There were hundreds of Allied military trials held to try the thousands of "lesser offenders" of Nazi Germany, especially concentration camp officers and guards, who were rounded up and put on trial after the war. The Buchenwald Trials were some of the most important of these. The most infamous defendant was Ilse Koch, wife of the Buchenwald camp commandant, who collected lampshades and other objects made from human skin.Most of the defendants were convicted for their crimes. But Cold War politics influenced the severity of the sentences that were handed down and extraordinarily light prison terms became the norm. None of the defendants at Buchenwald served more than ten years for their crimes. Even worse, many were released after just a few years under various amnesties and pardons later given out by a joint US-West German parole board.The Buchenwald Trialsreveals the opportunities that were lost to see justice done in the aftermath of the worst crimes ever perpetrated against humanity. Also lost in the furor over the trials was the opportunity to reveal to the public the true dimensions of the Holocaust and Nazi war crimes in Europe. With questions of accountability for war crimes arising once again in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, the lessons of Buchenwald are both timely and sobering.
David A. Hackett is professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso and the translator of The Buchenwald Report. He lives in El Paso.