The title of my blog post today is a quote from a comment on a previous post on my blog on July 25, 2013. This quote is from the comment:
“I think its disgusting that the camp guaards were allowed to live at all. Anyone who commits such attrocities deserves to be brutally murdered (and screw the ‘human rights’ that supposedly incorporates them)
This comment might pertain to the Dachau concentration camp, or maybe it was in reference to all the concentration camps, operated by the Germans. Surely, the comment was not meant to refer to the guards at the internment camps in America where German-Americans and Japanese-Americans were incarcerated in violation of the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The United States participated in war crimes trials in Europe under three jurisdictions: the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, the U.S. Military Tribunals at Nuremberg, and the U.S. Army courts at Dachau. The authority for the proceedings of all three jurisdictions derived from the Moscow Declaration, called the Declaration of German Atrocities, which was released on November 1, 1943. This declaration, which was made long before many of the war crimes were committed, expressed the Allied plan to arrest and bring to justice Axis war criminals.
In other words, the Allies were determined to put the Germans on trial, even before any war crimes were committed.
Apparently, the person who wrote the comment about the guards being allowed to live, is not familiar with the proceedings of the American Military Tribunal held at Dachau after the war. The first trial, conducted by the AMT, was the trial of the acting Commandant of Dachau and 39 others who were on the Dachau staff.
The 40 men, who were put on trial by the AMT, were not selected, out of the thousands of SS men who had worked at the camp, because their crimes were the most heinous. Rather, they were selected as a representative group because, included among them, were staff members from every category of personnel in the concentration camp. The purpose was to show that anyone connected with a Nazi concentration camp was guilty of a crime, regardless of his personal behavior.
Rudolf Heinrich Suttrop, shown in the photo above, was the adjutant to the acting Commandant of Dachau, Martin Gottfried Weiss. Suttrop was convicted and hanged, although there were no specific charges against him. His crime was that he was a low-level member of the staff of the Dachau Concentration camp, and as such, he had participated in the “common design” to commit crimes. This new law had not existed when Suttrop was on the staff at Dachau.
Altogether, there were 5 proceedings against groups of concentration camp staff members at the American Military Tribunal at Dachau. In the first four of those cases, 177 staff members of Dachau, Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Flossenbürg were charged, and all of the accused, without exception, were convicted by a panel of American military officers.
There were 97 death sentences handed down in the first four cases, and 54 of the guilty were sentenced to life in prison; the rest were sentenced to lengthy prison terms at hard labor. The prosecutor, who was responsible for this remarkable feat, was Lt. Col. William Denson, an aristocratic southern gentleman from Alabama. The 100% conviction rate was due to the fact that it was the concentration camp system that was on trial; there was literally no defense for the accused.
The photo above shows the building where the trials conducted by the American Military Tribunal were held. This building is located inside the former SS garrison at Dachau.
At the trial of the 40 men from the Dachau camp, the witnesses for the prosecution were former prisoners in the Dachau concentration camp who were given room and board and a payment of 1,000 Deutschmarks for their testimony, according to Joshua M. Greene, in his book Justice at Dachau. They were housed in the SS buildings on the former Avenue of the SS, which was named Tennessee Road by the Americans who were working on the trials.
The “Dachau trials” were not trials in the ordinary sense. The accused were considered to be guilty as charged, and the burden of proof was on them, not on the prosecution.
Lt. Paul Guth was the chief interrogator who was in charge of getting signed confessions from the accused before the proceedings began. Lt. Guth was a Jew who had emigrated to the United States from Vienna, Austria in 1941.
The charges against Martin Gottfried Weiss, et al were brought by The General Military Court, appointed by Par. 3, Special Order 304, Headquarters Third United States Army and Eastern Military District, dated 2 November 1945, to be held at Dachau, Germany, on, or about, November 15, 1945. Two charges of Violation of the Laws and Usages of War were brought against the defendants.
The first charge alleged that the Dachau accused “acting in pursuance of a common design to commit the acts hereinafter alleged, and as members of the staff of Dachau Concentration Camp and camps subsidiary thereto, did, at, or in the vicinity of DACHAU and LANDSBERG, Germany, between about 1 January 1942 and about 29 April 1945, willfully, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the subjection of civilian nationals of nations then at war with the then German Reich to cruelties and mistreatment, including killings, beatings, tortures, starvation, abuses and indignities, the exact names and numbers of such civilian nationals being unknown but aggregating many thousands who were then and there in the custody of the German Reich in exercise of belligerent control.”
The second charge was worded exactly the same as the first, except that it specified “members of the armed forces,” instead of civilians. Like the first charge, no names of victims or specific acts against members of the armed forces were listed.
Note that the charges included killings, beatings, tortures, starvation, abuses and indignities, but there was no specific charge of gassing, although a film of the Dachau gas chamber was shown on November 29, 1945 at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, two weeks after the Dachau proceedings began. It was not known whether any victims who might have been killed in the Dachau gas chamber were from Allied countries, so this charge was not included.
Crimes against German citizens, and others who were not civilians or military personnel in an Allied country, were not included; it was left up to the German courts to bring charges against the concentration camp staff members for crimes against victims from non-Allied countries. The charges included only Violations of the Laws and Usages of War and not Crimes against Humanity.
The charges against Martin Gottfried Weiss, and the 39 other members of the Dachau staff, were based on the theory that all of them had participated in a “common design” to run the concentration camp in a manner which had caused the prisoners great suffering, severe injury or death. The period of time covered by the charges was from January 1, 1942 until April 29, 1945. Although the camp had been in operation since March 22, 1933, this was roughly the period of time that the Dachau camp had been in existence while America was at war with Germany.
The basis for the prosecution of staff members of the Nazi concentration camps was that some of the inmates had been captured enemy soldiers who were Prisoners of War and consequently they should have been treated according to the rules of the Geneva Convention, including the Russian POWs, although the Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention and had not followed it during the war. Other inmates in the Nazi camps were political prisoners, partisans, resistance fighters or insurgents from German-occupied countries; they were considered by the American prosecutors to be comparable to Prisoners of War although the 1929 Geneva Convention did not give insurgents the same rights as POWs. In fact, the resistance fighters in German-occupied countries had violated the rules of the 1929 Geneva Convention themselves by continuing to fight after their countries had surrendered.
According to Robert E. Conot, author of Justice at Nuremberg, the idea of bringing the German war criminals to justice was first voiced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on October 7, 1942, when he declared: “It is our intention that just and sure punishment shall be meted out to the ringleaders responsible for the organized murder of thousands of innocent persons in the commission of atrocities which have violated every tenet of the Christian faith.” Roosevelt was referring to atrocities committed in the concentration camps, beginning in 1933; most of the war crimes that were prosecuted by the American Military Tribunals at Dachau had not yet been committed.
The Declaration of St. James on January 13, 1942 announced British plans for war crimes trials even before the British BBC first broadcast the news of the gassing of the Jews in June 1942. On December 17, 1942, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden told the House of Commons: “The German authorities are now carrying into effect Hitler’s oft repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people of Europe.”
On October 26, 1943, the United Nations War Crimes Commission, composed of 15 Allied nations, met in London to discuss the trials of the German war criminals which were already being planned. That same year, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin issued a joint statement, called the Moscow Declaration, in which they agreed to bring the German war criminals to justice.