The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Testimony of Max Merten (Part 2 of 3)

Despite the improvements made for the Jews remaining in the forced labour camps, the working and living conditions for these people were unbearable. The Jewish Community therefore endeavoured to obtain the release of the remaining Jews from the forced labour camps. Further discussions followed. The Jewish forced labourers were to be released. To replace them, free Greek labourers would be engaged at a higher wage than that of the forced labourers. To make up this difference in wages, the Jewish Community was therefore to pay two thousand million drachma. This was in accordance with a proposal from the Jewish Community. In addition, the Jewish cemetery, which was situated in the centre of Salonika, was to be closed and handed over to the Greek state. The sum of 1,500 million drachma was to be credited for this conveyance, which was in line with a Greek law of 1936. This agreement was also confirmed in an order of the Commander of Salonika-Aegaeis of 18 October 1942, of which I submit an authenticated copy. I would ask that a photocopy of this be made and that it be appended to this examination as Appendix 1. This order was supplemented by a communication from the Commander of Salonika-Aegaeis, dated 28 November 1942, to the Governor-General of Salonika. I submit a photocopy of this and would ask for another photocopy to be made of this and for it to be included as Appendix 2 in the record of the examination.

Only part of the amount of money was actually paid. All the forced labourers were released. It is not true - as has been argued by the representative of the Prosecution, that on 8 August 1943 some two to three thousand were still in the camps, and that they were then evacuated. I would refer in this connection to Molcho's account.

Shortly before Christmas 1942, my interpreter, Meissner, told me that two SS Leaders from the Head Office for Reich Security had come to see me. These were Sturmbannführer Guenther and Obersturmbannführer Eichmann, the present Accused. I am deliberately giving the names in this order, because I concluded from the way the two behaved that Guenther was the boss, despite his lower rank. He was also the main speaker during the conversation, which only lasted about twenty minutes. Guenther's bearing was also that expected at the time of a "member of the German master race." He was tall, blond, well-built, and wore a made-to- measure uniform. Compared to him, the Accused looked "weedy." Guenther explained to me that the Commander had referred him to me, and that they were in Salonika to study the conditions in which the Jews of Salonika lived, and also to obtain statistical material about the Salonika Jews. They said that they had already received this material from the Salonika Security Service Field Office. I replied that the military administration had no specific material, there were only the documents about the previous employment of the Jews in forced labour.

On being told that the Accused denies having been in Salonika at this time, I can only say that he really was in Salonika at this time, because very soon the conversation turned to oil and cigarettes, authorization for the supply of which I was able to issue in my official capacity. Today I have a very distinct memory of them both receiving from me an authorization for the supply of olive oil and cigarettes.

It is correct that, in the criminal proceedings instituted against me in Greece, I did not mention this visit of the Accused before Christmas 1942. This was on the advice of my counsel for the defence, who advised me to say as little as possible about any personal contact with the Accused, as otherwise it was to be feared that this circumstance would be considered to incriminate me. I also at the time remembered the "major" discussion of January 1943 as having taken place in December 1942.

As far as I remember today, the Accused returned to Salonika in the first half of January 1943. As I remember it, he must have brought with him an order instructing the Commander to convene a largish number of military personnel to a discussion about the measures to be carried out against the Jews of Salonika. This discussion must have taken place in mid-January 1943. I would conclude this from a telegram from Altenburg, dated 13 January 1943, to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin. I have a photocopy of this. I would ask that this be photocopied again and appended to the record of the examination as Appendix 3.

The discussion took place on the first floor, in the Commander's mess. All of the top Army Group officers were there, including the General of the engineers, the General for transport matters, and the Chief Medical Officer of the medical department. There was also an authorized representative of the Athens legation with the German Consul-General in Salonika.

The Accused himself only made a few introductory remarks at this discussion. In substance, these indicated that, in accordance with an order of the Fuehrer, German legislation on Jews was now to be applied also to the Jews in Greece, and that Sturmbannführer Guenther, who was also present, would give further details. Guenther then spoke for between two and a half and three hours. He explained that, on the basis of evaluations of intercepted Allied radio communication and documents, it could be concluded that an Allied landing was being planned in Greece, and specifically along the Aegean coast, which would place the sixty-five thousand Jews in Salonika as potential enemies in the rear of the German troops, thus creating a major threat to security. For this reason, he said, it was necessary to evacuate these Jews from Salonika. They were to be transferred to the Cracow in the Generalgouvernement, in order to be made to carry out useful work. He also surveyed the kinds of occupations, and also mentioned that the legal basis for these evacuations was the Reich legislation on Jews. There was no objection to the measures as such. It was only during a discussion of the individual operations to be carried out that a comment came from Major (Reserves) Kruesemann - at that time on the staff of the Commander - to the effect that this entire operation, including its implementation, did not fall within the scope of the duties of the Commander. Guenther also explained that, in order to carry out the evacuation, a special Security Service unit would come to Salonika and would bring along its own police unit. This commando would be under SS Hauptsturmführer Wisliceny.

