nuremberg military tribunal




Non -Involvement

Several of the defendants have pleaded Not Guilty on the ground that they were in no way involved in the homicidal operations of the einsatz units. These denials of participation took various forms. It was stated that the defendant, although traveling with the kommando, never learned of executions and certainly did not participate in them; it was asserted that, although the defendant participated in executions, the executees were partisans, saboteurs, looters, and the like; and it was also claimed on behalf of some of the defendants that, although they actually ordered and supervised executions, these executions always followed an investigation in the case involved. No one was shot unless he was proved guilty of a crime.

How thorough were these investigations if and when they took place? An order issuing from the Fuehrer's headquarters on June 6, 1941 -- that is, 15 days before the beginning of the Russian war -- spoke of the conduct of the German forces entering Russia. One paragraph discussed the disposition of political commissars who "for the time being" were not to be executed unless they committed or were suspected of hostile acts. Then came this very significant instruction:

"As a matter of principle in deciding the question whether guilty or not guilty, the personal impression which the commissar gives of his mentality and attitude will have precedence over facts which may be unprovable."

Thus kommando leasers were not only empowered but encouraged to execute a man more on his looks than on evidence. One of the defendants corroborated this practice. He was asked what he would do if he came upon a person speaking to four or five people in a room, advocating Communism but in no way opposing Germans. The defendant replied:

"I would have got a look at the man, and if I was under the impression that he would put his theoretical conviction into deed, in that case I would have had him shot. The actual speech or lecture could not be decided upon theoretically."

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He was asked further:

"So that you would listen to the speech and then you would look at him under a microscope, and after this big look, if you thought he might have done something, then you would have him shot. That is what we understand by your answer?"

And the reply was a categorical "Yes."

Many of the so-called investigations, moreover, were merely inquiries for the purpose of obtaining from the victim information which would enable the executioners to locate and seize other victims. For instance, the defendant Ott testified from the witness stand, as will be noted later, how arrested persons were arrested, "investigated," and shot.

Several of the Defense Counsel have argued that their clients were soldiers and that their only job was combat. But if the job with the Einsatzgruppen was strictly military, why did the High Command not send military men to do it? Why did they choose Ohlendorf who had no military training of any kind to head a military organization? Very few of the kommando leaders had been soldiers, and the brief three or four weeks' training at Pretzsch, prior to marching into Russia, consisted only of drilling and target practice on the rifle range. It is obvious that they were being sent into Russia not as combat soldiers, but as ideological exponents. In the field they were a travelling RSHA, they were a Gestapo on wheels.

Report No. 128 describes the executions by Einsatzgruppe C of 80,000 persons and explains that 8,000 of them were "convicted of anti-German or Bolshevistic activities."

The report goes on further to say:

"Even though approximately 75,000 Jews have been liquidated in this manner, it is already at this time evident that this cannot be a possible solution of the Jewish problem."

The report-writer explains that, in small towns and villages, they had achieved a complete liquidation of the "Jewish problem, and that, in the larger cities, after executions, all Jews had disappeared." It is evident from this statement that the main

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objective of the kommandos was to kill Jews, not partisans.

Counsel for Sandberger, in his final argument, quoted from the United States Basic Field Manual, Rules of Land Warfare:

"If the people of a country, or any portion thereof, already occupied by an army rise against it, they are violators of the laws of war and are not entitled to their protection."

Dr. von Stein, however, failed to show that the people in the respective German-occupied areas took part in any uprising. On the contrary, it was the einsatz leaders who attempted to stir up popular tumult by instigating pogroms.

The defendant Haensch declared that, during the entire time he served in Russia, he never saw a Jew, and that he never heard of the Fuehrer-Order. Although his kommando, prior to his arrival in Russia, had admittedly slaughtered thousands of Jews, no one ever told him of this nor did he ever hear of it. This is simply incredible. And, in support of this admittedly incredulous utterance, an even more extraordinary assertion was made by his attorney, namely, that Heydrich was anxious for Haensch not to know about these things since they had nothing to do with his work in Berlin.

In defense of Blobel, who admitted in a pre-trial statement that his kommando had killed 10,000 to 15,000 people, his attorney declared in a final summation that Blobel's duties were purely administrative -- adding, to be sure, that these administrative duties were to be interpreted in their "e;widest sense."

One of Blobel's administrative duties was to conduct executions. History will be his debtor for the authoritative account he rendered on mass-executions from the standpoint of the spirit and philosophy of slayer and slain. He was asked at the trial whether the doomed, as they were being led to their waiting graves, ever attempted to break away before the shots were fired. He replied that there was no resistance and this surprised him greatly. The following interrogation then occurred:

"Q. You mean that they resigned themselves easily to what was awaiting them?

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A. Yes, that was the case. That was the case with these people. Human life was not as valuable as it was with us. They did not care so much. They did not know their own human value.

Q. In other words, they went to their death quite happily?

A. I would not say that they were happy. They knew what was going to happen to them. Of course, they were told what was going to happen to them, and they were resigned to their fate, and that is the strange thing about these people in the East.

Q. And did this make the job easier for you, the fact that they did not resist?

A. In any case the guards never met any resistance or, at least, not in Sokal. Everything went very quietly. It took time, of course, and I must say that our men who took part in these executions suffered more from nervous exhaustion than those who had to be shot.

Q. In other words, your pity was more for the men who had to shoot than for the victims?

A. Our men had to be cared for.


Q. And you felt sorry for them?

A. Yes, these people experienced a lot, psychologically."

Thus, to murder was added criminal impertinence. The victim is shown to be inhuman while the executioner is to be pitied. The condemned is put in the wrong and the slayer in the right. A person is robbed of his all -- his very life -- but it is the assassin who is the sufferer. Thus we behold the moral supremacy of the murderer over the depravity of the massacred. "Our men who took part in the executions suffered more from nervous exhaustion than those who had to be shot."

Here in cogent language is symbolized the whole story of the simple "administrative duties" of one of the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen in a land not his own.

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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. 101 - 104 (original mimeographed copy)

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Ken Lewis
April 23, 1998
Rev. 1.1