The Permanent Military Tribunal at Dijon, France tried Carl Bauer, Ernst Schrameck, and Herbert Falten. The accused were officers of a German unit which was engaged in combat with formations of the French Forces of the Interior (F.F.I.), which became the major resistance movement in France during World War II. Karl Bauer was a colonel, in command of a German column of marines which, in August and September 1944, were retreating before the Allied forces from the area of the Landes and Bordeaux to that of Autun. The other two accused were under Bauer’s orders in the same column, Ernst Schrameck being a colonel and Herbert Falten a lieutenant.
Bauer claimed he was following Hitler’s order to “slaughter to the last man” all members of Allied “Commando” units, whether armed or not, even if they surrendered. “The Nuremberg Tribunal found all such orders contrary to the laws and customs of war, and consequently criminal in nature. The rejection of Bauer’s plea was based upon the rule that he should not have obeyed orders which were of a criminal nature, and it may be noted further that, at the time of the crime, he was under no direct pressure or duress to implement Hitler’s orders.”
The accused were charged with complicity in murder in that, “by abusing authority and powers,” they had “provoked murder in reprisals of three soldiers of the F.F.I.” captured as “prisoners of war.” All the accused were found guilty of the charge. Bauer was sentenced to death. The fact that Schrameck and Falten had acted on Bauer’s orders was admitted as an extenuating circumstance, and the two accused were each convicted to five years’ imprisonment.
Though they too said they were following orders, Schrameck and Falten likely received lesser sentences because the court took into account “Schrameck’s defense that Bauer’s orders were ‘categorical’ and left no room for ‘discussion’” and that “Falten had postponed the execution on his own initiative and gone·back to Schrameck to raise once more the issue, thus giving an opportunity for cancelling the order.” Their sentences reflected the court’s recognition that the plea of superior orders only applied to the “mitigation of the punishment, but not in exculpation of guilt.”
Source: Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals, Vol. VIII, (London: United Nations War Crimes Commission, 1949).