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cmdr. Jack Taylor, was very powerful.
He described the horrid forms of killing
at Mauthausen from hanging, gassing,
and shooting prisoners to beatings with
shovels or axes or hammers, injections
with benzene and magnesium chloride,
drowning, starving, and mashing in a
concrete mixer. The prosecution viewed
Taylor’s testimony, which was often hearsay, as critical to their case.
Dr. Tomaz Jardim: Absolutely. The
prosecutors found themselves in a real
bind. It’s important to remember that in
preparing for these trials and conducting
investigations, these trials were totally
unprecedented. Denson, the chief prosecutor, was not on the ground at Mauthausen. He was a Harvard Law graduate and
came over to Germany to conduct these
trials. He hadn’t been at the scene of these
crimes. He was presented with a report of
the atrocities and he was completely overwhelmed. And he knew these trials had
to be rapid, and he worried that when he
introduced his case, that the judges who
hadn’t been at the scene of these crimes
would not be able to grasp how horrific
these crimes were and might even doubt
the testimony of victim witnesses.
This is where Jack Taylor comes in.
Denson locates this American military
prisoner who had only arrived in the last
month of the camp’s existence. He actually laid tile around the gas chamber and
he witnessed firsthand the machinery of
destruction at Mauthausen in full swing
and made mental note of everything that
happened there. And Denson felt this
was his essential card at the opening of
the trial. He worried that if the judges
heard the testimony of German or Austrian or Polish witnesses, they might be
hesitant to believe their stories of atrocity, but Denson thought that “if I can get
an American soldier in uniform to take
the stand, speaking in plain english, who
would have no reason to exaggerate the
things he had seen, and to describe the
level of atrocity at Mauthausen, then the
judges will be convinced of everything
that happened there.” I think that’s very
much the effect that Taylor’s testimony
had on them.
Robin Lindley: The panel of judges
deliberated only a short time before issuing its decision and the sentences.
Dr. Tomaz Jardim: The judges re-
cessed for about an hour to consider the
fate of all 61 defendants before they came
back with a verdict of guilty for all 61
defendants, which was a fairly standard
outcome for all of the concentration camp
trials at Dachau. Fifty-eight of the 61 de-
fendants were sentenced to hang; three of
them were given life sentences.
It’s curious trying to sort out why some
were initially spared the noose while oth-
ers weren’t. The three who were initially
spared were guards who worked on the
towers outside the camp. They had shot
prisoners allegedly trying to escape,
which was often a code for execution,
but they couldn’t necessarily prove that.
Nonetheless, they still participated in the
common design by assuring the prisoners
stayed there and died there. So a few of the
guards got life sentences.
Ultimately, what resulted from the trial
was that 49 of the 61 original defendants
were executed in what was the largest
mass execution in American history. The
others benefited from weakening of Al-
lied resolve with regard to seeing through
the prison sentences because of cold War
pressures. The surviving Mauthausen
convicts ended up serving only two or
three years — all getting out by 1952.
Robin Lindley: This story has a lot of
resonance now with the U.S. military com-
The Literary Lawyer