nuremberg military tribunal




Ernst Biberstein

Ernst Emil Heinrich Biberstein was originally named Szymanowsky. This striking change in name was no more extraordinary than the change in his profession. From clergyman in the Lutheran Protestant church in Kating, Schleswig-Holstein, he went to a chiefship in the Gestapo in Qppeln, Germany, in the meantime having renounced the church and his ecclesiastical garb. In August 1935 he entered the Reich Ministry for Church Affairs and in May 1936 was promoted to Oberregierungsrat in the State service. He served in the Wehrmacht from March 10,1940 until October 20, 1940, when he became Chief of Gestapo at Oppeln. In the meantime, he had become SS-Sturmbannfuehrer and as such went to Russia as Chief of

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Einsatzkommando 6 under Einsatzgruppe C. He served in this capacity from September 1942 until June 1943. On June 25, 1947, at Edselheide, Germary, Biberstein declared in a sworn statement that his kommando during the time he was its chief killed from 2000 to 3000 people. In Nuremberg he twice repeated these figures under oath. At the trial he sought to repudiate the total, saying that the interrogator, on the three different occasions, had insisted that he name a figure and that a discrepancy of one thousand more or less did not matter. It was then put to him that allowing for a margin of one thousand he had still admitted to from one to two thousand killings. He refused, however, at the trial, to name any figure.

Although he repudiated the totals, he did not attempt to deny that he had witnessed two executions, the precise details of which he had described in his three pre-trial declarations. In his affidavit of July 2, 1947, he related:

"I personally superintended an execution in Rostow which was performed by means of a gas truck. The persons destined for death-- after their money and valuables (sometimes the clothes also) had been taken from them-- were loaded into the gas truck which held between 50 and 60 people, The truck was then driven to a place outside the town where members of my kommando had already dug a mass-grave. I have seen myself the unloading of the dead bodies, their faces were in no way distorted, death came to these people without any outward signs of spasms. There was no physician present at unloading to certify that the people were really dead."

"I have also witnessed an execution carried out with firearms. The persons to be executed had to kneel down on the edge of' a grave and members of my kommando shot them in the back of the neck with an automatic pistol. The persons thus killed mostly dropped straight into the pit. I had no special expert for these shots in the neck. No physician was present either at this form of execution."

At the trial he explained that he witnessed these executions only because the Chief of the Einsatzgruppe wished him to experience the sensation of watching an execution so that he might know how he would feel about a spectacle of that kind.

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"Q. You didn't know that before you witnessed the execution that you would have a feeling of revulsion against the execution.You didn't feel that before you actually witnessed the execution?

A. Of course not, Your Honor, for, before, I had never seen an execution.

Q. So you had to see an execution in order to know that it offended against your sentiments? A. Yes, I had to see what kind of an effect this would have on me."

The defendant denied having executed, any Jews and in substantiation of this assertion he advanced various explanations:

(1) that Thomas, the Einsatzgruppe chief, was aware of his religious background and therefore wished to spare him his feelings;

(2) that there were no Jews in his territory anyway;

(3) that he did not know of the Fuehrer-Order.

The defendant carried this third incredible proposal to the point where he declared that although he had led an einsatzkommando in Russia for 9 months, he did not learn of the Fuebrer-Order until he reached Nuremberg. In fact he states that the very first time the Order ever came to his attention was when it was talked about in the court room and its contents shocked him considerably.

Many of the defendants in seeking to justify killings have pronounced the word ":investigation" with a certain self-assurance which proclaimed that so long as they "investigated" a man before shooting him they had fulfilled every requirement of the law and could face the world with an untroubled conscience. But an investigation can, of course, be useless unless proof of innocence of crime releases the detainee. Investigating a man and concluding he is a Jew or Communist functionary or suspected functionary gives no warrant in law or in morals to shoot, him. Biberstein claims that all executees of his kommando were given a proper investigation and killed only in accordance with law. Can this statement be believed? In testing Biberstein's credibility he was questioned regarding his work as a Gestapo Chief. His answers


to the questions put to him shed some light on, the extent to which Biberstein can be believed in his wholesale denials:

"Q. Suppose that you learned that in the town of Oppeln there was, let us say, a Hans Smith, who made a declaration to the effect that he hoped that Germany would lose the war because it was an unjust war that she was waging, what would you do?

