The first defense in this project is the doctine of superior orders. Here is the discussion of the issue from the jugment in the Einsatzgruppen trial. The full text of the judgment can be seen at:
Those of the defendants who admit participation in the mass killings which are the subject of this trial, plead that they were under military orders and, therefore, had no will of their own. As intent is a basic prerequisite to responsibility for crime, they argue that they are innocent of criminality since they performed the admitted executions under duress, that is to say, superior orders. The defendants formed part of a military organization and were, therefore, subject to the rules which govern soldiers. It is axiomatic that a military man's first duty is to obey. If the defendants were soldiers and as soldiers responded to the command of their superiors to kill certain people, how can they be held guilty of crime? This is the question posed by the defendants. The answer is not a difficult one.
The obedience of a soldier is not the obedience of an automaton. A soldier is a reasoning agent. He does not respond, and is not expected to respond, like a piece of machinery. It is a fallacy of wide-spread consumption that a soldier is required to do everything his superior officer orders him to do. A very simple illustration will show to what absurd extreme such a theory could be carried. If every military person were required, regardless of the nature of the command, to obey unconditionally, a sergeant could order the corporal to shoot the lieutenant, the lieutenant could order the sergeant to shoot the captain, the captain could order the lieutenant to shoot the colonel, and in each instance the executioner would be absolved of blame. The mere statement of such a proposition is its own commentary. The fact that a soldier may not, without incurring unfavorable consequences, refuse to drill, salute, exercise, reconnoiter, and even go into battle, does not mean that he must fulfill every demand put to him. In the first place, an order to require obedience must relate to military duty. An officer may not demand of a soldier, for instance, that he steal for him. And what the superior officer may not militarily demand of his subordinate, the subordinate is not required to do. Even if the order refers to a military subject it must be one which the superior is authorized, under the circumstances, to give.
The subordinate is bound only to obey the lawful orders of his superior and if he accepts a criminal order and executes it with a malice of his own, he may not plead superior orders in mitigation of his offense. If the nature of the ordered act is manifestly beyond the scope of the superior's authority, the subordinate may not plead ignorance to the criminality of the order. If one claims duress in the execution of an illegal order it must be shown that the harm caused by obeying the illegal order is not disproportionally greater than the harm which would result from not obeying the illegal order. It would not be an adequate excuse, for example, if a subordinate, under orders, killed a person known to be innocent, because by not obeying it he himself would risk a few days of confinement. Nor if one acts under duress, may he, without culpability, commit the illegal act once the duress ceases.
The International Military Tribunal, in speaking of the principle to be applied in the interpretation of criminal superior orders, declared that:"The true test, which is found in varying degrees in the criminal law of most nations, is not the existence of the order, but whether moral choice was in fact possible."
The Prussian Military Code, as far back as 1845, recognized this principle of moral choice when it stated that a subordinate would be punished if, in the execution of an order, he went beyond its scope or if he executed an order knowing that it "related to an act which obviously aimed at a crime".
This provision was copied into the Military Penal Code of the Kingdom of Saxony in 1867, and of Baden in 1870. Continuing and even extending the doctrine of conditional obedience, the Bavarian Military Penal Code of 1869 went so far as to establish the responsibility of the subordinate as the rule, and his irresponsibility as the exception.
The Military Penal Code of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy of 1855 provided:Article 158. "A subordinate who does not carry out an order is not guilty of a violation of his duty of subordination if (a) the order is obviously contrary to loyalty due to the Prince of the Land; (b) if the order pertains to an act or omission in which evidently a crime or an offense is to be recognized."
In 1872 Bismarck attempted to delimit subordinate responsibility by legislation, but the Reichstag rejected his proposal and instead adopted the following as Article 47 of the German Military Penal Code:Article 47. "If through the execution of an order pertaining to the service, a penal law is violated, then the superior giving the order is alone responsible. However, the obeying subordinate shall be punished as accomplice (1) if he went beyond the order given to him, or (2) if he knew that the order of the superior concerned an act which aimed at a civil or military crime or offense."
This law was never changed, except to broaden its scope by changing the word "civil" to "general", and as late as 1940 one of the leading commentators of the Nazi period, Professor Schwinge wrote:"Hence, in military life, just as in other fields, the principle of absolute, i.e., blind obedience, does not exist."
Yet, one of the most generally quoted statements on this subject is that a German soldier must obey orders though the heavens fall. The statement has become legendary. The facts prove that it is a myth.
