Dachau Trials

US vs. Lauriano Navas, et al

Indalecio Gonzalez was hanged for beating a prisoner to death

The proceedings of the American Military Tribunal at Dachau against the Spanish Kapos at Mauthausen was known as "The United States versus Lauriano Navas, et al." This was a subsidiary of the Mauthausen parent case which was called "The United States versus Hans Altfuldisch, et al."

The verdict in the parent case had included "Special Findings" which declared that "every official, governmental, military and civil, and every employee thereof, whether he be a member of the Waffen SS, Allgemeine SS, a guard, or civilian, to be culpably and criminally responsible" for anything that happened at Mauthausen or its sub-camps. The "Special Findings" also stated that every person associated with Mauthausen had knowledge of the deaths by "shooting, gassing, hanging, regulated starvation, and other heinous methods of killing, brought about through the deliberate conspiracy and planning of the Reich officials" and was therefore "guilty of a crime against the recognized laws, customs, and practices of civilized nations, and the letter and spirit of the laws and usages of war, and by reason thereof is to be punished." In other words, the accused in all the subsidiary trials of the Mauthausen parent case had already been declared guilty even before the proceedings began.

On May 7, 1945, two days after the Mauthausen Concentration Camp was officially liberated by American soldiers, Lauriano Navas, a Spanish Kapo in the camp, was taken into custody. On May 13, 1945, three more Spanish Kapos were taken into custody. Kapos were concentration camp prisoners who had been assigned to supervise the other prisoners, and some of them were even more cruel than the SS guards, according to the witnesses who testified against them. The Spanish prisoners at Mauthausen, known as the "Spanish Republicans," were former soldiers who had fought to defend the Spanish Republic against General Francisco Franco's Falangists (Fascists) in the Spanish Civil War which began in 1936 and ended in 1939.

After Franco's victory, the soldiers of the Spanish Republic escaped to France, where they were interned as detainees in camps run by the French government. Navas was released after he agreed to join the French Army. When France was defeated by the Germans in 1940, the Spanish Republicans were brought to Mauthausen, where they were not treated as Prisoners of War under the rules of the Geneva convention, but as a special category of political prisoners because they were thought to be Communists or anarchists, and therefore enemies of Nazi Germany.

The American prosecutor, William G. Miller, based his case on the fact that the Spanish Kapos were included in the "Special Findings" of the parent Mauthausen case, so their guilt had already been established. The testimony of the paid prosecution witnesses was not actually necessary to convict the accused, and the testimony of the defense witnesses had no credibility since these witnesses were war criminals themselves, according to the Special Findings.

The attorney for the defense was Major Louis F. Benson, assisted by Harry W. Ebert. The head of the panel of judges was Colonel Russell R. Louden. Other members of the judge and jury panel were Colonel Victor Wales, Colonel John H. Keating, Colonel Harry P. Gantt, and Lt. Colonel Harry P. Holz. The law member of the panel was Colonel Gordon O. Berg. One of the court reporters, Eve Hawkins, who spoke a little Spanish, served as the translator, although she protested that her knowledge of the Spanish language was not good enough for a life and death matter.

Witnesses for the prosecution were professional witnesses who were paid; they were housed in the barracks of the former Dachau concentration camp so that they could be available as witnesses in many of the other proceedings at Dachau. According to Joseph Halow, a court reporter at several of the Dachau proceedings, who wrote a book entitled "Innocent at Dachau," the professional witnesses in the Spanish Kapo case "caused the prosecutor various embarrassments. He was often forced to remind these witnesses of important details from their pretrial statements, including beatings and killings, which they seemed, bewilderingly enough for uninitiated observers, to have entirely forgotten on the stand. Their testimonies included inconsistencies of a wildness to embarrass all but the most gullible of bigoted hearers." Halow wrote the following regarding the witnesses at the trial of the Spanish Kapos:

"Predominantly Eastern European Jews, their stock testimony, repeated in trial after trial, was that the accused had been known to beat inmates, that they had witnessed one or more such beatings, and that they had seen the accused beat the inmates so severely they died."

The men on trial were referred to as the "accused," rather than the "defendants" because they were considered to be guilty and the burden of proof was on them, not on the prosecution. The rules of the American justice system did not apply here. Prior to the proceedings of the military tribunal, the accused war criminals were interrogated to obtain confessions. One of the accused in the Spanish Kapos case, Moises Fernandez, tesitifed on the witness stand that he had been beaten by his American interrogators in an effort to force him to confess to killing two men. He named the man who beat him the most severely as Stanislaus Feldman, who had also served as an interpreter on the first day of the proceedings. This accusation was not unique; many of the men on trial at Dachau claimed that they had been beaten by their Jewish interrogators. (See the statement of Gustav Petrat)

One of the accused in the proceedings against the Spanish Kapos was Indalecio Gonzalez, an Oberkapo at the Gusen sub-camp who was nicknamed "Astoria." He was from Asturias in Spain, which was the origin of the name given to him by the other inmates. Jean Loureau, a French army lieutenant, testified that Gonzalez had, together with other Kapos, beaten a prisoner to death because he had tried to escape work by hiding in a hole in the ground.

The sentences were read by Colonel Louden, the court president.

Felix Domingo was sentenced to a term of two years in prison at hard labor. Domingo was then released because he had already been in prison for two years by the time he was sentenced. His lighter sentence may have been because he was able to show that he had actually been a barber in the camp, not a Kapo.

