US. vs. Hans Altfuldisch, et al
Hans Karl von Posern was an attorney who had been a prisoner in Mauthausen from July 1941 until the liberation of the camp. During the trial of the Dachau staff members, he worked as a defense lawyer by request of the accused. In the Mauthausen case, he was a member of the prosecution team and also a witness for the prosecution.
Von Posern testified that Werner Grahn, shown in the photo above, was with the SD (Sicherheitdienst) before being transferred to Mauthausen. On direct examination, von Posern testified as follows, regarding Grahn:
Grahn arrived in the morning, disappeared into the bunker (camp prison) and left again in the evening. He made some comment about setting up a translation office there. What made us distrust him was that his work was always accompanied by the screaming of women. A friend of mine who worked in the crematorium showed me bodies of women whose breasts and thighs had been whipped and their eyebrows beaten open. "These are translations," he (the friend) said. We estimated the number of Grahn's victims at approximately seven hundred."
With regard to Willi Eckert, shown in the photo above, von Posern testified as follows, as quoted in Joshua M. Greene's book "Justice at Dachau":
Willi Eckert was Hauptschafüher - an SS master sargeant - and work detail leader of the laundry in Mauthausen.
When asked if he had ever seen Eckert kill a man, von Posern testified as follows:
A Russian Prisoner of War, an invalid, who had arrived on a sick transport. Both his legs were missing up to here, and he moved around on two boards strapped down there. One arm was missing from about here, the other arm was entirely missing. Actually, there was only the torso of this man. Eckert kicked him with his feet and rolled him along in front of himself like a football, then he picked up the handle of a shovel and beat him to death. When he saw that I had been watching, he came past me and said, as if to excuse himself, "Terrible, such things without any members."
A prosecution witness named Wilhelm Ornstein, who was a prisoner at Mauthausen from 10 August 1944 until the camp was liberated, testified that Hans Riegler, shown in the photo above, was one of several prisoners who took part in executions at Mauthausen. According to Ornstein's testimony, a man named Nelson Bernard Paris was executed on 26 January 1945 in a group of fourteen men that included American officers. Altfuldisch, Niedermayer, Riegler and Eigruber took part in the executions, according to Ornstein's testimony.
There was some excitement in the courtroom on April 12, 1946 when a prosecution witness named Efraim Sternberg took the stand. When asked to identify Paul Gützlaff in the dock, Sternberg ran over to the accused man and began beating him. After Sternberg had been subdued, Defense Attorney Ernst Oeding asked Sternberg, an Orthodox Jew, if he understood that he had taken an oath to tell the truth. When Sternberg replied that he was telling the truth, Oeding asked him: "What would you say if you were told that Guestlaff was not in Mauthausen during 1944 and 1945?" To which Sternberg replied, "He was in Mauthausen."
Paul Gützberg was one of only three of the 61 accused who did not receive the death penalty. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Efraim Sternberg was also a prosecution witness against Kurt Keilwitz. Regarding Keilwitz, Sternberg testified as follows, as quoted in "Justice at Dachau":
The older people, Spaniards and others who had been there for some time, told us that Keilwitz was a very cruel man. He received a group of our people who came in a transport. There were several thousand. When they had to undress, he practiced boxing on them, hitting them in the stomach. Those who fell down, he immediately kicked with his feet or else hit with an oxtail whip until they were dead.
Kurt Keilwitz was executed on May 27, 1947.
On May 11, 1946, the court recessed at 2:30 p.m. and 90 minutes later, the tribunal returned with a verdict. It came as no surprise that all 61 of the accused were found guilty of participating in a common plan to violate the Laws and Usages of war under the 1929 Geneva Convention and to subject foreign nationals to killing, beating, torture, gassing and starvation.
A Special Finding, made by the president of the court, Maj. Gen. Fay B. Prickett, declared that there was enough evidence of death by shootings, gassings, hangings and starvation to find every member of the Mauthausen camp personnel guilty of war crimes, including Kapos, who were prisoners that had authority over other prisoners. This Special Finding in the main Mauthausen proceeding was later used to establish guilt in subsequent proceedings against the staff and Kapos at Mauthausen. In later trials, the guilt of the accused had already been established by the Special Finding, so it didn't matter what defense was offered by the accused.
The war crimes proceedings at Dachau ended in 1948 when America became allies with Germany. Many guards and other staff members were not prosecuted in the subsidiary trials, following the main trial, because of this.
Of the 61 men who were convicted, 58 were sentenced to death by hanging on May 13, 1946 and the other three were sentenced to life in prison. Nine of the death sentences were later reduced to life in prison.
On May 27 and 28, 1947, the men whose death sentences had been upheld were hanged in the yard of the Landsberg am Lech prison near Munich. Landsberg is the prison where Adolf Hitler was incarcerated after his failed "Putsch" when the Nazis attempted to take over the German government in 1923. The gallows faced his former prison cell. All those whose sentences had been commuted to life were released from Landsberg prison by 1958.
This page was last updated on January 20, 2007