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-Fifth Day: Monday, 5th August, 1946
(Part 1 of 9)

[Page 260]

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, Dr. Pelckmann.



BY DR. PELCKMANN (counsel for the SS):

Q. Witness, on Saturday you said that the witness Rascher, the accused witness Rascher, had finally been in a concentration camp. Did you approve of this settlement of the affair?

A. No. I was of the opinion that these criminal deeds should be punished by a court trial.

Q. If you did not approve of this settlement without a formal trial, what were you able to do against it?

A. I repeat that I never ceased applying to Himmler's office and I made inquiries of the Supreme SS and Police Court. I may point out that the binding regulations of the Kriegsstrafverfahrungs Ordnung - the War Penal Code - provided that Himmler alone was competent. All I could have done was to make a complaint about Himmler to Hitler, but in view of the existing situation, this was a practical impossibility. Neither an oral nor a written complaint or report from me would ever have reached Hitler.

I may explain that, despite my high position in the State and the Party and the nine years of my official activity in Munich, only on one occasion, for about ten minutes, was I admitted to see Hitler because he wanted a report from me on the cordoning-off measures on the occasion of a big demonstration. That is the only time.

The only other thing I could have done was to resign. Because of the existing regulations, this would doubtlessly not have been accepted.

A last way out was either to commit dishonourable suicide or to refuse obedience as a soldier, for I was a General of the Waffen SS and was bound by my oath of allegiance to the flag. Then I would have been court-martialed and sent to a concentration camp even at that time.

Q. You just said that you were a General of the Waffen SS. So far you have told the Tribunal only that you were a member of the General SS. When and for what reason did you become a General of the Waffen SS, although up to then you had had nothing whatever to do with that body.

A. In the autumn of 1944 Himmler became Commander-in-Chief of the Reserve Army. When he took over this office, the Prisoner-of-War Department also came under his jurisdiction. In the autumn of 1944 Himmler transferred to the Senior SS and Police Chiefs the responsibility for safeguarding prisoner-of-war camps against mass escapes and attempts from the outside to liberate prisoners. For this purpose, the Senior SS and Police Chiefs were made Senior Commanders of Prisoners of War. According to international regulations regarding prisoners of war, police could not be used to guard them. The Senior SS and Police Chiefs were taken over into the Waffen SS and appointed Generals of that organisation.

[Page 261]

THE PRESIDENT: If you could go a little bit faster, if you could speak a little bit faster, I think it would be convenient to the Tribunal.


Q. The prosecution construes the fact that Himmler, in September of 1944, as Commander-in-Chief of the Reserve Army, became chief of the Prisoner-of-War Department, to mean that the SS was now in charge of prisoners of war; is that true?

A. That is not true. Apart from the Senior Commander of Prisoners of War, no other member of the SS had anything to do with prisoners of war.

Q. The prosecution further asserts that through the transfer of these prisoner-of-war tasks to Himmler or to the Senior Commander of Prisoners of War in the autumn of 1944, the inhuman treatment and destruction of allied prisoners of war was systematically promoted by the SS. Is that true?

A. No, because the camp commandants of the Wehrmacht continued to be responsible for the running and administration of the camps from the inside. The task assigned to us was security, which began only outside the camp. Moreover, during the visits which I paid to the individual camps during the six months of my competency, I always asked the prisoners-of-war spokesmen themselves whether they had any complaints. Not a single complaint of this kind was made to me by these men.

Q. As Senior Commander of Prisoners of War from the autumn of 1944 on, did you have anything to do with the employment of prisoner-of-war labour?

A. No. The employment of Prisoner of War labour was regulated by a Wehrmacht Staff for the Employment of Labour in co-operation with the provincial labour offices or with those parties needing labour. The Senior Commander of Prisoners of War did not deal with this.

Q. From the autumn of 1944 on, was there any change in your jurisdiction over concentration camps, or your lack of jurisdiction over them, as you described it on Saturday?

A. In the autumn of 1944, as in the case of prisoner-of-war camps, the Senior SS and Police Chief was made responsible for safeguarding concentration camps from the outside, for the reasons just mentioned, with a view to maintaining the security of the State.

Q. Did the RSHA remain responsible for the delivery of prisoners to the camps and did Amtsgruppe D of the Economic and Administrative Main Office remain responsible for the administration of camps?

