In February 1942, Ott took over the command of Sonderkommando 7b in Einsatzgruppe B at Bryansk, on the Desna River, some 220 miles from Moscow, and remained in that area, upholding the integrity of the Fuehrer-Order, until January 1943, during which period he conducted from eighty to one hundred executions. In justifying these killings he said that the subjects of the executions deserved death since they were either partisans or saboteurs. He knew this to be true because he questioned them before he shot them. I inquired what he did if it developed that a Jewish prisoner had not committed any crime. Was he shot?
He seemed surprised at the question. Why, of course he was shot, he replied.
Pausing a moment to get over my astonishment, I put the obvious follow-up query: "What was the necessity of the investigation if the result was that he always would be shot? What was the reason for wasting all this time on a man you were going to shoot anyway?"
But Ott was not such a spendthrift of time as might at first seem apparent. He interrogated his prisoners in order to obtain information which could lead to the apprehension and execution of others!
But what if a prisoner refused to give information about others? He was shot just the same.
"Some of them refused to talk?"
"That is so."
"And they were shot just the same?"
"They had to be shot if they were Jews."
The real truth was now emerging. "Well, then, you did shoot some Jews because they were Jews?"
"I have already said, your Honor, every Jew who was apprehended had to be shot. Never mind whether he was a perpetrator or not."
Ott was even more specific. "I told my Sub-Kommando leaders that Jews after they are seized and do not belong to any partisan movement or sabotage organisation must be shot on the basis of the Führer-Order."
However, it must not be assumed that Ott was wholly inconsiderate of prisoners. He related: "In June 1942, without having an order to do so, I opened an internment camp in Orel. In my opinion people ought not to be shot right away for comparatively small misdeeds. For this reason I put them in this internment camp, in which the people had to work. I determined the length of time these people should remain in the camp on the basis of examination and investigations of the individual cases which were made by my Kommando. It happened too that people were released."
Ott's magnanimity in this concession was probably even greater than he intended to espress. His nobility of soul manifested itself not in the fact that he said "people ought not to be shot right away for comparatively small misdeeds," but in his assertion that it "happened too," that is, it even happened that some people were not shot!
May 18, 1998