In the years 1945 to 1948 Dachau was the staging area for trials against war criminals.
A workshop, where SS mess uniforms used to be manufactured, served as a courtroom.
When the allies decided that war criminals would have to defend themselves in front
of an international tribunal, they had no idea of the scope and the inhumanity of
the crimes that had been committed. There was no jurisprudence on which to base the
It took until August of 1945 before the various powers agreed on the way the trials
had to be conducted.
There were several tribunals in those days. First of all, of course, Neurenberg and
Tokyo where the worst offenders stood trial. In addition to those trials, which received
international renown, there were smaller trials. These were not as well known, but
they were certainly no less important. Most of these trials took place in Dachau.
They would be recorded in history as the ”Dachau Trials”.
Many of the camps torturers stood trial here; guards of concentration camps Dachau,
Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Mauthausen, Nordhausen and Mühldorf.
There were a total of 489 sessions in Dachau. There were 1672 defendants. Just these
figures alone indicate the importance of these trials.
The Americans intended to confront the German people with the past, so they could
come to terms. As it turned out, these intentions missed their goal completely, at
least in the first few years after the war.
The last sessions of the Dachau tribunal took place in 1948; in July of that same
year the American “War Crime Program” ended. The aftermath of these trials lasted
for long time. Over a period of no less than fifty years there were appeals on such
diverse subjects as reduction of punishment and amnesty.
Six months after the liberation, the trial started against Martin Weiss, the last
camp commander and 39 others. They were not only SS-ers, there were also kapos, prisoners
who as foremen had mistreated their fellow prisoners.
Martin Weiss took command of the camp in September 1942 and remained in that position
until the end. He defended himself by holding that he was the one who had made Dachau
a better camp, by shortening roll-calls, allowing prisoners to receive packages (except
Jews, Russians and NN-ers), offering recreational possibilities for soccer and an
orchestra. He neglected to say that he had been ordered by Berlin to do so. On April
30, 1042, the Wirtschafts Verwaltungs Hauptamt (Administrative Headquarters for the
Economy) had ordered all camp commanders to utilize the prisoners for the war industry
and to increase their working hours as much as possible. Not only did the roll-calls
have to be shorter, but mealtimes had to be curtailed too.
Medical experiments and executions went on like usual under Weiss.
The court did not accept his defense that he had made Dachau a better place. On May
28, 1946 he and twenty-six others were sentenced to death in Landsberg. The rest
received prison sentences.
The only civilian who was indicted in the large Dachau Trials was the 74 year old
Professor Schilling, who had been in charge of the department that occupied itself
with the malaria experiments. As professor of tropical medicine, Schillings' specialty
was in malaria research. At one time he had received money from the Rockefeller foundation
for his work. After he became a professor emeritus, he received an offer to continue
his studies in Dachau. He accepted the offer and started his “work” in 1942. For
that purpose he needed around thirty subjects per month. In total he performed around
1000 to 1200 experiments on human subjects, which included several Dutchmen.
In his defense he cited the humanitarian goal of his research. After all, malaria
affects millions of victims. The tribunal did not accept his defense. Considering
his profession and his education, they blamed him more than the other defendants.
Schilling did promise, that if he were allowed to continue his research, he would
use only volunteers. He never got that chance however. In spite of pleas for lenience
from scientific circles he was put to death on May 28, 1946.
Amongst the defendants were three kapos: Bacher, Knoll and Mahl. The only one we
have details on is Mahl. Emil Mahl came to Dachau in 1940, as a criminal prisoner
(which means he wore the green triangle). In 1943 he became the kapo of the Arbeitskommando
Krematorium (Work detail of the crematorium). His task was to put the noose around
the neck of his fellow prisoners. He supposedly did that around 800 to 1000 times.
To hear him talk, he was forced to do so on punishment of execution.
Not many details are known about the other kapos, only that they were all sentenced
He received support from an unexpected corner in his appeal for leniency, namely
from the president of the International Dachau Committee at the time. He held that
it was unfair that kapos received the same punishment as SS-ers, after all, in the
first instance they had been victims of the KZ-terror themselves.
In general the defenders asked if, as prisoners, they could be charged with being
a part of a criminal organization. The opinion was that since they committed their
crimes while serving in leadership roles they could be judged the same as their SS
Especially Bacher and Knoll had so many witness statements about the evil and malicious
way in which they worked, that they were unable to escape their just punishment.
On May 28th, they were also sentenced to death.
Emil Mahl was credited with extenuating circumstances. He was sentenced to ten years
During a later trial, Alex Piorkowski was brought out. Since 1938 he has been involved
with concentration camp Dachau; from 1940 to 1942 he was its commander.
Due to the rules at the time, he was only prosecuted for what happened in the period
from January 1942 to June 1942 and that was quite a lot.
* Hundreds of Russian prisoners of war were shot to death
* The first prisoners were subjected to the malaria tests, and later also under cooling
and low pressure tests
* Prisoners deemed unable to work were transported to Schloss Hartheim, where they
* TB patients were murdered by way of injections.
During the time that Piorkowski was commander of Dachau, the prisoners were seriously
terrorized. Maintaining the strictest of discipline in the barracks and absurdly
severe rules of conduct in the barracks were the order of the day in that period,
in addition to endless roll-calls, sometimes with mandatory singing.
In April of 1942 Berlin gave instructions that the regime had to back down gradually.
But it would take a long time before the prisoners would notice any of that. On the
other hand, the working hours were inhumanely long.
Piorkowski had the services of a good American attorney who did everything he could
to save him from the noose. In spite of appeals for revision of his sentence in ultimately
for commutation, the death sentence was carried out on October 28,1948.
From November 1945 until 1948 there were trials for not only the SS guards of camp
Dachau, but also those of other concentration camp in Germany. As the years went
on, the sentences became milder and the appeals took longer. Almost all prisoners
who received prison sentences were released in the fifty or so years after the war.