US vs. Franz Kofler, et al (including Gustav Petrat)
A subsidiary case in the US Military Tribunal proceedings against the staff members of the Mauthausen concentration camp was known as "The United States versus Franz Kofler, et al." The case began on 6 August 1947 and ended on 21 August 1947. There were 8 accused men in this case, including four native Germans: Hermann Franz Buetgen, Quirin Flaucher, Arno Albert Reuter and Emil Thielmann. Franz Kofler was from Austria. Michael Heller and Stefan Lennert were both born in Romania, but were ethnic Germans serving in the SS. Gustav Petrat was an ethnic German from Lithuania, who had become a German citizen in 1942.
This case was tried after the main trial of the Mauthausen staff members, which was known as "The United States versus Hans Altfuldisch, et al." In the parent case, the president of the court, Major General Fay B. Prickett, declared "Special Findings" which said that there was enough evidence to convict any staff member in any of the following subsidiary cases without further proof.
In all of the Allied war crimes trials, the accused were presumed to be guilty until proven innocent and the burden of proof was on them, but in the subsidiary cases of the Mauthausen staff, they had already been convicted under the Special Findings even before the proceedings began. The court in the main case had ruled "...that the mass atrocity operation was criminal in nature and that the participants therein, acting in pursuance of a common design, subjected persons to killings, beatings, tortures, etc., and that [the court] was warranted in inferring that those shown to have participated knew of the criminal nature thereof." What this meant was that anyone in the camp, whether Kapo or SS guard, knew of the atrocities in the camp and was therefore guilty of participating in a "common design" to violate the Laws and Usages of War under the 1929 Geneva Convention, by virtue of that knowledge. All that was necessary for the prosecution to prove was that the accused was present in the camp when the atrocities were committed.
All of the following information is from the book entitled "Innocent at Dachau," written by Joseph Halow, a court reporter who was assigned to take down the testimony in the Franz Kofler subsidiary case.
One of the accused, Gustav Petrat, made a name for himself by writing a detailed account of how he was tortured by the American interrogators. There were numerous similar accusations against the Jewish interrogators by the other Nazi war criminals who were tried at Dachau.
Gustave Petrat was convicted by the Dachau Military Tribunal mainly on the testimony of a beautiful Polish woman named Danuta Drbuszenska, who was 19 years old at the time that she claimed that Petrat beat her in the camp. Petrat was around the same age. According to the court reporter, Joseph Halow, Petrat blushed a deep red and wore a sheepish grin on his face as Danuta testified. Halow wrote that he "guessed immediately that there had been not cruelty, but deep intimacy between the two."
Halow also said that Danuta lived in the barrack which was a brothel for the SS men and some of the prisoners. Major Oates, the defense lawyer for Petrat, asked Danuta on the witness stand if she had had a love affair with Petrat, but she dodged the question and said, "I would kill him if I could." The defense then asked Danuta if she had been trying to kill Petrat at the time that he struck her with an object. She answered that she had been swearing at Petrat at the time because she didn't want to have anything to do with him.
Another witness against Petrat was a 17-year-old Jew named Andor Fried, who accused Petrat of killing stragglers on a march from Mauthausen to the sub-camp of Gunskirchen. Fried claimed to have seen these killings from a distance of one and a half city blocks. Witnesses for the defense said that Petrat would not have been assigned to accompany a march because he could not ride a motorcycle since he had been wounded at the front before he was assigned to Mauthausen.
Petrat was a dog handler who was assigned to guard prisoners outside the Mauthausen camp. Witnesses accused Petrat of allowing his dog to tear pieces of flesh out of the inmates. Defense witnesses said that Petrat's dog was not vicious and would not attack.
Stefan Lennert was acquitted of the charge of participating in the common design to commit atrocities at Mauthausen because he was able to prove that he was at home on furlough in Romania, not in the camp, when the atrocities were committed. All the others were found guilty because the prosecution proved that they were in the camp at the time that atrocities, presented in the parent case, were committed.
Hermann Buetgen was sentenced to three years hard labor in prison. His light sentence was due to the fact that the paid witnesses for the prosecution had confused him with Michael Heller, also on trial. Simon Bressler, a paid witness, testified that he had seen Buetgen beat every prisoner in the 800-man detail working in the quarry. Buetgen had not been a guard in the quarry, although Michael Heller was.
Josef Feldstein, another paid witness for the prosecution, who had been a prisoner at Mauthausen from the end of 1942 until May 1945 when the camp was liberated, testified that Buetgen had performed duties in the quarry that were actually the duties assigned to Michael Heller. However, Feldstein claimed that Heller was one of the good guys who always expressed horror at the atrocities committed in the quarry. Feldstein did not know Buetgen's name, identifying him as a guard named "Wittingen." (Wittingen is the name of a city in Germany.) He testified that he had seen "Wittingen" kill about 300 inmates, beating them to death because they carried stones that were too small up the "Stairs of Death." He also claimed that Buetgen had shot other inmates or forced them to touch the electrically charged barbed wire.
Another prosecution witness, Jacob Sztejnberg identified Buetgen as a block leader in the camp, a description that would fit Michael Heller, but not Buetgen. He also claimed that Buetgen was a guard in the quarry who had beaten prisoners to death when they carried stones that were too small.
Another prosecution witness, Wilhelm Mornstein, testified that he had witnessed atrocities committed by Emil Thielmann but Michael Heller was "the opposite of Thielmann." In spite of all these discrepancies in testimony of the prosecution witnesses, Michael Heller was sentenced to death by hanging.
Franz Kofler was also sentenced to death by hanging. Two prosecution witnesses, Herbert Melching and Peter Bleimueller, testified that Kofler had beaten Jewish prisoners and killed them by forcing them into the electrically charged barbed wire fence. Kofler was a Kommando and roll call leader in the camp. In his defense, Kofler pointed out that he was in charge of Block 5 and none of the 180 Jewish prisoners in that block had accused him of forcing Jews to the wire. The one and only witness who charged him with killing Jewish prisoners was from Block 4, a barrack that he was not responsible for.
Another witness against Kofler was Josef Schwaiger, who had frequently been sent outside the camp to work in the home of Mrs. von Schwertberg, who lived nearby. Schwaiger accused Kofler of beating prisoners during roll call. Kofler's defense lawyer, Major William A. Oates, accused Schwaiger of trying to get revenge on Kofler because he had stolen Schwaiger's girl friend, Mrs. von Schwertberg.
Arno Albert Reuter was sentenced to two years at hard labor. The testimony against Reuter, that he had beaten prisoners, was weak and this resulted in a lighter sentence for him.
Sztejnberg was also a prosecution witness against Quirin Flaucher, whom he identified as "Laucher." His testimony against Flaucher was vague and when the prosecutor, Lundberg, asked him a question, Sztejnberg made caustic comments, resulting in the court president calling him before the judges to instruct him to make "no more smart remarks."
Jean Loureau, a French prisoner, testified that Flaucher was a homosexual who used young boys in the camp "as women." Herbert Wisniewski, a young Polish Jew, testified that after the Warsaw uprising in 1944, a large number of 14 and 15-year-old boys were brought to Mauthausen. He testified that Flaucher would beat these boys if they refused to sleep with him. Flaucher was a convicted German criminal who was a Kapo in the camp, assigned to be in charge of Block 8 at Mauthausen. Wisniewski fainted on the witness stand during his testimony and refused to return to the court to be cross-examined. This did not matter since witnesses did not have to available for cross-examination, according to the rules of the tribunal.
This page was last updated on January 20, 2007