Dachau Trials

Erhart Brauny

The accused in the Nordhausen proceedings stand in the Dachau courtroom

After World War II ended, hundreds of the concentration camp guards and staff members were brought before the Military Tribunals conducted by the American military occupation at Dachau. The photograph above shows the accused in the 1947 proceedings against the staff members of the Nordhausen concentration camp. Erhart Brauny is the second man from the left; he appears to be wearing a light-colored women's suit jacket that is too small for him.

As far as I know, there was no special trial or American Military Tribunal at Dachau for the men responsible for the Gardelegen massacre where prisoners, who had been evacuated from several concentration camps, were herded into a barn that was then set on fire. According to a booklet, which I purchased in Gardelegen, entitled "Die Todesmärche and das Massaker von Gardelegen" by Diana Gring, the man who gave the order to burn the prisoners, Gerhard Thiele, escaped by disguising himself in the uniform of a German soldier and traveling with false papers. He lived in the Western zone of occupation and later in West Germany under a false name. He was never brought to justice.

However, at least one of the SS men involved in the Gardelegen massacre was put on trial in 1947, according to Gring. She states on page 34 that SS-Untersturmführer Erhart Brauny was sentenced to life in prison. According to Gring, Brauny had been assigned to the Rottleberode sub-camp in 1944 and he was the transport leader for the prisoners evacuated from the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp who subsequently wound up in Gardelegen and were herded into the barn which was set on fire.

Brauny, who was born in 1913, had served as a guard at the Buchenwald camp, starting in 1939, according to Gring's booklet. Gring wrote that Brauny died in 1950, but she did not give his cause of death. Presumably, he died a natural death while in prison. The photograph below shows Erhart Brauny standing before the three-judge panel which sentenced him to life in prison.

Erhart Brauny was sentenced to life in prison in Dachau courtroom

The prisoners who were burned in the barn at Gardelegen had been previously evacuated from several forced labor camps; they were put on a transport train which left on April 4, 1945, carrying prisoners from the Nordhausen, Rottleberode, Wieda and Ilfeld camps. The prisoners had been workers in the underground factories which produced airplane parts and V-2 rockets. The train was headed northwest; its destination was probably the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northwestern Germany.

The transport train was forced to stop in the village of Mieste, near Gardelegen, because Allied bombs had destroyed the tracks. The prisoners were then forced to march to Gardelegen where they were temporarily housed in the stables of the Remonteschool Garrison, which was a Cavalry School for German soldiers. Another transport train had stopped in the village of Letzlingen on April 11, 1945 and there was a mass escape of the prisoners, who proceeded to rape, loot and kill German civilians. A few of these escaped prisoners were shot in the town of Gardelegen.

According to Joseph Halow, in his book "Innocent at Dachau," Erhart Brauny "had risen to commander of the subcamp Rottleberode, a part of the Dora/Nordhausen complex." Regarding the Dora/Nordhausen cases before the American Military Tribunal held at Dachau in 1947, Halow wrote: "The prosecution referred to him (Brauny) scornfully as "the handsome 'innocent' who cannot remember anymore." According to Halow, Brauny was accused of "numerous and terrible beatings, mistreatment of prisoners and acts of personal sadism against inmates of Rottleberode" in addition to being charged with responsibility for the Gardelegen massacre because he was the leader of the evacuation from Rottleberode to Gardelegen.

Regarding the Gardelegen massacre, Halow wrote the following in his book "Innocent at Dachau":

"The prosecution attempted to present a strong case for Brauny's responsibility for the illegal execution of approximately one thousand inmates, during an evacuation march from Nordhausen. The march, projected for about four days, was slowed by the rapid American advance. It was impossible to move the inmates by train, since by April, 1945, the time of the evacuation, the American planes had complete aerial superiority and much of the transportation system had been destroyed.

The evacuation march got only as far as a small town called Gardelegen. There, according to testimony, the Kreisleiter of Gardelegen had recommended to Erhart Brauny that the inmates be shot, in accordance with a cabled order from Himmler, by which no inmate was to be taken alive by the Allies. After several proposals for disposing of the inmates were entertained, the inmates were locked in a barn and the barn was set on fire.

The entrapped inmates were able twice to extinguish the fires, which were set by the Volkssturm (a replacement army, largely of boys and old men, and usually headed by Nazi Party officials). The third time, the barn went up, and the screaming victims inside were burned to death. Several who tried to escape were shot. Only two or three seem to have survived. When the Americans arrived the next day they found the bodies of the dead inmates, many of them still in the barn, while other corpses had been transported to a nearby mass grave.

Erhart Brauny, who commanded the evacuation march, testified that he had no role whatsoever in the killing of the prisoners. Not only had he not approved the action, but he had left Gardelegen well before then. The Kreisleiter had acted entirely on his own, Brauny said."

Halow points out in his book that the order from Himmler was allegedly sent by cable but no record of it has ever been found. Himmler was in charge of all the concentration camps and, as Halow points out, he would have had to have cabled at least 1,000 orders to the various commanders of all the concentration camps, but none of these cables have ever been found. Himmler's cable was allegedly sent to the Kreisleiter of Gardelegen, Gerhard Thiele, who was a civilian Nazi official, not a person in authority in the concentration camp system. Halow wrote that it would have been unusual for Himmler to have cabled an order, to kill concentration camp prisoners, to someone who was not connected to the concentration camp system.

In her booklet about the Gardelegen massacre, Diana Gring wrote: "Ungefähr zwanzig SS-Leute sollen nach Augenzeugenberichten sofort in Gardelegen von den Amerikanern erschossen worden sein." My translation of this sentence is as follows: "Approximately twenty SS people, after an eyewitness report, should have been shot immediately." It is not clear to me, after reading this booklet, whether any SS men were actually executed or not by the American soldiers.

In the booklet, Diana Gring also wrote: "Inwieweit sie sich in Prozessen für ihre Taten versantworten mußten, is zur Zeit erst unzulänglich bekannt." My translation of this is as follows: To what extent they had to answer for themselves in court proceedings for their deeds, is at the present time only insufficiently known.

The barn at Gardelegen was made of stone and brick, with sliding wooden doors that had no lock. The prisoners were herded into a grain storage barn which was about 3 miles from the town of Gardelegen, in order to prevent looting and attacks on German civilians. There is evidence that some of the prisoners were shot as they tried to escape from the barn, as the photograph below shows.

Victim with bullet hole in his coat lies on unburned straw in barn doorway

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