A Somewhat Different Auschwitz Trial

Contractors of Auschwitz Tried in Vienna
Published: 2004-08-01
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Walter Dejaco (left) and Fritz Ertl (right): The contractors of the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Thanks to an expert report they were acquitted.

During the years 1964/65, a giant Auschwitz trial took place in Frankfurt, Germany. Almost all defendants accused of having participated in the crimes claimed to have been committed in this camp were eventually sentenced.[1] Even though the Frankfurt court dealt with one of the largest mass murders ever committed in mankind history – if one believes the charges – the judges of this trial did nothing to find out if the claims made by witnesses were based on facts; the court did not investigate the alleged murder weapons, did not try to find any trace of the dead or of its victims, and did not hear experts to critically assess the witnesses' claims. Not a single forensic expert report was asked for or provided.

The trial against Walter Dejaco and Fritz Ertl was a little different. It took place before the Superior Criminal Court in Vienna between January 1 and March 10, 1972, under the presiding judge Dr. Reisenleitner.[2] Both defendants were officers of the Waffen-SS during the war and as such were at times involved in the design, construction, and maintenance of the crematoria of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Because according to today's official historiography these buildings served for the mass murder of European Jews, both were accused by the Austrian public prosecutor of having at least indirectly participated in the planning and execution of this crime.

The trial files are allegedly no longer accessible in the Vienna courthouse. However, a short review of this trial will be attempted, based on newspaper articles. Judging by these reports, this trial was in line with the other trials about actual or alleged violent NS-crimes regarding external circumstances as described by Köhler:[3]

  • The accused were prejudged as "contractors of the mass murder,"[4] and the trial against them was called a "a monster trial."
  • The press reported untruthfully:[5]

"A construction drawing by Dejaco of both large gas chambers with his signature exists."

Plans of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp were displayed in the courtroom, in which

"clearly the crematoria, the gas chambers, the barracks and the infamous ramp [...]"[5]

were allegedly drawn, although no plan has yet been found, on which the words "human gas chamber" are written or from which use as gas chambers could be indirectly construed.

  • Several witnesses appeared during the trial to report actual or alleged horrible conditions in the camp. Thus, they spread an atmosphere of horror and prejudice against the accused, but they did not contribute to the clarification of the actual accusations.[6]
  • The witness Hermann Langbein, chairman of the International Auschwitz-Committee and plaintiff against the accused, can be shown to have attempted to influence witnesses, based on a letter which he sent to potential witnesses:[7]

    "Dr. Obenaus, the defense lawyer for Dejaco, submitted part of a letter, which Langbein allegedly wrote to former inmates of Auschwitz. It says: 'It is in my opinion unimportant whether an inmate can say anything positive about Dejaco. But when he can say that he participated in the building of the crematorium, this can be perceived as participation in the murder, and his punishment can be achieved.' The attorney explains that several former inmates were upset since they could only say good things about Dejaco, and several engaged in correspondence with him through letters."

  • The historical expert Dr. Hans Buchheim, who was called by the court, reported about the organization of the SS and about a possible necessity to obey orders by the accused; however, the expert was evidently not asked how the allegations of witnesses about the alleged crimes committed with the claimed murder weapon purportedly built by the defendants could be in agreement with other types of evidence (documents, physical evidence).[8]
  • In his plea the state's attorney made long statements, apropos of nothing, about his view of history and the alleged or actual horror of the NS Jewish persecution in general.[9]
  • The accused did not contradict the orthodox historiography about the camp Auschwitz, which should not be surprising in light of the fact that any attempt to do so would have been utterly hopeless and would have led to intensified punishment. However, Walter Dejaco claimed that during the planning and construction of the crematoria[10], he did not know anything of their alleged future utilization as tools of mass murder, while Fritz Ertl stated that he attempted to delay the completion of the crematoria through inner resistance.[11]

Contrary to many other trials against so-called National Socialist violent crimes, the media's interest in these trials was relatively minor. Thus, the Vienna newspaper Die Presse evidently did not report about it, and the trial itself took place before a mostly empty court room.[12]

Several interesting statements by the press, the accused, the witnesses, and the court should be mentioned in addition:

  • The number of murder victims of Auschwitz was stated by the press at the time to be 3 million,[13] contrary to the fact that the historiography at that time accepted a total number of about 1 million.
  • According to the indictment:[14]

    "The gassing of the victims [...] were especially cruel. The killing procedure in the gas chambers lasted 10 minutes. During this time the victims had to suffer unspeakable agonies."

    "After the gassing, the victims' gold teeth were pulled and their hair cut in 'Kanada' [correct: in the storage of effects...]."[5]

    However, the witnesses mostly agreed in reporting that this was allegedly done directly inside the crematoria, otherwise the murdered would have to be transported to the storage part of the camp from the crematoria, and then afterwards returned to the crematoria to be burned.

