nuremberg military tribunal




Walter Haensch

SS-Lieutenant Colonel Walter Haensch studied law at the Leipzig University, trained as Referendar in various cities and passed his final State Law Examination in December 1934. He took a position with the town administration of Doebeln in February 1935 and in theFall of that year entered the SD. In the early part of 1942 Haensch was assigned to Sonderkommando 4b as its leader. It is the contention of the Prosecution that his authority over this unit began on January 16, 1942. The defendant asserts on the contrary that although it is true he was ordered to this post in January, he did not arrive at the site of the kommando until March l5, 1942.

In support of this asserted delayed inauguration of his einsatz service, the defendant presented evidence to show that he was in Berlin on February 7, 1942 for some dental work, that on February 20, 1942 he opened up a bank account, on February 21, 1942 he posed for some pictures and on another date attended a birthday party, all in Berlin.


A great deal of time was devoted at the trial to the presentation of evidence both for and against the alibi contended for by the defendant. The question of alibi, however, remains moot, in view of the fact that even if the Tribunal assumed that the defendant did not arrive in Russia until March l5, 1942, the date asserted by him as the beginning of his active service with the Sonderkommando, this assumption would not exculpate him. The record proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Sonderkommando 4b, under the leadership of the defendant Haensch, was active in War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity, even subsequent to March l5, 1942.

On April 3, 1943, Sonderkomnando 4b arrested 50 hostages and killed one-half of them. The identification of Haensch's unit in this mass execution is established by the following:

(1) Report No.188, dated April 1, 1942 (NO-594l) shows that Sonderkommando 4b had an active unit operating in Zhitomir.

(2} Report No. 189, dated April 3, 1942 (NO-3238) states:

"Locations and communications as reported in Situation Report 188, dated 1 April l942, remain unchanged."

This proves that Sonderkommando 4b was still at Zhitomir so that it was bound to be the unit responsible for the incident described in the report as follows:

"Zhitomir-- 50 hostages from Gayssen and vicinity were arrested in the course of the investigation and half of them were shot."

(3) Report NO. 190, dated April 8, 1942 (N0-3359) confirms the responsibility of Sonderkommando 4b for the events of April 3 by declaring that units of Sonderkommando 4b were still stationed at Zhitomir.

Report No. 189, above indicated, carries also another item under "Einsatzgruppe C":

"From 28 March up to and inclusive 31 March a total of 434 persons were subjected to 'special measures' (executed).
The figure breaks down as follows:

33 political officials
48 saboteurs and plunderers


352 Jews and
1 insane. "

This item is quoted not as conclusively proving that Sonderkommando 4b was responsible for the 434 executions, but for the purpose of demonstrating that Einsatzgruppe C (and, therefore, its integral units, including Sonderkommando 4b) was at the time actively engaged in the carrying out of the extermination program.

Haensch was involved in still further executions following March l5. Report No. 6, dated June 5, l942 (NO-5l87) shows that Sonderkommando 4b, under the leadership of Haensch, was located at Gorlovka. The same report carries this item:

"Several large-scale actions against partisans and Communists were carried out in the district of the Gorlovka Command in late April -- early May 1942. 727 out of 1,038 persons arrested were given special treatment. Among them there were 461 partisans, members of destruction battalions, saboteurs, looters and some Communist activists and NKVD agents."

The conclusion is inescapable that Haensch's organization is responsible for the various executions menitioned herein.

The defendant endeavored at the trial testifyingly to absent himself from Gorlovka at the time of the executions, but his evidence in this respect was vacillating and entirely inconclusive. He admitted that officials under his command participated in the action. Whether he personally was present in the actual physical arresting and shooting of the victims is of no consequence legally. A high ranking officer who plans an operation or participates in the planning and has control over officers taking part in the movement certainly cannot escape responsibility for the action by absenting himself the day of execution of the plan. Haensch was not only responsible for the sonderkommando during the operation, but he admits having been informed on the results thereof.

It is urged by defense Counsel in behalf of Haensch that:

"In addition, nothing happened during the course of these operations which could be regarded as a crime. The containing of partisans,members of the


Destruction Battalions, saboteurs, and looters is an action permissible according to International Law. I believe I do not have to touch upon this matter further. The report also shows that those persons apprehended were not killed indiscriminately but that only some 75 percent were actually affected by the so-called 'special treatment'. In other words, the cases were all investigated."

The report clearly states that the actions were taken against partisans and Communists. Membership in any political party is, not a capital offense according to the Rules of War and International law. And executions for membership in a general political party can only be murder. It is asserted that all the cases were investigated. The report says nothing about investigation and, in any event, there is no evidence in the record that the investigations, if held, conformed to the accepted trial requirements, recognized by the Rules of War and International Law insofar as they appertain to civilians. Whatever defense exists to the charges contained in this item depends entirely on the defendant's word. Can he be believed?

