The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Q. Did you have any opportunity of visiting and seeing for
yourself the conditions inside concentration camps?

A. Yes, because I had authority to visit concentration camps
myself. Only a very few persons had this permission. Before
beginning an investigation, I examined the concentration
camp in question in all its details, seeing especially those
arrangements which seemed particularly important to me. I
visited them repeatedly and thoroughly. I paid surprise
visits. I was working mostly in Buchenwald itself for eight
months. I lived there. I was in Dachau for one or two

Q. As so many visitors to concentration camps say they were
deceived, do you consider it possible that you, too, were a
victim of such deception?

A. As I have already pointed out, I was not a mere visitor
to a concentration camp. I had settled down there for a long
residence, I might almost say I established myself there. It
is really impossible to be deceived for such a long time. In
addition, the commissions from the Reich Department of
Criminal Police worked under my instructions, and I placed
them directly in the concentration camps themselves. I do
not mean to say that, in spite of these very intensive
efforts, I was able to learn of all the crimes, but I
believe that there was no deception in regard to what I did

Q. Did you gain the impression, and at what time, that the
concentration camps were places for the extermination of
human beings?

A. I did not gain this impression. A concentration camp is
not a place for the extermination of human beings. I must
say that my first visit to a concentration camp, namely
Weimar-Buchenwald, was a great surprise to me. The camp was

                                                  [Page 382]

on wooded heights, with a wonderful view. The installations
were clean and freshly painted. There were grass and
flowers. The prisoners were healthy, normally fed, sun-
tanned, working -

THE PRESIDENT: When are you speaking of? When are you
speaking of?

A. I am speaking of the beginning of my investigations in
July, 1943.

Q. What crimes - you may continue - please, be more brief.

A. The installations of the camp were in good order,
especially the hospital. The camp authorities, under the
Commandant Diester, aimed at providing the prisoners with an
existence worthy: of human beings. They had regular mail
service. They had a large camp library, even with foreign
books. They had variety shows, motion pictures, sporting
events. They even had a brothel. Nearly all the other
concentration camps were similar to Buchenwald.

THE PRESIDENT: What was it they even had?

A. A brothel.

Q. What crimes did you learn about?

A. As I said before, the investigations were based on a
suspicion of corrupt practices. In time, however, I was
obliged to come to the conclusion that besides those crimes,
killings had also occurred.

Q. How did you reach the suspicion that killings had

A. I learned that the starting-point was the assignment of
Jews to the camps after "Action 38." I had to learn all
possible facts about this action, and in doing so I was
obliged to notice that the majority of prisoners of whom it
could be assumed that they might know something about these
cases, had died. This peculiar frequency of killings was
noticeable - I noticed it - because other prisoners who were
not in any key positions remained in Buchenwald for years in
the best of health, and were still there, so that it was
rather remarkable that it was just certain prisoners who
could have been witnesses who had died. I thereupon examined
the files concerning these deceased prisoners. The files
themselves did not then give cause to suspect illegal
killings. The dates of the deaths were years apart, and the
different causes of death were always given. But I noticed
that the majority of these deceased prisoners, shortly
before their death, had been put into the camp hospital or
were in the detention quarters. This first aroused my
suspicion that in these two places murders of prisoners
might possibly have occurred. Thereupon I appointed a
special official, whose sole task was to investigate the
suspicious circumstances, and rumours which were circulating
in the detention quarters, the so-called "Bunker," regarding
the killing of prisoners. He was a very zealous and able
criminal official, but he had to report again and again that
he had not found the least confirmation of this suspicion of
mine. After two weeks of completely unsuccessful activity,
the criminal official refused to continue his task and asked
me ironically whether I myself believed that such, rumours
of illegal killing of prisoners could be true. Only by
accident, much later, was I put on the trail. I noticed that
in the case of certain prisoners, in the  books of the
Kommandantur prison, and in the hospital books, they had
been recorded in both books at the same time. In the prison
book, for example, it said, "Date of release, 9th May, 12
o'clock." In the hospital register, "Patient died 9th May,
9.15 a.m." I said to myself, this prisoner cannot be in the
Kommandantur Prison and at the same time a patient in the
hospital. False entries must have been made here. I
therefore concentrated my efforts on this and I succeeded in
finding out about this system, for it was a system under
Kommandant Koch.

The prisoners were taken to a secret place and were killed
there, mostly in a cell of the Kommandantur prison, and sick
reports and death certificates were prepared for the files.
They were made out so cleverly that any unsuspecting reader
of the documents would get the impression that the prisoner
concerned had actually been treated and had died of the
serious illness which was indicated.

