The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Testimony of Kurt Becher (Part 4 of 4)

In personal conversations with Himmler, I told him of my impression that Eichmann had his support in Müller and Kaltenbrunner, and that I was not sure whether in the long run Eichmann would follow Himmler's orders and instructions. I remember that I recommended to Himmler that he himself try to convince Eichmann of his current thinking. As far as I remember, I recommended to Himmler to award Eichmann a decoration, as I had the impression that Eichmann would be amenable to such a welcome from Himmler.

As far as I remember, the conversation between Himmler, Eichmann and myself took place in Himmler's command carriage in the Black Forest, near Triberg. Himmler talked to Eichmann [in a manner] I would call both kindly and angrily. I remember one thing that Himmler said to Eichmann in this connection: He shouted at him something like "If until now you have exterminated Jews, from now on, if I order you, as I do now, you must be a fosterer of Jews. I would remind you that in 1933 it was I who set up the Head Office for Reich Security, and not Gruppenführer Müller or yourself, and that I am in command. If you are not able to do that, you must tell me so!"

(43): Why did you complain to Himmler about Eichmann, and how did Eichmann sabotage your activities?

Answer: It was not always clearly evident how Eichmann counteracted my measures. Dr. Kasztner and Mr. Biss constantly called my attention to any arrangements made by Eichmann which did not fit in with the negotiations between the Rescue Committee and myself, or with my agreements with Himmler. I am, however, unable to remember details any longer. What I still know is that Eichmann always strove to play down these matters as against me. When Himmler had authorized the departure of some seventeen hundred people - I think it was in June or July 1944 - and the persons selected by the Jewish Committee were to be sent in the direction of Vienna, I heard from Dr. Kasztner that Eichmann had given instructions for the transport to head for Bergen- Belsen. At Dr. Kasztner's request, I immediately went to see Eichmann, and according to my recollection, he said something like: "That is true; for technical reasons the transport is going to Bergen-Belsen!" When I asked why it was going to Bergen-Belsen and not proceeding immediately to Switzerland, he said to me: "These people have to go first to Bergen-Belsen!" When I asked when the transport would continue, Eichmann said: "As soon as the order is given!" He added that in the end it was up to him to determine when the transport would get under way, since there were sufficient arguments as against Himmler as well for the transport not to leave. For example, spotted typhus might have broken out. The transport could also have been wiped out on the way by enemy bombing.

I contacted Himmler once again about this transport and finally managed to arrange that the transport really went to Switzerland.

Several times Eichmann said to me that even orders from Himmler would be carried out by him only if his chief, Gruppenführer Müller, confirmed these orders.

In April 1945 I tried to ensure that the inmates of concentration camps should not be exterminated through the fighting. Himmler gave me full powers in this respect for the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. For tactical reasons it seemed expedient to me to let Eichmann know that I had received such powers from Himmler, in order to deter him from possibly doing something. So, before I left for Bergen- Belsen with Dr. Kasztner, I went to Eichmann's office here in Berlin. I told Eichmann that I was going to Bergen- Belsen with Dr. Kasztner, and then on to Neuengamme. At this point Eichmann exploded in a fit of rage at my intention of taking "this scoundrel Kasztner" to a concentration camp, quite apart from the fact that he did not agree to my having access to a concentration camp. Eichmann stated flatly that he and Gruppenführer Müller would not allow it, and that, furthermore, it was undesirable for Kasztner to go with me. I nevertheless left for Bergen-Belsen with Kasztner.

As far as co-operation in practice between Kaltenbrunner and Eichmann, and Gruppenführer Müller and Eichmann, is concerned, as I remember things today, my impression is that in many instances Eichmann worked directly with Kaltenbrunner, but that in the main the co-operation was between Eichmann and Müller. I am not able to give any examples of Eichmann and Kaltenbrunner working together directly in some cases.

44): Did you inform Eichmann of Himmler's orders, and what was his reaction? By what means did Eichmann normally receive Himmler's orders?

Answer: Himmler issued his orders through official channels. I only showed Eichmann the copy of the order I had managed to obtain, addressed to Kaltenbrunner and Pohl, for stopping the extermination of the Jews. I believe that this was in Budapest. I remember Eichmann being utterly dismayed at this order. However, I am unable today to say exactly what he said.

As far as I remember today, I did sometimes inform Eichmann orally of Himmler's decisions, i.e., in cases where it seemed to me to be suitable to give Eichmann advance notification.

(4): Do you believe that the transport of 1,700 persons would not have been allowed to go had you not made efforts for the departure of these people?