He asserted that during the entire time he served in Russia he never heard of the execution of Jews as Jews. Only three or four weeks prior to his alleged assumption of command over Sonderkommando 4b, the kommando killed l,224 Jews. He professed to know nothing about this massacre. He was asked:

"You have now stated that you have no reason to doubt the correctness of those reports. Therefore, if l,224 Jews were shot by your organization before you took over, does it not seem strange to you that in all the time that you were with the very men who conducted these executions, that not a word was ever said about so extraordinary a phenomenon as the execution of l,224 human beings because they were Jews?"

His only reply was that no one talked about these killings or any killings at all, and that he did not learn that Jews were executed for racial reasons until he arrived in Nuremberg five years later! The witness stated that before he took over command of Sonderkommando 4b he was told by Mueller, Chief of the Gestapo and


Thomas, Chief of Einsatzgruppe C, that the executive activities of Sonderkommando 4b were to remain unchanged. He was asked whether he carried out these directives of Mueller and Thomas and he replied in the affirmative.

Report No. 24, dated July 16, 1941, discloses the killing of 180 Jews and the burning of Jewish homes by Sonderkommando 4b. Report No. 88, dated September 19, 1941, spoke of the execution of 435 Jews as well as 28 saboteurs and 56 officials and agents of the NKVD. Report No. 94, dated September 25, 1941, contained an item on the execution of 290 Jews. Report NO. 111, dated October l2, 1941, declared that 125 Jews had been liquidated. Report No.132, dated November 12, 1941, reported 161 Jews killed. Report No. l35, dated November 19, 1941, reported 562 Jews liquidated. Report No. 143, dated December 8, l94l, described the killing of not only 137 Jews, but also 599 "mentally deficients". Report No. 173, dated February 25, 1942, revealed the killing of 649 political officials and 139 Jews. Report No. 177, dated March 6, 1942, chronicled the execution of 1,224 Jews.

If, as Haensch stated, he continued to carry out the executive policy of Sonderkommando 4b as it existed prior to his arrival in Russia, and the above enumeration indicates quite clearly what that policy was, this can only mean that he continued with the execution of the Fuehrer-Order. The Tribunal rejects completely the defendant's statement that he did not know of the execution of Jews. In the face of what appears in the record the Tribunal also refuses to accept as fact the statement of the defendant that he was only personally aware of four executions involving in all sixty deaths.

On July 21, 1947 he wrote out by hand a 25-page statement on his einsatz service. Over eight pages (which is over one-third of the entire statement) were devoted to a discussion on executions and his, the defendant's, manner of conducting them. On page 22 he said:

"I was requested to make statements concerning the number of executions, which in my estimation were carried out by the


kommando according to orders during my time as leader of the Sonderkommando 4b. To this I must state the following: In the absence of records I am no longer able to give such information. An estimated number would lack any basis of fact. For this reason and those reasons stated above, I cannot give such an estimate."

This statement that he was unable even to estimate the number of executions performed by the kommando during the time he was its Chief is practically conclusive, if words have any meaning, that the number was a very large one. There is additional reason for this conclusion, in spite of his mentioning specifically three, or four executions. His long eight-page description of executions is written in a manner and style which, reveals irrefutably that mass killings formed a regular routine to him and were not unusual events. A few sentences taken from this volunteered statement are quite illuminating on this point:

"The executions were effected by shooting from the nearest sure-aim distance. That distance, as I recall it, was not more than 8 - 10 paces. The assumption that the shootings were effected 'by revolver' does not correspond with the facts. I have already explained that during my interrogation of the 14/7/47."

"I must once again energetically repudiate the assumption that the shootings were carried out in a mean manner, e.g., in the form of mass shootings by machine gun bursts from a considerable distance or by shooting in the neck or in an otherwise lowdown, manner."

"After quiet reflection I am bound to state that I cannot say exactly which of the two weapons was used in the individual cases. The Sonderkommando 4b was equipped partly with sub-machine guns -- I believe predominantly with these -- and partly with rifles."

"Moral sufferings for the victims as well as for the members of the execution command were to be avoided as far as possible. Thus great, care was to be taken that a person waiting to be executed would not be eye witness to a preceding shooting, and that the corpses of people shot would be removed before a further execution took place."

"I myself watched a few executions. Where possible this was done in a manner so as to surprise the execution command by my


sudden appearance. During this I saw nothing which indicated that the considerations enumerated were being disregarded."

"Occasionally officers or authorized persons also attended the executions as representatives or deputies of their appropriate offices."

"I still remember that the absolutely necessary insuring of instantaneous death without previous mere wounding was brought up during those discussions, and that it was emphasized to aim at the head as a sure guarantee for instantaneous death."

"I recall that the executions were effected from one side of the hill or the access to the groove, and that the corpses, after the conclusion of each execution, were carried to a grave prepared on the other side."

"As far as I remember in the executions which I attended, one to three persons were led to the place of execution at intervals and shot together."

"In those executions which I attended, death was instantaneous. Immediately after the execution the leader and the medical orderly went to the dead and personally satisfied themselves that they were really dead. I do not recall either ever having heard a cry of pain."

"As to the composition of the execution command, the rule existed that under no circumstances so-called 'shooting kommandos' were formed, that is to say, that for the different executions not always the same men were to be used. The leader of each execution command varied his choice of men according to these directives and assigned them on the day before the execution."

