The High Command Trial
As time has distanced the Third Reich and its crimes from the present day, apologists for the Germans have grown in number, minimizing the atrocities committed before and during the war. These apologists range from the outright deniers of the Holocaust to those who limit German war crimes to the Gestapo, SS, and other fanatical Nazi organizations. They argue that the German Wehrmacht, the military including the Heer (army) and the Luftwaffe (air force) was a professional military organization which performed admirably on all its fronts, and committed few, if any, war crimes. Some went as far as commenting that the Americans and other Allies were worse.
In November 1947, 14 high ranking German officers, including a former Field Marshal and a former Admiral of the Kriegsmarine, were indicted for war crimes committed during the war by themselves or by the troops under their command. The indictments included four charges, including conspiring to make war; war crimes against prisoners of war; war crimes against civilians; and conspiracy to commit the already mentioned crimes. One of the defendants charged was Johannes Blaskowitz, who had commanded the German Army during the invasion of southern France and had initiated harsh reprisals against allied commandos and agents of the OSS and SOE. Blaskowitz committed suicide during the trial.
The trial began in December 1947 and lasted until the following October. During the trial, the fourth charge in the indictment was dropped, after it was pointed out by defense lawyers that it was already included in the first three charges. Shortly after the first charge was dropped when the court found that none of the accused had participated directly in pre-war planning (on which the charge was based) and that there was a difference between starting a war and following orders after the onset of a war, which was the duty of soldiers and especially senior commissioned officers of all nations.
Two of the defendants were acquitted of all charges by the court. Charges against Blaskowitz were not pursued following his suicide. The remaining defendants were found guilty on one or both of the remaining two charges. Former Field Marshal Wihelm von Leeb was convicted of one count and released following the trial. Several of the accusations were based on support of the einsatzgruppen (special purpose groups which conducted mass executions of civilians and Jews on the Eastern Front) and drew long prison sentences. Others were more lightly punished, but other than the two acquittals all were found guilty of war crimes.
Following the trial and the incarceration of those sentenced to longer terms, pressure from the West German government led to intense lobbying for the commutation of the sentences. In 1950, six of the defendants were still in prison, and after a review of the cases and the sentences there were released, the other three remained incarcerated under life sentences. Subsequent review and continued pressure from Chancellor Konrad Adenauer led to their sentences being commuted in 1953.