Evidence for the Implementation of the Final Solution: Electronic Edition, by Browning, Christopher R.

Table of Contents
Fifth category: >>

First Category

5.4.1.1The first category, testimonies of German visitors, is easily the smallest. The testimonies of three such visitors are very important, however. The first is Adolf Eichmann. In the late 1950's he gave an interview to a Dutch journalist Willem Sassen and corrected the resulting transcript. A brief summary of the interview was published in Life Magazine.123 After his arrest, he was interrogated extensively in Israel.124 He composed his hand-written "Meine Memoiren."125 He prepared notes for his defense attorney, Servatius, that remained in the private papers or Nachlass of the latter that were donated to the Bundesarchiv.126 He gave testimony in court.127 And his widow, with the editorial help   of the lawyer Rudolf Aschenauer, had a posthumous memoir published in 1980, entitled Ich Adolf Eichmann. Ein historischer Zeugenbericht, based primarily upon the Sassen transcripts.128 In all of these testimonies, Eichmann confirmed that he had been in charge of organizing the deportation of Jews from all over Europe, in order for them to be killed in the death camps in Poland as part of the Final Solution. In several accounts he also described his visits to Auschwitz, Chelmno, Treblinka, and one other camp in the fall of 1941 whose name he did not remember but which fits the description of Belzec at that time.
5.4.1.2According to Eichmann, he was sent by Heydrich to Globocnik in Lublin to report on how Hitler's order to kill the European Jews was going to be carried out. It was the fall of 1941, when the autumn colors were at their peak. Hermann Höfle on Globocnik's staff drove him out of Lublin to a site where he was introduced to an Order Police captain. Eichmann and his escort then crossed the highway to a place where 2-3 wooden buildings were under construction. The Order Police captain explained to Eichmann that one building had to be made airtight to serve as a gas chamber, in which Jews would be killed by carbon monoxide exhaust from a Russian U-boat motor that would be attached. The camp was still empty and the motor was not yet there. In the following summer of 1942, Eichmann visited another camp, where he remembered the railway station with the sign Treblinka. Here he saw naked Jews standing in line behind the barbed wire about to be driven into the gas chambers. By his own account, he also   witnessed the gassing of Jews in a gas van at Chelmno.
The second German visitor was Kurt Gerstein, a covert anti-Nazi who infiltrated the SS and became head of the Disinfection Services of the Waffen-SS. According to his testimony,129 he was ordered by Eichmann's deputy, Rolf Günther, to take 100 kilos of prussic acid to Globocnik in Lublin. They were accompanied by a Professor of Hygiene at the University of Marburg/Lahn, Wilhelm Pfannenstiel. They arrived on August 17, 1942, and met with Globocnik, who boasted (falsely) of a recent visit by Hitler. According to Gerstein, Globocnik also claimed (with great exaggeration) that in Belzec, Treblinka, Sobibor respectively 15,000, 25,000, and 20,000 Jews were killed daily with "diesel exhaust gas." (Dieselauspuffgasen) Gerstein's task was to disinfect the huge amounts of clothing taken from the Jews, and on August 19, he and Pfannenstiel travelled to Belzec and were shown around the camp by SS-Hauptsturmführer Obermeyer.130 On the following morning, August 20, they witnessed the arrival of a 45-wagon transport from Lwow (Lemberg) with 6,700 Jews, of whom 1,450 were already dead. The Jews were forced to undress (the piles of   shoes were allegedly 25 meters high), the women's hair was cut off, and then the naked Jews were driven between two barbed wire fences to the gas chamber by Ukrainian guards. An SS man offered soothing assurances that they should inhale deeply to prevent lung infection, and then the men would be sent to work. Approximately 750 Jews were driven into each of 4 gas chambers, measuring 5 x 5 meters apiece. For 2 hours and 49 minutes, SS Sergeant Heckenholt131 struggled to start the engine. Pfannenstiel, looking through glass peep hole in the door of one of the gas chambers, commented that the Jews were weeping "as they do in the synagogue." Finally, the engine started, and the gassing took 32 minutes. Then Jewish workers opened the outside doors to the gas chambers and took out the bodies. Before the corpses of the Jews were tossed into a large trench, they were searched for valuables and gold dental work was broken out.
The following day Gerstein drove to Treblinka, where the gassing facilities were larger, and he saw "veritable mounds of clothing and underwear, 115 to 130 feet high." At a dinner in the visitors' honor, Pfannenstiel made a speech about "the greatness of the work" being done there. On the night of August 21-22, Gerstein travelled by train from Warsaw to Berlin, and accidently encountered the Secretary to the Swedish Embassy in Berlin, Göran von Otter. In a feverish conversation lasting hours, Gerstein told the Swede all he had just seen and urged him to make it known to the outside world. Von Otter later confirmed this encounter with Gerstein.132 Gerstein wrote one handwritten French and two type-written German versions of this report in April 1945 and died   in a French prison cell the following July. His death was ruled a suicide by French prison officials.
A third eyewitness account is that given by Professor Wilhelm Pfannenstiel in a series of depositions he gave to judicial authorities in Germany in the 1950's.133 Pfannenstiel claimed that Gerstein's version was "false" and "full of exaggerations." Günther did not accompany them to Lublin. He did not go to Treblinka after visiting Belzec and thus did not give a speech there. The gassing at Belzec had taken only 18 minutes, not 32 minutes, and he had not made any remark about the Jews weeping as they do in a synagogue. He did confirm that the Jews had to strip naked, the women had their hair cut, an SS officer made soothing remarks, the Jews were driven into four of six gas chambers in the building, exhaust gas from an engine was piped in, and gold teeth were taken from the corpses before they were stacked in a trench by Jews who did the "dirty work."
Many aspects of Gerstein's testimony are unquestionably problematic. Several statements he attributes to Globocnik are clearly exagerrated or false, and it is not clear whether Gerstein or Globocnik was the faulty source. In other statements, such as the height of the piles of shoes and clothing at Belzec and Treblinka, Gerstein himself is clearly the source of exaggeration. Gerstein also added grossly exaggerated claims about matters to which he was not an eyewitness, such as that a total of 25 million Jews and others were gassed. But in the essential issue, namely that he was in Belzec and witnessed the gassing of a transport of Jews from Lwow, his testimony is fully corroborated by   Pfannenstiel. It is also corroborated by other categories of witnesses from Belzec.

