A Witness to Barbarism: Horace R Hansen and the Dachau War Crimes Trials

The Dachau War Crimes Trials (1945–1947) represent the most extensive prosecutions undertaken by the occupying American forces in post-World War II Germany. In two years of American military trials, 489 criminal cases and 1,672 defendants were tried at Dachau. 1,416 individuals were convicted of crimes committed under the Nazi regime, and 279 death sentences were handed down. Together with the Nuremberg Trials (IMT and NMT), Tokyo Trial (IMTFE), and others, the Dachau Trials set a new standard for the prosecution of war crimes under international law, the legacy of which continues today.

Captain Horace R. Hansen (1910–1995), a graduate of the University of Minnesota and St. Paul College of Law, served as a chief prosecutor of the War Crimes Division of the U.S. Third Army in occupied Germany. From late 1945 to 1946, Hansen and his staff gathered evidence and helped to prepare cases for trial at Dachau, including three of the main concentration camp cases: the Dachau camp trial, and the Buchenwald and Mauthausen camp trials. Hansen’s work at Dachau helped to secure the convictions of Nazi war criminals and contributed to a historic new precedent for war crimes trials.

This exhibit provides a narrative of Horace Hansen’s work at Dachau and the main Dachau concentration camp trial. It also contains a section on Hansen’s journey to Dachau as a soldier and war crimes investigator, and on the genesis of Hansen’s later book about his experience, Witness to Barbarism (2002). The menu items at left correspond to the respective sections of the exhibit. The selected documents on this site include the full transcript of the Dachau concentration camp trial, other material related to the Dachau trials, and to Hansen’s wartime service. The documents and photographs are drawn from Horace R. Hansen’s archive, preserved in the Riesenfeld Rare Books Research Center at the University of Minnesota Law Library.

The Riesenfeld Center gratefully acknowledges the support of University of Minnesota Law School Dean Garry Jenkins and Associate Dean Joan Howland in the creation of this digital exhibit, and its partnership with the Law School’s Human Rights Center. We also gratefully acknowledge the generous donations and support of Jean Hansen Doth, Horace Hansen's daughter. The exhibit was created by Ryan Greenwood, Ian Moret and Patrick Graybill.