These harrowing details, announced with the insouciance of an expert with long experience, belies the defendant's assertion on the witness stand that his kommando conducted only four executions with a maximum of sixty deaths.

As above indicated, the defendant claimed that every executee was given the benefit of a hearing, but no evidence was adduced to indicate the character of the charges brought against the arrestees except the general statement that they were partisans, saboteurs, looters or Communist activists. Nor was there any evidence that these persons received a trial. Furthermore, the


large number of victims and the haste with which they were executed would demonstrate, considering the time element, the impossibility of trials for all of them. As a matter of fact the defendant testified that Streckenbach pointed out to him that in the East there would be no "formal court proceedings such as we were accustomed to carrying out in the Homeland in the Police Courts, or another court". And on the contrary, he was instructed that the procedure was to follow the decree of the highest political authorities and it is a matter of record that all einsatz units had received the Fuehrer decree. The Fuehrer-Order, of course, provided for no trial whatsoever. The Tribunal is convinced that the civilians shot by Sonderkommando 4b under Haensch's leadership did not receive the trial intended by the Rules of War and International Law. The credible evidence shows, further, that if there were any proceedings they were entirely of an ephemeral nature.

The defendant testified that he was thoroughly familiar with the cases of the sixty persons executed by his kommando:

"Yes, I knew exactly about the individual cases -- that is to say, the decision in both these executions in the Gorlovka district. I also knew about. the other executions and I was able to convince myself that these were only cases which occurred in accordance with law and order, and where the people concerned were actually proven violators against the laws of war and against security of the people."

Later he said that sub-kommando leaders could make independent decisions, but when he was asked:

"Would you have been able to reverse the decision of the sub-kommando leader if you would have been of the opinion that the execution of a certain individual was not justified?"

he replied:

"Yes, without any trouble. If I had become convinced that something was not quite in order, I certainly would have been able to do that."

It developed then that the sixty who were executed by his kommando were killed under his orders:


"Q. There were sixty people killed under your orders?

A. Yes."

He was now asked whether he investigated these sixty cases before he pronounced the death sentence.

"Q. Now, how many of these sixty cases did you investigate yourself, or reviewed the evidence on?

A. The evidence? I only looked through the evidence and made a final decision for about twenty-five cases, and seven that --

Q. All right.

A. (continuing) came thereafter.

Q. That is thirty-two that you investigated yourself?

A. Yes.

Q. So that means that twenty-eight went to their deaths under your orders without your having reviewed the evidence?

A. No.

Q. Sixty were killed under your orders?

A. Yes.

Q. Thirty-two you investigated?

A. Yes."

In spite of this very definite pronouncement, the defendant later went on to say that he investigated the sixty cases. The defendant's manner of testifying, his shifting and evasive attitude while discussing this subject, convince the Tribunal that he did not tell the entire truth about the sixty alleged investigations. The defendant stated that some of the killings had been ordered by the Army, but that he reviewed those cases also. It developed, however, that no written report was made so that it is not clear, if he had no personal knowledge of the facts and received no written report, how he could review the cases. His explanation, which is obviously no explanation, follows:

"...these cases of executions which I was questioned on in Barvenkova became known to me when by accident I happened to the place, and the corresponding report about the respective orders of the


Army units were given to me for information. Today, I cannot state exactly, from memory or with certainty, that the subcommander received this order from the military officer, who had the right to give this order, and he was also told the crime itself which had been committed by the defendants. I considered this type of handling not correct, and I expressed my opinion to this effect at the AOK, namely, that in my opinion the Army when it conducted the investigation and made the decision itself should carry out the execution by its own kommandos."

Much of the defendant's testimony, even if believable, does not exculpate him. Much is simpIy not worthy of belief. For instance, when he says that Streckenbach, who was the man responsible for the announcement of the Fuehrer-Order in Pretzsch, said nothing to him about this, momentous program as he was about to depart for the East, Haensch utters an obvious falsehood. When he says that in his conversation with Heydrich, Heydrich was silent about the Fuehrer-Order, he declares what is incredible. And even more incredible is his statement that the very Chief of the Einsatzgruppe, under whom he was to operate, remained mute on the subject of the Order of the head of the State, the very Order which brought the Einsatzgruppen into being. And then one can only dismiss as fantastic the declaration of the defendant that his predecessor who had admittedly executed thousands of Jews under the Fuehrer-Order, and whose program Haensch was to continue, said nothing to Haensch about that program. And when Haensch boldly uttered that the first time he ever had any inkling of the Fuehrer-Order was when he arrived in Nuremberg six years later, he entered into a category of incredulousness which defies characterization.

The guilt of the defendant in the commission of War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity has been clearly and conclusively established. From all the evidence in the case the Tribunal finds the defendant guilty under Counts I and II of the Indictment.

The Tribunal also finds that the defendant was a member of the criminal organizations SS and SD under the conditions defined


by the Judgment of the International Military Tribunal and is, therefore, 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. 178 - 188 (original mimeographed copy)

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Ken Lewis
April 22, 1998
Rev. 1.1