If ever there was an attempt to deceive the reader, this is the post. When we talk about the Nuremberg International Tribunal (IMT) we tend to think about the trial of the key Nazi figures. Indeed, if we look at the above photograph that is exactly what Mr Wear’s article seems to be focusing on. What many do not realise however is that there were several other trials that took place under the umbrella of “The Nuremberg Trials” that were concerned with other aspects of Nazi criminality. These tended to be tried by US military courts. The 3 men mentioned in Mr Wear’s article, namely Charles F. Wennerstrum, Edward L. Van Roden and Willis M. Everett, Jr. achieved fame in the controversial Malmedy Trials which didn’t take place in Nuremberg at all; they took place at Dachau. So straight away we see an attempt to link the main IMT trials with the Malmedy one. Why Mr Wear does this will become obvious as this rebuttal develops.
All of the information obtained about the Malmedy Trials mentioned in my article comes from the excellent book “The Malmedy Massacre” by US historian Steven P Remy. (2017)
Firstly a bit of background to the trials. In December 1944 the German High Command launched its last major offensive in the west. The Germans tried to break through the US front line in the Ardennes region of Belgium with the hope of striking towards Antwerp thus cutting the allied forces in half and capturing an important supply base. The offensive did not succeed but it did create a bulge in the line thus giving the battle its better known name: The Battle of the Bulge. As part of this offensive the Germans made use of Battle Group Piper a Waffen SS unit used to the savage fighting on the Russian front. Three days before the offensive Hitler demanded of his Waffen SS spearhead to spread fear and panic and show no mercy to enemy combatants, prisoners of war and civilians alike.
About 3 miles from the village of Malmedy at the crossroads of Baugnez, 84 men of the US 285th Field Artillery Observation Battery were captured and subsequently murdered by the men of Piper’s battle group.
Not only that, but other murders took place at Stavelot and La Gleize.
The Malmedy trial accused the men of Piper’s battle group of “willfully, deliberately and wrongfully permit, encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing, shooting, ill treatment. abuse and torture of members of the Armed Forces of the USA…”
The result of the trial was that all the men tried were found guilty and 43 were given the death sentence.
What made the trial controversial were the accusations AFTER the trial that many of the accused had been beaten up and tortured in a variety of physical and non physical ways in order to obtain a confession. Members of the German church and former Nazis post war together with a few Americans including a young Senator McCarthy also adhered to this view….as did the 3 men in Mr Wear’s article.
Charles F. Wennerstrum
Actually this man really had nothing to do with the trial as such. His main criticism of the trial was that it was simply victor’s justice. Not only that he also believed vengeful Jews were behind the trial, those “Americans only in recent years […] whose backgrounds were embedded in Europe’s hatreds and prejudices”. Moreover he accused the prosecution staff “with acts of fraud and coercion quite comparable to the conduct of Hitler’s Gestapo.”. Interestingly enough, he offered no proof as to these allegations.
After the trial, many of the guilty men who were all kept together at Landsberg prison started to make accusations of brutality and torture against the prosecution team led by William Perl when they were held together at the interrogation center at Schwabsich Hall before the trial. Accusations included beatings resulting in broken teeth and jaws, mock trials, crushed testicles and burning wood under the fingernails. Contrary to popular belief, these accusations were taken extremely seriously by the US authorities and no less than 4 inquiries were carried out into the allegations. All the enquirers found no evidence at all of any physical torture or beatings claimed by the defendants. One of these inquiries involved judge Edwar L.Van Roden.
Edward L. Van Roden
Van Roden was one of three judges in what was called the Simpson Commission. The conclusion of the inquiry was extremely clear. The trials were “essentially fair” and “there was no general or systematic use of improper methods to secure prosecution evidence.” Why therefore did Van Roden on his return to the US change his mind? Van Roden had contacts with the Quaker group the NCPW and allowed writer James Finucane to ghost write an article and post it in his name. At the Senate subcommittee investigation that was to come, attorney Dwight Fanton had this to say about Judge Van Roden:
If a thorough investigation had been insisted on by the Army, Judge Van Roden would not have written the completely false account of the use of brutality and other improper methods to extort confessions which appeared in the Progressive and would not have taken the rostrum so many times to shock uninformed audiences with similar recitals. The conduct of this man who as a judge must have known that the charges were based on extravagant allegations supported by proof, and who must have known these charges would be seriously received by all who heard them, is indefensible and should have been denounced long ago.
Van Roden had sold himself out and was responsible for his own self destruction.
Willis M. Everett, Jr.
Everett was the senior Defense attorney in the Malmedy Trial, a task which was thrust upon him. He had no courtroom experience and certainly did not want to represent men he believed to be murderers. Saying that, he was determined to represent them as best possible. He was indeed heavily influenced by the charismatic Piper and the first accusations of abuse were given to him from Piper. Unsure what to do, Everett got the defendants to fill in a questionnaire about their treatment. The results of the questionnaire caused the War Crimes Group to carry out the first of a number of investigations. Defendants were questioned and whilst some talked of being treated roughly by the guards and 4 said they had been hit, no one claimed to have been forced to confess. Everett simply had no actual proof of any physical torture. Four defendants made accusations of torture, Gustav Sprenger, Friedel Bode Siegfried Jackel and Gustav Neve. Everett had to concede after investigations into their claims that they were all lying. Even Peiper stated that they had all lied to get themselves out of the mess they had put themselves in and to find a way out of their confessions. It was only after the trial that more accusations came out…no doubt in an attempt to avoid the hangman’s noose.
For political reasons all the men had their sentences commuted to life in prison. That did not mean to say they were innocent of their crimes. They were not. All, however had been released by 1956.
The only accusations that were critcised and noted by the senate subcommittee were those of “mock trials”, the use of solitary confinement and the use of hoods. All were used at Schwabsich Hall. Obviously the men investigated were not allowed to talk to each other as the prosecution ran the risk of the men concocting stories. Short term solitary confinement and moving the men around with hoods on prevented contamination of evidence. As to “mock trials” this was part of a procedure called the “quick process”, a ruse adopted in many pre trial examination procedures found in some European legal systems. The quick process resembled a hearing which was made to witnesses who were NOT future defendants. No physical threats were made and neither were the men threatened with hanging. The men involved in the interrogations went through the MITC at Camp Ritchie in the USA. Torture techniques and physical abuse to gain confessions were NOT on the curriculum!
No physical torture was used at the Malmedy Trial and none was used in any other post war trials including the influential IMT.