After finishing the major Nazi leaders' trial, many of the lawyers, prosecutors,
interpreters, judges, court reporters, document examiners, analysts, and clerks
did not stay for the twelve Subsequent Proceedings. The International Military
Tribunal had finished their mission and purpose for being: to prove, expose,
and justify severe punishment for atrocities committed by Germans. Justice
Robert H. Jackson, who had been appointed by President Truman to be the Chief
of Counsel for prosecuting war criminals in this first international military
trial, made the following memorable statement during the trial:
The entire world had been watching. It had been shown that this was not a
trial of the victors over the vanquished, but of justice over evil. The Light
of Goodness shone over the Darkness of Evil.
The twelve separate trials in the Subsequent Proceedings started on October
25, 1946, and continued until judgment in the last case was rendered in April
1949. These trials were prosecuted by the United States only, with American
civilian judges sitting on military tribunals. Each tribunal consisted of
three or more lawyers, admitted to practice for at least five years in the
highest state courts or the Supreme Court of the United States. The defendants
in these Subsequent Proceedings included leading professional physicians,
diplomats and politicians, the State Secretary of the Foreign Office of Germany,
Cabinet Ministers, military leaders, SS leaders, industrialists, the Acting
Minister of Justice, and jurists.
The following is an extract taken from the field interrogation of Waffen
SS member Kurt Gerstein, on April 26, 1945, describing the mass gassing of
Jews and other "undesirables." The deposition of Kurt Gerstein began:
Hearing of the massacres of idiots and insane people at Grafeneck, Hadamar,
etc., shocked and greatly affected me, having such a case in my family.
I had but one desire--to gain an insight into this whole machinery and then
to shout it to the whole world! With the help of two references written
by the two Gestapo employees who had dealt with my case, it was not difficult
for me to enter the Waffen SS...
In January, 1942, 1 was appointed chief of the technical branch dealing
with strong poison gases for disinfection. On June 8, 1942, SS Sturmbannfuehrer
Guenther of the RSHA entered my office. He was in plain clothes and I did
not know him. He ordered me to get a hundred kilograms of prussic acid and
to accompany him to a place which was only known to the driver of the truck.
We left for the potassium factory near Collin (Prague). Once the truck was
loaded, we left for Lublin (Poland). We took with us Professor Pfannenstiel,
Professor for Hygiene at the University of Marburg on the Lahn. At Lublin,
we were received by SS Gruppenfuehrer Globocnik. He told us, "This
is one of the most secret matters there are, even the most secret. Whoever
talks of this shall be shot immediately. Yesterday, two talkative men died."
Then he explained to us that at the present moment--August 17, 1942--there
were four installations: 1. Belcec, on the Lublin-Lvov road, in the sector
of the Russian demarcation line. Maximum fifteen thousand persons a day.
Seen! 2. Sobibor, I do not know exactly where it is located. Not seen. Twenty
thousand persons per day. 3. Treblinka, 120 kilometers NNE of Warsaw. Twenty-five
thousand persons per day. Seen! 4. Maidanek, near Lublin. Seen--in the state
Globocnik then said, "You will have to handle the sterilization of
very large quantities of clothes, ten or twenty times the amount of the
clothing and textile collection, which is only arranged in order to conceal
the source of these Jewish, Polish, Czech, and other clothes. Your other
duties will be to change the method of our gas chambers (which are run at
the present time with the exhaust gases of an old Diesel engine), using
more poisonous material, having a quicker effect: prussic acid. But the
Fuehrer and Himmler, who were here on August 15, the day before yesterday,
ordered that I personally should accompany all those who are to see the
Then Professor Pfannenstiel asked, "What does the Fuehrer say?"
Then Globocnik, now Chief of Police and SS, from the Adriatic Riviera to
Trieste, answered: "Quicker, quicker! Carry out the whole program!"
And then Dr. Herbert Linden, Ministerial-director in the Ministry of the
Interior said: "But would it not be better to burn the bodies instead
of burying them? A future generation might think differently of these matters!"
Globocnik replied, "But, gentlemen, if after us such a cowardly and
rotten generation should arise that it does not understand our work which
is so good and so necessary, then, gentlemen, all National Socialism will
have been for nothing. On the contrary, bronze plaques should be put up
with the inscription that it was we, we who had the courage to achieve this
gigantic task. And Hitler said, 'Yes, my good Globocnik, that is the word,
that is my opinion, too."