On being told by the representative of the Prosecution that, according to an available record, I said something completely different about this discussion in the criminal proceedings before the Greek court, I make the following reply:

A shorthand record of the main hearing was made. This record is also before the German courts, viz. Examining Magistrate I at the Berlin District Court. This shorthand record includes both questions and answers, while that part of the record submitted by the Prosecution's representative contains a continuous statement. The reason for this is that a report on the proceedings was also made from these shorthand statements. This report on the proceedings is also before Examining Magistrate I at the Berlin District Court. A comparison of the two documents shows that they do not coincide, insofar as in the report on the proceedings there are in part different words and descriptions given, which I would even consider to be falsifications. For example, I said that Eichmann was the Specialist Officer on Jewish Affairs in the Head Office for Reich Security in Salonika, but in the report on the proceedings what appears is "Eichmann, the originator of the large-scale plan for the destruction of the Jews in Salonika" (certified translation of the official Greek report on the proceedings, page 229).

What is, however, correct is that, in substance, what I am saying today does not entirely coincide in every detail with what I said in my defence speech before the Greek court. Thus I said then that the harbour of Salonika was necessary for supplying Rommel, and that this objection was therefore made by participants in the discussion, while in my examination today I have said that the only objection made was that of non-competence. The reason for this discrepancy is that at the Greek proceedings I was not provided with adequate documentation, and I believed that this objection was raised at this meeting, and it was only later that I found out that this was one of my own arguments at the hearing, to which I have already referred, in Berlin in September or October 1942. It is also true that I said at the time that the Jews should not be deported, but collected in camps (ghettos). I would say about this that the reasons for the discrepancy are not only the lack of documents, but more particularly the fact that in the proceedings in Greece I was the accused and was making a speech for the defence, where the main object was to incriminate myself as little as possible. Moreover, my counsel was most insistent in his recommendation that I dissociate by every possible allegation the Wehrmacht from the Head Office for Reich Security; I was told I should bear in mind the fact that senior professional army officers were judging me, and I had to address them in "military" terms. Today I am in a different situation, since today I am a witness and have to give testimony on oath.

Moreover, the reason why in the speech in my defence I spoke only of Eichmann, and did not refer to Guenther, too, in this respect, was also because of the emphatic recommendations of my defence counsel that in my argument I should avoid a wealth of names which would confuse the court. It can be seen that I did at that point think of Guenther, because, on page 43 of the shorthand record about 27 February 1959, I refer to "Eichmann's SS adjutant."

As far as I remember, the Accused returned to Berlin after the meeting. Correspondence continued to be exchanged between the Head Office for Reich Security and the German Foreign Ministry, as well as the German legation in Athens and the Foreign Ministry. On this point I submit photocopies of a communication from the Chief of the Security Police and the Security Service of 25 January 1943 to the Foreign Ministry, as well as a telegram dated the same day from the Foreign Ministry to the German legation in Athens, and a telegram from the German legation in Athens to the Foreign Ministry, dated 26 January 1943. I would here also ask that photocopies be made of these, and that these be appended to the record of the examination as Appendices 4, 5 and 6. All of these documents indicate a suspicious degree of urgency on the part of German diplomacy at the time. This is something of which I was not aware at that time in Salonika.

Hauptsturmführer Wisliceny arrived in Salonika on 6 February 1943. He was accompanied by an SS Fuehrer, Alois Brunner, who was subordinate to him - I do not know what rank he held - as well as six or eight non-commissioned officers and two police units of one hundred men each in the uniform of the old Prussian Country Constabulary (gendarmerie) with coffee-coloured tabs. The fact that Wisliceny was the leader of this special commando, contrary to what he said in his statement in Pressburg, can be seen in the telegram which I have submitted, from the German legation in Athens to the Foreign Ministry, dated 26 January 1943. I can also confirm this on the basis of my own knowledge.

Wisliceny brought with him a bundle of draft orders about introducing the Reich legislation on Jews in Salonika. I believe that these draft orders were already in existence as the result of a consultation in the Fuehrer's headquarters, in which, in addition to Hitler, Himmler and Heydrich also took part, as well as General Engel, who represented Marshal von Brauchitsch. This I am being shown in the shorthand record of this witness, Engel, before the Greek court in Athens on 21 February 1959. I believe that a typing error has crept in with the indication of the date of this consultation as November 1942. This should read 1941, for the simple reason that in November 1942 Heydrich was no longer alive.

These draft orders were then published in the name of the Commander. Inter alia they prescribed that in future the Jews were to wear the Jewish Star, that they had to hand over their assets, and that they had to concentrate in certain areas. In this respect it is noteworthy that, already before that, the Jews lived almost entirely in adjacent streets, and that only a few had to move following this order. This quarter was not surrounded by a wall, either; it was not even delineated by chalk marks.

