From 1944 to 1981, Polish, Allied, and West German courts brought legal actions against former members of the Majdanek guard staff. Only two of them are of interest historically: the trial of six members of the camp guards, conducted in a great hurry before a Special Court in Lublin between November 27 and December 2, 1944, and the Majdanek Trial in Düsseldorf (1975-1981). We shall take a closer look at these two court cases.
1. The Lublin Trial of the End of 1944
On October 26, 1944, in a Special Court in Lublin, charges of murder and abuse of prisoners were brought against four SS-men and two Kapos who had served in Majdanek. The trial was held from November 27 to December 2 of that year and ended in death sentences for the SS-men Hermann Vogel, Wilhelm Gerstenmeier, Anton Thernes and Theo Schölen as well as the Kapo Heinz Stalp. The sixth defendant, the Kapo Edmund Pohlmann, had allegedly committed suicide in pre-trial detention. The sentences to death by hanging were carried out without delay on December 3.
Under the conditions prevailing at that time, a trial under the rule of law was impossible: after all, the withdrawal of the occupation forces and the end of harsh foreign rule were only four months past, and the war continued to rage in a large part of Poland. Many residents of Lublin and its environs had lost family members in the camp, or had spent some time there themselves. Furthermore, right after Majdanek was liberated, reports of one and a half million murder victims were spread about with all possible hype, and the photos of the crematorium, the "gas chambers" and the bodies that had been found were exploited to the fullest by strategic propaganda.
The people screamed for revenge. In this atmosphere of public incitement the defendants never had a chance. Of course it is too late now to find out if they had really committed crimes during their time of service; there can be no doubt that the same punishment would have been imposed on any other SS-man or Kapo unfortunate enough to come into the same situation as these men. Whether they were guilty or innocent-finding witnesses for the prosecution was an easy matter in any case, and it was also not difficult to obtain the desired confessions.
The Reasons for Sentence made it very clear that these defendants were in the prisoners' dock as proxies for all of Germany, and not only National Socialist Germany:
"This trial revealed all the sordid details of the monstrous nature of that system consolidated, perfected, modernized and mechanized by Adolf Hitler as worthy successor to the imperialist methods of the Crusaders, the methods of the Brandenburg electoral princes, Frederick the Great, Bismarck's imperialism and Treitschke's ideology. The absurd racial theory, the doctrine of the 'Master Race', the catchword of gaining 'living space' at the expense of other peoples were made a reality after the war was set off, by the Hitlerites proceeding step by step in all occupied countries to exterminate the local populations, to an extent and with methods unparalleled in history. The number of victims who were executed or harassed for alleged crimes against the occupation power turns out to be small in comparison to the scope and extent of the extermination that took place in the so-called death camps. In Majdanek alone, 1,700,000 people were murdered. What monstrous total must we arrive at when we add to this figure the number of those martyred to death in the other eleven death camps, not to mention the ordinary so-called labor camps, concentration camps and forced labor camps!"
The following transcript of the pre-trial questioning of a witness shows how summarily 'evidence was taken' for this trial:
"1. Your name?-Benen Anton.
2. Your nationality?-Dutch.
3. How long in the camp?-One year.
4. What can you say about the beatings and murders in the camp?-I was beaten several times. I was hung up in a special way to be beaten. Half an hour later they threw me into the water and beat me again.
5. What can you say about the ordeal of the Soviet POWs?-The people were suffocated in gas chambers and shot.
6. What can you tell us?-Everything was done in such a way that no one saw or heard anything. However, I did see a queue of 600 people being led to death.
7. What nationalities did you see in Majdanek?-I saw Russians, Poles and Jews, but I can't say anything.
8. What do you know about the murders in the gas chambers?-I know that people were suffocated in the gas chambers, and then the bodies were dragged out.
9. Were you sick in the camp? You don't look well, and your throat is bandaged.-I spent four years in concentration camps and got sick because there was not enough to eat.
10. Were there other Dutch inmates?-Yes. There were mostly Jews and they were brought here later.
11. In which concentration camps were you?-In Ostburg, Dachau and then Lublin. But Lublin was the worst.
12. Why were you transferred from Dachau to Lublin?-I was drafted into the army, but I didn't want to go and that's why they locked me up.
13. Who's taking care of you today?-The Polish Red Cross is looking after me, but there is still not enough to eat."
That concluded the questioning, and another example of 'evidence' for the mass murders in Majdanek had been obtained.-The interrogation of the defendants in pre-trial detention was also accomplished at top speed, for example the interrogation of SS-Rottenführer Theo Schölen:
"1. Were you in Majdanek?-Yes, I was there.
