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-Sixth Day: Tuesday, 6th August, 1946
(Part 1 of 10)

[Page 299]

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal will sit in closed session on Thursday afternoon. That is to say, it will not sit in open session after one o'clock on Thursday. It will sit in open session on Saturday morning until one o'clock.




Q. Witness, was the Waffen SS a special fighting unit for the combating of partisans, and was the fight against the partisans considered to be a war of extermination?

A. The, fight against partisans is a general military and political police measure, which can be assigned to any troop; front-line troops of the Army, as well as of the Waffen SS, were only used in exceptional cases, for instance if they were in the rear areas. There were usually no partisan fights in the operational areas; they mostly took place in the rear areas only. This fighting was mainly the task of the Security Division of the army and special defence battalions, and besides that, police troops. Units of the Waffen SS at the front were not especially trained to this kind of fighting and were utilised just as little for it as Panzer divisions of the Army, for instance. In the East, units of my division were never used in the fight against partisans at any time. Therefore it was not a special task for SS units, and they were not especially trained or instructed for this purpose.

Q. What relationship existed between the Waffen SS on one hand and the Security Police and constabulary and the so- called Einsatzgruppen and the Einsatzkommandos on the other?

A. These various branches of the organization of Heinrich Himmler, unfortunately, wore the same uniform even though they had different insignia. The only thing they had in common was their chief - Himmler. The various branches were completely separate from each other even before the war. The separation was intensified more and more during the war. Units of the Waffen SS were under the command of the army officers. The other branches, SD., police, etc., were subordinate to Himmler.

Q. Did you hear anything about the SD-Einsatzgruppen?

A. At the beginning of the campaign I had heard, by word of mouth, about as much about the SD-Einsatzgruppen as the Commanders-in-Chief -

Q. Please repeat that, witness.

A. At the beginning of the campaign I had heard, verbally, about as much about the SD-Einsatzgruppen as the Commanders- in-Chief of the army groups knew, namely, that they were used in the rear areas alongside the secret field police with the object of guarding the population and securing material from the enemy administration centres. I never had any personal contact with any of the branches. Therefore, I cannot give you any further information about their activity.

Q. Is it therefore true that only during your arrest did you hear anything at all about the participation of small units of the Waffen SS, altogether about three to four companies, besides the police and gendarmerie?

[Page 300]

A. Only during my arrest here did I hear of these matters.

Q. Did the Higher SS and Police Leaders belong to the officers corps of the Waffen SS?

A. The Higher SS and Police Leaders did not belong to the Waffen SS. They had no authority to command and they had nothing to do with us.

Q. Did the Waffen SS furnish the guarding units and the so- called Kommandantur personnel for the concentration camps?

A. Units guarding the concentration camps and the personnel in the Kommandantur did not belong to the Waffen SS. Only in the course of the war were these units designated as Waffen SS in order to release them from military service and give them freedom to carry out their police duties. The members of the Waffen SS considered this measure, which they learned of only after the war, a deliberate deception on the part of Himmler. We did not have anything to do with the men of the concentration camps and the guard personnel.

Q. It is not quite clear, witness, just what you meant when you said "to release them from military service." Will you explain that in more detail.

A. All persons who served at home and in the police had to be relieved of military service in the Wehrmacht by the Wehrkreis district commander in order to carry out their police tasks. That did not apply when all the units of guards were designated as Waffen SS, for these were a part of the Wehrmacht. In the main offices in Berlin these units, in order to differentiate, were designated "nominal Waffen SS." But all this I learned here later.

Q. The prosecution asserts that the Waffen SS was only a part of the whole SS organization, and that as such, it was needed for the carrying through of the total criminal conspiracy. Please comment on this.

A. I believe that it can be seen from all my testimony that the Waffen SS was a completely independent unit and connected with other organizations only through the person of Heinrich Himmler. This separation of the various branches undoubtedly intensified itself during the war. Therefore, we could not have harboured criminal plans with the others or participated in carrying them through.

