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 4 of 10)

[COLONEL SMIRNOV continues his cross examination of Colonel Friedrich Ahrens]

[Page 338]

Q. According to the material submitted to the High Tribunal by the Soviet prosecution, it is obvious that the bodies were buried at a depth of one and a half to two metres. I wonder where you found such a wolf which could scratch the ground up to a depth of two metres.

A. I did not find this wolf, but I saw it.

Q. Tell me, please, why, after having discovered the cross and learned about the mass graves in 1941, you only started the exhumation on these mass graves in March, 1943?

A. That was not my concern, but a matter for the army group. I have already told you that in the course of 1942 the stories became more widespread. I frequently heard about them and spoke about it to Colonel von Gersthoff of the Central Army Group, who intimated to me that he knew all about this matter, and with that my obligation ended. I reported what I had seen and heard. Apart from that, this entire matter did not concern me, and I did not concern myself with it. I had enough worries of my own.

Q. And now the last question. Please tell me who were these two persons with whom you had this conversation, and perhaps you can recollect the names of the couple who told you about the shootings in the Katyn woods?

A. This couple lived in a small house about 800 to 1,000 metres north of the entrance to our drive leading to the Vitebsk road. I do not recall their names.

Q. So you do not remember the name of this couple?

A. No, I do not recall the name.

Q. So you heard about the Katyn events from a couple whose name you do not remember, and you did not hear anything about it from other local inhabitants?

A. Please repeat the question for me.

Q. Consequently, you heard about these Katyn events only from this couple, whose name you do not remember. From none of the other local inhabitants did you hear anything about the events in Katyn.

A. I personally only heard this story from this couple; my soldiers told me the stories current amongst the other inhabitants.

Q. Do you know that during the investigation of the Katyn affair, posters were put up by the German police in the streets of Smolensk promising a reward to anyone giving any information in connection with the Katyn events? They were signed by Lieutenant Voss.

A. I personally did not see these posters. Lieutenant Voss is known to me by name only.

[Page 339]

Q. And the very last question. Do you know of the report of the Extraordinary State Commission concerning Katyn?

A. Do you mean the Russian White Paper?

Q. No, I mean the report of the Soviet Extraordinary Commission, concerning Katyn, the Soviet report.

A. Yes, I read that report.

Q. Therefore, you know also that the Extraordinary State Commission names you as being one of the persons responsible for the crimes committed in Katyn?

A. It mentions a Lt.-Colonel Ames.

COLONEL SMIRNOV: I have no further questions, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Stahmer, do you wish to re-examine?


Q. Witness, just a little while ago you said that you did not know when Lieutenant Hodt joined your staff. Do you know when he joined the regiment?

A. I know that he belonged to the regiment during the Russian campaign and actually right from the beginning.

Q. That is, he belonged to the regiment from the beginning?

A. Yes. He belonged to this regiment from the beginning of the Russian campaign.

Q. Just one more question dealing with your discussion with Professor Butz. Did Professor Butz mention anything about what were the last dates on the letters which he found?

A. He told me about the spring of 1940. He also showed me this diary, and I looked at it and I also saw the dates, but I do not recall in detail just which date or dates they were. But they ended with the spring of 1940.

Q. Therefore no documents were found of a later date?

A. Professor Butz told me that no documents or notes were found which might have given indications of a later date, and he expressed his conviction that these shootings must have taken place in the spring of 1940.

DR. STAHMER: Mr. President, I have no further questions to put to the witness.

BY THE TRIBUNAL (General Nikitchenko):

Q. Witness, can you not remember exactly when Professor Butz discussed with you the date at which the corpses were buried in the mass graves?

A. May I ask to have the question repeated?

Q. When did Professor Butz speak to you about the mass graves and assert that the burial of the corpses must have taken place in the spring of 1940?

A. I cannot tell you the date exactly, but it was in the spring of 1943, before these exhumations had started. I beg your pardon. He told me that he had been instructed to undertake the exhumation and during the exhumations he was with me from time to time, it may have been in Mayor the end of April. In the middle of May he gave me details of his work of exhumation. I cannot now tell you exactly on which days Professor Butz visited me.

Q. When did Professor Butz arrive at Katyn?

A. He arrived in the spring of 1940, and told me that, on instructions of the army group, he was to undertake exhumations in my forest. The exhumations were started, and in the course of -

Q. You say 1940? Or perhaps the translation is wrong.

A. 1943, in the spring of 1943. A few weeks after the beginning of the exhumations, Professor Butz visited me, and informed me, or rather, he discussed this matter with me. It may have been the middle of May, 1943

Q. According to your testimony, I understood you to say in answer to a question put by the defence counsel that Professor Butz asserted, before the arrival of the Commission for the exhumation, that the shootings had taken place in the spring of 1940. Is that correct?

A. May I repeat once more than Professor Butz -

[Page 340]

Q. It is not necessary to repeat what you have already said. I am only asking you, is it correct or not? Maybe the translation was incorrect, or maybe your testimony was incorrect at the beginning.

