Tuesday, October 25, 2011

«What is Katyn against that?»

The blog Thomas Kues on Maly Trostenets: Lying about a German Court Judgment includes a partial translation of a file note written on 20 July 1943 by SS-Obersturmbannführer Eduard Strauch, in which Strauch reports about a confrontation he had with Wilhelm Kube, the Generalkommissar for the part of the Nazi-occupied Soviet territories known as White Ruthenia, following the execution of 70 Jews employed by the Generalkommissar.



Strauch bitterly complained about certain utterances of Kube’s in the course of this discussion:

I [added that I] could again and again see that my men and I are accused of barbarism and sadism. Even the fact that Jews meant for special treatment have their gold tooth fillings removed in an orderly manner by specialist doctors had been made the subject of conversations. Kube replied that the manner of our proceeding was unworthy of a German person and of the Germany of Kant and Goethe. If Germany’s reputation throughout the world was being undermined, this was alone our fault. Apart from that it was also correct that my men got a downright hard-on with these executions (dass meine Männer sich an diesen Exekutionen geradezu aufgeilen würden). I protested energetically against this depiction and emphasized that it was deplorable that we, on top of this nasty work, also had dirt poured upon us.


The procedure mentioned in the second sentence of the above quote, in which "Jews meant for special treatment have their gold tooth fillings removed in an orderly manner by specialist doctors", was considered by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal to be connected with the execution that unleashed this discussion. In the judgment against Eduard Strauch at the Nuremberg Einsatzgruppen Trial, the court wrote the following:

On 20 July 1943 he wrote a letter narrating how he had subjected 70 Jews to special treatment and expressing his resentment because complaint had arisen from the fact that he had had the gold fillings removed from the mouths of these Jews before they were killed.


This was an obvious misunderstanding of Strauch’s file note. The confrontation with Kube narrated therein happened little more than three hours after the execution of Kube’s 70 "domestic" Jews and can thus not have been made "the subject of conversations" by Kube, moreover with Strauch’s learning about these "conversations", at that time already. These is also no other evidence suggesting that the Jews executed on 20 July 1943 had their teeth extracted prior to the execution. Strauch’s remark clearly referred to earlier events.

The occurrences likeliest to be the ones that Strauch was referring to are mentioned in the correspondence introduced at the Nuremberg Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal as Document 135-R, IMT Vol. XXXVIII, pp. 371-375 (pp. 371, 372, 373, 374, 375). Document 135-R is a letter dated 18 June 1943 by Hinrich Lohse, Reichskommissar für das Ostland (Reich Commissioner for the Eastern Lands), to Alfred Rosenberg, Reichsminister für die besetzten Ostgebiete (Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories). Attached to this letter are
- a letter of Kube’s to Lohse dated 1 June 1943, forwarding a report to Kube about "actions against Jews" (Judenaktionen) by Minsk court prison director (Strafanstaltsverwalter) Günther dated 31.5.1943, and
- a letter sent by Kube through Lohse to Rosenberg dated 5 June 1943, about the preliminary results of police operation "Cottbus" in the period from 22 June to 3 July 1943.

Translations from these documents hereafter are mine, as are emphases in the translations.

Prison director Günther reported about the following:

On 13 April 1943 the German former dentist Ernst Israel Tichauer and his wife Elisa Sara Tichauer née Rosenthal were turned in by the Security Service (Hauptscharführer Rübe) to the court prison. Since that time the German and Russian Jews taken in have had their golden bridges, tooth crowns and tooth fillings pulled or broken out. This always happens 1 – 2 hours before the corresponding action.
Since 13 April 1943, 516 German and Russian Jews have been finished off. According to precise ascertainment, however, gold objects were only removed in two actions, on 14.4.43 with 172 and on 27.4.43 with 164 Jews. About 50 % of the Jews had golden teeth, bridges or fillings. Hauptscharführer Rübe of the Security Service was present each time and also took the gold objects with him. Before 13 April this had not been done.


Thanks to this report we know the names of the "specialist doctors" mentioned in Strauch’s file note of 20 July 1943, whose work – removing gold teeth "in an orderly manner" (Strauch) prior to their owner’s execution - Strauch considered nothing worth mentioning, whereas he saw it as a scandal that this "orderly" procedure had been made "the subject of conversations" by Kube. Said "conversations" obviously took place at a higher level, for Lohse, in his letter to Rosenberg dated 18 June 1943, expressed the following concern about the contents of the above-quoted report:

The fact that Jews receive special treatment requires no further discussion. However, it appears hardly believable that in this context things happen such as are mentioned in the Generalkommissar's report of 1 June 1943. What is Katyn against that? Imagine only that these occurrences would become known to the other side and be exploited by them! Most likely such propaganda would have no effect only because people who hear and read about it simply would not be ready to believe it.


Lohse obviously did not share Strauch’s assessment of the "orderly" procedure described by prison director Günther.

Besides certain particularities of the Jews’ "special treatment", Lohse was also concerned with the wholesale massacre of non-Jewish civilians in the course of anti-partisan operations – or at least with certain particularities thereof. In his report of 5 June 1943, Kube had rendered the preliminary results of operation "Cottbus" transmitted to him by SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei von Gottberg, and commented these figures as follows:

The mentioned numbers show that one can again expect an extensive destruction of the population. If only 492 rifles are taken from 4,500 enemy dead, this discrepancy shows that among these enemy dead were numerous peasants from the country. The Battalion Dirlewanger especially has a reputation for destroying many human lives. Among the 5,000 people suspected of belonging to bands, there were numerous women and children.


