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 10 of 10)

[DR. PELCKMANN continues his direct examination of Georg Konrad Morgen]

[Page 381]

Q. Did you have any opportunity of visiting and seeing for yourself the conditions inside concentration camps?

A. Yes, because I had authority to visit concentration camps myself. Only a very few persons had this permission. Before beginning an investigation, I examined the concentration camp in question in all its details, seeing especially those arrangements which seemed particularly important to me. I visited them repeatedly and thoroughly. I paid surprise visits. I was working mostly in Buchenwald itself for eight months. I lived there. I was in Dachau for one or two months.

Q. As so many visitors to concentration camps say they were deceived, do you consider it possible that you, too, were a victim of such deception?

A. As I have already pointed out, I was not a mere visitor to a concentration camp. I had settled down there for a long residence, I might almost say I established myself there. It is really impossible to be deceived for such a long time. In addition, the commissions from the Reich Department of Criminal Police worked under my instructions, and I placed them directly in the concentration camps themselves. I do not mean to say that, in spite of these very intensive efforts, I was able to learn of all the crimes, but I believe that there was no deception in regard to what I did learn.

Q. Did you gain the impression, and at what time, that the concentration camps were places for the extermination of human beings?

A. I did not gain this impression. A concentration camp is not a place for the extermination of human beings. I must say that my first visit to a concentration camp, namely Weimar-Buchenwald, was a great surprise to me. The camp was

[Page 382]

on wooded heights, with a wonderful view. The installations were clean and freshly painted. There were grass and flowers. The prisoners were healthy, normally fed, sun- tanned, working -

THE PRESIDENT: When are you speaking of? When are you speaking of?

A. I am speaking of the beginning of my investigations in July, 1943.

Q. What crimes - you may continue - please, be more brief.

A. The installations of the camp were in good order, especially the hospital. The camp authorities, under the Commandant Diester, aimed at providing the prisoners with an existence worthy: of human beings. They had regular mail service. They had a large camp library, even with foreign books. They had variety shows, motion pictures, sporting events. They even had a brothel. Nearly all the other concentration camps were similar to Buchenwald.

THE PRESIDENT: What was it they even had?

A. A brothel.

Q. What crimes did you learn about?

A. As I said before, the investigations were based on a suspicion of corrupt practices. In time, however, I was obliged to come to the conclusion that besides those crimes, killings had also occurred.

Q. How did you reach the suspicion that killings had occurred?

A. I learned that the starting-point was the assignment of Jews to the camps after "Action 38." I had to learn all possible facts about this action, and in doing so I was obliged to notice that the majority of prisoners of whom it could be assumed that they might know something about these cases, had died. This peculiar frequency of killings was noticeable - I noticed it - because other prisoners who were not in any key positions remained in Buchenwald for years in the best of health, and were still there, so that it was rather remarkable that it was just certain prisoners who could have been witnesses who had died. I thereupon examined the files concerning these deceased prisoners. The files themselves did not then give cause to suspect illegal killings. The dates of the deaths were years apart, and the different causes of death were always given. But I noticed that the majority of these deceased prisoners, shortly before their death, had been put into the camp hospital or were in the detention quarters. This first aroused my suspicion that in these two places murders of prisoners might possibly have occurred. Thereupon I appointed a special official, whose sole task was to investigate the suspicious circumstances, and rumours which were circulating in the detention quarters, the so-called "Bunker," regarding the killing of prisoners. He was a very zealous and able criminal official, but he had to report again and again that he had not found the least confirmation of this suspicion of mine. After two weeks of completely unsuccessful activity, the criminal official refused to continue his task and asked me ironically whether I myself believed that such, rumours of illegal killing of prisoners could be true. Only by accident, much later, was I put on the trail. I noticed that in the case of certain prisoners, in the books of the Kommandantur prison, and in the hospital books, they had been recorded in both books at the same time. In the prison book, for example, it said, "Date of release, 9th May, 12 o'clock." In the hospital register, "Patient died 9th May, 9.15 a.m." I said to myself, this prisoner cannot be in the Kommandantur Prison and at the same time a patient in the hospital. False entries must have been made here. I therefore concentrated my efforts on this and I succeeded in finding out about this system, for it was a system under Kommandant Koch.

The prisoners were taken to a secret place and were killed there, mostly in a cell of the Kommandantur prison, and sick reports and death certificates were prepared for the files. They were made out so cleverly that any unsuspecting reader of the documents would get the impression that the prisoner concerned had actually been treated and had died of the serious illness which was indicated.