The next day we left for Belcec, a small special station of two platforms
against a hill of yellow sand, immediately to the north of the Lublin-Lvov
road and railway. To the south, near the road were some service houses with
a signboard, "Belcec, Service Center of the Waffen SS." Globocnik
introduced me to SS Hauptsturmfuehrer Obermeyer from Pirmasens, who with
great restraint, showed me the installations. No dead were to be seen that
day but the smell of the whole region, even from the main road, was pestilential.
Next to the small station there was a large barrack marked "Cloakroom,"
and a door marked "Valuables." Next to that, a chamber with a
hundred barber's chairs. Then came a corridor, 150 meters long, in the open
air and with barbed wire on both sides. There was a signboard "To the
baths and inhalations!" Before us we saw a house, like a bathhouse,
with concrete troughs to the right and left containing geraniums or other
flowers. After climbing a small staircase, we came to three garage-like
rooms on each side, 4 x 5 meters in size and 1.90 meters high. At the back
were invisible wooden doors. On the roof was a Star of David made out of
copper. At the entrance to the building was the inscription, "Heckenholt
Foundation." That was all I noticed on that particular afternoon.
Next morning, a few minutes before seven, I was informed that in ten minutes
the first train would arrive. And indeed, a few minutes later the first
train came in from Lemberg (Lvov); forty-five cars containing 6,700 persons,
1,450 of whom were already dead on arrival. Behind the little barbed-wire
openings were children, yellow, half scared to death, women, and men. The
train stopped; 200 Ukrainians, forced to do this work, opened the doors
and drove all the people out of the coaches with leather whips. Then, through
a huge loudspeaker, instructions were given to them to undress completely
and to hand over false teeth and glasses--some in the barracks, others right
in the open air. Shoes were to be tied together with a little piece of string
handed to everyone by a small Jewish boy of four years of age; all valuables
and money were to be handed in at the window marked "Valuables,"
without receipt. Then the women and girls were to go to the hairdresser
who cut off their hair in one or two strokes, after which it vanished into
huge potato bags "to be used for special submarine equipment, door
mats, etc.," as the SS Unterscharfuehrer on duty told me.
Then the march began. To the right and left, barbed wire; behind, two dozen
Ukrainians with guns. Led by a young girl of striking beauty, they approached.
With Police Captain Wirth, I stood right in front of the death chambers.
Completely naked, they marched by, men, women, girls, children, babies,
even one-legged persons, all of them naked. In one corner, a strong SS man
told the poor devils in a strong deep voice, "Nothing whatever will
happen to you. All you have to do is to breathe deeply; it strengthens the
lungs. This inhalation is a necessary measure against contagious diseases;
it is a very good disinfectant!" Asked what was to become of them,
he answered, "Well, of course the men will have to work, building streets
and houses. But the women do not have to. If they wish, they can help in
the house or the kitchen." Once more, a little bit of hope for some
of these poor people, enough to make them march on without resistance to
the death chambers.
Most of them, though, knew everything; the smell had given them a clear
indication of their fate. And then they walked up the little staircase--and
behold the picture: mothers with babies at their breasts, naked, lots of
children of all ages, naked too; they hesitate, but they enter the gas chambers,
most of them without a word, pushed by the others behind them, chased by
the whips of the SS men. A Jewess of about forty years of age, with eyes
like torches, calls down the blood of her children on the heads of their
murderers. Five lashes in her face, dealt by the whip of Police Captain
Wirth himself, drive her into the gas chamber. Many of them say their prayers;
others ask, "Who will give us the water for our death?" Within
the chambers, the SS press the people closely together; Captain Wirth had
ordered "Fill them up full." Naked men stand on the feet of the
others. Seven to eight hundred crushed together on twenty-five square meters,
in forty-five cubic meters! The doors are closed!