  • To the notion that four crematoria for 150,000 people in the camp should have caused suspicion, Dejaco answered that at that time there were typhus epidemics. This fact sufficiently explains the capacity of the Birkenau crematoria, but is today mostly neglected.[15]
  • The witness Langbein had to register 300 deaths every day in day and night shifts. This number agrees with the horrendous documented death rate due to the typhus epidemic in the camp in the summer of 1942.[16]
  • The accused Fritz Ertl reported that he was among others working on a plan of the "garden layout." This highlights the fact that the alleged "extermination camp" Auschwitz had areas for the recreation of the inmates.
  • The "key witness" Kaplonek could not identify Dejaco and admitted to knowing of him only through hearsay.[17]
  • Although several witnesses accuse Dejaco of murder and mistreatment of inmates,[12] he was acquitted of these accusations based on exonerating testimonies.[18]
  • A construction expert testified before the court that the plans submitted during the indictment are identical to the original construction plans of the crematoria in Auschwitz from Poland, as submitted to the court.[19]

This last piece of information is quite interesting, since it indicates that the revisionist allegation that criminal courts never use material evidence is false. At least in this trial a construction specialist was requested for his expertise. This construction expert who testified during that trial got in touch with the author of this article and informed him that he had explained more than just the identity of the original plans with the copies, which were in the public prosecutor's hands. He had to answer basically two questions put to him by the court:

  1. Do the plans indicate that these were gas chambers? His answer was: No.
  2. Could the accused infer from the plans that they could be transformed later into gas chambers? Here also was the answer: No.

Walter Dejaco and Fritz Ertl were thus acquitted. The public prosecution did announce an appeal,[20] but did not follow through with it. Despite protests no further measures against the two acquitted architects were taken. In the Vienna Auschwitz trial a well known construction specialist prepared an expert opinion. The material evidence did not indicate mass killings with poison gas.

Question: Is this the reason why the files of the trial described here cannot be found?


Notes

First published under pen name Michael Gärtner as "Vor 25 Jahren: Ein anderer Auschwitz-Prozeß" in Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsforschung 1(1) (1997), pp. 24f.; translated by Fabian Eschen.

[1] See the verdict by the Frankfurt Jury Court, Ref. 50/4 Ks 2/63, reprinted in I. Sagel-Grande, H. H. Fuchs, C. F. Rüter (eds.), Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, vol. 21, University Press, Amsterdam 1979, pp. 361-887.
[2] Ref. 20 Vr 6575/72 (Hv56/72). Robert Van Pelt quotes in his "Van Pelt Report": 20 Vr 3806/64 and 27 C Vr 3806/64), which however, is a case opened in 1964; Pelt Report, p. 135 n. 59; introduced in evidence during the libel case before the Queen's Bench Division, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, David John Cawdell Irving vs. (1) Penguin Books Limited, (2) Deborah E. Lipstadt, ref. 1996 I. No. 113.
[3] M. Köhler, "The Value of Testimony and Confessions Concerning the Holocaust" in, E. Gauss (ed.) Dissecting the Holocaust, 2nd ed., Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago, IL, 2003, pp 85-131.
[4] Kurier, Jan. 19, 1972.
[5] Wiener Zeitung, Jan. 19, 1972.
[6] Kurier, Jan. 27, 1972, Wiener Zeitung, Feb. 4, 1972.
[7] Wiener Zeitung, Jan. 26, 1972.
[8] Ibid, Jan. 29, 1972.
[9] Ibid, March 10, 1972.
[10] Ibid, Jan. 19 & 20, 1972.
[11] Ibid, Jan. 22, 1972.
[12] Kurier & Wiener Zeitung, Jan. 19, 1972.
[13] Kurier, Jan. 18, 1972; Wiener Zeitung, Jan. 19, 1972.
[14] Wiener Zeitung, Jan. 19, 1972.
[15] Ibid, Jan. 20, 1972.
[16] Cf. J.-C. Pressac, Die Krematorien von Auschwitz, Piper, Munich 1994, Appendix.
[17] Wiener Zeitung, Feb. 11, 1972.
[18] Ibid, Feb. 10 & 23, 1972.
[19] Niederösterreichisches Volksblatt, March 2, 1972.
[20] Wiener Zeitung, March 11., 1972.

Additional information about this document

Author(s) Walter Lüftl
Title A Somewhat Different Auschwitz Trial, Contractors of Auschwitz Tried in Vienna
Sources The Revisionist 2(3) (2004), pp. 294f.
Contributions
  • Fabian Eschen: translation
Dates published: 2004-08-01, first posted on CODOH: July 16, 2012, 7 p.m., last revision: n/a
Comments First published under pen name Michael Gärtner as "Vor 25 Jahren: Ein anderer Auschwitz-Prozeß" in "Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsforschung," 1(1) (1997), pp. 24f.
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