2. Do you know about everything that took place in the concentration camp?-I saw a few things, and heard about others.
3. Do you know anything about people being gassed?-I know that gassing was mostly done in the evening, and the bodies were later burned in the cremation furnaces.
4. How was that done?-I only saw bodies, I didn't personally attend the killing.
5. Is it true that people went through the shower beside the gas chamber?-Yes, they were in the bath, and then they went into the chamber.
6. What was the Majdanek camp generally called by the Germans?-'Extermination camp'; this term was used from the time of the mass murder of inmates onward.
7. Do you know what different nationalities were in Majdanek?-I don't know exactly.
8. What nationalities were most strongly represented?-Jews, Russian POWs, Poles, French, Italians and others.
9. What methods were used in dealing with the Soviet prisoners of war?-I don't know exactly about the Russians. But I know that about 18,000 to 20,000 Jews were killed on November 3, 1943.
10. Are you a member of the National Socialist Party?-Yes, since 1937; I have been in the SS only since 1942.
11. Who treated the prisoners especially badly, and who was to blame for the mass murder?-There were many of them, but I don't know all the names. But I recall that the SS-man Foschted [possibly a reference to the third camp Commandant, Florstedt], Obersturmführer Thumann and Obersturmführer Mußfeldt played a major part in the administration and in torturing the inmates.
12. What did you do in Majdanek?-I was manager of a supply depot.
13. Where did the shoes and the children's and women's clothing come from that were found in great numbers in the camp?-These things belonged to murdered people, primarily Jews.
14. What was done with the bodies?-I heard that they were burned in the crematorium.
15. Did you participate in the murder of people?-No. I was far away from it all and just looked after the supply depot.
16. Who told you about the murders?-I don't know the names exactly; I just heard that Mußfeldt and Thumann did it."
The trial itself was conducted as per the classical pattern of a Stalinist show trial in which the defense attorneys served as secondary prosecutors. Accordingly, Jaroslawski, the court-appointed defense counsel for the defendants Gerstenmeier and Vogel, requested on the very first day of the trial to be released from his duties, because
"[...] in the course of a thousand years Germany has systematically committed crimes against all its neighbors, including the Slavic people; because Germany has completely exterminated the Slavic peoples between the Elbe and the Oder and has shown that she wants to completely eradicate the Slavic nations; because Germany, obeying its Führer Adolf Hitler, attacked the Polish state in September 1939 and brought about a horrible world war [...]."
Kazimierz Krzymanski, the court-appointed defense counsel for the defendant Thernes, also begged to be excused from his duties, because
"[...] the misdeeds that are to be judged here in this court room are so absolutely gruesome and were planned and committed in such a satanic way that we, who have lost our loved ones in Majdanek [...], cannot be expected to defend those who are accused of having committed these atrocities."
Naturally, the lawyers' requests were refused, and they had to continue to 'defend' their 'clients'.
The atmosphere of hysteria that must have reigned at this trial can be inferred, for example, from the public prosecutor Jerzy Sawiecki's insane allegation that at least half a million Germans had been involved in organizing the extermination at Majdanek:
"At least 500,000 Germans-accountants, financiers, clerks, supply personnel, railway men, postal workers, telephone operators, engineers, physicians, jurists, agronomists, chemists, pharmacists-it takes one's breath away, try to imagine it, half a million Germans in total were involved in the well-organized machinery for killing defenseless people. Who can really grasp the horror of this fact? Half a million people, all of them driven by one single thought, namely, how to destroy other people as quickly, cheaply and efficiently as possible. That's Majdanek!"
We would love to know if this public prosecutor actually believed what he was saying.-The evidence, aside from 'material evidence' such as empty cans of Zyklon, consisted of the testimony of a total of 13 eyewitnesses. We shall restrict ourselves to just one sample, an excerpt from the questioning of the witness Jan Wolski:
"Public prosecutor: What do you know, in general, about the extermination of the Slavic peoples in Majdanek?
Wolski: When the Governor General came from Berlin to carry out an inspection, and I was setting the table in the casino, I overheard his discussion with our Commandant Weiss (and Gerstenmeier was there too) about how one could exterminate the Slavic peoples in Majdanek.
Public prosecutor: Do you know that Gerstenmeier ordered additional cans of Zyklon?
Wolski: Yes, I heard about it, because he wanted to stockpile some Zyklon for the future. He put it like this: 'These are uncertain times, we must be prepared to wipe out all the prisoners.'"
