"Perhaps the most serious procedural abuse at the Dachau trails was the reliance on the testimony of a select group of concentration-camp survivors. Mindful of the case of Gustav Petrat, I have often wondered how many more of the convictions and subsequent executions at Landsberg were the result of these witnesses' testimony which often strayed far from the truth and was on occasion crudely fabricated. The testimony of these witnesses was a mainstay of the prosecution case in all the concentration-camp trials, and helped convict and execute many a defendant." Joseph Halow, "Innocent at Dachau"
Gustav Petrat appears calm just before his execution
Gustav Petrat was just one of many German SS soldiers who were put on trial at Dachau, but he earned a place in history when he accused his American interrogators of beating and torturing him in his final written statement to the court, two months before he was hanged. He was one of eight lesser war criminals who was tried in a subsidiary trial of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp personnel after the main trial of the Mauthausen war criminals was over. Petrat was an ethnic German (Volksdeutscher) from Lithuania who had become a German citizen in 1942. He was a Waffen-SS soldier who was assigned, at the age of 19, to be a guard dog handler at the Mauthausen camp, after he had been wounded in battle.
The photograph above shows Gustav, right before he was hanged in 1948 just short of his 24th birthday, for allegedly beating and killing prisoners at Mauthausen, a charge which he denied. Note that his American executioners have turned their faces away from the camera.
Quoted below in its entirety is Gustave's last statement to the court, written while he was in Landsberg/Lech prison:
I, Gustav PETRAT, born 12 November 1924 in Wirballen/Litauen [Lithuania], presently in Landsberg/Lech, make the following sworn statement after I have been informed that this statement is to be submitted to the Military Governor of the U.S. Zone and that any false statement may be severely punished.
1. In May 1944, on account of my wound, I was transferred to the guard personnel of the Mauthausen concentration camp and served there as dog leader with the 16th Guard Company. My rank was Corporal (Rotten Führer) in the Armed (Waffen) SS.
2. On 10 May 1945, I was taken prisoner by American soldiers in Ried near Mauthausen and taken to the Tittling camp. When I got there I was mistreated with whips, fists and feet, as was the general custom at that time for newly arrived prisoners.
3. Like many others I was quartered in a potato patch in the open air, so that we all were exposed to the weather.
4. On 26 May 1945 I had my first interrogation there, which was one of the most memorable of my entire captivity. Even before they asked me the first question, they struck me so that I collapsed. After I had managed to stagger upright again in spite of my weak condition and aided by the necessary kicks from the interrogator, the real interrogation began. They asked me questions that I could not have answered if I had had the best will in the world to do so. I was to state where the leader of the Mauthausen concentration camp was. It was impossible for me to give the information, since I really didn't know, and as a little corporal I couldn't know. My reply loosed a hail of blows.
The second question concerned myself. They asked me how many prisoners I had shot and beaten, to which I replied truthfully and with a clean conscience, "Not one."
The interrogator drew a pistol and threatened to kill me if I did not tell the truth immediately. He meant, however, that I should be hanged. I told him again that I only spoke the truth and he could kill me if he wanted to, that at least I would be freed from the whole mess. Then more blows, and with a push in the small of the back I fled.
5. On 9 May [sic] 1945 I was taken to the Moosburg internment camp with about 80 other prisoners. On 7 September 1945 I had my second interrogation, in Moosburg, at which they asked me the same questions they asked in the Tittling camp. There too, I received blows from a whip. This consisted of a wooden handle about 30 cm. long to which leather straps had been fastened. Since I had to answer the questions in the negative, they told me that there were other ways and means to force me to tell the truth. Then the interrogator left the room for a few minutes, and returned with a second interrogator. Since I had to reply to this man's questions in the negative also because I did not know of any killing, he struck me with his fists and threatened to "hang" and "shoot" me. After I stuck to my guns, I was taken back to my quarters.
On 10 February 1946 I was transferred to the Dachau internment camp.
6. There I was interrogated two times. At the interrogation on 21 June 1946 they read statements to me that said that I had shot eight prisoners in the Mauthausen concentration camp. I was to sign this, but I vigorously refused because I never shot a prisoner. After repeated requests to sign, I was struck with fists and kicked with feet. They put a paper in front of me to sign in which it said that I had never been beaten by American interrogators and soldiers. I refused, and only after repeated blows with the threat that I would never leave the room alive until I had signed, and that they would know how to break down my obstinacy, did I put my name to it.
