The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Testimony of Dr. Wilhelm Hoettl (Part 4 of 8)

I repeat that I had nothing at all to do with this Arrow Cross operation to seize power. This can best be proved by the fact that shortly after the new government was formed, the new Hungarian foreign minister, Baron Dr. Kemeny, wrote to Kaltenbrunner stating that I was persona non grata in Hungary.

There is not a single word of truth in the allegation that the Hungarian Government decorated me in recognition of my support of the revolt. I only recently learned of this rumour from a newspaper. The relevant documents will show that I am today making the same statements as I did in the Nuremberg Trials, apart from the fact that, as far as I know, Veesenmayer himself is still alive.

During the events of March, Eichmann came to Hungary, but I am unable to say exactly when he arrived. However, I do know that, at the end of March or the beginning of April, he must already have been in Budapest, because that was when I intervened with him for the first time on behalf of the wife of the well-known film actor Hans Moser. As a Jewess, she had moved to Budapest and asked me to issue a kind of Letter of Protection, so that she would not be affected by the anti-Jewish measures which were already starting then. Hans Moser knows about this as well. I do not know whether his wife is still alive. This I did following the mediation of another well-known actress, Marthe Harrell, who came to see me personally in my office in Disz-ter.

In the meantime, the original programme of ridding Germany of Jews by their emigration had been abandoned, to be replaced by the new aim of physically exterminating them. Thus the assignment of Eichmann and his commandos in Hungary could only be to deport Hungarian Jewry to the extermination camps.

As to what Eichmann undertook in the period I have already mentioned, when I had no further contact with him, in the direction referred to, in Germany or elsewhere, I was not able to observe this, and I do not know more about it than what emerged at the Nuremberg Trials or was published. Anyhow, the first opportunity I had to observe him once more was in Hungary.

Since it is probably helpful to describe Eichmann's activities coherently, it would be expedient to speak about this in more detail, before going into the rest of the specific questions, from No. 24 onwards.

It was decided to adjourn the hearing until the following day, 20 June 1961, at 9.30 a.m. at the same place. The hearing ended at 5.20 p.m.

The hearing continued on 20 June 1961 at 9.30 a.m.

Present: as before.

The witness stated in continued examination as follows:

With regard to the physical annihilation of the Jewish People, until I lost my post and was transferred to the Waffen-SS, the only thing that I knew was that the Einsatztruppen (sic: Operational Troops) of the Security Police and the Security Service had received orders to liquidate by shooting the supporters of Communist ideology, particularly the Jews. However, at that time I was not aware of the details of this order and its origin. It was not until later that I heard from SS General Dr. Stahlecker, who in 1938 had briefly been my chief in Vienna, that this order came from Hitler himself and had been passed on by Heydrich to these Operational Troops.

It should be understood that this problem occupied my mind to a great extent, both then and after the War, since I am a historian of the modern period. During the time I was in prison, and above all when I was in Nuremberg as a witness, I had ample opportunity to talk about this extermination programme with those who had been the leading functionaries of the Third Reich. The unanimous opinion of these men, who obviously had a far greater insight than I did, was that the idea of physical extermination of the Jewish People could only have originated with Hitler, and that in this regard he had not been influenced in any way by others. What is interesting is that Dr. Brand, who for many years was Hitler's personal physician and as his doctor had a good personal relationship with him, expressed himself similarly.

As to what were the real mainsprings of Hitler's hatred and desire for extermination, I can only guess that he was influenced by some primitive idea, although his disease - Parkinson's - may have played some role in his conception that all Jews were potential "enemies of the Reich," and that therefore, in the long run, the Third Reich would not be able to exist unless they were eliminated. It is also possible that some role was played by his own personal observations from his early years in Vienna, which he considered to shed an unfavourable light on the Jews. Concrete indications that with Hitler - just as was the case, on clear facts, for Heydrich - a further factor consisted in his being of partial Jewish descent are not known to me; such allegations have only been put forward in newspaper articles, but no concrete evidence has been provided.

After having been reminded emphatically of my duty to tell the truth, I state that I know nothing about Hitler's having been advised directly or even indirectly by Eichmann in regard to these measures of his that, in a similar way as I described yesterday with regard to the "Operation Margarethe I" plan, he could have been influenced by a memorandum from Eichmann; I also think this would have been extremely unlikely, because, with his boundless Hitler worship, Eichmann would not have refrained from boasting about any such direct contact. In any case, I never heard anything about such a matter.

In any case, as far as I know, the order to set up such Operation Commandos, which coincided with the beginning of the Russian campaign, was the beginning of the extermination plan and its implementation.

It is possible that it was also that, at this point in time, the concentration of the Jews in ghettos began; in any case, this method of deporting and rounding them up was also one of the phases which could serve for the seizure of the Jews.