The defendants as well had been thoroughly drilled in their role in this staged spectacle and obediently recited their scripted admissions of guilt. The following is an excerpt from the Kapo Heinz Stalp's interrogation:
"Public prosecutor: I asked you about the children. How were these children exterminated in the gas chamber?
Stalp: I know of one case. When I was in the 'Clothing Plant' in Pohlmann Street, two trucks drove up in the morning and the children of parents working in Majdanek were loaded up. The parents had been told that the children were being taken away for educational purposes.
Public prosecutor: Was the children's clothing taken away too?
Public prosecutor: How many children were there, and how old were they?
Stalp: There were little ones, one year old, and there were thirteen to fourteen-year-olds.
Public prosecutor: How were they taken to the gas chamber?
Stalp: The truck drove right up to the gas chamber. Personnel from the SD [Security Service] were present, the children were led onto the Women's Compound (Compound No. I) and ten women were brought from there who had to undress the children. Then the children were ordered to go into the chamber, they were told stories about how nice it was there; some children cried, but they didn't know that they were going to their deaths. Once they were in the chamber, an SD-man closed the door, and then gases were piped in through the square opening.
Public prosecutor: Did you see these children who had been asphyxiated in the gas chamber, and how did they look?
Stalp: Yes, I often saw inmates being brought out of the gas chamber. Their lungs had obviously burst, and there was blood coming out, but not in every case. After two days their dead bodies turned a greenish color."
Note that neither of the poisons allegedly used-carbon monoxide or hydrogen cyanide-causes the lungs to burst! Clearly the Kapo Heinz Stalp had said exactly what he was forced to say.
2. The Düsseldorf Majdanek Trial
After many years of investigation, in the course of which more than 200 people were questioned, the gloomy spectacle that has gone down in history as the "Majdanek Trial" began in Düsseldorf on November 26, 1975. The proceedings dragged on for six years and ended with a verdict on June 30, 1981. Initially, 15 former members of the camp guard staff had been charged, including six women. One of the accused, Alice Orlowski, then 73 years old, died in 1976 during the trial; another accused, Wilhelm Reinartz, was released in 1978, not being fit to be held in prison; the three former guards Rosy Süss, Charlotte Mayer and Hermine Böttcher, as well as the camp physician Heinrich Schmidt, were acquitted early, in 1979, since their innocence had been established. Of the remaining nine defendants, one-Heinrich Groffmann-was acquitted in 1981. In the other eight cases, the sentences were as follows:
- life imprisonment on two counts of joint murder of a total of at least 100 people, for the defendant Hermine Braunsteiner-Ryan;
- 12 years imprisonment on two counts of serving as joint accessory to murder of a total of at least 100 people, for the defendant Hildegard Lächert;
- 10 years imprisonment on two counts of serving as joint accessory to murder of a total of at least 141 people, for the defendant Hermann Heinrich Hackmann;
- 8 years imprisonment on five counts of serving as joint accessory to murder of a total of at least 195 people, for the defendant Emil Laurich;
- 6 years imprisonment on two counts of serving as joint accessory to murder of a total of at least 17,002 people, for the defendant Heinz Villain;
- 4 years imprisonment for serving as joint accessory to murder of 41 people, for the defendant Heinrich Petrick;
- 3 years and 6 months imprisonment for serving as joint accessory to murder of 41 people, for the defendant Arnold Strippel;
- 3 years imprisonment for serving as joint accessory to murder of at least 100 people, for the defendant Thomas Ellwanger.
The two defendants who were given the severest sentences, Hermine Braunsteiner-Ryan and Hildegard Lächert, had been accused of participating in the selection of Jewish women and children for the gas chambers; the other six were charged with participating in the execution of prisoners, particularly within the scope of the alleged mass murder of November 3, 1943.
In the following we shall quote at some length from the Düsseldorf verdict, which discussed the gassing of inmates and the number of victims of the Majdanek camp:
"The most terrible burden on the inmates, especially the Jewish people, was the selections for death by gassing. These selections had begun in late autumn 1942 and were carried out predominantly in spring and summer 1943.
From the start, the crematorium and so-called delousing facilities had been planned for the concentration camp Majdanek, but their completion was delayed considerably, as was the entire construction project. Just as the camp had initially been described as 'prisoner-of-war camp', even though it was actually designed as concentration camp, the term 'delousing facility' also served as code word. Himmler's aforementioned order of July 19, 1942, [that all Jews living in the General Government were to be concentrated in a few set zones by the end of that year] resulted in the circumstance that the camp, aside from its initial purpose of forced labor and transit camp, at times also had to function as an extermination camp, which it did with its gassing facilities.
