Leipzig War Crimes Trials were a series of trials held in 1921 to
try alleged German war criminals of the
First World War
First World War before the
Reichsgericht (Supreme Court) in Leipzig, as part of the
penalties imposed on the German government under the Treaty of
Versailles. Only twelve individuals were brought to trial (with mixed
results), and the proceedings were widely regarded at the time as a
failure. In the longer term, however, the trials have been seen as a
significant step towards the introduction of a comprehensive system
for the prosecution of violations of international law.
2 The trials
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
First World War
First World War the Allied leaders came up with a new
concept, that once victory was achieved, defeated enemy leaders should
face criminal charges for international law violations made during the
war. On 25 January 1919, during the Paris Peace Conference, the Allied
governments established the
Commission of Responsibilities to make
recommendations to that effect. As a result, articles 227–230 of the
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles stipulated the arrest and trial of German
officials defined as war criminals by the Allied governments. Article
227 made provision for the establishment of a special tribunal,
presided over by a judge from each one of the major Allied powers –
Britain, France, Italy, United States and Japan. It identified the
Wilhelm II as a war criminal, and demanded that an
extradition request be addressed to the Dutch government, which had
given him asylum in the
Netherlands since his abdication in November
1918. Article 228 allowed the Allied governments to try German war
criminals in their military tribunals, nothwithstanding any
proceedings taken against the same persons in German courts. The
German government was required to comply with any extradition order
issued by the Allied powers to that effect.
Following the conclusion of the treaty, the Allied government began
their legal and diplomatic efforts to arrest the former Kaiser. On 28
June 1919, the day the treaty was signed, the President of the Paris
Peace Conference addressed a diplomatic note to the Dutch government
requesting the extradition of the ex-Kaiser. On 7 July the Dutch
replied that any extradition of the Kaiser would be a violation of
Dutch neutrality. Eventually the issue of bringing the ex-Kaiser to
trial was dropped, and he remained in the
Netherlands until his death
on 4 June 1941.
On 3 February 1920, the Allies submitted a further list of 900 names
of individuals accused of committing alleged war crimes to the German
government. However, the Germans refused to extradite any German
citizens to Allied governments, and suggested instead trying them
within the German justice system, i.e. at the
Leipzig. This proposal was accepted by the Allied leaders, and in May
1920 they handed the German government a reduced list of 45 accused
persons. Not all these people could be traced, and in other cases
there was difficulty in finding credible evidence. In the end
only twelve individuals were brought to trial.
The trials were held before the
Reichsgericht (comprising seven
Leipzig from 23 May to 16 July 1921.
The cases tried were:
Sergeant Karl Heynen, charged with mistreating British POWs. He was
sentenced to a brief prison term of ten months.
Captain Emil Müller, charged with mistreating POWs. He was sentenced
to six months in prison.
Private Robert Neumann, charged with mistreating prisoners of war. He
was sentenced to six months in prison.
Commander Karl Neumann of
U-boat UC-67 who sank the hospital ship
Dover Castle in compliance with superior orders. He was found not
guilty due to the fact that he was following orders.
First-Lieutenants Ludwig Dithmar and John Boldt, charged with war
crimes on the high seas. They were two officers of the submarine SM
U-86 that had sunk the Canadian hospital ship Llandovery Castle and
then machine-gunned survivors in the lifeboats. They were each
sentenced to four years in prison. Their commanding officer, Helmut
Brümmer-Patzig, had fled to the
Free City of Danzig
Free City of Danzig and was never
Max Ramdohr, charged with crimes against the civilian noncombatants in
occupied Belgium. He was found not guilty.
Lieutenant-General Karl Stenger and Major Benno Crusius, charged with
mistreating French POWs. Stenger was found not guilty, while Crusius
was sentenced to two years in prison.
First-Lieutenant Adolph Laule, charged with crimes against the
civilian population of occupied France. He was found not guilty.
Lieutenant-General Hans von Schack and Major-General Benno Kruska,
charged with mistreating POWs. Both were found not guilty.
Outside Germany, the trials were seen as something of a travesty
because of the small number of cases tried and the perceived leniency
of the court. Inside Germany, on the other hand, they were seen as
excessively harsh for several reasons:
Of all the belligerents, only German servicemen were being tried. (See
The accused seemed in several cases to have been merely trying to
perform their duty under difficult conditions.
Several of the charges seemed spurious.
Imprisonment in a civil jail was regarded as insulting to military
Following the Heynen case, the German Gazette commented:
"The first verdict in the series of
Leipzig trials has agitated public
opinion in two great countries, Germany and England, in apparently
sharply contrasting ways. The degree of punishment has been criticised
in England in a way that is in the highest degree wounding to German
On 15 January 1922, a commission of Allied jurists, appointed to
inquire into the trials, concluded that it was useless to proceed with
them any further and recommended that the remaining accused should be
handed over to the Allies for trial. This was not done, and the
trials were quietly abandoned.
Although largely regarded as a failure at the time, the
were the first attempt to devise a comprehensive system for
prosecution of violations of international law. This trend was renewed
during the Second World War, as Allied governments decided to try,
after the war, defeated Axis leaders for war crimes committed during
the war, notably the Nuremberg Trials and International Military
Tribunal for the Far East.
Following the end of the Cold War, the same trend led to the
establishment of the
International Criminal Court
International Criminal Court in 2002.
War crimes trials
^ Foreign Relations of the United States, 1919: Paris Peace
Conference, vol. 13, pp. 374–375
Leipzig Trials, 1921, p. 9.
^ Yarnall 2011, pp. 184–5.
^ Solis, Gary D. (1999). "Obedience of Orders and the Law of War:
Judicial Application in American Forums". American University
International Law Review. 15: 481–526.
^ Yarnall 2011, pp. 194–5.
^ Quoted in Yarnall 2011, p. 194.
^ Yarnall 2011, pp. 195–6.
Mullins, Claude (1921). The
Leipzig Trials: An Account of the War
Criminals' Trials and Study of German Mentality. London:
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (1919). Violation of the
Laws and Customs of War: Reports of Majority and Dissenting Reports of
American and Japanese Members of the Commission of Responsibilities,
Conference of Paris 1919. London and New York.
Willis, James F. (2014). Prologue to Nuremberg: The Politics and
Diplomacy of Punishing War Criminals of the First World War.
Hankel, Gerd (1982). The
Leipzig Trials: German War Crimes and Their
Legal Consequences after World War I. Westport: Republic of
Yarnall, John (2011). Barbed Wire Disease: British & German
Prisoners of War, 1914–19. Stroud: Spellmount. pp. 183–96.
Report on the
Leipzig Trial 
Leipzig War Crimes Trials , in: 1914-1918-online.
International Encyclopedia of the First World War.
International criminal law
Customary international law
United Nations Charter
Convention Against Torture
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