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-Seventh Day: Wednesday, 7th August, 1946
(Part 1 of 10)

[Page 344]

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, Dr. Pelckmann.



BY DR. PELCKMANN (counsel for SS):

Q. Witness, before passing on to a new subject, I have one more question to clarify with reference to yesterday's examination.

In connection with a document there was some discussion of a cavalry brigade of the SS. I was afraid, and I gathered from certain statements, that this brigade might be confused with the cavalry storm troops of the General SS. I draw the attention of the High Tribunal to the testimony of the witness von Boikowski-Bidau before the Commission, and I now ask you, witness, to tell us in which way the cavalry storm troops of the General SS differed from the formation which I have just mentioned.

A. Cavalry storm troops of the General SS were special units of the General SS, like, for instance, the motor storm troops of the General SS. They had nothing whatever to do with the later cavalry units of the Waffen SS, nor were these later units built up from the cavalry storm troops.

Q. A horrifying moving picture of the atrocities in concentration camps was shown in this courtroom, and the prosecution has alleged that such conditions were the outcome of a consistent policy of the SS.

Can you, as a high-ranking judge, comment on this allegation? Did the courts of the SS gain knowledge of these occurrences, and if so, did they remain silent?

A. Of the consequent policy of the SS with reference to the conditions shown in this film, there can be no question. Frightful atrocities were committed in concentration camps, but the film shows the effect of the total collapse of the German Reich on these camps; it does not, therefore, represent normal conditions therein. The normal conditions were quite different. I am in a position to pass judgement on these matters, because the legal system of the SS and the police used all the means at its disposal -

THE PRESIDENT: Is the witness speaking from personal observation of the concentration camps?

DR. PELCKMANN: Yes, Mr. President, he is just about to explain that.

THE WITNESS: I am entitled to pass judgement on these matters, because the legal system of the SS and the police used every means at its disposal and it sometimes even overstepped its own authority to take legal measures against these atrocities. We had investigating commissions in the concentration camps which reported to me repeatedly on conditions there.

If the legal system of the SS and the police was in a position to take steps against such conditions, then it was only because these conditions were not the result of a consistent policy of the SS, but were caused by criminal acts of individual persons, small groups and a few highly placed superiors, but were not committed by the

[Page 345]

SS as an organization. The legal system took its steps in order to fight against these crimes and to eliminate such criminal elements from the SS.

DR. PELCKMANN: I want to quote from a document already submitted by the prosecution, Document E 168. It is a letter from the SS Economy and Administration Main Office, Department Concentration Camps, reference D, etc., and contains instructions to the senior medical officers in concentration camps.

THE PRESIDENT: What is this document; what is the document?

DR. PELCKMANN: It is a document already submitted by the prosecution, E 168, and it is also in the official Document Book, Concentration Camp.

THE PRESIDENT: I cannot hear what the reference is. Is it "D," dawn, or "G"?

(The interpreter: "E," easy - 168.)

THE PRESIDENT: What is the exhibit number?

DR. PELCKMANN: I must regret that unfortunately I cannot state the exhibit number at the present time.

In that document it says among other things:

"With such a high death figure the number of detainees can never be brought to the level demanded by the Reichsfuehrer SS. The senior camp medical officers must use every means at their disposal to reduce the death rate in the various camps considerably. The best medical officer in a concentration camp is not the man who believes that his undue harshness must stand out, but rather the one who, by means of supervision and exchange at the various places of work, maintains the working capacity at its highest level.

Medical officers in the camps should supervise the feeding of the prisoners more often than before, and with the approval of the administration, they should submit to the camp commandant suggestions for improvements. Naturally these must not merely appear on paper, but camp medical officers should make regular checks. Apart from that, the medical officers should see to it that the working conditions at the various places of work are improved as much as possible. It is necessary for that reason that medical officers should inspect thoroughly the places of work and investigate working conditions.

The Reichsfuehrer SS has ordered that the death rate must be reduced at all costs."

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Pelckmann, did you not understand that we do not wish to have - Can't you hear?


THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal has indicated to the prosecution that they do not want to hear these documents read which have already been put in evidence, and there you are reading every word of this document.

DR. PELCKMANN: I understand, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Surely you can summarize it; if you have a question to put upon it, that must be possible.


Q. Do you know, witness, whether such instructions were actually carried out in the concentration camps?

A. The investigating commissions of the head office "SS Courts" repeatedly confirmed to me in personal reports that such instructions were in fact put into practice in the concentration camps. They reported to me that accommodation, hygienic conditions, medical supervision, feeding and also the treatment

[Page 346]

and the physical appearance of the detainees were for the most part good. They also confirmed that the strict prohibition of ill-treatment of detainees was repeatedly made known in the camps, and was, in fact, observed.

The picture of the concentration camps under normal conditions is, therefore, quite a different one. To the outsider, the cleanliness and the smooth functioning of the working programme were noticeable. If crimes were committed in concentration camps, then they occurred in a way in which they remained hidden from the outside world, and even from the inmates of the camps, unless they were affected by them.

THE PRESIDENT: Are you saying that you personally received these reports or that you had these facts before you?

WITNESS: I received reports from these investigating commissions which were submitted to me personally, and from these reports I was able to gather the facts which I have just related.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, then, you knew in December, 1942, that 70,000 arrivals in concentration camps, out of 136,000, had died, did you?

WITNESS: No, that I did not know. I shall have to supplement my testimony by stating now an answer which I was to have given in connection with a later question, namely, that the head office "SS Courts" instituted these commissions investigating crimes committed in concentration camps only since the second half of 1943.

