The Literary Lawyer
by Robin Lindley
When Nazi war crimes and justice are mentioned, many recall the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg that tried 22 captured military and political lead- ers of Germany’s Third Reich and led to the execution of 10 of the
defendants. The Nuremberg trials are often seen as reflecting the highest democratic ideals of the American justice system.
However, almost 1,700 less prominent war criminals were tried in a series of
largely overlooked postwar American military commission proceedings. The
atrocities at issue were monstrous, but questionable interrogations, lax rules of
evidence, lack of appellate process, and other vexing issues marred the expedited
Historian Dr. Tomaz Jardim meticulously examines the
most significant of these military tribunals in his groundbreaking book The Mauthausen Trial: American Military
Justice in Germany (Harvard University Press).
As Dr. Jardim recounts, the 1946 Mauthausen trial of
61 accused war criminals lasted 36 days. The prosecution
presented an array of charges of the most horrendous war
crimes, including torture, murder, intentional starving of
prisoners, and other atrocities. Tens of thousands of inmates died at the hands of their captors at the Mauthausen
concentration camp in Austria during the course of World
War II. The camp was notorious for brutal treatment of prisoners used as slave laborers.
The trial resulted in the conviction of all of the defendants and the issuance
of 58 death sentences, more than any other trial in American history. on May 27,
1947, 49 of the men convicted of war crimes were hanged at Landsberg Prison
near Munich, the largest mass execution in American history.
Dr. Jardim teaches history at Ryerson University in Toronto, ontario. He has
also taught at concordia University and was a post-doctoral fellow at the United
States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.c. His research areas include the Third Reich, the Holocaust, and in particular, war crimes trials, and he
now is working on a book on the three trials of Ilse koch, the notorious wife of the
commandant of Buchenwald concentration camp.
Robin Lindley: What was the Mauthausen trial for war crimes and how did it
compare to the postwar Nuremberg trials?
Dr. Tomaz Jardim: There’s a general misperception about postwar trials.
When you mention them, people immediately think Nuremberg.
As I try to make clear in my book, Nuremberg is the exception to the rule. The
Allies coordinated together and put on trial the 22 highest-ranking surviving
members of the Nazi state for crimes against humanity, crimes against peace, and
war crimes. As such, these trials were a category unto themselves.
The trials at Nuremberg were a tiny minority of the Nazi war crime trials conducted at war’s end. The vast majority [of accused perpetrators] were tried instead
Historian Dr. Tomaz Jardim on the 1946 Military Commission
Trials of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp Defendants
Author Tomaz Jardim