Q. You, in fact, felt yourself to be a part of the Army?

A. We were completely incorporated into the Army, and the designation "fourth branch of the Army," although it was not officially sanctioned, did apply basically.

Q. Apart from the accusation concerning the concentration camps, the prosecution further asserts that the Waffen SS, on the basis of its training, was a particularly cruel military tool, and that is to be shown, allegedly, by the participation of the Waffen SS men in the evacuation of the Warsaw Ghetto, and, says the prosecution, in the violations of International Law such as the murder of prisoners of war. Is that correct?

A. I already testified, yesterday, that our training was not directed to that end. Our method of fighting was supervised and ordered by the Army, and we did not gain prestige through cruel methods. The commanders who had personal pride in leading a clean fighting unit against the enemy saw to that. I only learned here of the participation of small units of the Waffen SS in the evacuation of the Warsaw Ghetto or in the executions which took place in Bohemia and Moravia. This can only be a question of small parts of replacement units which were temporarily subordinated for a brief period of time.

Unfortunately, during my arrest I heard of two trials against members of the Waffen SS. One of these proceedings has not been concluded as yet, and in my own mind, I cannot quite determine my attitude.

Q. You mean the killing of prisoners?

A. Yes. These incidents are not the results of training, but rather the failure of individuals, nervous breakdowns when in difficult positions in enemy territory. But these accusations should not be generalised. Even if there had been ten instead of only two cases, the ratio, as applied to the entire membership of the

[Page 301]

Waffen SS of a million men, would be one case to every 100,000 men. Such incidents are the results of the intensification of combat on the ground and in the air during a long war; incidents which have occurred on both sides and will continue to occur. You cannot hold the bulk of the Waffen SS responsible.

Q. What effect did Heinrich Himmler actually have on the internal attitude of the members of the Waffen SS?

A. Heinrich Himmler, most assuredly, tried in peace time to exert his influence on the small special units. During the war this was practically impossible. He did not address troops of the Waffen SS. On occasion he did talk to some officers and commanders of single divisions in the field. It was generally known that Heinrich Himmler, who probably was a soldier only for one year, was completely alien in his relations with troops and that he underestimated the military tasks involved. He liked to play the role of the strong man through exaggeration and through superlatives. If someone comes along with big words, the soldier on the front does not pay much attention.

In that way the influence of Himmler was very insignificant during the war. We wore his uniform of course, but the reputation of the Waffen SS was established by its officers; by the example they set and by their daily work.

Q. Was the influence of Himmler on the commanders perhaps stronger than on the masses of SS soldiers?

A. Quite the contrary. The commanders, of course, were under him so far as military obedience is concerned. But they had the right to criticise through their own experience of life and of the world, and as a fact this criticism was necessary in face of Himmler's extravagant and romantic ideas. These men had enough experience to be able to translate his statements into the language and manner of thought of the soldier. The critical attitude toward Heinrich Himmler increased continually during the war. He believed that he could usually dispense with the advice of an old soldier. Objections were cut off short with the words: "This is the typical attitude of a general" - an attitude which he always fought against.

Q. Is it correct that Heinrich Himmler in his speeches broke out into exorbitant invectives against the Jews and the Slavs?

A. I only know about the speech at Kharkov in 1943, in which he mentioned three points which evoked our criticism and opposition. His statements in regard to the Jews, which were in very bad taste, applied only to Germany and did not indicate extermination in any way.

His references to the superior numbers of our enemy could only be interpreted by the common soldier to mean that the superior numbers of our enemy would have to be equalised in battle.

Q. What were the special points of criticism of the officer corps against Heinrich Himmler?

A. Without doubt he thought that after the war the various organizations which were subordinate to him, the SS and perhaps the police also, could be united into one organization, which was just opposite to what the situation was during the war, and it was against this that our criticism was directed.

Q. To what extent were the crimes in concentration camps such as the extermination of the Jews known to the Waffen SS? I should like you to remember that you speak not only for yourself as a highly placed general, but you also speak for the simple SS man, based on your own experience, of course.

