Unsung Heroes of the Dachau Trials
The Investigative Work of the U.S. Army 7708 War Crimes Group, 1945-1947
John J. Dunphy
McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2018, 188 pages
Book Review published on: August 9, 2019
Unsung Heroes of the Dachau Trials: The Investigative Work of the U.S. Army 7708 War Crimes Group, 1945-1947 is an honorable work by John J. Dunphy that captures the story of the young men who worked behind the scenes to ensure justice would be effectively pursued and enforced on those who perpetrated war crimes against U.S. servicemen during the war in Europe. He captures first-person accounts of the experiences of the junior enlisted and noncommissioned officers who were the backbone of the legal process for the military war crimes courts in postwar Germany from 1945 to 1947.
The bulk of Dunphy’s efforts centers on capturing the memories and recollections of eight former soldiers who were part of the U.S. Army’s 7708 War Crimes Group. The personal accounts of Everett “Tex” Wieting, Robert DeCoursey, George Kumm, Fretwell Crider, Robert Gottschalk, Lowell Robinette, Ralph Schutz, and Bill Kasich provide a collage of personal experiences all woven around this unique and pivotal time in history. The world and postwar Europe were struggling with processing the full scope of what had occurred during the war and in several cases faced ethical dilemmas regarding how to proceed. Dunphy captures this dichotomy and effectively argues that the soldiers of the 7708 did not suffer from these conflicts.
The 7708’s soldiers were tasked with daunting legal work. Thousands of files, hundreds of witnesses, and defendants had to be tracked, and they managed to build cases and bring them to trial in an environment filled with fleeing displaced persons and perpetrators. The work conducted to make the Dachau trials occur provided supporting efforts for the more infamous trials being held in Nuremburg, Germany.
Beyond the stories of the soldiers who worked behind the scenes to bring justice in the Dachau trials, Dunphy has diligently researched the source documents for the authorities to conduct the war crimes trials. Dunphy provides a macrolevel understanding of the international agreements that laid a foundation for the trials nearly eighteen months before the war in Europe ended. He also notes the decisions to streamline the war crimes process with transfers of authorities within the U.S. Army in Germany and identifies key leaders who made the ethical decisions on what legal courses should be pursued regarding war crimes and to what degree. Changes to U.S. Army doctrine in 1944, regarding the laws of war, also would have a bearing on the legal processes that were put into practice at the Dachau and Nuremburg trials.
The specifics of many of the cases in the book are discussed extensively, and many of these works are cited in the bibliography by Dunphy. The reader will get a different perspective on several cases: the Malmedy Massacre, German Lt. Col. Otto Skorzeny’s 5th column in the Battle of the Bulge, the Buchenwald concentration camp atrocities, and the killing of downed U.S. airmen. Additionally, the book discusses the activities of the underground group called Werewolves and their impact in the closing of the war and postwar Germany. Dunphy does not rehash these cases in detail but provides just enough information to cover the scope and significance.
From my perspective, Dunphy’s work addresses one topic that sparks anger in the veterans of the 7708 War Crimes Group: Holocaust denial. The soldiers who documented, interviewed, and built the cases to prosecute war crimes are infuriated by the willful disregard of people ignoring the facts of history that these soldiers had documented in order to bring justice for victims of the atrocities of that war. He also discusses, with fairness, incidents that occurred during the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp by the elements of the U.S. Army. He identifies works that have exaggerated the numbers of guards killed in the camp’s liberation as well as other sources that provide a more plausible depiction of the actions that occurred.
Book Review written by: John Kloeker, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas