The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Testimony of Kurt Becher (Part 2 of 4)

On the outbreak of war at the beginning of September 1939, as a member of the Mounted SS I was drafted into a unit reinforcing the police. I was then transferred to the Waffen--SS. I served as SS Infantryman in the Polish campaign. However, my unit saw no further action. It spent only a week or so in occupied Polish territory and was then withdrawn to the Reich territory. In the spring of 1940 I was detached to the First SS Reiterstandarte (Cavalry Regiment), with its base in Warsaw, and after a month or so I was sent from there to Bad Toelz Junkerschule (Cadet School) to attend an Officers' Wartime Course.

After completing the officers' course and being promoted to Oberscharführer-Führeranwaerter (Sergeant-Cadet Officer) at the end of November or December 1940, I was transferred back to my old regiment, now called the First SS Reiterregiment. The regiment was a purely military unit. I became platoon leader in the first squadron, and because of my training at the officers' school I was appointed as officer instructor. Around May-June 1941, the regiment was transferred to East Prussia, and on the outbreak of war with Russia, it invaded Russia. During the advance I was transferred to the First Cavalry Brigade as orderly officer. As orderly officer, my duties were basically to maintain contact with the superior commander in the Wehrmacht. My brigade took part in the advance through Minsk, Bobruisk, Smolensk, into the area of Vitebsk, Rzhev and Toropetz, where in the autumn of 1941 the brigade got caught up in heavy fighting. For my part in these battles I received the Iron Cross, Second Class, and the Iron Cross, First Class.

In December 1941, owing to illness, I was hospitalized in the Berlin-Lichterfelde Military Hospital. After my recovery, at the end of February, beginning of March 1942, I was attached to the SS Leadership Head Office, Cavalry and Transport Bureau (I.N. 3) as a Hauptsturmführer. The duties of the Cavalry and Transport Bureau were to equip horse-drawn and mounted units, to take care of studs, training units, riding and driving schools, and to run weapons training courses for these units. The headquarters of the bureau were in Berlin. From December 1941 until December 1942, therefore, I was in Berlin. On 30 January 1942 I was awarded the Kriegsverdienstkreuz zweiter Klasse (Distinguished Service Cross, Second Class) with swords.

In the winter of 1942, the fighting on the eastern front, particularly in the area of the Don, took a dangerous turn, and in order to provide support in the region, where Hungarian, Italian and Romanian units were in action, German fighting units were formed anew and sent into action as "corset stays." In December 1942 I was attached to the Fegelein task force. This task force was a military formation hastily assembled from any and every unit of the army and the Waffen-SS. I led various units in extremely hard fighting against the Russian penetration of our lines. For my role I was awarded not only the Infantry Assault Decoration and the Close Combat Bar in Bronze, but also the German Cross in Gold. The fighting, during which the task force was utterly destroyed, lasted until March 1943. From December 1942 to March 1943 I was stationed without a break on the Don front.

After the remnant of this task force was disbanded, I was ordered back to the SS Leadership Head Office, where I returned to my old job. Around October 1943, I was ordered to join the Eighth SS Cavalry Division which then fought a holding operation on the Dnieper, near Krivoi Rog, and then returned two months later to Berlin and the SS Leadership Head Office. As a member of staff of the Cavalry and Transport Office, I was seconded in March 1944 (at the time I held the rank of SS Obersturmbannführer) to Budapest to head the staff of the SS Leadership Head Office, with the task of procuring, together with the Wehrmacht and the Hungarian Ministry of War (Honved Ministry), horses and equipment for Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS horse-drawn and mounted units, both new and reinforced.

At the beginning of January 1943 I was promoted to SS Standartenführer.

Finally, I should like to note that in April 1945, when I was travelling from Mauthausen to Flossenbürg, I came into contact with American troops. I was wounded in the encounter. On 26 April 1945 I was awarded the Black Wounded Badge. In May 1945 I was taken prisoner of war by the Americans. I was released at the end of 1947. I began my business activities in Bremen in the autumn of 1948.

(1): What do you know about the foot march which took place in November 1944 of part of the Jewish population of Budapest?

Answer: From my own knowledge I am unable to say who gave the orders for the foot marches of part of the Jewish population of Budapest to the Austrian border in the autumn of 1944. I also do not know anything about the negotiations between the Hungarian Government and Ambassador Veesenmayer on this qüstion. On my journeys between Vienna and Budapest, I saw these foot marches myself. They were accompanied by men in Hungarian uniforms. I am unable to say whether these were Hungarian policemen, or Hungarian Honved soldiers, or both. I have referred to "foot marches," because the foot march of the Jewish population of Budapest spread over several weeks. According to my observations, it began in the last days of October and lasted until 20 or 25 November 1944. In fact I do not know of the date when the foot march started from my own observations, since I was not in Budapest at the time; but I heard about it.

(2): What were the powers of Ambassador Veesenmayer as Reich Plenipotentiary in Hungary?

