before American military commission courts set up on the grounds
of Dachau concentration camp after the war. The Mauthausen trial
is simply one of the largest of these
trials, but there were close to 500
trials that took place at Dachau
involving almost 1,700 war crime
The Mauthausen trial is really a
part of a trial system that operated
according to an entirely different
body of law with a different logic to
it and a different outcome.
The Mauthausen trial was one
of the largest trials that set out to
prosecute 61 suspects from this
Austrian concentration camp. Like
all the trials at Dachau, it was a
rapid trial. The time given to each
perpetrator averaged to about four
hours of court time. The trial lasted
a total of 36 days of court time. All
61 were found guilty, which was
standard at Dachau. Fifty-eight of
them were sentenced to death.
The prosecutors at Dachau did
not look to Nuremberg for trial
precedent, but they looked back to
the military canon of cases as far
back as the civil War to see how
the military dealt with abuses of
civilians and Po Ws in the past.
Robin Lindley: can you talk
about what happened at Mauthausen? You go to great lengths to distinguish between a concentration
camp and a death camp.
Dr. Tomaz Jardim: Mauthausen is an interesting camp. Historians of the Holocaust tend to
divide camps into two categories.
They look at the death camps such
as Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, to a
degree Auschwitz, and Majdanek
— places established expressly for
the murder of Jews of europe and
other populations, such as gypsies.
They differ from the concentration camps where many died, but
their purpose was not mass killing.
Their purpose was to concentrate
prisoners of war, political opponents of the regime, religious and
racial minorities that were enemies
of the Reich.
Mauthausen doesn’t neatly fit
into either category. Mauthausen
was set up in Austria in 1938 immediately after the Nazis co-joined
Austria onto the German Reich.
It was established to deal with political opponents in Austria. Jews
were also sent there, but in small
numbers initially. The largest initial population there after political
prisoners was Soviet PoWs, once
the war began.
Mauthausen is considered by
most to be a concentration camp
because huge populations of prisoners were brought there. About
200,000 people were brought there
to work as slave laborers in stone
quarries, which were established
Unlike some of the other concentration camps, however, the
death rate is particularly high —
about half of the 200,000 who
wound up at Mauthausen died.
And there was a gas chamber
at Mauthausen, which was used
relatively frequently, so there was
actually the mechanism for mass
killing at Mauthausen.
Robin Lindley: can you talk
about the prosecution’s investigation of Mauthausen and how the 61
defendants were selected for trial?
Dr. Tomaz Jardim: The U.S.
military was quite unprepared for
the degree of atrocity it discovered
when they uncovered concentration camps. They famously arrived
at the subcamp of Buchenwald, the
first camp they liberated, and they
were absolutely shocked by what
they discovered there. As a result,
they put together war crimes investigations to catalog the crimes that
they discovered in concentration
camps as they were liberated and
also prepared dossiers for trial.
only a handful of war crimes investigators wound up on the scene.
They had no training whatsoever
and, according to one investigator,
many of them were simply shell-shocked tank officers who were
sent there because it was thought
of as light duty. They were there to
interview people on the scene to
understand what happened there,
to gather documentary evidence, to
identify the perpetrators. They had
no trained translators, no trained
clerks. They were forced to rely on
liberated prisoners to complete
their investigation. Remarkably,
prisoners were hired on to translate
and sometimes conduct interroga-
The Literary Lawyer
Photos top to bottom: Camp survivors assisting war crimes
investigators at Mauthausen by counting the dead, May 1945
(U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM)). Survivors show
the crematoria to American personnel inspecting Mauthausen,
May 1945 (USHMM). Defense counsel Lieutenant McMahon
asks Vinzenz Nohel, the civilian “fireman” who had stoked the
crematory ovens at Hartheim Castle, to identify his signed confession for the court (National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), U. S. Army Signal Corps (USASC)).