The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)
Nuremberg, war crimes, crimes against humanity

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
20th June to 1st July 1946

One Hundred and Sixty-Eighth Day: Monday, 1st July, 1946
(Part 3 of 10)

[Page 334]

CROSS-EXAMINATION of the witness Ahrens.


Q. Please tell me, witness, since when, exactly, were you in the Smolensk district?

A. I have already answered that question, since the second half of November, 1941.

Q. Please answer me further, where were you until the second part of November, 1941? Did you in any way have any connection with Katyn or Smolensk as a district? Were you there personally in September and October, 1941?

A. No, I was not there.

Q. That is to say that you did not know, either in September or in October, 1941, what events occurred at that time in the Katyn forest?

A. I was not there during that period, but I mentioned earlier on that -

Q. No. I am actually only interested in a short question. Were you there personally or not? Were you able to see for yourself what was happening there or not?

THE PRESIDENT: He says he was not there.

THE WITNESS: No, I was not there.

THE PRESIDENT: He said he was not there in September or October, 1941.

COLONEL SMIRNOV: Thank you, Mr. President.


Q. Maybe you recall the family names of the Russian woman workers who were employed at the country house in the woods?

A. Those female workers were not working in several different houses. They merely worked as auxiliary kitchen personnel in our Dnieper Castle. I never knew their names.

Q. That means that the Russian woman workers were only employed in the villa situated in Katyn Forest where the staff headquarters were located?

A. I believe that question was not translated too well. I did not understand it.

Q. I asked you whether the Russian woman workers were employed exclusively in the villa in the Koziy Hills where the staff headquarters were located? Is that right?

A. The woman workers worked for the regimental headquarters as kitchen help, and as kitchen helpers they worked on our premises, and by our premises I mean this particular house with the adjoining buildings; for instance, the stables, the garage, the cellars, the central heating plants; that is where they worked.

Q. I will give you a few names -

[Page 335]

THE PRESIDENT: Wait a minute. The translation was coming through very faintly then. I do not know whether -

Now, go on.


Q. I will mention a few names of German military employees. Will you please tell me whether they belonged to your unit?

First-Lt. Rex.

A. First-Lt. Rex was my regimental adjutant.

Q. Please tell me, was he already assigned to that unit before your arrival in Katyn?

A. Yes, he was there before I came.

Q. He was your adjutant, was he not?

A. Yes, he was my adjutant.

Q. Lt. Hodt? Hodt or Hoth?

A. Lt. Hodt is right; but what question are you putting about Lt. Hodt?

Q. I am only questioning you about whether he belonged to your unit or not.

A. Lt. Hodt was a member of the regiment. Whether -

Q. Yes, that is what I was asking. He belonged to the regiment which you commanded, to your army unit?

A. I did not mean by that that he belonged to the regimental staff, but that he belonged to the regiment. The regiment consisted of three units.

Q. But he lived in the same villa, did he not?

A. That I do not know. When I arrived he was not there. I ordered him to report to me there for the first time.

Q. I will enumerate a few other names. Corporal Rose, Private Giesecke, Staff-Sergeant Lummert, a cook named Gustav. Were these members of the Wehrmacht who were billeted in the villa?

A. May I ask you to mention the names individually once again, and I will answer you individually.

Q. Sergeant Lummert?

A. Yes.

Q. Corporal Rose?

A. Yes.

Q. And I believe, if my memory serves me correctly, Storekeeper Giesecke.

A. That man's name was Giesecken.

Q. Yes, that is right. I did not pronounce this name quite correctly. These were all your people or at least they belonged to your unit, did they not?

A. Yes.

Q. And you assert that you did not know what these people were doing in September and October, 1941?

A. As I was not there, I cannot tell you for certain.

THE PRESIDENT: We will adjourn now.

(A recess was taken.)

COLONEL SMIRNOV: May I continue, Mr. President, since the witness has stated that he cannot give any testimony concerning the period of October-November, 1941, I will limit myself to very short questions.

Q. Witness, would you please point out the location of the villa and the forest with respect to the Smolensk-Vitebsk highway. Was the villa very far front the Smolensk-Vitebsk highway?

A. My sketch is on a scale of 1 to 100,000 and is drawn from memory. I estimate, therefore, that the graves were situated 200 to 300 metres directly west, on the road to our Dnieper Castle, therefore 200 to 300 metres south of the Smolensk- Vitebsk road. An additional 600 metres away you would find Dnieper Castle.

THE PRESIDENT: Will you repeat that?

[Page 336]

A. South of the Smolensk-Vitebsk highway, approximately 15 kilometres west of Smolensk, according to the scale, 1 to 100,000 (1:100,000) as far as one is able to draw such a sketch accurately from memory, the site of these graves was 200 to 300 metres to the south, and an additional 600 metres to the south, directly on the northern bend of the Dnieper, you would find our regimental staff quarters, the Dnieper Castle.

Q. Consequently, the villa was approximately 600 metres away from the Smolensk-Vitebsk highway.

A. No, that is not correct. What I said -

Q. Please give a more or less exact figure. What was the distance between the highway and the villa, please?

A. I just mentioned it in my testimony, namely, the graves were about 200 to 300 metres away, and there were a further 600 metres to the castle; therefore, it was approximately 900 to 1,000 metres. It might have been 800 metres, but that is the approximate distance as indicated on this sketch.

THE PRESIDENT: I am not following this. Your question, Colonel Smirnov, was: "How far was it from the road to what you called the country house?" was it not?

COLONEL SMIRNOV: No, Mr. President, I asked how far was the villa from the Smolensk-Vitebsk highway.

THE PRESIDENT: What do you mean by the "villa"?

