US. vs. Hans Altfuldisch, et al
The "big fish" among the accused in the Mauthausen case was August Eigruber, the former Gauleiter of Upper Austria. He was charged with participating in the common design to violate the Laws and Usages of War because, along with other alleged crimes, he had been involved in helping Heinrich Himmler to acquire the property where the Mauthausen camp was built. Hartheim Castle, near Linz, was also under Eigruber's jurisdiction and he had leased it to the Reich. Prisoners from Mauthausen had been taken to the castle to be gassed, according to confessions obtained by the American military interrogators from several of the accused men.
Eigruber was an associate of such top Nazis as Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Adolf Eichmann and Adolf Hitler, all of whom were from Austria. He was also a friend of Martin Bormann, who was Hitler's deputy. When he refused to talk after he was captured, Eigruber was sent to Washington, DC for questioning. Eigruber's importance was such that he was originally slated to be among the men who were tried at the Nuremberg IMT.
According to Joshua Greene, who wrote "Justice at Dachau," the chief prosecutor at Dachau, Lt. Col. William Denson, put in a call to Robert Jackson, the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg IMT and told him, "Send me Eigruber. I'll hang him high as Haman." Haman was the villain in the biblical story on which the Jewish holiday of Purim is based. Denson made good on his boast: Eigruber was hanged on May 28, 1947.
On February 18, 1946, August Eigruber was brought from Nuremberg to Dachau and turned over to Lt. Paul Guth for interrogation. Lt. Guth testified on the witness stand that he had not coerced or threatened Eigruber in any way. Although he had previously refused to talk, Eigruber voluntarily signed a statement for Lt. Guth the next day, in which he admitted that he was responsible for leasing Hartheim Castle to the Reich in 1939 for the killing of mental patients who were incurably ill or unable to work. He also admitted to inspecting the Mauthausen gas chamber once and to participating in the execution of ten prisoners of unknown nationality during the night in March or April 1945. Eigruber's statement ended with the following words:
This statement was made by me on three pages on the 19th of February 1946, in Dachau, Germany, of my own free will and without compulsion. To save time, a clerk wrote it down on a typewriter. I have read through it, and I have made corrections that appeared necessary to me. The above declaration contains my statements, and I swear before God that it is the entire truth. Signed, August Eigruber.
The attorney for the defense, Major Ernst Oeding, objected to the admission of Eigruber's statement into evidence because it had not been witnessed, but his motion was denied by A.H. Rosenfeld, a Jew who was serving as the "law member" on the panel of 8 judges. Normally, a confession must be witnessed to be admissible in a trial, but according to an Allied directive dated 25 August 1945, a military tribunal was not bound by general rules of evidence.
The photograph below shows August Eigruber on the far right in the front row, wearing a hat. This photo was taken just outside the Mauthausen camp, near the quarry. The man who is strutting on the far left is Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS and head of all the concentration camps. Next to him, in the front row, is Franz Ziereis, the Commandant of Mauthausen. Ziereis was never brought to justice; he left the camp on the night of May 2, 1945, but was captured on May 23, 1945 and then "shot while attempting to escape."
Lt. Col. William Denson became famous for his 100% conviction rate in the first four proceedings conducted by the American Military Tribunal at Dachau. He died in 1998 at the age of 85 and in his obituary, he was quoted as saying that August Eigruber was "one of the most arrogant defendants I have ever encountered." Eigruber was allegedly tortured to force him to confess, and there is even a rumor that he was "mutilated and castrated" after he was captured, but apparently even that didn't humble him.
In the photo below, Denson seems to be amused by Eigruber's testimony on the witness stand. Note that Eigruber is wearing an Austrian style gray jacket with green trim, rather than the pinstriped suit that he wore on the first day of the trial when he was photographed as he stood up to answer the charge against him.
August Eigruber was the Gauleiter of Upper Austria and according to Marie Vassiltchikov, a nurse who wrote a book entitled "Berlin Diaries 1940 - 1945," Eigruber was the "virtual king of this part of Austria." She wrote that, in the last days of the war, "Gauleiter Eigruber has been thundering over the radio that Oberdonau - the Nazi name for the province of Upper Austria - must stand to the last man; there is no escape now; women and children will not be evacuated, however tough things get, for there is nowhere for them to go. In his rhetoric he copies Adolf; but at least he is frank and does not try to hide the gravity of the situation. By way of compensation, he promised the population a special distribution of rice and sugar."
Sadly, the rice and sugar that was promised by Eigruber to the "starving population" was destroyed when several Red Cross trains on a siding at Attnang-Puchheim were bombed by the Allies, killing "all those pretty sunburnt young nurses," according to Vassiltchikov's book. She wrote that Eigruber "is a particularly obnoxious individual, who continues to make fiery speeches about 'resistance', 'honor', etc." Eigruber was a dedicated Nazi, loyal to the end; he died with the words "Heil Hitler" on his lips.
In the photo below, Lt. Col. Denson listens as an Army translator asks Eigruber a question in German. The proceedings were painfully slow since the testimony of the accused had to be translated into English for the prosecution team.
This page was last updated on January 20, 2007