In the Moscow Declaration of October 30, 1943, the
Allied Powers agreed that Germans guilty of war crimes would be extradited
to the country which had been the scene of their activities. Accordingly,
Germans arrested in connection with the Auschwitz issue were handed
over to Poland.
On April 2, 1947, Rudolf Hess, the first commandant
of the camp, was sentenced to death in Warsaw and hung on a gallows
adjacent to the gas chamber at Auschwitz I. This was
followed by a trial in Cracow, at which 23 SS members
were condemned to death. Twenty-one of the sentences were carried
out, including those of Arthur Liebehenschel, Hoess' successor
as commandant of the camp, Maximilian Grabner, and the camp leaders
Hans Aumeier and Maria Mandel. Two of the accused, camp doctors Johann
Paul Kremer and Arthur Breitwieser, had their sentences commuted to
prison terms. Sixteen of the accused were given prison terms ranging
from three years to life, and one Hans Munch, an official of the Hygiene
Institute in Rajsko, was acquitted. At a later stage, a long series
of minor trials connected with Auschwitz was held in Poland, bringing
the total up to at least 617 defendants, of whom 34 were sentenced
By no means did these trials bring to justice all
those, or even most of those, men and women who served at Auschwitz.
And the Ukrainians on the grounds were also never brought to trial.
Historians at the Auschwitz State Museum estimate that the SS staff of Auschwitz numbered approximately 700 people in 1941, 2,000
in 1942, 3,000 in April 1944, and reached its peak with the evacuation
in January 1945, with 4,415 SS men and 71 SS women overseers. Between 7,000 and 7,200 people served on the staff
of Auschwitz at one time or another according to the card files of
SS men from Auschwitz were also tried
by the tribunals of other countries; according to available information,
there were 11 such trials held by British, American, Soviet, French,
and Czech courts, culminating in 24 convictions, with sentences ranging
from prison terms to death. At the trial for the mass murders committed
, the sentences also took into consideration crimes committed at Auschwitz,
since many of the accused had been transferred to Belsen when Auschwitz
was evacuated (on January 18, 1945). There is no information available
on the summary trials held by Soviet military tribunals. The trials
against officials of the firms IG Farben-Werke and
Krupp were in some respects also Auschwitz trials, for the indictment
included crimes committed against Auschwitz prisoners whom these firms
had used as forced labor. Bruno Tesch, who built the crematoria at
Auschwitz, was sentenced to death in Hamburg. Gerhard Peters, general
manager of Degesch Company, which had supplied the poison gas to Auschwitz,
was acquitted at his Frankfurt trial. After 1951 all the laender (states of the German Federal Republic) commuted the prison terms
that had earlier been passed by Allied tribunals.
Until 1960, the only trials by German and Austrian
courts on record were one against seven SS men from
Auschwitz, as well as those of several Auschwitz inmates who became
functionaries in the camp. It was not until 1958 that German courts
began a systematic inquiry into the Auschwitz issue, prompted by complaints
submitted by camp survivors as well as by the investigations carried
out by the newly established central office for the prosecution of
Nazi criminals (Zentralstelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen – "central agency of the ministries of justice of the laender" – in Ludwigsburg). First to stand trial,
in November 1960 in Muenster, was the camp doctor Kremer, who had been
released from his Polish prison. He was sentenced to ten years'
imprisonment, but his Polish prison term was taken into account and
he did not have to serve any further sentence. The trial of Carl Clauberg,
the gynecologist, who had been sentenced in Russia and later released,
came to an abrupt end when the defendant died in jail.
On December 20, 1963, after 5½ years of preparation,
the lengthy Auschwitz trial began in Frankfurt lasting 183 sessions
and ending on August 20, 1965. Six of the accused were given maximum
sentences (life imprisonment), three were acquitted, two were released
because of ill health, and the rest received prison terms ranging
from 3¼ to 14 years. The verdict was appealed to the Federal
Supreme Court, and with one exception all appeals were rejected.
Simultaneously with the German Auschwitz trial, investigations
of SS men from Auschwitz were also initiated in Austria, on the basis
of complaints lodged by survivors. However, no indictment was issued.
In East Germany, inquiries started at a later date. In the summer of
1965 camp doctor Horst Fischer, who until then had been permitted
to carry on his practice under his own name, was arrested and, after
a brief show trial, sentenced to death and executed. \
of the major trial, several minor trials were held at Frankfurt: the
second Auschwitz trial (with three defendants) from December 14, 1965,
to September 16, 1966; and the third Auschwitz trial, which began
on August 30, 1967, and ended on June 14, 1968. More trials were in
the stage of preparation. Some of the guilty men of Auschwitz committed
suicide after the war; others managed to escape. One of the latter
was Horst Schumann who, like Clauberg, had carried out sterilization
experiments at Auschwitz, and who found refuge in Ghana until November
1966, when he was extradited to Germany.
In total no more than 15% of the Auschwitz concentration
camp staff ever stood before the bar of justice in any country. Yet
the percentage tried because of their work at Auschwitz is significantly
larger than at any other camps, perhaps owing to the emblematic nature
of Auschwitz as the epicenter of the Holocaust.
The Auschwitz trials formed the subject of a play
which was performed in several countries.