It is the anniversary of one of the lesser-known war crime trials after the end of World War II, which were first initiated by the Allied Forces (such as the Nuremberg Trials 1945-49) and later also brought before German courts (Auschwitz Trials in the 1960s and -70s): The “Neuengamme Main Trial”.
Initiated under Royal Warrant the trial took place before a British military court from March until May 1946. As the court was located at the Hamburg Curiohaus, the proceedings also became known as the “Curiohaus-Prozess”. The court tried war crimes which had taken place in the concentration camp Neuengamme and its satellite camps near Hamburg where, from 1938 onwards, more than 100,000 mostly Allied prisoners of war were imprisoned under inhuman living and working conditions. More than 50% of detainees died there or as a consequence of forced labor, torture, hunger, medical experiments and the so-called death marches following the dissolution of the camp in late April 1945. Numerous prisoners also lost their lives during the historic bombing of the Cap Arcona and Thielbeck later on. Many children were among the victims of Neuengamme.
Some aspects of the Curiohaus Trial are especially interesting: First, the fact that it only concerned war crimes against citizens of the Allied Powers.
Moreover, one of the (legally) major problems in prosecuting German war crimes of World War II is the question of direct culpability/liability of the murders within concentration camps. It was ‘solved’ by bringing a charge of conspiracy against the suspects. In that way ‘mere’ affiliation with the SS or the camp system, without proof of individual crimes, could be prosecuted and punished.
For us genealogists the involvement of Sigmund Freud’s grandson Anton Walter Freud in the investigation and prosecution of the Neuengamme crimes (as part of the War Crimes Investigation Team (WCIT) No. 2), including the arrest of one of the camp’s disappeared physicians, is of course especially interesting.
Apart from the inherently historic significance and importance of such a trial, the documents collected and created by it, from layout plans and photos, to death and survival rolls, as well as extensive witness accounts of the events within the concentration camp, offer a wide and productive field for our research. Thus, we can find out a lot about the individual fates of ancestors connected to Neuengamme or derive and infer from other, more general data.
It is no easy, but worthwhile task.