As to whether the concentration camps could also be presented as an instrument of this type: Presumably the concentration camps were originally designed primarily for isolating political opponents - in other words, to prevent them from carrying out active measures. I have not managed to find out without any doubt who was in overall charge of all concentration camps.

However, there are grounds for assuming that the administration of concentration camps was subordinate to the SS Economic-Administrative Head Office under SS General Oswald Pohl, who was one of the SS Head Office Chiefs (just as Heydrich or Kaltenbrunner was the Head Office Chief of the Head Office for Reich Security, SS General Berger was Head Office Chief of the SS Head Office, and SS General Hildebrand was Head Office Chief of the Head Office for Racial and Resettlement Affairs).

Orders for internment in concentration camps was something else; here the responsible body was the Head Office for Reich Security, and within it, the two police departments, i.e., IV (Gestapo) and V (Criminal Police). The chief of Department IV was SS General Heinrich Müller, who has already been mentioned several times; the chief of Department V was SS General Nebe, and later, after his arrest in connection with the events of 20 July 1944, SS Oberführer Panzinger.

As a practical example of the activities of the offices and officials mentioned, I should like to refer to the release of ex-Mayor Seitz of Vienna from the Dachau concentration camp. At the request of American personages then in Switzerland, I tried in March 1945 to have the ex-Mayor of Vienna, Seitz, set free. As a result of intercession by Schellenberg, I obtained Dr. Kaltenbrunner's approval, but he then sent me to SS General Pohl who had to give his consent as well, and who did so. I would assume from this dual competence that, in fact, the SS Economic- Administrative Head Office was responsible for the concentration camps jointly with the Head Office for Reich Security.

Although I am aware that later Eichmann's Section was assigned "deportation of Jews" as one of its functions, I do not know whether in actual fact it also dealt with orders for internment in concentration camps.

On being asked now whether the well-known delivery into Gestapo detention of the Viennese banker Louis Rothschild (head of the Vienna Rothschild Bank) took place at Eichmann's instigation or with his co-operation, I think I must reply in the negative. I believe that his arrest, which was subsequently revoked after a large ransom was paid, probably resulted from the direct intervention of an office not subordinate to Eichmann, i.e., the Vienna Gestapo. An old friend of Baron Rothschild's, Count Dr. Karl Khuen, asked me to mediate for Rothschild to be allowed to have a radio in his prison cell in Morzinplatz, Vienna, and permission was obtained from a Gestapo official called Dr. Ebner; from that, too, I concluded that Eichmann had nothing to do with these purely police matters.

The statement I have just made related to the period before my transfer to the Waffen-SS. After that, until I was reinstated, I was unable to make any relevant observations about subsequent phases in the persecution of the Jews in general, or Eichmann's activities in particular. The reason for this is that I really was serving at the front and no longer had any real contact with those circles with whom I used to mix. I was engaged in the War against the partisans, serving in the Prinz Eugen Division in Yugoslavia, close to the Yugoslav-Greek border. I myself saw nothing of Jews there, so that I could not judge whether they had already been removed by the Operations Units to which I have referred. It was only by rumour that I heard about the large-scale operations against the Jews which were getting under way in the meantime, but I cannot remember whether Eichmann's name was mentioned as the person responsible. That was the situation until I was reinstated to the service and returned to Berlin on 1 February 1942. (I had married in 1938, and my family lived in Vienna; however, while I was serving at the front I only returned once to Vienna, for a two-week leave, and did not then hear anything more definite about Jewish matters.)

I spent most of 1943 in Rome. The special assignment I had been given by Schellenberg was to observe, together with the newly-appointed German Ambassador to the Vatican, Baron von Weizsaecker, the symptoms of decay of Italian Fascism, and, in view of my special connections with the Vatican, to try and bring about some form of talks for mediation with prominent figures among the Western Allies. This is what I later managed to do.

As far as anti-Jewish measures in Italy are concerned, I saw how the Fascist regime, and Mussolini himself as well, managed very cleverly to avoid the pressure from the German troops to intensify the anti-Jewish measures, so that, to the best of my knowledge - at least in 1943 - Italian Jewry was not subjected to any special persecution.

Since I had managed to establish closer connections from Berlin with Department 2 of the Hungarian Honved General Staff, at the end of 1943, Schellenberg authorized me to move from my permanent office in Berlin to Vienna, where I remained until I was ordered to go to Budapest in March 1944.

At the end of 1943 I handed over to my deputy - who subsequently carried out my duties in Rome - control of the Italian section in the counter-intelligence service, of which I was still in charge. He was an SS Sturmbannführer by the name of Dr. Karl Hass.

During this period in Vienna as well (as in Budapest), I had no contact with Eichmann until March 1944 and heard nothing about his activities either.

