What crime is morally the worst

Some former prisoners testify in the main Dachau trial. For many it is the first opportunity to come to terms with their traumatic experiences in the camps. Again and again they are supposed to identify their previous tormentors, who are sitting in the dock with numbers around their necks.

The Czech prisoner doctor Franz Blaha, who had to spend many years in the Dachau concentration camp, was one of the first key witnesses to take his place on the stand. The Belgian Arthur Haulot, founding member of the International Prisoners Committee, also testifies. He states that it was not the hunger or the sadistic abuse that was the worst thing in the camp.

"The most unbearable thing was the moral conditions under which we had to live." Many of his Belgian comrades had "perished morally" rather than physically.

After the end of the main Dachau trial, Haulot told a SZ reporter: "I think trials like this are important. Contrary to Nazi practice, the guilty party should not be punished without trial; we want to prove to the world that we are another , have a better sense of justice. In addition, the world public has a right to know what was going on in the concentration camps. "

Haulot's wish is only partially fulfilled. The main process in Dachau is regarded as a legal model for all further proceedings, but these are less and less popular with the public. German society refuses to face its own guilt and to come to terms with its Nazi past.

At the latest with the Malmedy trial, one of the proceedings in Dachau, sections of the press, churches and political parties start a public smear campaign against the entire "War Crimes Program".

In the Malmedy trial, the court hears the murder of American prisoners of war in connection with the Ardennes offensive of the German armed forces. The tribunal wants to find the guilty parties guilty quickly. But the SS men who were involved in the murders try to make it difficult for American investigators. They deny the deeds or blame them on those who died in the war. Of the 73 accused, 43 are sentenced to death.

After the trial, rumors circulated that the confessions of the SS men were made under torture. A lie, evidence of this is still missing today. But Kichen, the press, lawyers and parties repeatedly raise the accusation of "victorious justice". In Heidelberg, a group of lawyers was founded around Eduard Wahl, who later became a CDU member of the Bundestag.

This coordinates the resistance against the processes. Also supported by the federal government. The US military governor in Germany, General Lucius D. Clay, feels compelled to defend the "War Crimes Program" in a letter to Josef Cardinal Frings, Archbishop of Cologne Hope that the world would recognize their contribution to peace and that they would act as a deterrent to future aggressors ”.

But the campaign against the Dachau trials is having an effect. Of the 43 death sentences in the Malmedy trial, for example, none are carried out, and all are reduced to prison terms. The convicts had to serve their imprisonment in the prison in Landsberg. The pressure of the German public, churches, press, parliaments and governments, through a system of amnesties, mitigation of sentences and pardons, resulted in the last prisoners being released in 1958.

Also because of their rejection at the time and the associated repression of German guilt, the Dachau trials are only known to a specialist audience today, on the 75th anniversary, while the Nuremberg trials are known worldwide for the legal punishment of Nazi crimes.

The concentration camp memorial wants to change this "disproportion" and is therefore planning a special exhibition on the Dachau Trials, which is expected to be on view from October 2021. One wants to step "out of the shadow of Nuremberg", says Christoph Thonfeld, head of the scientific department of the memorial. "Dachau is internationally known as a concentration camp."

But at the same time a legal processing of these crimes took place at this place. "We want to make this close connection to the processing visible," says Thonfeld.

The memorial also wants to draw attention to the fact that the courthouse where the Dachau trials took place is still standing. It is located on the premises of the Bavarian riot police. Significantly, it mainly uses it as a warehouse. The nursery is set up in the backyard.

As Yvonne Schäfers from the memorial site explains, there is also a map showing the various detention areas in the internment camp. "The plan was still being used by riot police electricians until the end of last year," she says. The document is to be seen in the exhibition alongside many other documents, photos, audio and video recordings.

One document held by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington is a letter from the death row inmate Claus Schilling to his lawyer.

Schilling wrote this on February 26, 1946 in Landsberg Prison, where he is awaiting execution. Schilling writes: "I ask you not to insist on my innocence. I wish to die. The life I now live in prison is not a life. If the court wants to do me a favor, let me have a quick and painless one Have death. "

On May 28, 1946, Schilling was hanged in Landsberg's war crimes prison.

© SZ from December 11th, 2020 / van / vewo / odg