US. vs. Hans Altfuldisch, et al
The youngest defendant in the Mauthausen concentration camp case, prosecuted by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau in 1947, was a 22-year-old German prisoner named Willy Frey. He had been a prisoner of the Nazis for four years, first at Sachsenhausen, then Auschwitz and finally Mauthausen. He had only been at Mauthausen for a few days before the camp was liberated.
Willy Frey was charged with participating in a "common design" to violate the Usages of War according to the Geneva Convention of 1929 and the Hague Convention of 1907 by virtue of allegedly having been a Kapo at Mauthausen. In concentration camp lingo, a Kapo was a prisoner in charge of other prisoners. Frey was convicted and sentenced to death; he was hanged at Landsberg am Lech on 28 May, 1947.
The first question that Ernst Oeding, his American defense lawyer, asked Frey when he took the witness stand was "How old are you?" The next question was "Why were you in prison?" Frey answered that he had been declared an enemy of the state at the age of seventeen.
When asked what he had done to be arrested, Frey said the following, as quoted in the book entitled "Justice at Dachau," by Joshua M. Greene:
I had friends in the Socialist Democratic movement. A month before I was to be drafted into the SS, I tried to get away because my friends said that National Socialism was planning for war and that would throw Germany into the abyss. I cut open the vein in my left hand.
Frey was asked if he remembered the testimony of Hans Marsalek, an Austrian of Czech descent, who was one of the most prominent prisoners at Mauthausen.
To this question, Frey answered: "Marsalek said that I was room eldest in block twenty-four and that I quieted people down in the evening by beating them."
Oeding then asked: "What do you have to say about that?"
Frey answered: "It's true that I was in block twenty-four, but he wants to make me responsible for the things he did."
Hans Schmeling, a Kapo at Mauthausen, was a prosecution witness who testified that Frey had beaten prisoners to death in the "tent camp" in April 1945. Frey's defense was that he was not at Mauthausen in April 1945 and he didn't know where the tent camp was located. The tent camp was set up outside the walls of the main Mauthausen camp in 1944 for the Hungarian Jews who had been transferred from Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Frey denied on the witness stand that he was a Kapo at Mauthausen, claiming that he was just a "regular prisoner," and that the Kapos were "older people who had been in that camp longer." Frey admitted that he beat prisoners that tried to steal his bread; he testified that the prisoners fought among themselves and "stole food, clothing and shoes, anything they could get hold of."
When asked about the testimony of the witness Lefkowitz, Fry answered as follows:
I remember. He said I made a head count in the forest camp and put people in groups of five, and a young girl wasn't standing properly so I beat her until the blood was running down her head and she fell down.
Oeding asked: "What do you have
to say to that?"
Prisoners had nothing to do with the head count. That was a matter for the block leaders. And I'll tell you now that if I didn't have this number hanging around my neck, these witnesses wouldn't identify me because they have never seen me before. They were told my number before they came into court. They didn't look at my face. They only looked at my number. It's a funny thing, too, that when we first got our charge sheets, not a single one of the prosecution witnesses knew me. No one ever stopped me or called me over. But after Lieutenant Guth put us together in the bunker, all of a sudden everyone calls me "The Kapo."
The photo below shows some of the accused at Mauthausen wearing large numbers hung around their necks. Willie Frey appears to be in the background of this photo, directly behind the man wearing the number 16. Many other photos taken at the trial show the men not wearing identification numbers.
The testimony of Willy Frey continues, as quoted by Joshua M. Greene in his book:
"Willy, I hand you prosecution's exhibit 133. Why did you put these things down if they were not true?"
"I was afraid that if I said no, I would be beaten again."
"Had you been beaten before?"
"Yes, in Mossburg. Severely. An American officer put a pistol on my chest and said he would shoot me."
Lt. Col. Denson interrupted at this point to "object to any further testimony along this line unless it has some connection to this case." The objection was sustained.
Lt. Col. Denson then began his cross examination of Frey, as quoted in Joshua M. Greene's book:
"What is the name of the officer who interrogated you here in Dachau?"
"Lieutenant Conn," replied Frey, pointing to an officer seated in the courtroom.
"You received no mistreatment here at the hands of Lieutenant Conn, did you?"
"No, but the court really cannot have any impression of what spiritual condition I was in at that time."
"We are not asking you at this time about your 'spiritual condition,' Willy. At the time you signed the statement, you knew the difference between true and not true, did you not?"
"I didn't know anything."
When asked "Did you ever engage in any kind of business before joining the SS?" Willy answered as follows:
No. I was a laborer. My parents were dead, and the mayor of our town forced me to join the SS because he said the community had no money to support me.
Then Frey turned to A.H. Rosenfeld, the Law Member of the court and asked if he could say something else. When given permission to speak freely, he said the following:
I was imprisoned by the Nazis and the SS when I was seventeen for sabotage to the state. I don't understand how I can be accused of being one of them in any common design. I wouldn't kill any prisoners. Witness Schmeling was a worse beater. He was the worst Kapo in the camp. And he wants to make prisoners who were in the camp only a few days responsible for the evil things he did. As soon as the Americans came in, Schmeling hid at once so the prisoners wouldn't catch him because they would have killed him, too.
And the witness Marsalek? I hold him responsible for German prisoners who were killed after the liberation. He went through the barracks with the first camp clerk and picked out prisoners and kapos and block eldests who behaved badly toward the prisoners-and he had them killed either through shooting or beating to death. But he knew I wasn't bad and he told the Russians who wanted to pick me up, 'Leave Frey alone. He came from Auschwitz. He hasn't got anything to do with Mauthausen.' Those two Jews, Ziegelmann and Lefkowitz? I never saw them in my life, and they were probably in the same position as I was. And they probably had very little school too, because they couldn't even spell their names when the defense counsel asked them to. It's a funny thing when bums like that can say, 'Yes, this guy beat this other guy to death,' and they don't even know me. I will say again, if the court would have left out the numbers, I wouldn't have been recognized and I wouldn't have been identified. To make me out as if I was worse than the Gauleiter - it's not true. I never beat a prisoner, and I never beat a prisoner to death. I ran away from a dead body when I saw one. That is all."
The Gauleiter referred to in Frey's testimony was August Eigruber.
This page was last updated on October 30, 2009