After World War II, the Allies set up an International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg between 1945 and 1949 for a trial of the main war criminals or those mainly responsible for the Nazi regime. The German population also took note of this. They saw in newsreels how Göring, Speer, Rosenberg, Hess, Keitel and others brazenly rejected their responsibility with a “Not guilty!”.
Most of the defendants were found guilty by the court and mostly sentenced to death by hanging. Other defendants received prison sentences, including Heinz Jost, a native of Lorsch. An SS brigade leader and SD Einsatzgruppenführer, Jost was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1948 for participating in executions of Jews, but the sentence was reduced to a ten-year sentence only three years later. He was released from prison after only one year.
Thirteen years after the Nuremberg Trials, the trial of Adolf Eichmann, who had taken over the organization of the Holocaust in the East after the “Wannsee Conference” and whom the Israeli foreign intelligence service Mossad had tracked down in Buenos Aires, took place in Jerusalem in 1961. Eichmann was sentenced to death on December 15, 1961, and executed on June 1, 1962.
After a heated discussion in the Federal Republic of Germany around 1960 about the so-called “Schlussstrichfrage,” a trial on National Socialist perpetration was opened for the first time in a German court on December 20, 1963, with the Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt am Main, despite deliberate delays. The course of the trial was recorded in minutes, but also in tape recordings. It attracted a great deal of attention among the general public, but also among a senior class of the Old Electoral High School in Bensheim. The school class attended the trial on March 25, 1965. The impressions of the then 18-year-olds were reflected in an article in their school newspaper (Kurfürst).
The first Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt became a landmark in the prosecution of Nazi crimes in the death camps. Although this coming to terms with Nazi terror was soon accompanied by inflammatory writings by Holocaust deniers in the 1970s, crimes committed in the extermination camps of Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and others could be prosecuted and punished under the rule of law. A change in society’s attitude toward responsibly coming to terms with the past and remembrance policies, as well as the decision of the German Bundestag to lift the statute of limitations for murder, have laid an essential foundation for this.
Fig. 1: Main war crimes trial in Nuremberg (Source: Nuremberg Trials. Looking down on defendants dock, circa 1945-1946. – NARA – 540127, National Archivesat College Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).
Fig. 2: The trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 at the District Court in Jerusalem (the defendant left in glass case), (Source: Adolf Eichmann is sentenced to death at the conclusion of the Eichmann Trial USHMM 65289, Israeli GPO photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
Fig. 3: First Frankfurt Auschwitz trial in 1965 in the specially equipped Haus Gallus in Frankfurt am Main (Source: bpk media number: 70243319, Photographer: Abisag Tüllmann, Dated: 03.04.1964, Geographical reference: Location: Frankfurt am Main / Germany)
Fig. 4: Observations of a senior class of the Altes Kurfürstliches Gymnasium (Old Electoral High School) in Bensheim, which spent a day as audience members at the first Frankfurt Auschwitz trial on March 25, 1965; report by Joachim-Felix Leonhard for the school newspaper “Kurfürst” in 1966.