Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Justice at Dachau: The Trials of an American Prosecutor

Rate this book
The world remembers Nuremberg, where a handful of Nazi policymakers were brought to justice, but nearly forgotten are the proceedings at Dachau, where hundreds of Nazi guards, officers, and doctors stood trial for personally taking part in the torture and execution of prisoners inside the Dachau, Mauthausen, Flossenburg, and Buchenwald concentration camps. In Justice at Dachau, Joshua M. Greene, maker of the award winning documentary film Witness: Voices from the Holocaust, recreates the Dachau trials and reveals the dramatic story of William Denson, a soft-spoken young lawyer from Alabama whisked from teaching law at West Point to leading the prosecution in the largest series of Nazi trials in history.

In a makeshift courtroom set up inside Hitler’s first concentration camp, Denson was charged with building a team from lawyers who had no background in war crimes and determining charges for crimes that courts had never before confronted. Among the accused were Dr. Klaus Schilling, responsible for hundreds of deaths in his “research” for a cure for malaria; Edwin Katzen-Ellenbogen, a Harvard psychologist turned Gestapo informant; and one of history’s most notorious female war criminals, Ilse Koch, “Bitch of Buchenwald,” whose penchant for tattooed skins and human bone lamps made headlines worldwide.

Denson, just thirty-two years old, with one criminal trial to his name, led a brilliant and successful prosecution, but nearly two years of exposure to such horrors took its toll. His wife divorced him, his weight dropped to 116 pounds, and he collapsed from exhaustion. Worst of all was the pressure from his army superiors to bring the trials to a rapid end when their agenda shifted away from punishing Nazis to winning the Germans’ support in the emerging Cold War. Denson persevered, determined to create a careful record of responsibility for the crimes of the Holocaust. When, in a final shocking twist, the United States used clandestine reversals and commutation of sentences to set free those found guilty at Dachau, Denson risked his army career to try to prevent justice from being undone.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published April 8, 2003

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Joshua M. Greene

33 books49 followers
Joshua M. Greene earned his M.A. at Hofstra University, where he taught Hinduism and Holocaust history until his retirement in 2013. His books on war crimes trials and survivor testimony have been published in six languages. He has spoken at the Pentagon, the Judge Advocates College, the New York Public Library Distinguished Author series, and lectures frequently before state bar associations. In 1969, he was initiated as Yogesvara Das by HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and spent 13 years in Krishna temples, serving as director of ISKCON’s European publishing office. His books on spirituality include Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison and Gita Wisdom: An Introduction to India’s Essential Yoga Text. His most recent book is a biography of Srila Prabhupada, titled Swami in a Strange Land: How Krishna Came to the West. Greene is also a filmmaker whose Holocaust documentaries have aired on PBS, The Disney Channel, and Discovery.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
47 (38%)
4 stars
49 (40%)
3 stars
22 (18%)
2 stars
2 (1%)
1 star
1 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 26 of 26 reviews
Profile Image for Doreen.
441 reviews11 followers
March 30, 2020
Each book with WWII and the Holocaust as subjects, finds its place inside my heart and never leaves me. Reading about the trials for these monsters who systematically engaged in despicable atrocities without regret, was sometimes more than I could wrap my head around. It was sometimes too intense for me to bear. For this reason, I needed a few days to clear my emotions before writing this review.

At Nuremberg, the highest echelon of Hitler's death machine was put on trial. Those on trial were the architects of the Holocaust; those who had no immediate contact with the people whose lives they destroyed. Conversely, the trials of Dachau, Mauthausen, Flossenburg, and Buchenwald concentration camps, prosecuted the actual protagonists within the camps; the Commandants, Nazi guards, doctors, and others who were responsible for the daily, systematic tortures and murders within the camp confines.

