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The SS garrison in Auschwitz
Contributed by Bohdan Piętka   
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The SS garrison in Auschwitz
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Trials of SS men from the Auschwitz Concentration Camp garrison
(Un)justice

More members of the Auschwitz SS garrison stood trial in Poland than anywhere else. From 1946 to 1949, about 1 thousand people suspected of committing war crimes at Auschwitz were extradited to Poland, mostly from the American occupation zone in Germany. Charges were brought against 673 people, including 21 women.

The Warsaw trial of commandant Rudolf Höss

Przed egzekucją Rudolfa HoessaThe best known trial was that of the first commandant, Rudolf Höss, before the Supreme National Tribunal in Warsaw. On April 2, 1947, the tribunal sentenced Höss to death.

The Cracow trial of the SS garrison

The Supreme National Tribunal sat in Cracow for a second important trial, known as the Auschwitz garrison trial. Of the 40 people indicted, 23 (including the second Auschwitz commandant, Arthur Liebehenschel, political department head Maximilian Grabner, and women’s camp director Maria Mandel) were sentenced to death, and 6 to life imprisonment.

Other trials

Other trials were held between 1946 and 1953 before regional, voivodship, and special courts in Katowice, Cracow, Cieszyn, Gliwice, Racibórz, Sosnowiec, and Wadowice. The most common sentences for lower-ranking members of the Auschwitz garrison were three years in prison (203 times, for 31.9% of all the sentences) and 4 years (111 times, 17.5%). Death and life sentences were relatively rare (41 times, 6.1%).

Trials of Auschwitz SS garrison members outside Poland

German Federal Republic

Poland aside, the German Federal Republic held the most trials of members of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp garrison. The watershed in prosecuting Nazi war criminals there did not, however, come until the 1960s.

The best known trials of members of the Auschwitz garrison were four trials in Frankfurt am Main between 1963 and 1976. Six defendants (including Rapportführer Oswald Kaduk and political department henchman Wilhelm Boger) were sentenced to life imprisonment, and the others to prison terms of 3 to 14 years. Many former SS men from the Auschwitz garrison were examined as witnesses in this trial but never faced charges themselves, before or afterwards.

Despite significant efforts by the prosecutors in some German states, and especially the office of the prosecutor in Ludwigsburg, the results of the investigation and punishment of Auschwitz SS men by West German justice were extremely modest.

Austria

In 1972, charges were brought in Austria against 4 former SS men from the Auschwitz garrison, including two officers from the SS Construction Board. All of the accused were acquitted.

German Democratic Republic

The most famous (and only) trial in East Germany was that of SS doctor Horst Fischer, in 1966. The court condemned Fischer to death. In Czechoslovakia, one SS orderly and one female SS overseer were sentenced to death.

American, British, and French military tribunals

SS men from the Auschwitz garrison were tried before American, British, and French military tribunals in the late 1940s as part of the trials of garrisons from other concentration camps.

Auschwitz II commandant Josef Kramer, Auschwitz I and Birkenau women’s camp director Franz Hössler, and female SS overseers Irma Grese andi Elisabeth Volkenrath were sentenced to death at the trial of the Bergen-Belsen garrison in 1945.

For their part, the British sentenced 2 Auschwitz doctors to death in 1946 at the trial of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp garrison. In 1945, an American military tribunal sentenced Auschwitz III-Monowitz director Vinzenz Schöttl and Birkenau crematorium boss Otto Moll to death at the trial of the Dachau garrison.

The Americans also passed death sentences on SS doctors Helmuth Vetter and Friedrich Entress at the trial of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp garrison, and Auschwitz II-Birkenau men’s camp director Johann Schwarzhuber at the trial of the FKL Ravensbrück staff.

A French Military Tribunal sentenced Friedrich Hartjenstein, commander of the SS guard battalion and commandant of Auschwitz II-Birkenau Concentration Camp, and Heinrich Schwarz, commandant of Auschwitz III-Monowitz, to death at the trial of the Natzweiler garrison in 1946.


 


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