Atrocities on Trial: Historical Perspectives on the Politics of Prosecuting War Crimes

By Patricia Heberer; Jürgen Matthäus | Go to book overview

Early Postwar Justice in the American Zone
The “Hadamar Murder Factory” Trial

On the morning of 8 October 1945, seven German civilians—six men and a woman—faced an American military tribunal in a Wiesbaden district courthouse in the case of the United States v. Alfons Klein et al.1 The proceedings, which lasted seven days, received wide publicity in the American press as the first mass atrocity trial held in U.S.-occupied Germany but were quickly overshadowed by larger events occurring as the trial began. On 8 October 1945, the International Military Tribunal (IMT), assembling for the first time in Berlin, prepared to hand down indictments for twenty-four major Nazi war criminals, to be tried that next month at Nuremberg.2 In Rome, German general Anton Doestler stood accused of ordering the execution of fifteen captured American servicemen, while in Paris, the collaboration trial of Vichy premier Pierre Laval drew to a close; in proceedings much criticized for their arbitrary nature, a French court condemned Laval to death on 9 October. By 8 October, the first trial of Japanese war criminals—that of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the “Tiger of Malaya,” was underway in Manila. In Japan itself, American authorities reported that their equipment could detect “no dangerous rays now at Nagasaki.”3 Closer to events in Wiesbaden, commandant Josef Kramer, the “Beast of Belsen,” had taken the stand in his own defense in Lüneburg, where British occupation officials had charged him and forty-five SS personnel with administration of the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. And in the American zone, General George S. Patton's unfortunate remarks to the press comparing Nazis and anti-Nazis with American Republicans and Democrats had led to his ouster as military governor of Bavaria.4

Amidst such events, the Klein case was “second page” news. Alfons Klein and his fellow defendants had served as staff members of a state sanatorium for the mentally ill in Hadamar, Germany, some thirty miles north of Frankfurt. Officials of the United States War Crimes Branch had charged the seven with

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