At the center of all this is William Denson. The sincerity, and dedication of William Denson as prosecutor in these trials, is above reproach. Greene shows Denson as a man whose commitment and diligence for due process, while adhering to the rules of justice for these criminals, is pure. His integrity as an Army officer, and his allegiance to truth as a man of Faith, is evident throughout the entire book. Denson's health and well-being suffer, as he carefully and methodically brings witnesses and evidence against the monsters who ran the camps.

Joshua Greene has condensed copious files and transcripts into pages of concise testimony and dialogue, in terms that are easily understood. He pieces together hand-picked testimonies and evidence to present abridged versions of the trials, while explainingspecific laws in place at the time of the trials, and some controversy on motions and objections, raised throughout those trials.

.The most horrific and disgusting elements of life within the camps is revealed here. The verdicts and sentences that are handed out at the conclusion of the trials, eventually come under scrutiny. With the onset of the Cold War, politics insinuates itself into the equation, with somewhat surprising results.

These trials are important components in the history of WWII and the Holocaust. It's an unobstructed look into the immediate aftermath of liberation, as the Nazi cowards were brought to stand trial. Predictably, these butchers claimed no responsibility in the operation of the concentration camps as an attempt to cover up their heinous activities. The truth is haunting and not easily accepted. As difficult as it was to read about these crimes, I wouldn't have missed reading this book for anything! The book is a gem and should be used to teach about the trials at Dachau. I highly recommend reading it.
Profile Image for Regina Lindsey.
441 reviews20 followers
April 8, 2017
I was offered a free copy by Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Nuremberg is the name most associated with war crimes emanating out of WWII; however, there were others. Nuremberg's purpose was to try the architects, the policy makers of the Holocaust. Trials were established in each of the occupying territories to try the lower echelon, the ones who personally meted out torture. Dachau was the site in the American territory.

William Denson, age 32, was selected to try those working in Dachau, Mauhausen, Flossenburg, and Buchenwald. By the end of the trials Denson had prosecuted more Nazis than any other lawyer in post war period: 177 guards and officers. Every single one was found guilty. Most were sentenced to death (although most were commuted when the Cold War came into full swing) and it almost took Denson's life. It certainly took his first marriage which was already in trouble when he received the assignment.

Having done extensive study already on Dachau and Buckenwald as well as visiting Dachau and Nuremberg I was already familiar with the atrocities, people, and outcome of those in the camp. Therefore, it felt a bit repetitious reading the witnesses accounts, both for the prosecution and the defense. I fear it may have felt that way for any reader. The structure might have helped had it not been broken up into distinct parts for trials of each camp and rather broken it up into subject points, addressing points from each trial within each subject.

In light of the above statement, the strongest parts of the book are about the prosecution and defense strategies as well as the biographical nature of Denson. Denson rejected Nuremberg's charges. Instead, he accused all of participating in "common design". "Any man who contributed to the operation and maintenance of Mauthausen participated in the common design, be he the man who distributed food or injected lethal doses of benzine into the prisoners." (pg. 217) The defense attempted to counter these charges, arguing the defendants were following orders and at the time those in the camps were criminals, breaking current state law. " If so, then it is incumbent upon all fathers to instruct their sons that if they have had a chance to determine whether or not it is legal. And if ever ordered to participate in an execution, they should first demand certified copies of the record of the court and forward them to the family attorney for his dossier. And while son and lawyer are making up their minds, they must also keep in mind that when the war is over, an ex post facto law might be passed which would make their otherwise legal conduct illegal." (pg 220)
96 reviews7 followers
October 22, 2021
Wstrząsająca książka o procesach w Dachau, Mauthausen i Buchenwaldzie. Pokazuje to jak niewiele trzeba by z kochających mężów, ojców, synów, dziadków stały się potwory. Zastanawiam się jak bardzo można mieć częściowo zagłuszone sumienie by po wrzuceniu człowieka żywcem do pieca krematoryjnego, potem się umyć i po pracy wrócić do domu, do żony i dziecka, zjeść z nimi obiad i się bawić. Tak samo zdumiewające jest jak można było pozwolić tylu zbrodniarzom uniknąć stryczka poprzez zamianę wyroku na dożywocie a w przypadku Ilse Koch skrócić wyrok z dożywocia do czterech lat. Tego nie zrobili Niemcy! To zrobiła amerykańska administracja okupacyjna!Szok i niedowierzanie. Polecam!
Profile Image for January Gray.
727 reviews14 followers
May 8, 2018
This is a must read for those interested in this time in history. Well written. Heartbreaking.
Profile Image for Videoclimber(AKA)MTsLilSis.
905 reviews50 followers
March 5, 2017
The story behind the trials of several Holocaust war criminals. This book is not for the faint of heart. This goes much deeper then many Holocaust biographies dare. I had to divide up the reading because it is very depressing. I can totally understand why the trials affected this Prosecutor so deeply. The trials took a huge toll on everyone involved. Bravo to Denson for sticking to his guns and helping convict all that he could. Shame on the American government for reversing several of the sentences. What an insult to Denson and his work, and to the many victims of these terrible perpetrators! To know that several who were sentenced went on to commit suicide shows how cowardly they were. The fact that many denied their crimes up until death is disgusting. If you want to feel for the Holocaust victims, read this one. It will break your heart, but you will never look at these crimes in the same way.

