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The Mauthausen Trial American Military Justice in Germany by Tomaz Jardim

The Mauthausen Trial American Military Justice in Germany


The Mauthausen Trial American Military Justice in Germany by Tomaz Jardim

Shortly after 9:00 a.m. on May 27, 1947, the first of forty-nine men condemned to death for war crimes at Mauthausen concentration camp mounted the gallows at Landsberg prison near Munich. The mass execution that followed resulted from an American military trial conducted at Dachau in the spring of 1946--a trial that lasted only thirty-six days and yet produced more death sentences than any other in American history. The Mauthausen trial was part of a massive series of proceedings designed to judge and punish Nazi war criminals in the most expedient manner the law would allow. There was no doubt that the crimes had been monstrous. Yet despite meting out punishment to a group of incontestably guilty men, the Mauthausen trial reveals a troubling and seldom-recognized face of American postwar justice--one characterized by rapid proceedings, lax rules of evidence, and questionable interrogations. Although the better-known Nuremberg trials are often regarded as epitomizing American judicial ideals, these trials were in fact the exception to the rule. Instead, as Tomaz Jardim convincingly demonstrates, the rough justice of the Mauthausen trial remains indicative of the most common--and yet least understood--American approach to war crimes prosecution. The Mauthausen Trial forces reflection on the implications of compromising legal standards in order to guarantee that guilty people do not walk free.


While scholarship on the Mauthausen trial remains scant, Jardim provides a critical perspective on American postwar justice relevant to current debates concerning the most effective ways to address international war crimes in the courtroom...A convincing case for the important legacy of the often overlooked Mauthausen trial, this book is an exciting read, skillfully written, with a high level of research, but accessible for those unfamiliar with the topic. -- Rebekah Wallin Library Journal 20120301 [A] fine book on the workings of U.S. military justice in a single Nazi concentration camp in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Jardim...has relied on newly declassified primary sources--trial transcripts, interviews with some of the surviving participants, investigators
reports and at least one memoir

--to tell a previously unknown story. He has intricately structured his book on two levels: the first, a powerful account of a problematic war crimes trial hastily put in place by the U.S. military; the second, a cautionary tale concerning the nature of justice itself. -- Erna Paris Literary Review of Canada 20120501 The Mauthausen Trial is both historically engaging and instructive in the post-9/l1 attempts to bring Islamic terrorists to justice...Jardim explores one of the most notorious yet little known U.S. Army military commission trials of WW II. Held at Camp Dachau near Munich, the 61 Mauthausen defendants were variously involved in alleged war crimes that occurred at the main Mauthausen compound and at several nearby subcamps a short distance from Adolf Hitler's boyhood home at Linz, Austria. The military prosecution relied primarily on survivor testimony coupled with what would later be characterized as questionable pre-trial investigative techniques. Jardim details the legal antinomies of the case as well as the political-diplomatic imbroglio that ultimately closed down the U.S. war crime trial program in occupied Germany in the late 1940s. -- J. C. Watkins Choice 20120701 The subject of Tomaz Jardim's fine a single trial: that of the personnel at Mauthausen before an American military commission sitting at Dachau. The military commission tried sixty-one members of the staff of the Mauthausen concentration camp, and found all of them guilty. On May 27, 1947, forty-nine of the convicted were hanged, at seven-minute intervals, in the largest execution ever arranged by American organs of justice. As Jardim notes, this was only the most dramatic of the 462 trials held before American military commissions at Dachau. Although we tend to remember the special international tribunal at Nuremberg, which tried some members of the Nazi leadership, Dachau was the more important, and the more typical, site of American military justice. Some ninety percent of the American prosecutions took place at Dachau, all before military commissions...The Americans at Dachau, confronted with a momentary judicial emergency, quickly adopted judicial techniques that eerily resembled the everyday practice of the Soviets. The Mauthausen defendants were tried as a group rather than as individuals. They were presumed guilty rather than innocent, on the basis of the new legal doctrine of common design. It, like the Soviet presumption of conspiracy, was circular: any evidence provided by individual defendants established the common design, and the common design meant that all of the individual defendants were guilty. The American interrogators manipulated and abused some of the Germans, forcing some of them to strip naked or to wear black hoods. As Jardim tactfully puts it, interrogation strategies were left largely to the discretion of the interrogator ...German prisoners signed confessions that were implausible in details and that included language they themselves would not have used...The picture is thus a mixed one: Jardim believes that justice was delivered, and suggests quite plausibly that if more time had been allowed to pass, the executed men would have escaped with their lives. As he notes, with admirable equanimity and balance, these were trials that arose in the unusual circumstances of the transition between war and peace. Is the history of the Mauthausen trial a closed chapter, or a relevant precedent? As Jardim notes at the very end of his book, military commissions are what we use now to prosecute some of the terrorists associated with Al Qaeda, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. -- Timothy Snyder New Republic 20120824

About the Author

Tomaz Jardim is Assistant Professor of History at Ryerson University in Toronto.

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Book Info

Publication date

3rd January 2012


Tomaz Jardim

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Harvard University Press


304 pages


War crimes
Military & defence law



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