Dachau trials

The Dachau trials were held for all war criminals caught in the United States zones in occupied Germany and Austria, as well as for those individuals accused of committing war crimes against American citizens and its military personnel. The trials, which were held within the walls of the former Dachau concentration camp, were conducted entirely by American military personnel whose legal authority had been conferred by the Judge Advocate General's Department within the U.S. Third Army. Dachau was established on 10 March 1933 in Dachau, roughly 12 miles North of Munich,[1] and was liberated on 29 April 1945.[2] The Dachau trials were held at Dachau Concentration Camp due to the camp having the facilities to hold the trials, and also because many of those prisoners who had worked there were confined to the premises.[3]

Former SS-Sturmbannführer Friedrich Weitzel, officer in charge of food and clothing distribution in Dachau, testifies during the trials.

The Dachau Military Tribunal's chief prosecutor was 32 year-old William Denson, a U.S. Army lawyer.[4] The chief defence counsel was Lieutenant Colonel Douglas T. Bates Jr., an artillery officer and lawyer from Centerville, Tennessee.[4]


The trials started in November 1945 and were adjourned in December. 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.[5] The prosecution was different from most trials, in that the burden of proof was on the defense.[6] 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.[7] The Dachau Trials consisted of 465 trials 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.[8] On December 13, 1947[9] when the trials adjourned, roughly 1200 defendants had been tried with roughly a 73% conviction rate.[10]

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.

During almost three years, 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.[11][12]

Camp trialsEdit

  • 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.[13][14][15]
  • 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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18]

Notable death sentencesEdit

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

Notable acquittalsEdit

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ Berenbaum, Michael (2018-12-19). "Dachau | Definition, Location, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  2. ^ Editors, History.com (2018-08-21). "Dachau". HISTORY. Retrieved 2019-11-24.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. ^ "Background & Overview of the Dachau Trials". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  4. ^ 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.
  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. ^ "Background & Overview of the Dachau Trials". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  8. ^ "Background & Overview of the Dachau Trials". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  9. ^ "Prosecution closing statement - American Military Tribunal at Dachau". www.scrapbookpages.com. 2009-09-09. Retrieved 2019-11-25.
  10. ^ "Background & Overview of the Dachau Trials". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ "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".
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ Franklin, Thomas (1987). American in Exile, An: The Story of Arthur Rudolph. Huntsville: Christopher Kaylor Company. p. 150.
  16. ^ "Background & Overview of the Dachau Trials". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  17. ^ "Prosecution closing statement - American Military Tribunal at Dachau". www.scrapbookpages.com. 2009-09-09. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
  18. ^ "Opening statements at first American Military Tribunal at Dachau". www.scrapbookpages.com. 2008-04-07. Retrieved 2019-11-24.