When defendant Seibert was on the stand, his attorney asked him:"Witness, do you remember a proverb said by a German Kaiser concerning the carrying out of orders by soldiers?"
And the defendant replied:"I do not know whether it was William I or William II, but certainly one Kaiser emperor used the expression, 'If the military situation or the entire situation makes it necessary a soldier has to carry out an order, even if he has to shoot his own parents'."
The defendant was then asked whether, in the event he received such an order, he would execute it. To the surprise of everybody he replied that he did not know. He declined to answer until he should have time to consider the problem. The Tribunal allowed him until the next morning to deliberate, and then the following ensued:Then, in summing up, the witness was asked:"Q. Now, if in accordance with this declaration by the Chief of State of the German empire at the time, the military situation made it necessary for you--after receiving an order--to shoot your own parents, would you do so?
"A. I would not do so.
"Q. Then there are some orders which are issued by the Chief of State which may be disobeyed?
"A. I did not regard this as an order by the Chief of State but as a symbolic example towards the whole soldiery how far obedience had to go, but never actually asking a son to shoot his own parents. I imagine it only as follows, your Honor: if I am an artillery officer in the war and I have to fire at a very important sector, which is decisive for the whole military situation and I received the order to fire at a certain village and I know that in this village my parents are living, then I would have to shoot at this village. This is the only way in which I can imagine this order, but never--it is inhuman--to ask a son to shoot his parents.
"Q. So, therefore, if you received such an order coming down the line, you would disincline to obey it? You would not obey it?
"A. I would not have obeyed such an order.
"Q. Suppose the order came down for you to shoot the parents of someone else, let us say, a Jew and his wife. And in your view you saw the children of these parents. Now it is established beyond any doubt that this Jewish father and Jewish mother have not committed any crime--absolutely guiltless, blemishless. The only thing that is established is that they are Jews. And you have this order coming down the line to shoot them. The children are standing by and they implore you not to shoot their parents. Would you shoot the parents?
"A. I would not shoot these parents.""And, therefore, as a German officer, you now tell the Tribunal that if an order were submitted to you, coming down the line militarily to execute two innocent parents only because they were Jews, you would refuse to obey that order?"
And the answer was:"I answered your example affirmatively, I said 'Yes, I could not have obeyed'."
Although defense counsel's query intended to establish the utter helplessness of a German soldier in the face of a superior command, the inquiry finally resulted in the defendant's declaring that he would not only ignore the order of the supreme war lord to shoot his own parents, but also to shoot anybody else's parents. He thus demonstrated that under his own interpretation of German Military Law, he did have some choice in the matter of obeying superior orders. Why then did he participate in the execution of the parents of other people? Why did other defendants do the same if they had a choice, as the defendant Seibert indicated?
Superior Orders Defense Must Establish Ignorance of Illegality
To plead superior orders one must show an excusable ignorance of their illegality. The sailor who voluntarily ships on a pirate craft may not be heard to answer that he was ignorant of the probability he would be called upon to help in the robbing and sinking of other vessels. He who willingly joins an illegal enterprise is charged with the natural development of that unlawful undertaking. What SS man could say that he was unaware of the attitude of Hitler toward Jewry?
As early as 24 February 1920, the National Socialist Party announced in its 25-point program, which was never changed, its opposition to Jews and declared that a Jew could never be an equal citizen. "Mein Kampf" was dedicated to what may be called the "Master Race" theory, the doctrine of Aryan superiority over all other races. When the Nazis seized power in 1933, persecution of the Jews became an official state policy. Then in September 1935 came the well known Nuernberg Laws which among other things deprived the Jews of German citizenship.
"Mein Kampf" was not a private publication. Its brazen voice rang through Germany. One passage was proclaimed over and over:"The soil on which we now live was not a gift bestowed by Heaven on our forefathers. They had to conquer it by risking their lives. So also in the future, our people will not obtain territory, and therewith the means of existence, as a favor from any people, but will have to win it by the power of a triumphant sword."
The Nazi Party dinned into the ears of the world its odium for the Jews. "Der Stuermer" and other publications spread the verbal poison of race hatred. Nazi leaders everywhere vilified the Jews, holding them up to public ridicule and contempt. In November 1938 an SS inspired and organized hoodlumism fell upon the Jews of Germany. Synagogues were destroyed, prominent Jews were arrested and imprisoned, a collective fine of one billion marks was imposed, ghettos were established, and now the Jews were compelled on orders of the security police to wear a yellow star on their breast and back.