I had never had anything to do with the court in my life and I was afraid that they would make my life even more difficult
7. In January 1947 the so-called "line-ups" commenced in the Dachau Special Camp. I was confronted with prisoners three times, yet, no one accused me of the least thing. The man in charge of the line-up, Mr. ENTRESS, told the prisoners that I was said to have shot many prisoners and beaten them to death, whereat only a burst of laughter arose. At that time I was 22 years old. When I was 19 I came to Mauthausen as dog-leader. A former prominent prisoner, Dr. SANNER, asserted he did not know me, but if a dog leader had beaten prisoners to death or shot them that would certainly have become known in the camp. Many other former long-term prisoners joined in this exonerating testimony.
8. At mid-July 1947 I and my seven co-accused were presented for the first time to our official defense lawyer, Major William A. OATES. To his question whether I knew what I was accused of, and by whom, I could only reply that I was not conscious of any guilt and also had never counted on being brought to trial, since I had never mistreated or killed anyone.
Major OATES told me that he too, knew nothing, that he could not get a glimpse of the incriminating papers of the prosecution, and therefore he would have to go by my statements, the general charge sheet, and the testimony of the prosecution witnesses at the trial
Since only the prosecution had access to the records, my lawyer did not see them, and so naturally it was very difficult for him to prepare a defense. Major OATES promised to do everything he could. Also I gave him the names of the witnesses who were important for me, and who themselves were interned in Dachau.
9. On 15 July 1947 I received a general charge sheet and was transferred with my co-accused to the Bunker I, Camp Dachau. It was impossible for me to procure any exonerating material there. One was cut off from the outside world. Letters to relatives or acquaintances in which something was said about witnesses or the approaching trial were so cut up that the receiver received only scraps from which he could glean nothing. For that reason it was made impossible for me to procure any defense material. Requests for special letters to witnesses or prior reports to the defense lawyer were fruitless.
Already in little things they were making the procuring of exonerating material impossible. Also the time before the beginning of the trial was far too short to obtain any material
10. On 6 August 1947 the trial began, and lasted until 21 August.
11. The prosecution witnesses had every support of the prosecuting authorities. When they were shown to be lying, up jumped the prosecutor, Mr. Lundberg, and accused the defense lawyer of intimidating the witnesses and trying to make out that they were liars.
12. In reality, the opposite was the truth. Defense witnesses were intimidated by the braying of the prosecutor or were branded as false. It happened that defense witnesses were threatened and beaten by foreign former prisoners so that the former had no more interest in appearing for the defense. They were afraid that they too would be accused of something, which the foreign prisoners were quite capable of, as they hated everything German and were out for revenge.
13. In the courtroom were Polish, Jugoslav and Jewish prisoners as spectators who served as an information bureau, that is, during the court recesses they told their comrades, who were still waiting for their interrogation, everything that had been discussed during the course of the trial. On the basis of this information the latter were then able to reinforce the accusations and bring to naught the exoneration, which was scanty enough anyway.
For this reason it was also possible to always bring out the same points in the accusations.
14. The questionnaires we had filled out were handed to the prosecution witnesses by the prosecutor or by his interpreter. In this way each exact date could be looked up in order to incriminate the accused without having to fear that a false statement was being made. In spite of this, it happened that they contradicted themselves in cross-examination. However, because the witnesses were under the protection of the American court, they had nothing to fear from perjury, which they committed repeatedly.
15. We, as accused, had no right to give our opinion. At the beginning of the trial the defense lawyer told us that we had to keep quite still and the questions we wanted to have put to the witnesses we were to write on a slip of paper and give to his interpreter, Mr. BARR. I did not understand most of the trial, since I am a Lithuanian and only know a little German. I had to find out during the court recesses, from my comrades, of what I was accused.
17. [Sic. The paragraph is misnumbered in the original document.] There was no final argument by the defense lawyer. I was sentenced to death on 21 August 1947. The sentence was approved on 26 June 1948.
Landsberg/Lech, 10 September 1948 /s/ Gustav PETRAT.