The Frankfurt Trial, sometimes known as the Auschwitz Trial, was held in Frankfurt am Main in what was West Germany. The Frankfurt Trail started on December 20th 1963 and ended on August 20th 1965. At the time it was the longest lasting legal case in West Germany’s history.
The Frankfurt Trial involved former members of the SS who had worked at Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. In the chaos that had enveloped Nazi Germany in the run up to the fall of Berlin, many who had worked at Auschwitz-Birkenau had managed to slip into the background and over the years had merged into the normality of everyday life in West Germany. As the Red Army advanced into Poland, those at Auschwitz-Birkenau had done what they could to destroy records. In the immediate aftermath of the end of World War Two in Europe, this complicated the efforts of the occupying authorities to arrest all those who had worked in the death camps and bring them to trial.
However, investigative work done by the likes of Simon Wiesenthal meant that enough evidence had been gathered by 1963 to start proceedings against a number of men who were accused of a variety of crimes while at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
By 1963, many were familiar with the horrific crimes that had been committed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. What continued to startle people nearly 20 years after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau was the seeming normality of those accused. It was as if they had been involved in what many believed was the worst crime of the C20th Century but had then simply slipped back into normal employment and had lived as neighbours within a community. Nothing set them off as men who were accused of committing appalling crimes. Many of the accused came from middle-class backgrounds and eight had been to university before joining the SS. Before their arrest, many of the accused would have been seen as normal decent hard-working West German citizens.
The Frankfurt Trial ended all that. The trial once again highlighted the evil that had been committed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The world was once again told of:
1. 1,200 inmates at Auschwitz-Birkenau being crammed into huts that at best could accommodate 500.
2. Mothers refusing to be parted from their children before being led to the gas chambers.
3. Camp doctors making a selection of life or death with a flick of the wrist.
A great deal of this had been heard before in the trials of Höss, Grese and others who were tried in the immediate aftermath of World War Two. However, the Frankfurt Trial was nearly 20 years later after a period of reconciliation and for many it resurrected an era that many preferred to forget.
The trial also highlighted once again the excuses/reasons put forward by those who worked at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Wilhelm Boger– eventually sentenced to life in prison – argued that he only ever carried out orders:
“I knew only one mode of conduct: to carry out the orders of superiors without reservations.”
Karl Höcker said in his defence:
“I had nothing to do with it.”
Camp medical doctor Franz Lucas told the court that:
“I naturally sought to save as many Jewish lives as possible.”
Of the twenty two men accused only three were acquitted of all charges. The rest were sentenced to various terms in prison, some with hard labour.