The records of the 1st Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial

456 volumes of files, 103 audiotapes

The records of the first Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial total 456 volumes of files and 103 audiotapes. Of the 456 volumes covering the trial, 133 form the so-called main file that documents the investigations, the pre-trial hearings, the indictment, and the course of the proceedings conducted by the "jury court" (Schwurgericht) at the Regional Court, as well as the delivery of the judgments.

This main file starts with the investigations conducted by the Stuttgart public prosecutor’s office as of 1958, and by the Central Office in Ludwigsburg that had recently been established. After the Federal Court of Justice decided that the Frankfurt Regional Court would be the forum and venue for the Auschwitz case that had commenced, due to the energetic initiative of Fritz Bauer, the Frankfurt public prosecutors expanded the investigation in the summer of 1959.The public prosecutors interviewed numerous witnesses and compiled extensive written material. For the first time ever in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, German public prosecutors crossed the "Iron Curtain" in 1960 to travel to Oświęcim, Poland and to examine the extermination site.

After two years of intensive investigations, the investigating judge Dr. Heinz Düx opened the pre-trial proceedings based on the 52 volumes of main files with records of about 600 interrogations in August 1961.The main file continued to grow through the additional records of the investigation during the course of the interrogation of witnesses and suspects, the body of evidence, and another judicial inspection of the crime scene by Associate Judge (Landgerichtsrat) Düx. In April 1963 finally, the investigations culminated in the indictment against Richard Baer, as the last commandant of Auschwitz I and the highest-ranking SS officer among the suspects, as well as against 22 other members of the SS and Emil Bednarek, a "kapo". The indictment prepared by the Jury Court of the Frankfurt Regional Court comprised 700 pages and 3 volumes. After Baer died in pre-trial custody on June 17, 1963, the case against the 22 defendants was cited formally as criminal proceedings against Mulka et al. Robert Mulka, who had been an adjutant to Rudolf Hoess, the Auschwitz camp commander in 1942/43, was then the highest-ranking member of the SS among the defendants.

The on-site visit by the court to the former Auschwitz Concentration Camp on December 14, 1964, with the 37 photos of the "judicial inspection" are among the most impressive of the 20 volumes of trial minutes. The trial ended with the judgments, which in written form comprise three volumes totaling 1275 pages. Other elements of these extensive records include, inter alia, the enforcement and pardon books (Vollstreckungshefte and Gnadenhefte), which provide information on whether and how the defendants served their sentences, in 29 volumes. In addition, there are the supplementary files (Beiakten), separate volumes (Sonderhefte), and seven volumes of press cuttings (Pressehefte). The Frankfurt public prosecutor’s office handed over the case files comprising 456 individual volumes of paper to the Hessian Main State Archives as the proper repository for such documents in 2001. There the file has been accessed for archival purposes and therefore, it can be researched in the Arcinsys archive information system. You may download accession to the case files as a PDF file using the classic finding-aid format (see below under "Further Information").

Already in 2015, the films were filmed completely for security purposes as part of the measures taken to protect cultural assets; in the following year, these films were digitized. The approximately 52,000 files resulting from this digitization have been integrated into Arcinsys archival system in the meantime, thus making the original records accessible to the public – as expected by UNESCO with its Memory of the World Register.

The audiotape recordings made during the trial were actually only intended to be used to "support the memory of the court". Testimony by witnesses was not recorded word for word in writing in court; only the essential contents were noted. Especially because the gathering of evidence and the adjudication during the Auschwitz trial were based on the statements made by witnesses, like other cases involving National Socialist crimes of violence (nationalsozialistischer Gewaltverbrechen = NSG), the recording of these statements was so important as a memory aid. During 134 days of hearings, the court heard the testimony of 360 persons, of whom 357 had declared their consent to the recording of their statements. They were mainly 221 witnesses testifying as victims – the survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp, but also of other camps – as well as 85 SS witnesses. In addition to the witnesses’ testimony, the following speeches were recorded on audiotapes: comments by experts at the beginning of the trial as well as the closing arguments by the prosecution, the collateral prosecutors (Nebenkläger), and the defense attorneys between the 155th and the 180th days of the court hearings. The defendants’ last words and finally, the oral pronouncement of judgment by Presiding Judge Hans Hofmeyer on the last two days, i.e., the 182nd and 183rd day of the hearing, were recorded.

Collectively, these audiotape recordings are a unique source, not least because of their value as information. Victims of the National Socialist Jewish policies testified forcefully and meticulously about the machinery of mass murder at the largest National Socialist concentration and extermination. On the other hand, the audiotape recordings are of outstanding importance with respect to their authenticity. These recordings have an enormous psychological and emotional impact. In addition to the actual information provided by the spoken word, the recordings of many statements made by witnesses atmospherically reflect the unimaginable horrors of Auschwitz. The pain and suffering of many witnesses become tangible with these audiotape recordings. In contrast, the emotional coldness of the Nazi perpetrators towards their victims resonates, in the so-called "last words" of the defendants in many cases.

It was due to the vehement dedication by Hermann Langbein, who served a triple function as an Auschwitz prisoner, a co-initiator of the Auschwitz Trial and a court witness, that the audiotapes were not erased, but preserved. Langbein was conscious of the significance of the trial in Frankfurt and quickly recognized the high documentary value of these audiotape recordings over and above the trial. He repeatedly made submissions to the Hessian Ministry of Justice concerning his request to preserve the audiotapes for posterity. Lauritz Lauritzen, the Hessian Minister of Justice, finally decided by decree in September 1965 that the audiotapes would not be erased but stored at the public prosecutor’s office "for the purpose of being archived later because of their significant historical value". Only in May 1989 were these audio documents handed over to the Hessian Main State Archives which had jurisdiction over such documents. Although a few recordings of the testimony of witnesses has been lost in the meantime, nevertheless 103 audiotape recordings with a total playing time of 424 hours have been archived. To safeguard the content of these audiotapes for the future and to enable them to be used, the Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv in Frankfurt, as a partner in this collaboration, digitized the already badly damaged audio material. After their return to the Main State Archives, the audiotapes will be professionally stored there, but they cannot be used really due to their advanced age and state of preservation. Digital use will be possible, either through the Digitales Archiv Hessen at the Main State Archives in Wiesbaden or they can be streamed via the Fritz Bauer Institute website.

Further Information

The audiotapes of the 1st Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial can be streamed via the Fritz Bauer Institute website. The website includes further information about the trial and an index of all process participants.