The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Testimony of Kurt Becher (Part 3 of 4)

(19): How and when did you become involved in this operation, and at whose initiative?

Answer: Not very long after I received Himmler's basic agreement to conclude the trust agreement on the Weiss_Manfred Works, Dr. Billitz approached me and asked me to intervene with Himmler, in order to save Jewish people. As far as I remember, that was at the beginning of May 1944.

(20): When and under what circumstances did you meet Mr. Joel Brand? When did you first talk to him?

Answer: I have already referred to this question in my reply to the eighth question of this record.

(21): Were the Accused's proposals for implementing the operation more favourable than those of Reichsfuhrer-SS Himmler with whom you talked?

Answer: I was not familiar with all of the Accused's proposals in detail. When under urging from Dr. Billitz I applied for an appointment to see Himmler, which I managed to obtain through the good offices of Winkelmann, I knew from Dr. Billitz that a proposal was being discussed about trucks in return for releasing Jewish people. Himmler did not say whether he was aware of this proposal and who had made it. However, as far as I remember, Himmler's words were: "Get out of the Jews everything that can be got out of them. Promise them what they are asking for. As to what we will keep, we'll just have to see!" I objected and made a point of saying that the arrangements made with the Jews must be observed, come what may. I remember that, as far as the unit of account was concerned, Himmler finally laid down an amount of one thousand dollars per person. I remember various sums being discussed at the time, and I should imagine that Dr. Kasztner may well have known more about the details than I did.

(22): After the War, did you act as interpreter during the interrogation of fellow detainees in internment or prison camps or prisons?

Answer: No.

(23): During the time you were imprisoned, did you speak about persecution of the Jews and the responsibility for such persecution with your fellow detainees, Veesenmayer, Winkelmann, Geschke, Juettner and others?

Answer: As far as I remember, during the years in which I was interned I spoke with many people also about this problem, including General Winkelmann when we were both imprisoned in Budapest (1945-1946), and later General Juettner in the witnesses' wing of the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. I do not remember any conversations with Veesenmayer, with whom I was also imprisoned in Budapest, and later in Nuremberg. As far as I remember I did not come across Geschke in prison.

(24): Did you also meet the above-mentioned persons after the end of your imprisonment, or did you make any other contact with them, and did you talk to them about the subject of the Jews? When did this occur last?

Answer: As far as I remember, after I was released from internment in Nuremberg, in December 1947, I did not have any conversations with any of the gentlemen referred to - Winkelmann, Juettner, Veesenmayer, or Geschke. I corresponded with Winkelmann and Juettner with regard to matters other than the Jewish problems. My correspondence with Winkelmann ceased in 1948, and that with Juettner in 1952.

(25): During your imprisonment, did you talk to Dr. Kasztner about Jewish matters? If so, when was this and who initiated such discussions? Did Dr. Kasztner exert himself towards this end?

Answer: Dr. Kasztner told me that he was in Nuremberg in order to give evidence as a witness in the Wilhelmstrasse trial, and on this occasion I had a meeting with him - as far as I remember this was in August 1947. If I am not mistaken, I had another talk with Dr. Kasztner around April 1948, when I was still in what was known as the open witnesses' wing in Nuremberg. During this meeting we naturally talked about our joint rescue efforts. I was taken from the prison for an interrogation and met Dr. Kasztner at that time. Of course, I endeavoured to get in touch with Dr. Kasztner again.

(26): After you were released from prison, did Dr. Kasztner come to see you? If so, how often did you meet and for how long?

Answer: I neither saw nor spoke to Dr. Kasztner again afterwards. As to whether I corresponded later by letter with Dr. Kasztner, as far as I remember I did exchange a few letters sporadically with Dr. Kasztner.

(27): After you were released from prison, did Mr. Joel Brand come to see you, and did he talk with you about Jewish matters?

Answer: Mr. Joel Brand wrote to me on 16 May 1955 and asked to come and see me. As far as I remember, he came to Bremen in June 1955, together with the writer Weissberg_Cybulski. These two gentlemen explained that he wanted to write a book about the rescue work of the Vaada [Jewish Rescue Committee] and the close co-operation with me. They said that this book would become a best-seller and was to appear in all the languages of the world. However, it would only be possible to write this book if I would be prepared to take part in the book, in the interest of historical truth. After all, Mr. Brand could not say anything of his own knowledge about what had happened in Hungary after he left for Constantinople in the middle of May 1944. That meant that in that regard he would have to rely on the stories of others. It was true that he had the Vaada's report by Dr. Rudolf Kasztner. However, it was vital that I present the co-operation of the Jewish Rescue Committee with the German side. He was particularly interested in the historical truth being described about the success I had had as a result of my negotiations with Himmler.

