Auschwitz Trials


After the war, numerous trials were held in occupied Germany, in West Germany, East Germany, Austria and Poland, during which crimes allegedly committed at the former Auschwitz Camp were the main focus or at least an important factor. Among the first was the British Bergen-Belsen Trial against Josef Kramer and others. (See the entries on Josef Kramer and on the Bergen-Belsen Trial for more details.)

Poland conducted two trials, whose results set the propagandistic framework for all subsequent trials against defendants accused of having committed crimes there. East and West Germany both had several trials focusing on Auschwitz crimes, although only two of them had a major impact: The West-German first Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, and the East-German trial against Horst Fischer. Two trials centering on Auschwitz crimes were conducted in Austria, with only the first of them against Walter Dejaco and Fritz Ertl having considerable impact.

Trial of Rudolf Höss

The first trial with a focus on events allegedly occurring at the former Auschwitz Camp was conducted in Warsaw, Poland’s capital. The only defendant during that trial was Rudolf Höss, who was commandant of the Auschwitz Camp from the beginning until November 1943. This 17-session trial lasted from 11 March until 29 March 1947. The case for the prosecution was prepared by investigative judge Jan Sehn. He conducted his manipulative investigations with the clear aim of confirming the fraudulent propaganda version which the Soviets had created right after conquering the area, including the 4-million death-toll claim.

The trial itself was a typical communist show trial, where Höss’s defense lawyer acted like an assistant prosecutor. Höss was sentenced to death and executed on 16 April 1947 by hanging at a gallows built for him near the former crematorium building of the Auschwitz Main Camp.

(For more information, see the entries on Jan Sehn, criminal traces, Roman Dawidowski, Rudolf Höss, and the section on Auschwitz of the entry on witnesses, many of whom either testified during the trial or at least made a deposition in front of Dr. Sehn.)

Trial of Members of the Camp Garrison

After the trial against the former Auschwitz camp commandant Rudolf Höss had cast the combined Soviet-Polish Auschwitz propaganda narrative into legal stone, the Polish authorities conducted a follow-up mass show trial against 40 defendants. They all had performed some official function at the camp during the war. Among the better-known defendants were:

  • Arthur Liebehenschel, commandant of the Auschwitz Main Camp (death sentence, executed on 24 January 1948)
  • Hans Aumeier, head of the Protective-Custody Camp (death sentence, executed on 24 January 1948)
  • Maximilian Grabner, head of the Political Department, meaning the camp Gestapo (death sentence, executed on 24 January 1948)
  • Erich Mussfeldt, labor unit leader, block leader, head of Crematoria II and III (death sentence, executed on 24 January 1948)
  • Johann Paul Kremer, camp physician (death sentence, commuted to life, released early)
  • Arthur Breitwieser, clothing chamber, head of disinfestation squad (death sentence, commuted to life, released early)
  • Hans Münch, physician at the hygiene institute (acquitted)

As with the Höss Trial, Jan Sehn’s manipulative pre-trial investigations also were the guidelines along which the trial was conducted. The hearings lasted from 24 November to 22 December 1947, ending with 23 death sentences, two of which were commuted to life imprisonments, both of which were released early. Furthermore, six life terms, seven 15-year prison terms, one 5-year and one 3-year prison term were imposed. Hans Münch was the only defendant who walked away as a free man.

(For more information, see here as well the entries on Jan Sehn, criminal traces, Roman Dawidowski, Rudolf Höss, and the section on Auschwitz of the entry on witnesses, many of whom either testified during the trial or at least made a deposition in front of Dr. Sehn.)

Great Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial

The first West-German Auschwitz trial was conducted in Frankfurt against 22 defendants who were accused of having committed homicides at the Auschwitz Camp. It lasted 185 sessions from 20 December 1963 until 20 August 1965. It was the result of massive pressure from various lobby groups and from the German government itself, who insisted on accommodating national and international expectations. The historical framework was provided by the Polish authorities, as they had created it during their two communist show trials. Many of the 360 witnesses who testified during the trial came from Eastern-Bloc countries, foremost Poland, where they had been systematically manipulated to stick to the preordained narrative during their testimonies at Frankfurt. The trial ended with four acquittals, six life sentences and a variety of prison terms. For more details, see the dedicated entry on the Frankfurt Auschwitz Show Trial.

Trial of Horst Fischer

Communist East Germany could not stay behind when its West-German rival state conducted a huge show trial aimed at improving West Germany’s image in the world. Hence, East Berlin staged its own show trial with a focus on trying to smear West Germany’s reputation. They found a scapegoat for this in Horst Fischer, who had been a camp physician at a forced-labor camp near Monowitz, a town near Auschwitz. The camp’s inmates mainly worked at the local Buna factory of the I.G. Farbenindustrie. After the war, this conglomerate of German chemical corporations was disassembled into various independent chemical companies, all of which were conveniently located in West Germany. During this communist show trial, which lasted from 10 to 25 March 1966, Fischer willingly, at times even enthusiastically, embraced and accepted all accusations and even added new ones. Fischer was sentenced to death and killed on 8 July 1966 with a guillotine. On the absurdities of this trial and Fischer’s various claims and confessions, see the entry dedicated to him.

Trial of Walter Dejaco and Fritz Ertl

Between 19 January and 10 March 1972, two Austrian architects were put on trial in Vienna, Austria, for their involvement in designing and constructing the crematoria at Auschwitz. On request of the judges, an expert report by a court-accredited architect was produced which concluded that, judged by the crematoria’s original blueprints, these facilities could not have served as homicidal gas chambers. As a result, both defendants were acquitted. For more details, see the entry on Walter Dejaco.

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