair on a raised platform, facing the 8-man tribunal that served as both judge and jury.
Under direct examination by defense attorney Douglas T. Bates, Weiss said that he was born in 1905 and had worked as an electrical engineer before joining the German army in 1933. Weiss told about how he had improved conditions at the Dachau concentration camp when he became the Commandant in 1942. He said that he had abolished the cruel punishment where prisoners were hung up by their arms, and also the standing punishment where prisoners had to stand outside for days without food.
The photograph below, taken in the Dachau Museum in May 2001, shows a scene that was created in 1958 for an East German DEFA film. (Source: H. Obenaus, "Das Foto vom Baumhängen: Ein Bild geht um die Welt," in Stiftung Topographie des Terrors Berlin (ed.), Gedenkstätten-Rundbrief no. 68, Berlin, October 1995, pp. 3-8) This photo was removed from the Dachau Museum because it is a recreation, not an authentic photo.
Photo in Dachau Museum, May 2001, shows hanging punishment
Martin Sommer, the alleged innovator of this punishment, was one of the men indicted by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen after an investigation of the Buchenwald camp in 1943. After being acquitted in Morgen's court, Sommer was sent to the Russian front where he was wounded in battle. After the war he was imprisoned for years by the Russians; he was finally brought to trial by the West German government in 1958 and convicted of killing 25 prisoners by lethal injection at Buchenwald.
At Dachau, prisoners were hung up on a tree near the crematorium, and sometimes in the shower room, or on a pole set up in the courtyard between the administration building and the camp prison, called the bunker. Dr. Blaha testified that he was punished by being hung up by a chain for an hour. He said that the prisoners who were punished in this manner couldn't move their hands for at least three days, and couldn't work. Dr. Blaha said that after he was punished in this way, he had blood clots on his hands, and swollen feet which caused him great pain.
An SS man, Josef Jarolin, was charged with the crime of punishing Dr. Blaha because he was present when the punishment was carried out, and he had adjusted the ropes when Dr. Blaha's feet touched the ground. That was enough to convict him, although he had not ordered this punishment for Dr. Blaha.
Weiss testified that there were no executions of any of the inmates while he was the Commandant from September 1942 until November 1, 1943 when he was replaced by Eduard Weiter. According to Weiss, the only prisoners who were executed at Dachau were condemned prisoners that were brought in by the State Police. Weiss claimed that no prisoners were shot while he was the Commandant, except for four or five who were shot "while trying to escape."
In his direct testimony, Weiss said that many of the prisoners who died from disease at Dachau had been brought to the camp already sick, and some were dead upon arrival. He claimed that he had stopped "invalid transports" from being sent out of the Dachau camp after he complained to headquarters in Oranienburg that "it made no sense for such transports to be sent from Dachau when we were expected to receive other invalid transports coming in."
Regarding transports from Dachau, Weiss addressed the tribunal with the following statement, as quoted in "Justice at Dachau":
There seems to be a mistaken idea among the prisoners who have appeared before this court that any transports which left for other work camps were so-called liquidation transports. The fact is that small and big transports left Dachau all the time for Augsberg, Haunstetten, Kempten, Kotteren, different by-camps, delivering workers. And these were supplemented with invalid prisoners only after those prisoners had been nursed back to health.
Dr. Franz Blaha testified at the trial about the standing bunker inside the camp prison. Dr. Blaha said that the standing bunker was so small that one could not sit down in it, but could only stand up, and possibly just bend the knees a little. Dr. Blaha testified that he himself had never been punished in the standing bunker, but he had brought the dead bodies of Russians and Poles out of the standing bunker several times during 1944 and 1945.
In a pretrial hand written statement, Emil Mahl, one of the accused at the trial, corroborated Dr. Blaha's testimony. According to Mahl's statement, imprisonment in the standing cell meant eight to ten hours during the night, and in some cases, two to three nights without food or drink.
The standing bunker consisted of prison cells that were 2 ft. 6 inches square, just big enough for a prisoner to stand, but not big enough for him to sit or lie down.
In his testimony, Weiss claimed that he was not responsible for the "standing bunker" and that he had heard this term used for the first time at the trial. According to the Dachau Museum, the walls of the standing cells were made of wood; they were torn down by the American liberators in 1945. The bunker was used to imprison suspected German war criminals between June 1945 and August 1948; as many as five prisoners were put into each cell.