Did the defendants not know of these things? Could they express surprise when, after this unbroken and mounting program of violence, plans were formulated for the "final solution of the Jewish problem"?
Some of the defendants may say they never knew of the Nazi Party extermination program or, if they did, they were not in accord with the sentiments therein expressed. But again, a man who sails under the flag of skull and cross-bones cannot say that he never expected to fire a cannon against a merchantman. When Bach-Zelewski, SS general and many years member of the Party, was asked to explain the phenomenon of the Einsatzgruppen killings, he replied:"I am of the opinion that when, for years, decades, the doctrine is preached that the Slav race is an inferior race, and Jews not even human, then such an outcome is inevitable."
The argument has, however, been advanced that the Fuehrer Order was not criminal. Although this proposition is at first blush opposed to all common sense, contrary to natural human reactions and out of harmony with the rudimentary law of cause and effect, yet it has been presented seriously by the defendants and in fact constitutes the major item of defense. Therefore, it cannot simply be dismissed as intolerable; reasons must be advanced as to why it is intolerable.
Let us suppose that the Fuehrer Order had proclaimed the killing of all grey-eyed people, regardless of age, sex, or position. So long as the iris of the eyes responded to those light rays in the spectrum which make up grey, the possessor of such eyes was destined for evil days. Character, occupation, and health could not influence nor could religion, politics, and nationality alter the predetermined doom. The farmer at his plow, the teacher at her desk, the doctor at the bedside, the preacher in his pulpit, the old woman at her knitting, the children playing in the yard, the cooing infant at the mother's breast--would all be condemned to death, if they saw the wondering world through the tell-tale grey eyes.
Let us glance at the unfoldment of such a program and look in on a family, whose members, because of that unfathomable selection of life's chemicals and inscrutable mixing in the mystic alembic of time, all have grey eyes. Suddenly comes a thunderous knocking and the door bursts open. Steel-helmeted troopers storm in and with automatic guns and drawn pistol order the dismayed occupants into the street.
We hear the screams of the children, we see the terror in the faces of mother and sister, the biting of lips of the helpless father and brother, the wild tramping of the invaders' boots through the house, the overturning of furniture, the smashing into cupboards, attics, wardrobes seeking out the hidden, horrified grey-eyed. The tearful farewell to home, the piling into the waiting truck of the pitiful family possessions, the bewildered mounting of the doomed grey-eyes. The truck rumbles forward, stops to pick up other grey-eyes and still more grey-eyes in the market square, at the corner store, in the parish church.
Then the wild careening ride into the woods where other villagers are waiting chalk-faced, mute, staring at each other. The unloading of the truck, the guttural command to line up with the others. Then the red-mouthed machine rifles speaking their leaden sentences from left to right and from right to left. The villagers falling, some cut in two, others with blood flowing from their mouths and eyes, those grey eyes, pleading for understanding, for an explanation as to why? Why? Others only wounded but piled into a ditch already dug behind them. The shooting party rides away, piteous hands uplift from the uncovered grave, we hear a moaning which, at times, decreases to a murmur, then mounts to a wail, then ceases altogether.
Of course, it is all fantastic and incredible, but no more fantastic and incredible than what has happened innumerable times in this very case. If one substitutes the word Jew for grey-eyed, the analogy is unassailable.
It is to be presumed that, if the defendants had been suddenly ordered to kill the grey-eyed population, they would have balked and found no difficulty in branding such an act as a legal and moral crime. If, however, fifteen years before, the Nazi Party program had denounced all grey-eyed people and since then the defendants had listened to Hitler vituperating against the grey-eyes, if they had seen shops smashed and houses destroyed because grey-eyes had worked and lived there; if they had learned of Himmler's ordering all grey-eyes into concentration camps, and then had heard speeches in Pretzsch wherein the mighty chieftains of the SS had declared that all grey-eyes were a menace to Germany--if this had happened, can we be so certain that the defendants would not have carried out a Fuehrer Order against grey-eyed people? And in that event, would there not have been the same defense of superior orders?
If now, from the vantage point of observation of a thing which did not come to pass, the defendants can denounce, as we assume they would, this hypothetical massacre, how can they less denounce a slaughter which did occur and under circumstances no less harrowing than the one pictured only for the purpose of illustration?
