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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
29th July to 8th August 1946

One Hundred and Ninety-First Day: Wednesday, 31st July, 1946
(Part 11 of 11)

[DR. MERKEL continues his direct examination of Dr. Karl Rudolf Werner Best]

[Page 148]

Q. Did the officials of the Gestapo have to assume that a criminal purpose was aimed at in the concentration camps?

A. No; for the Gestapo had no final aim whatever to achieve. Instead it only carried out and fulfilled the orders or regulations and the tasks which were put to it from day to day.

Q. Now, did not the Gestapo also carry out actions which were not demanded of it through the general police directives?

A. As far as the Gestapo had to carry out actions which were not provided for in a general regulation, it was an instrument for the carrying out of matters which were alien to the police sphere. I might say it was misused and abused along these lines. As the first case of this type, I remember the arrest of about 20,000 Jews in November, 1938. This was a measure which was not necessary from the police point of view, and would never have been carried out by the Secret State Police of its own initiative, but it had received this order from the Government for political reasons.

Q. Did the leadership of the Gestapo participate in the decision to arrest 20,000 Jews?

A. No. From my own experience I know that Heydrich, who was then the Chief of the State Police, was completely surprised by these measures, for I was with him when but a few metres from the hotel where we were staying a synagogue went up in flames. We did not know anything about it. Thereupon, Ileydrich rushed to Himmler, and received orders there which he transmitted to the agency of the State Police.

Q. And how did the so-called intensified interrogations take place?

A. Concerning the Verschaerfte Vernehmungen (intensified interrogation methods), Heydrich issued a decree in 1937, which I saw for the first time after it had been issued, for I was not called in on such matters, being an administrative official. Thereupon I questioned him about it.

Q. What reason did Heydrich give for this decree?

A. At that time, Heydrich gave me the reason that he had received permission from higher authority to issue this decree. This measure was thought to be necessary to prevent conspiracy activity on the part of organizations hostile to the State and thus prevent actions dangerous to the State; but confessions were in no way to be extorted. He called attention to the fact that foreign police agencies commonly used such measures. He emphasized, however, that he had reserved for himself the right of approval on every individual case in the German Reich; thus he considered any abuse quite out of the question.

Q. From 1933 until 1939, did the Gestapo participate in a conspiracy to plan, prepare and unleash a war of aggression?

A. No. I believe I may be able to say that, for if 1, as head of a department in the central office, did not know anything about it, then the minor officials could not have known it, either.

Q. Was the Gestapo prepared for the eventuality of a war?

A. In the first place, it was not armed. It especially lacked arms, vehicles and signal material, etc., for use in occupied territories. There was, in the second place, no possibility of calling in police reserves as was the case with the regular police. -- The whole system was still in such a state of development with the working out of directives for careers, the construction of office buildings, etc., that in no way can one say that the Secret State Police or the Security Police were ready for a trial of such dimensions.

Q. For what purpose were the task force units set up

[Page 149]

A. The task force units were set up on the basis of an agreement with the untries the High Command of the Wehrmacht so that in occupied foreign co fighting units would be protected, and also so that in the occupied countries the most elementary security measures could be taken.

Q. And to whom were they subordinate?

A. During the military operations the task force units were subordinate to the military commanders with whose units they marched. After the operations were concluded, their subordination varied according to the administrative system in operation in the area. That meant, depending upon whether the office of a military chief or of a Reich Commissioner were set up, the Higher SS Leader was subordinate to this superior head, and the task force units were subordinate to the Higher SS Leaders.

Q. And how were these task force units composed?

A. When operations began the task force units were made up of members of the Gestapo, the Security Service and of the criminal police. During the war, however, personnel had to be supplemented in great numbers partly by members of the regular police, partly by emergency drafting by members of the Waffen SS, and employees in the various areas themselves so that finally the officials of the Secret Police made up only ten per cent. of the entire force.

Q. Were the task force units constituent parts of the Gestapo?

A. No, they belonged neither to the central office nor to the Gestapo police offices, but they were Security Police units of a special kind.

Q. From your own experience, do you know about the activities of the task force units?

A. Yes, especially in Denmark, I had the opportunity to watch the activities of one of these task force units and through friendly relations I was also informed about conditions in Norway as well.

Q. What do you know of the activities of these task force units in Denmark anj Norway, for instance?

A. I should especially like to emphasize that the forces which were employed there very frequently objected to the measures that they received from central agencies, measures which would have led to severe treatment of the local population. For instance, they were against the use of the "Nacht-und-Nebel" decree against the use of the "Kugel" decree; and against the use of the "Kommando" decree, and they rejected and fought against other measures as well. For instance, the Security Police and I severely protested against the deportation of Danish Jews. In Norway the Commander of the Security Police, as he and the Reich Commissioner Terboven both told me, fought against the severe measures which the Reich Commissioner Terboven ordered time and again, and sometimes with the help of the central office in Berlin even prevented some of these measures. This finally caused a break between Terboven and the Commander of the Security Police.

