The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Q. M. van der Essen, you are a historian; you have taught scholars;
therefore you are accustomed to submitting the sources of history to
criticism. Can you say that your inquiry leaves no doubt in your mind that
these atrocities reveal that there was an overall plan and that
instructions were certainly given by superior officers ?

A. I think that I can affirm it; I am quite convinced that there was an
overall plan.

Q. I would like to ask you a last question: I think I understood that you
yourself were never arrested or particularly worried by the Germans. I
would like to know if you consider that a free man, against whom the
German administration or police have nothing in particular, could during
the German Nazi occupation lead a life in accordance with the conception a
free man has of his dignity?

A. Well, you see me here before you. I weigh exactly 67 kilos, my height
is one metre, 67 centimetres. According to my colleagues in the Faculty of
Medicine that is quite normal. Before 10th May, 1940, before the aircraft
of the Luftwaffe suddenly came without any declaration of war, and spread
death and desolation in Belgium, I weighed 82 kilos. This difference is
incontestably the result of the occupation. But I do not want to dwell on
personal considerations or enter into details of a general nature, or of a
theoretical or philosophical nature. I would like simply to give you an
account -- it will not take more than two minutes -- of the ordinary day
of an average Belgian during the occupation.

I take a day in the winter of 1943: At 6 o'clock in the morning there is a
ring at the door. One's first thought -- indeed, we all had this thought -
- was that it was the Gestapo. It was not the Gestapo. It was a Stadt
Gendarme who had come to tell me that there was a light in my office and
that in view of the necessities of the occupation I must be careful about
this in the future. But there was the nervous shock.

                                                                 [Page 48]

At 7.30 the postman arrives bringing me my letters; he tells the maid that
he wishes to see me personally. I go downstairs and the man says to me,
"You know, Professor, I am a member of the secret army and I know what is
going on. The Germans intend to arrest at 10 o'clock to-day all the former
soldiers of the Belgian Army who are in this region. Your son must
disappear immediately." I hurry upstairs and wake up my son. I make him
prepare his kit and send him to the right place. At 10 o'clock I take the
tram for Brussels. A few kilometres out of Louvain the tram stops. A
military police patrol makes us get down and lines us up -- irrespective
of our social status or position -- in front of a wall, with our arms
raised and facing the wall. We are thoroughly searched, and having found
neither arms nor compromising papers of any kind, we are allowed to go
back into the tram. A few kilometres farther on the tram is stopped by a
crowd which prevents it from going on. I see several women weeping, there
are cries and wailings. I make inquiries and am told that their menfolk
living in the village had refused to do compulsory labour and were to have
been arrested that night by the Security Police. Now they are taking away
the old father of 82 and a young girl of 16 and holding them responsible
for the disappearance of the young men.

I arrive in Brussels to attend a meeting of the Academy. The first thing
the President says to me is: "Have you heard what has happened? Two of our
colleagues were arrested yesterday in the street. Their family is in a
terrible state. Nobody knows where they are." I go home in the evening and
we are stopped on the way three times, once to search for terrorists, who
are said to have fled, the other times to see if our papers are in order.
At last I get home without anything serious having happened to me.

I might say here that only at 9 o'clock in the evening can we give a sigh
of relief, when we turn the knob of our radio set and listen to that
reassuring voice which we hear every evening, the voice of Fighting
France: "To-day is the hundred and eighty-ninth day of the struggle of the
French people for their liberation" -- or the voice of Victor Delabley,
that noble figure of the Belgian radio in London, who always finished up
by saying: "Courage, we will get them yet, the Boches." That was the only
thing that enabled us to breathe and go to sleep at night.

That was an average day, a normal day of an average Belgian during the
German occupation. And you can well understand that we could hardly call
that time the reign of happiness and felicity that we were promised when
the German troops invaded Belgium on 10th May, 1940.

Q. Excuse me, M. van der Essen. The only satisfaction that you had was to
listen to the London radio; this was punished by a severe penalty, if you
were caught, I suppose?

A. Yes, it meant imprisonment.

M. FAURE: Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Have you finished, M. Faure?

M. FAURE: No more questions, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: General Rudenko?

GENERAL RUDENKO: I have no questions.

(There were no questions from the British Prosecution.)