But throughout the trial it has been answered, in effect, that it was entirely different with the Jews. They were bearers of bolshevism. If that were their guilt, then the fact that they were Jews was only incidental. They were being exterminated not because of Judaism but because of bolshevism. If by that argument they mean that a Jew was to be executed only because he was a Bolshevik, why was it to be assumed that a Russian Jew was any more bolshevistic than a Russian Russian? Why should Alfred Rosenberg, chief Nazi philosopher, be less inclined biologically to communism than his obscure Jewish namesake and neighbor? What saved Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the Conservative Party and several times Prime Minister of Great Britain, from being a Bolshevist? And had he lived in 1941, would Hitler have declared him a carrier of bolshevism?
According to the Nazi ideology, the Jew by his very nature was simply destined to be Bolshevistic, but it is a demonstrable truism that, if the Einsatzkommandos themselves had adopted Jewish babies, those babies would have grown up to be staunch SS men. In point of fact, during the war, thousands of Czech, Polish, Russian, and Yugoslav children were taken into Germany to be reared as Germans. No one knows how many Jewish offspring were included in these carloads of kidnaped children because it was seriously assumed that so long as they were blonds they could not belong to the hated race.
During the trial there was introduced in evidence a letter written by one of the defendants in which he quoted from Heydrich:"Many of the Jews listed in your register are already known for continually trying to deny that they belong to the Jewish race by all possible and impossible reasons. It is, on the whole, in the nature of the matter that half-breeds of the first degree in particular try at every opportunity to deny that they are Jews.
"You will agree that in the third year of the war, there are matters of more importance for the war effort, and for the security police and the security service as well, than worrying about the wailing of Jews, making tedious investigations and preventing so many of my co-workers from other and much more important tasks. If I started scrutinizing your list at all, I only did so in order to refute such attacks by documents once and for all.
"I feel sorry to have to write such a justification six and a half years after the Nuernberg laws were issued."
The defendant noted in his letter his enthusiastic accord with the sentiments expressed by Heydrich and added on his own that consideration for the Jews was "softness and humanitarian daydreaming". He also declared that it was unthinkable that a German should listen to Mendelssohn's music, and, to hearken to Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffman", simply revealed ignorance of National Socialistic ideals. Yet, he saw nothing unidealistic about invading the office of his superior, the Commissioner General of White Ruthenia, trained in the same school of Nazi idealism, entered a complaint against the defendant's action, not because seventy innocent human beings had been killed but because a subordinate had dared to come into his office and shoot his Jews without telling him about it.
The defendant was also annoyed that anyone should have questioned the propriety and correctness of removing gold fillings from the teeth of the Jews designated for killing.
The Tribunal is devoting much time and space to expounding the obvious, but perhaps it is not so obvious. Otherwise, the arguments by and on behalf of the defendants might not have been presented with such insistence. Furthermore, this is the time and place to settle definitively, insofar as it is part of the issue in this trial, the business of the so-called Jewish problem.
A problem presupposes a situation with advantages and disadvantages to be considered on either side. But what in Nazi Germany was so delicately called the "Jewish problem", was a program, that is, an anti-Jewish program of oppression leading finally to extermination. The so-called Jewish problem was not a problem but a fixation based upon the doctrine that a self-styled "master race" may exterminate a race which it considers inferior. Characterizing the same proposition as the "Jewish menace" is equally devoid of sense. In fact, if it were not so tragic, the National Socialistic attitude toward the Jews could only be considered nonsensical.
We will recall how the Einsatz units treated the Krimchaks in the Crimea. In the same area they came across a sect known as Karaims. The Karaims resembled the Krimchaks in that they shared the same Jewish religion. However, the ethnic experts in Berlin after some kind of study, concluded that the Karaims had no Jewish blood in their veins and were, therefore, exempt from the extermination order. Thus, although the Karaims had Jewish religion in their souls, they did not have that kind of corpuscles in which the seeds of bolshevism ride. Hence they had the right to live. If one can picture an Einsatz unit rounding up the worshippers in a synagogue and distinguishing the Karaims from the Krimchaks, releasing the former and killing the latter, one is privileged to decide whether the Nazi attitude toward Jewry was not something which could well fall into the category of nonsense, that is, tragic nonsense.
