Thursday, September 20, 2007

Women at Nuremberg: Defendants

(Final installment of IntLawGrrls' 5-part Women at Nuremberg series)

This series began with the observation of Peter Heigl in his German-English book Nürnberger Prozesse - Nuremberg Trials that among those who played a role at Nuremberg were "a few female defendants." IntLawGrrls've understandably been loathe to claim these women as our own. But they exist, as photos of "SS women" in yesterday's New York Times reminded. Those who stood trial for war crimes have an undeniable, if unfortunate, international prominence, and at times their story too must be told.
Among the defendants convicted by the International Military Tribunal during the Doctors' Trial was Dr. Herta Oberheuser (right), a physician whose specialty was dermatology. For her part in nonconsensual medical experiments conducted on inmates at Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, Oberheuser received a sentence of 20 years, later halved. On release from prison 1952 she tried to open a medical practice but was forced to close it on account of former inmates' protests.
Women defendants further included a number of Nazi camp guards, prosecuted in proceedings such as as:
Buchenwald trial
Conducted by a U.S. military tribunal at the former concentration camp at Dachau. Among those convicted was Ilse Koch (left), wife of the Buchenwald Camp commander who was complicit in the atrocities committed under his command. Furor erupted in 1948, when her initial sentence to life in prison was cut to 4 years. "Koch was released in 1949, rearrested by German authorities, retried, and sentenced to life imprisonment. She committed suicide at Aichach prison in Bavaria in 1967."
Bergen-Belsen trial
A British military court adjudicated charges against 45 defendants, including: "the most notorious" Irma Grese (#9 at right) executed in 1945 along with Elizabeth Volkenrath and Juana Borman, plus at least 18 other women. Of these, 5 were acquitted; the rest received sentences ranging from 1 to 15 years.
Auschwitz trial
Conducted by Polish authorities in Krakow. Defendants included Therese Brandl, 45 when she was executed in 1947; Maria Mandel (below), 36 when executed in 1948; Luise Danz, sentenced to life in prison, released in 1956, and in 1996 subjected to a German trial that was halted on account of her age; Hildegard Lächert, released in 1956, then convicted in a German courtroom in 1981; and Alice Orlowski, sentenced to life in prison but released in 1957.

The crimes of which these women were convicted ought to be unimaginable, and will remain, here at least, unprintable.


Previous installments of in IntLawGrrls' Women at Nuremberg series: Prosecutors, Staffers, Press, Witnesses.

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