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-Eighth Day: Thursday, 8th August, 1946
(Part 1 of 6)

[Page 386]



BY DR. PELCKMANN (counsel for the SS):

Q. Witness, I have two pictures to show to you. This has nothing to do with your examination concerning the concentration camps.

DR. PELCKMANN: They are the same pictures, your Lordship, which showed to the witness Eisenberger yesterday. They have now received exhibit numbers from me, Exhibit SS No. 2 and Exhibit SS No. 3. As I said yesterday, they are taken from the book written in Polish which the prosecution submitted a few days ago, on Pages 9 and 11.


Q. What is the rank of this SS man, witness?

A. That cannot be an SS man. He is not wearing an SS uniform. I never saw such a uniform. On the left arm, the man wears the insignia of the police and the police shoulder patch.

Q. That is enough, witness, I shall show you the second photograph Please answer the question just as briefly.

A. That is not an SS uniform either, nor even any uniform in particular.

Q. Thank you, witness. Yesterday you had already begun the description of the so-called extermination camps and the system of these camps, but I should like to go back to conditions in the concentration camps which are to be distinguished from the so-called extermination camps.

You had given a description of the outward impression given by these camps which was extraordinarily pleasant. So that there, may be no false impression, will you please describe the general observations you made of a negative character.

A. I was asked whether from my impressions of the concentration camps I gained the idea that they were extermination camps.

I replied that I did not get that idea. I did not mean to say that the concentration camps were sanatoria or a paradise for the prisoners. If they had been that, my investigations would have been senseless.

Through these investigations I gained insight into the extremely dark and dismal side of the concentration camps. The concentration camps were establishments which, to put it mildly, were bound to give rise to crimes as a result of a false principle. When I say the principle was at fault, I mean the following: The prisoner was sent to the concentration camp through the RSHA. A political agency decided about his freedom, and its decision was final. Thus the prisoner was deprived of all legal rights. Once in the concentration camp, it was almost impossible for him to regain his freedom, although, at regular intervals, the cases were reviewed. The procedure was so complicated that apart from exceptional instances the great majority could have no hope. The camp, the RSHA, and the agency which had assigned the individual to the camp had to agree to his release. Only if these three agencies reached an agreement could a release be effected.

[Page 387]

Not only the reason for the arrest was taken into consideration, but through a monstrous order of the SS Obergruppenfuehrer Pohl, the production side also became important. If a prisoner was needed in the camp because he was valuable, even though all conditions for release existed, he could not be released.

The concentration camps were surrounded by an atmosphere of secrecy. The prisoner could not have any free contact with the public.

MR. DODD: Mr. President, we do not have the first responsibility, of course, for this defence. But I have discussed with Mr. Elwyn Jones my objection, he has it in here, and he finds no fault with it. It seems to me that what we are hearing here is a lecture on the prosecution's case, and I do not see how it in any sense can be said to be a defence of the SS.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Pelckmann, the Tribunal thinks that the latter part of the evidence does not hive much bearing on the case of the SS. They think it would be better that you should get on with the case for the SS.

DR. PELCKMANN: The charge against the SS is essentially based on the assertion that the SS as a whole is responsible for the concentration camps.

I am endeavouring to explain to the Tribunal the concentration camp system from the ground up including all those questions which have not yet been explained either by the prosecution or the witnesses, to find out the absolute truth. And I believe that it is necessary for the Tribunal to know this truth in order to be able to judge whether the charge of the prosecution that the SS as a whole is responsible for the atrocities and the mass exterminations in the concentration camps, or in the extermination camps is justified. I assert -

THE PRESIDENT. Kindly go on with your case, Dr. Pelckmann. Will you kindly go on and make it as short as you can upon those matters which seem to be rather remote.

DR. PELCKMANN: From all the testimony of witnesses which I bring out here on this point, it will be shown that the concentration camp system was a closed system.

THE PRESIDENT: Go on with your case. You are to go on with your case, and not argue with me.


Q. Witness, what were the further negative observations which you made? Please be brief, as the Tribunal wishes.

A. The prisoner could not contact the public freely, and so his observations were not made known to the public. In effect, he was subordinate to the rules of the camp. This meant that he had the fear that at any time crimes could be committed against him. I did not have the impression from these facts that their purpose was to produce a system of crimes; but, of necessity, individual crimes were bound to occur.

Q. Witness, the events and the atrocities and the mass exterminations in the concentration camps are precisely what was charged against the SS. Please describe how these crimes are to be divided into three categories, and what that has to do with the total planning of the SS. According to your information, I distinguish between atrocities caused by conditions beyond control, atrocities caused by superior orders, and atrocities caused by individual criminal acts.

A. A large majority of the horrible conditions in some concentration camps at times did not arise from deliberate planning, but developed from circumstances which in my opinion must be called evil, for which the local camp leaders were not responsible. I am thinking of the outbreak of epidemics. At irregular intervals many concentration camps became victims of typhus, spotted typhus and other sicknesses caused especially by the arrival of prisoners from the eastern areas in the concentration camps. Although everything humanly possible was done to prevent

[Page 388]

these epidemics and to combat them, the death rate which resulted was extremely high. Another evil was the irregularities in connection with the arrival of prisoners, and the insufficient shelter. Many camps were overcrowded. The prisoners arrived in a weakened condition because, due to air raids, the transports were under way longer than expected. Towards the end of the war, there was a general collapse of the transportation system. Deliveries could not be carried out to the necessary extent; chemical and pharmaceutical factories had been systematically bombed; and all the necessary medicines were lacking. Finally, the evacuations from the east further burdened the camps, and crowded them in an unbearable manner.