It was all a matter of blood and nothing could save the person with Hebrew arteries. Although any other person could change his religion, politics, allegiance, nationality, yet, according to the National Socialist ideology, there was nothing the Jew could do. It was a matter of blood, but no one has testified as to the omniscient wisdom which counted and evaluated the offending corpuscles.
One thing can be said about the Fuehrer Order. It was specific, it was unambiguous. All Jews were to be shot. And yet, despite the unambiguity of this order, in spite of the unappealable and infallible pronunciamento that Jews were absolutely outside the pale, defendant after defendant related his great consideration for the Jew. Scores of affidavits were submitted, in behalf of nearly all the accused, demonstrating their generous conduct towards some individual Jews in Germany. One of the defendants related, in a pretrial interrogation, how he had even lived with a Jewish woman. He wished to prove by this that he was entirely devoid of prejudice.
But, if it were true that the defendants regarded the Jews as equals in Germany, why did they consider them subhuman in Russia? If they did not recognize them as a potential danger in Germany, why should they regard them as a threat in the Crimea 2000 miles away? It is not too much to say that most of the Jews did not know of Hitler and his doctrines until the Einsatzgruppen arrived to kill them.
Although forming no part of the charges in the indictment, the systematic attempts to destroy the graves of the slain as described in official German documents are interesting in that they shed some light on the mental attitude of the executioners. Did they regard the executions as culpable acts, ocular evidence which should be destroyed? The defendant Blobel in his affidavit, signed 18 June 1947, stated that in June 1942, he was entrusted by Gruppenfuehrer Mueller with the task of removing the traces of the executions carried out by Einsatzgruppen in the East. He leaves nothing to the imagination."I myself witnessed the burning of corpses in a mass grave near Kiev, during my visit in August 1942. This grave was about 55m [meters] long, 3m wide, and 2.5 deep. When the cover had been lifted, the bodies were covered with fuel and set on fire. It took about two days for the grave to burn down. I myself saw that the grave became red-hot right down to the ground. Afterwards the grave was filled in, and thus all traces were as good as eliminated.
"Owing to the approach of the front, it was not possible to destroy the mass graves further to the south and the east, resulting from the executions of the Einsatzgruppen."
So intent was Blobel, evidently in obedience to orders, to wipe out the incriminating evidence of the killings, that he even tried to destroy the corpses by means of dynamite. Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, who supervised thee experimentations, stated that the dynamiting method was not successful."Blobel constructed several experimental ovens and used wood and gasoline as fuel. He tried to destroy the corpses by means of dynamiting them, too; this method was rather unsuccessful."
Hence other mean were used."The ashes, ground to dust in a bone mill, were thrown in the vast forests around. Staf. Blobel had the order to locate all mass graves in the entire Eastern Territory and to eliminate them...The work itself was carried out by Jewish work units, which, upon finishing their particular task, were shot. Concentration camp Auschwitz had to furnish continuously Jews for this Kommando."
Duress Needed For Plea of Superior Orders
But it is stated that in military law even if the subordinate realizes that the act he is called upon to perform is a crime, he may not refuse its execution without incurring serious consequences, and that this, therefore, constitutes duress. Let it be said at once that there is no law which requires that an innocent man must forfeit his life or suffer serious harm in order to avoid committing a crime which he condemns. The threat, however, must be imminent, real, and inevitable. No court will punish a man who, with a loaded pistol at his head, is compelled to pull a lethal lever. Nor need the peril be that imminent in order to escape punishment. But were any of the defendants coerced into killing Jews under the threat of being killed themselves if they failed in their homicidal mission? The test to be applied is whether the subordinate acted under coercion or whether he himself approved of the principle involved in the order. If the second proposition be true, the plea of superior orders fails. The doer may not plead innocence to a criminal act ordered by his superior if he is in accord with the principle and intent of the superior. When the will of the doer merges with the will of the superior in the execution of the illegal act, the doer may not plead duress under superior orders.
If the mental and moral capacities of the superior and subordinate are pooled in the planning and execution of an illegal act, the subordinate may not subsequently protest that he was forced into the performance of an illegal undertaking.
Superior means superior in capacity and power to force a certain act. It does not mean superiority only in rank. It could easily happen in an illegal enterprise that the captain guides the major, in which case the captain could not be heard to plead superior orders in defense of his crime.
