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-Sixth Day: Tuesday, 6th August, 1946
(Part 10 of 10)

[DR. PELCKMANN continues his direct examination of Guenther Reinecke]

[Page 338]

Q. Did not Himmler and his immediate staff represent a unified supreme command, which, as the central authority issuing orders, would guarantee unified control and direction of the various parts of the head offices?

[Page 339]

A. No, Himmler did not have such a staff. He himself interfered in the general direction of the whole SS only very rarely, and never in favour of unifying its command.

Q. Are not your statements here in contradiction to the writings and speeches of Himmler himself, for instance, in contradiction to his speech at Posen, in which he emphasized the uniformity of the organization under his command?

A. No, these speeches do not contradict the testimony I have given. Himmler was undoubtedly speaking of unity in this speech, and he was certainly planning for such unity, but that unity was in no way a reality. Himmler's speeches are therefore to be regarded as containing only plans for the future. Instead of working more closely together, as Himmler had intended, these organizations, on account of the differences in the nature of their tasks, continually moved away from each other. Of that Himmler was aware, as his speeches clearly show, and it was for that very reason that he took advantage of the occasion to explain to his chiefs and leaders his own views on the uniformity of the organization. Real organisational unity did not, in fact, exist at any time.

Q. Did this lack of unity also affect the legal system of the SS?

A. This was quite evident from the arrangements regarding jurisdiction. The legal system of the SS did not apply at all to the General SS, but it was created mainly for the Waffen SS, and it also applied to the police, because Himmler had declared the police to be on active service for the duration of the war. At the beginning of the war there were only a few police units fighting at the front as military units, but as the war, particularly the air war, continued, the entire German police was declared to be one special task force, and therefore came under the jurisdiction of the SS. The same applied to the Security Police. In this case, Himmler also issued a decree, in 1940, stating that the entire Security Police was being considered as a special task force for the duration of the war. Consequently, the Security Police also came under the jurisdiction of the SS legal system. But that the RSHA and all its departments remained, organisationally, completely independent and without any connection at all to the General SS or Waffen SS, is apparent from the fact that Himmler at the same time took the whole conduct of pre-trial investigations, if members of the RSHA were involved, out of the hands of the SS legal system and transferred it to a special pre-trial investigation department, which was part of the RSHA.

The outcome of this was that though legal proceedings against members of the RSHA could still be carried out and sentences could be passed, the SS legal system no longer had any insight into the matters of the RSHA, and any control of them was impossible.

The members of the guard units of concentration camps also came under the jurisdiction of the SS legal system, because at the beginning of the war they had nominally become members of the Waffen SS, that is, for reasons of economy and supply, and also for reasons of uniform army supervision, they were nominally attached to the Waffen SS.

Q. Now you say, witness, that the General SS did not at all come under the SS and police legal system. Then under whose jurisdiction were the members of the General SS?

A. The legal system of the SS came into force in October, 1939, at a time when the General SS was already in the process of disappearing. Before that time the General SS came under the jurisdiction of the German Courts. Members of the General SS were, therefore, prosecuted and sentenced by ordinary German criminal courts, and in so far as any members of the General SS remained in Germany, they continued to come under the jurisdiction of the German courts during the war, when the legal system of the SS was already in existence.

Q. Then, to make it quite clear, witness, the General SS was in peace and in war under the jurisdiction of the ordinary German civil courts. Is that correct?

A. Yes.

[Page 340]

Q. The prosecution has alleged that from the very beginning the SS was designed for illegal purposes, that from the very beginning it acted illegally and that no differences can be made between the various periods with which we are concerned. Does the development of the legal system of the SS confirm this allegation in any way?

A. If an organization has criminal aims and pursues criminal activities, then logically the legal system of such an organization must, through .its construction, its laws and its activities, indicate that it is endeavouring to conceal such criminal aims and criminal activities. Precisely the reverse is the case. The SS, from the beginning of its formation, fought against crime on principle and at all costs, and it had a perfectly orderly administration of justice.

Q. How was the orderly administration of justice in the SS guaranteed?

A. By the so-called disciplinary law.

Q. Do I understand correctly that members of the General SS came in the first place under the jurisdiction of the ordinary German civil courts?

A. Yes, I said so before.

Q. Then, in spite of that, there was a disciplinary procedure, that is to say, a certain type of legal system applicable to the members of the General SS. Is that correct?

