The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)
Nuremberg, war crimes, crimes against humanity

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
20th June to 1st July 1946

One Hundred and Sixty-Eighth Day: Monday, 1st July, 1946
(Part 1 of 10)

[Page 326]

THE PRESIDENT: I have an announcement to make.

The Tribunal orders that any of the evidence taken on commission which the defence counsel or the prosecution wish to use shall be offered in evidence by them. This evidence will then become a part of the record, subject to any objections.

Counsel for the organizations should begin to make up their document books as soon as possible and put in their requests for translations.

That is all.

Dr. Stahmer.

DR. STAHMER (counsel for the defendant Goering): With reference to the events at Katyn, the Indictment contains only the remark: In September, 1941, 11,000 Polish officers, prisoners of war, were killed in the Katyn woods near Smolensk. The Soviet prosecution submitted the details only at the session of 14th February, 1946. Document USSR 54 was then submitted to the Tribunal. This document is an official report by the Extraordinary State Commission which was officially authorized to investigate the Katyn case. This Commission, after questioning the witnesses -

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Stahmer, the Tribunal are aware of the document, and they only want you to call your evidence; that is all.

DR. STAHMER: I only wanted to add, Mr. President, that according to this document, there are two accusations: one, that the period of the shooting of the Polish prisoners of war was the autumn of 1941, and the second assertion is, that the killing was carried out by some German military authority, camouflaged under the name of "Staff of the Engineer Battalion 537."

THE PRESIDENT: That is all in the document, is it not? I have just told you we know the document. We only want you to call your evidence.

DR. STAHMER: Then, as my first witness for the defence, I shall call Colonel Friedrich Ahrens to the witness stand.

DR. SIEMERS (counsel for the defendant Raeder): Mr. President, I have a request to make before the evidence is heard in the Katyn case. The Tribunal decided that three witnesses should be heard, and it hinted that in the interests of equality, the prosecution could also only produce three witnesses, either by means of direct examination or by means of an affidavit. In the interests of that same principle of equality, I should be grateful if the Soviet Delegation, in the same way as the defence, would state the names of their witnesses before the hearing of the evidence. The defence notified the names of their witnesses weeks ago. Unfortunately, up to now, I note that in the interests of equality and the organization of the defence and the prosecution, the Soviet Delegation has so far not given the names of the witnesses.

THE PRESIDENT: General Rudenko, were you going to give me the names of the witnesses?

GENERAL RUDENKO: Yes, Mr. President. Today we notified the General Secretary of the Tribunal that the Soviet prosecution intends to call three witnesses to the stand: Professor Prosorovsky, who is the Chief of the Medico- Forensic Experts Commission; the Bulgarian subject, Markov, Professor of Forensic

[Page 327]

Medicine at Sofia University, who, at the same time, was a member of the so-called International Commission created by the Germans; and Professor Bazilevsky, who was the deputy mayor of Smolensk during the time of the German occupation.

FRIEDRICH AHRENS, a witness, took the stand and testified as follows:


Q. Will you state your full name?

A. Friedrich Ahrens.

Q. Will you repeat this oath after me:

I swear by God, the Almighty and Omniscient, that I will speak the pure truth and will withhold and add nothing.

(The witness repeated the oath.)

THE PRESIDENT: You may sit down.



Witness, did you, as a professional officer in the German armed forces, participate in the Second World War?

A. Yes, of course; as a professional officer I participated in the Second World War.

Q. What rank did you hold finally?

A. That of colonel.

Q. Were you stationed in the eastern theatre of war?

A. Yes.

Q. In what capacity?

A. I was the commanding officer of a signal regiment of an army group.

Q. What were the tasks of your regiment?

A. The signal regiment of an army group had the task of setting up and maintaining communications between the army group and the neighbouring units and subordinate units, as well as preparing the necessary communications for new operations.

Q. Did your regiment have any special tasks apart from that?

A. No, with the exception of the duty of taking all measures to hinder a surprise attack, and of holding themselves in readiness to defend themselves with the forces at their disposal, so as to prevent the capture of the regimental battle headquarters.

This was particularly important for an army group signal regiment and its battle headquarters because we had to keep a lot of highly secret material at our staff headquarters.

Q. Your regiment was the Signal Regiment 537. Was there also an engineering battalion 537?

A. During the time when I was in that army group, I heard of no unit with the same number, nor do I believe that there was such a unit.

Q. And to whom were you subordinated?

A. I was directly subordinated to the Army Group Centre, and that was the case during the entire period when I was with the army group. My superior was General Oberhauser.

From the point of view of defence, the signal staff of the regiment with its first section, which was in close touch with the regimental staff, was at times subordinated to the Commander of Smolensk; all orders which I received from that last-named command came via General Oberhauser, who either approved or refused to allow the regiment to be employed for a particular purpose.

In other words, I received my orders exclusively from General Oberhauser.

Q. Where was your staff headquarters accommodated?

A. I prepared a sketch of the position of the staff headquarters west of Smolensk.

Q. I am having the sketch shown to you. Please tell us whether that is your sketch.

[Page 328]

A. That sketch was drawn by me from memory.

Q. I am now going to have a second sketch shown to you. Will you please have a look at that one also, and will you tell me whether it presents a correct picture of the situation?

A. May I briefly explain this sketch to you? At the right- hand margin, that large red spot is the town of Smolensk. West of Smolensk, and on either side of the road to Vitebsk, the staff of the army group was situated together with the air force corps, that is south of Krassny-Bor. On my sketch, I have marked the actual area occupied by the Central Army Group.

