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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
2nd July to 15th July 1946

One Hundred and Seventy-Second Day: Friday, 5th July, 1946
(Part 4 of 9)

[Page 128]

DR. STAHMER, Continued:

There appeared in court a witness whose testimony was very incriminating for the defendant. This was the witness Dr. Gisevius.

The defendant refuses to have anything to do with this witness and his statement. He wants only to point out that this statement is untrue in all points which incriminate him. The conclusiveness of this statement depends on whether this witness is considered to be trustworthy or not.

Dr. Nelte has agreed to deal with this question extensively, so that, in order to avoid reiterated statements, I shall refrain from further comment.

Of course, the assumption of power by the National Socialist Party met with resistance, and particularly the leftist parties were anything but satisfied with the political situation thus created. The opponents were by no means weak, neither numerically nor as to the combative means at their disposal. The new rulers were, therefore, afraid of serious dangers to their power if they allowed the opposition parties to continue their activity without hindrance; they had accordingly to take preventive measures against such dangers in good time. In order to stabilise their own power and to nip in the bud any possible source of unrest, the defendant Goering considered it necessary for reasons of State to subdue at one blow both leaders and officials of the Communist Party and its organizations. The defendant himself has spoken at length about his reasons for such acts. For the removal of danger and to ensure the safety of the State, the measures taken by the defendant were, for the Government, a necessity caused by the unsettled nature of the times. As it was a preventive measure, it was not necessary for a provisional arrest that a criminal act against the Government had already been committed, or was, obviously, on the verge of being committed. The fact of membership of and previous activity in the said party were sufficient grounds for arrest, as it was a political act of self-protection on the part of the Government.

Such considerations led, very soon after the assumption of power, to the establishment of concentration camps, of which there were two at the time when defendant Goering was at the head of the police. The aim of such camps was to detain provisionally politically unreliable persons, who might be of danger to the new State, until they either had adapted themselves to the new political conditions or until the power of the State had become so great that such persons could no longer endanger it. I can omit the next few pages and I shall continue on Page 61, Paragraph 4.

[Page 129]

Those were the only considerations which influenced the defendant Goering when he created concentration camps in 1933, and issued laws concerning the Secret State Police. These were intended to be, as he conceived them, a means of cleansing and strengthening the young community of the people. He did not aim at a definite annihilation of political enemies, but after a certain period of education interceded generously for liberations, and discharged at Christmas, 1933, about 5,000, and in September, 1934, about 2,000 prisoners.

He vigorously counteracted inevitable abuses and errors which he openly admitted in the book he published in 1934, The Building of a Nation, intended for the British public. For example, he permitted the communist leader Thaelmann personally to report to him about his complaints of the concentration camp, and took care to remove their cause. He dissolved the unauthorised camps of Stettin and Breslau, punished the Gauleiter of Pomerania, who had organized the latter without his knowledge and against his will, and had those responsible for these unauthorised concentration camps brought to trial for their infringements of the regulations.

This attitude of the defendant Goering denotes that he never intended the actual physical annihilation of the prisoners. If the prosecution establishes that this was all in execution of a conspiracy which aimed at committing Crimes against Humanity, such an interpretation has no bearing on the reality of political life in the years in question. Such a conspiracy did not exist, nor was it the intention of the defendant to commit crimes against the principles of humanity, nor has he committed any such crimes. As one of the political trustees of the German Government, he felt himself bound to safeguard it against dangerous disturbers of the peace, and to contribute accordingly to the permanence of the National Socialist way of life. Far from looking upon such measures as criminal, he considered them on the contrary to be the inevitable means of consolidating the political order as a basis of all law.

In the year 1936, the leadership of the police and, therefore, the management of the concentration camps, passed from the defendant to the Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler. The defendant cannot be held responsible for the subsequent development of the concentration camps; for the fact that they became, especially after the outbreak of the war, more and more gruesome places of torture and death, and led - partly intentionally, partly through the chaotic war conditions - to the death of countless numbers of people, so that finally, in the last days before the breakdown of Germany, they turned into one vast graveyard.

Of course he knew that concentration camps still existed, also that the number of inmates had risen because of war conditions, and that they also contained foreigners because of the expansion of the war over the whole of Europe - but the instances of outrages which have been disclosed in this trial were unknown to him. He knew nothing of the irresponsible experiments which were being carried out on inmates through misinterpretation of the true spirit of scientific research. The testimony of the witness Field- Marshal Milch has shown that the Luftwaffe was not interested in these experiments, and that the defendant personally did not learn anything specific at all about this matter.