                                                  [Page 383]

Q. Then what did you do after learning of these facts?

A. I found out that the medical officer at Buchenwald, SS
Hauptsturmfuehrer Dr. Hoven, was principally responsible and
I had him arrested. I informed my investigating commission
of these cunning forgeries and directed their particular
attention to investigate systematically the concentration
camps which we visited and to ascertain whether such murders
had also been committed in other concentration camps. We
satisfied ourselves at the time of the investigation, and I
am speaking of the second half of 1942, that in the
concentration camps at Sachsenhausen and Dachau no such
killings occurred, as far as it was humanly possible to
judge. In the other concentration camps, however, such cases
were found. The persons believed to be guilty were accused,
arrested and charged.

Q. Why was this not done earlier?

A. I have already said that these deceptive measures were so
cunningly contrived that it was not possible to discover
them earlier. Above all, there, was no possibility of
clearing up the matter, besides these things were always
done without witnesses. These cases had to be investigated
by the SS Courts and they were investigated, for every
unnatural death of a prisoner was reported by teletype to
the central agency. In addition, the specially sworn-in
Court officer who was in the camp had to go immediately to
the place of the occurrences to question the witnesses;
sketches and photographs had to be made of the scene and it
was a regulation that an autopsy had to take place in every
such case of unnatural death. Those reports of unnatural
deaths, or of deaths suspected of being unnatural, were sent
regularly to the SS and Police Court; but as I have already
said, these reports were so cunningly contrived and the
files were in such good order that even an expert could not
have suspected an illegal killing. Of course, frequently
proceedings were taken against members of the concentration
camp, some followed by sentences, even death sentences. But
these deaths appeared to occur at quite a normal rate.

If nothing at all had been reported to the SS Courts from
the concentration camps, it would of course have seemed
suspicious, just as it would also have been suspicious if
too many such reports had been made to us. But it was a
normal average and one could have no suspicion that the
concentration camps were a hotbed of such dangerous crimes.
It was through my investigation, which as I said was caused
by accident, that we received our first insight into the
true state of affairs.

Q. How did you come on to the track of mass killings? You
have just spoken of individual killings.

A. I found traces of mass killings also by accident. At the
end of 1943, I discovered two trails at the same time, one
leading to Lublin and the other to Auschwitz.

Q. Please describe the Lublin trail first.

A. One day I received a report from the Commandant of the
Security Police in Lublin. He reported that in a Jewish
labour camp in his district a Jewish wedding had taken
place. There had been 1,100 invited guests at this wedding.

As I said, 1,100 guests participated in this Jewish wedding.
What followed was described as quite extraordinary owing to
the gluttonous consumption of food and alcoholic drinks.
With these Jews were members of the camp guard, that is to
say some SS men or other, who took part in this function.
This report only came into my hands in a roundabout way,
some months later, as the Commandant of the Security Police
suspected that the circumstances indicated that some
criminal acts had occurred. This was my impression as well,
and I thought that this report would give me an indication
of another big case of criminal corruption. With this
intention, I went to Lublin and I went to the Security
Police there, but all they would tell me was that the events
were supposed to have happened at a camp of the "Deutsche
Ausrustungswerke." But nothing was known there. I was told
it might possibly be a rather peculiar and "opaque" (this
was the actual term used)

                                                  [Page 384]

camp in the vicinity of Lublin. I found out the camp and the
commandant, who was Kriminalkommissar Wirth.

I asked Wirth whether this report was true and what it
meant. To my great astonishment, Wirth admitted it. I asked
him why he permitted members of his command to do such
things and Wirth then revealed to me that on the Fuehrer's
order he had to carry out the extermination of Jews.

Q. Please go on, witness, with what you did.

A. I asked Wirth what this had to do with the Jewish
wedding. Then, Wirth described the method by which he
carried out the extermination of Jews and he said something
like this: "One has to fight the Jews with their own
weapons, and one has to cheat them."

Wirth built up an enormous deceptive manoeuvre. He first
selected Jews who would, he thought, serve as column
leaders, then these Jews brought along other Jews, who
worked under them. With those smaller or medium-sized
detachments of Jews, he began to build up the extermination
camps. He extended this staff, and with them, Wirth himself
carried out the extermination.

Wirth said that he had four extermination camps, and that
about 5,000 Jews were working at the extermination of Jews
and the seizure of Jewish property. In order to win Jews for
this business of extermination and plundering of their
brethren of race and creed, Wirth gave them every freedom
and, so to speak, gave them a financial interest in the
spoliation of the dead victims. As a result of this
attitude, this extraordinary Jewish wedding had come about.