A. That is what I was just going to explain. This internal disciplinary law consisted in the right of exclusion, which every civil union possesses. The law provided, on the principle of selection, that people who had previously been convicted could not enter the SS at all, and that people who committed punishable acts while members of the SS had to leave the SS. This principle was the best method of selection, because it automatically prevented the perpetration of crime.

The training in the law through this disciplinary system and the application of the disciplinary system itself guaranteed, in addition to the administration of German law by the ordinary German courts, that the SS would remain free of dubious elements. An agreement had been reached between the Reich Ministry of Justice and the Reich Leadership of the SS that, on the one hand, the ordinary German courts would notify the SS if they had uncovered punishable acts by one of its members, and on the other hand, the SS would notify the Reich Ministry of Justice if the SS had found one of its members guilty of a crime.

This agreement was strictly followed. A special liaison officer to the Ministry of Justice was appointed, and the result was that in the first place, criminal elements were, in fact, eliminated from the SS and that secondly, crimes punishable under German penal legislation were, in fact, tried by the ordinary German legal authorities.

Q. Witness, would you please make your sentences a little shorter? It would help the interpreter.

Why, at the beginning of the war, was a special legal system introduced for the Waffen SS? Was this done, perhaps -

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal thinks you are going into this far too much in detail, Dr. Pelckmann.

DR. PELCKMANN: Your Lordship, this subject has not yet been dealt with before the Commission, and I believe that, in accordance with the decision of the Tribunal, I can introduce new subjects which are important. But I shall attempt, Mr. President, to be brief.


Q. Did you understand my last question, witness?

A. Yes.

Q. Why was a special legal system introduced for the Waffen SS at the beginning of this war? Was its purpose to cover up crimes?

A. This special legal system was created because SS units were used as troop units and therefore, for such units, courts martial had to exist. This legal system

[Page 341]

was created by law, and not by some order from Himmler, and it introduced for the Waffen SS the same laws and the same legal organization which already existed for the Wehrmacht. It cannot by any means be said, therefore, that this legal: system was introduced to cover up criminal acts. In fact, the exact reverse is true.

Q. But then; the prosecution alleges that the SS was trained for terror, atrocities and crimes. This is contradicted, is it not, by your allegation that crime was fought against in the SS at all costs.

A. Training in the SS consistently aimed at decency, justice and morals. Institutions existed which guaranteed that this training was carried out in its entirety. The law, including International Law, was taught not only in the Junker Schools of the SS, but legal proceedings were openly held before entire units. The head office "SS Courts," as the central department of the legal system, issued its own literature to ensure that these principles of decency and justice became firmly established among all members of the SS. Training in the law, as it was handled in the SS, was the exact opposite of the prosecution's assertion about it.

Q. The prosecution might reply that this strict training in the law, this fight against crime before and during the war merely proves how necessary it was, since the SS was full of criminals. Would the prosecution be right in saying so?

A. No, it would not be right. Special principles of selection were applied in the SS. The so-called basic principles of the SS laid it down as a duty of its members to conduct themselves in a particularly ethical way. Thus, a man in the SS who infringed a law was more guilty and was, therefore, more severely penalised. And that explains the more severe punishment of SS members in comparison with members of the armed forces or German civilians.

Q. Himmler was the appointing and final authority in legal matters. What were his powers? Could he, for instance, direct a court to pass a certain judgement?

A. No, Himmler could not do that. On the whole he did not interfere with the course of the law. As the appointing authority he had of course the right, bestowed on him by Hitler, to quash any sentence, but he made use of this right only in very rare cases. The judge himself was independent, bound only by the law. His independence was guaranteed by law. The findings and sentences of the SS Courts were reached by a majority vote. In that respect interference of the appointing authority, Himmler, was not possible. He had, however, the right to order a retrial of the case or he could quash the sentence. He could, therefore, have a case retried several times, if he did not agree with the verdict. But here again the decisions of courts of the SS, reached on the basis of the existing laws, were always finally upheld.

Sentences passed by the SS Courts were on occasions cancelled by the appointing authority up to three or four times, because he considered the penalty too high or too low. The judges always reached the same decision on the basis of the law and eventually their decision was upheld.

Q. Your description of the training in the law and the correct administration of the legal system contradicts the assertion of the prosecution that the SS had been designed for matters for which neither the Party nor the State wished to assume responsibility.