THE PRESIDENT: Do any of the defendants' counsel wish to ask any

BY PROFESSOR FRANZ EiCNER (counsel for the defendant Jodl):

Q. You have been speaking about the University library at Louvain. I would
like to ask you something: Were you yourself in Louvain when the two,
batteries were firing at the library in 1940?

A. I was not in Louvain, but I say this: Louvain was in the K.O. line,
that is in the very front line, and the population of Louvain was obliged
by the British military authorities to evacuate the town on the 14th so
that nearly all the inhabitants of Louvain had left at the time when these
events took

                                                                 [Page 49]

place, and only paralytics and sick persons who could not be transported
and who had hidden in their cellars were left; but what I said concerning
these batteries I know from the interrogation of the two witnesses who
were on the spot just outside Louvain. The library was not set on fire
from within, but shelled from without. And these witnesses of whom I speak
lived in these two villages outside the town where the batteries were

Q. Were there any Belgian or British troops still left in the town?

A. The Belgian troops were no longer there. They had been replaced by the
British troops when the British had taken over the sector, and at the time
when the library was seen to be on fire-the first flames were seen in the
night of the 16th-17th at 13.00 hours -- the British troops had left.
There remained only a few tanks which were operating a withdrawal
movement. These fired an occasional shot to give the impression that the
sector was still occupied by the British Army.

Q. So there were still British troops in the town when the bombardment
started ?

A. There were no longer any British troops; there were merely a few tanks
on the hills outside Louvain in the direction of Brussels, a few tanks
which, us I said, were carrying out necessary manceuvres for withdrawal.

I would have liked to add a few words and to say to the very honourable
Counsel for the defence that, according to the testimonies of persons who
were in the library -- the ushers and the janitors -- not a single British
soldier ever set foot in the library buildings.

Q. That is not surprising. At the time the German batteries were firing
were there still British batteries or Belgian batteries firing?

A. No.

Q. So all was quiet in the town of Louvain; the troops had left; the enemy
was not there yet, and the batteries did not fire?

A. That was the rather paradoxical situation in Louvain; there was a
moment when the British had left and the Germans had not yet arrived, and
there only remained the few sick persons, the few paralytics who could not
be moved and who were left behind in cellars. A few other persons remained
too: the Chief of the Fire Service and Mgr. van Wayenberg, the Rector of
the University, who had brought the dead and the dying from Brussels to
Louvain in the firemen's car, and made the journey several times. There
was also my colleague, Professor Kennog, member of the Faculty of
Medicine, who had taken over the direction of the city.

Q. Do you know where the German batteries were located?

A. Yes, certainly. One was located at Corbek and the other at Lovengule,
one on the West side and one on the North side. The only shell hits on the
tower of the library were four hits from the East side and seven from the
North side. If there had still been British or Belgian batteries, the
shells would have come from the oppositeside.

Q. Can you tell me anything about the calibre of these batteries?

A. Yes, we saved the shells and at present they are in the Library of
Louvain, or rather in what serves as a library for the University. There
are four shells .and two or three fragments of shells.

Q. And do you know the name of the peasant who was supposed to have been
asked by a German officer whether that was really the University of

A. Yes, indeed, his name is M. Vigneron.

Q. Do you know the peasant yourself? Do you know him?

A. I do not know him personally. It was the Librarian of the University
Who had a conversation with him, and who induced the War Crimes Commission
to interrogate this peasant.

Q. But you are a member of that Commission yourself, are you not?

                                                                 [Page 50]

A. Yes, I am ready to declare that I took no direct part in the inquiry
concerning the Library of Louvain, just as Monseigneur the Rector and the
Librarian took no active part in the inquiry concerning the Library of
Louvain. It was made by an officer of the judicial delegation who acted
alone and quite independently upon the order of the Prosecutor of Louvain,
and we kept entirely out of the matter.

Q. Have you seen the official files of this Commission?

A. Yes, certainly.

Q. I am surprised they were not brought here. Tell me, why did the
director of the library or the person who was directly concerned not go to
the Mayor or to the Commander of the town after the occupation of the

A. I do not think I understand the question very well.

Q. When the German Army came, a Town Commander was appointed. Why did not
the Mayor of the town, or the director of the University library, go to
the Town Commander and tell him about these things?