*Special thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author, for allowing me to read this re-issue of this book in exchange for an honest review*
Profile Image for Art.
832 reviews8 followers
January 2, 2014
Focuses on the trials of former SS camp staff. Not for the faint of heart, the main subject of the book himself was down to 117 pounds and poor heath himself by 1947 due to the horror he was living with through survivor testimony and events as he worked the cases. A easy and fast reading view of the US reaction to the camp system.
February 1, 2018
Again (see previous update reviews), I can't help but question the portrayal of LTC Denson's character throughout the book. I don't want to minimalize what he accomplished, but I feel like the story could have been told without putting the grandson of a Confederate General (Colonel?) on this ridiculously high pedestal. People can sympathize with his task - the long hours, not being able to eat, nightmares, insomnia, etc - without viewing LTC Denson as a saint. I feel like that happens far too often when people document historical events. I don't want to feel like I've been "Columbused" - growing up I thought Columbus was this savior who "discovered" the Americas and gifted the Indians with "civilization" only to find out that he was a murderous villain that sanctioned rape and other heinous acts. Not to say that LTC Denson's character was on par with C. Columbus, but I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.

Also, given the political and social climate of the time, I doubt the trials would have ended in acquittal regardless of how competent or incompetent the chief prosecutor was. I feel like minimal effort could have been applied to prosecute the case and still resulted in convictions. Tensions were high at the time and the entire WORLD was out to hold someone responsible for the atrocities that took place.

