The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
21st January to 1st February, 1946

Forty-Fifth Day: Tuesday, 29rd January, 1946
(Part 4 of 9)

[M. DUBOST continues his examination of the witness Paul Roser]

[Page 241]

Q. Why were you subjected to such a special regime, although you were an officer-cadet?

A. Definitely because of my attempted escape.

Q. Had you agreed to work?

A. No, not at all. Like all my comrades of the same rank and like most of the non-commissioned officers and like all aspirants, I had refused to work, invoking the provision of the Geneva Convention, which Germany had signed and which prescribed that non-commissioned officers who were prisoners cannot be forced to perform any labour without their own consent. The German Army, into whose hands we had fallen, never, practically speaking, respected that provision endorsed by Germany.

Q. Are you familiar with executions that took place in Stalag 11 B?

A. I was made familiar with the death of several French prisoners or Allied prisoners. Specifically at Oflag 11 in Grossborn in Pomerania, a French prisoner, Lieutenant Robin, who with some of his comrades had prepared an escape and for that purpose had dug a tunnel, was killed in the following manner. The Germans having had information that the tunnel had been prepared, Hauptmann Buchmann, who was a member of the officers' staff of the camp, watched with a few German guards for the exit of the would-be escapees. Lieutenant Robin, who was first to emerge, was killed with one shot while obviously he could in no manner attack anyone or defend himself.

Other cases of this type occurred. One of my friends, a French Lieutenant Ledoux, who was sent to Graudenz Fortress where he was subjected to a hard detention regime, saw his best friend, a British Lieutenant, Anthony Thomson, killed by Hauptfeldwebel Osterreich with one pistol shot in the neck, in their own cell. Lieutenant Thomson had just sought to escape and had been recaptured by the Germans on the airfield. Lieutenant Thomson belonged to the RAF.

I should like also to state that in the camp of Ravaruska in Galicia, where I spent five months, several of our comrades -

Q. Would you tell us why you were at Ravaruska?

[Page 242]

A. In the course of the winter 1941-42, the Germans wanted to intimidate first, the non-commissioned officers who were refractory in labour; secondly, those who had sought to escape, and, thirdly, the men who were being employed in Kommandos (labour gangs) and who were caught in the act of performing sabotage. The Germans warned us that from 1st April 1942 onward all these escapees who were recaptured would be sent to a camp, a special camp called a "punishment camp" at Ravaruska in Poland.

It was following another attempt to escape that I, with about two thousand other Frenchmen, was taken to Poland. I was at Limburg an der Lahn, Stalag 12A, where we were regrouped and placed in cars, railways cars. We were stripped of our clothes, of our shoes, and of all the food which some of us had been able to keep. We were placed in cars, where the number varied from 53 to 56. The trip lasted six days. The cars were open generally for a few minutes in the course of a stop in the countryside. In six days we were given soup on two occasions only, once at Oppeln when the soup was not edible, and another time at Jaroslow. We remained for thirty-six hours without anything to drink in the course of that trip, as we had no receptacles with us and it was impossible to get a supply of water.

When we reached Ravaruska on 1st June 1942, we found other prisoners, most of them French, who had been there for several weeks, extremely discouraged, with a ration scale much inferior to anything that we had experienced until then, for no parcel for anyone had been delivered, from their families, or from the International Red Cross.

At that time there were about twelve to thirteen thousand in that camp. There was for that total number one single faucet which supplied, for several hours a day, undrinkable water. This situation lasted until the visit of two Swiss doctors, who came to the camp in, I think, September. The billets consisted of our barracks. The small rooms contained as many as six hundred men in one room. We were stacked in tiers along the walls, three rows of them, thirty to forty centimetres for each of us.

During our stay in Ravaruska there were many attempts at escape, more than five hundred in six months. Several of our comrades were killed. Some were killed as a guard noticed them. In spite of the sadness of such occurrences, no one of us contested the rights of our guards in such cases, but several were murdered. In particular, on the 12 of August 1942, in the Tarnopol Kommando, there is the case of soldier Lavesque. He was found bearing evidence of several shots and several large wounds caused by bayonets.