According to an exhibit in the bunker which opened in the year 2000, this punishment was devised in 1944. Weiss was transferred to the Majdanek camp on November 1, 1943 to replace Karl Otto Koch who had been arrested and brought back to Buchenwald to stand trial in a special court run by SS officer Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen. Morgen did an investigation of the Dachau camp in May 1944 and found everything in order, according to Paul Berben, a prisoner in the camp who wrote the Official History of Dachau. The standing cells must have been built some time after this inspection, as Morgen would not have tolerated such abuse of prisoners.
The photograph below was taken in the bunker in May 2001. It shows one of the regular cells and a poster which shows how one regular cell was divided into standing cells. The red color on the walls is paint.
Poster in cell shows how standing cells were created
According to Dr. Neuhäusler, who was a "special prisoner" with a private cell in the bunker, "the prisoner was compelled to stand for three days and three nights and was given only bread and water; every fourth day he came into a normal cell, ate prisoner's fare and was allowed to sleep for one night on a plank bed. Then three days' standing began again. Such were the abominations which the prisoners had to bear from the sadistic Nazis."
Johann Kick, who was the chief of the political department at Dachau, beginning in May 1937, was in charge of registering prisoners, keeping files and death certificates, and notification of relatives. It was also his job to see that executions ordered by the Reich Security Main Office were carried out at Dachau. Rudolf Wolf, a prominent witness for the prosecution, testified that, after being interrogated by Kick, prisoners were sent to the standing bunker. In answer to a question put to him by Lt. Col. Denson, Kick testified that he "never knew such a thing existed. I found out about it only here."
The infamous extermination camp at Auschwitz did have standing cells in the basement of the prison building called Block 11. They were removed after a short time by Arthur Liebehenschel, who was the Auschwitz Commandant from November 10, 1943 to May 19, 1944, but have been reconstructed for the benefit of tourists. The standing cells at Dachau, if they ever existed, were not reconstructed.
The photo below shows a punishment cell at the Natzweiler-Struthof camp in Alsace. This cell was big enough for a prisoner to sit in, but not big enough for a prisoner to stand up or lie down. Prisoners who broke the rules in the camp were put into these cells for three days with nothing but bread and water. After the Natzweiler camp was closed, some of the political prisoners were brought to Dachau, including some of the privileged prisoners, and Dr. Neuhäusler may have heard about the punishment cells from them.
Punishment cell at Natzweiler
The "standing punishment," in which a prisoner had to stand for hours on the roll call square was abolished by Weiss when he was the Commandant of Dachau.
On the night of April 28, 1945, just hours before the Dachau complex was liberated by American troops on April 29th, Weiss left the camp along with most of the regular guards. Weiss and his henchmen were dressed in civilian clothes and carried false identification papers.
Neuhäusler credits Weiss with saving the prisoners at Dachau by refusing to carry out the command to kill all the prisoners and destroy the camp. In his book, Neuhäusler wrote the following:
Because (Weiss) foresaw the complete collapse of Hitler's power, he did not permit the carrying out of Himmler's command to shell and burn the camp at Dachau together with all its inmates on the night of 28/29 April 1945.
The next day, on April 29, 1945, Waffen-SS soldiers, who had been recently brought from the front, surrendered the SS training camp and garrison to the US Seventh Army and 520 of them were then summarily executed, according to Col. Howard Buechner, an American medical officer, who was there.
The Dachau concentration camp was surrendered by 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker, who was later reported missing by his family and is presumed to have been murdered after the surrender. Weiss had escaped summary execution by the liberators, but on May 2, 1945 he was arrested and charged with being a war criminal because of his position as the former Commandant of Dachau and the commander of the Mühldorf sub camp.
Wilhelm Eduard Weiter had left the Dachau camp on April 26th, along with a transport of prisoners. Weiter escaped justice by committing suicide; he shot himself at the Schloss Itter, a sub camp of Dachau in Austria on 6 May 1945, according to Johannes Tuchel who wrote about The Commandants of the Dachau Concentration Camp in his book: Dachau and the Nazi Terror II, 1933-1945.
Martin Gottfried Weiss might have eluded justice altogether if it had not been for two escaped Dachau prisoners, who had made their way to Munich, 18 kilometers south of the camp. These two prisoners had made contact with American soldiers of the 292nd Field Artillery Observation Battalion in Munich and they pointed out Weiss and his adjutant, Rudolf Heinrich Suttrop, to Henry Senger, a 19-year-old Corporal from Brooklyn, who captured them.
This page was last updated on April 6, 2008