[...] The gassing victims were Jews of all ages and various nationalities, especially mothers with children, elderly, ill and injured, as well as people appearing to be unfit or not entirely fit to work. For the most part, the camp personnel used its own judgement to decide which of the people preordained for the 'Final Solution' belonged to this group and which were to contribute their manpower to the National Socialist regime for some time yet. [...] It has not been possible to determine whether there were also isolated cases where non-Jewish inmates were included in the gassings, for example who were considered to be so-called Muslims or decrepits for reasons of their age or ill health; but it is likely that this happened, at least sometimes.
[...] The 'initial selections'-the culling of Jewish people who were considered no longer useful as 'manpower'-continued in further selections for the same purpose, carried out on the various Compounds of the protective detention camp; the SS camp jargon cynically described these selections as 'the unit bound for Heaven'. These selections were done most frequently in spring and summer 1943, at irregular intervals and in various ways. Some were carried out by a sort of 'commission' usually made up of one of the SS camp doctors and a group of other male or female members of the SS, and some by the guards of the individual compounds. The victims were Jewish people who were ill, sickly, exhausted, injured or deemed 'unfit to live' for other reasons.
The gassing always proceeded in the same way. The inmates marked for death were taken to the barrack, made to undress and then herded into one of the gas chambers. As soon as the door was closed air-tight behind them, the carbon monoxide or Zyklon B was introduced into the chamber. Both poisons caused paralysis of the respiratory organs and thus a painful death by suffocation. With carbon monoxide, which was only used in the initial phase of the gassings, death generally took a little longer than with Zyklon B. That poison, however, also did not 'take effect' immediately, only after a certain time, because the effect was dependent on the extent to which the cyanide salt broke down into its gaseous form due to the slowly rising room temperature. As soon as the SS-man in charge of supervising the gassing determined that all the victims had died, the steel doors were thrown open so that the gas could escape. Then the bodies were brought out by a special unit of inmates, loaded onto hand carts or vehicles and either taken to the old or new crematorium to be burned, or to pits or pyres prepared outside the camp in the surrounding forest.
By early 1943 at the latest, the mass selections of people to be killed by gassing were common knowledge in the Majdanek concentration camp. This resulted in the fact that instances where inmates were culled under circumstances resembling selections, but actually for other purposes-primarily for transfers to other camps-were misunderstood by many inmates as selections for the gas chambers. This goes primarily for the culling of female inmates for the aforementioned transports, between late June and late August 1943, to the concentration camps Auschwitz and Ravensbrück and to the forced labor camp Skarcysko-Kamienna. The women who were considered for these transports had to undress and submit to an 'examination' by one of the camp doctors in the presence of female SS guards in the Washing Barrack of the Women's Camp. However, unlike for 'selections for killing', which were carried out in a similar manner, the purpose here was to cull people appearing to be 'particularly fit to work', not such that were unable to work.
The evidence heard by this court has not been able to determine precisely how many people lost their lives in the concentration camp Majdanek as a result of gassing, execution and other violent means, epidemics and malnutrition, abuse and privation, and other reasons, However, this court considers a minimum of 200,000 victims, among them at least 60,000 Jewish people, to be a certainty."
The Court then went on to substantiate how it had arrived at its "findings" about homicidal gassings, selections for the gas chambers, and the number of victims. Eyewitness testimony was the only basis for these findings, and the witnesses fell into the following categories:
a) The accused themselves, as well as the four co-defendants who had already been acquitted, "insofar as they gave relevant information".
b) 75 mostly Jewish former inmates of the camp who testified at the Düsseldorf Trial.
c) 11 members of the SS who were suspected of participation in the crimes under investigation but who were not charged.
d) 6 female witnesses who were not fit to travel and were instead questioned in the United States, Canada and Australia by members of the Court.
e) 37 mostly Jewish former inmates of Majdanek who were not fit or not willing to travel, and were instead questioned in Israel, Poland, the Soviet Union and Austria by means of International Assistance in Law Enforcement, in the presence of members of the Court.
f) 23 inmates who made their testimony in the form of written depositions, and who have since died or become unfit to be questioned.
g) 18 former members of the SS or female SS guards who were not suspected of or charged with any crimes.
h) 3 German witnesses who were unfit to travel and were instead questioned in their homes.