A. Yes, Amt VI of the RSHA for internment and release, and for the internal administration of the camp and the inspection of concentration camps, Amtsgruppe D of the Economic and Administrative Main Office.

Q. Can you give an example from the last phase of the war of how difficult it was for you, because of your limited powers, to prevent the death of thousands of concentration camp inmates?

A. Yes. At the beginning of March, 1945, the Gauleiter and Reich Defence Commissar Giesler in Munich ordered me to come to him, and made the monstrous request to me that I should use my influence with the Commandant of Dachau so that when the American troops approached, the prisoners - there were 25,000 people there at the time - were to be shot. I refused this demand with indignation, and I pointed out that I could not give any orders to the Commandant, whereupon Giesler said to me that he, as Reich Defence Commissar, would see to it that the camp would be bombed to bits by our own forces. I told him that I considered it impossible that any German air force commander would be willing to do this. Then Giesler said he would see to it that something would be put into the soup of the prisoners. That is, he threatened to poison them. On my own initiative I sent a teletype inquiry to the Inspector of Concentration Camps and asked for a speedy decision from Himmler as to what was to be done with the prisoners in

[Page 262]

case the American troops approached. Shortly afterwards the news came that the camps were to be surrendered as a whole to the enemy. I showed that to Giesler. He was very indignant because I had frustrated his plans and because I was of a different opinion. Shortly after we had another clash regarding the defence of Munich, which was completely hopeless. The Wehrmacht Commander was thrown out eight days before me, and on the 20th of April I was also dismissed and all my offices were taken away from me, and I was without power.

THE PRESIDENT: The man you are speaking of, the Gauleiter, was Gauleiter of what district? What Gau?

THE WITNESS: Munich and Upper Bavaria. He was also Bavarian Prime Minister and Bavarian Minister of the Interior and Reich Defence Commissar.


Q. Witness, you have just described the various characteristics of Gauleiter Giesler. According to the structure of the internal administration at the time, did he formally have the right to take the actions which he intended to carry out?

A. Yes. In all questions of the defence of the country, the Reich Defence Commissar could impose his will, on the strength of the existing regulations for the Reich Defence Commissars. In addition, as I have already said, the man was Bavarian Prime Minister, and as such the supreme powers in the province were united in his person.

Q. In some of the final speeches of my fellow counsel for the chief defendants it was said that in the course of the war the SS - it was put in this form - the SS came to represent the government in Germany. Will you please describe in whose hands, according to your opinion and your experience at the time in such a high position, in whose hands the executive power was, from 1933 to 1945.

A. In any case, not in the hands of the SS. During the war, important functions of the Reich were in the hands of the Reich Defence Commissars, who could take part in everything except the Reich Special Administration. I need only refer to the Reich Law of, I believe, the 16th of November, 1942. Moreover, through the influence of Martin Bormann, everything inside the Reich was directed more or less by the Gauleiter and the Reich Defence Commissars. The SS was at no time a decisive factor. The General SS, as I testified on Saturday, no longer existed in the country, and the troops of the Waffen SS were at the front.

Q. One more question, witness. When and in what way did you learn that members of the Jewish population in your district were deported to the East?

A. I believe in 1941 I learned about it by accident, that is, from a report of the Criminal Police of Munich - a report on the following morning - that in the preceding night a number of suicides had taken place in Munich. That attracted my attention as being something quite unusual. I tried to clear up the matter by asking the head of the Criminal Police why there had been these suicides. I believe there were six or eight in one night. He referred me to the Gestapo. Through the Chief of the State Police I learned that the deportation of, I believe, a few hundred Jewish inhabitants of Munich or the district - I do not know whether they were all from Munich - had been ordered for that day. In answer to my question as to where they were to be sent, I was told that it was a resettlement and they would be put to work in the East, and I was told, and it was credible, that the trains had already been arranged for with the Reichsbahn Headquarters and that on instructions from the RSHA to the Gestapo the selection of those concerned had been effected after discussion with the Israelite Community. The persons in question were in possession of certain. amounts of money, food cards, and a certain amount of baggage. The train included cars with implements for fortifications, that is, picks, spades, etc. That is what I learned at the time.

Q. How was it that you learned of these things in this way? Should you not have been informed previously in one of your official capacities?