Answer: Once the number of this transport through departure from Hungary had been set, I received a promise from Himmler, in reply to a direct question, that these people would be allowed to leave for Switzerland. The transport went to Bergen-Belsen instead of Switzerland. I personally had made a commitment to the Jewish Committee, on the basis of Himmler's promise to me, that I would ensure that these people would reach Switzerland. I insisted time and again to Himmler that this transport must continue. Nevertheless, at first Himmler only promised me that five hundred people could emigrate in August. I know that Himmler gave this order. However, in August a transport of only 318 persons crossed the Swiss border. At the end of October, Himmler finally promised me that the remaining persons could now leave. I passed on this statement in binding form to President [of the Joint] Mayer and Mr. McClelland. In December, this transport did actually arrive in Switzerland. In my view, this transport definitely only reached Switzerland because of my continued efforts.

(46): You have said that Eichmann sabotaged your activities. Who supported Eichmann's efforts in this respect?

Answer: I assumed that Eichmann basically relied on Müller, but that he also considered Kaltenbrunner to be a major source of support.

(47): When you made your statements of 27 and 28 March 1946, as contained in Israeli Prosecution Document No. 827,* {* Exhibit T/690} did they correspond to the truth, and do you maintain your testimony today?

Answer: I have glanced at these records. The testimony I gave then is correct. I have nothing further to add in that respect. I remember meeting Eichmann in the middle of April in Himmler's quarters in Wustrau. However, today I no longer remember the details of what we talked about.

(48): How did you make the acquaintance of Dr. Rudolf Kasztner?

Answer: As far as I remember, I met Dr. Kasztner at the beginning or in the middle of June 1944. We were introduced by Dr. Billitz; I no longer remember whether I first saw Dr. Kasztner with Dr. Billitz or Eichmann, or with the two of them.

(49): When did you suggest to Himmler that a stop be put to deporting Jews?

Answer: I am no longer able to say when I first suggested to Himmler to put a stop to deporting Jews. I should imagine that I put this proposal insistently around June 1944.

(50): What was the result of your efforts with Himmler?

Answer: I remember that, after my first talks with President Saly Mayer on the Swiss border on 21 August 1944, I approached Himmler again, in order to get him to stop the deportations. I also know that, immediately after I made my report, Himmler ordered that deportations of Jews from Hungary be halted.

The order, which I later managed to obtain from Himmler to Kaltenbrunner and Pohl - "With immediate effect, I prohibit any destruction of Jews and, on the contrary, I order that weak and sick persons be looked after. I will consider you to be personally responsible if this order is not followed strictly also by your subordinate departments," meant that Himmler not only prohibited the deportation and destruction of Jews, but, on the contrary, gave orders for sick and weak Jews to be looked after.

Another result of my efforts with Himmler is the stoppage of transporting Jews to Austria by foot marches, which I obtained with the assistance of General Winkelmann and General Juettner.

The measures I carried out in the last weeks of the War to protect the lives of the inmates of concentration camps are also to be considered as a result of this attitude on the part of Himmler which I managed to bring about.

(51): How did Eichmann react to your intervention to put an end to the foot march?

Answer: I cannot say anything about this on the basis of my own observations. In any case, I no longer remember any details today.

(52): What was the relationship between Himmler and Kaltenbrunner?

Answer: I cannot say anything about this from my own knowledge. However, my impression at the time was that the relationship between Himmler and Kaltenbrunner was constantly worsening. Himmler tended increasingly to accept my proposals. In contrast, Kaltenbrunner followed Hitler's hard-line approach. In this connection, I know that Himmler remarked to me that he was concerned that Kaltenbrunner would denounce my efforts to Hitler.

(53): How would you explain Himmler's trying to mollify Eichmann by awarding him a decoration, when Eichmann had not followed his orders?

Answer: I already replied to this question in my interrogation on 10 July 1947 (Interrogation No. 929 B, contained in document No. 774 of the Israeli Prosecution), on page ten, in reply to the 37th question. What I have stated there is true to the facts, and I maintain this in my interrogation today.

(54): How were Jewish assets in Hungary seized for the SS and transferred to Germany?

Answer: As far as I remember, I and my staff did not carry out any confiscations. However, I do know that assets were handed over to my staff; they were meant to enable me to reason with Himmler on the basis of contributions by the Jews. This is something which was agreed to with the Jews, particularly with Dr. Kasztner and Engineer Biss. I am unable to state how Jewish assets in Hungary were seized by other branches of the SS and transferred to Germany. I know nothing as to Jewish goods and assets that were transferred to other German services, apart from the SS. I know that the assets handed over to my department were on my orders handed over by my paymaster, Hauptsturmführer Grabau, to Dr. Schwaiger, on his release from Mauthausen.