As a fig leaf, the evidence of these witnesses was supplemented with an "expert report" by the "expert on contemporary history" Dr. Wolfgang Scheffler, and with the contents of "other documents, papers and photographs discussed in the Main Hearing, insofar as they were made part of the trial by reading or visual examination". The Court continued:
"The Court has relied primarily on the report by the expert on contemporary history for its determinations with respect to the design and construction of the camp, the purposes it was used for, the development of the inmate population and the total number of victims. The subject expert has also argued this part of his expositions and conclusions convincingly, and supported it with extensive documentary source materials; further, they are largely congruent with what other evidence has shown in this regard [...]. Where the findings respecting the physical location of the gas chambers and their technical facilities are concerned, this Court has based them on the compelling expositions of the subject expert, on the contents of the protocol of the on-site inspection of the camp conducted by means of International Assistance in Law Enforcement, and primarily on the testimonies of the witnesses Heinz Müller, Cesarski [eight more names follow].
The witness Müller is one of the few members of the SS who have not sought to hide their knowledge behind alleged ignorance, inability to remember, disinterest in camp events at the time in question, or other excuses. According to his own statements, he was initially with the Wachsturmbann from late 1941 on, and with the command staff from late 1942 to spring 1943, and has admitted that as part of his training as SDG [sanitation services assistant] he was present when a group of naked people were killed in one of the small gas chambers by piping carbon monoxide into it, and that he observed the deaths of the victims through the small window. The witnesses Cesarski, Stanisławski, Skibinska and Ostrowski unanimously confirmed the use of Zyklon B; this also follows from the protocols of the questioning of the witnesses Benden, Gröner and Rockinger, which were read into evidence."
So the verdict was based almost exclusively on eyewitness testimony. What should one make of that?
Generally speaking, we note that witness evidence is considered to be the most uncertain form of evidence, since human memory is very unreliable and easy to manipulate. In science as well as in justice under the rule of law there is a hierarchy of evidence with regard to evidential value, according to which any form of material or documentary evidence is superior to eyewitness testimony in terms of evidential value.
The French historian Jacques Baynac has aptly described the value of eyewitness testimony for historians:
"For the academic historian, an eyewitness statement does not represent real history. It is an object of history. Eyewitness testimony is not weighty evidence; and many witness testimonies are not much weightier than a single one if there is no solid documentation to support them. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that the postulate of academic historiography is: no paper(s), no established facts."
In the case of the Düsseldorf Majdanek Trial, there are additional reasons for treating the eyewitness testimony with utmost suspicion:
- The events that were the subject of the trial had happened more than thirty years earlier. Under these circumstances eyewitness testimony must be considered almost worthless, since human powers of recollection tend not to improve over time.
- There was probably not one of the witnesses that had not spent the years since liberation constantly exposed to stories, both heard and read, of gas chambers and mass murders in the National Socialist concentration camps. Under these conditions one had to expect that the witnesses would begin to confuse what they themselves had experienced with what they had merely heard or read.
- Former inmates of Majdanek perforce felt anger and hatred for their former oppressors. No one enjoys being deprived of his freedom, and the conditions in the Lublin camp were beneath all human dignity, which the extremely high mortality rate already shows. Further, it is certainly conceivable that at least some of the accused had tormented and harassed the inmates. Under these circumstances, the temptation would have been irresistible for most of the witnesses to expose not only any real misdeeds the SS-men might have committed, but also to impute to them other, far worse crimes, especially since they had nothing whatsoever to fear even if they were caught committing perjury.
- At the time of the Düsseldorf Majdanek Trial, it had already become well-known that some other German atrocities that had also been 'proven' by eyewitness testimony were in fact fabrications of Allied atrocity propaganda. One example of this is the allegation that the Germans had committed the mass murder of Katyn, which the Soviet perpetrators had blamed on the vanquished Germans. German officers were incriminated in the Soviet courts by eyewitnesses and then hanged as the murderers of Katyn. Even though the Soviet Union did not admit its guilt until Gorbachev's time, the west, and thus the Federal Republic of Germany, knew from the start that the Soviets were responsible for that massacre of Polish officers and that therefore the witnesses drummed up by the Soviet justice system had been lying.
It was equally well known at that time that there had never been any homicidal gassings in Dachau and other western concentration camps, even though 'proof' of such gassings had been obtained right after the war in the form of eyewitness testimony. For example, the Dachau camp physician Dr. Franz Blaha testified under oath at the Nuremberg Trial that he had performed autopsies on the bodies of gassing victims in that camp. But ever since Martin Broszat, then a staff member and later the Chief of the Munich Institute for Contemporary History, had determined in 1960 that no Jews or other inmates had been gassed in Dachau (or in other western camps), even the orthodox historians, i.e., those supporting the theory of extermination, considered the gas chambers of Dachau, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen etc. as finished. Thus, the witnesses had also lied in these cases. The Düsseldorf court should have borne all this in mind rather than putting blind faith in its witness testimony, for why should eyewitness testimony about gassings in Majdanek be more credible, a priori, than eyewitness testimony about gassings in Dachau?