Then I asked Wirth how he killed Jews with these Jewish
agents of his. Wirth described the whole procedure that went
off like a film every time. The extermination camps were in
the East of the Government General, in big forests or
uninhabited waste lands. They were built up like a Potemkin
village. The people arriving there had the impression of
entering a city or a township. The train drove into what
looked like a railroad station. The escorts and the train
personnel then left the area. Then the cars were opened and
the Jews got out. They were surrounded by these Jewish
labour detachments, and Kriminalkommissar Wirth or one of
his representatives made a speech. He said: "Jews, you were
brought here to be resettled, but before we organize this
future Jewish State, you must of course learn how to work.
You must learn a new occupation. You will be taught that
here. Our routine here is, first, everyone must take off his
clothes so that your clothing can be disinfected and you can
have a bath so that no epidemics will be brought into the

After he had found such calming words for his victims, they
started on the road to death. Men and women were separated.
At the first place, one had to give his hat; at the next
one, his coat, collar, shirt, down to his shoes and socks.
These places were set up like check-rooms, and the person
was given a check at each one so that the people believed
that they would get their things back. The other Jews had to
receive the things and hurry up the new arrivals so that
they would not have time to think. The whole thing was like
an assembly line. At the last stop they reached a big room,
and were told that this was the bath. When the last one was
in, the doors were shut and the gas was let into the room.

As soon as death taken place in, the ventilators were
started. When the air coup be breathed again, the doors were
opened, and the Jewish workers removed the bodies. By means
of a special process which Wirth had invented, they were
burned in the open air without the use of fuel.

Q. Was Wirth a member of the SS?

A. No, he was a Kriminalkommissar in Stuttgart.

Q. Did you ask Wirth how he arrived at this devilish system?

A. When Wirth took over the extermination of the Jews, he
was already specialist in mass destruction of human beings.
He had previously carried out the task of getting rid of the
incurably insane. On behalf of the Fuehrer himself, whose
order was transmitted through the Chancellery of the
Fuehrer, he had,

                                                  [Page 385]

the beginning of the war, set up a detachment for this
purpose, probably composed of a few officials of his, I
believe, the remainder being agents and spies of the
criminal police.

Wirth very vividly described how he went about carrying out
this assignment. He received no aid, no instructions, but
had to do it all by himself. He was only given an old, empty
institution in Brandenburg. There he undertook his first
experiments. After much consideration and many individual
experiments, he evolved his later system, and then this
system was used on a large scale to exterminate the insane.

A commission of doctors previously investigated the files,
and those insane who were considered to be incurable were
put on a separate list. Then the institution one day was
told to send these patients to another institution. From
this institution the patient was transferred again, often
more than once. Finally he came to Wirth's institution.
There he was killed by gas and cremated.

This system which deceived the institutions and made them
unknowing accomplices, this system which enabled him with
very few assistants to exterminate large numbers of people,
this system Wirth now employed with a few alterations and
improvements for the extermination of Jews. He was also
given the assignment by the Fuehrer's Chancellery to
exterminate the Jews.

Q. The statements which Wirth made to you must have
surpassed human imagination. Did you immediately believe

A. At first Wirth's description seemed completely fantastic
to me, but in Lublin I saw one of his camps. It was a camp
which collected the property or part of the property of his
victims. From the quantity - there were an enormous number
of watches piled up - I had to realize that something
frightful was going on here. I was shown the valuables. I
can say that I never saw so much money at one time,
especially foreign money - all kinds of coins, from all over
the world. In addition, there were a gold-smelting furnace
and really prodigious bars of gold.

I also saw that the headquarters from which Wirth directed
his operations was very small and inconspicuous. He had only
three or four people working there for him. I spoke to them

I saw and watched his couriers arrive. They actually came
from Berlin, Tiergarten Strasse, the Fuehrer's Chancellery,
and went back there. I investigated Wirth's mail, and I
found in it confirmation of all this.

Of course, I could not do or see all this on this first
visit. I was there frequently. I pursued Wirth up to his

Q. Did Wirth give you names of people who were connected
with this operation?

A. Not many names were mentioned for the simple reason that
the number of those who participated could be counted, so to
speak, on one's fingers. I remember one name: I think the
name was Blankenburg, in Berlin.

Q. Blankenburg?

A. Blankenburg, at the Fuehrer's Chancellery.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we had better adjourn now. We have
already been fifty minutes.

(The Tribunal adjourned until 1000 hours, 8th August, 1946.)

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