As far as I remember, these assets - that is to say, the assets handed in to my staff - were in part handed over by SS offices, and in part by other offices, probably at the instance of the Jewish Committee. I did not deal with these matters in person, so that I cannot say anything about the details.

In reply to the question as to whether I remember that equipment for horses was bought for a sum of six million Pengoe, I no longer remember that today. I do remember that a large amount of coffee was handed over to my staff. As far as I remember, the assets returned to Dr. Schwaiger included also the valuables which were handed over to my staff either by Klages' office or by Eichmann's office.

(55): Did your office issue protective passes?

Answer: Protective passes were issued directly by my office, and also, on my recommendation and with my assistance, by various other offices and organizations. I remember my assistance in obtaining Swedish and Swiss protective passes, and also that still under the Szalasi Government, one hundred passes signed by the Minister for the Party were obtained. In general, I would say that these protective passes were issued in order to protect Jewish people against various anti-Jewish measures. As to whether I tried to keep the issue of protective passes as secret as possible, I can reply in the affirmative.

(56): Did you give Jewish persons the possibility of being included in the special transport of 1,700 Jews?

Answer: As far as I remember, in co-ordination with the Jewish Committee, persons were proposed for this transport by my staff. I no longer remember the figure. As to whether the committee refused to include a particular person, my reply is that I cannot remember that.

(57): Did those who received protective passes or those included in the special transport provide anything in return?

Answer: As far as I remember, these were in the main persons who somehow worked with my equipment staff or for the equipment staff. I think it possible that, when these people left the country, they handed over some goods or monetary valuables. Since I did not deal with these matters in person, I am unable to say anything about them.

When it came to issuing protective passes and including part of these persons in the transport of those who were to travel to Switzerland, I do not know of any form of "team work." In any case, I do not remember anything of this nature. With reference to the comment which Dr. Kasztner made in his report (Israeli Prosecution document No. 900, page 62), I can but state that I do not know of this and have no recollection of it.

(58): It has been suggested to you that, according to Dr. Kasztner's report (Document No. 900 of the Israeli Prosecution, pages 132-133), a telegram arrived from Ketlitz on 27 November. How did Eichmann react when he heard what the telegram said?

Answer: I do not remember details of this discussion. However, I have no doubt that the situation might well have been as described by Dr. Kasztner. At this time, the atmosphere between the Rescue Committee and myself on the one hand, and Eichmann on the other hand, was extremely tense.

(59): Why did you recommend that Jews be allowed to emigrate if they provided something in return?

Answer: When I was asked by the Jews to intervene on their behalf, in talking to Himmler, I used the proposals already under discussion, of trucks in return for letting people go. Dr. Billitz reported to me that this proposal was under negotiation by Eichmann and the Jewish Rescue Committee. It was on this basis that I started my efforts with Himmler, and I continued with them even when I saw quite clearly that this was not meant as a serious proposal. I used all kinds of considerations concerning valuables, and negotiations about considerations to be provided in return, in order to prove to Himmler how the Jews were keeping their promises, even though these return services were actually put into effect only to a very small extent.

(60): Did the Accused do anything to thwart implementation of the exchange deal?

Answer: I would refer to the whole of my examination. I am not able to state anything further at the moment.

61st question: Do you know whether the Accused contravened Himmler's order to cease deportations?

Answer: Today I do not remember whether I knew then of such instances.

To supplement my answer to the 59th question, I should like to add that my efforts to protect Jewish and politically persecuted persons were the reason why I pretended that I wished to carry out these business deals, because I considered them to be the only chance of obtaining concessions for these people from Himmler.

I made my statement yesterday and today to the best of my knowledge and belief, according to what I remember today. It must, however, be borne in mind that these events took place some seventeen years ago, and also that during the three years of my internment, as well as later, I had to go through many interrogations, in which numerous statements by others were put to me. Consequently, it is not impossible that my power of recollection may mislead me on some point or other.

Read out, approved, and signed
(-) Kurt A. Becher

The following decision was announced:

The oath is to be administered to the witness, as the Trial Court so requested and there are no grounds of impediment.

The witness was then sworn.
(-) Elias (-) Schriefer

Note: Before the examination, the witness was informed of the questions on which he was to be examined.

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