The Frankfurt Auschwitz trials 1963 - 1967

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The Frankfurt Auschwitz trials involved the prosecution of just 22 defendents from some 6,000-8,000 SS officers involved in the administartion of the Auschwitz camp complex.

  • What effect would this have had on survovors of the Holocaust? 
  • List the reasons why so few people would have been tried for crimes perpetrated at Auschwitz.

Rather than merely trying the defendents for individual crimes of which they were accused, the trials centred around a highly detailed investigation into activities carried out at Auschwitz.

  • Why might this have been the case?
  • Why was the role of historians so important to the trials?


  • What effects would the trials have had on members of the German public?
  • What would have been the effects on the world?

The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials (1963 – 1967) was a series of trials charging 22 defendants under German law for their roles in the Holocaust as low-level officials at the Auschwitz camp complex.

Other senior Auschwitz leaders, including camp commandant Rudolf Höss had been tried by Polish authorities in 1947. Höss had been sentenced to death and executed at Auschwitz 1 camp.

The Frankfurt trials involved low level SS officers and Kapos, who were responsible for the day-to-day treatment of camp prisoners. Some of them were responsible for the selection of those prisoners who on arrival were to taken to the gas chambers.

Expert witnesses

Whilst some 6,000 to 8,000 SS members had been involved in the administration and operation of the Auschwitz camp complex, only 22 defendants were tried at Frankfurt.

The court sought to discover what went on at Auschwitz-Birkenau, rather than prosecuting large numbers of defendants. To this end some 360 witnesses were called to give evidence, approximately 210 of these were survivors. As they had spent many years researching the Nazi atrocities, a number of eminent historians, served as ‘expert’ witnesses.

Whilst six of the defendants received life imprisonments, others were given long sentences short of life.

However, the significance of the trials was that they were held in public, bringing more details of the Holocaust to the attention of the German public and world in general.