Notes

123. "Eichmann tells his own damning story," Life Magazine 49/22 (28.11.60). Copies of the transcripts of Eichmann's taped conversations with Sassen, corrected in Eichmann's hand, can be found in the Israeli State Archives.
124. Copies of these interrogations can be found in six volumes in: Bundesarchiv Koblenz, All. Proz. 6/1-6. Excerpts have been published in: Eichmann Interrogated: Transcripts from the Archives of the Israeli Police, ed. by Jochen von Lang.
125. Bundesarchiv Koblenz, All. Proz. 6/119.
126. Bundesarchiv Koblenz, All. Proz. 6/169.
127. The Trial of Adolf Eichmann: Record of Proceedings in the District Court of Jerusalem (Jerusalem, 1993), and Bundesarchiv Koblenz, All. Proz. 6/54-60.
128. Published by Leoni am Starnberger See.
129. Nürnberg Document PS-1553/RF-350.An edition of the Gerstein report was published by Hans Rothfels in the Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte (1953), pp. 177-194. Rothfels omitted some of Gerstein's allegations of Pfannenstiel's conduct as "purely personal notes." See also: Saul Friedländer, Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good (New York, 1969), in which many excerpts from the Gerstein report and other correspondence are published.
130. Wirth's adjutant was named Josef Oberhauser, not Obermeyer.
131. A man named Lorenz Hackenholt, not Heckenholt, was in charge of the gas chambers at Belzec.
132. Aide memoire, written for the Swedish Foreign Office on August 7, 1945, published in: Steven Koblik, The Stones Cry Out: Sweden's Response to the Persecution of the Jews, 1933-1945 (New York, 1988), pp. 198-99, and several interviews with Koblik, pp. 58-59. Otter also recounted the meeting in an interview, Rheinischer Merkur, July 24, 1964.
133. Zentrale Stelle, 8 AR-Z 252/59, vol. I, pp. 41-44 (Pfannenstiel testimony, 6.6.50), and pp. 135-41 (testimony of 9.11.59). Excerpts from a deposition of 9.2.51 are also printed in Friedländer, Kurt Gerstein, pp. 120-21. Excerpts of the testimony of 9.11.59 are printed in: Nationalsozialistische Massentötungen durch Giftgas, ed. by Eugen Kogen, Hermann Langbein, and Adalbert Rüerl (Frankfurt/M., 1983), pp. 173-74.
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