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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
29th July to 8th August 1946

One Hundred and Ninety-Fourth Day: Saturday, 3rd August, 1946
(Part 2 of 4)

[DR. PELCKMANN continues his direct examination of Friedrich Karl Freiherr von Eberstein]

[Page 245]

Q. And only a certain allowance extra for the expenses you had in the SS service?

A. Yes.

Q. What were the reasons for your joining the SS?

A. At the time, in 1928-1929, I was asked to join the SS because I had already been in the Party for some years, and they considered my services valuable because I had been an officer. I joined the SS very willingly.

[Page 246]

Q. Were you in the World War?

A. Yes, I took part in the World War as an officer.

Q. What rank did you hold in the SS in 1930

A. In 1930 I was Sturmfuehrer and Standarten-Adjutant.

Q. What rank did you hold in 1933?

A. In 1933 I was SS Gruppenfuehrer.

Q. Through your activities, did you acquire a good insight into the aims and activities of the SS before and after 1933?

A. Yes.

Q. You are a member of the German nobility, witness?

A. Yes.

Q. Even in democratic countries, it is generally assumed that the nobility belongs to the respectable classes of the population. How does it happen that you became a member of an organization which, according to the allegation of the prosecution, is considered to have been criminal?

A. I was at all times active on behalf of Germany, in keeping with the tradition of my family; and so when I became a member of the Party and of the SS, I felt that I was fulfilling a patriotic duty. Moreover, before 1933 a great number of aristocrats and members of German princely houses joined the SS, such as, for example, the Prince von Waldeck the Prince von Mecklenburg, etc.

Q. After 1933, was this movement even stronger?

A. Yes, after 1933 the Prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen became a member, as well as the Archbishop of Brunswick, Prince Lippe-Biesterfeld, General Graf von Schulenburg and many others.

Q. Do you know that Archbishop Groeber of Freiburg became a sponsoring member of the SS?

A. Yes, I know that.

DR. PELCKMANN: I refer the Tribunal to Document 5, which I shall hand in later.

Q. Do you believe on the basis of your experience at that time that the membership of such prominent personages made an impression on members of all classes in Germany?

A. On the bourgeois classes of our population, most certainly.

Q. I mean, made an impression in the sense that people said, "If such good human material belongs to the SS and works for its aims, then the aims governing the organization must be really good and legal." Do you mean that in this sense?

A. Yes. In any case I am of the opinion, and it was also the opinion of my comrades, that at no particular time could we assume that the organization was following criminal aims.

Q. But did not the SS commit many acts of violence just before 1933, and were not these among its aims?

A. No. As its very name says, "Protection Detachment" ("Schutzstaffel"), this branch of the Party was set up in order to protect the leading personalities. Moreover, I might point out that as early as 1930 Hitler, in the trial of the Reichswehr officers, swore that his revolution would be an intellectual one, and he planned to win supreme power in Germany by legal means. And, indeed, that came about through the elections, and so he became Chancellor of the German Reich.

Q. Please describe the activities of the SS, for instance in the year 1930, when you were in Thuringia; their numbers, the increase in membership and other such details.

A. As I have already said, the SS was set up in 1928 and 1929 in Thuringia. Up to about the time of the Reich Party Rally in 1929, we had in all Thuringia approximately forty- five or fifty SS men. At the Reichsparteitag there were SS men from all Germany, approximately seven hundred men. In 1930 there were election fights in Thuringia, which necessitated a commitment of a larger number of SS men in order to protect the speakers. There can be no question of any other

[Page 247]

service besides that of protecting the speakers. There were some roll-calls at which they announced which speakers each SS man had to accompany. This protection was made necessary by the extraordinarily bitter political battle, and one was glad if only the men returned to their quarters in the evening without having been wounded.

Q. How large was the SS in comparison with the other Party organizations at that time? Please speak more slowly. I notice that the interpreters are having trouble in keeping up with you.

