The, Einsatzgruppen reports showed that Sonderkommando 4A, which Blobel commanded from January 1941, to June 1942, killed over sixty thousand persons. His attorney, Dr Willi Heim, was indignant over these reports and claimed they were not accurate. The truth of the matter was, he said, that Blobel could not have been responsible for the killing of more than fifteen thousand!
As Blobel strode from the defendants' dock to the witness-stand, he seemed to change in aspect from a villain of the sea to a mountaineer guerrilla chieftain. Encased in a large military jacket with four enormous flapped pockets and numerous buttons, which somehow suggested bandoleers bulging with cartridges, he fired his answers as if from an automatic rifle. His whole expression shouted that it was absurd he should be charged with crime. He was fighting a war; the reports were wrong; he did not kill as many people as they charged him with. Moreover, all cases were investigated before executions took place. And then he asserted that he committed no crime since his shootings were authorised by international law.
When Prosecutor Horlik-Hochwald asked him: "Did you not have any moral scruples about carrying out executions - that is, did you regard the carrying out of these executions as in agreement with international law and in agreement with humanitarian impulses?" his beard bristled with the resentment of one who has just listened to a preposterous as well as insulting question.
Why, the executions of "agents, partisans, saboteurs, suspicious people, indulging in espionage and sabotage, and,those who were of a detrimental effect to the German Army," he stridently rejoined, "were, in my opinion, completely in accordance with the Hague Convention."
He did not stop to name any article of the Convention which authorised the killing of "suspicious people". Nor did he manifest the slightest awareness of the terrible reality that killing on mere suspicion is the very essence of first-degree murder. Othello will wash for many an aeon in "steep-down gulfs of liquid fire" before he will be cleansed of the guilt of strangling Desdemona.
When his attorney asked him if he had any moral scruples against the execution of women and children, Blobel replied that he did not, because "every spy and saboteur knew what he had to expect when he was arrested". He did not specify in what manner women and children were spies and saboteurs.
Another explanation he offered for executions was that they were in the nature of reprisals. He believed that the killing of ten of the enemy for one German soldier "murdered" was not disproportionate because "other countries also carried out reprisal measures, and have given orders for such reprisals, about one to two hundred according to the well-known order of General Eisenhower".
Surprised to hear this statement, I asked: "You say there was a well-known order of General Eisenhower that two hundred were to be executed to one?"
Testily he replied: "All the German people know, your Honour, that an order was given by General Eisenhower that for every one American who was killed, two hundred Germans were to be shot." The defendant had become a prosecutor.
The courtroom was filled with people, many of them obviously German. I swept my hand from left to right to encompass the entire audience. "In this courtroom there must be, undoubtedly, many Germans. Can you point out one who knew of this order which you have just stated?"
The bearded accuser sat rigidly in his chair and made no answer. I inquired of Blobels attorney if he knew of such an order. Bowing low, his robe scraping the floor, Dr.Heim said: "No, your Honour."
I asked the defendant whether he had personal knowledge of the order, and when he said that he had not read it himself, I inquired if any attorney in the courtroom knew about the order. To this question, he answered in the affirmative. I directed my glance at the score of lawyers sitting at the defence tables and at the several lawyers at the prosecution table. "Does any attorney here know about the order, yes or no?"
Blobel shot out, "Yes." "
"Dr Heim, for example, read about it"
""Dr Heim has already denied knowing about any such order. Mention the next person."
"I don't know the other gentlemen as well. I said I presume that people knew it."
He suggested that perhaps Ohlendorf was acquainted with the order, but Ohlendorf was now allowing himself one of his rare smiles. He hated Blobel because he regarded him as a liar and enjoyed seeing him, as he told others later, "stewing in his own juice".
To my question as to whether he could point to one defendant "who can state that he saw this announcement", Blobel replied - "I'd have to ask each one individually."
I faced the dock: "The Tribunal will direct a question to all of the defendants. The witness has stated - of course, you have heard what he just stated - that an order was issued by General Eisenhower that for every Allied soldier killed, two hundred Germans would be killed.... Did any of the defendants here in this court ever see such an announcement? If any one did, he will please raise his hand."
Passing up Ohlendorf, Blobel turned the fiercely burn- ing candlepower of his eyes on the defendants, one after another, seeking by sheer ocular strength to lift one hand out of the two score available to confirm his utterance. But not a finger lifted or turned. The whole defendants' dock had turned to stone. I waited for a minute or two and then addressed the glowering Blobel: "No defendant has raised his hand, so now we come back to your original statement, that all of Germany knew of this announcement. Do you want to withdraw that statement?"