A. Why did he not tell him about these things -- for the very simple
reason that at that time everything was in complete disorder and there was
hardly anybody left in the town, and on the other hand as soon as the
German Army arrived they systematically closed the entrance gate of the
library so that the Belgians could not make any inquiry. Then two German
inquiry commissions came upon the scene. The first worked on 26th May,
1940, with an expert, Professor Kellermann of the "Technische Hochschule"
in Aix-la-Chapelle, accompanied by a Party man in a brown shirt. They
examined what was left and they summoned before them, as witnesses, the
Rector of the University and the Librarian. From the very beginning of the
inquiry they wished to force the Rector and the Librarian to declare and
admit that it was the British who had set fire to the library. And as a
proof, this expert showed shell cases saying, "Here, sniff this, it smells
of gasoline and shows that chemicals were used to set fire to the
library." Whereupon the Rector and the Librarian of the University said to
him, "Where did you find this shell case?" "In such-and-such a place."
"When we went by that place," said the Rector, "It was not there." It had
been placed there by the German expert. And I will add, if you will permit
me, because this is of considerable importance, that a second inquiry
commission came in August, 1940, presided over by a very distinguished
man, Obergerichtsrat von Boist. He was accompanied this time by the expert
who had directed the inquiry into the firing of the Reichstag. This
commission again examined everything, and before the Rector and another
witness, Krebs, from the Benedictine Abbey of Mont-Cesar, they simply
laughed at the conclusions of the first commission, and said they were

The second commission, presided over by the Obergerichtsrat von Boist
assisted by the expert who had examined the matter of the firing of the
Reichstag, declared before Belgian witnesses quite openly that the
conclusions of the first commission was ridiculous.

Q. You have said that the library building had towers. Do you know whether
there were artillery observers in these towers?

A. You ask whether there were artillery observers? All I can say is that
the Rector had always opposed this -- from the beginning -- and he
certainly would have opposed any attempt of this kind, knowing that the
presence of artillery observers in the tower would obviously provide the
enemy with a reason to fire on the library. The Rector knew this and he
always said to me,  "We must be very careful to see that British soldiers
or others who might take the sector do not go up in the tower." I know
from the statements of the janitor that no British soldiers went into the
tower. This is absolutely certain. As for Belgians, I must confess that I
cannot answer your question, as I do not know.

Q. It would not be so very amazing, would it, if the University library
had been hit by German artillery. After all, it has happened that the
libraries of the

                                                                 [Page 51]

Universities of Berlin, Leipzig, Munich, Breslau, Wuerzburg, Cologne,
etc., have been hit.

A. I did not understand the question.

Q. I said, it is not, it would not have been so amazing if the University
library had been hit by the enemy. During this war the University
libraries in Berlin, Leipzig, Munich, Breslau, Cologne and other towns
have also been hit. The question is whether this was done deliberately,
and here it occurs to me that the peasant . .

A. The peasant ...

Q. I would like to ask you: Was there any mention in these inquiries, as
to the motive which might have induced the Germany Army to make this an

A. All the evidence seems to indicate -- and this was the conclusion
arrived at by the Commission -- that the motive -- I will not say the main
motive, because there is no certainty in this sort of thing -- that the
motive which is absolutely probable, almost certain, for the destruction
of the library was the German Army's desire to do away with a monument
which commemorates the Treaty of Versailles. On the library building there
was a hidden virgin crushing under her foot a dragon which symbolised the
enemy. Certain conversations of German officers gave the very clear
impression that the reason why they wished to set fire systematically to
this building was their desire to get rid of a testimony of the defeat in
the other war, and above all a reminder of the Treaty of Versailles. I may
add that is not the first time that the Germans have destroyed the
University of Louvain.

