The charge of making handbags from human skin was made at the American Military Tribunal held at Dachau in November 1945, when Martin Gottfried Weiss, the former Commandant, and 39 others were prosecuted as war criminals. The star witness at these proceedings was Dr. Franz Blaha, a Communist who had been a prisoner in the Dachau concentration camp.
Dr. Blaha testified that he had worked as a surgeon in the Dachau concentration camp, but after he said that he didn’t want to do any more operations, he was punished by being “sent to the death chamber where autopsies were performed.” Dr. Blaha claimed that he had performed “six to seven thousand autopsies” at Dachau.
During the AMT proceedings at Dachau, Dr. Blaha gave testimony regarding the bodies upon which he had performed autopsies. The following is from the trial transcript of Dr. Blaha’s testimony, as quoted in Justice at Dachau by Joshua M. Greene:
We took the skin from the chest and back, then used chemicals to treat the skin. Then the skins were placed outside in the sun and parts were cut for saddles, breeches, gloves, house slippers, ladies’ handbags.
In answer to a question about what had happened to these items, Dr. Blaha said:
They were prepared and sent either to SS schools or given to some of the SS men.
According to Dr. Blaha’s testimony, these items were made from human skin while a man named Bruno, and then Willy Mirkle, were in charge of the autopsies. Neither of these men were on trial and no items allegedly made from human skin were ever presented as evidence, nor was any forensic report introduced by the prosecution. Blaha’s testimony was corroborated by a confession obtained by Lt. Paul Guth from Dr. Wilhelm Witteler, one of the doctors at Dachau who was among the accused.
Dr. Witteler testified that he had been forced to sign this confession, but Lt. Guth testified, under direct examination by the prosecutor, that no coercion had been used on any of the men that he had interrogated.
Here is the testimony of Dr. Witteler from the trial transcripts, as published in Justice at Dachau:
A: During my interrogation I had to sit in front of the desk of Lt. Guth. A spotlight was turned on me which stood on the desk. Lt. Guth stood behind the spotlight and the interrogation started. “We know you, we have the necessary records about you…” I started to make an explanation. I was immediately stopped. I was yelled at. He called me a swine, criminal, liar, murderer, and that is the way the interrogation continued. I couldn’t give any explanations. I was only told to answer “yes” or “no”… I was interrupted immediately and told that all I had to do was answer “yes” and “no”. I couldn’t even explain it. I was told to shut up and to answer “yes” or “no”… since it was not like he thought it was, I had to get up and stand. So I stood up until 1:30 in the morning – seven hours.
Q: … at the conclusion of the drafting of this statement you signed it?
A: No, I answered that it is not correct… this statement was not written in my presence. It was written in another room. The reporter was with me in the room all the time, but the statement was written in another room. After I couldn’t stand up any more this statement was put in front of me at 1:30. And then when I said that this testimony… is not by me, that is the testimony of Dr. Blaha — who was present for several hours that night… so that I didn’t want to sign it. Lt. Guth said he would interrogate me until tomorrow morning, that he had other methods…
Q: How many people were present at the time you were interrogated?
A: Altogether, three: Lt. Guth, Dr. Leiss, and I, and, for a short time, Dr. Blaha.
Q: This writing in your own handwriting. Was that dictated or did you make it up?
A: When I found that the interrogation would end that way, I wrote down this last part and signed my name to it.
Q: Was it your own words or was it dictated to you?
A: Lt. Guth dictated those words…
So now you know. It was proved at the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, by a signed confession, dictated by Lt. Guth, that handbags were made from human skin at Dachau.
The gassing of prisoners at Dachau was not included in the charges against Martin Gottfried Weiss and the 39 others, but in spite of this, Dr. Franz Blaha was allowed to testify that the gas chamber at Dachau was used. Under the rules of the American Military Tribunal, any and all testimony was allowed, even if it had nothing to do with the charges or the men in the dock at Dachau.
The reason that Weiss and the 39 others were not charged with gassing prisoners at Dachau was that the names of the gassed prisoners were unknown. Only crimes against Allied nationals were prosecuted at the American Military Tribunal, and since the names of the victims were unknown, there were no charges of gassing at Dachau. The American Military Tribunal did not make use of the ex-post-facto law known as Crimes Against Humanity, which included the crime of gassing prisoners.