Anton Dostler was a German army general during World War II. He was tried and found guilty of war crimes in the first allied war trial after the war. He was sentenced to death by firing squad and became the first person to be put to death for war crimes. His execution, which was carried out on December 1st, 1945 in Aversa, Italy was filmed on silent, black and white cameras and the video of it is below.
However, Anton Dostler’s sentencing and execution did not sit well with everyone and rightly so.
In 1942, a group of German saboteurs was captured in the USA and summarily executed after their Operation Pastorius went afoul owing to a betrayal from one of their own. The decision to have them tried by military tribunal and executed was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in Ex parte Quirin.
Similar thing happened on the opposite end of the war spectrum after a group of 15 American saboteurs sent to destroy a railway tunnel at Framura were captured by German troops and sent to La Spezia in Italy where they were executed. While the Americans did not face a war tribunal for their execution of the saboteurs, Anton Dostler who was found guilty to have been behind the execution of the US saboteurs was sentenced to death by a firing squad.
There was also the fact that the order to carry out the execution originated from Anton Dostler’s superior – General Field Marshal Kesselring. Alexander zu Dohna-Schlobitten – officer of Dostler’s staff found the order harsh and thought the captives should be held as Prisoners of War but owing to the orders from above, Anton Dostler insisted on execution. Because Alexander zu Dohna-Schlobitten refused to sign the execution papers, he was later discharged from the army but no further action was taken against him.
After Alexander zu Dohna-Schlobitten’s dismissal, Anton Dostler relayed the execution order to the fortress brigade personally and the order was promptly carried out. For this, he was sentenced to death by the allied war trial, even though similar order to execute saboteurs in the USA did not end up in sentencing of executioners.
The jury argued that unlike captured Germans executed in the USA, the Americans executed in Italy allegedly wore uniforms when captured. This fact was however disputed many times over.
In other words, Anton Dostler was executed for acting on superior’s orders and for acting in a way which was not found against Geneva convention when carried out by the opposing side.
Anton Dostler’s defense attorney Col. Claudius said this in his closing statement:
We won the war this time, but no one knows who will win the next time. We might lose and then you gentlemen might find yourselves sitting where this man is now sitting…
If we find this man guilty because of political pressure or because he lost the war and is in our power, we might as well not have won the war.
I think the jurors knew that they were unlawfully sending a man to his death, but with all the pressure going on in the background, the decision was clearly made before the trial even started that this man will be executed one way or another. And so he was.
Props to ButterBatter for the video: