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

By Patricia Heberer; Jürgen Matthäus | Go to book overview

U.S. Army War Crimes Trials
in Germany, 1945–1947

LISA YAVNAI

In the aftermath of World War II, the United States embarked on the largestscale war crimes prosecution program in its history. Between 1945 and 1949 it prosecuted 1,885 war criminals in the American zone of occupation in Germany.1 The trials took place under three separate jurisdictions: the International Military Tribunal (IMT) at Nuremberg, the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, and the U.S. Army Trials at Dachau. Each jurisdiction dealt with different types of accused. The IMT, convened under the London Charter by the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France, prosecuted twenty-four of the highest-ranking Nazi military and political leaders for crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.2 The Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, established by the American Military Governor for Germany in accordance with Control Council Law No. 10, prosecuted 185 leaders of the Third Reich ministries, the military, industrial concerns, the SS, and the legal and medical professions for the same crimes.3 The U.S. Army trials at Dachau, established in accordance with the Moscow Declaration and Joint Chiefs of Staff directives, prosecuted lower-ranking war criminals for violations of the laws of war. The purpose of these trials, as part of the U.S. occupation's goals for Germany, was to punish the perpetrators, educate the public about the crimes of the Nazi regime, and help democratize the Germans.

The U.S. Army, as implementer of the government's war crimes punishment policy in Europe, was the most active entity in bringing war criminals to justice. Between 1945 and 1947, the Army prosecuted 1,676 lesser war criminals in 462 trials.4 The majority of trials took place at the site of the former Dachau concentration camp, near Munich. The accused included military and state officials, concentration camp personnel, and civilians accused of violations of the laws of war. Through an overview of these trials, this essay explores the role of the U.S. Army in bringing war criminals to justice in Germany. It examines the

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