“Each Assumed the Right to Decide the Fate of Men, and Death was the Intended Result of his Power and Contempt” : The Einsatzgruppen Trial Part One


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past week I have been writing about the Nazi crimes against humanity in Poland and the Soviet Union I want to spend just a bit of time discussing the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen who were tried at Nuremberg beginning on September 29th 1947.  It was nearly a miracle that these men would face justice, for the evidence that condemned them had not been found until most of the war crimes trials were over, resources And personnel for the American War Crimes Tribunals drying up, and with the Cold War looming a growing impatience of Americans and Germans alike to end the trials due to the growing Soviet threat.

But in the charred ruins of Berlin, American investigations discovered a treasure trove of documents about crimes that had not been brought to justice. A young Jewish-American lawyer named Benjamin Ferencz volunteered to take on the prosecution of these masters of mass murder. Ferencz, a distinguished graduate of Harvard Law School, and veteran of the Second World War, was the youngest man on the prosecution team, and though a brilliant researcher, and investigator, he  had never served as a prosecutor for any trial. But no other prosecutors were available as the Americans attempted to wrap up the remaining trials.

Ferencz reviewed the evidence recovered from the ruins of the Reichs Security Main Office, and realized that the crimes committed had to be prosecuted. He brought the evidence to Brigadier General Telford Taylor admitted his office’s lack of resources but told Ferencz that if he took the case he would add it.

The evidence was some of the most damning of all the War Crimes trials because it came from the unedited reports submitted by the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen and their subordinate units. Eventually, twenty-three of these men were selected for trial, unfortunately some of the most guilty were either dead, or missing, including the man these men reported to and who relentlessly drove them to kill more Jews faster, even if it harmed the German war effort; SD Standartenführer Adolf Eichmann who seemed to have to disappeared off the face of the earth, but with the help of the Vatican was beginning a new life under a false name in Argentina.

On July 29th the following Einsatzgruppe leaders filed into the dock In Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice.

SS-Major General Otto Ohlendorf, Chief of Einsatzgruppe D. Graduated in law and political science from the Universities of Leipzig and Goettingen. A one-time practicing barrister in the courts of Alfeld-Leine and Hildesheim.

SS-Brigadier General Heinz Jost, Chief of Einsatzgruppe A. Specialized in law and economics when he studied at the Universities of Giessen and Munich.

SS-Brigadier General Erich Naumann, Chief of Einsatzgruppe B. Left school at age of 16 and entered commercial firm. Later became officer of police.

SS-Brigadier General Otto Rasch. Doctor of Law and Economics, former mayor of Wittenberg.

SS-Brigadier General Erwin Schulz. Studied law at University of Berlin and later became staff member of Dresden Bank.

SS-Brigadier General Franz Six. Full time university professor.

SS-Colonel Paul Blobel. Former architect.

SS-Colonel Walter Blume. Graduated in law at University of Erlangen.

SS-Colonel Martin Sandberger. Studied jurisprudence at Universities of Munich, Freiburg, Cologne and Tuebinger. Assistant judge in Inner Administration of Wuerttemberg.

SS-Colonel Willy Seibert. Graduated from University of Goettingen in 1932 in economics.

SS-Colonel Eugen Steimle. Studied history, Germanic languages and French at the Universities of Tuebingen and Berlin.

SS-Colonel Ernst Biberstein. Former clergyman.

SS-Colonel Werner Braune. Graduated in law from University of Jena and obtained degree of Doctor of Juridical Science.

SS-Lieutenant Colonel Walter Haensch. Studied law at Leipzig University and trained as “Referendar.”

SS-Lieutenant Colonel Gustav Nosske. Studied banking, economics and law. Became assessor and “entered Administration of Justice” at Halle.

SS-Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Ott. Began career in administrative office of German Workers’ front in Lindau.

SS-Lieutenant Colonel Eduard Strauch. Graduate Erlangen University. Member Intelligence service, press officer, disciplinary officer general SS.

SS-Major Woldemar Klingelhoefer. Voice teacher and opera singer.

SS-Major Lothar Fendler. Doctor in dentistry.

SS-Major Waldemar Von Radetzky. Linguist. Worked with import firm.

SS-Captain Felix Ruehl. Commercial Clerk. Lived in England for one year.

SS-First Lieutenant Heinz Hermann Schubert. High School education; apprentice to lawyer and “registrator.” In civil administrative service.

SS-Master Sergeant Mathias Graf. Independent business man and civil servant.