A. What I have said here about the training of the SS in the law corresponds both to the historical development of the SS and to the facts. The apparently unbridgeable gap between the assertion of the prosecution and my testimony is explained by the fact that the prosecution simply considers the SS as an organisational unit, which it has never been.

Wherever Himmler acted, the SS acted, according to the prosecution. Wherever he State executive acted, the SS acted, again according to the prosecution. But these organisational connections did not exist, and for that reason the allegations of the prosecution in that respect are not correct.

[Page 342]

Q. Since numerous documents dealing with crimes committed allegedly by members of the Waffen SS were submitted to the last witness, it is necessary for me to ask you this: Did the Waffen SS commit crimes against the civilian population in the occupied territories and. at the front, and were these crimes committed systematically and in violation of international agreements, in violation of the penal law existing in the countries concerned, and in violation of the general principles of penal law of all civilised nations?

A. No, there can be no question of that. It is clear that on the part of the Waffen SS, violations of International Law took place in individual cases, just as they took place on the other side also. But all these are individual occurrences and not systematic. All these individual acts were prosecuted under the legal system of the SS and the police in the most severe manner. In the head office "SS Courts" there existed a department which guaranteed and carried out an overall supervision of the entire legal system. Having knowledge of this department I can testify in this courtroom that in such individual cases the courts in every theatre of war and during the entire duration of the war passed sentences for murder, looting, manslaughter, assault and rape, ill-treatment and also for killing prisoners of war, and in trying such cases, the race or nationality of the person concerned had no influence whatever. All these were individual and not systematic acts, and this is confirmed by the criminality statistics of the head office "SS Courts." The absolutely strict administration of the law kept criminality below the normal level: it varied between 0.8 per cent. at the beginning and 3 per cent. at the end of the war.

Q. But by order of Hitler, dated 13th May, 1941, a document which was submitted here, the prosecution of such crimes was prohibited, was it not? Is that not a contradiction of your testimony regarding the prosecution of such cases?

A. No, it is not a contradiction, because that order of Hitler, though declaring the prosecution of such cases not compulsory, nevertheless left the decision of whether or not the case should be tried to the discretion of the appointing authority. During the entire period of my long practice I -

THE PRESIDENT: What is the reference to the order of Hitler?

DR. PELCKMANN: I much regret, Mr. President, that at this moment I cannot state the number. It is the order which was issued before the beginning of the Russian campaign and which says that only for the maintenance of discipline should excesses of the troops be punished. If I may, I shall state the number tomorrow.

I have only one more question, Mr. President, before closing this chapter.

COLONEL SMIRNOV: Mr. President, I think I can give you the information.

This directive is signed by Keitel and its title is: "The Struggle against the Partisans." It is Exhibit USSR 16.

THE PRESIDENT: You say you have only one more question?

DR. PELCKMANN: I have only one more question before closing this particular chapter; I will start a new one, if I may, tomorrow morning.

Q. It was alleged by the prosecution, witness, that the so- called courts martial of the SS and the police murdered the civilian population in the occupied territories under the cloak of administering the law. What were the courts martial of the SS and the police?

A. Such courts martial of the SS and police never existed at any time. There were, as I know from my own experience, courts martial of the Security Police in Poland. I recently learned that such courts martial existed also in the other occupied territories. These were courts martial of the Security Police, that is to say, entirely an affair of the police, which had nothing whatever to do with the legal system of the SS and the police.

Thank you.

[Page 343]

THE PRESIDENT: Well, now, will you tell us what are the subjects upon which you are going to question this witness tomorrow?

DR. PELCKMANN: The system of concentration camps and the SS legal system.

THE PRESIDENT: You have been dealing with the SS legal system today. That is the subject you have just concluded. You have told us that the judges of the SS were independent. That is part of the legal system, is it not?

DR. PELCKMANN: Mr. President, I wanted to deal with special questions connected with the legal system in concentration camps.

THE PRESIDENT: What questions are you going to deal with?

DR. PELCKMANN: I would like, tomorrow, to deal with the concentration camp system, with the SS and police legal system and with the connection between the two.

THE PRESIDENT: I have got down that you are going to deal with the concentration camps and the legal system in concentration camps. What else?

DR. PELCKMANN: Nothing else, your Lordship.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the Tribunal wishes me to tell you that they think you have been much too long and they will expect you to be much shorter tomorrow morning.

(The Tribunal adjourned until 7th August, 1946, at 1000 hours.)

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