The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 55
(Part 3 of 5)

Attorney General: It is an important matter. It will take about ten minutes, not more. We have tested it.

Presiding Judge: It will take half an hour, together with the translation. Do you have a translation?

Attorney General: We have an English translation.

Presiding Judge: Do you have a Hebrew translation?

Attorney General: We do not have a Hebrew translation. I have handed over a copy in German.

Presiding Judge: Perhaps we can be satisfied with the Hebrew translation, at least. I agree that these are very weighty matters, but there are also other considerations.

Attorney General: As the Court pleases. I shall follow the Court's instructions.

Presiding Judge: We shall make do with the Hebrew translation.

Witness Gilbert: This was Hoess' reply:

"The freight trains with the Jews destined for extermination moved along a special railroad installation which had been laid down especially for this purpose right up to the extermination installations. Notification of these trains was given in advance by Obersturmbannfuehrer Eichmann of the RSHA, and they were allocated consecutive numbers, together with letters of the alphabet, in order to prevent a mix-up with transports of other prisoners. Each cable relating to these transports bore the reference: `In accordance with the specified directives, and are to be subjected to special treatment.' These trains consisted of closed freight cars and contained, on the average, about 2,000 persons.

When the trains arrived at the aforementioned ramp, the accompanying railway personnel and the accompanying guard - members of the Security or Order Police - had to leave the area. Only the transport commander who had delivered it remained until it had been completely handed over, and the numbers checked, to the duty officer of the camp. After the trains were off-loaded and the numbers determined (lists by names were not drawn up), all the people had to file past two SS duty doctors, and in the course of this, those who were fit for work were separated from those who were unfit.

On the average about twenty-five per cent were found to be fit for work. These were marched off immediately into the camp, in order to change their clothes and be received there. All the luggage remained on the ramp and, after those unfit for work had also been sent off, it was brought to the store of personal effects, to be sorted out. Those unfit for work were classified according to sex - men, women and children - and marched off to the nearest available extermination installation. Those unable to walk and women with small children were transported there on trucks.

When they arrived, all of them had to strip naked in rooms which gave the impression of being delousing installations. The permanent labour unit of prisoners who worked in these installations - and who were also housed there and did not come into contact with other inmates of the camp - helped with the undressing and coaxed the hesitant to hurry up, so that the others would not have to wait so long.

They were also told to take note where they put away their clothes, so that they would be able to find them again immediately after taking their bath. All this was done on purpose, in order to dispel any fears which might arise. After they had taken off their clothes, they were taken into a nearby room - the gas chamber itself. It had been prepared to look like a washroom - that is to say showers and pipes were installed throughout, water drainage channels, etc. The moment the entire transport had entered the chamber, the door was closed, and simultaneously the gas was forced in from above through a special aperture. It was Zyklon `B' gas, cyanide acid in the form of crystals, which vaporized immediately, that is to say, it took effect immediately upon coming into contact with oxygen.

The people were dazed already on taking their first breath, and the process of killing took from thirteen to fifteen minutes, depending upon the weather conditions and the number of people locked up within. Thereafter, nothing moved any more. Thirty minutes after the gas had been released and had entered the chambers, they would be opened, and the transfer of the bodies to the crematoria would commence. Throughout all these years, I never came across a single case of a person coming out of the gas chambers while still alive. While the bodies were being taken out, the women's hair was still cut, and gold teeth and rings removed by prisoner dentists who were employed in this unit.

"In Birkenau there were five installations - two large crematoria, each of which had a capacity for receiving 2,000 persons in the course of 24 hours. That is to say, it was possible in one gas chamber to put to death up to 2,500 persons; in five double ovens heated with coke it was possible to burn at the most 2,000 bodies within 24 hours; two smaller installations could eliminate about 1,500 people, with four bigger double ovens to each of them. Furthermore, there was also one open-air installation - that is, an old farmhouse was sealed and turned into a gas chamber, which could also contain 1,500 persons at one and the same time. The incineration was carried out there in an open pit on wood, and this was practically limitless.