I did talk to the two of them about some of the events of that period, but I indicated that I was not inclined to co_operate with them on this book. During the conversation, Mr. Brand asked me to give him an affidavit in which I would confirm that wooden barracks which were acquired with means provided by him would be made available to the German authorities. He needed such a statement in order to submit claims for reparations. I did not know anything about the matter. I therefore refused to give the affidavit he asked for. My impression was that Mr. Brand was very disappointed at this. At that time Mr. Brand spent several days in Bremen. He kept trying to convince me to take part in his book. In a joint letter, dated 22 July 1955, Messrs. Brand and Weissberg-Cybulski once again asked me to work on the book with them. I did not reply to this letter, and since then I have had no contacts with Mr. Brand.

(28): After the War were you in touch with Mr. Andreas Biss?

Answer: Yes. I do not remember when Mr. Biss first wrote to me. I did speak to Mr. Biss - he was Dr. Kasztner's representative on the Budapest Rescue Committee - about our joint work. I think that my last personal meeting with Mr. Biss was at the end of 1960, or the beginning of 1961.

(29): Did you have general conversations with the Accused about the Solution of the Jewish Question in Hungary, and what was the Accused's attitude?

Answer: I was careful not to have general discussions with Eichmann about the Jewish Question. From many things he said and the measures he applied, I knew what the Accused's attitude was. Eichmann was an ardent Nazi and a fanatical anti-Semite.

The representative of the Attorney General in Jerusalem has read out to me the Accused's allegations as contained in Prosecution documents Nos. 3290 to 3305, tape 69, volume VI of the Accused's statement to the police. Insofar as I am cited in these statements and my activities are described, I wish to state that they in no way correspond to the truth. I did not have any influence on the carrying out of deportations; it has been proved that I brought my influence to bear against deportations in many instances, and in some cases I was also successful in doing so. My assignmnent from the SS Leadership Head Office and the Manfred Weiss- Manfred operation I carried out were totally unconnected with Eichmann. As I have already stated, it was around the first half of May that, on the urging of the Jewish leadership, I tried to acquire influence with Himmler in favour of the Jews. My above statements are supported inter alia by the declaration made by Dr. Rudolf Kasztner.

I have been shown Dr. Kasztner's sworn evidence of 13 September 1945 before the International Military Tribunal (IMG Volume XXXI, No. 47, in the Israel Prosecution documents), insofar as the evidence refers to me. If differences as to motives are seen in Dr. Kasztner's testimony, I am unable to provide any explanation of that.

(30): Do the statements and evidence which you gave in 1944,* {* Should probably be 1946} 1947 and 1948 in the witnesses' prison in Nuremberg, on oath and not on oath, conform to the truth?

Answer: I no longer remember in detail the statements and evidence which I gave in the witnesses' prison in Nuremberg. However, in accordance with my inner attitude, all the statements and evidence I gave, whether on oath or not, were made to the best of my knowledge and belief. If I am today to swear that all such statements and evidence conform to the truth, I would have to be shown the documents, so that I can check them all in detail.

(31): When did you learn what happened to the deportees?

Answer: Jewish sources, particularly Dr. Kasztner, first hinted, and from the end of August 1944, I think, told me that of the Jews deported from Hungary only some were being used for labour, while the others were annihilated. At that, as far as I remember, I turned to Eichmann, too, and he insisted that these were lies. All the Jews, he said, were being used for labour. It was only when I read the content of the order which I managed to get Himmler to issue in the autumn of 1944 - today I am not entirely sure whether it was October or November - "With immediate effect, I prohibit any annihilation of Jews, and on the contrary, I order that weak and sick persons be looked after" - that I received for the first time confirmation from the German side that Dr. Kasztner's information was correct.

(32): What information did you provide to General Juettner about the "foot march," and how did he react to it?

Answer: General Juettner was furious about the foot march. Before he left Vienna for Budapest - this was the middle of November - I was able to draw his attention to the details of this catastrophic measure, and I had also informed him that, together with General Winkelmann, I had already protested to Himmler. General Juettner, under the impression of what he had seen himself, had had talks in Budapest with General Winkelmann, and also with a subordinate of Eichmann's in the presence of Winkelmann and myself, and expressed his indignation. As far as I remember, Eichmann's subordinate put forward the excuse that he was only carrying out orders.

