It was indeed one of the many remarkable aspects of this trial that the discussion of enormous atrocities was constantly interspaced with the academic titles of the persons mentioned as their perpetrators. If these men have failed in life, it cannot be said that it was lack of education which led them astray, that is, lack of formal education.
Most of the defendants, according to their own statements, which there is no reason to disbelieve, came of devout parents. Some have told how they were born in the country and that, close to nature and at their mother's knee, learned the virtues of goodness, charity and mercy, It could be said that the one redeeming feature about this entire sordid affair is that those virtues are still recognized. One inexperienced in the phenomena of which the human soul is capable, reading the reports of the einsatzgruppen, could well despair of the human race. Here are crimes that defy language in the depths and vastness of their brutality. Here
pitilessness reaches its nadir and nothing in Dante's imagined Inferno can equal the horror of what we have discovered happened in 1941, 1942 and 1943 in White Ruthenia, the Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and the Crimea.
In this trial, one is constantly confronted with acts of men which defied every concept of morality and conscience. One looked in on scenes of murder on so unparalleled a scale that one recoiled from the sight as if from a blast of scalding steam.
But herein is the paradox, and with it the moral encouragement of redemption. Some of the defendants called witnesses to testify to their good deeds, and practically all of them submitted numerous affidavits extolling their virtues. The pages of these testimonials fairly glitter with such phrases as "honest and truth-loving", "straight-thinking and friendly manner", "industrious, assiduous and good-natured", "of a sensitive nature", "absolutely honest".
Through the acrid smoke of the executing rifles, through the fumes of the gas vans, through the unuttered last words of the one million slaughtered, the defendants have recalled the precepts gained at their mothers' knee. Though they seem not to see the frightful contrast between their events of the day and those precepts of the past, yet they do recognize that the latter are still desirable. Thus, the virtues have not vanished. So long as they are appreciated as the better rules of life, one can be confident of the future.
Nor are they affidavits merely subjective in praise. They point out objectively what the defendants did in attacking injustice and intolerance. In various parts of Europe (always with the exception of Russia) the Tribunal is told they occasionally interceded in behalf of oppressed populations and broke lances with the local Nazi despots. The affidavits state, for example, that Ott who enforced the Fuehrer-Order from beginning to end in Russia, was all kindness and gentleness to the villagers in Gross-Bierderstroff in the Lorraine, and that Haensch, whose conduct in the East leaves much
to be desired, was the epitome of charity in Denmark where the population in paeans of thanksgiving showered him with adulatory messages and bouquets of flowers. During the period that Naumann was stationed in Holland, one affiant states, Naumann befriended the Jews, got them out of concentration camps and released hostages. In fact, according to one affidavit, Naumann was known as a man "with softness towards Jews".
What is the explanation for the appalling difference between the virtues which others saw in these defendants and their deeds as described by themselves? Was it the intimate companionship with evil? The poet Pope sought to describe this phenomenon in his quatrain:
"Vice is a monster of so frightful a mien,
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace."
One of the Defense Counsel, a highly respected member of the local bar apparently would seem, unwittingly, to have given an explanation. From the constant association with the case, he found himself arguing in his summation speech: "What did Schubert actually do which was criminal?" And then he outlined Schubert's actions:
"Schubert first goes to the gypsy quarter of Simferopol and sees them being loaded aboard and shipped off. The he drives to the place of execution, sees the re-routing of traffic, the roads blocked off, persons being unloaded, valuables handed over, and the shooting. Finally he drives back once more along the way to the gypsy quarter and there again sees them being loaded aboard and carried off, and then returns to his office. That is what he did."
SS-Obersturmfuehrer Schubert oversees an execution of human beings who happened to be Gypsies, there is no assertion anywhere that these Gypsies were guilty of anything but being Gypsies. He sees that the roads are blocked off, that the victims are loaded on trucks and taken to the scene of execution, that their valuables are taken from them and then he watches the shooting. This is what Schubert did, and the question is asked: What is wrong about
that? There is no indication of any realization here that Schubert was taking an active part in mass murder. Counsel even goes further and says that when Schubert reported to Ohlendorf on what had happened, he stated that he saw "nothing unusual."
This reference to Counsel, when it occurs, is not intended as any criticism of professional conduct. It is the function of a lawyer to represent to the best of his ability his client's cause and it must now be apparent what difficulties confronted the attorneys in this case. Nonetheless, with industry and skill, with patience and perseverance they made their presentations so that the Tribunal was not denied any fact or argument which could be submitted in behalf of the accused. Regardless of the results of the Judgment it cannot be said that the accused did not have the utmost and fullest defense.
Many of the affidavits introduced in behalf of defendants spoke of religion. One related how Seibert often accompanied his mother to church. While he was in the Crimea, did he recall these visits to the house of God with his mother, and if he did, could he reconcile his activities there with the teachings of religion and of his mother?
This is a court of law, and the presence or absence of religion on the part of any defendant is not an issue in this trial. The fact, however, that Seibert advanced his early Christian training as an item of defense is indication that he at least recognizes there is a dissimilarity between what he learned and what he later did. This affidavit is additionally interesting because it impliedly repudiates the condemnations of religion by men like Goebbels, Rosenberg, Himmler, and above all, Hitler himself, who designated the church as the only remaining unconquered ideological opponent of National Socialism, continually insulting it in speeches and pronunciamentos.