By no means did the establishment of concentration camps as such have anything to do with the later extermination of Jews, which idea apparently originated in Heydrich's and Himmler's brains, and was kept secret in a masterly manner, and was disclosed after the collapse as the horror of Auschwitz and Maidanek.

This brings me to the Jewish question:

The defendant Goering has expressed in detail his views on the Jewish question during his interrogation as witness; furthermore, he has explained fully the reasons which influenced the National Socialist party, and, after the seizure of power, the Nazi State, to take a hostile attitude toward the Jews.

The defendant is reproached for having promulgated the Nuremberg laws in the year 1935, which were intended to keep the race pure, and that in his capacity as Commissioner for the Four-Year Plan, he issued decrees during the years 1938

[Page 130]

and 1939 which had as their aim the exclusion of Jews from the economic life of Germany.

Furthermore, he is blamed for a number of other laws which meant a one-sided and serious limitation of the legal rights of Jews.

The legal reason for this reproach is obscure.

For here it is a question of a purely domestic problem - namely the regulation of the legal position of one's own subjects; according to internationally recognized legal opinion at that time, the German Reich as a sovereign State could freely settle such a problem.

Even if these encroachments were harsh and the limitations of citizenship rights were extremely severe, they nevertheless in no way comprise an offence against humanity.

Such laws, which limit the legal position of a certain race or a certain circle of citizens, have also been made by other governments. of countries without offence being taken at such measures by other States, and without their considering themselves obliged to intervene. Reichsmarschall Goering always rejected any illegal or violent action against Jews. This is clearly shown by his attitude toward the action against Jews during the night of 9th to 10th November, 1938, instigated by Goebbels, of which he was informed only after the deed had been done, and which he condemned most severely. In this respect, he raised serious objections with Goebbels, and Hitler. On this matter, the precise statements of witnesses Bodenschatz and Korner are available. The testimony of Dr. Uiberreither shows how greatly Goering disapproved of this action. According to the former, the defendant summoned all Gauleiter to Berlin several weeks after this incident, and in his address sharply censured this violent action which was not in keeping with the dignity of the State, and which caused serious damage to German prestige abroad. That the defendant was no race fanatic became generally known by his expression: "I decide who is a Jew." It has been established definitely that he aided many Jews.

He was informed only at the end of the war about the extermination of the Jews. He never would have approved of such a measure, and opposed it with all his might. For he had too much political insight not to recognize the tremendous and, at the same time, senseless dangers which would perforce result for the German people from such a brutal and detestable act of extermination.

Goering had already proved by the above-mentioned speech to the Gauleiter that he did not wish to ruin himself in the eyes of the world because of the treatment of Jews.

It is, therefore, out of the question for Goering to have agreed to such an undertaking or for him to have participated in it in any way. It is understandable, if it is held against the defendant, that he should have been informed about such horrible measures as the second man in the State.

Furthermore, it is no wonder if such statements of the defendant, as that he knew nothing of these atrocities, are met with a certain amount of distrust.

Despite such doubts, however, the defendant insists that no information about such acts ever reached him.

This ignorance of the defendant - which can be completely understood only by one familiar with German conditions - may be explained by the fact, and this is the sole solution of the riddle, that Himmler, as was also emphasized by General Jodl during his interrogation, knew very cleverly how to keep his actions secret, to obliterate all traces of his atrocities, and to deceive the surrounding world and even his own and Hitler's closer entourage.

In this connection, I also refer to the testimony of the witness Hoess who confirms Himmler's instruction concerning absolute secrecy toward everyone.

The question may come up here: Did not the legal obligation exist for the defendant to instigate investigations about this matter and to get reliable information as to the true whereabouts of supposedly evacuated Jews, and as to their fate? And what legal consequence results if he carelessly refrained from such investigations

[Page 131]

and thus carelessly violated his legal obligation to act, incumbent on him by virtue of his position? The decision of this extremely complicated question of law and fact may be left undecided because Goering, even as the second man in the State, did not have the power to prevent such measures if they were carried out by Himmler and were ordered, or at any rate, approved by Hitler.

Mr. President, yesterday I stated that I still wished to deal with the case "Katyn", and I intend to interpolate, dealing with this matter, before I go on with my conclusion. I am sorry I was not able to get any translations before because the testimony was only given a few days ago. However, this matter is not very long. The interpreters have a copy. I shall begin with this report.