(33): What do you know of the "foot march" of the Jews of Budapest to the Austrian border?

Answer: As far as I remember, the foot march began at the end of October 1944, i.e., under the Szalasi Government. The reason given for the foot march was that these people had to build a defensive rampart on the Austrian border. That is why there was mention of age limits for men suitable for this purpose. When I had discussions in Switzerland with President Roosevelt's emissary on war refugee matters, Mr. McClelland, and with Mr. Saly Mayer, I promised these gentlemen that I would without delay make representations to Himmler, in order to put an end to this foot march, but in any case, if that could not be arranged, at least to ensure that those taking part in the march should, in terms of age and physical capacity, be suitable for constructing fieldworks.

When I returned from Switzerland at the beginning of November, I saw, on the road from Vienna to Budapest, dreadful sights of misery of people marching. I immediately informed General Winkelmann, and together with General Winkelmann submitted a detailed report - I believe by teletype - to Himmler, with the request that he give orders for this foot march to be stopped.

I do not know whether this order for which we asked was issued immediately. In fact, the foot march continued, because a few days later I again saw these marches on the road from Budapest to Vienna.

I then went to Himmler and endeavoured to have the foot march stopped. Himmler then prohibited the foot march. I remember the people on the foot march being in an extremely bad state. As far as I remember, those in the march included ten-year-old children, as well as old people of 65 years of both sexes. I also remember that at least in part - I drove along the road three times - the weather was bad. As to whether in talking to General Juettner I called this foot march Eichmann's regiment (Standarte), I cannot remember any more today.

(34): Where did Eichmann live in Budapest?

Answer: I do not know where his dwelling was. I do not remember ever visiting him there. His office was on the Schwabenberg.

(35): Did you know Slawik, Eichmann's caretaker?

Answer: No.

(36): Did you know the name of Eichmann's driver in Budapest?

Answer: No.

(3): Did you know SS Obersturmbannführer Dr. Wilhelm Hoettl?

Answer: I knew him fleetingly in Budapest. I met him again later in the witnesses' wing of the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg.

(38): Did you know of any relations between the Accused and Dr. Hoettl?

Answer: Not at all.

(39): What German personnel were available to you for carrying out your special assignment for the SS Leadership Head Office?

Answer: The people I worked with were detached from units of the Waffen-SS and assigned to my staff. They were officers for requisitioning horses, veterinary officers, paymasters, non-commissioned officers and private soldiers. The horse- requisitioning commissions consisted of Hungarian officers from the Honved Ministry, German army officers and members of my staff.

The hearing was adjourned at 17.30.
Bremen, 21 June 1961

The hearing was continued on 21 June 1961. Present: The same persons.

(40): Do you identify as authentic the teletypes of 25 and 26 August 1944, of which a photocopy has been submitted (Document Nos. 1421 and 1422 of the Israeli Prosecution)?

Answer: Although I do not remember the exact wording, I acknowledge that these documents are photocopies of teletypes which might have been exchanged between myself and Himmler.

(41): Do you still maintain as accurate your statements made in 1947 and 1948 as they have been joined together in Prosecution document No. 774?

Answer: No. 929 of 7 July 1947 and 929 B of 10 July 1947 (though only slightly, because of the short time available to me), I can declare that the statements made in them correspond to the truth. Having looked at these records, I remember especially that my description of the conversation with Eichmann before Himmler is accurate.

Due to lack of time, I only glanced also at the other records submitted to me yesterday: one without a number, dated 28 July 1947, No. 1858 of 29 August 1947, No. 2294 of 1 November 1947, No. 2710a of 2 March 1948, and No. 2710c of 22 June 1948. I have only a vague recollection of these interrogations. As can be seen in these records, in part I expressed myself on matters which I knew by hearsay only, and about which I heard only during my internment. Today I am no longer able to remember many of the events about which I testified in these interrogations.

(42): What led up to the conversation in December 1944 in Triberg between Himmler and Eichmann at which you were present?

Answer: I gave expression to my complaints and my uneasiness that it seemed to me that, time and again, Eichmann tried to circumvent the instructions issued by Himmler. I requested Himmler to send for Eichmann, in order to inform him in person of his intentions. I had told Himmler that Eichmann simply did not take his orders seriously, and would only carry them out if they were expressly confirmed by Gruppenführer Müller. Eichmann had told me this much himself. Himmler then sent for Eichmann, together with myself.

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