Holocaust on trial? : the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial in historical perspective / by Rebecca Elizabeth Wittmann.
This dissertation concerns the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial of twenty former Auschwitz perpetrators that took place between December 1963 and August 1965. With specific emphasis on the trial's origins in 1958, the pre-trial investigative phase, and the results of the trial, I argue that the trial had a paradoxical result. On one hand, I contend that the limitations of the penal code and procedure became obstacles to the public prosecution office's extraordinary effort to put the entire “Auschwitz complex” on trial. I demonstrate this through an examination of the West German criminal justice system. On the other hand, I maintain that the Auschwitz trial was a turning point in West Germany's confrontation with the past and has resonance in German post-war exploration of the Holocaust. The use of the legal system to publicly confront the crimes of the Third Reich was an important step in Germany's reconstruction after the war and represents a break with past war crimes proceedings, especially the Nuremberg trials. There was enormous national and international press coverage; in West Germany each court day was covered by all the major newspapers despite the prohibition of cameras in the courtroom. The result of this was that for the first time, the German public learned about Auschwitz, and intensive historical research on the Holocaust began. However, the law created a distorted emphasis in which the sole focus of press coverage and serious judicial punishment (life in prison) were the “excess-perpetrators” who had acted individually and sadistically. The Auschwitz trial was virtually unexamined for over thirty years because the trial files and tapes were under protective security and could not be viewed by the public until 1995. There is no monograph on the trial in either German or English. This trial is the largest and most representative of all trials that took place in Germany according to the West German criminal code after the governments decision not to try former Nazis under the war crimes law of the International Military Tribunal as established at Nuremberg.
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