Nazi Crimes on Trial
the dachau trials
Trials by U.S. Army Courts in Europe 1945 - 1948
(from the general introduction to the corresponding NARA microfilms)
The ‘Dachau Trials’
From 1945 to 1948, U.S. Army Courts (military commissions and special or general military courts) tried 1672 individuals in 489 proceedings.* Specific authority for these proceedings is found in Joint Chiefs of Staff Directive 1023/10 of July 8, 1945, which placed responsibility for certain war crimes trials in Germany on the Commander, USFET (United States Forces, European Theater). The Commander, in turn, empowered the commanding general of the Western Military District (territory occupied by the U.S. 3d Army (Bavaria)) to appoint military courts, predominantly at the site of the former concentration camp Dachau, for the trial of war criminals not heard at Nuernberg. This was done in a letter on the subject of "Trial of War Crimes and Related Cases" of July 16, 1945. The commanding general of the Eastern Military District (territory occupied by the U.S. 7th Army (Hesse, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bremen)) was similarly authorized to commence war crimes trials, mainly at Ludwigsburg. In order to streamline operations, the Commander, USFET, revoked this division of authority in a letter of October 14, 1946, and assigned responsibility to prosecute war criminals to the Deputy Judge Advocate for War Crimes, USFET. Henceforth, all cases were tried at the site of the former concentration camp Dachau because centralization of war crimes appeared necessary in view of the large body of cases and investigations.
The 489 cases tried by the U.S. Army in Germany can be divided roughly into four categories: main concentration camp cases, subsequent concentration camp cases, flier cases and miscellaneous cases. The first category comprises 6 cases with about 200 defendants, mainly staff members and guards at Dachau, Buchenwald, Flossenburg, Mauthausen, Nordhausen and Muehldorf concentration camps. The second category includes about 250 proceedings against approximately 800 guards and staff members of the outcamps and branch camps of the major camps. The third category encompasses more than 200 cases in which about 600 persons, mostly German civilians, were prosecuted for the killing of some 1200 U.S. nationals, mostly airmen. The fourth category consists of a few cases, including the Malmedy Massacre Case, in which 73 SS men were tried for murdering large groups of surrendered U.S. prisoners of war; the Hadamar Case, in which a number of Hadamar Asylum staff members stood trial for the killing of about 400 Russian and Polish nationals; and the Skorzeny Case, in which some members of the German Armed Forces were charged with wearing U.S. Army uniforms while participating in the Ardennes offensive.
U.S. Army Trial Reviews and Recommendations
A review and recommendation is a summary of the records of a trial, examined by reviewers to verify that the trial was conducted in a legal manner and that the rights of the accused had not been violated. These reviews automatically followed all U.S. Army-conducted trials.
Until mid October 1946, trials were conducted by the U.S. Armies in Europe, within each Army's area of jurisdiction. While the vast majority were conducted by the 3rd and 7th Army Commands, a few of the early trials were conducted by the 1st and 15th Armies and the United States Forces in Austria. During the 1945-1946 period, reviews and recommendations were prepared from the trial record by the posttrial units of the Army Commands convening the courts. They were reviewed by the pertinent Army staff judge advocates, and the commanding generals. Death sentences required a last review by the European Theater Commander.
From October 1946 to July 1948, the conduct of U.S. war crimes trials was centralized under the Deputy Judge Advocate for War Crimes and the trials held at the site of the former concentration camp Dachau. During this period reviews and recommendations were prepared by the Deputy Judge Advocate for War Crimes. They were reviewed by the Judge Advocate and, for death sentences, the Theater Commander.
A typical review and recommendation contains paragraphs for the following subjects: trial data and charges, summaries of evidence, personal information regarding the accused, evidence presented by prosecution and defence counsel, and petitions for clemency; the conclusions of the reviewer and the recommendation, either of an Army staff judge advocate or the Deputy Judge Advocate for War Crimes, complete the record.
The case files to which the first 227 reviews and recommendations pertain were filed and are arranged by a two-number mail and records system employed by the European and Washington Offices of the War Crimes Branch, Office of the Judge Advocate General. The same system is used for the reviews and recommendations. The first number designates a country, and the second number identifies the case within the country. In Case 5-37, for example, the first number represents Austria, the country in which the crime was alleged to have been committed; and the second number identifies the case among the other Austrian cases tried or investigated between 1945 and 1948. All of the case files in this publication arranged by the wto-number system have one of the following five country designations: 5 - Austria, 6 - Belgium, 8 - Czechoslovakia, 11 - France, or 12 - Germany.
The remaining reviews and recommendations are arranged by one of two modified mail and records systems. One system consists of a sequence of numbers beginning with a triple zero, 000, followed by the number 50, 000-50. These two-number sequences indicate concentration camp cases. A third number in this sequence stands for a main camp case. Thus 000-50-2 is for the Dachau Concentration Camp Case, 000-50-5 is for the Mauthausen Case, 000-50-9 is for the Buchenwald Case, 000-50-37 is for the Nordhausen Case, 000-50-16 is for the Flossenburg Case, and 000-50-136 is for the Muehldorf Concentration Camp Case.
The subsequent proceedings to these main cases were designated either by adding a fourth number to the sequence such as 000-50-2-1, indicating the first subsequent proceeding to the Dachau main concentration camp case; or using a triple zero followed by the name of the main camp and the number of the subsequent proceeding, 000-Buchenwald-1. The apparent difference between these two methods of identifying subsequent concentration camp cases is that the charges under the first method were substantially the same as in the main case; whereas in the second method the accused were tried under additional charges.
* The number of accused listed here (→ Name List of Accused) is 1916, the number of cases (→ List of Tried Cases) 458. The discrepancy in the number of persons is explained by the fact that the Name List as produced here contains a number of persons whose name appear more than once, as well as the names of persons who were not tried, but who were listed as accused. The discrepancy in case numbers is explained by the fact that in a number of cases the Review & Recommendations concerned more than one proceeding (cf. e.g. US173).
For various forms of assistance over time concerning the Dachau Trial Project, our thanks goes out to Dr. Elisabeth Yavnai, Prof. Dr. Michael S. Bryant & Nicole Haney.