Oral History

William Denson describes some of the emotional difficulties for witnesses in recalling their experiences

William Denson graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1934 and attended Harvard Law School. He returned to West Point to teach law from 1942 until 1945. In January 1945, Denson accepted the position of Judge Advocate General (JAG) in Europe and was assigned to US Third Army headquarters in Germany. He took part in more than 90 trials against Germans who had committed atrocities against downed American pilots. In August 1945, Denson became chief prosecutor for the US government at the Dachau concentration camp war crimes trial. He was also asked to serve as chief prosecutor for a series of other concentration camp trials, including Mauthausen, Flossenbürg, and Buchenwald. These trials came to an end in early 1947, and Denson returned to the United States.


The only reluctance I think they had was recalling again the experiences that they had endured. I don't think anybody was afraid to testify. I don't think there was any coercion of any kind of character, either pro or con in that area. But I think that to recall some of the experiences that they had endured, it was terribly hard. I had one man testify by the name of Arthur Haulot. He was a minister from Belgium. Not a preaching minister, but a minister of state from Belgium. And he had been snatched away from Brussels and put into a concentration camp. And he was a learned individual. Dignified man. And one night while he was in the concentration camp, I think it was in Dachau that he was incarcerated in, he was so hungry he couldn't sleep. And that had occurred not once but many times. But this time it was terribly painful for him. And he remembered a crust of bread that his fellow prisoner had tucked under his arm to safeguard and eat it at some time. And he found himself easing -- stealing, if you please -- that piece of bread from his fellow prisoner. And he took it back to his bunk. And then he started to cry. To think that he had sunk so low due to the treatment that he had been receiving there at Dachau, that he would steal from his fellow prisoner, who probably needed it just as badly, if not worse than he did. Well, needless to say, that crust of bread found its way back to his fellow prisoner. Well, when Arthur Haulot delivered himself of that testimony on the stand, you could have heard a pin drop in that courtroom. Everybody was quiet. And they were moved by it. I was moved by it. And I think all the judges were moved by it. But that was the type of witness that are few and far between. But I say few and far between. Few is the wrong word. There were multitudes of them. But not all of them did we have access to. So they were jewels when we found witnesses like that


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