Regarding the next group of specific questions, I now state as follows:

(24): From the beginning of the War, the accepted practice was for police units to enter the country that was being occupied together with the German military units. While in terms of provisioning, such police units belonged to the units from which they received such things as food and fuel, etc., they continued to be subordinate to the same Berlin headquarters as previously. A parallel example of this arrangement would be the Todt Organisation, which also had duties behind the front lines, was also supplied by the army, and also continued to be subordinate to its head office in Berlin. The duties of the Organisation Todt included building fortifications, bridges and so on.

In reply to a supplementary question:

I know nothing of the existence of an organization set up by Himmler after he was appointed Minister of the Interior, which consisted of Jewish persons of mixed parentage, Gypsies of mixed parentage, prominent political opponents such as supporters of the Roehm faction, and also criminals, who were concentrated under the title of "labour service" and were then organized into units of one hundred men and particularly in France, after a brief period of semi- military training, were brought to the Mortier Barracks, and allocated as forced labour to the Operational Troops of the said Organisation Todt.

I would assume from the questions asked that, in the main, they refer to the SS Special Operations Units in Hungary. Although I am not familiar with precise details, yet I can state the following:

The two largest SS Special Operations Units were those of the Security Police and the Security Service, and the Order Police. However, to some extent they formed a single whole, because they were both subject to SS and Police General Otto Winkelmann, who was then appointed "Higher SS and Police Leader in Hungary." Regardless of this, however, and probably in actual fact to a far greater extent, the two Operations Units were under the control of their Berlin offices, i.e., the Head Office for Reich Security and the Head Office of the Order Police.

The so-called Eichmann Sonderkommando was, it is true, part of the Sonderkommando of the Security Police and the SD in terms of provisioning, but was definitely in some sort of special position, with the precise details of which I am not familiar. In addition there were also Sonderkommandos of the SS Economic-Administrative Head Office, of the SS Head Office, and also, for example of Department VII of the Head Office for Reich Security (Science and Research, whose duties were to confiscate valuable items from Jewish libraries).

It is quite possible that there were other SS Sonderkommandos, because the situation was such that each head office in Berlin endeavoured in such cases to wield its influence in the area to be occupied. The overall operation in Hungary was influenced to the strongest degree by Himmler, who managed right from the beginning to exert very considerable influence on the manning of leading positions. For example, he succeeded in ensuring that the Ambassador and Reich Plenipotentiary to be appointed would belong to the SS (overnight, Dr. Veesenmayer, who had been an SS Standartenführer, received the rank of General in the SS), and he also had a Higher SS and Police Leader installed, as well as a Senior Commander of the Waffen-SS, even though at this point very few Waffen- SS units had taken part in the occupation of Hungary.

The chains of command were very difficult to grasp, even for an insider. In accordance with the Berlin offices' well-known craze for centralizing everything, every single office tried to control as completely as possible the unit working for it in Hungary, and to keep it free from other influences. Under these circumstances, the Higher SS and Police Leader mentioned before, General Winkelmann, was more or less a figurehead, while police units and Sonderkommandos, which were nominally subordinate to him, in actual fact received their orders from Berlin, and their reports to Berlin would often be notified to Winkelmann only in the form of copies.

(25): As far as the Sonderkommando Eichmann is concerned, I heard about its existence in Hungary or Budapest, as I said yesterday in my general description (concerning the wife of the actor Moser) somewhere around March 1944, although it is possible that such a special commando arrived in Budapest with the army, like other commandos. I can also not say precisely what the situation was - whether Eichmann himself was in personal command of this Sonderkommando right from the point at which it came into existence in Hungary, or whether he first ran it from Berlin and arrived on the scene later.

At any rate, when the intervention in favour of Mrs. Moser mentioned yesterday was made, i.e., at the end of March or the beginning of April 1944, Eichmann was in Budapest. Until then the situation in Hungary was such that before 19 March 1944 the Hungarian governments had implemented anti-Jewish measures, which no doubt were applied mainly as a result of German pressure, in a very lax fashion only. For example, there were many exceptions made in the case of Jewish intellectuals in particular, who as doctors, lawyers and so forth were simply declared to be indispensable. This was especially true of exemptions from labour service, which male Jews of certain age groups had to perform. The measure I have mentioned is the only major one of which I was aware before March 1944.

In this context it is important to note that the percentage of Jews in the Hungarian population was far higher than in Austria or in Germany, for example, and accordingly this group had far greater influence.

However, it is perhaps worth mentioning here that - unlike the situation in Austria and Germany - the larger part of Hungarian Jewry consisted of craftsmen and also of farmers. Anti-Semitism in Hungary was very pronounced among many sections of the population, and definitely much more radical than in Austria. This was particularly true of the class of leaders who achieved leading positions after Horthy seized power, and more particularly through their advancement by Goemboes, who was Prime Minister for many years. According to my observations, it was the Hungarian gendarmerie who were the most extremely anti-Semitic. This was definitely an elite unit, and my historical analysis of it was that it was to some extent the firmest support of the Hungarian regime after the First World War.

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