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 2 of 10)

[DR. STAHMER continues his direct examination of Colonel Friedrich Ahrens]

[Page 330]

Q. When did you take over the regiment?

A. I joined the army group during the second half of November, 1941, and after getting thoroughly acquainted with all details of the handing over by the end of November, I took over the command of the regiment, if I remember rightly, on 30th November.

Q. Was there a proper handing over from Bedenck to you?

A. A very careful, detailed and lengthy handing over took place, on account of the very considerable tasks entrusted to this regiment. Added to that, my superior, General Oberhauser, was an extraordinarily painstaking superior, and he took great pains to convince himself personally whether I fully understood the instructions which I had received and was quite capable of taking over the responsibilities of the regiment.

Q. The prosecution further alleges that shots were often fired in the forest. Is that true, and to what would you attribute that?

A. I have already mentioned, that it was one of the main tasks of the regiment to take all the necessary measures to defend themselves against sudden attack. Considering the small number of men which I had on my regimental staff, I had to organize and take the necessary steps to enable me to obtain replacements in the shortest time possible. This was arranged through wireless communication with the regimental headquarters. I ordered that defensive manoeuvres should be carried out and that defence positions should be prepared around the regimental headquarters sector; and that there should be continuous manoeuvres and exercises in these positions together with the members of the regimental headquarters. I personally participated in these manoeuvres at times and, of course, shots were fired, particularly since we were preparing ourselves for night fighting.

Q. There is supposed to have been considerable and rather suspicious traffic around your staff building. Will you please tell us quite briefly what this traffic signified?

A. There was an extraordinarily heavy traffic around staff headquarters which increased in the spring of 1941, as I was having the house rebuilt. I think I mentioned that it had been destroyed through air attacks. But, of course, the traffic increased through the manoeuvres which were held near by. The advance units, which were at least 300 and 40o kilometres away from the regimental staff headquarters, could only, and had to, maintain personal contact with the regiment through the regimental staff. That is the only way they could work with them.

Q. There is supposed to have been considerable lorry traffic which has been described as suspicious.

A. Apart from our supplies - which were relatively small - these commandos, which I first mentioned, were brought in by lorries; but so was, of course, the entire building material which I required. Apart from that, the traffic was not unusually heavy.

Q. Do you know that about twenty-five kilometres west of Smolensk there were three Russian prison-of-war camps, which had originally been occupied by Poles and which had been abandoned by the Russians when the German troops approached in July, 1941?

A. At that time, I had not yet arrived. But never during the entire period I served in Russia did I see a single Pole; nor did I hear of Poles.

Q. It has been alleged that an order had been issued from Berlin according to which Polish prisoners of war were to be shot. Did you know of such an order?

A. No. I have never heard of such an order.

Q. Did you possibly receive such an order from any other unit?

A. I have already told you that I never heard of such an order; I therefore did not receive it, either.

[Page 331]

Q. Were any Poles shot on your instructions, your direct instructions?

A. No Poles were shot on my instructions. No one at all was shot on orders given by me. I have never given such an order in all my life.

Q. Then, you did not arrive until November, 1941. Have you heard anything about your predecessor, Colonel Bedenck, having given any such orders?

A. I have not heard anything about that. I was on such intimate terms with my regimental staff, with whom I lived closely together for nine months, that I am perfectly convinced that this deed was not perpetrated by my predecessor, nor by any member of my former regiment. I would undoubtedly have heard rumours of it, at the very least.

THE PRESIDENT: This is argument, you know, Dr. Stahmer. This is not evidence; it is argument. He is telling you what he thinks might have been the case.

DR. STAHMER: I asked whether he had heard of it from members of his regiment.

THE PRESIDENT: The answer to that would be "no," I suppose, that he had not heard - not that he was convinced - that he had not done it.

DR. STAHMER: Very well.


