Before the investigations for the great Frankfurt Auschwitz trial started, the German government was reluctant to evaluate the contents of eastern European archives. Offers by communist countries were conceived as attempts to destabilize West Germany with propaganda, potentially falsified evidence and manipulated witnesses. This resistance, however, collapsed under the lobbying of various pressure groups interested in a West-German Auschwitz trial, among them foremost the International Auschwitz Committee. This organization, which was headed by the communist former Auschwitz inmate Hermann Langbein, was initially headquartered in Polish – i.e., Stalinist-ruled – Krakow. Therefore, it clearly was a communist organization with political objectives.
Langbein used Adolf Rögner, another former Auschwitz inmate, as a pawn to initiate the West-German investigations on Auschwitz. During the late 1950s, Rögner, an incorrigible, pathological liar with multiple convictions for swindling, forgery, and perjury, was in prison, serving time for his crimes. Due to his record of false accusations, his right to testify as a witness had been revoked permanently.
Langbein provided Rögner with literature and documents on Auschwitz. With plenty of time on his hands, Rögner consumed this material and cooked up an avalanche of wild accusations against numerous former members of the SS camp staff, claiming to have knowledge of thousands of crimes committed.
The prosecutor handling the case correctly assessed Rögner’s submissions as the dishonest statements of a sick and vindictive mind. However, he was eventually ordered by his superiors to press charges anyhow, because “it concerns an important investigation case, in which the Ministry of Justice is very interested.” Hence, the German political class made a U-turn from rejecting communist atrocity propaganda to embracing it uncritically. The case was eventually assigned to the Frankfurt judiciary, where Jewish public prosecutor Fritz Bauer took charge of the criminal investigations.
Langbein and his organization were subsequently pivotal in liaising between the German judiciary and the communist propagandists in Poland’s Department of Justice, as well as the Auschwitz State Museum. Langbein and his organization were also helpful in locating and motivating former camp inmates to testify. After the trial, both prosecutors and judges thanked Langbein and his organization in a letter for their invaluable support in preparing and conducting the trial.
During the pre-trial investigations, some 1,400 persons were interrogated. Only those statements that confirmed the imputed crimes were considered relevant. Any witness unable to confirm atrocities, mass gassings or murder, was usually ignored. After all, a person who has not witnesses anything is not a witness. With that logic, any claim about any event is automatically considered true, since anyone stating that it did not happen simply is not a witness.
The Polish government was particularly active with preparatory measures in the background. As Langbein was stirring up Rögner to harass public prosecutors, the Polish Auschwitz State Museum was busy writing the camp’s official history. This history, written by the museum’s historian Danuta Czech, was published in the Auschwitz Museum’s own periodical Zeszyty Oświęcimskie starting in 1958, and with a little delay also in the museum’s German-language periodical Hefte von Auschwitz. Considering that Poland showed genocidal hostility toward anything German in those immediate postwar years, the choice of the German language for this periodical points to the real target audience: the German judiciary, enlightened about all this thanks to the liaison work by Hermann Langbein. And in fact, the distorted narrative presented in these publications was to form the framework, into which the Frankfurt judges would force all evidence to come.
The Polish efforts to write an “official” version of Auschwitz history had another aspect: They needed a uniform script which the witnesses could learn before going to Frankfurt to testify. During the trial, the defense found out that the witnesses who had traveled to Germany from countries of the eastern Communist Bloc, had all been interrogated for their political trustworthiness by various communist authorities prior to their journey. On that occasion, the testimonies of these witnesses were also streamlined to bring them in line with the script developed by the Auschwitz Museum. When travelling to Frankfurt, those witnesses were accompanied at every step by officials of the same communist authorities, even inside the courtroom, in order to make sure that no one would deviate from the official party line. Unfazed by this scandal, Germany’s Supreme Court later brushed off these facts as no reason to declare a mistrial. Political interests were more important than justice.
Organizations of former inmates supplemented this by providing “information material” to all witnesses, and by organizing meetings in Frankfurt for all arriving witnesses prior to their testimony. During those meetings, they could exchange stories, “learn” from others about what was expected to be remembered, and adjust their upcoming testimonies to ensure that “justice” could be served.
During the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial, 22 defendants were accused of homicides. All other alleged crimes had by then exceeded their statute of limitations, hence could no longer be prosecuted. Among the more-prominent defendants were:
- Wilhelm Boger, investigator of the camp’s Political Department (camp Gestapo).