A. I did not understand the question just put to me. That is the reason why I wanted to explain this once more. I do not know just what is meant by this last question. May I ask that this question be repeated?

Q. At the beginning, when you were interrogated by the defence counsel, I understood you to say that Professor Butz told you that the shooting had taken place in the spring of 1940, that is, before the arrival of the Commission for the exhumations.

A. No, that has not been understood correctly. I testified that Professor Butz came to me and told me that he was to undertake exhumations. These exhumations then took place, and approximately six to eight weeks later, Professor Butz came to me - of course, he visited me on other occasions as well - but approximately six to eight weeks later, he came to me and told me that he was convinced that, as a result of his discoveries, he was now able to fix the date of the shootings. He made this statement to me, approximately, in the middle of May.

Q. Were you present when the diary and the other documents were found - which were shown to you by Professor Butz?

A. No.

Q. You do not know where he found the diary and other documents?

A. No, that I do not know.


Q. When did you first report to superior authority the fact that you suspected that there was a grave there?

A. At first, I was not suspicious. I have already mentioned that fighting had taken place there; and at first I did not attach any importance to the stories told to me, and did not give this matter any credence. I believed that it was a question of soldiers who had been killed there; of war graves, as there were several in the vicinity.

Q. You are not answering my question. I am asking you, when did you first report to superior authority that there was a grave there?

A. In the course of the summer, 1942, I spoke to Colonel von Gersthoff about these stories which had come to my knowledge. Gersthoff told me that he himself had heard similar stories, and my conversation with von Gersthoff was thereby concluded. I believe that he did not give any credence to these stories. At least I do not think he was thoroughly convinced. That I do not actually know, however.

Then, in the spring of 1943, when the snow had melted, and the bones were found and brought to me, I telephoned to the officer in charge of war graves, and informed him that apparently there were some soldiers' graves here. That was before Professor Butz had visited me.

Q. Did you make any report in writing?

A. No, I did not do that.

Q. Never?

A. No, I was not in any way concerned with this matter.

THE PRESIDENT: The witness can retire.

DR. STAHMER: Then, as an additional witness, I should like to call Lieutenant Reinhard von Eichborn.


REINHARD VON EICHBORN, a witness, took the stand and testified as follows:


Q. Will you state your full name please?

A. Reinhard von Eichborn.

[Page 341]

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.

DIRECT EXAMINATION of the witness Reinhard von Eichborn


Q. Witness, what is your occupation?

A. Court assessor.

Q. Were you called up for service in the German Wehrmacht during the war?

A. Yes, in August, 1939.

Q. And what was your unit?

A. Army Group Signal Regiment 537.

Q. And what was your rank?

A. At the outbreak of the war, platoon commander and second lieutenant.

Q. And at the end?

A. Lieutenant.

Q. Were you on the Eastern Front during the war?

A. Yes, from the beginning.

Q. With your regiment?

A. No, from 1940 onward, on the staff of the Central Army Group.

Q. Apart from this Regiment 537, was there a pioneer battalion 537?

A. In the command of the Central Army Group, there was no pioneer battalion 537.

Q. When did you arrive with your unit in the vicinity of Katyn?

A. About 20th September, the staff of the Central Army Group transferred its headquarters to Smolensk, that is to say into the Smolensk region.

Q. Where had you been stationed before?

A. How am I to understand this question?

Q. Where did you come from?

A. We came from Borrisov.

THE PRESIDENT: One moment. The witness said 20th September. That does not identify the year.


Q. In what year was this 20th September?

A. 20th September, 1941.

Q. Was the Regiment 537 already there at that time?

A. The staff of the Regiment 537 was transferred at about the same time together with the staff of the army group to the place where the headquarters of the army group was. Advanced units had already been stationed there in order to set up communications.

Q. And where was the staff accommodated?

A. The staff of Army Group Signal Regiment 537 was accommodated in the so-called Dnieper Castle.

Q. Where was the advance unit?

A. The advance unit may have occupied this building - or at least a part of this advance unit did - to safeguard this building for the regimental staff.

Q. Do you know who was in command of this advance unit?

A. Lieutenant Hodt was in command of this advance unit.

Q. When did this advance unit come to Katyn?

A. Smolensk fell on about 17th July, 1941. The army group had planned to put its headquarters in the immediate vicinity of Smolensk, and, after this group had selected its quarters, this region was seized immediately after the fall of the city. The advance unit arrived at the same time as this area was seized, and that was probably in the second half of July, 1941.

[Page 342]

Q. Therefore the advance unit was there from July, 1941, until the 20th September, 1941?

A. Yes.

Q. And the entire staff was there from 20th September, 1941?

A. Yes. It may be that part of the staff arrived somewhat later, but the bulk of the staff arrived on 20th September.

THE PRESIDENT: Are you speaking of the staff of the army group or the staff of the signal regiment?

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