The first transport left Salonika on 15 March 1943. It was to proceed to a labour camp at Cracow. Shortly before, the persons designated for this transport were placed in a deportation ghetto set up by Wisliceny close to the railway station. Some Jews managed to escape; operations were organized to help them escape and leave Salonika in various other ways. Thus, foreign passports were issued, mainly Italian, for some three to four thousand Greek Jews, which made it possible for them to leave Salonika, ostensibly as non-Greeks. In this connection I would like to submit a photocopy of a report from the German Consulate-General, dated 15 March 1943, to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, together with a copy of a communication, signed by me, from the Salonika-Aegaeis Commander to the German Consulate-General in Salonika, dated 14 March 1943. I would ask that photocopies be made of these documents, and that they be included as Appendix 7 of the record of my examination.

According to the plans of the Head Office for Reich Security and the Foreign Ministry, the evacuation was to be completed in the short period of five to six weeks. However, it was held up and was not concluded until August 1943, i.e., at that point in time at least, all Jews with Greek nationality had been evacuated. Today I am unable to say whether at that time Jews with other nationalities were still in Salonika. I would submit a communication from the Foreign Ministry, dated 4 June 1943, to the Head Office for Reich Security, attention Obersturmbannführer Eichmann. I would ask that this also be photocopied, and that the photocopy be included in the record of my examination as Appendix 8.

I myself would estimate that the number of persons evacuated - men, women and children - was about forty thousand.

During the evacuation, the representative of the International Red Cross, Dr. Rene Burkhardt, an ardent philanthropist, had the idea of saving at least women and children from the evacuation, and seeking to find ways of getting them to other countries. Every month one or two Red Cross steamships came to Salonika and returned empty to Canada. Dr. Burkhardt wanted to get women and children out on these steamers. In March 1943, two ships happened to arrive at the same time, so that it would have been possible to take ten thousand people on this voyage or the next one. Together with Dr. Burkhardt, I arranged for a telegram which was in fact sent to me, and which may possibly have been amplified later. I submit a copy of this, and would ask for photocopies of this also to be made and to be included in the record of the hearing as Appendix 9. This telegram was actually to be sent via Dr. Altenburg to the German Red Cross in Berlin. However, I had second thoughts and sent it directly by teletype to the German Red Cross in Berlin.

The Head Office for Reich Security must somehow have received a copy of this teletype. One day the Accused telephoned me and complained to me about it. One of his questions to me was, since when I had been a commissioner for emigration. He also pointed out that any such assistance would interfere with Wisliceny's work. I tried to convince the Accused by using factual reasoning. I referred in particular to the alarm which the evacuation of women and children as well would create in the population, and also to the great interest which the International Red Cross was showing by then. I should say that I also referred to the Hague Convention concerning war on land. I requested the Accused to authorize the relief operation and asked him to allow me to come to Berlin, so as to discuss it with him in detail. The Accused said that he agreed to that. I then obtained approval for this journey from my commander - or possibly from the Army Group as well. The journey did not take place immediately after this telephone call, but one to three weeks later.

On my way to Berlin I passed through Budapest. My wife was living there with her parents. At that time, my father-in- law was Consul-General at the Hungarian Foreign Ministry. We discussed the purpose of my journey. It became clear that the Hungarians had also already considered helping Jews from Hungary to emigrate, in order to save them. In these deliberations nationality was already a decisive factor in Hungary.

In Berlin I went to see the Accused at his office at Kurfürstenstrasse 116. Our meeting lasted about an hour and a half. Part of the time the Accused used his normal jargon, asking such things as whether I was also one of those "religious nuts," and whether I "wanted to start preaching." As to whether during this conversation the Accused made a call to the Reich Ministry of the Interior to clarify the nationality question, I am unable to adopt any position at present, since I have learned from the press that, as a result of this allegation, proceedings have been instituted against me by the State Prosecutor's office in Bonn for giving false unsworn evidence and falsely accusing Secretary of State Globke.

During my conversation with the Accused, I became convinced that a positive decision had already been taken. In conclusion, the Accused told me that the operation was being approved. I wished to obtain written confirmation from the Accused. He told me that he could not or would not give me such confirmation, but that Wisliceny would be informed accordingly.

When he told me of the approval, the Accused once again used derogatory slang and, among other things, he said: "If you like those sh.. Jews so well, then, as far as I am concerned, take twenty thousand of them, but then those Jew wenches should all be well and truly s----d, and then they can go and hatch out their brats in the sun of Palestine."

After I returned to Salonika, two attempts were made to contact the British Government, which then held the Mandate over Palestine. There was no reply to the first attempt, and on the second approach they refused to accept the transport, making it impossible to carry out the relief operation.

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