If the cognizance of the doer has been such, prior to the receipt of the illegal order, that the order is obviously but one further logical step in the development of a program which he knew to be illegal in its very inception, he may not excuse himself from responsibility for an illegal act which could have been foreseen by the application of the simple law of cause and effect. From 1920, when the Nazi Party program with its anti-Semitic policy was published, until 1941 when the liquidation order went into effect, the ever-mounting severity of Jewish persecution was evident to all within the Party and especially to those charged with its execution. One who participated in that program which began with Jewish disenfranchisement and depatriation and led, step by step, to deprivation of property and liberty, followed with beatings, whippings and measures aimed at starvation, may not plead surprise when he learns that what has been done sporadically; namely murder, now is officially declared policy. On 30 January 1939, Hitler publicly declared in a speech to the Reichstag that if war should come it would mean "the obliteration of the Jewish race in Europe".
One who embarks on a criminal enterprise of obvious magnitude is expected to anticipate what the enterprise will logically lead to.
In order successfully to plead the defense of superior orders the Opposition of the doer must be constant. It is not enough that he mentally rebel at the time the order is received. If at any time after receiving the order he acquiesces in its illegal character, the defense of superior orders is closed to him.
Many of the defendants testified that they were shocked with the order when they first heard it. This assertion is, of course, contradicted by the other assertion made with equal insistence, and already disposed of, that the Fuehrer Order was legal because the ordered executions were needed for the defense of the Fatherland. But if they were shocked by the order, what did they do to oppose it? Many said categorically that there was nothing to do. lt would be enough, in order to escape legal and moral stigmatization to show the order was parried every time there was a chance to do so. The evidence indicates that there was no will or desire to depreciate its fullest intent. When the defendant Braune testified that he inwardly opposed the Fuehrer Order, he was asked as to whether, only as a matter of salving his conscience in the multiplicitous executions he conducted, he ever released one victim. The interrogation follows:"Q. But you did not in compliance with that order attempt to salve your conscience by releasing one single individual human creature of the Jewish race, man, woman, or child?
"A. I have already said that I did not search for children. I can only say the truth. There were no exceptions, and I did not see any possibility."
One may accuse the Nazi military hierarchy of cruelty, even sadism of one will. But it may not be lightly charged with inefficiency. If any of these commando leaders had stated that they were constitutionally unable to perform this cold-blooded slaughter of human beings, it is not unreasonable to assume that they would have been assigned to other duties, not out of sympathy or for humanitarian reasons, but for efficiency's sake alone. In fact Ohlendorf himself declared on this very subject--In two and a half years I had sufficient occasion to see how many of my Gruppe [group] did not agree to this order in their inner opinion. Thus, I forbade the participation in these executions on the part of some of these men, and I sent some back to Germany."
Ohlendorf himself could have got out of his execution assignment by refusing cooperation with the army. He testified that the Chief of Staff in the field said to him that if he, Ohlendorf, did not cooperate, he would ask for his dismissal in Berlin.
The witness Hartel testified that Thomas, Chief of Einsatzgruppe B, declared that all those who could not reconcile their conscience to the Fuehrer Order, that is, people who were too soft, as he said, would be sent back to Germany or assigned to other tasks, and that, in fact, he did send a number of people including commanders back to the Reich.
This might not have been true in all Einsatzgruppen, as the witness pointed out, but it is not enough for a defendant to say, as did Braune and Klingelhoefer, that it was pointless to ask to be released, and, therefore, did not even try. Exculpation is not so easy as that. No one can shrug off so appalling a moral responsibility with the statement that there was no point in trying. The failure to attempt disengagement from so catastrophic an assignment might well spell the conclusion that the defendant involved had no deep-seated desire to be released. He may have thought that the work was unpleasant but did it nonetheless. Even a professional murderer may not relish killing his victim, but he does it with no misgivings. A defendant's willingness may have been predicated on the premise that he personally opposed Jews or that he wished to stand well in the eyes of his comrades, or by doing the job well he might earn rapid promotion. The motive is unimportant if he killed willingly.
The witness Hartel also related how one day as he and Blobel were driving through the country, Blobel pointed out to him a long grave and said, "Here my Jews are buried." One can only conclude that Blobel was proud of what he had done. "Here my Jews are buried." Just as one might speak of the game he had bagged in a jungle.