A. I would have asked the man to come to me and would have told him to hold on to his own views and keep them to himself and just would have warned him."

"Q. You are on your way home one evening from the office and someone comes up to you and tells you that he overheard Hans Smith inveigh against the German Army, the German Government, Hitler and the whole National Socialist regime.....what do you do?

A. Nobody would have done this, I don't think.

Q. Well, let us suppose someone did. Peculiar things happen.

A. I would have told him,'Don't talk about it. Keep it to yourself, keep it quiet'."


"Q. Well, let's go a little further. This man who stops you on your way home, says 'By the way, I just found out that there is a plot on here to kill Hitler. I heard the men talking about this; I know the house in which they gather; I saw some bombs being taken into the house and I want you to know about this, Herr Biberstein.' What would you do?

A. I would have told him, 'Go to Official So-and-So and report it to him'.

Q. And you would have done nothing?

A. Why what could I have done? I didn't know what to do. I had no police directives."

In a further denial that he ordered executions Biberstein said that a pastor has the task "to help souls but never to judge". Biberstein was no longer a pastor, professionally, spiritually or intellectually. He had already denounced his church and his religion and when asked why he did not offer religious comfort to those who were about to be killed under his orders and in his presence, he said that he could not cast "pearls before swine".


But despite his never swerving determination to avoid an incriminating answer, truth in an unguarded moment emerged and Biberstein confessed to murder from the witness stand. He steadfastly had maintained that every execution had been preceded by an investigation. As chief of the kommando which conducted the executions, his was the responsibility to be certain that these investigations revealed guilt. However if conceivably he could-- although in law and in fact he could not-- but even if arguendo he could be excused from responsibility for the death of those who were executed outside his presence, he could not escape responsibility for the death of those killed before his eyes.

With regard to the two executions which he witnessed (one by gas van and the other by shooting), he testified that the first involved some 50 people and the second about l5. He was questioned as to whether investigations had been made to determine guilt or innocence of these 65 executees. He replied:

"I did not see the files of these 65 cases. I only know that men of the kommando had received orders ever since the time of my predecessor to investigate the cases."

The interrogation continued:

"Q. You do not know of your own knowledge that these cases were investigated? These 65 deaths?

A.. I did not see it.

Q. No. So, therefore, you permitted 65 people to go to their deaths without knowing yourself whether they were guilty or not?

A. I said that I only made spot checks.

Q. Did you make any spot checks in these 65

A. Not among these 65.

Q. Then we come back to the conclusion that you permitted 65 people to go to their death without even a spot check?

A. Without having made a spot check, yes."

It is, therefore, evident that in this instance alone Biberstein is guilty of murder in ordering the death of 65 persons and supervising their very executions without evidence of guilt.


The Tribunal finds from all the evidence in the case that Sonderkommando 6, during the time that Biberstein was its chief accomplished mass murder. It finds further that as its chief, Biberstein was responsible for these murders.

The Tribunal finds from the entire record that the defendant is guilty under Counts I and II of the Indictment.

It finds further that he was a member of the criminal organiztions SS, SD, and Gestapo under the conditions defined be the Judgment of the International Military Tribunal and, therefore, is guilty under Count III of the Indictment.


Musmanno, Michael A., U.S.N.R, Military Tribunal II, Case 9: Opinion and Judgment of the Tribunal. Nuremberg: Palace of Justice. 8 April 1948. pp. 171 - 176 (original mimeographed copy)

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Ken Lewis
April 16, 1998
Rev. 1.1