Based on Kube’s report and what had othewise come to his knowledge, Lohse expressed the following concerns to Rosenberg:

Also the fight against the bandits it taking forms that give reason for much concern if pacification and exploitation of the various regions is the goal of our policy. Thus the dead banditry suspects, which according to the report dd. 5.6.43 from Operation "Cottbus" number 5,000, could in my opinion with few exceptions have been used for labor service in the Reich.
It shall not be denied that due to communication difficulties and generally in such mopping-up operations it is very hard to tell friend from foe. But it should nevertheless be possible to avoid cruelties and to bury those liquidated. To lock men, women, and children into barns and to set fire to them does not appear to be a suitable method of combating bands, even if it is desired to exterminate the population. This method is not worthy of the German cause and hurts our reputation severely.


Operation "Cottbus" was the most murderous of the many major anti-partisan operation carried out by the German occupiers in present-day Belarus. In his book Kalkulierte Morde, German historian Christian Gerlach wrote the following:

The operation [Cottbus], which began on 20 May 1943, became the most horrible of all extermination campaigns. Numerous villages were depopulated and burned down, especially by the SS Special Battalion Dirlewanger in the southern area, 13 with 1,419 inhabitants in the Saslawl rayon alone, strictly speaking outside the target area of the operation, and 26 in the rayons Pleshtenizy and Begoml together. Bach-Zelewski proudly sent a special report to Himmler, who promoted him already during the operation and congratulated v. Gottberg. The officially communicated result of the operation was that about 9,800 people had been murdered (killed in battle: 6,087; liquidated: 3,709) 4,997 men, but only 1,056 women, had been collected as labor force, and as the only alternative thereto was being shot, the overwhelming majority of the dead were thus women and children. Although there was some tough fighting during the operation, the about 1,000 captured rifles, machine pistols and machine guns indicate that actually and as usual 90 percent of those killed had been unarmed civilians. These included 2 3,000 local inhabitants who, as Bach-Zelewski put it, had been blown up clearing mines and were not included in the number 9,800. Yet it seems that these figures not even reflect the whole reality. The number of dead communicated on the German radio (apparently the country station Minsk) seems to have been 15,000. But the Einsatzgruppe Dirlewanger alone reported as enemy losses: about 14,000 dead, 13 prisoners. Taking into consideration that there were also two other combat groups in the operation which also left a bloody trail and that Dirlewangers report did not refer to the whole period of Operation Cottbus, the actual number of people murdered during this operation is likely to have been more than 20,000.


One example of the procedure that so troubled the sensitive Mr. Lohse (because it "is not worthy of the German cause and hurts our reputation severely"), the burning alive of men, women and children during the wiping-out of villages, is the subject of the 1985 Soviet film Come and See, one of the best war movies ever made. Stills from documentary footage showing the aftermath of another such operation, against the Belarusan village of Pekalino, are included in the blog The Atrocities committed by German-Fascists in the USSR (2).

Also of interest in this context, in that it shows to what extent the attitude that becomes apparent from the above quotes survived in a participant's mind decades later, is an interview with former German officer Peter von der Groeben, included in the BBC documentary War of the Century.

The Jewish dentists mentioned in prison director Günther's report of 31 May 1943 are also mentioned in the German Federal Archives' database pertaining to the Gedenkbuch Opfer der Verfolgung der Juden unter der nationalsozialistischen Gewaltherrschaft in Deutschland 1933-1945, the memorial book for victims of the persecution of the Jews in Germany under National Socialist rule between 1939 and 1945. Ernst Tichauer was born on 8 October 1888 in what today is Toruń, Poland, then Thorn, West Prussia. He lived in Hamburg and was deported from there to the Minsk ghetto on 8 November 1941. His wife Elisa, deported to Minsk on the same day as her husband, is listed in the database as Elly Tichauer née Rosenthal, born in Berlin on 6 November 1887.

1 comment:

Jonathan Harrison said...

R-135 mentions that Rübe was present at the prison actions. It is thus worth noting that Rübe was convicted in West Germany within 6 years of the war's end:

Verfahren Lfd.Nr.298
Tatkomplex: NS-Gewaltverbrechen in Haftstätten
Angeklagte:
Rübe, Adolf lebenslänglich + 15 Jahre
Gerichtsentscheidungen:
LG Karlsruhe 511107
LG Karlsruhe 491215
OLG Stuttgart 510629
BGH 520718
Tatland: Weissrussland
Tatort: Minsk
Tatzeit: 42-43
Opfer: Juden
Nationalität: Sowjetische, Deutsche
Dienststelle: Polizei Kripo Minsk
Verfahrensgegenstand: Einzeltötungen von Männern, Frauen und Kindern des Minsker Ghettos auf Befehl wie auf eigenen Entschluss. Ferner Teilnahme an der Massentötung deutscher und sowjetischer Juden durch Erschiessen und Vergasen in einem 'Gaswagen'

Veröffentlicht in Justiz und NS-Verbrechen Band IX