Anyways, I can't help but question the hows and whys of this book with regard to how the main characters - the good guys - are portrayed.
Profile Image for Ken Kugler.
254 reviews2 followers
March 8, 2021
The world was watching after WWII. How would the Allies handle the fallen enemies? Would they do what many have done before and take the leaders, the followers and the top of the armed forces and string them up? This is the story of how the Allies went after those who ran the concentration camps and those who followed and treated the prisoners kept there and decided that they would hold them accountable by trials. The head of the American prosecuting team was a man, William Denson. A man who in the course of heading the trials of Dachau, Mauthusen, Flossenburg, and Buchenwald had his whole life changed. He took the trials very seriously and over the next several years, personally went through divorce, huge weight loss, and exhaustion to the point of collapse. He led a team that mostly won but in the end, with the new cold war, many didn't have their sentences followed.
This was an engrossing book and story. I had trouble putting it down and pushed to read all the way through.
To me, one surprise was that after the war, William Denson left his home in South, remarried and eventually wound up on Long Island, in a town next to where I grew up and was the mayor in the early 1970's.
Profile Image for Rosalie.
243 reviews19 followers
September 12, 2018
The French edition had a lot of typos and it really bothered me. It was written to really emphasized on the character of Denson, and the other people concerned, and that’s not what I expected at all. This personification of history made the details even harder to read though, and the accused, as well as the victims, even realer. I still would have preferred a more « theoric » kind of book, but that’s me.
Profile Image for Cherie.
3,331 reviews27 followers
July 21, 2017
Powerful book about the man behind bringing those doing the dirty work at concentration camps to justice. It may have cost him his marriage and his health, but his devotion to reparations was powerful.
Profile Image for Eileen Hall.
1,074 reviews
March 8, 2017
An important book of one man's fight for justice for the people who were exterminated in Dachau.
The accounts of the prisoners' crimes are harrowing, and the strain on William Denson, not used to such tragedies and horror took its toll.
At the end he became a broken man, but this story should be told.
I was given a digital copy of this book by the publisher Ankerwyck via Netgalley in return for an honest unbiased review.
1 review
August 16, 2012
There are some books that are a bitter pill to swallow but none the less be done. I knew upon. Seeing the title and reading the inside flap I should read it. Whether or not I could continue reading it once I started was another matter all together. Having had several family members perish in Dachau and reading thus book was to go back in time and to experience through words written what they suffered in life and death. I to put it down several times in tears. But something stired deep inside and I found myself pulling it back up and I continued on. Denson has preserved for generations their stories and brought to justice an evil that was by far the greatest evil against humankind ...he also showed grace and composure to finish the task and the vision to know that his part in history and the atrocities that were committed should be written down for generations for not many remember the trials at Dachau. Hard as it is to read if you are able read you should. To read is to understand what went on..to never forget. I as a child along with my siblings and young cousins alike were shielded from what went on. We were told our heritage but only a part of it...we were always told we did not need to know. Perhaps to shield us from the evils that can beset any human and that can overtake a nation. But it is in the telling and the documentation that we can pass on to generations to come lessons to be learned so that we can strive to live in the truth and to show that through knowledge we can overcome and persevere.
Profile Image for Yibbie.
1,091 reviews43 followers
January 10, 2017
Powerful, haunting, disheartening, important, hopeful, all of those words fit this book. It’s a powerful picture of the difference Denson’s persistent drive to obtain justice made. It’s a haunting glimpse of the evil man is capable of. It’s a disheartening illustration of the injustice of political expediency. It’s important from the legal, political, and historical because it so clearly shows how they tie together sometimes not with the best results. It’s hopeful because of Denson’s sustaining faith.
Greene has done an excellent job of condensing the thousands of pages of trial transcripts, news stories, testimony, letters, and speeches into an engrossing account of the trials and their aftermath. He captures the strain, anger, disgust and faith that Denson struggled with through those dark months. He dealt as delicately as possible with the incredibly vile subject matter that was covered in that trial, but it is for a mature audience.
It’s worth reading.
Personally, I was inspired by the glimpses of Denson’s faith. It was not written as a biography of a Christian, but his faith was so strong it was remarked upon by all around him. What greater compliment than to hear the words, “There were times I wished I had his faith.”
I received a free ARC from NetGalley and the ABA’s Ankerwycke line of books. No review was necessary. These are my honest opinions.
6,288 reviews68 followers
January 28, 2017
All over by Christmas… Yes, that's been said so many times about so many things military, but I didn't know that was the American expectation for war crimes proceedings against the dogsbodies of the Nazi regime, at their place of work, Dachau concentration camp. This book is a brilliant, redolent history of the Holocaust, in at times quite horrific detail, and a sterling biography of a man who history had almost forgotten. In leading four major trials against groups of camp workers from the worst corners of Nazi goings-on, William Denson put himself through the wringer, all for little when the Cold War seemed to demand a huge commutation of some of the more famous and important convictions. The courts (no spoilers, here, really) declared that anyone complicit in any of the camps in any facility were guilty of crimes, whether civilian or SS, and it's the fact these trials of the more common man have been swamped behind the headline-grabbing Nuremberg trials that makes them even more compelling. A long – seemingly over-detailed and niggly at times – book is still very readable, and it's an important historical record.
Profile Image for Laura.
134 reviews11 followers
December 30, 2008
William Denson was an attorney who prosecuted the Nazis who committed crimes at Dachau, Mauthausen, Flossenburg, and Buchenwald concentration camps. He spent two years (1946-1948) at Dachau. This is the story of his struggle, highlights of the cases, and the aftermath in which several sentences were lightened.