Answer: I am unable to say anything as to what powers Ambassador Veesenmayer had as Reich Plenipotentiary in Hungary. It was my impression that Veesenmayer was the official interlocutor between Germany and the Hungarian Government, and that all major qüstions were discussed at the top level between Veesenmayer and the Hungarian government. However, in practical terms the departments of the Hungarian Government must have implemented things directly together with the appropriate German offices. For example, on my assignment to "procure horses for units and obtain equipment," as far as I remember I had dealings first with General Winkelmann, and then, at his suggestion, with Veesenmayer. As far as I remember, Veesenmayer established contacts between me and the Ministry of Agriculture and the Honved Ministry through the military attache, General Greiffenberg. I then negotiated directly with these ministries.

(3): In implementing measures, were all the units of the Security Police and the Security Service in Hungary, including the Chief, Geschke, for tactical purposes under the orders of the Higher SS and Police Leader Winkelmann?

Answer: I cannot give a reply to the qüstion as to whether and how all the offices of the Security Police and the Security Service in Hungary were under the orders of the Higher SS and Police Leader. I can only say that when I was assigned to Hungary, I was in technical and disciplinary terms subject to the SS Leadership Head Office, Command Office of the Waffen-SS. It was only in terms of supervision that I was subject to the Higher SS and Police Leader in Hungary, General Winkelmann.

(4): Was the office of the Accused Eichmann in Budapest able to issü instructions or orders to Veesenmayer, Winkelmann and Geschke, and were such instructions or orders issüd?

Answer: I am not familiar with the complicated organizational aspects and structure of authority in detail. However, I cannot imagine that Eichmann's office was able to issü instructions or orders to Ambassador Veesenmayer, or to the Higher SS and Police Leader Winkelmann, or to the Chief of the Security Police and the Security Service. As to whether Eichmann nevertheless issüd instructions and orders, I cannot say anything.

(5): Did the offices of Eichmann, Veesenmayer, Winkelmann and Geschke receive their instructions directly from the German Foreign Ministry or from the Reichsführer-SS?

Answer: As I still remember the organizational scheme today, Veesenmayer received his instructions from the German Foreign Ministry, and Winkelmann received his orders from the personal staff of the Reichsführer-SS. Geschke and Eichmann must have received their orders from the Head Office for Reich Security.

(6): Was the Accused Eichmann the first person to propose through the official channels - more precisely, to Obergruppenführer [sic!] Müller - that the deportation of Hungarian Jews be halted until negotiations were concluded on the supply of war material in return?

Answer: I had no way at all of knowing about the dealings between Eichmann and Gruppenführer Müller.

(7): In order to bring about the projected plan, did Eichmann make arrangements for sending a Jewish negotiator to Constantinople, and did he propose Joel Brand for this role?

Answer: I am unable to say whether it was Eichmann who planned to send a Jewish negotiator to Constantinople, or whether he decided that this should be Joel Brand. When - at the very insistent urging of Jewish circles, particularly Dr. Wilhelm Billitz - I decided to make representations to Himmler in order to help the Jews, I took advantage of the "ten thousand trucks in return for freeing Jews" project to ask for an appointment with Himmler. Today, I am unable to say whether - and if so, to what extent - I discussed with Himmler the details of sending a negotiator. Himmler ordered Eichmann, through Winkelmann, to keep me informed of the negotiations. That is why I was present when Eichmann dispatched Brand to Constantinople. That was the first time I met Brand, and as far as I remember, I had no further meetings with him in Hungary.

(8): Did the Accused try not to obstruct the implementation of the operations referred to, but rather to facilitate things, by proposing to his superior a lesser consideration in return than that demanded by Himmler?

Answer: I do not know anything about Eichmann proposing to his superior a lesser consideration than that demanded by Reichsführer Himmler. Nor do I remember whether immediately on the arrival of the agreement ten per cent of the Jews were already to be released for emigration, in accordance with a promise given by Eichmann to Brand.

(9): Is the Kriegsverdienstkreuz (Distinguished War Service Cross) an important decoration?

Answer: Basically it is the class which determines the importance of the decoration. I received the Distinguished War Service Cross, Second Class, i.e., the lowest level. My other decorations were far more important to me, as they were decorations for bravery.

(10): After the fall of Stalingrad and the retreat of the German army from the Dnieper in January 1944, did you believe that Germany had lost the war?

Answer: Today I am unable to say whether after the fall of Stalingrad and the retreat of the German army from the Dnieper in January 1944 I believed that Germany had lost the war. With the best will in the world I am unable to say today when it was that I realized the war was being lost. In any case I did not realize this suddenly: at times I used to think pessimistically, sometimes optimistically.

(11): What special assignment were you given by Reichsführer-SS Himmler?

Answer: As can be seen in my introductory remarks, in March 1944 I was assigned to Hungary, not by Himmler, but by the SS Leadership Head Office, Command Office of the Waffen-SS. At that time I had only been instructed by the SS Leadership Head Office to procure horses for the army and equipment for mounted and horse-drawn units. I had no further assignments. More particularly, I had no assignment related in any way whatsoever to the treatment of Jews.

