Verdict on Auschwitz: The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial 1963-1965

(Strafsache 4 Ks 2/63)

Germany, 1993/2005, 240 min, color
In German; English subtitles
Credits:
Director
Editor
Camera
Producer
Production Company

Synopsis

The only documentary on the Auschwitz Trial held in Frankfurt am Main, West Germany, from 1963 to 1965.

 

In the courtroom, survivors of Auschwitz confronted perpetrators they had not seen for twenty years, many of whom had made comfortable lives for themselves in postwar West Germany. The whole world followed the dramatic proceedings, which were commented upon by such leading intellectuals as the American playwright Arthur Miller and Swiss author Max Frisch.

 

In preparation for five years, the first Auschwitz trial took place shortly after Eichmann was tried in Jerusalem. The court heard 360 witnesses from 19 countries (including 211 survivors and 54 members of the Auschwitz-SS) in proceedings against 21 members of the SS and 1 prisoner, accused of having taken part in the mass murder of millions of people. On August 20, 1965, after 18 months of hearings, the verdicts were pronounced in one of the most significant trials in German legal history.

 

This film is an unparalleled document of the trial. The court proceedings were recorded on audiotape that were to have been destroyed after the trial. Filmmakers Bickel and Wagner located the 400 hours of material in the early 1990s that had languished in obscurity for decades. They evaluated these tapes together with extensive and exclusive original film material, original photos, and current interviews with witnesses and other people involved in the trial. The immediacy of the testimonies yields a historically precise and absorbing documentary.

 

This 2-DVD set includes: the three-hour original version of the documentary (1993); the condensed, one-hour version (2005); and a 35 page booklet with background information on the trial and people appearing in the film.

Commentary

"Verdict on Auschwitz: The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial 1963-1965 is a documentary of immense importance; the film illuminates not only the horrors of Auschwitz, but the chilling atmosphere of the courtroom in Frankfurt, Germany, almost twenty years after the Holocaust. Rarely does one get a glimpse inside a historic trial where the voices of the witnesses come alive. Survivor witnesses describe their unspeakable suffering at the hands of the defendants with amazing attention to detail, and their testimony helps to reconstruct the history of Auschwitz as it has never been told before. This film therefore contributes greatly to our understanding of the actual experience of the Holocaust; rather than reading lifeless documents we are transported into the Haus Gallus to witness for ourselves the dedication of the prosecutors, the courage of the witnesses, the mendacity of the defendants, and the painstaking efforts of the judge to strike the right tone in his verdict. The Auschwitz trial was an important turning point in West Germany's confrontation with the German past -- it represented the long overdue beginning of earnest scholarly and public inquiry into what actually happened at Auschwitz. This documentary brilliantly captures the magnitude of that moment."

— Prof. Rebecca Wittmann, Department of History, University of Toronto

Press comments

"Verdict on Auschwitz isn’t a film so much as it is a discovery."
Israel Today

 

Shocking ... [it] establishes that the Holocaust's perpetrators were also its first deniers.
— Jim Hoberman, Village Voice

 

“Rolf Bickel and Dietrich Wagner have produced a documentary which represents a cinematic and historic achievement that cannot be overstated. The filmmakers bring the historic trial to life again in its many overlapping voices, including those of the perpetrators, whose deviousness was exemplified for the world in these proceedings.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

 

"Yet another epic movie about the Holocaust might seem redundant, but the recent conference, in Tehran, of Holocaust deniers, anti-Semites, and other fools has made the truth necessary once again. Verdict on Auschwitz … is the greatest German film on the subject."
The New Yorker 

 

“No single documentary film better captures the history of Auschwitz than Verdict on Auschwitz. Between the detailed eye-witness accounts by victims, the painstaking organization of evidence by prosecutors, and the chilling testimony by the killers themselves, this film reveals more about the workings, mindset, and logic of mass murder than any film I know. It is an invaluable teaching resource.”
— Prof. James E. Young, Judaic and Near Eastern Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst

 

“The film... seems ragged and disorganized by the current standards of American documentaries, but that doesn't detract from its power. Instead, it enhanced it, serving as a reminder that Hollywood treatments of the Holocaust, as excellent as some of them have been, are no match for the unvarnished reality.”

— Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times

 

"Riveting … essential. You feel the anguish, but also the catharsis, of a reckoning – the kind of healing a hastily gaveled hanging can't deliver."
— Scott Brown, Entertainment Weekly

 

"To call Verdict on Auschwitz: The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial 1963-1965 comprehensive seriously understates its scope and attention to detail. The three-hour, three-part series bills itself as the first documentary on the trial, but it’s no doubt the last word on the subject too."
— Los Angeles Times

 

"Verdict on Auschwitz, a 1993 German documentary on the mid-‘60s trial of 22 SS men, is just now getting an American release. If anything, the story of the Auschwitz genocide factory is today even more familiar – which makes the defamiliarizing “German” quality of the three-hour doc all the more necessary. […] A key event in that thing the Germans call Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with the past), the Frankfurt trial served as the basis for Peter Weiss’s “documentary” play, The Investigation. Indeed, staged throughout West Germany in the mid ‘60s, Weiss’s drama had at least as much influence on public opinion, particularly the burgeoning New Left, as the trial itself."
— The Village Voice 

 

"The postwar judgment of Nazi bigwigs at Nuremberg is an important piece of history, as is the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961. But a third judicial proceeding, brought by German prosecutors and held in a German court presided over by German judges, has largely been forgotten. […] Surprisingly, the voices that stick with us are those of Bauer and the other German prosecutors. Perhaps it is because we have heard survivors describe the death camps in other documentaries but have never been exposed to Germans evincing their disgust with the henchmen of the Nazi regime."
— Jewish News Weekly 

Availability

Special features:
  • Introduction by Barton Byg
  • Filmmakers' Biographies & Filmographies
  • Eyewitness: "The Investigation," by Peter Weiss
  • Critical Essay by Werner Renz, Fritz Bauer Institute
  • "Bringing the Auschwitz Trial to English-Speakers," by Sigrid Bauschinger
  • "430 Hours of the Trial Captured on Tape"
  • Index of Persons
  • Chapter Overviews

Shibboleth login