[Page 383]

Q. Then what did you do after learning of these facts?

A. I found out that the medical officer at Buchenwald, SS Hauptsturmfuehrer Dr. Hoven, was principally responsible and I had him arrested. I informed my investigating commission of these cunning forgeries and directed their particular attention to investigate systematically the concentration camps which we visited and to ascertain whether such murders had also been committed in other concentration camps. We satisfied ourselves at the time of the investigation, and I am speaking of the second half of 1942, that in the concentration camps at Sachsenhausen and Dachau no such killings occurred, as far as it was humanly possible to judge. In the other concentration camps, however, such cases were found. The persons believed to be guilty were accused, arrested and charged.

Q. Why was this not done earlier?

A. I have already said that these deceptive measures were so cunningly contrived that it was not possible to discover them earlier. Above all, there, was no possibility of clearing up the matter, besides these things were always done without witnesses. These cases had to be investigated by the SS Courts and they were investigated, for every unnatural death of a prisoner was reported by teletype to the central agency. In addition, the specially sworn-in Court officer who was in the camp had to go immediately to the place of the occurrences to question the witnesses; sketches and photographs had to be made of the scene and it was a regulation that an autopsy had to take place in every such case of unnatural death. Those reports of unnatural deaths, or of deaths suspected of being unnatural, were sent regularly to the SS and Police Court; but as I have already said, these reports were so cunningly contrived and the files were in such good order that even an expert could not have suspected an illegal killing. Of course, frequently proceedings were taken against members of the concentration camp, some followed by sentences, even death sentences. But these deaths appeared to occur at quite a normal rate.

If nothing at all had been reported to the SS Courts from the concentration camps, it would of course have seemed suspicious, just as it would also have been suspicious if too many such reports had been made to us. But it was a normal average and one could have no suspicion that the concentration camps were a hotbed of such dangerous crimes. It was through my investigation, which as I said was caused by accident, that we received our first insight into the true state of affairs.

Q. How did you come on to the track of mass killings? You have just spoken of individual killings.

A. I found traces of mass killings also by accident. At the end of 1943, I discovered two trails at the same time, one leading to Lublin and the other to Auschwitz.

Q. Please describe the Lublin trail first.

A. One day I received a report from the Commandant of the Security Police in Lublin. He reported that in a Jewish labour camp in his district a Jewish wedding had taken place. There had been 1,100 invited guests at this wedding.

As I said, 1,100 guests participated in this Jewish wedding. What followed was described as quite extraordinary owing to the gluttonous consumption of food and alcoholic drinks. With these Jews were members of the camp guard, that is to say some SS men or other, who took part in this function. This report only came into my hands in a roundabout way, some months later, as the Commandant of the Security Police suspected that the circumstances indicated that some criminal acts had occurred. This was my impression as well, and I thought that this report would give me an indication of another big case of criminal corruption. With this intention, I went to Lublin and I went to the Security Police there, but all they would tell me was that the events were supposed to have happened at a camp of the "Deutsche Ausrustungswerke." But nothing was known there. I was told it might possibly be a rather peculiar and "opaque" (this was the actual term used)

[Page 384]

camp in the vicinity of Lublin. I found out the camp and the commandant, who was Kriminalkommissar Wirth.

I asked Wirth whether this report was true and what it meant. To my great astonishment, Wirth admitted it. I asked him why he permitted members of his command to do such things and Wirth then revealed to me that on the Fuehrer's order he had to carry out the extermination of Jews.

Q. Please go on, witness, with what you did.

A. I asked Wirth what this had to do with the Jewish wedding. Then, Wirth described the method by which he carried out the extermination of Jews and he said something like this: "One has to fight the Jews with their own weapons, and one has to cheat them."

Wirth built up an enormous deceptive manoeuvre. He first selected Jews who would, he thought, serve as column leaders, then these Jews brought along other Jews, who worked under them. With those smaller or medium-sized detachments of Jews, he began to build up the extermination camps. He extended this staff, and with them, Wirth himself carried out the extermination.

Wirth said that he had four extermination camps, and that about 5,000 Jews were working at the extermination of Jews and the seizure of Jewish property. In order to win Jews for this business of extermination and plundering of their brethren of race and creed, Wirth gave them every freedom and, so to speak, gave them a financial interest in the spoliation of the dead victims. As a result of this attitude, this extraordinary Jewish wedding had come about.

