Nazis on trial
Roland E. Zwick | Valencia, Ca USA | 04/26/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"From 1963 to 1965, twenty-two men, all former members of Hitler's SS who had served as officials at the Auschwitz death camp during World War II, were rounded up and put on trial in Frankfurt, Germany, for so-called "crimes against humanity" - a euphemistic phrase that is all too feeble in describing the unspeakable atrocities these incarnations of evil perpetrated on their fellow human beings. The documentary "Verdict on Auschwitz," made for German television in 1993 but not released theatrically in the United States until early 2007, provides a gripping, soul-searing account of that trial.
The 175-minute movie is divided into three sections that run roughly an hour apiece and cover slightly different aspects of the trial. The first, entitled "The Investigation," focuses on the German government's efforts in the late 1950's and early 1960's at tracking down many of the key Nazi leaders who had either fled the country (many to South America) or were living prosperous and quiet lives under assumed names in the very same country where they had perpetrated their crimes. Part I also details the early stages of the trial which included taped testimonies from a number of the survivors (over 350 in total), as well as from "outsiders" who visited the camp on "official" business. Because cameras were not allowed in the courtroom after the first fifteen minutes of the trial, these audio tapes, in many cases, have become our sole connection with the participants in the drama. These voices, echoing down the corridors of time, provide a chilling first hand account of the atrocities. In addition to the recordings, the film includes interviews with a number of the participants in the trial, newsreel footage of the camp both before and after its liberation by Russian forces, and, perhaps most chillingly, shots of Auschwitz as it appears today (or more accurately, in 1993), its dilapidated, abandoned buildings serving as mute, ghostly witnesses to the most mind-numbing human tragedy of the 20th Century.
The second part, labeled simply "The Trial," chronicles in greater detail the testimony and documentation the prosecution used to bolster its case over the two-year course of the trial (the Nazis were nothing if not efficient in recording their actions for posterity). The third part - "The Verdict" - wraps up the case with the closing statements by both the prosecution and the defense as well as final statements by the men on trial. Even though the "verdict" seems preordained from the start, there's no denying that there is an intensely purgative effect for both the victims and the rest of us in seeing these human monsters exposed for what they are and finally brought to justice, even if the sentences do not seem exactly commensurate with the gravity of the crimes.
Like any work of art that attempts to come to grips with the horrors of that period, "Verdict on Auschwitz" can go only so far in providing answers for an event for which no satisfactory answers could ever truly be found. Why in this particular place? Why at that specific time? And how could such seemingly rational, "civilized" individuals - most mere businessmen with wives and children of their own - forsake all sense of common decency and humanity, and coldly and methodically participate in the wide scale torture and wholesale extermination of so many of their fellow human beings? We will surely never know the answers to these questions, but a movie like "Verdict on Auschwitz" serves as a painful but invaluable reminder that such things have happened in the past and they could very well happen in the future (as they clearly are in various parts of the world at this very moment). The lesson of "Verdict on Auschwitz" is that we ignore such reminders at our peril."
A piece of history, stories that sadden ...
Brendan M. Howard | Kansas, USA | 04/22/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Verdict on Auschwitz is a harrowing three-hour ordeal of history and personal recorded testimony, and a filmed record of the infamous Nazi excuse: I was just following orders. Rolf Bickel and Dietrich Wagner almost do too good a job, chronicling so many stories, so many details, and so much anguished testimony that the entirety is almost unbearable for a single viewing. This is a tale of men who committed monstrous crimes and a troubled German society that finds itself revisiting a dark past through the Frankfurt trials, lasting almost three years."
The Frankfurt-Auschwitz Trial 1963-65
z hayes | TX | 02/26/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the only documentary produced on the Auschwitz trial and is unparalleled in its coverage of the trials of 22 former members of the SS charged with crimes against humanity. The Auschwitz trail first took place after the Adolf Eichmann trial that was held in Jerusalem. It was held in Frankfurt, Germany and 360 witnesses from 19 countries, including 211 Auschwitz survivors gave their testimonies [other witnesses included Social Democrats from germany who had also been imprisoned in camps during the war and had witnessed Nazi atrocities and others].
This is a compelling documentary in that it truly captures the horror that was Auschwitz. We get to listen to the searing and horrific testimonies by victims of Nazi atrocities, the cold testimonies by the defendants [most claimed to be innocent and only carrying out their duty to the Reich, and perhaps only one actually broke down whilst giving his testimony]. It gives us a look at the exhaustive process the German prosecutors had to go through to bring these criminals to court and really provides insight into the cool, mechanical manner in which mass murder was perpetrated against millions of innocents.
Through the victims' testimonies and the cold testimonies of the perpetrators, viewers get a picture of the killing center that was Auschwitz-Birkenau. Interspersed with the accounts are archival footage of Nazi rallies, photographs of deportations and transports, and reconstruction of the death camp itself. It is a truly chilling look at the mechanism of mass murder put into action.
The final verdict was pronounced on August 20, 1965, after almost 20 months of court proceedings. But, as to whether true justice was served to the 6 million Jews and 5 million other victims of Nazi atrocities, that remains debatable."
Annie Van Auken | Planet Earth | 05/15/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw the most amazing three hour German documentary today called
VERDICT ON AUSCHWITZ - The Frankfort Auschwitz Trial 1963-1965.
22 men were in the dock, 5 are considered major players in the systematic killing of 3.5 million people at this death camp and its sister, Birkenau.
One man murdered thousands by injecting their hearts with phenol. A second beat prisoners to death for the smallest infraction. Another climbed the roof of the shower building and delivered the Zyklon B that on each occasion would choke to death over 100 people inside of 20 minutes.
The camp adjutant, who was in charge of the day to day running of Auschwitz (its commandant died in 1947 as a result of the Nuremberg trials), denied knowledge of mass murders, firing squads, crematoria and Zyklon B, even though he signed requisition orders for the poison.
In his closing argument, their attorney insisted that selecting the few who would live out of each trainload of new arrivals was an angelic act on the part of the defendants!
The terrible truth: none of these murderers received the death penalty for their heinous crimes and none ever expressed one bit of remorse for what they'd done.
It's a harrowing documentary, to say the least."