A rather decisive attitude has to be taken in the case of the Katyn case, in which the taking of evidence was concluded only a few days back. The Soviet prosecution based their indictment on the findings of an investigation, which are set down in Document USSR 54. The following conclusions are drawn from the entire evidential material as presented:

(1) Polish prisoners of war, who were in three camps west of Smolensk, were still there in these three camps when the Germans came into Smolensk, up to and including September, 1941.

(2) In the Katyn woods, German occupation troops undertook the mass shootings of the prisoners of war from these camps in the autumn of 1941.

(3) The mass shooting of the Polish prisoners of war in the Katyn woods was carried out by the German military authorities who had hidden themselves under the code name "Staff of the Engineering Battalion 537" at whose head was Lt.-Colonel Ahrens, together with his collaborators, Lt. Rex and Lt. Hodt.

The question is, did the prosecution prove this accusation? This question must be answered in the negative. No confirmation of guilt can be found from the contents of this document. The accusation is made against a definite military unit and names specific officers. The time mentioned for the perpetration of this deed is September of 1941. The Katyn forest is given as the scene of the crime. With the limited material at hand, it was the task of the prosecution to prove that these things did take place. But no evidence has been produced which confirms the conclusions.

First of all, let us consider the persons involved.

Colonel Ahrens, who is obviously the Lt.-Colonel Ahrens mentioned, is eliminated as the perpetrator because this deed is said to have been committed in September, 1941, and Ahrens did not take command of Regiment 537 until the end of November, 1941. That was when Ahrens came to Katyn, and until that time he had never been in the Eastern theatre of war. Before Ahrens, Colonel Bedenek was in command of the regiment, and he came to the regimental staff in August of 1941. Before Colonel Bedenek took over, Lt. Hodt, in July of 1941, immediately after the capture of Smolensk, went to the little Dnieper Castle, together with an advance party of the 537th Regiment, and he remained there until the arrival of the regimental staff, to which he did not belong at that time. He was transferred to the regimental staff only in September of 1941, and from that time on he lived in the little castle constantly.

Special facts which could incriminate Hodt or Bedenek cannot be derived from the document which has been submitted, and such facts have not been presented here. Therefore, it is not proved that Bedenck and Hodt could be considered as perpetrators.

The following circumstances contradict the theory that unit 537 or any other military unit had participated in this act:

The Polish prisoners allegedly fell into the hands of the Germans in the three camps of Smolensk. In that way they would have become German prisoners of war. The fact that they had been captured would have had to have been reported to the Army Group Centre. Such a report was not rendered, as was testified to by the witness Eichborn. Considering the tremendous number of prisoners, it is quite out of the question that anyone responsible could inadvertently fail to

[Page 132]

make a report of that nature. Apart from that, the capturing of 11,000 Polish officers could, under no circumstances, have been concealed from the Army Group. As can be seen from the testimony of General Oberhauser, the Army Group never had any knowledge of this.

According to the statements of the two witnesses, Eichborn and Oberhauser, it can be concluded that at the time of the capture of Smolensk by the Germans, there could not have been any Polish officers present in these camps. No eyewitnesses who saw the officers at this period of time were interrogated by the Soviet Commission.

The railway employee who was interrogated in this matter knows nothing from his own observation.

Now, allegedly these 11,000 prisoners were taken from the camps to Katyn. The knowledge of the transport of so many Polish prisoners could not have been kept from the Russian population, even if the transport had been carried out most unobtrusively and secretly, and shootings on such a large scale could also not have taken place without the Russian population noticing them.

Even though this little forest was cordoned off, at a distance of about 200 metres, there was a public highway which was used daily, and to a great extent by the Russian civilian population. Anything that took place in the little forest of Katyn could be seen from this highway.

In the direct vicinity of the Dnieper Castle, there were single farms which remained occupied by the owners during the time of the German occupation, and there was constant contact with the regimental staff. There are no reliable statements and testimony dealing with either the transport of prisoners or the observation of shootings. Never, even on the part of the Germans, would such a site as this be chosen for mass execution. This site was located between the main road and the regimental quarters, and as such would have been completely unsuitable for such a misdeed. As I have already stated, there was lively traffic not only on the near-by road, but also in the direct vicinity of the graves which were near a small road connecting the regimental headquarters with the main road. The act could also have been observed by soldiers who had not participated.

Even the unit selected to carry out the deed would have been very unsuitable. A technical unit, such as a signal corps unit, is the least suitable for such a task.

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