Meanwhile the rest of the transport, all naked, waited. Somebody said to
me, "Naked, in winter! Enough to kill them!" The answer was, "Well,
that's just what they are here for!" And at that moment I understood
why it was called the Heckenholt Foundation. Heckenholt was the man in charge
of the Diesel engine, the exhaust gases of which were to kill these poor
devils. SS Unterscharfuehrer Heckenholt tried to set the Diesel engine going,
but it would not start! Captain Wirth came along. It was obvious that he
was afraid because I was a witness of this breakdown. Yes, indeed, I saw
everything and waited. Everything was registered by my stop watch. Fifty
minutes--seventy minutes--the Diesel engine did not start! The people waited
in their gas chambers--in vain. One could hear them cry. "Just as in
a synagogue,' says SS Sturmbannfuehrer Professor Dr. Pfannenstiel, Professor
for Public Health at the University of Marburg/Lahn, holding his ear close
to the wooden door! Captain Wirth, furious, dealt the Ukrainian who was
helping Heckenholt eleven or twelve lashes in the face with his whip. After
two hours and forty-nine minutes--as registered by my stopwatch--the Diesel
engine started. Up to that moment the people in the four chambers already
filled were still alive--four times 750 persons in four times forty-five
cubic meters! Another twenty- five minutes went by. Many of the people,
it is true, were dead by that time. One could see that through the little
window as the electric lamp revealed for a moment the inside of the chamber.
After twenty-eight minutes only a few were alive. After thirty-two minutes
all were dead!
From the other side, Jewish workers opened the wooden doors. In return
for their terrible job, they had been promised their freedom and a small
percentage of the valuables and the money found. The dead were still standing
like stone statues, there having been no room for them to fall or bend over.
Though dead, the families could still be recognized, their hands still clasped.
It was difficult to separate them in order to clear the chamber for the
next load. The bodies were thrown out blue, wet with sweat and urine, the
legs covered with excrement and menstrual blood. Everywhere among the others
were the bodies of babies and children.
But there is no time! Two dozen workers were busy checking the mouths,
opening them with iron hooks--" Gold on the left, no gold on the right!"
Others checked anus and genitals to look for money, diamonds, gold, etc.
Dentists with chisels tore out gold teeth, bridges, or caps.
In the center of everything was Captain Wirth. He was on familiar ground
here. He handed me a large tin full of teeth and said: "Estimate for
yourself the weight of gold! This is only from yesterday and the day before!
And you would not believe what we find here every day! Dollars, diamonds,
gold! But look for yourself!"
Then he led me to a jeweler who was in charge of all these valuables. After
that they took me to one of the managers of the big store, Kaufhaus des
Westens, in Berlin, and to a little man whom they made play the violin.
Both were chiefs of the Jewish worker units. "He is a captain of the
Royal and Imperial Austrian Army, and has the German Iron Cross First Class,"
I was told by Hauptsturmbannfuehrer Obermeyer.
The bodies were then thrown into large ditches about 100 x 20 x 12 meters
located near the gas chambers. After a few days the bodies would swell up
and the whole contents of the ditch would rise 2 to 3 meters high because
of the gases which developed inside the bodies. After a few more days the
swelling would stop and the bodies would collapse. The next day the ditches
were filled again, and covered with 10 centimeters of sand. A little later,
I heard, they constructed grills out of rails and burned the bodies on them
with Diesel oil and gasoline in order to make them disappear.
At Belzec and Treblinka nobody bothered to take anything approaching an
exact count of the persons killed. Actually, not only Jews, but also many
Poles and Czechs, who, in the opinion of the Nazis, were of bad stock, were
killed. Most of them died anonymously.
Commissions of so-called doctors, who were actually nothing but young SS
men in white coats, rode in limousines through the towns and villages of
Poland and Czechoslovakia to select the old, tubercular, and sick people
and have them done away with shortly afterwards in the gas chambers. They
were the Poles and Czechs of category no. III, who did not deserve to live
because they were unable to work.
Police Captain Wirth asked me not to propose any other kind of gas chamber
in Berlin, but to leave everything the way it was. I lied--as I did in each
case all the time--and said that the prussic acid had already deteriorated
in shipping and had become very dangerous, that I was therefore obliged
to bury it. This was done right away.
The next day, Captain Wirth's car took us to Treblinka, about seventy-five
miles NNE of Warsaw. The installations of this death center scarcely differed
from those at Belzec, but they were even larger. There were eight gas chambers
and whole mountains of clothes and underwear about thirty-five to forty
meters high. Then a banquet was given in our "honor," attended
by all the employees of the institution.
The Obersturmbannfuhrer, Professor Pfannenstiel, Hygiene Professor at the
University of Marburg/Lahn, made a speech. "Your task is a great duty,
a duty useful and necessary." To me alone he talked of this institution
in terms of "beauty of the task;" "humane cause;" and
speaking to all of them he said, "Looking at the bodies of these Jews,
one understands the greatness of your good work!"
Excerpted from Doctors from Hell by
Vivien Spitz. Copyright © 2005. Reprinted by arrangement with
Sentient Publications. All rights reserved.