Despite the sustained assertion on the part of the defendants that they were straight-jacketed in their obedience to superior orders, the majority of them have, with testimony and affidavits, demonstrated how on numerous occasions they opposed decrees and orders handed down by their superiors. In an effort to show that they were not really Nazis at heart, defendant after defendant related his dramatic clashes with his superiors. If one concentrated only on this latter phase of the defense, one would conclude that these defendants were all ardent rebels against National Socialism and valiantly fought against the inhuman proposals put to hem. Thus, one affiant says of the defendant Willy Seibert that he "was strongly opposed to the measures taken by the Party and the government".
Of Steimle an affiant said,Another affidavit not only states that Steimle opposed violence but that in his zeal for justice he shrewdly joined the SD in order to be able "to criticize the short comings in the Party". Again it was stated that "repeatedly his sense of justice led him to oppose excesses, corruptions, and symptoms of depravity by Party officers.""Many a time he opposed the Party agencies and so-called superior leaders."
Of Braune an affiant states, "over and over again Dr. Braune criticized severely our policy in the occupied territories (especially in the East, Ukraine, and Baltic States) ".
During the time he served in Norway, Braune was a flaming sword of opposition to tyranny and injustice in his own camp. He bitterly opposed the Reich Commissioner Terboven, cancelled his orders, condemned large-scale operations, released hostages, and freed the Norwegian State Minister Gerhardsen. One affidavit said that in these actions "Braune nearly always went beyond his authority." And yet in spite of this open rebellion Braune was not shot or even disciplined.
Why is it that in Norway he acted so differently from the manner in which he performed in Russia? Was he more the humanitarian in Norway? The answer is not difficult to find. One of the affiants very specifically states:"Right from the beginning of our conferences, Braune opposed the large-scale operations which Terboven and Fehlis continually carried out. He did not expect the slightest success from such measures, and saw in them only the danger of antagonizing the Norwegian population more and more against German policy and the danger of increasing their spirit of resistance."
Thus, the defendants could and did oppose orders when they did not agree with them. But when they ideologically espoused an order such as the Fuehrer Order they had no interest in opposing it.
German Precedent on Superior Order Doctrine
The defense of superior orders has already been passed upon by a German court. In 1921 two officers of the German U-boat 68 were charged with violation of the laws of war in that they fired at and killed unarmed enemy citizens seeking to escape from the sinking Hospital Ship H.M.S. Llandovery Castle. The defendants pleaded lack of guilt in that they had merely carried into effect the order given them by their commander, First Lieutenant Patzig. The German Supreme Court did find as a fact that Patzig ordered his subordinates Dithmar and Boldt to fire at the lifeboats, but it adjudicated them guilty nonetheless, stating:"It is certainly to be urged in favor of the military subordinates, that they are under no obligation to question the order of their superior officer, and they can count upon its legality. But, no such confidence can be held to exist, if such an order is universally known to everybody, including also the accused, to be without any doubt whatever against the law. This happens only in rare and exceptional cases. But, this case was precisely one of them. For in the present instance, it was perfectly clear to the accused that killing defenseless people in the lifeboats could be nothing else but a breach of law. As naval officers by profession they were well aware, as the naval expert, Saalwaechter, has strikingly stated, that one is not legally authorized to kill defenseless people. They quickly found out the facts by questioning the occupants in the boats when these were stopped. They could only have gathered, from the order given by Patzig, that he wished to make use of his subordinates to carry out a breach of law. They should, therefore, have refused to obey. As they did not do so they must be punished." (American Journal of International Law, Vol. 16, 1922 p. 721-2.)
Despite this very telling precedent several of the attorneys for the defense asked in behalf of their clients, What could they have done? After all, the defendants were soldiers and were required to obey orders. Ordinarily, in war, the proposition of unquestioning obedience involves a set of circumstances which subjects the subordinate to the possibility of death, wounding, or capture. And it is traditional in such a situation that, in consonance with the honor of his calling, the soldier does not question or delay but sets out stoically to face the peril and even self-immolation. Lord Tennyson immortalized this type of glorious self-sacrifice when he commemorated the Cavalry Charge at Balaklava in the Crimea:The members of the Einsatzgruppen, which, by a twist of ironic fate, were operating in the same Crimea and surrounding territory about one hundred years later, were not, however, facing the same situation which confronted Tennyson's Light Brigade. The Einsatz battalions were not being called upon to face shot and shell. They were not ordered to charge into the mouths of cannon. They were called upon to shoot unarmed civilians standing over their graves."Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die."