Q. You believe that the commander of that battery knew that?

A. There is very interesting testimony which I would like to submit to the
honourable Counsel for the defence. On the day when the batteries were
installed, the two batteries which I mentioned, I spoke to a tax
collector, a civil servant, who lived in a villa on the road to Roosbeck,
a few kilometres from Louvain. That afternoon some German high-ranking
officers came to his house to ask for hospitality. These officers had with
them a lorry with all the necessary radio apparatus for sending wireless
orders to the German artillery to fire. These officers installed
themselves in his house, and dinner was naturally served to them, and they
invited him to sit with them at table in his own house. After hesitating a
moment, he accepted, and during the meal there was a violent discussion.
The officers said,  "These Belgian swine" -- excuse my using this
expression, but they used it-"at any rate they did put that inscription on
the library." They were referring to the famous inscription
"FuroreTeutonica" which in fact was never on the library, but all the
German officers were absolutely convinced that this inscription "Furore
teutonica diruta, dono americano restituta" (destroyed by German fury,
restored by American generosity) was on the building, whereas, in fact, it
never has been there. However, I am quite willing to admit that in Germany
they might have believed that it was there, and the very fact that there
should have been a discussion among the officers in command of these two
batteries seems to prove that if they directed the fire on to the library
it was in order to destroy this monument, which in their eyes ...

THE PRESIDENT: Too fast! ... go on.

A (continuing). It was probable that they wanted to get rid of a monument
which, according to their idea, bore an inscription which was insulting to
the Germany Army and the German people. That is the testimony which I can
give to the honourable Counsel for the defence. I give it as a fact.

Q. You mean that the captain who commanded this battery knew about that
inscription! I do not believe it.

A. Certainly.

Q. Thank you.

                                                                 [Page 52]

Q. Witness, you have said that 43 aircraft flew over the library and
dropped bombs on it. As you told us yourself, in reply to Professor
Exner's question, you were not in the town at the time; where did you get
that information?

A. As I have already said, it is not my testimony which I am giving here,
because for my part I have none; but it is the testimony of the lawyer,
David, who had a country house at Kesselloh.

This lawyer went out in the morning to look at the sky. He had a
considerable number of refugees in his home, among them women and
children, and as aircraft were continuallyhoverhead he had gone out in the
morning to see what was going on. He saw this squadron of aircraft which
he counted -- remember, he was an old soldier himself -- and there were 43
which were flying in the direction of the library and when they arrived
over the library, exactly over the gable at the furthest point from the
house of the witness, they dropped a bomb, and he saw smoke immediately
arise from the roof of the library. That is the testimony on which I base
the statement I just made.

Q. So it was just one bomb that hit the library?

A. We must distinguish here, Sir, between artillery fire and bombs which
are dropped by planes. From a technical point of view, it seems absolutely
certain that a bomb from a plane hit the library, because the roof has
rnetal covering and this metal roofing is quite level, except in one part
where it caves in. We consulted technicians, who told us that a metallic
surface would never have sunk in to such an extent if it had been hit by
artillery fire, and that the sinking could only have been caused by a bomb
from a plane.

Q. How many bombs in all were dropped by aircraft?

A. As the witness was on a height dominating the Louvain area, from where
he could see the library in the plain, it was impossible for him to count
exactly the bombs which these planes dropped. He only saw the bombs fall.
Then he saw the smoke which arose from the roof of the library. That is
all I have to say concerning this point.

Q. How many bomb hits were counted in the city?

A. On this point I can give you no information, but I know that some
aircraft passed over the library quarters in a straight line from North to
South. These bombs, at that time, in May, 1940, damaged, but not very
seriously, the Higher Institute of Philosophy, the Institute of Pharmacy
and a few other University buildings; also a certain number of private

Q. When were the bombs dropped, before the artillery fire or afterwards?

A. The bombs were dropped before and afterwards. There were some air
raids. I myself was present during a terrible air raid on the afternoon of
10th May, 1940, by a squadron of seven planes. I am not a military
technician, but I saw with my own eyes the planes which dive-bombed the
Tirlemont Bridge. The result of this bombing was that a considerable
number of houses were destroyed and 208 persons killed on the spot, on the
afternoon of 10th May, 1940.

                    (A recess was taken.)

THE PRESIDENT: Do any of the other defence counsel wish to

BY DR. BABEL (counsel for S.S. and S.A.):

Q. Witness, when did you last see the University building; that is,
before the attack ?

A. Before the fire? I saw it on l Ith May, 1940.

Q. That is to say before the attack?

A. Before the attack.

Q. Was it damaged at that time, and to what extent?

[Page 53]

A. On 11th May absolutely nothing had happened to the library. It was
intact. Until the night of 16th-17th May, when I left, there was
absolutely no damage.