THE PRESIDENT: I thought you said in answer to my question, "These facts were known to me."

Go on, Dr. Pelckmann.

DR. PELCKMANN: In this connection, I draw the attention of the Tribunal to my Affidavit SS No. 65 to 67 which was translated in its entirety at my request. It was deposed by a judge who conducted the investigations and it contains numerous additional details.


Q. To what extent was the legal system of the SS responsible for the administration of the law in concentration camps?

A. The jurisdiction of the legal system of the SS did not include detainees in concentration camps. Responsibility for them was entirely that of the ordinary German legal system. To a certain extent the jurisdiction of the SS legal system included the political sections in concentration camps, but this was subject to the condition that the investigating department of the RSHA had preference in this matter. Guards and members of the commandant's staff in concentration camps came under the jurisdiction of the legal system to the full extent laid down by military courts.

Q. You have already mentioned, witness, that the prosecution by your legal system of crimes committed in concentration camps began in 1943. When in 1943?

A. During the second half of 1943 the legal system found, as a result of the case of corruption against the former camp commandant Koch, traces of crimes committed in other camps also. It was from that moment that the legal system became active.

Q. How was it that the legal system became active so late?

A. So-called legal officers were attached to concentration camps for purposes of supervision. These legal officers, who were the instruments of the appointing authority concerned, had the task of writing so-called reports of evidence, of crimes of any sort occurred, and of submitting such reports to the courts so that they might take over the prosecution of the crimes.

Q. One intermediate question -

[Page 347]

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Pelckmann, I do not think he gave an answer to your question at all: Your question was: How was it that it was so late as the second half of 1943 that these investigating commissions began to become active? He did not answer that question at all.

DR. PELCKMANN: Your Lordship, the witness has not yet finished. I was just going to put an intermediate question, and in his later reply the matter will become quite clear.


I want to put an intermediate question, witness. Did these legal officers come under your jurisdiction, or that of the head office "SS Courts," or that of the SS legal system, or under whose jurisdiction did they come? Can you give names?

A. The legal officers did not come under the organization of the legal system, but they were officials of the appointing authority, who authorized the investigations.

Q. Who was that in the case of the concentration camps?

A. In the case of concentration camps, it was Oswald Pohl, who was mentioned yesterday.

Q. Now, will you please continue with the answer to the question, why did the legal system learn of these atrocities at so late a stage?

A. The reason was that earlier the legal system had not had any suspicions, which, in turn, was due to the fact that these legal officers, during the years until 1943, were continuously handing in such reports of evidence to the Courts. These reports of evidence were worked out in exact detail. In cases of unnatural death of detainees, they contained photographs of the place of the crime, medical reports, statements from witnesses, both detainees and guards, and these reports were executed in such exact detail that the suspicion that crimes could still be committed behind the backs of legal officers could not arise.

These reports of evidence which were submitted led in every case to the trial and sentencing of the criminal.

Q. Might not the reports of evidence have been forged, and might not the actual facts have been covered up in that way?

A. That was partly so. I just said that during the second half of 1943 we began investigations in the camp at Buchenwald. Already in 1941 we had carried out such an investigation in Buchenwald, which, however, had no result.

During the later investigation, in 1943, it was in fact discovered that in 1941 the commandant, Koch, had used forged reports, coached witnesses and forged medical reports which had deceived the investigating judges. We then conducted investigations in other camps, where we found that these reports of evidence had been in order.

Q. Now, will you please describe briefly what further steps the SS legal system took with regard to these crimes in concentration camps.

A. The traces and clues in the camp at Buchenwald were manifold, and they led to many camps. The matter became more complex from month to month. It was evident that the investigating organs of the legal system had been utterly unsuitable for the task of conducting a purely criminal investigation of this sort, because the legal system, in view of its character as a military legal system, lacked a fundamental basis, namely, an experienced authority capable of carrying out criminal prosecutions.

For that reason, judges were quickly given short training courses in criminal proceedings, and at the same time, in collaboration with the RSHA, experts from the Reich Criminal Police Department were made available for the investigation of these crimes.

Such commissions were established in many camps and they worked continuously until the collapse. The head office "SS Courts" created a special court which had almost exclusively the task of trying these cases involving crimes

[Page 348]

committed in concentration camps. In the head office "SS Courts," which was the central directing department of the legal system, a special chief department was created which carried out the overall direction of the investigations in concentration camps, and which was to take over the task ordinarily discharged by the Public Prosecutor.

Q. Now, briefly summarised, what was the outcome of the fight of the SS legal system against crime in concentration camps?

A. Altogether, approximately eight hundred cases were investigated, of which four hundred were brought to trial and two hundred ended with sentence of the Court. Among the cases investigated were proceedings against five commandants of concentration camps; proceedings against two commandants were completed and ended with a sentence of death by shooting.

Q. Were any difficulties put in the way of your commissions conducting these investigations?

A. Very considerable difficulties were put in the way of these commissions These difficulties originated with Pohl, who was using every means in his power to prevent the investigating commissions from penetrating to the real source of these crimes. In that way, the legal system, being unable to make rapid progress and being compelled to break up piecemeal the secrecy surrounding the evidence, was forced to work together with detainees. In almost every camp in which such a commission was at work, confidence men were recruited from among the detainees, who submitted material to the investigating judges. But it was very difficult to persuade these detainees to co-operate, because they feared that they would be killed if their activities were discovered.

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