- Arthur Breitwieser, head of the inmate clothing department.
- Pery Broad, clerk at the camp’s Political Department (camp Gestapo).
- Victor Caspesius, head of the camp pharmacy.
- Josef Klehr, male nurse
- Oswald Kaduk, Rapportführer.
- Hans Stark, clerk at the camp’s Political Department (camp Gestapo).
- Robert Mulka, adjutant of the camp commandant.
- Karl Höcker, another adjutant of the camp commandant.
The trial lasted 185 sessions, from 20 December 1963 until 20 August 1965. In order to accommodate 22 defendants and their defense lawyers, but foremost to allow hundreds of members of the public to attend the proceedings, the hearings were conducted not in a normal courtroom, but, revealingly, in large-size assembly halls.
The defendants were treated by the prosecution, the witnesses, the audience and the media with insults, contempt, derision and mockery, without the court intervening. In fact, the judges joined the mob by displaying a similar attitude. Filming and photographing the defendants in the courtroom were unlawfully permitted, resulting in the defendants being besieged like zoo animals. During their statements, defense lawyers and defendants were interrupted by insults and even threats from courtroom spectators, again with no court intervention. In a public exhibition, the defendants were presented as already guilty.
The defense faced an accusatory body organized on a worldwide scale that had been operating uninterruptedly for 20 years, receiving exclusively incriminating evidence from all over the world. A defense against this deluge of accusations was basically impossible. This gross inequality of means is the reason why, under German law, the prosecution is also obligated to search and present exonerating evidence. But this never happened.
If a witness had something exonerating to say, it was usually turned on its head by the judges. For instance, former Jewish Auschwitz inmate Maryla Rosenthal had only positive memories of her time as a typist at the camp’s Gestapo office. She knew of no atrocities. The judges talked her into believing that her experiences must have been so traumatic that she must have suppressed all memories of it. With that logic, any exonerating evidence can be – and was – turned into incriminating evidence.
The defense lawyers in this court case failed catastrophically. None of the 360 witnesses who testified during the trial were ever cross-examined about the veracity of extermination claims made. No defense lawyer, let alone judge or prosecutor, ever asked for any material confirmation of the crimes claimed; for any expert report on cremation technology; on fumigation technology; on the toxicology of hydrogen cyanide; on the chemistry of Zyklon B; on homicidal gas chambers such as they exist in the United States; on forensic evidence from corpses examined; on exhumations of claimed mass graves; on an expert assessment of blueprints provided; or on getting unlimited access to the camp authorities’ wartime files as stored in the Auschwitz Museum’s archives.
In the verdict, the judges themselves admitted that they had none of the usual evidence present at a murder trial. The court
“lacked the bodies of the victims, autopsy records, expert reports on the cause of death and the time of death; it lacked any trace of the murderers, murder weapons, etc. An examination of the eyewitness testimony was only possible in rare cases.”
But that was so only because no one ever tried.
Defense lawyer Laternser, who had defended clients both during the IMT and the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial, characterized the atmosphere during the latter as having been much worse than that which prevailed during the Nuremberg trials. In fact, a comparison of this trial’s features with that of the medieval witch trials reveals shocking parallels. (See the entry on witch trials.)
The Great Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial was a watershed event in German history, similar to the 1961 Eichmann Show Trial in Israel. During this trial, the German mass media for the first time managed to direct massive public attention to alleged National-Socialist mass-murder crimes within what is today called “the Holocaust.” With this trial, the German authorities full-heartedly joined the efforts of Jewish (and non-Jewish) pressure groups, as well as the governments of East and West alike, to face the ugly German past, learn from it, atone for it, and hold the National-Socialist criminals accountable.
Such a show trial on this topic is very much in line with the tradition of all of Germany’s occupying powers, including Israel. Hence, nothing was learned from history – other than that show trials are useful for distorting the historical record.
The superficial conclusions of this trial regarding mass-murder allegations with Zyklon-B gas chambers at Auschwitz are based almost exclusively on false witness testimony. Yet still, these conclusions are the foundation upon which the German judiciary subsequently based its dogma that everything about Auschwitz is self-evident, common knowledge, and in no need to be proved again. Attempts at challenging the fraudulent Auschwitz narrative cast into legal stone at Frankfurt were later made illegal. In this regard, history itself is dictated by penal law in Germany and many other nations.
This act of totalitarian thought-control is far beyond even what the National-Socialist German government ever dreamed of imposing on its people.