… the Auschwitz Trial Began 50 Years Ago Today
On 20 December 1963, Federal Germany’s largest and longest-lasting trial to date of crimes committed in National Socialist concentration and extermination camps opened in the council chamber of Frankfurt’s Römer, the city hall. On trial were twenty-two former staff members who had worked between 1941 and 1945 at the Auschwitz concentration camp. The highest-ranking defendant and last commandant of the camp, Richard Baer, had died just before the trial began. Many others did not face charges at all, not least because almost all crimes dating from the Nazi era were already time-barred—even homicide.
Since the Federal German legislature had not anchored the Allies’ postwar trials in Federal German law, trial proceedings in Frankfurt am Main—and likewise all subsequent trials of Nazi crimes—were based on the Penal Code of 1871. Consequently the only charges made were those of murder, and of aiding and abetting murder; and the court, under the guidance of the presiding judge Hans Hofmeyer, was accordingly obliged to find whether defendants had been personally involved in acts of murder, that is to say, had broken the law. → continue reading