In my estimation, it was possible to burn there, in 24 hours, up to 8,000 persons in this way. Hence it was possible to exterminate and eliminate up to 10,000 people within 24 hours in the installations described above. As far as I am aware, this number was attained only once in 1944, when delays occurred in the arrival of trains, and consequently five transports arrived together on one day. The ashes of the burnt bodies were ground into dust, which was poured into the Vistula in remote places and swept away with the current.

"On the basis of the figure of 2.5 million, which is the number of people who - according to Eichmann - were brought to Auschwitz for extermination, it may be said that, on the average, two transports arrived daily, with a combined total of 4,000 persons, of whom twenty- five per cent were fit for work, the balance of 3,000 were to be exterminated. The intervals in the various operations can be computed together at nine months. Thus there remain 27 months, with 90,000 people each month - a total of 2,430,000 people. This is a calculation of the technical potential. I have to keep to the figure mentioned by Eichmann, for he was the only SS officer who was allowed to keep records concerning these liquidation operations, according to the orders of the Reichsfuehrer-SS.

All other units which took part in any way had to destroy all records immediately. Eichmann mentioned this number in my presence when he was called upon, in April 1945, to present a report to the Reichsfuehrer-SS. I had no records whatsoever. But, to the best of my knowledge, this number appears to me much too high. If I calculate the total of the mass operations which I still remember, and still make allowance for a certain percentage of error, I arrive, in my calculation, at a total of 1.5 million at the most, for the period from the beginning of 1941 to the end of 1944. But these are my computations which I cannot verify.

Nuremberg, 24 April 1946 (Signed) Rudolf Hoess

(At the bottom of the document): Hungary - 400,000; Slovakia - 90,000; Greece - 65,000; Holland - 90,000; France - 110,000; Belgium - 20,000; the region of the Generalgouvernement and Upper Silesia - 250,000; Germany and Terezin - 100,000. Total - 1,125,000."

Presiding Judge: Do you have the original of this document?

Attorney General: Yes - I shall produce it right away. Professor Gilbert - the original of this document has been kept in your possession, from the time Hoess handed it to you to this day - is that correct?

Witness Gilbert: That is correct.

Q. And, so far, it has not been published?

A. It has not been published as such, but there is also a partial excerpt of it in my second book, in The Case of Rudolf Hoess.

Attorney General: Please submit this to the Court.

Presiding Judge: This will be marked T/1170.

Attorney General: What was the mental state of Hoess?

Presiding Judge: Have you finished with this document?

Attorney General: I am now asking questions appertaining to this document.

Presiding Judge: Because there is something here which is not clear - how did these detailed numbers at the end get into it? What did he want to convey by this?

Witness Gilbert: He was trying to reconstruct the total number of victims whom Colonel Eichmann had sent to him for extermination; and there seemed to be a discrepancy in the number he remembered and the number he had got from Colonel Eichmann.

Attorney General: What was the mental condition of Rudolf Hoess at the time he wrote these words - at the time he was imprisoned in Nuremberg?

Witness Gilbert: He was apathetic - as he always was, I gathered from the psychological examination; he was resigned to his death; he had no interest whatever in falsifying any testimony; what he had already told me in his cell in Nuremberg, in our conversations, he repeated again on the witness stand. It was all an automatic culmination of a career that was marked by death and must end in death, and he had no particular feelings about any of this - he just automatically wrote what he knew when asked.

Judge Halevi: What was the date he testified at Nuremberg?

Witness Gilbert: It was in April of 1946 - if I may look in the diary I could give you the exact date...or Your Honours could find it there. Yes, April 15th, Your Honours.

Judge Halevi: Was that before these two documents?

Attorney General: Immediately afterwards.

Witness Gilbert: I believe one was before and one was after.

Q. The autobiography was before the testimony - the document that has been read in its entirety to the Court was after the testimony.

A. I believe that is correct, yes - this testimony was on the 15th of April.

Q. What Hoess wrote for you was in response to Goering's shock at Hoess' evidence?

A. Let me say - if I may state it exactly as I recall it - it was in reaction to the cynicism expressed by Goering in reaction to the shock of the others who professed to be horrified by the revelation of these mass murders to that extent.

Q. As a professional practitioner, you certainly endeavour to clarify for yourself whether what you hear is true or false?

A. Yes, certainly.

Q. What professional impression did these words of Hoess make upon you, in the light of everything you knew about him, about Hoess?