Moises Fernandez was sentenced to twenty years in prison at hard labor and Indalecio Gonzalez was sentenced to death by hanging. Lauriano Navas was sentenced to life in prison.

Every case that was tried at Dachau was subsequently reviewed before the sentence was carried out. The review officer in the case of the Spanish Kapos was Captain Irma V. Nunes of the US Army, who was, ironically, of Spanish ethnicity herself. She may have had sympathy for the Spanish prisoners, but she had to follow the orders of her superiors. In her "Review and Recommendations" report, signed on 14 January 1948, Nunes followed the guidelines established in the Special Findings of the court in the main Mauthausen proceeding, which declared that anyone associated with the Mauthausen camp in any way was automatically guilty. In her report, Captain Nunes stated that

"The Court was required to take cognizance of the decision rendered in the Parent Case, including the findings of the Court therein 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 was warranted in inferring that those shown to have participated knew of the criminal nature thereof. (Letter, Headquarters, United States Forces, European Theater, file AG 000.5 JAG-AGO, subject: 'Trial of War Crimes Cases,' 14 October 1946, and the Parent Case).

According to Joseph Halow, Nunes's "review statement of the case is full of such disgraceful errors, indicating an almost complete lack of consideration of the trial files, if she even read them." In her review statement, Captain Nunes had referred to one witness in the case as two separate individuals, according to Halow. Captain Nunes had found, in her review of the Domingo case, that the finding of guilty was not warranted by the evidence. Under the heading of Sufficiency of Evidence, Captain Nunes wrote that "The evidence does not satisfactorily establish that the accused [Domingo] gave encouragement to the common design or participated therein."

Nevertheless, Captain Nunes upheld Domingo's sentence of two years in prison because he was automatically guilty under the "Special Findings" in the parent case, which held that everyone who was associated with Mauthausen in any way, even a prisoner who was the camp barber, was guilty of any and all atrocities committed at Mauthausen, including the gassing of prisoners.

The review of the case of United States versus Lauriano Navas was completed on January 14, 1948 when the Deputy Judge Advocate's Office, 7708th War Crimes Group, issued its report. On September 23, 1948, the court reporter, Eve Hawkins, who had served as a translator in the case, wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post in which she agreed with a letter written by Col. William Denson, the prosecutor in the Ilse Koch case. Col. Denson had expressed shock that Koch's sentence had been reduced to time served, after she had been accused of the most heinous crime imaginable. General Lucius D. Clay had reduced Koch's sentence, after reviewing her case, because he was of the opinion that the charges of making lamp shades from human skin had not been proved in court. Col. Denson and Eve Hawkins were both outraged at this miscarriage of justice.

In her letter, Hawkins mentioned that she had been an interpreter in the case against the Spanish Kapos and that she "was drafted into the job of interpreter over strong objections that she was not qualified to interpret in court for men on trial for their lives." Her letter caused quite a stir when it was read by JAG officers in Washington, D.C. By this time, the Dachau trials were the subject of controversy amid accusations by many of the men on trial that they had been beaten and tortured by their Jewish interrogators to get them to confess.

Joseph Halow wrote in his book "Innocent at Dachau" that "The public doubt that had been cast on the Army's judgment by an American participant in the trials had made its leadership react strongly. From then on they could never have admitted their judgment might be wrong." The review board upheld the death sentence of Gonzales.

Meanwhile Lauriano Navas had retained a German civilian lawyer, Otto Kranzbuehler, to plead his case during the review process. Kranzbuehler wrote a letter to the War Crimes Group in which he argued that the American military lacked jurisdiction in the case of Navas because he was a lieutenant in the French Army. As a member of the Allied armed forces, he could not be tried by the Allies as a war criminal. Kranzbuehler pointed out that there was only one witness that had testified against Navas, a Polish prisoner named Nakladezuk. Nakladezuk had offered hearsay testimony that a doctor at Mauthausen had told him that a prisoner who was beaten by Navas had died. (Hearsay testimony was allowed by the Military Tribunal.) Kranzbuehler refuted this testimony on the grounds that no one was permitted to enter the dispensary without special authorization, and that the victim was a man whose name Nakladezuk did not know, so how could the doctor have known which prisoner Nakladezuk had witnessed being beaten the week before.

The judges in the Navas case were required to take the Special Findings into consideration in their decision. Kranzbuehler was able to successfully argue that Navas was not covered under the Special Findings because he was a Lieutenant in the French Army and thus not within the class of persons presumed to be guilty by mere presence at the camp. As an officer in the French army, Navas could not have been part of the common plan of Nazi conspiracy to commit war crimes, even if he had, in fact, beaten a prisoner to death. In a similar case brought before the Military Tribunal at Dachau, Marcel Boltz, one of the accused in the Malmedy Massacre case, was released before the proceedings began because he was a French citizen, born in Alsace before that province was annexed into Greater Germany after the French were defeated in 1940. He had been arrested and charged with killing American POWs at Malmedy, but because he was a French citizen, he could not be accused of a war crime, even if he had, in fact, killled American POWs.

On April 18, 1951 the Army report on the review of the Navas case included the following statement:

We thus find that we have an accused who has been sentenced to life imprisonment on the testimony of one witness, whose testimony, though strong in reference to an actual incident of beating, appears shaky as to the actual identity of the person doing the beating.

Navas' sentence was reduced to time served and he was released in 1951. He had spent more than 10 years in prison and 6 years of that time, he was a prisoner of the Allies, on whose side he had fought in the French Army.

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