The bold and haughty beard had drooped to its owner's chest. The flaunting moustache had also wilted. Through the whiskery jungle came a mumble: "Under those circumstances, I have to beg your pardon."
Blobel was the evil genius of the notorious Kiev massacre. Sornetime in September 1941, the Jews of that city were instructed to appear in the public square on the 29th of that month with all their belongings, since they were to be "resettled". They responded in multitudes, eager to rid themselves of a city bewildered and reeling under the battering fist of war. A long procession of trucks rolled up to haul them to the ""resettlement" area, where they were immediately taken before the execution rifles. Never had Blobel as an architect planned and executed a building project so efficiently as he did this razing of human lives. The victims were spared long delays, the anguish of doubt, the inconveniences of lack of shelter and food, and worry as to what might happen to their property and valuables.
So expertly did the ex-builder organise the truck service, the firing squads, and the burial teams that at the end of the second day 33,771 persons had been killed and entombed. And in the meantime every item of the "resettled" people's property had been gathered and catalogued, not only with governmental survey proficiency, but with the supreme virtue of charity dominating all. The official report stated that "Money, valuables, underwear and clothing were secured and placed partly at the disposal of the N.S.V. (Nazi Party Public Welfare Organisation) for use of the racial Germans, partly given to the city administration for use of the needy population."
But with his charitable instincts gratified, Blobel was still not entirely content, for the report informs us further: "The Jews who were not yet apprehended as well as those who gradually returned from their flight again to the city were in each case treated accordingly."
In Zhitomir, some eighty-five miles from Kiev, and then on his return to Kiev, Blobel continued his intensive drive on behalf of charity. The clothes taken from his victims in these latter operations required the service of numerous auto-cars. A report dated November 12, 1941, announced that "137 trucks full of clothes, made available in connec- tion with the campaign against Jews at Zhitomir and Kiev, were put at the disposal of the N.S.V."
Blobel willingly described just how he conducted executions. He related how he divided his extermination unit into shooting squads of thirty men each, after the long ditches had been dug. "Out of the total number of the persons designated for the execution, fifteen men were led in each case to the brink of the mass grave where they had to kneel down, their faces turned towards the grave. When the men were ready for the execution one of my leaders who was in charge of this execution squad gave the order to shoot. Since they were kneeling on the brink of the mass grave, the victims fell, as a rule, at once into the mass grave.
"I have always used rather large execution squads, since I declined to use men who were specialists for shots in the neck (Genickschussspezialisten). Each squad shot for about one hour and was then replaced. The persons who still had to be shot were assembled near the place of the execution, and were guarded by members of those squads, which at the moment did not take part in the executions."
I must confess that I did not easily adjust to the contemplation of this vast and calloused extermination of human life, but finally came the time when I could ask questions on the frightful details of executions without a hesitant voice or any visible emotion. And so I asked Blobel if he attached any type of rnarker or sign to the victims in order to guide the airn of the riflemen. If my voice was firm, Blobel's was as steady as a howitzer as he replied that the men of his unit were expert shots.
Nevertheless, I had misgivings, so I went on: ""Striking a vital spot in the body requires a very steady hand, a very good eye and perfect control of the nervous system. Would you say that all these riflemen were so well-trained that they could bring home their shot to a vital spot in the victim's body at all times?"
An audible shudder ran through the spectators in the courtroom for they could visualise as well as I could the possibility that a person only slightly wounded could be buried alive. But Blobel said it was impossible. "After each firing order, when the shots were addressed, somebody looked at the victims, because the victims were then put into the grave when they did not fall into the grave themselves, and these tasks were in the field of tasks of the men of the individual Kommandos. The edge of the grave had to be cleaned, for instance. Two men who had spades dealt with this. They had to clean it up and then the next group was led there."
I still worried about the possibility of a conscious person seeing the coffin lid of earth closing over him. "Since this was all done rapidly, might it not be possible that a victim would be buried, even though not actually dead?"
"No, that.is quite impossible, your Honour."
"You exclude that possibility?"
"Yes, for the simple reason that if it was ascertained that the shots which had been aimed at the head had not actually hit the head, one of the men of the firing squad was called in, who fired again [with rifle] from a distance of three to four paces. He shot again and thus it was made absolutely certain that the person concerned was dead."
A slight noise at the foot of the bench caused me to look down. The girl reporter, who was recording the testimony, held a convulsive hand to her mouth, smothering a gasp, while the other moved over her notebook. Perhaps she pictured, as I did, the blood-curdling scene of the headhunter bearing down on his helpless, frozen-eyed prev, and firing at three paces.