Now the reader may object that even SS-men corroborated the gas chamber murders to the Court-namely, the four acquitted co-defendants, members of the SS who were first suspected but ultimately not charged, and finally, some that had never even been suspected.
We would point out first of all that an outsider has no way of checking the court's claims; we do not know what exactly the SS guards in question said in their testimony, since the trial transcripts are not available to the public. If the members of the SS should actually have testified to the reality of the homicidal gassings, one cannot help but suspect that they bought their early acquittals or their dispensation from criminal charges with this testimony that was so desirable to the Federal German justice system. After all, it was the one with the power to decide which former Majdanek guards would end up in the prisoner's dock and which would not. If the judiciary had been determined to charge and imprison this or that former guard, it was surely not difficult to obtain the desired incriminating eyewitness testimony. The judiciary was not short of means for exerting pressure, as it were, to produce the desired statements.
In this context, the case of SS-man Heinz Müller is quite revealing; as the reader will recall, the court had praised him for being "one of the few members of the SS who have not sought to hide their knowledge behind alleged ignorance, inability to remember, disinterest in camp events at the time in question, or other excuses." He confessed having attended the gassings with carbon monoxide, thus finally furnishing some evidence for murders committed with this poison: even though the official subject literature unanimously alleges this killing method, we have failed to find even one other witness statement to this effect.
Heinz Müller was well rewarded for his cooperation: he never made personal acquaintance with the prisoner's dock.
The court itself involuntarily furnished a striking proof of the unreliable nature of eyewitness testimony by stating that "many inmates" had misinterpreted "instances where inmates were culled under circumstances resembling selections [...] but actually for other purposes, primarily for transfers to other camps". It obviously never occurred to the Court that with this comment it was declaring all eyewitness testimony about "selections for the gas chambers" to be worthless, since every culling "under circumstances resembling selections" could actually have been done for purposes of transfers to other camps (or assignment to a labor unit) and been misconstrued by inmates as a selection for the gas chambers.
Obviously the Federal German justice system did not try for even a second to obtain documentary or material evidence for the alleged homicidal gassings at issue in the Majdanek Trial (not unlike National Socialist trials of similar nature). One example of its utter ignorance of documentary evidence is its claim that the term "delousing facility" was only a code word with which the homicidal facilities were disguised. If the court had taken the trouble to study the surviving German documents, it would have found the descriptions of the plague of lice in the camp, as well as the construction plans for the delousing facilities. And the delousing operations are also mentioned in the eyewitness reports which the court set such great store by in other respects.
The picture of Majdanek as a site of planned extermination of human beings, which the Düsseldorf court painted, is not supported by so much as one documentary proof. It is something that could not be disguised even with numerous references to the "expert on contemporary history", Scheffler, who was said to have supported his findings about the camp's purpose and the total number of victims "with extensive documentary source materials". The court wisely kept silent about what materials these might have been. And since these "extensive documentary source materials" simply do not exist, even Herr Scheffler could not use them to prove either the mass extermination or the alleged minimum of 200,000 victims.
The Court did not even try to come up with a basis for this completely fictional figure. The reference to the eyewitnesses was a particularly pathetic argument here, for even if the gassings had actually taken place, the witnesses could have been present only at individual murder operations at best, and could not possibly have known the total number of the camps' victims. To determine this number, the first requirement would have been to find out the total number of inmates deported to Majdanek; so the court would first of all have had to try to locate the transport lists. But nothing of the sort was done.
The Court even depended on the "compelling expositions of the subject expert" with regard to the "physical location of the gas chambers" and their "technical facilities". While it is alleged that an "on-site inspection of the camp" was done with "International Assistance in Law Enforcement", this inspection cannot have been very thorough. Otherwise the inspectors would at least have noticed that one of the "homicidal gas chambers" has a window, which the victims would immediately have smashed.
One thing that is a matter of course in any nonpolitical murder trial, namely, an expert report on the murder weapon, was obviously deemed superfluous by the Düsseldorf court in a case prosecuting such a spectacular and horrific crime as the alleged mass gassings.