A. I beg your pardon. The SS was by far the smallest formation of the Party. According to an order of the Supreme SA Leadership, it could never have more than ten per cent of the numerical strength of the SA.

Q. Where were you in 1933?

A. In 1933 I was in Weimar, Thuringia.

Q. And in what position?

A. As leader of SS Oberabschnitt Mitte, the biggest Oberabschnitt of the SS.

Q. How many SS men were under you at the time?

A. After the seizure of power there were ten or fifteen thousand.

Q. What area did this number cover?

A. The Free State of Saxony, the Free State of Thuringia and the Prussian province of Saxony.

Q. How is the growth of the SS at this time to be explained?

A. The increase can be explained, first, by the fact that the National Socialist Government had come to power; and a large number of people wanted to show their loyalty to the new State. Secondly, after the Party in May, 1933, ordered that no more members would be taken, many wanted to become members of the semi-military formations (Gliederungen), such as the SS and SA, and through them to become members of the Party later. But then again there were also others who sought the pleasures of sport and the comradeship of young men and were less politically interested. The reasons were very diverse.

Q. But after this period of sudden growth, were the members carefully investigated, and were the old entrance requirements, namely, completely irreproachable conduct, clean way of life, high professional efficiency, made even stricter?

A. Yes, indeed. From about February or March, 1934, Himmler ordered an investigation of all those SS members who had joined in 1933, a thorough reinvestigation which lasted until 1935, and at that time about fifty to sixty thousand members throughout the entire Reich were released from the SS.

Q. Was it necessary to be a Party member in order to be admitted to the general SS?

A. No. Not at all. I already mentioned that before.

Q. But if Party membership was not necessary, can it then be correct that the SS, as the prosecution maintains, was the heart of the Nazi regime, an ideologically conspiratorial group, so that one can conclude from this that the strictest Nazi conditions, Nazi standards, were imposed upon admittance?

A. The heart of the regime, was the political party as such, and this, indeed, lay in the hands of the Hoheitstrager. The leadership of the people was conferred upon the Hoheitstrager by Hitler as a privilege which they had and which they maintained until the end. That was the heart of the regime, In the SS, to be sure, certain standards of selection were adhered to.

Q. But what did this selection refer to?

A. The selection standards required a certificate of good conduct from the police. It was required that people be able to prove that they led a decent life and performed their duty in their profession. No unemployed persons or people who were unwilling to work were accepted. In this respect, a careful selection was always required.

[Page 248]

Q. But were not these principles of selection also extended to so-called racial conditions: height, health, origin?

A. That was also prescribed, yes.

Q. And so, witness, to sum it all up, the selection was not only according to political, but also other circumstances, such as you have described?

A. Yes.

Q. In 1933 and 1934, as an SS Obergruppenfuehrer and leader of the largest Oberabschnitt of the general SS, did you know of any excesses against Jews?

A. No.

Q. During the testimony on another organization here we heard of the so-called boycott of Jews in 1933 and 1934. Did you not, together with your men, participate in this at that time?

A. The SS did not participate in this boycott - I might say these excesses. In Dresden, when I heard about these matters, I held a muster and strictly forbade my men to take part in them.

Q. Did you believe that you were committing a crime against humanity through your efforts to lower the influence of the Jewish people in public life and the economy to the percentage they represented in the total population?

A. No.

Q. Did you want to attain this goal, which according to your ideology was probably in your mind, by the use of violence?

A. No, under no circumstances. Indeed the SS had no influence at all on these matters.

Q. Was not the SS even particularly strict about its idea that points on the Party programme should not be developed by individual actions?

A. Even before 1933 there were extraordinarily strict regulations. These regulations prohibited any individual action. For example, we had a very strict regulation against carrying any weapons, because it would have endangered the political activity of the Party, if the police had found weapons on us at that time. Even later on, Himmler repeatedly issued strict orders not to undertake any kind of action.