On the 14 of August in the Werciniec Kommando, ninety-three Frenchmen, having succeeded in digging a tunnel, escaped. The following morning three of them, Conan, Van den Boosch and Poutrelle, were caught by German soldiers, who were searching for them. Two of them were sleeping. The third, Poutrelle, was not. The Germans, a corporal and two enlisted men, verified the identity of the three Frenchmen. Very calmly they told them: "Now we are obliged to kill you." The three wretched men spoke of their families, begged for mercy. The German corporal gave the following reply, which we heard only too often: "An order is an order," and they shot down immediately two of the French prisoners, Van den Boosch and Conan. Poutrelle was left like a madman and by sheer luck was not caught again. But he was captured a few days later in the region of Kracow. He was then brought back to Ravaruska proper, where we saw him in a condition close to madness.

On the 14 of August, once again in the Stryj Kommando, a team of about twenty prisoners accompanied by several guards, were on their way to work.

Q. Excuse me - you are talking about French prisoners of war?

A. Yes, French prisoners of war, so far.

Going along a wood, the German non-commissioned officer, who for some

[Page 243]

time had been annoying two of them, Pierrel and Ondiviella, directed them into the woods. A few moments later the others heard shots. Pierrel and Ondiviella had just been killed.

On the 20 September 1942, at Stryj once again, a Kommando was at work under the supervision of German soldiers and German civilian foremen. One of the Frenchmen succeeded in escaping. Without waiting, the German non-commissioned officer selected two men - if my memory serves me - named Saladin and Duboeuf, and shot them on the spot. Incidents of this type occurred in other circumstances. The list of them would be long indeed.

Q. Can you speak concerning the conditions under which the refractory non-commissioned officers who were with you at camp at Ravaruska lived?

A. The non-commissioned officers who refused to work were grouped together in one section of the camp, in two of the large stables, which served as billets. They were subjected to a regime of most severe oppression: frequent roll-call for assembly, drills "lie down! " "stand up" - gymnastics which after one has performed them for a while leave one quite exhausted.

One day, Sergeant Corbihan, having refused Captain Fournier - a German captain with a French name - having refused to pick up a tool to work with, the German captain made a motion and one of the German soldiers with him ran Corbihan through with his bayonet, Corbihan by miracle escaped death.

Q. How many of you disappeared?

A. At Ravaruska, in the five months that I spent there, we buried sixty of our comrades who had died from disease or who had been killed in attempted escapes. But so far, 100 of those who were with us and sought to escape have not been found.

Q. Is this all that you have witnessed?

A. No. I should say that our sojourn at the punishment camp Ravaruska involved one thing more awful than anything we prisoners saw and endured. We were horrified by what we knew was taking place all about us. The Germans had transformed the area of Lemberg-Ravaruska into an immense ghetto. Into that area, where the Israelites were already quite numerous, had been brought the Jews from all the countries of Europe. Every day for five months, except for an interruption of about six weeks in August and September 1942, we saw passing about 150 metres from our camp, one, two and sometimes three trains, made up of freight cars in which there were crowded men, women and children. One day a voice, coming from one of these cars, shouted: "I am from Paris. We are on our way to be slaughtered." Quite frequently, comrades who went outside the camp to go to work found corpses along the railway track. We knew then in a vague sort of way that these trains stopped at Belcec, which was located about seventeen kilometres from our camp, and at that point they executed these wretched people, by what means I do not know.

One night, in July 1942, we heard machine gun fire throughout the entire night, and the moans of women and children. The following morning, bands of German soldiers were going through the rye fields on the very edge of our camp, their bayonets pointed downward, seeking people hiding in the fields. Those of our comrades who went out that day to go to their tasks told us that they saw corpses everywhere in the town, in the gutters, in the barns, in the houses. Later some of our guards, who had participated in this operation, quite good-humouredly explained to us that 2,000 Jews had been killed that night under the pretext that two SS had been murdered in the region.

Later on, in 1943, during the first week of June, there occurred a pogrom which in Lemberg caused the death of 30,000 Jews. I was not personally in Lemberg but several French military doctors, Major Guiguet of the French Medical Corps, Lieutenant Levin of the French Medical Corps, described this scene to me. The street-cars of the city ...

[Page 244]

THE PRESIDENT: The witness appears not to be finishing and therefore I think we had better adjourn now until two o'clock.

(A recess was taken)

MARSHAL OF THE COURT: I desire to announce that the defendant Kaltenbrunner will be absent from this afternoon's session on account of illness.

M. DUBOST: With the permission of the Tribunal, we will continue examining the witness, M. Roser.

M. Roser, this morning you finished the description of the conditions under which you witnessed the pogrom of Ravaruska and you wanted to give us some details of another pogrom. You have told us that a soldier, who had taken part in it, talked about it in your presence, is that right?