A. It sounds quite impossible, and foreign countries are unwilling to believe it, but the members of the Waffen SS as well as myself knew nothing of the crimes of which we have heard here. This perhaps may serve as an explanation, that at home only those who had relations in the concentration camps learned anything about it, only the secret opposition which was always present gathered whispered stories and rumours. This was kept from the SS men. If one of them by chance heard something, he thought that it was hostile propaganda. Foreign radio

[Page 302]

broadcasts or newspapers were unknown to him, for they were forbidden at home. The bulk of the Waffen SS was set up against the enemy. The war tasks grew from year to year and the efforts became more intense. An SS man did not have the time or opportunity to check rumours, and like myself, he was surprised and indignant about all these things which Himmler had done contrary to what he had preached to us in peace time.

Q. Do you know the speech of Himmler's made at Posen in which he mentioned the fact that thousands and tens of thousands of Jews had been killed?

A. I was not present at that speech at Posen, and only heard of it here, during my arrest. As far as I know, the speech was addressed to the leaders at horde and in the occupied countries. The members of the Waffen SS were not present at all, or if so, only in extremely small numbers.

Q. The units for the guarding of the concentration camps were designated as Waffen SS as well, and ratings of the Waffen SS were given to persons connected with the concentration camp system. Did you know anything about these matters during the war?

A. I have already mentioned that the designation of concentration camp guards as Waffen SS men became known to me only after the war. However, I must add that Heinrich Himmler deliberately tried to efface the dividing lines between these varied organizations before the eyes of the public, and examples of that are in particular the designation of the concentration camp guard units as Waffen SS and the giving of ratings in the Waffen SS to persons who had no connection with the fighting troops.

Q. Do you consider that the Waffen SS did, for the greater part, participate in the crimes which indubitably were committed?

A. No. The prosecution chains the Waffen SS to the fate of Heinrich Himmler and a small circle of criminals around him. The Waffen SS is taking this quite bitterly for it believes that it fought decently and fairly. It is far removed from these crimes and from him who caused them. I should like to ask the High Tribunal to please listen to the statements and the judgements of your own frontline soldiers. I believe that they will not refuse us respect. Special incidents were exceptions. The Waffen SS considers it quite unjust that it is being treated differently from the mass of the German Wehrmacht, and it does not deserve to be outlawed as a criminal organization.

DR. PELCKMANN: Mr. President, I have no further questions to this witness.



Q. Witness, you heard Himmler's Kharkov speech in April, 1943, to the commanding officers of the three SS divisions in the East, did you not?

A. Yes, I heard that speech.

Q. And you remember that he ended his speech by saying:

"We will never let that excellent weapon, the dread and terrible reputation which preceded us in the battle for Kharkov, fade, but will constantly add new meaning to it."
Do you remember him saying that?

A. Yes.

Q. And your units of the Waffen SS constantly added new meaning to your reputation for terror, did they not?

A. No. I have already made statements, yesterday and today, which entirely contradict this. I considered it as an insult to say that our successes were dependent on terror. Quite the contrary, I said that our successes resulted from the brave fighting of officers and men.

Q. Yesterday you told the Tribunal that the relations of the Waffen SS with the local population were good, and that your Waffen SS troops did not take

[Page 303]

hostages or destroy villages as punishments, or commit war crimes. That was your evidence, was it not?

A. I said that the relationships were unobjectionable and good, that we did not displace any part of the population to work at home.

Q. I want you to listen now to some documents I am going to put in with regard to the SS generally and with regard to the Waffen SS in particular; first, two documents from your own sources.

MR. ELWYN JONES: The first, my Lord, is Document D-419, to be Exhibit GB 552. I am not proposing to cross-examine the witness as to these numerous documents, my Lord. It appears to be the desire of the Tribunal that they should be put in as speedily as possible.

THE PRESIDENT: If they are new documents, you can cross- examine him upon them.

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