Q. That is enough on this point. Will you go on to the second point, the superior orders?

A. As superior orders I consider the mass extermination of human beings which has already been described, not in the concentration camps but in separate. extermination places. There were also execution orders of the RSHA against individuals and groups of persons.

The third point deals with the majority of individual crimes of which I said -

THE PRESIDENT: Which is the witness talking about when he talks about extermination camps?

Which are you talking about? Which do you call extermination camps?


Q. Please answer the question, witness.

A. By extermination camps I mean those which were established exclusively for the extermination of human beings with the use of technical means, such as gas.

THE PRESIDENT: Which were they?

THE WITNESS: Yesterday I described the four plans of the Criminal Commissar Wirth, and referred to the camp Auschwitz. By "Extermination Camp Auschwitz" I did not mean the concentration camp. It did not exist there. But I meant a separate extermination camp near Auschwitz, called "Monowitz. "

THE PRESIDENT: What were the other ones?

THE WITNESS: I do not know of any other extermination camps.


Q. You were speaking of atrocities on the basis of individual acts of a criminal nature. Please continue.

A. One must distinguish between the types of perpetrators. To begin with, there were killings by one prisoner of another, for example, as an act of revenge. If a prisoner had broken out, then during the search, because one did not know where the prisoner was hiding - perhaps in the camp itself - the whole camp had to line up on the parade grounds. That often lasted for hours and sometimes a whole day. The prisoners were tired and hungry, and this long standing, sometimes in the cold or rain, excited them very much, so that when the prisoner was recaptured the other prisoners out of revenge, for his having brought this upon them, beat him to death when the opportunity presented itself.

There were many cases in which prisoners who had the impression that one of them was a spy attempted to kill this prisoner in self-defence. There were cases in which individual prisoners were weak and could not work very well, and, in addition, through bad conduct toward the other prisoners, such as stealing bread or similar things, aroused the anger of these others, and if one considers, that a large part of the prisoners were professional criminals who had already been sentenced before, it seems plausible that these people acted in this way

[Page 389]

Q. You need not explain that at the moment, we will come back to it later. But will you describe another type of perpetrator?

A. Now I come to killings committed by officers of the camp against prisoners. To give a specific example I should like to describe the case of the commandant of the concentration camp Buchenwald, Koch, who was legally tried and executed. A prisoner was sent to the concentration camp Buchenwald who was an old Party member. On the basis of his having been an old fighter he received the position of Kurdirector. He misused this position to force Polish household employees under threat of dismissal to commit perverted actions with him although he himself was very syphilitic. This man was sentenced to a long prison term by a regular court and after that sent to the concentration camp. Koch found his files, considered the sentence an error, and thinking it necessary to correct this error of justice, had the prisoner put to death.

Another case of an entirely different sort is the following: Koch believed that a certain little Jewish prisoner, who had marked physical peculiarities, was following him to his various offices in the various camps. In the superstitious fear of bad luck, he one day gave instructions to have this prisoner killed.

Another case: Koch believed that his criminal activity, or certain personal relationships, were known to some prisoners. In order to protect himself, he had them killed.

Q. How were these killings made possible and could the other inmates of the camp know about them?

A. The procedure was very simple. The prisoners in question were called, without being given reasons, and had to report at the gate of the camp. That was not especially noticeable because almost every hour prisoners were picked up there for questioning, for removal to other camps, and so forth. These prisoners, without the other prisoners knowing about it, came to the so-called Kommandantur prison, which was outside the camp. There they were held for a few days, often one or two weeks, and then the prison supervisor had them killed, mostly by means of a sham inoculation: actually, they were given an injection of phenol into the arteries.

Another possibility of secret killing was transfer to the hospital. The doctor simply stated that a man needed treatment. He brings him in and after some time he puts him into a single room and kills him. In all these cases the record showed that the prisoner in question had died of such and such a normal illness.

Another case: The prisoner was assigned to a detail of hard work, generally the so-called "Quarry detail." The Kapo of this detail is given a hint and then continually makes the life of the prisoner more difficult by making him work constantly and persecuting him in all ways. Then the day arrives when the prisoner loses patience and in order to escape this torture tries to run away, whereupon the guard whether he wants to or not has to shoot him.

These different forms of killing varied from case to case. By that very fact they were outwardly unrecognisable because they took place in secret places by various methods at various times. It would appear that the commandant who did this, like Koch, relied on certain men who were absolutely devoted to him and who had key positions, such as the doctors who were arrested, the work supervisor who was also arrested, and who committed suicide immediately after, and upon the aid of Kapos who were devoted to him and who co- operated with him. Where this co-operation was not possible, such excesses and crimes could not occur.

Q. Did you find such cases and such camps?

A. Yes. I have already mentioned the result of our investigations. Since the majority of the camps were set up during the war with new personnel and in the old camps the personnel in key positions was replaced with new people, this co-operation could no longer take place.

[Page 390]

Q. Would it be wrong to assume that all camps and all camp commandants and all camp doctors acted in the way you have just described?

A. According to my exhaustive investigations, I can only say that this assumption would be completely wrong. I really met commandants who did everything humanly possible for their prisoners. I met doctors whose every effort was to help sick prisoners and prevent further sickness.

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