Then I asked Wirth how he killed Jews with these Jewish agents of his. Wirth described the whole procedure that went off like a film every time. The extermination camps were in the East of the Government General, in big forests or uninhabited waste lands. They were built up like a Potemkin village. The people arriving there had the impression of entering a city or a township. The train drove into what looked like a railroad station. The escorts and the train personnel then left the area. Then the cars were opened and the Jews got out. They were surrounded by these Jewish labour detachments, and Kriminalkommissar Wirth or one of his representatives made a speech. He said: "Jews, you were brought here to be resettled, but before we organize this future Jewish State, you must of course learn how to work. You must learn a new occupation. You will be taught that here. Our routine here is, first, everyone must take off his clothes so that your clothing can be disinfected and you can have a bath so that no epidemics will be brought into the camp."

After he had found such calming words for his victims, they started on the road to death. Men and women were separated. At the first place, one had to give his hat; at the next one, his coat, collar, shirt, down to his shoes and socks. These places were set up like check-rooms, and the person was given a check at each one so that the people believed that they would get their things back. The other Jews had to receive the things and hurry up the new arrivals so that they would not have time to think. The whole thing was like an assembly line. At the last stop they reached a big room, and were told that this was the bath. When the last one was in, the doors were shut and the gas was let into the room.

As soon as death taken place in, the ventilators were started. When the air coup be breathed again, the doors were opened, and the Jewish workers removed the bodies. By means of a special process which Wirth had invented, they were burned in the open air without the use of fuel.

Q. Was Wirth a member of the SS?

A. No, he was a Kriminalkommissar in Stuttgart.

Q. Did you ask Wirth how he arrived at this devilish system?

A. When Wirth took over the extermination of the Jews, he was already specialist in mass destruction of human beings. He had previously carried out the task of getting rid of the incurably insane. On behalf of the Fuehrer himself, whose order was transmitted through the Chancellery of the Fuehrer, he had,

[Page 385]

the beginning of the war, set up a detachment for this purpose, probably composed of a few officials of his, I believe, the remainder being agents and spies of the criminal police.

Wirth very vividly described how he went about carrying out this assignment. He received no aid, no instructions, but had to do it all by himself. He was only given an old, empty institution in Brandenburg. There he undertook his first experiments. After much consideration and many individual experiments, he evolved his later system, and then this system was used on a large scale to exterminate the insane.

A commission of doctors previously investigated the files, and those insane who were considered to be incurable were put on a separate list. Then the institution one day was told to send these patients to another institution. From this institution the patient was transferred again, often more than once. Finally he came to Wirth's institution. There he was killed by gas and cremated.

This system which deceived the institutions and made them unknowing accomplices, this system which enabled him with very few assistants to exterminate large numbers of people, this system Wirth now employed with a few alterations and improvements for the extermination of Jews. He was also given the assignment by the Fuehrer's Chancellery to exterminate the Jews.

Q. The statements which Wirth made to you must have surpassed human imagination. Did you immediately believe Wirth?

A. At first Wirth's description seemed completely fantastic to me, but in Lublin I saw one of his camps. It was a camp which collected the property or part of the property of his victims. From the quantity - there were an enormous number of watches piled up - I had to realize that something frightful was going on here. I was shown the valuables. I can say that I never saw so much money at one time, especially foreign money - all kinds of coins, from all over the world. In addition, there were a gold-smelting furnace and really prodigious bars of gold.

I also saw that the headquarters from which Wirth directed his operations was very small and inconspicuous. He had only three or four people working there for him. I spoke to them too.

I saw and watched his couriers arrive. They actually came from Berlin, Tiergarten Strasse, the Fuehrer's Chancellery, and went back there. I investigated Wirth's mail, and I found in it confirmation of all this.

Of course, I could not do or see all this on this first visit. I was there frequently. I pursued Wirth up to his death.

Q. Did Wirth give you names of people who were connected with this operation?

A. Not many names were mentioned for the simple reason that the number of those who participated could be counted, so to speak, on one's fingers. I remember one name: I think the name was Blankenburg, in Berlin.

Q. Blankenburg?

A. Blankenburg, at the Fuehrer's Chancellery.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we had better adjourn now. We have already been fifty minutes.

(The Tribunal adjourned until 1000 hours, 8th August, 1946.)

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