[Page 263]

A. I should have been informed, but I can only describe how it actually happened.

Q. Then if I understood you correctly, there was an obligation on the Gestapo offices to inform you, was there not?

A. The Gestapo, no, but the Inspector of the Security Police, yes.

Q. Witness, you have attempted, in answering my questions, to say that you, as Leader of the General SS, committed no crimes as the prosecution asserts - I have given some examples - and that the members of the General SS did not commit such crimes, so that in your opinion one cannot say that the General SS was a criminal organization. But I must now submit to you that in the course of a prolonged hearing, proof of criminal deeds has been given. I remind you of the thousands of deaths in the concentration camps, of the thousands of Jews shot in the East by Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommandos, and I remind you of the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Now I ask you, what did you know of these things up to 1945?

A. I knew nothing. During the whole war, without interruption, I was in Munich, and was never sent to occupied territory. I heard of the horrible mass murders and of the gassings while I was in prison. Today I know that it was impossible for a person who was not initiated to penetrate into the secret places of this extermination camp. There were indications here and there. In my official capacity I now and then saw foreign papers which had been confiscated, but they contained things which, according to my opinion and experience, were not true. The result was that I considered reports on such atrocities to be enemy propaganda. I did not listen to enemy radio broadcasts. As the Tribunal knows, this was forbidden to every German and, since it was our job to punish people who broke this law, I did not think I should do it myself. As for the mass of the men of the General SS, I am firmly convinced that they neither had a part in these atrocities nor did they know about them. I am convinced that in view of the mutual confidence that existed between my men and me, they would certainly have asked me questions when they came to visit me on leave. They would have asked me: "Obergruppenfuehrer, do you know about these things? Is it true? " Not a single man asked me anything like that.

Q. On the basis of your knowledge of the organization and the facts that you learned after the beginning of the trial or after the collapse, do you maintain that the mass of members of the General SS, for whom you are testifying here, had no part in these crimes?

A. Yes.

Q. At the wish of the Tribunal I have reduced the number of witnesses to the absolute minimum of five. I will only bring such witnesses who, because of their high position in the organization, can give the Tribunal comprehensive answers on organisational questions, that is, basic questions. Therefore, notwithstanding your high rank, I must ask you how much, according to your conviction, the mass of these many thousands of unknown members of the SS knew? I will submit affidavits, documents and other proof later.

A. If I, in my position and in spite of the general view I had of things inside the country, knew nothing, how could the men at the front or the few who remained at home know about it. The horrible things that happened in the concentration camps and that came to light after the collapse and capitulation I personally can only explain by the general state of things during those last months. People lost their heads; hundreds of thousands of people were on the move; thousands of detainees were brought from the border territory into the few camps which were still available. In Southern Germany, in Dachau, there was an uninterrupted stream of people coming in throughout the winter. There was a typhus epidemic which claimed many victims. I learned of that also only by accident, through the Gauleiter and Reich Defence Commissar asking for workers to clear up after air attacks, and when the camp commander told me on the telephone that these workers could not be supplied because of the typhus epidemic.

[Page 264]

Later, I heard at a conference that this epidemic had claimed many victims. Moreover, in the last few weeks, railroad traffic was disconnected. The food supply was completely blocked, and there was already a good deal of hunger. The Commandant told me it was impossible to stop this epidemic as there were no more medical supplies, the pharmaceutical factories having been destroyed too. Only thus can I explain the terrible pictures, about which we all know, and which have been shown here. In any case, the mass of the men of the General SS and the German population could not have known about all this as no one could see over the camps. The General SS, for which I am speaking here, and the Waffen SS, too, could not have prevented it.

DR. PELCKMANN: Concerning the point which the witness mentioned, about the secret places in the concentration camps and the difficulty of penetrating into them, I refer particularly to the contents of Affidavits Nos. 64 to 67 and 69, affidavits of SS judges who concerned themselves with these things.

I have no more questions, Mr. President. Thank you.



Q. Witness, you denied on Saturday that the SS was the heart of Nazism. Would you agree with me that it was the fist?

A. I did not quite understand. I beg your pardon.

Q. I will put the question to you again. You denied on Saturday that the SS was the heart of Nazism. Would you agree with me that it was the fist?

A. I still do not understand.

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