Telford Taylor spoke at the beginning of the trial:

“These defendants are not German peasants or artisans drafted into the Wehrmacht. They are not uneducated juveniles. They are lawyers, teachers, artists, and a former clergyman. They are, in short, men of education, who were in full possession of their faculties and who fully understood the grave and sinister significance of the program they embarked upon. They were part of the hard core of the SS. They did not give mere lip service to Himmler’s atrocious racial doctrines; they were chosen for this terrible assignment because they were thought to be men of sufficient ruthlessness to carry them out. They are hand-picked fanatics; every one of them was an officer of the SS … They are not unhappy victims, unwillingly pushed into crime by the tyranny of the Third Reich; these men, above all others, themselves, spread the Nazi doctrine with fire and sword.”

Well educated, cultured for the most part, schooled in the law and justice, cultured and articulate. It seemed that men who were being charged with killing between a million and a million and a half people would look and act  like barbarians, but these men didn’t look anything like murderers, yet all of these men in the dock shared one expression, the firm resolution that drove them across the steppes and swamps of Russia to fulfill Hitler’s diabolical mission of exterminating the Jewish-Bolshevik menace and conquer the Lebensraum that would secure the Thousand Year Reich. 

But all were committed to the cause, and to it they gave what should have been the best years of their lives. But working under the direction of Eichmann they compiled statistics like like the sports reporters of the 1990s reporting the exploits of baseball home run hitters on steroids, each report exacting in detail, and numbing to read.  Einsatzgruppe B sent a report to the RHSA on October 15th 1941 cited the following:

After announcing that 71,105 Jews had been executed in Lithuania, the Einsatz commander, Walter Stahlecker appended an inventory of all persons killed by his organization, just as a regional office of a national or transnational corporation might cite its monthly or quarterly profits:

“Total: Jews | Communists | Total

Lithuania           80,311 | 860 | 81,171
Latvia                 30,025 | 1,845 | 31,868
Estonia.              474 |     684    |1,158
White Ruthenia 7,620 |            |7,620
Total:               118,430 | 3,387 | 121,817

to be added to these figures: In Lithuania and Latvia Jews annihilated by pogroms: 5,500 Jews, Communists and partisans executed in old-Russian area: 2,000 Lunatics executed: 748 (correct total 130,065): 122,455 Communists and Jews liquidated by State Pol. and Security Service Tilsit during search actions: 5,502 Total: 135,567”

Justice Michael Musmanno who tried the case wrote:

“Like election returns, the figures on executions came pouring into Eichmann’s office in Berlin, and with the characteristic Teutonic precision and passion for orderliness the reports were duly mimeographed and tabulated, copies were distributed and originals filed.”

But why? The report filed by the Commander of Einsatzgruppe C wrote after reporting some 51,000 executions in the Ukraine, announced the reason why: 

 “These were the motives for the executions carried out by the Kommandos: Political officials, looters and saboteurs, active Communists and political representatives, Jews who gained their release from prison camps by false statements, agents and  informers of the NKWD, persons who, by false depositions and influencing witnesses, were instrumental in the deportation of ethnic Germans, Jewish sadism and revengefulness, undesirable elements, partisans, politrucks, dangers of plague and epidemics, members of Russian bands, armed insurgents… provisioning of Russian bands, rebels and agitators, drifting juveniles …” and then came the all inclusive phrase: “Jews in general.”

In his opening Ferencz said:

“May it please your Honors. Vengeance is not our goal, nor do we seek merely a just retribution. We ask this Court to affirm by international penal action man’s right to live in peace and dignity regardless of his race or creed. The case we present is a plea of humanity to law… 

“Each of the defendants in the dock held a position of responsibility or command in an extermination unit. Each assumed the right to decide the fate of men, and death was the intended result of his power and contempt. Their own reports will show that the slaughter committed by these defendants was dictated, not by military necessity, but by that supreme perversion of thought, the Nazi theory of the master race. We shall show that these deeds of men in uniform were the methodical execution of long-range plans to destroy ethnic, national, political, and religious groups which stood condemned in the Nazi mind.”

Where Ferencz ended his associate, Peter Walton, from Georgia took up the opening statement:

“These small forces totaling not more than three thousand men killed at least one million human beings in approximately two years’ time. These figures enable us to make estimates which help considerably in understanding this case. They show that the four Einsatzgruppen averaged some 1,350 murders per day during a two-year period; 1,350 human beings slaughtered on the average day, seven days a week for more than one hundred weeks … All these thousands of men, women, and children killed had first to be selected, brought together, held in restraint, and transported to a place of death. They had to be counted, stripped of possessions, shot, and buried. And burial did not end the job, for all of the pitiful possessions taken from the dead had to be salvaged, crated, and shipped to the Reich. Finally, books were kept to cover these transactions. Details of all these things had to be recorded and reported.”

I will leave it at that for tonight.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crimes against humanity, ethics, germany, History, nazi germany, racism, war crimes, war crimes trials, world war two in europe

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