An expert report on the "murder weapon" (meaning, in this case, the rooms described as "gas chambers" as well as the two poisons allegedly used) would have shaken the foundations of the eyewitness accounts about gassings. That, however, was not the purpose of the trial, and therefore such an expert report was omitted and the "expert on contemporary history" Scheffler was consulted instead of a chemist or a toxicologist.
Unfortunately the defense missed its opportunity to take up this point and insist on an expert report about the "murder weapon". Obviously, just as in similar National Socialist trials, the defense attorneys chose to bow to opportunistic considerations and preferred not to question the image of the "extermination camp", insisting instead merely on their clients' personal innocence.
Just as for the alleged gassings, the Court was also satisfied with eyewitness testimony where the alleged mass execution of November 3, 1943, was concerned, and it accepted these testimonies without question.
Aside from the mandatory "expert on contemporary history", Scheffler, the following witnesses are cited in the Court's verdict to prove the massacre of November 3, 1943:
- 24 former inmates of Majdanek;
- the defendants Groffmann and Villain (of whom the former was then acquitted and the latter got away with a sentence that was mild relative to the charge);
- 13 members of the SS who were suspected of complicity but never charged;
- former co-defendant Hermine Böttcher, who had been acquitted;
- 4 German witnesses who were unable to travel and made written depositions instead;
- 5 Polish and Soviet witnesses who were unable or unwilling to travel and made written depositions instead;
- 13 witnesses who had since died-including Erich Mußfeldt(!).
One of the witnesses for the prosecution who was suspected but not charged was the SS-man Georg Werk. With reference to him, the verdict states:
"According to his statements, the witness Werk was posted to the office in Lublin at that time, and had been detailed to the execution squad, but claims that he did not participate in the shooting but only 'watched' because-(in his own words) 'luckily' his submachine gun malfunctioned. The latter is anything but believable; but the Court has absolutely no doubt that the rest of his testimony is truthful, especially with regard to how the witnesses had to lie down on top of each other like roofing tiles, to be killed with shots to the back of the head or in the neck."
It doesn't take much of an imagination to picture how the Court probably bought this witness's incriminating statement: in return for the desired description of the mass murder, Georg Werk was exempted from criminal charges, even though the Court considered his excuse, the malfunctioning submachine gun, to be unbelievable and he would therefore logically have to have been charged as accessory to murder, and convicted. SS-man Erich Laurich, on the other hand, who categorically denied any involvement in the executions, was "exposed" by the testimony of the witness Zacheusz Pawlak, and sentenced to eight years in prison.
One of the most revealing sections of the verdict is that about the witness Stanisław Chwiejczak. He incriminated the defendant Heinz Villain (who was charged with participation in the alleged mass execution of November 3, 1943) by testifying that on that day, Villain and another SS-man had received some object of value from a Jew destined to be shot; the latter had retrieved his valuable from a hiding place to try to buy his life with it, but then Villain had led the Jew off to the execution ditch after all. The Court considered Chwiejczak's statement to be unbelievable, for the following reason:
"Where [...] the witness Chwiejczak is concerned, under questioning in the Main Hearing on September 17-18, 1980, he identified the defendant Villain as one of the two SS-men who had accompanied the Jewish inmate to his hiding place; the witness Pych had stated the same. However, as the witness Chwiejczak admitted, this claim is exactly the opposite of that which he stated in this context some 10 months earlier, at his hearing on November 6, 1979, in Warsaw in the presence of members of the Court, where he had stated that the defendant Villain was not involved in this incident. The reason which the witness gave for this contradiction-namely, that after his questioning in Warsaw he had thought about it and remembered that the defendant Villain had been present-may be true; however, the Court is not convinced of this, since there are several indications to suggest that in the time between his questioning in Warsaw and his appearance at the Main Hearing the witness has attempted to 'refresh' his memory not only by 'thinking' but also by obtaining information from outside sources."
Evidently it did not occur to the Court that S. Chwiejczak may not have been the only witness to make use of their time and opportunity to "'refresh'" their "memory [...] by obtaining information from outside sources".
The possibility that one or the other of those accused in Düsseldorf may have been guilty of abusing inmates, or even of murder, cannot be ruled out. More than three decades after war's end, it was impossible to bring evidence and to conduct an inquiry perfectly and in complete accordance with the principles of a state under rule of law. And in any case, such individual crimes would not have contributed anything decisive to the three central issues: whether there were homicidal gas chambers in Majdanek; whether a minimum of 17,000 Jews were shot there on November 3, 1943; and whether at least 200,000 people really died in the Lublin camp.
The irrefutable conclusion can only be that the Majdanek Trial was a political show trial in which the guilt or innocence of the accused was really irrelevant and which actually only served to cement the image of the "extermination camp" with a court verdict, a valuable contribution to the reeducation of the German people.