Presiding Judge: Mr. Hausner, is this permissible evidence?

Attorney General: As coming from an expert, yes, Your Honour; what is his impression as a professional man.

Presiding Judge: The question as to whether this was truthful evidence - that is a question for the Court.

Attorney General: Perhaps I could put the question in the following way: In your opinion, was Hoess in such a mental state as to be inclined to lie at that particular time?

Presiding Judge: That is the same question in another form, and as far as I am concerned, at any rate, my question still stands. I have not yet consulted my fellow judges. Do you have anything to add as regards this question, which seems to me an important one?

Attorney General: If there is anything I could add to my question itself, I would ask: Was there any motive - as far as the witness knows.

Presiding Judge: To the legal aspect.

Attorney General: Hoess is not alive, I cannot produce him as a witness. There is an expert here. It is true that no court, neither ours nor any other, has come to a stage where it entrusts the weighing of evidence to psychiatrists. This is still a prerogative which is preserved for the Court. The Court will ultimately have to decide which evidence it believes and which it does not believe.

But here, in these special circumstances, I have to put to the witness a question concerning his professional impression, for he, both as a psychiatrist and a psychologist, in the light of what he heard from the witness, in the light of the manner of relating the matter, in the light of the tests which he conducted, is competent to assess the credibility of the evidence, and thereafter the Court will evaluate the evidence itself, together with the evaluation of the witness himself, and will decide, in the light of all this, whether the Court accepts it and attaches any weight to the evidence. Alternatively, I fall back on Section 15 and apply for a relaxation.

Presiding Judge: My colleague, Judge Halevi, reminds me perhaps of a matter from which an analogy may be drawn, namely the statements of children made to a Youth Examiner, according to the Law of 5715 (1955), but actually in that respect there is a judgment which emphasizes that even this provision does not assign the task of weighing the credibility to the Youth Examiner instead of to the Court.

Attorney General: I am also not asking the Court automatically to say that, whatever the reply of the witness may be, simply because it made the impression upon Professor Gilbert of being truthful evidence, the Court must accept it. But I believe that it is important for the Court to hear what conclusions the expert psychologist formed from the words the heard, and after that the Court will determine whether or not to attach importance to that impression and to the testimony, in the light of all the evidence and all the circumstances.

Presiding Judge: Let us hear Dr. Servatius on this point.

Dr. Servatius: Your Honour, the Presiding Judge, the expert is, after all, an assistant to the Court, and if we are going to hear him here on those facts on which he is likely to express his opinion, he should, first of all, submit the facts which may be tested by the Court. But such facts are not being submitted here - only conclusions.

Two documents, two affidavits have been produced here. If he is going to express his opinion only on these, the Court would be able to test that. But all the other conversations, which the witness conducted with the various accused persons there, cannot serve as a basis for his opinion where the facts have not been brought before the Court.

With regard to the witness' statement - I was present at Nuremberg, and I am able to confirm the extent to which the accused men co-operated with him, and I can accept this as being correct. But the Court will also note that subsequently the accused men held conversations amongst themselves, in which they made sarcastic references to their discussions with the witness, and they even voiced a kind of mocking comment on the "soul examiner." They were under the impression that the witness was acting as an expert for a certain purpose, hence they also assumed that their words to him were intended for a certain purpose.

Presiding Judge: Dr. Servatius, I did not quite understand what you mean by facts that you have referred to in your argument. For example, these statements that were recorded by Hoess - are these facts in the sense in which you used the word in your argument?

Dr. Servatius: The document which has been submitted here can be regarded as a fact.

Presiding Judge: And, therefore, you say that the witness' testimony is permissible also on the question whether credibility can be attached to this document? Is that it?

Dr. Servatius: No. The witness can express his opinion as to what he thought about it. But whether what he thought about it is correct - the Court will have to decide.

Presiding Judge:

Decision No. 59

We shall admit evidence from the witness about the external circumstances in which he heard the statements from the Nuremberg prisoners, and also on the mental condition of the prisoners at that time, but not about his conclusions concerning the credibility of their remarks.

Attorney General: Perhaps the Court will allow me to speak English at this stage?

Presiding Judge: Yes - it will be translated.

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