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The First Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial (1963–1965)

The first Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial (1963–1965), one of the Federal Republic of Germany’s largest trials of Nazi criminals, has two prologues that are worthy of note: Since early March 1958, on the basis of a complaint by an Auschwitz survivor, the Stuttgart public prosecutor’s office had been investigating the subsequent defendant Wilhelm Boger, formerly a member of the Auschwitz camp Gestapo (Political Department). In January 1959, in Frankfurt am Main, a journalist at the Frankfurter Rundschau sent some original documents that he had obtained from a Holocaust survivor to the chief public prosecutor of the state of Hesse, Fritz Bauer.


Bauer, in his endeavor to bring the Nazis’ crimes to light and call the Nazi criminals to account, obtained a decision from the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH; Federal Court of Justice) in Karlsruhe: The BGH granted the Landgericht (regional court) in Frankfurt am Main jurisdiction in matters pertaining to Auschwitz. Therefore, in a change of venue, the lawsuit against Boger and other pending litigation in Stuttgart was moved to Frankfurt, and in mid-1959 two young public prosecutors, Georg Friedrich Vogel and Joachim Kügler, set about initiating investigations of Auschwitz personnel. Gradually, the Frankfurt law enforcement agency, with the assistance of Hermann Langbein of Vienna—until 1960, the General Secretary of the International Auschwitz Committee—succeeded in locating members of the SS from Auschwitz and hearing Auschwitz survivors as witnesses. In April 1963, the public prosecutor’s office presented the bill of indictment, and 22 Auschwitz defendants went on trial in December 1963. In proceedings lasting 183 days, the Frankfurt jury court debated the stated charges against the defendants. Those accused were two adjutants of the camp commandant (Robert Mulka and Karl Höcker), the head of the protective custody camp (Franz Hofmann), three SS doctors (Franz Lucas, Willy Frank, Willi Schatz), an SS pharmacist (Victor Capesius), an SS NCO who served as roll-call leader (Oswald Kaduk), members of the camp Gestapo/Political Department (Wilhelm Boger, Pery Broad, Klaus Dylewski, Hans Stark, Johann Schoberth), medical orderlies (Josef Klehr, Emil Hantl, Herbert Scherpe, Gerhard Neubert), two block leaders (Heinrich Bischoff, Stefan Baretzki), a detention warden (Bruno Schlage), and a member of the administrative department (Arthur Breitwieser). One prisoner functionary (Emil Bednarek), too, was on trial.


The two adjutants, by virtue of their position in the so-called Kommandantur (commandant’s office) of the camp,  were in charge of “processing” the transports: The SS Reichssicherheitshauptamt in Berlin (RSHA; Reich Security Main Office) used “special trains” of the German Reichsbahn to organize the deportation of European Jews to Auschwitz. The Auschwitz commandant’s office conveyed instructions to all the offices at the camp that had functions to perform when the RSHA transports arrived. In the prisoner infirmary (HKB; Häftlingskrankenbau), the medical orderlies Gerhard Neubert and Emil Hantl shared responsibility for the HKB selections with the SS camp physician on duty at the time. Neubert in particular played an important role in the infirmary.


During the hearing of evidence, 360 witnesses were examined, of whom 211 were survivors of Auschwitz. The victims who testified also included prisoners of Buna/Monowitz; among them were Ludwig Wörl, Hans Frankenthal, Curt Posener, Erich Markowitsch, and Walter Petzold. Contemporary historians were heard primarily at the beginning of the taking of evidence, as expert witnesses. The historians had been nominated by the prosecuting body and by the representatives of the subsidiary prosecution (Nebenklage). Attorney Friedrich Karl Kaul, who represented the joint plaintiffs from the GDR, nominated, among others, the economic historian Jürgen Kuczinski (1904–1997) (Humboldt University, [East] Berlin), who rendered an expert opinion on the interweaving of the interests of the security police and economic interests in the construction and operation of the Auschwitz concentration camp and its subcamps, dwelling in particular on the role of I.G. Farben.


The judges sentenced defendants proven to have committed murders on their own initiative to life imprisonment. In addition, the court found some defendants guilty of collaborative murder for actions pursuant to orders given by the state leadership, that is, guilty of participation in mass extermination, if the jury court determined it had been proven beyond reasonable doubt that the accused man had adopted the jointly committed murderous deeds as his own, and thus possessed the requisite intent to commit the offense he was ordered to commit. Those who, in the opinion of the triers of fact, had cooperated in the murders only in obedience to orders, and thus had committed the homicides at the behest of another party and not of their own volition, were found to be accessories (accessories to murder) and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. The so-called accessory jurisprudence (Gehilfenrechtsprechung) of the Federal German courts in many trials of National Socialist crimes met with a great deal of criticism and opposition. Many defendants who were participants in thousands of murders received light sentences and were released from confinement (detention pending trial) after a few years, often even before the sentences entered into effect.


The first Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial acquired its preeminent significance in the history of jurisprudence because of the facts brought to light in the legal action. Numerous people were in the courtroom, closely following the trial, especially the examinations of the victims who served as witnesses. A great many journalists reported on the trial. Writers made the proceedings the subject of literary works.

(WR; transl. KL)


Der Auschwitz-Prozess. Tonbandmitschnitte, Protokolle und Dokumente. DVD-ROM. 2. Ed. Fritz Bauer Institut / Staatliches Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, eds. Berlin: Directmedia, 2005.

Auschwitz-Prozess4 Ks 2/63 Frankfurt am Main [exhibition catalogue]. Edited by Irmtrud Wojak on behalf of Fritz Bauer Institute. Cologne: Snoeck, 2004.

Balzer, Friedrich-Martin / Renz, Werner, eds.: Das Urteil im Frankfurter Auschwitz-Prozess (1963–1965). Bonn: Pahl-Rugenstein, 2004.

Kingreen, Monica: Der Auschwitz-Prozess 1963–1965. Geschichte, Bedeutung und Wirkung. Materialien für die pädagogische Arbeit mit CD-Auschwitz-Überlebende sagen aus. Frankfurt am Main: Fritz Bauer Institute, 2004.

Langbein, Hermann: Der Auschwitz-Prozess. Eine Dokumentation. 2 Vols. Frankfurt am Main: Neue Kritik, 1995.

Naumann, Bernd: Auschwitz: A Report on the Proceedings against Robert Karl Ludwig Mulka and Others before the Court at Frankfurt. Translated by Jean Steinberg; with an introduction by Hannah Arendt. London: Pall Mall, 1966.

Pendas, Devin O.: The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, 1963–1965. Genocide, History, and the Limits of the Law.Cambridge/New York: Cambridge UP, 2006.

Werle, Gerhard / Wandres, Thomas: Auschwitz vor Gericht. Völkermord und bundesdeutsche Strafjustiz: Mit einer Dokumentation des Auschwitz-Urteils. Munich: Beck, 1995.

Wittmann, Rebecca: Beyond Justice. The Auschwitz Trial. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2005.

Wojak, Irmtrud, ed.: „Gerichtstag halten über uns selbst...“ Geschichte und Wirkung des ersten Frankfurter Auschwitz-Prozesses. Frankfurt am Main/New York: Campus, 2001.

Wojak, Irmtrud / Meinl, Susanne, eds.: Im Labyrinth der Schuld. Täter – Opfer – Ankläger. Frankfurt am Main/New York: Campus, 2003.