Q. Did you believe that by the repression of Jewish influence, which according to the National Socialist principles was constantly in your minds as an ideology, did you believe that thereby you were already making preparations for a new war, and indeed, that by this planned new war the influence of any opposition within Germany would be made impossible?

A. An artificial interpretation, in my opinion. I do not understand it. We were completely surprised by the announcement of the Nuremberg laws in 1935, and as far as the SS was concerned, we thought the. Jewish problem had been solved by the State. I remember, too, that at that time Hitler had warned us very strongly against going beyond these laws, and pointed out the tremendous responsibility which was placed in the hands of the German people by them.

Q. Did you perhaps believe that you could do something to prepare a war of aggression if you, or if the Party, or the State, excluded Communists or Socialists from public life?

A. No.

Q. Well, did you ever consider anything like this at all?

A. No. This question appears to me confused, for the circumstances were such that these matters never entered our mind.

Q. What preparations did you notice in the SS for a war of aggression?

A. No preparations.

Q. Was the general SS given military training?

A. No, it was not trained militarily, for sport and small calibre rifle shooting and drill exercises cannot be considered military training. May I also point out that Himmler forbade me and other SS leaders to participate in troop manoeuvres as reserve officers of the Wehrmacht after 1934-1935 From this alone it is

[Page 249]

perfectly obvious that no military training was given to the SS men or even planned. Moreover, every SS member, like any other German citizen, had to perform his military service within the Wehrmacht and not in the Waffen SS.

Q. I quote from SS Document 5, which will be submitted later.

"The general SS is entirely an organization of professional men."
This is a quotation from a publication: "National Political Course for the Armed Forces. Organization and Duties of the SS and the German Police."
"The greatest duties are imposed upon the man between the ages of 21 and 35, especially up to the age of 25. In these first four years it means marching, competitive games and sports of every kind. Every SS man up to the age of 50 will have to pass some kind of efficiency test annually. Why is this? Men are not very active in their professions; perhaps one-half to three-fifths of those in the SS are city dwellers. The city worker very often has a standing, or in the case of the intellectual worker, a sedentary occupation; in addition to that, there are the bad social conditions in the great cities, and in my opinion this is a grave problem from the military point of view. Men of the twentieth century no longer walk, but travel subway, and so forth."
I quote further:
"If we are to remain young we must participate in sport. But all this remains only theoretical if the men are not tested every year and a certain degree of ambition is not kindled among them, so that they really participate in sport."
Witness, does this quotation describe the attitude that was typical of the activity of the SS, especially after 1933?

A. Yes.

Q. Can you remember statements made by Hitler and other Party leaders at gatherings, and also at the Reichstag or in newspapers, which contained protestations of lasting peace and praise of it, yes, even horror and fear of the ghastliness of war?

A. Yes.

Were further tasks, for example, being in attendance and maintaining order on Reich Party Days? Please describe this.

A. Yes, the SS always had to maintain order at the great mass reviews of the Party. In addition to preserving order, they had to accompany honorary guests and also take care of them. Those were always difficult and tiring days for the men, who also had to participate in the parade.

There is nothing else I can say about this.

Q. Did you have to take care of the honorary guests?

A. Yes, I just mentioned that. On Party Days I myself, as well as other high SS leaders, had the task of showing high- ranking guests around. At one of the last Party Days I personally conducted the British Ambassador.

Q. Where were you, witness, on the 30th June, 1934?

A. In Dresden.

Q. Had you already heard before this date that Roehm was plotting a so-called putsch?

A. Yes, about eight days before 30th June, 1934, I was ordered to Berlin by Himmler, where the latter officially informed me that Roehm was planning a coup d'etat and gave me orders to hold my SS men in a state of quiet readiness for an emergency, and to bring them together in barracks when the. alarm was sounded. For this purpose he also referred me to the Defence Area Commanders. And so in this way I received this information in advance.

Q. Did the general SS take part in any killings on 30th June, 1934? What do you know about this from your activities at the time?

A. The general SS did not carry out any killings in my territory. Indeed, it remained in barracks on all the decisive days.

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