That part of my sketch which has a dark line around it was very densely occupied by troops who came directly under the army group; there was hardly a house empty in that area.

The regimental staff of my regiment were in the so-called little Katyn wood. That is the white spot which is indicated on the sketch, it measures about one square kilometre of the large forest and is a part of the entire forest around Katyn. On the southern edge of this small wood there was the so-called Dnieper Castle, which was the regimental staff headquarters.

Two and a half kilometres to the east of the staff headquarters of the regiment there was the number one company of the regiment, which was the operating company, which did teleprinting and telephone work for the army group. About three kilometres away from the regimental staff headquarters there was the wireless company. There were no buildings within the radius of about one kilometre of the regimental staff headquarters.

This house was a large two-story building with about fourteen to fifteen rooms, several bath installations, a cinema, a rifle range, garages, Sauna (steam-baths) and so on, and was most suitable for accommodating the regimental staff. Our regiment continuously retained this battle headquarters.

Q. Were there also any other high-ranking staff headquarters near by?

A. Higher staff headquarters, yes. There was the army group, which I have already mentioned, then a corps staff from the Air Force, and several section staffs. Then there was the Army Group Railway Deputy, who was at Gnesdowo in a special train.

Q. It has been stated in this trial that certain events which took place in your neighbourhood were most secret and suspicious. Will you please, therefore, answer the following questions with particular care?

How many Germans were there among the staff personnel, and what positions did they fill?

A. I had three officers on my staff to begin with, and then two, and approximately eighteen to twenty non-commissioned officers and men; that is to say, as few as I could have on my regimental staff, and every man of the staff was fully occupied.

Q. Did you have any Russian personnel?

A. Yes, we had four auxiliary volunteers and some female personnel living in the immediate vicinity of the regimental staff quarters. The auxiliary volunteers remained permanently with the regimental staff, whereas the female personnel changed from time to time. Some of these women also came from Smolensk, and they lived in a separate building near the regimental staff.

Q. Did this Russian personnel receive special instructions from you about their conduct?

A. I issued general instructions on conduct for the regimental headquarters, which did not solely apply to the Russian personnel.

I have already mentioned the importance of secrecy with reference to this regimental headquarters, which not only kept the records of the position of the army group, but also that of its neighbouring units, and from which the intentions of the army group were clearly recognizable. Therefore, it was my duty to keep this material particularly secret. Consequently, I had the rooms containing this material barred to ordinary access. Only those persons were admitted

[Page 329]

particularly with reference to officers - who had been passed by me, and also a few non-commissioned officers and other ranks who were put under special oath.

Q. To which rooms did this "no admission" order refer?

A. In the first place, it referred to the telephone experts' room, it also referred to my own room and partly, although to a smaller degree, to the adjutant's room. All remaining rooms in the house and on the site were free -

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Stahmer, how is this evidence about the actual conditions in these staff headquarters relevant to this question?

DR. STAHMER: Mr. President, in the Russian document the allegation is contained that events of a particularly secret nature had taken place in this staff building, and that a ban of silence had been imposed on the Russian personnel by Colonel Ahrens, that the rooms had been locked, and that one was only permitted to enter the rooms when accompanied by guards. I have put these questions in this connection in order to clear up the question and to prove that these events have a perfectly natural explanation on account of the tasks entrusted to the regiment, and which necessitated, quite obviously, a certain amount of secrecy.

For that reason, I have put these questions. May I be permitted -


DR. STAHMER: I have almost finished with these questions.


Q. Was the Katyn wood cordoned off, and especially strictly guarded by soldiers?

DR. STAHMER: Mr. President, may I remark with reference to this question that here, also, it had been alleged that this cordon had only been introduced by the regiment. Previously, there had been free access to the woods, and from this conclusions are drawn which are detrimental to the regiment.

THE WITNESS: In order to secure anti-aircraft cover for the regimental staff headquarters, I stopped the cutting of wood for fuel in the immediate vicinity of the regimental staff headquarters. During this winter, the situation was such that the units cut wood wherever they could get it.

On 22nd January, there was a fairly heavy air attack on my position during which half a house was torn away. It was quite impossible to find any other accommodation because of the overcrowding of the area, and I therefore took additional precautions to make sure that this fairly thin wood would be preserved so as to serve as cover. As I was averse to the putting up of no-admission signs, I asked the other troop units to leave us our trees as anti-aircraft cover. The wood was not closed off at all, particularly as the road had to be kept open for heavy traffic, and I only sent sentries now and then into the woods to see whether our trees were left intact.

Q. The prosecution -

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Stahmer, at a time that is convenient to you, you will, of course, draw our attention to the necessary dates, the date at which this unit took over its headquarters and the date at which it left.

DR. STAHMER: Very well.


Q. When did your unit, your regiment move into this Dnieper Castle?

A. As far as I know, this house was taken over immediately after the combat troops had left that area in August, 1941, and it was requisitioned together with the other army group accommodation, and was occupied by advance parties. It was then permanently occupied as long as I was there up to August, 1943, by the regimental headquarters.

Q. So if I understand you correctly, it was first of all in August, 1941, that an advance party took over?

A. Yes, as far as I know.

[Page 330]

Q. When did the staff actually arrive?

A. A few weeks later.

Q. Who was the regimental commander at that time?

A. My predecessor was Colonel Bedenck.

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