Although Blobel asserted that he acted legally at all times, he was concerned about the evidence he left of his executions. So also were Himmler, Mueller and Eichmann back in Berlin because it was not too certain now that Germany could hold the terrain taken from Russia. The long graves spoke too clearly of mass murder. Blobel was called back to Eichmann's headquarters at 116 Kurfürstenstrasse where he was given orders signed by Mueller to erase evidence of the killings, by opening the graves and burning the corpses. The burning process was not too successful, so Blobel resorted to dynamiting.
Rudolf Hoess, commandant of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, co-operated with Blobel in the operation and reported that "the ashes, ground to dust in a bone mill, were thrown in the vast forests around".
Despite these attempts to dissolve the ghosts which could rise to haunt him, Blobel was boastful of his bloody handiwork. A witness, Albert Hartel, called by Blobel himself, testified to being with the red-bearded defendant in Kiev in March 1942. One day Blobel took him into the country to show him around. Suddenly Hartel became frightened, he recalled, by the fact that the earth was heaving beneath their feet. Under questioning by Dr Heim, Blobel's own lawyer, Hartel explained: "There were some kind of eruptions, a kind of explosion, and I asked Blobel what it was, and he said: 'Here my Jews are buried."' just as a wild-game hunter might proudly point to a tiger he had bagged in the jungle.
Blobel, decadent and drunkard though he was, still strove to hold his head high. When Prosecutor Horlik-Hochwald, reading aloud from a document which contained Blobel's name, asked him if his name was Paul Blobel, he proudly declared: "My name is Hermann Wilhelm Paul Blobel."
It.is not strange that Eichmann, who had his own fondness for the bottle, enjoyed Blobel's companionship and admired his work. When Eichrnann visited Blobel in the field he invariably took along with him a supply of schnaps to consume with one of his most capable executioners. Eichmann so appreciated Blobel's technical abilities that he occasionally invited him to Berlin to speak before his Gestapo staff of specialists. In one lecture, delivered in November 1942, Blobel spellbound his audience with a grisly, graphic account of his experiences in opening graves and cremating executed Jews.
Regardless of their mode of procedure, the executioners commended themselves on the magnanimous methods they observed in accomplishing their missions. Defendant after defendant emphasised to the Tribunal that the requirements of militariness and humaneness were fastidiously complied with in all killing parties. Of course, occasionally, as Otto Ohlendorf described it, "the manner in which the executions were carried out caused excitement and disobedience among the victims, so that the Kommandos were forced to restore order by means of violence", that is to say, the victims were beaten.
The defendant S.S.-Brigadier-General Erwin Schulz also assured us that ""useless tortures" were avoided.
How did the people destined to die react to their fate once they became aware of its irrevocable finality? According to Blobel, most of them were silent. Some of the prisoners, who were to be shot in the back, turned around at that last moment and bravely faced the riflemen, but still they said nothing. The executioners could not understand this muteness - but what did they expect these piteous mortals to say? What words could be found to speak of this unspeakable assault on humanity, this monstrous violence upon the dignity of life and being? The helpless doomed were silent. There was nothing for them to say.
When Blobel commented rather disparagingly on this silence, I asked him: "You mean they resigned themselves easily to what was awaiting them?"
He replied: "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."
I winced at this self-satisfied and grirn comparison of life values.
"In other words, they went to their deaths quite happily?"
"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."
"And did that make the job easier for you, the fact that they did not resist?"
"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 sav that our men who took part in these executions suffered more from nervous exhaustion than those who had to be shot."
"In other words, your pity was more for the men who had to shoot than for the victims?"
"Our men had to be cared for."
". . . And you felt very sorry for them?"
"Yes, these people (the riflemen) experienced a lot psychologically."
It is easy to understand, after a panoramic view of this necromantic titan's bouts with blood and graves, why the defendant Eugen Steimle, who served in the same Einsatzgruppe with Blobel, in commenting on personages he had known in that Organisation, summed up Blobel as ""Blood- hound, brutal, without inhibitions, unpopular".
If there ever was an understatement worthy of recording it is that last word. Still, Blobel was able to convince himself that he was not the lowest person on earth. In the final days of the war, when he knew he faced capture and trial for his crimes, he conjured up a hatred for his drinking partner Eichmann, whom he blamed for his shameful fall from everything that was decent in life. As he lay 'in the gutter of complete moral irresponsibility he determined to rise at least an inch so as to be higher than Eichmann. With Nazi armies surrendering right and left and isolated units fleeing from the hotly pursuing Allies, Eichmann and Blobel came by chance upon one another in Kaltenbrun- ner's headquarters in Salzburg. Eichrnann advanced eagerly to greet Blobel with plans on how they should pool their resources for a successful escape. Blobel cut him dead and went on his way alone - to an eventual capture and a subsequent hanging.
August 27, 1998