Q. After your arrival at Katyn, did you learn that there was a grave in the woods at Katyn?

A. Shortly after I arrived - the ground was covered in snow - one of my soldiers pointed out to me that at a certain spot there was some sort of a mound, which one could hardly describe as such, on which there was a birch cross. I did see that birch cross. In the course of 1942, my soldiers kept telling me that in the wood, shootings were supposed to have taken place, but at first I did not pay any attention to it. However, in the summer of 1942, this topic was referred to in an order of the army group, later commanded by General von Harssdorff. He told me that he had also heard about it.

Q. Did these stories prove to be true later on?

A. Yes, they did turn out to be true, and I was able to confirm quite by accident that there was actually a grave there. During the winter of 1943 - I think either January or February - I saw a wolf in this wood, but at first I did not believe that it was a wolf. I followed the tracks with an expert. We saw that there were traces of scratchings on the mound with the cross, and later, bones were uncovered. I had inquiries made as to what kind of bones these were. The doctors told me "human bones." Consequently, I informed the officer responsible for war graves in the area of this fact, because I believed that it was a question of a soldier's grave, as there were a number of such graves in our immediate vicinity.

Q. Then, how did the exhumation take place?

A. I do not know about all the details. Professor Dr. Butz arrived one day on orders from the army group, and informed me that, owing to the rumours, exhumations were to be carried out, and that he had to inform me that these exhumations would take place in my wood.

Q. Did Professor Butz later give you details of the result of his exhumations?

A. Yes, he did occasionally give me details, and I remember that he told me that he had conclusive evidence regarding the date of the shootings. Amongst other things, he showed me letters. I cannot remember much about them now; but I do remember some sort of a diary which he passed over to me in which there were dates followed by certain written remarks which I could not read because they were written in Polish. In this connection he explained to me that these notes had been made by a Polish officer regarding events of the past months, and that at the end - the diary ended with the spring of 1940 - the fear was expressed in these notes that something horrible was going to happen. I am only giving a broad outline of the meaning.

[Page 332]

Q. Did he give you any further indication regarding the period he assumed the shooting had taken place?

A. Professor Butz, in accordance with the proofs which he had found, was convinced that the shootings had taken place in the spring of 1940, and I often heard him express this conviction in my presence; also later on, when the commissions visited the grave and I had to place my house at the disposal of these commissions to accommodate them. I personally did not have anything to do whatsoever with the exhumations or with the commissions. All I had to do was to place the house at their disposal.

Q. It was alleged that in March, 1943, lorries had transported bodies to Katyn from outside and these bodies were buried in the little wood. Do you know anything about that?

A. No, I know nothing about that.

Q. Would you have had to take notice of it?

A. I would have had to take notice of it - at least my officers would have reported it to me, because my officers were continuously at the regimental battle headquarters, whereas I, as a regimental commander, was of course, travelling a great deal. The officer who, in those days, was there continuously was Lieutenant-Colonel Hodt, whose address I got to know last night from a letter.

Q. Were Russian prisoners of war used for these exhumations?

A. As far as I remember, yes.

Q. Can you tell us the number?

A. I cannot say exactly as I did not concern myself any further with this exhumation on account of the dreadful stench around our house which was revolting to us, but I should estimate the number as being about forty to fifty people.

Q. It has been alleged that they were shot afterwards, have you any knowledge of that?

A. I have no knowledge of that and I also never heard of it.

DR. STAHMER: I have no further questions, Mr. President.

BY DR. KRANZBUEHLER (counsel for Donitz):

Q. Colonel, did you yourself ever discuss the events of 1940 with any of the local inhabitants?

A. Yes. At the beginning of 1943, a Russian married couple were living near my regimental headquarters, they lived 800 yards away and they were bee-keepers. I, too, kept bees - and I came into close contact with this married couple. When the exhumations were taking place, approximately in May, 1943, I told them that, after all, they ought to know when these shootings had taken place, since they were living in close proximity to the graves. Thereupon, these people told me it had occurred in the spring of 1940, and that at the Gnesdowo station more than 200 Poles in uniform had arrived in railway trucks and were then taken to the woods in lorries. They had heard lots of shots and screams, too.

Q. Was the wood closed to the local inhabitants at the time?

A. We have -

THE PRESIDENT: That is a leading question. I do not think you should ask leading questions.