That the Poles, four months after the liberation of Majdanek, would stage a show trial of members of an enemy nation that still occupied part of their country is something one can understand. But that the Federal Republic of Germany, more than three decades after the end of the war, carried out a trial that disregarded such elementary juridical norms as the subordination of witness testimony to material and documentary evidence is something that cannot be justified. At best there may be mitigating circumstances.
One of the mitigating circumstances one must probably grant the Düsseldorf judges is that they were under extreme pressure from domestic and foreign media, antifascist organizations, foreign governments, particularly the Israeli and the Polish, and most likely also from the Federal German government. Even the early acquittal of some of the accused had prompted a flood of protests. The Court pronounced some of the defendants guilty because it had to pronounce them guilty, and convicted them because it had to convict them. The sentences were then promptly criticized as being too lenient, both at home and abroad. Under such conditions an independent dispensation of justice was hardly possible.
While the state of evidence for the alleged 200,000+ victims of Majdanek, the homicidal gassings in Majdanek, and the massacre of November 1943 has not improved even with the Düsseldorf Trial, those with a vested interest in preserving and maintaining the official version of history can claim, ever since this trial, that these mass crimes have been "judicially noted" as fact and therefore no longer need to be proved. As per their self-perception, the German historians, beginning with the fantastic "expert on contemporary history" Wolfgang Scheffler, will probably continue to take this as a dispensation from responsibility to conduct some serious academic and scientific research about this camp.
As a mere footnote, it should be noted that the verdict of the Düsseldorf court contradicts a statements, which can be found in the verdict of another German court passed in 1950 in Berlin. During this trial, several defendants were accused of having committed atrocities and mass murder in the Sobibor camp. Regarding Majdanek the verdict says:
»Transport from Maidanek [sic]. For the purpose of being gassed, a transport of Jewish inmates of about 15,000 men arrived at one time from the Maidanek camp, which did not posses gassing facilities. Because the gassing facility in the Sobibor camp was out of order at that time [...]«
Thus, there were no homicidal gas chambers in Majdanek according to this verdict!
|||Regarding these trials, see Czesław Pilichowski, op. cit. (note 61), pp. 423-436.|
|||Sentencja wyroku, op. cit., (note 198) pp. 99f.|
|||Indictment of Hermann Vogel et al., op. cit. (note 3), p. 51.|
|||Ibid., pp. 50f.|
|||Majdanek. Rozprawa przed specyalnym sądem karnym w Lublinie (Majdanek. Proceedings of the Special Court in Lublin), Cracow: Spółdzielnia Wydawnicza 'Czytelnik', 1945, p. 6.|
|||Ibid., pp. 79f.|
|||Ibid., p. 40.|
|||Ibid., pp. 27f.|
|||C. Pilichowski, op. cit. (note 61), pp. 432-434.|
|||District Court Düsseldorf, op. cit. (note 55). The sentences and Reasons for Sentence are given on pages 778-795.|
|||Ibid., pp. 86-90.|
|||Ibid., pp. 97-101.|
|||E. Schneider, Beweis und Beweiswürdigung, Munich: F. Vahlen, 1987, pp. 188, 304; quoted as per M. Köhler, "The Value of Testimony and Confessions Concerning the Holocaust", in: Germar Rudolf (ed.), op. cit. (note 142), pp. 85-132.|
|||Le Nouveau Quotidien, Lausanne, Sept. 3, 1997.|
|||IMT, vol. VII, p. 425.|
|||Franz Kadell, Die Katyn-Lüge, Munich: Herbig, 1990.|
|||IMT, vol. V, p. 172.|
|||Die Zeit, Aug. 19, 1960.|
|||District Court Düsseldorf, op. cit. (note 55), v. II, p. 486.|
|||Ibid., v. II, p. 510.|
|||Ibid., v. II, p. 492.|
|||C. Pilichowski, op. cit. (note 61), p. 435.|
|||District Court Berlin, Verdict of May 8, 1950, Ref. PKs 3/50; Chamber Court Berlin, Verdict of Nov. 11, 1950, Ref. 1 Ss 201/50; reproduced in: Fritz Bauer, Karl Dietrich Bracher, Ch. J. Enschedé et al. (eds.), Justiz und NS-Verbrechen. Sammlung deutscher Strafurteile wegen nationalsozialistischer Tötungsverbrechen 1945-1966, vol. 7, Amsterdam: University Press Amsterdam, 1971, p. 547.|
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