"National Socialist and Christian concepts are irreconcilable.....If therefore in the future, our youth knows
nothing more of this Christianity whose doctrines are far below ours, Christianity will disappear by itself.....All influences which might impair or damage the leadership of the people exercised by the Fuehrer with the aid of the NSDAP must be eliminated. More and more the people must be separated from the churches and their organs, the pastors."
With this anti-religious attitude dominating National Socialism, it is interesting to note that at least ten of the defendants, according to their own statements, formally left the church of their childhood.
And here one must tell of the Christmas of Simferopol in the year of 1941. In the early part of December the commander of the 11th Army, which was located in that area, notified the chief of Einsatzkommando 11b that the Army expected them to kill some several thousand Jews and Gypsies before Christmas.
This savage proposal, coming on the eve of one of the holiest days of the year, did not consternate the kommando leader, as one might expect. On the mystic chords of memory no echo sounded of the message of Peace on Earth Good Will Toward Men. The only impediment this kommando leader saw in the execution of the order was that he lacked enough men and equipment for so accelerated an assignment, but he would do his best. He called on the Army Quartermaster and obtained sufficient personnel, trucks, guns and ammunition to do the bloody deed, and it was done. The Jews and Gypsies -- men, women and children -- were in their graves by Christmas.
On Christmas Day the executioners were depressed, the Tribunal was told, not because of the slaughter, but because they now feared for their own lives. Death, which had been so commonplace a day or two before, presently revealed itself as vivid and frightening: It might overtake the executioners themselves. Life became sweet and precious. The kommando leader testified that the danger existed they might fall into the hands of the Russians.
But at last they overcame their apprehensions and they found themselves in the mood to celebrate their own Christmas party. Their chief, Otto Ohlendorf, made a speech on that occasion. The defendants Braune was questioned on this speech:
"Q. And did he talk on religious matters?
A. I cannot give any details of the words anymore. I don't know whether he mentioned Christ, but I know Herr Ohlendorf's attitude on all this.
Q. What was his attitude as he delivered it in his speech? What did he say that was of religious significance?
A. I really cannot give any details any more.
Q. Did anybody offer any prayers on Christmas Day of 1941?
A. Your Honor, I do not know.....
Q. Were any prayers offered for the thousands of Jews that you had killed.....?
A. Your Honor, I don't know whether anyone prayed for these thousands of Jews."
Did this Christmas massacre serve the best interests of Germany and her people? Did it harmonize with the theory of moral revulsion to the Fuehrer-Order, as proclaimed by the defendants?
How far did the defendants get away from religion? It is to be repeated here that it is entirely irrelevant to the issue before the Tribunal as to whether the defendants are religious or not. They can be atheists of the first degree and yet be as innocent as the driven snow of any crime. Religion is mentioned because several of the defendants introduced the subject and their references to religion are pertinent in the evaluation of the credibility of certain testimony.
Ernst Biberstein, the defendant who was a minister of the Gospel, left the church in 1938. At the time he repudiated organized religion and claims to have founded a religion of his own. Despite his definite abandonment of the church, he states he was regarded as a clergyman by his fellow-officers and emphasized this point as a reason why he could not have committed the murders with which he is charged. He did admit to attending various executions. Since, according to his testimony, he still worshipped at the invisible alter of his own religion, he was asked whether he attempted to offer comfort and solace to those who were about to die. His answer was that since the Bolshevist ideology
advocated the movement of atheism, "one should not throw pearls before swine." The came the following:
"Q. Did you think that because they were Bolshevists and had been fighting Germany that they did not have souls?
Q. You did believe they had souls then, didn't you?
A. Of course.
Q. But because they were of the attitude which you expressed, you did not think it was worthwhile to try to save those souls?
A. I had to assume that these were Atheists. There are people who do not believe in God, who have turned away from God, and if I tell such a man a word of God, I run the danger that the person will become ironic.
Q. Well, suppose he did become ironic that could not be any worse than the fact that he was going to be killed rather soon. Suppose he did become ironic, how did that harm anyone?"
A. These things are too sacred to me that I would risk them in such situations.
He was further asked:
"Do you think that you demonstrated that 'Love of fellow-men' by letting these people go to their deaths without a word of comfort along religious lines, considering that you were a Pastor? Did you demonstrate there a 'Love of fellow-men?'."
And his answer was:
"I didn't sin against the Commandments of Love."
Did Biberstein tell the truth when he said that the core of his religion was "Love of his fellow-men" and then ordered the shooting of innocent people whom he regarded as swine? Was he trustworthy when he declared that he never heard of the Fuehrer-Order until he arrived in Nuremberg? Was he credible when he announced that during all the time he was in Russia he never learned that Jews were shot because they were Jews?
Religion, which through the ages, has strengthened the weak, aided the poor and comforted the lonely and oppressed, is man's own determination, but that a minister of the Gospel, via the road
of Nazism, participated in mass executions is an observation that cannot go unnoticed. When the Swastika replaced the Cross and Mein Kampf dislodged the Bible, it was inevitable that the German people were headed for disaster. When the Fuehrerprinzip took the place of the Golden Rule, Truth was crushed and the Lie ruled with an absolutism no monarch has ever known. Under the despotic regime of the Lie, prejudice supplanted justice, arrogance cancelled understanding, hatred superseded benevolence -- and the columns of the Einsatzgruppen marched. And in one of the front ranks strode the ex-minister Ernst Biberstein.
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. 117 - 124 (original mimeographed copy)
May 5, 1998