Q. Do you know whether the local inhabitants could enter the woods at the time?

A. There was a fence around the woods, and according to the statements of the local inhabitants, civilians could not enter it during the time the Russians were there. The remains of the fence were still visible when I was there, and this fence is indicated on my sketch and is marked with a black line.

Q. When you moved into the Dnieper Castle, did you make inquiries as to who the former owners were?

A. Yes, I did make inquiries because I was interested. The house was built in a rather peculiar way. It had a cinema installation and its own rifle range, and,

[Page 333]

of course, that interested me; but I failed to ascertain anything definite during the whole time I was there.

Q. Apart from mass graves in the neighbourhood of the castle, were there any other graves found?

A. I have indicated by a few dots on my sketch that, in the vicinity of the castle, there were found a number of other small graves which contained decayed bodies; that is to say, skeletons which had disintegrated; and these graves contained perhaps six, eight, or a few more skeletons, both male and female. Even I, a layman, could recognize that very clearly, because most of them had rubber shoes on which were in good condition, and there were also remains of handbags.

Q. How long had these skeletons been in the ground?

A. That, I cannot tell you. I only know that they were decayed and had disintegrated. The bones were preserved, but the skeleton structure was no longer intact.

DR. KRANZBUEHLER: Thank you, that is all.

DR. LATERNSER (counsel for the General Staff and the OKW):

Mr. President -

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Laternser, you know the Tribunal's ruling.


THE PRESIDENT: Well, you have no right to ask any questions of the witness here.

DR. LATERNSER: Mr. President, I just wanted to ask you, in this unusual case, to allow me to put questions -

THE PRESIDENT: I said to you that you know the Tribunal's ruling and the Tribunal will not hear you. We have already ruled upon this once or twice in consequence of your objections and the Tribunal will not hear you.

DR. LATERNSER: Mr. President, the Katyn case is one of the most serious accusations raised against the group.

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal is perfectly well aware of the nature of the allegations about Katyn and the Tribunal does not propose to make any exceptional rule in that case and it therefore will not hear you, and you will kindly sit down.

DR. LATERNSER: Mr. President, I wish to state that I feel thereby that I am unduly restricted in my defence.

THE PRESIDENT: As Dr. Laternser knows perfectly well, he is entitled to apply to the Commission to call any witness who is called here if his evidence bears upon the case of the particular organizations for which Dr. Laternser appears. I do not want to hear anything further.

DR. LATERNSER: Mr. President, the channel you point out to me is not practicable. I cannot have every witness who appears here called by the Commission.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Siemers, you are appearing for the defendant Donitz or is it Raeder?

DR. SIEMERS: Defendant Raeder.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, unless the questions you are going to ask particularly refer to the case of the defendant Raeder, the Tribunal is not prepared to hear any further examination. The matter has been generally covered by Dr. Stahmer and also by Dr. Kranzbuehler. Therefore, unless the questions which you want to ask have some particular reference to the case of Raeder, the Tribunal will not hear you.

DR. SIEMERS: Mr. President, I had merely assumed that there were two reasons on the strength of which I could put a few questions: Firstly, because the Tribunal itself has stated that within the framework of the conspiracy all defendants had

[Page 334]

been participants; and secondly, that according to the statements by the prosecution, Grand Admiral Raeder, too, is considered a member of the supposedly criminal organizations, the General Staff and the OKW. It was for that reason I wanted to ask one or two supplementary questions.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Siemers, if there were any allegations that in any way bore on the case against defendant Raeder, the Tribunal would of course allow you to ask questions; but there is no allegation which in any way connects the defendant Raeder with the allegations about the Katyn woods.

DR. SIEMERS: I am grateful to the Tribunal for that statement, Mr. President.

DR. LATERNSER: Mr. President, may I be allowed to ask something else? May I have the question put to the prosecution, who is to be made responsible for the Katyn case?

THE PRESIDENT: I do not propose to answer questions of that sort.

The prosecution may now cross-examine if they want to.

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