William Dowdell Denson (William Dowdell Denson)

William Dowdell Denson

Jurist.  His father was an established lawyer and politician in Birmingham AL and his paternal grandfather, William Henry Denson, was a Congressman from Alabama, 1893-1895.  He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating cum laude in 1934, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Field Artillery of the United States Army.  He soon resigned his commission in order to enter Harvard Law School and received his law degree in 1937.  He returned to Birmingham AL to practice law with his father, passing the state bar examination in 1937 and was admitted to the bar.  In 1942, he was called to be a captain in the United States Army and served as an instructor in the department of law at West Point, where he taught military justice.  He was sent over to the European Theater in March 1945 to work for the Judge Advocate General’s Department, Third United States Army, and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.  In October 1945, he became the chief prosecutor of the war crime trials at the former concentration camp of Dachau, Germany.  At this trial, forty Nazis and collaborators were convicted of various atrocities with thirty-six sentenced to death.  In March 1946, he served in a similar capacity at the trial of sixty-one Nazis and collaborators from the Mauthausen concentration camp.  All were convicted, with fifty-eight sentenced to death.  He then took over the proceedings of the Flossenburg was crimes trial.  Forty-one of forty-five Nazis and collaborators were convicted and eighteen were sentenced to death.  Finally, he served as chief prosecutor against thirty-one Nazis and collaborators from the Buchenwald concentration camp, including Ilse Koch, the “Witch of Buchenwald”, infamous for her brutality to prisoners and her alleged use of human skin in lampshades and photo albums.  All were convicted, and twenty-two were sentenced to death.  Ilse Koch, who was pregnant at the time of her trial, was spared a death sentence and was given a life sentence which was ultimately commuted, much to Denson’s dismay, to four years by General Lucius D. Clay, the interim military governor of the American Zone in Germany, three of which has already been served.  After returning to the United States, he served as the head of litigation for the Atomic Energy Commission.  While serving in Germany, he met his future wife, Countess Constance von Fracken-Sierstorpff, and they were married in December 1949.  For the next forty years, he remained quiet about his war crime trial experiences, working as a lawyer for different firms, dealing specifically with patents, trademarks, and copyright law.  In the late 1980s and up to the time of his death, he became active in educating the public about Nazi atrocities and his role in bringing Nazis to justice.  He was instrumental in establishing The Holocaust Memorial and Education Center of Nassau County, “Denson Project”, in Glen Cove, Long Island, NY.  Through his dedication and fortitude in bringing the administrators of Nazi concentration camps to justice, international law experts credit him for setting the standard and creating the tools critical for conducting present day war crime trials. (bio by: William Bjornstad)  Family links:  Parents:  William Augustus Denson (1877 – 1957)

Born

  • May, 31, 1913
  • USA

Died

  • December, 12, 1998
  • USA

Cemetery

  • Trinity Cemetery
  • USA

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