I almost quit reading this one several times. This book was such a mental assault, I simply didn't know if I could digest it all, or if I wanted to. Up to this point, I had been reading single accounts and to suddenly have multiple stories thrown at me was difficult. These accounts were the worst of the worst, the ones that truly stood out among all the atrocities committed. Reading something that gave the larger picture, and looked at the individual Nazis' culpability was worthwhile in the end.
Profile Image for Nathan.
523 reviews4 followers
December 31, 2009
This was a story that needed to be told. The Nazi trials, besides being an important closure to the landmark events of the Holocaust, are rife with grand themes of humanity, justice, and retribution; and Greene investigates the particulars of the cases without ever losing his sense of these overarching issues. The court cases can be a little dry and technical, and, given the magnitude of the crimes on trial, it sometimes seems as if Greene is not quite as condemnatory as he might have been. Still, this seems to come more from a historian's proper disinterest in his subject. Well worth reading.
65 reviews5 followers
April 4, 2016
Thisi is a greatt book.Wherea the Nuremberg trials dealt with Reich officials the Dachau trials dealt with prison guards athe common people involved in what the prosecutor deemed"the Common Design" This book ably points out that the purpose of the Concentration Camps was ultimately to kill those prisoners interned in the camps. PErhaps a legal mkind ould have presented ot better from a legal perspectivebut;it is an important book dealing with war crimes and politics and finally I thik it makes a strong rebuttal to Holocaust deniers.
32 reviews
October 31, 2008
I don't know why I picked up this book. I never heard anyting about it but the topic was intriguing and it didn't disappoint. This book gives some insights into the thinking of those cruel humans who inflicted such horror on the lives of hundrds of thousands of innocent human beings. Some of the things they did are described and hard to imagine but thanks to the William Denson and his colleagues many were brought to justice.
Profile Image for Marnie.
845 reviews7 followers
September 23, 2009
I enjoy reading books on WW II, nonfiction. This book was a WOW!!! These trials went on at the same time as Nuremburg. These trials were so much more touching to the heart, as they were about the bad doctors, the tortures, and the annihalition. These trials should have been given more publicity than Nuremburg.
Profile Image for Catherine.
663 reviews3 followers
March 27, 2009
Interesting but laborious read about the prosecution of 177 war criminals during WWII in the concentration camps.
Profile Image for Danielle.
25 reviews
April 11, 2009
one of my favs. but dont read it unless you know what you are getting yourself into.
Profile Image for Andrakuf.
441 reviews7 followers
August 6, 2013
Całkiem niezła, ale czytałem lepsze w tej tematyce 4/6
38 reviews1 follower
May 11, 2014
Kulisy procesu, który pozostał w cieniu Norymbergi. Dobrze i ciekawie napisane, choć... czasem chciałoby się poznać więcej szczegółów odnośnie konkretnych historii.
Profile Image for Liliyana Shadowlyn.
2,233 reviews64 followers
May 1, 2017
Absolutely chilling, but an important read. Very glad I read this, even if it made me cry and want to scream at times. My grandmother survived world war 2 in Poland, and too many people don't know of the atrocities committed in Europe during that time.

Received for a fair and honest review
Displaying 1 - 26 of 26 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.