(12): Were you convinced that the carrying out of your assignment was of considerable importance?

Answer: Yes, my assignment from the SS Leadership Head Office was of direct service to the military conduct of the War.

(13): Did you carry out your assignment?

Answer: Yes; as far as I remember, in conjunction with the Wehrmacht and the competent Hungarian authorities, some twenty thousand horses were drafted and distributed to those who needed them: Wehrmacht units, Waffen-SS units, and possibly police units as well. However, my efforts to obtain equipment were successful only to a minor extent; I do not remember any details of this.

(14): Did you endeavour to have the management of the Weiss- Manfred Works in Hungary transferred to yourself?

Answer: I did not endeavour to obtain my appointment to manage the Weiss-Manfred Works. As I remember it today, I never wished to remain in the management of the concern after the War either. When in March 1944 I came to Hungary with my staff, the Wehrmacht Commander's Office allocated me three detached houses for my staff. I found out that these belonged to the Manfred Weiss family, whereupon I asked that a representative of the Manfred Weiss family visit me, in order to draw up an inventory in dü form. A Dr. Billitz reported to me about my assignment to procure equipment. Dr. Billitz thought I should contact the person of inflünce in the Weiss-Manfred Works, Dr. Ferenc Choren. He said that he was the only person who could help me with my assignment. At that time Dr. Choren was under arrest. However, I nevertheless managed to establish contact with him. At the outset Dr. Choren thought that, in order to buy up the equipment, a Hungarian firm should be set up, but later he said that this approach would probably also not be successful for obtaining the items of equipment. During the amicable talks I had at the time with Dr. Choren, he suggested one day that perhaps Germany might take over the Weiss-Manfred Works, or rather the shares which were formally in non-Jewish hands, and in return allow the members of the Manfred Weiss family to leave the country. On my proposal, Himmler authorized conclusion of an agreement and gave orders for Obersturmbannführer Bobermin and myself to be appointed to the board of management of the concern.

(15): Was Dr. Choren released from custody at your initiative?

Answer: As far as I remember, Dr. Choren returned to Hungary, at my suggestion and with Himmler's agreement, from the internment camp to the house of the Manfred Weiss family. Dr. Choren remained there until he emigrated with the family. At first I received an authorization from Winkelmann to communicate with him. I do not remember definitely whether Dr. Choren's return to Budapest was obtained by Winkelmann approaching Himmler, or directly through my approach to Himmler. Dr. Choren remained in Budapest until he emigrated together with the Weiss family, as we have already said.

(16): Did you confiscate factories and other enterprises?

Answer: I cannot remember having confiscated factories or other enterprises. I consider it to be out of the qüstion. I also consider it impossible that my staff would have carried out such confiscations.

(17): Did your measures - particularly your efforts to be put in charge of the Weiss-Manfred Works - serve to carry out the assignment given to you?

Answer: Maintaining the Weiss-Manfred Works was important to the war effort. It also served to carry out my assignment, because there was a possibility of using the concern's connections in order to procure equipment. The industrial plants which belonged to the Weiss-Manfred Works produced aircraft, lorries, motor bikes - everything down to pins, including foodstuffs and preserves. It also seemed important to employ some thirty thousand workers close to the fighting troops.

When I was negotiating with Dr. Chorin, the Jewish shares of the Weiss-Manfred Works had been seized by the Hungarian Government. That was what Dr. Chorin explained to me. The non-Jewish shares of the concern were held by members of the Weiss family. As far as I remember, they amounted to 51 per cent of the total shares. As far as I remember, Dr. Chorin maintained that these shares, which were in non- Jewish hands, might also be seized by the Hungarian Government through an order of the government to that effect. As far as I remember, the main clauses of the agreement between Mr. Chorin and Himmler were, firstly, the transfer of the management in trust of the non-Jewish shares of the Weiss_Manfred Works to the German Reich for a duration of twenty_five years, and secondly, the approval of the departure of a group of members of the family, plus certain persons who were not part of the family, as well as the provision by the German Reich to the Weiss family of a sum which I no longer remember. As far as I remember, Dr. Chorin asked that Horthy be informed of this contract only after the family group had left Hungary. I cannot remember whether there were similar requirements on the part of the Germans. I do know that the entire transaction was initiated by Dr. Chorin. As far as I remember, the contracts were signed in the middle of May, and the family left Hungary on the same day. Immediately after their departure, as far as I remember, Veesenmayer was notified by Winkelmann. Today I no longer remember whether I met Brand before or after the finalization of the trust agreement; it must have been around this time.

(18): Are you familiar with what is known as the Brand Operation, under which, subject to certain conditions, one million Jews were to leave the country?

Answer: I am familiar with the Brand Operation of trucks in return for the release of people. I do not know whether the Accused suggested this "Brand Operation" and submitted it to his superior. I also do not know whether the Accused travelled several times to Berlin in this connection.

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