COLONEL SMIRNOV: The headquarters of the unit commanded by the witness in 1941 was located in a villa, and this villa was located not far from the Dnieper River, at a distance of about 900 metres from the highway. The graves were located nearer to the highway. I would like to know how far away were the headquarters located from the highway, and how far away from the highway were the graves in Katyn Forest.

THE PRESIDENT: What you want to know is: How far was the house in which the headquarters was situated from the highway? Is that right?

COLONEL SMIRNOV: Yes, that is exactly what I wanted to know, Mr. President.

THE WITNESS: You put two questions to me; first of all, how far were the graves from the highway; and secondly, how far was the house from the highway. I will repeat the answer once more, the house was 800 to 1,000 metres south of the Smolensk-Vitebsk highway.


Q. One minute, please. I asked you primarily only about the house. Your answer concerning the graves was given on your own initiative. Now I will ask you about the graves, how far were these mass graves from the Smolensk-Vitebsk highway?

A. From 200 to 300 metres. It might have been 350 metres.

Q. The graves 200 or 300 metres from the main road, a road connecting two important centres and carrying relatively heavy traffic?

A. Yes, indeed. They were at a distance of 200 to 300 metres south of this - and I may say that during the time I was in Russia, this was the most frequented road I ever saw.

Q. That was just what I was asking you. Now, please tell me: Was the Katyn wood a real forest, or was it, rather, a park or a grove?

A. Up to now I have only spoken about the little forest of Katyn. This little forest of Katyn is the fenced-in wooded terrain of about one square kilometre, which I drew in my sketch. This forest is of mixed growth, of older and younger trees. There were many birch trees in this little wood. However, there were clearings in this wood, and I should say that from thirty to forty per cent was cleared.

[Page 337]

Under no circumstances could you describe this wood as a park; anyhow, there was no reason to call it so. Fighting had taken place in this wood, and there were trenches.

Q. Yes, but anyway, you would not call Katyn wood a real forest since it was a relatively small grove in the immediate vicinity of the Smolensk-Vitebsk highway. Is that right?

A. No, that is not right. It was a forest. The entire Katyn forest was a forest which began near our groves and extended far beyond that. This entire Katyn forest was a mixed forest. Part of it had been fenced in, and this part, extending over one square kilometre, was what we called the little Katyn forest, but it did belong to this entire wooded region south of the highway. The forest began with our little wood and continued to the west.

Q. I am not interested in the general characteristics of the wood. I would like you to answer the following short question: Were the mass graves located in this grove?

A. The mass graves were situated directly west of our entrance drive in a clearing in the wood, where there was a growth of young trees.

Q. Yes, but this clearing, this growth of young trees, was located inside this small grove, near the Smolensk-Vitebsk highway, is that correct?

A. It was 200 to 300 metres south of the Smolensk-Vitebsk highway, and directly west of the entrance drive leading from this road to the Dnieper Castle. I have marked this spot on my sketch with a fairly thick white dot.

Q. One more question. As far as you know, did the Smolensk- Vitebsk highway exist before the German occupation of Smolensk, or was it constructed after the beginning of the occupation?

A. When I arrived in Russia at the end of November, 1941, everything was covered with snow. Later I got the impression that this was an old road, but that the narrow-gauge railway Minsk-Moscow was a more recent construction. That was my impression.

Q. I understand. Now tell me, under what conditions, or I should say, when did you first discover the cross in the grove.

A. I cannot fix the exact date. My soldiers told me about it, and on one occasion when I was going past there, about the beginning of January, 1942, it could also have been at the end of December, 1941, I saw this cross above the snow.

Q. This means you saw it already in 1941, or at the very beginning of 1942?

A. That is what I have just testified.

Q Yes, certainly. Now, please be more specific concerning the period when a wolf brought you to this cross. Was it in winter or summer and in what year?

A. It was at the beginning of 1943.

Q. In 1943? And around the cross you saw bones, did you not?

A. No.

Q. No?

A. No, at first I did not see them. In order to find out whether I had not been mistaken about seeing a wolf - for it seemed rather impossible that a wolf should be no [sic] near to Smolensk - I examined the tracks together with a gamekeeper, and found traces of scratching on the ground. However, the ground was frozen hard, there was snow on the ground, and I did not see anything further there. Only later on, after it had been thawing, men found various bones. However, this was months later, and then, at a suitable opportunity, I showed these bones to a doctor, and he said that these were human bones. Thereupon I said, "Then most likely it is a question of a grave, left as a result of the fighting which has taken place here, and that the war graves registration officer would have to take care of the graves in the same way we were taking care of other graves of fallen soldiers." That was the reason why I spoke to this gentleman, but only after the snow had melted.

Q. By the way, did you personally see the Katyn graves?

A. Open or before they were opened?

[Page 338]

Q. Open, yes.

A. When they were open I had constantly to drive past these graves, as most of them were approximately thirty metres away from the entrance drive. Therefore, I could hardly go past without taking any notice of them.

Q. I am interested in the following. Do you remember what the depth of the layer of earth was which covered the mass of human bodies in these graves?

A. That I do not know. I have already said that I was so revolted by the stench which we had to put up with for several weeks that when I drove past I closed the windows of my car and rushed through as fast as I could.

Q. However, even if you only casually glanced at those graves, perhaps you noticed whether the layer of earth covering the corpses was thick or shallow? Was it several centimetres or several metres thick? Maybe Professor Butz told you something about it?

A. As commander of a regiment, I was concerned with a region which was almost half as large as Greater Germany, and I was on the road a great deal. My work was not entirely carried out at the regimental battle headquarters. Therefore, in general, from Monday or Tuesday until Saturday, I was with my unit. For that reason, when I drove through, I did cast a glance at these graves, but I was not especially interested in the details, and I did not speak to Professor Butz about such matters. That is why I do riot remember anything about this matter with particular exactitude.

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