Monday, May 29, 2023

On the SS judge Konrad Morgen's Monowitz confusion

During the Nuremberg trial on 08.08.1946 the former SS judge Dr. Konrad Morgen testified:
MORGEN: Yesterday I described the four camps of the Kriminalkommissar Wirth and referred to the Camp Auschwitz. By "Extermination Camp Auschwitz" I did not mean the concentration camp. It did not exist there. I meant a separate extermination camp near Auschwitz, called "Monowitz."
MORGEN: The prisoners who marched off to the concentration camp had no inkling of where the other prisoners were taken. The Extermination Camp Monowitz lay far away from the concentration camp. It was situated on an extensive industrial site and was not recognizable as such and everywhere on the horizon there were smoking chimneys. The camp itself was guarded on the outside by special troops of men from the Baltic, Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, and also Ukrainians. The entire technical arrangement was almost exclusively in the hands of the prisoners who were assigned for this job and they were only supervised each time by an Unterfuehrer. The actual killing was done by another Unterfuehrer who let the gas into this room. Thus the number of those who knew about these things was extremely limited. This circle had to take a special oath...
Etc. Holocaust deniers have naturally carped on this ever since, given that the extermination camp was actually called Birkenau, so Morgen must have been coerced or was lying for another reason.

However, it follows from the 1944 protocol of interrogation by Morgen of the Auschwitz inmate Eleonore Hodys that Morgen knew that the extermination camp was Birkenau:
While there the civilian employee, Dr. Gobel, of the Glauberg station, gave the order that I shall have to be sent to Birkenau for gas.
Moreover, Morgen corrected the record at least twice afterwards.

In the interrogation of 04.09.1946 (NARA, RG 238, M1019, roll 47), he still repeated the Monowitz version:
This extermination camp was near Monowitz [bei Monowitz], therefore it was spatially separated from the actual concentration camp [i. e. Auschwitz 1 - SR].
But when confronted with this claim on 13.12.1946 (ibid.) he reacted:
That's a mistake. It occurred to me later: it was not Monowitz, but Birkenau, camp II.
Q.: Did you perhaps see the Monowitz camp?
A.: I cannot remember it consciously. The Auschwitz camp is so huge and I was so impressed by the Birkenau camp that I don't remember details. 
Q.: Was there an I.G.Farben plant in Auschwitz?
A.: Yes. That was the so-called Bunawerk. The investigation I conducted there into the whole gassing affair, some threads went to Monowitz to these Buna plants. What that was, however, I no longer know. In any case, it had nothing to do with the [...] [? "Versuchungen" - temptations, untranslatable in this context; possibly distorted "Versuchen" - experiments; another option is the confusion with "Verschiebungen", referring to misappropriations of property - SR] in Birkenau.
A bit later a following exchange took place:
Q: Do you know where Monowitz was?
A: To my recollection east of the main Auschwitz camp.
Q: From your investigations in Auschwitz, do you know whether the entire population around Auschwitz and all the people who lived around Auschwitz knew that gassings were taking place in the concentration camp?
A: I don't think so. This Birkenau camp was located in such a way that one could not even think about it. It was adapted to the whole industrial landscape. These gassing houses, including the crematoria and the undressing and bathing rooms, were set one story deep into the ground, so that the building did not appear to be as large as it actually was. The chimneys were extraordinarily massive and wide, and the smoke emission was low. By the way, everywhere was a scattered industrial area. There were open fields in between, so that one had no clue at all from these facilities as an outsider, which terrible happening took place there.
This shows that Morgen ascribed the industrial landscape to the whole camp, including Birkenau, which explains his description at the IMT.

During the Pohl trial the following exchange took place on 22.08.1947:
BY DR. SEIDL (For Defendant Oswald Pohl):

Q Witness, you testified that the extermination camp at Auschwitz was the camp of Birkenau. Now, I can recall that you testified already before the International Military Tribunal that the extermination camp of Auschwitz was the camp of Monowitz. May I assume at the time when you gave your testimony before the I. M. T. it was a mistake?

A It was a mistake on my part. When I say Monowitz I mean Birkenau.
During the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial Morgen testified at length about his visit to Birkenau on 09.03.1964. Given the nature of the West-German investigation and trial proceedings, where no coercion has ever been established, Morgen could have easily said the truth, had he indeed been coerced during the IMT.

Moreover, his testimony was confirmed on 01.10.1964 by Gerhard Wiebeck, who had been investigating Auschwitz together with Morgen.

And further confirmation comes from Helmuth Reimers in his interrogation on 06.06.1961 (during the preparation to the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial). He served in the so-called Criminal Police (Kripo) and around Nov. 1943 he was given the task of investigating the misappropriation of the Jewish property by the SS in the camps. He remained in Auschwitz (according to him) until Jan. 1944 and was able to visit the crematoria with their ovens and gas chambers. He had to report to Morgen, and although he says that Morgen did not visit the gas chambers together with him, obviously him knowing in some detail about the extermination specifically in Birkenau automatically means that his boss, Morgen, also knew.

I'm publishing long excerpts and a translation of the testimony here (HHStAW 461/37638/52, Bl. 9129-9136).



(A couple of brief comments: the doors he saw could have been iron-reinforced wooden doors, misremembered or misinterpreted as iron doors; on the other hand at that time the Birkenau Kremas 2 and 3 had their gas chambers divided into two parts, so the description of the usage of two shafts is correct - and we don't really know how the inner door in the dividing wall looked like, it could as well have been an iron one, after all not all doors had to have the same construction; how corpses looked like after gassings differed from one time to another and no visible skin discoloration was likely a short time after the gassing as described here.)

Some mainstream authors put forth the hypothesis that Morgen intentionally confused things in order to defend the SS. But this explanation makes no sense whatsoever - surely Morgen knew that almost any other Auschwitz-related witness could destroy his testimony, had that been the case.

The best explanation therefore is that Morgen's mention of Birkenau was a memory aberration. How did it happen? 

During the interrogation on 13.12.1946 (NARA, RG 238, M1019, roll 47) Morgen said concerning another matter:
I handled 800 cases in one year and it was such a workload, I can't remember those details.
Had Auschwitz been his only case, the confusion would have been strange. But with hundreds of cases such mistakes are no longer improbable.


  1. Is there any truth to Morgen's claim that he was tortured into testifying about human lampshades?

    1. *attempting to testify, that is

    2. Allegedly he claimed coercion, not torture:

      Refused to testify at IMT that Frau Ilse Koch made lampshades -- "The Americans almost killed me for it... They threatened three times to turn me over to the Russians or French or Poles and had started to transfer me."
      Notably, he did testify about some sort of a human lampshade allegedly shown to him, I link to this hearsay in my lampshades article. This cannot be the coerced testimony though since he says he refused. That in those years some Western Allies used improper methods is plausible. But it didn't work on Morgen. Which confirms btw that his Monowitz testimony was not coerced.

    3. ok, thanks for clearing that up


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