Q. Did you yourself suggest the deportation of Jews from Denmark as has been mentioned here occasionally?

A. No. In frequent reports in the course of 1943 I strongly rejected these measures. On 29th August, 1943, when the state of military emergency was set up in Denmark against my will, the deportation of Jews was ordered apparently by Hitler himself and then, once more, I objected. But, when the Foreignoffice confirmed that the order had definitely gone out, then I demanded that a state of military emergency be maintained as long as the action was going on, for I expected trouble and riots, and this demand of mine that the action was to take place under the state of military emergency was misinterpreted to the effect that I had wanted it. I actually sabotaged it by informing certain Danish politicians of it and when it was going to take place so that the Jews could flee, and in reality 6,000 Jews were able to flee, while only 450 were arrested. The Security Police also helped me

[Page 150]

in this matter. The Commander of the Security Police could have reported me because he knew about my actions, and this would have cost me my life.

Q. Did the Security Police in the occupied countries participate in the deportation of workers to the Reich?

A. Not a single worker left Denmark, or rather, was deported from Denmark to the Reich. As far as I knew, the Security Police did not assist in this in other areas either.

Q. Who was responsible for the shooting of hostages in France? Was that the police, or who was it?

A. From my own experience I know that the orders for the shooting of hostages in France came regularly from the Fuehrer's Headquarters. The military commander-in -chief who had to carry out these decrees, until 1942, was himself strongly against these measures, and General Otto von Stuelpnagel, because of his conflicts with the Fuehrer's Headquarters, had a nervous breakdown and had to leave the service. Also the new Higher SS and Police Leader, Obert, when taking over office, assured me that he was against these measures too.

Q. From your own experience and observations, can you tell me who ultimately decreed the harsh treatment in the occupied territories?

A. According to my experience, it was Hitler himself who, in each case, issued the decrees.

Q. And what was the characteristic point in Hitler's decrees?

A. I found this to be especially characteristic in Hitler's decrees, that in the most astonishing way he dealt with details which the head of a State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces would not deal with ordinarily, and that these decrees, so far as they applied to occupied territories, were always intended to have a deterring effect containing intimidations and threats for some purpose or another without taking into consideration that the opposite side also showed a fighting spirit which could not so easily be daunted.

Q. And how did he react to objections of his subordinates?

A. Mostly by outbursts of rage and by a sudden stiffening of his attitude. On the other hand he retained those in office who had asked to resign.

Q. Does your book, The German Police, have an official character?

A. No, it is a purely private piece of work.

Q. Does your book only deal with definite and actual facts?

A. No. In parts the tendencies which were prevalent at the time it was written were pictured as already having attained their fulfilment.

Q. Why did it do that?

A. Partly because I anticipated the tendencies to be realized in a very short time and partly because the book would otherwise have met with difficulties at the time of its publication.

Q. Does not the following fact lead one to believe that certain arbitrary action was taken by the Security Police, namely, that certain measures indicated that the chief of the German police could order measures beyond his ordinary authority?

A. If this was specified in two decrees dealing with the occupation of Austria and the Sudetenland, it meant that the chief of the German police would legally have the authority to issue police decrees in these regions . . . which might deviate from the laws already existing there. This was a transfer of legal authority, no single acts were to be taken either illegally or arbitrarily.

Q. What was the existing police law according to your theory?

A. In speaking about police law in my book, I started from the National Socialist conception of the State and from the development of State laws at that time in Germany. When after 1933 the legislative power was transferred to the Government, it gradually became the customary law of the State that the will of the head of the State automatically established law. This principle was recognized as law, for one cannot characterize the rules and regulations governing a great power for years on end as anything but customary law. On the same basis,

[Page 151]

the State's police law developed too. An emergency law issued by the Reich President on 28th February, 1933, removed the barriers of the Weimar Constitution, and thus the police were given much wider scope. The activities and the authority of the police were reguLated through numerous FUhrer decrees, orders, directives, and so forth which, since they were decreed by the highest legislative authority of the State, namely, the head of the State himself, had to be considered as valid police laws.

Q. What would be your judgment concerning the orders to the Gestapo or parts of it, to effect actions, deportations and executions? A. I have already said that these were measures quite alien to the police, which had nothing to do with the ordinary activities of the police and which were not necessary from the police point of view. But, if the police received such orders from the head of the State or in the name of the head of the State, then, of course, according to the current conception each individual official had to take it upon himself as an obligation to carry out the decree.

Q. Did you wish to justify these measures when you wrote in your book-

THE PRESIDENT: It is five o'clock now. Can you tell the Tribunal how long you think you are going to be with this witness?

DR. MERKEL: I have just two more questions. minutes, Mr. President.



Q. Did you wish to justify this opinion and this attitude when you said in your book that it was not a question of law but a question of fate that the head of State was setting up the proper law?

A. No. In that passage of my book I meant to give a political warning to the State leadership, i.e., that this tremendous amount of power to set law arbitrarily -- at that time we could not foresee an International Military Tribunal -- would be subject to the verdict of fate, and that anyone transgressing against the fundamental human rights of the individual and of nations would be punished by fate. I am sorry to say that I was quite right in my warning.

Q. But if the members of the Gestapo recognized the decree which they received to be criminal,, how would you judge their actions then?

A. In that case I have to say that they acted in an express state of emergency, for during the war the entire police system was subject to the military penal code and any official who refused to carry out a decree or order woula have been sentenced to death in a court martial for reason of military insubordination.

DR. MERKEL: I have no further questions.


The Tribunal will adjourn.

(The Tribunal adjourned until 1st August, 1946, at 1000 hours.)

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