Q. Did he tell you something you wanted to relate to us?

A. Yes.

Q. We are listening to you.

A. At the end of 1942 I was taken to Germany, and I, together with a French doctor, had the opportunity of meeting the chauffeur of the German physician who was head of the infirmary where I was at that time. This soldier, whose name I have forgotten, told us the following:

"In Poland" - in a city the name of which I have also forgotten - "a sergeant from our regiment went with a Jewess. A few hours later, he was found dead. Then," said the German soldier, "my battalion was called out. Half of it cordonned off the ghetto, and the other half, two companies, to one of which I belonged, forced its way into the houses and threw out of the windows pell-mell, the furniture and the inhabitants."

The German soldier finished his story by saying:

"Oh, it was terrible, inhuman." We asked him then "How could you do such a thing?" He gave us the fatalistic reply: "An order is an order."

This is the example which I previously mentioned.

Q. If I remember rightly, when speaking of Ravaruska you started describing the treatment of Russian prisoners, who were in this camp before you.

A. Yes. That is correct. The first French batch arriving in Ravaruska on the 14 or 15 April, 1942, followed a group of 400 Russian prisoners of war, who were the survivors of a detachment of 6,000 men decimated by typhus. The few medicines found by the French doctors upon arrival at Ravaruska came from the infirmary of the Russian prisoners. There were a few aspirin tablets and other drugs - absolutely nothing against typhus. The camp had not been disinfected after the sick Russians had left.

I cannot speak here of these wretched Russian survivors of Ravaruska, without asking the Tribunal for permission to describe the terrible picture we all - I mean all the French prisoners who were in the Stalags of Germany in the autumn or winter of 1941 - saw when the first batches of Russian prisoners arrived.

As for me, it was on a Sunday afternoon that I watched this spectacle which seemed like a nightmare. The Russians arrived in batches, five by five, holding each other by the arms, as none of them could walk by themselves. "Walking skeletons" was really the only fitting expression. Since then we have seen photographs of those camps of deportation and death. Our unfortunate Russian comrades had been in this very same condition since 1941. The colour of their faces was not even yellow; it was green. Almost all squinted, the eyes having become so weak. They fell by rows, five men at a time. The Germans rushed on them and beat them, with rifle butts and whips. As it was Sunday afternoon the prisoners were allowed a certain amount of liberty, inside the camp, of course. Seeing that, all the French started yelling and the

[Page 245]

Germans made us return to the barracks. The typhus spread immediately in the Russian camp, where, out of the 10,000 who had arrived in November, only 2,500 survived till the beginning of February.

These figures are accurate. I have them from two sources, first, from a semi-official source, which was the kitchen of the camp: there was in front of the kitchen a big chart posted where the Germans recorded the ridiculously small rations, and the number of men in the camp. This number decreased daily by 80 to 100.

Secondly, some French comrades employed in the camp's reception office called "Aufnahme," also knew the figures; and from them I got the figure of 2,500 survivors in February. Later, particularly at Ravaruska, I had the opportunity of seeing French prisoners from all parts of Germany. All those who were in Stalags, that is, in the central camps, at the time mentioned saw the same thing. Many of the Russian prisoners were thrown in common pits, even still alive. The dead and the dying were piled up between the barracks and thrown into carts. The first few days we saw the corpses in the carts, but as the German camp commandant did not like to see French soldiers salute their fallen Russian comrades he subsequently had them covered with canvas.

Q. Were your camps guarded by the German Army or by the SS?

A. By the Wehrmacht.

Q. Only by the German Army?

A. I was never guarded by anybody but the German Army and once by the Schutzpolizei, after I escaped.

Q. And were you recaptured?

A. Yes.

Q. One last question. You were kept in a number of prisoner of war camps in Germany, were you not?

A. Yes.

Q. In all those camps did you have the opportunity to practice your religion?

A. In the camps ...

Q. What is your religion?

A. I am a Protestant.

In the camps where I was kept, Protestants and Catholics were generally allowed to practice their religion. But I was detailed to different working groups, and in particular to one agricultural group in the Bremen district called "Marburg," I think, where there was a Catholic priest. There were about 60 of us in this group. This Catholic priest could not read mass, they would not let him.

Q. Who?

A. The sentries - " The Posten."

Q. Who were soldiers of the German Army?

A. Yes, always.

M. DUBOST: I have no further questions.

THE PRESIDENT: Does the British Prosecutor wish to ask any questions?


THE PRESIDENT: Or the United States?


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