Q. Apart from the hits on the tower, did you notice any other traces
of artillery fire on the building?

A. On the building, I do not think so. There were only traces of
artillery fire on the tower.

Q. From the fact that only the tower had been hit, could it not be
thought that the tower and not the building was the target?

A. When I said that the towei was struck, I only meant the traces that
could be seen on the walls on the balcony of the first storey and on
the dial of the clock. Apart from that, nothing could be seen on the
building for the simple reason that the building had been completely
burned out inside, and nothing could be seen on the charred walls. But
it is absolutely certain that either a bomb from a plane or an
artillery shell -- I personally think it was the latter -- hit the
building. The trace of a shell can be seen. It is just here that the
fire began.

Q. After the fire, when did you see the building for the first time?

A. After the fire, in July, 1940.

Q. That is much later?

A. Yes, but still in the same condition. Nothing had been done to it.
It was still as it was originally.

Q. Do you know if, while the building was burning, an attempt was made
to stop the fire and save the building?

A. It is absolutely certain that attempts were made to stop the fire.
The Rector of the University, Mgr. Wayenberg, told me this himself,
and has stated that he sent for the firemen, but the firemen had gone.
Only the Chief and two members of the fire brigade were left, and all
the water mains at that time were broken as a result of the
bombardment. There was no water supply for several days.

Q. Did German troops take part in these attempts to save the building?

A. No, no, they were not there yet.

Q. How do you know that? You were not there.

A. But the Rector of the University did not leave the town of Louvain.
The Rector was there and so was the Librarian.

Q. Did you speak to the Rector on this question, as to whether German
troops took part in the attempt to save the building?

A. I spoke to the Rector and to the Librarian. In my capacity as
General Secretary of the University I discussed with the Rector all
general questions concerning the University. We discussed this point
specially, and he told me categorically that no soldier of the German
Army tried to fight the fire.

Q. You also have spoken about the Resistance movement. Do you know if
the civilian population was called on to resist the German troops?

A. Where? In the Ardennes?

Q. In Belgium.

A. In Belgium the Resistance was mainly composed of the secret army,
which was a military organisation with responsible and recognised
commanders, and wore a distinctive badge so that they could not be
confused with simple franc-tireurs.

Q. Do you know how many German soldiers fell victims to the Resistance

A. How German soldiers fell victims to this resistance? I know very
well because everywhere in the Ardennes the Resistance went into
action and legally with commanders leading them, carrying arms openly
and with distinctive badges. They openly attacked the German troops
from the front.

[Page 54]

Q. That was not my question. I have asked you if you know roughly how
many German soldiers became victims of that Resistance movement?

A. I do not understand what is implied by the question of the
honourable Counsel for the defence.

Q. I ask you . . .

A. Does the honourable counsel for the defence mean the events of the
Ardennes which I alluded to a while ago, or does he speak in a quite
general sense?

Q. The witness in his statements has himself brought up the question
of the Resistance movement, and that is why I asked whether he knows

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Babel, the witness has already answered the
question by saying that he cannot say how many Germans were killed by
the Resistance movement.

DR. BABEL: But he can say whether a certain number of Germans did fall
victims to the Resistance.

A. There were real battles....

DR. BABEL: The witness will also be able to confirm that the members
of the Resistance are to-day considered heroes in Belgium. From what
we have read in the papers and from what has been brought up here,
these people who were active in the Resistance movement are now
considered heroes. At least I could draw that conclusion.

Witness, you have said, if I understood you correctly, that you lost
15 kilograms weight.

A. Yes, indeed.

Q. What conclusion did you draw from that fact? I could not quite
understand it this morning.

A. I simply meant to say that 1 lost these 15 kilos as a result of the
mental suffering which we underwent during the occupation, and it was
an answer to a question of M. Faure on whether I considered this
occupation compatible with the dignity of a free man. I wanted to
answer "No," giving the proof that as a result of this occupation we
suffered much anguish, and I think the loss of weight is sufficient
proof of this.

Q. During the war I also, without having been ill, lost 35 kilos. What
conclusion could be drawn from that, in your opinion? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Go on, Dr. Babel, we are not interested in your

DR. BABEL: Thank you, Sir. That was my last question.

THE PRESIDENT: Does any other counsel wish to ask any questions?

(No response.)


M. FAURE: I have no questions.

THE PRESIDENT: The witness may retire.

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