No soldier would be disgraced in asking to be excused from so one-sided a battle. No soldier could be accused of cowardice in seeking relief from a duty which was, after all, not a soldier's duty. No soldier or officer attempting escape from such a task would be pleading avoidance of a military obligation. He would simply be requesting not to be made an assassin. And if the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen had all indicated their unwillingness to play the assassin's part, this black page in German history would not have been written.
What could the defendants have done, if they could not have been relieved? They could have been less zealous in the execution of the inhuman order. Whole populations of cities, districts, and wide lands were within their power. No Roman emperor had greater absolutism of decision over life and death than they possessed in their areas of operation. They were not ordered within any given town to shoot a precise number of people and a fixed number of women and children. But men like Braune could see no reason for making exceptions.
Several of the defendants stated that it would have been useless to avoid the order by subterfuge, because had they done so, their successors would accomplish the task and thus nothing would be gained anyway. The defendants are accused here for their own individual guilt. No defendant knows what his successor would have done. He could possibly have also indicated his reluctance and with a succession of refusals properly submitted, the order itself might have lost its efficacy. But in any event no execution would have taken place that day. One defendant stated that to have disobeyed orders would have meant a betrayal of his people. Does he really mean that the German people, had they known, would have approved of this mass butchery?
The masses of the home-loving German people, more content to have a little garden in which to grow a plant or two than the promise of vast lands beyond the horizon, will here learn how they were betrayed by their supposed champions. Here they will also learn of the inhumanity and the oppression and the shedding of innocent blood committed by the regime founded on the Fuehrerprinzip [leadership principle].
In his attack on Control Council Law No. 10, Dr. Mayer declared that it invalidates two fundamental principles of the legal systems of all civilized nations:"(1) The principle nulla poena sine lege.
"(2) Validity of the excuse of having acted under order."
The Tribunal has already disposed of objection number 1. Objection number 2 is no more convincing than was objection number 1. Law No. 10 does not invalidate the excuse of superior orders. It states:"(b) The fact that any person acted pursuant to the order of his Government or of his superior does not free him from responsibility for a crime, but may be considered in mitigation."
Dr. Mayer, like others, misreads this provision and substitutes for the word "crime" some other word, possibly "act". This makes the provision to read that anyone acting pursuant to the orders of his Government or superior does not free himself from responsibility for any "act". But the provision specifically states "crime". Unless it is established that the deed in question is a crime, then naturally there needs to be no explanation for its commission. If, however, the act is a crime then there can be no excuse for its commission. No superior can authorize a crime. No one can legalize what is demonstrated categorically and definitely to be a crime.
The main objective of the defense in this case has been to prove that the acts of the Einsatzgruppen were not crimes, that they were acts of self-defense committed in accordance with the rules of war. If, however, it is proved that they were crimes, then, naturally, the approval of another criminal would not make the acts any the less crimes. Once it is juridically established that a certain act is a crime, then all those who participated in it, both superior and subordinates, are accomplices.
How could the approval of Hitler possibly condone the offense, if offense it was? Hitler was not above international law. Let us suppose that in 1935 Hitler ordered one of his men to go to Siam and there assassinate its King. Would it be argued that the assassin in that situation would be immune because acting under superior orders? Any judicial inquiry would establish that the Siam assassin had committed a crime and the fact that he had acted in pursuance to the order of his government or a superior could not possibly free him from responsibility for the crime. This is exactly what Control Council Law No. 10 says, and this is what the law has always said, or ever since there was international law.
As a matter of fact, Article 47 of the German Military Penal Code goes much farther than Control Council Law No. 10. Under the German code the subordinate may be convicted even if no crime was actually committed. It is sufficient if the order aims at the commission of a crime or offense. The German code makes the obeying subordinate responsible even for any "civil" or "general offenses", i.e., for comparatively insignificant breaches of law which are not contemplated in the Allied law. Nor does the German code, as contrasted to the Allied law, mention the defense of superior orders as a possible mitigating circumstance.
Several counsel have quoted article 347 of the American Rules of Land Warfare in support of their position on superior orders. The section in question, after listing various offenses against the rules of warfare, declares:"...Individuals of the armed forces will not be punished for these offenses in case they are committed under the orders or sanction of their government or commanders. The commanders ordering the commission of such acts, or under whose authority they are committed by their troops, may be punished by the belligerent into whose hands they may fall."
What has escaped some analysts of this provision is that the word "individuals" is intended to apply to individuals who make up a military unit, that is, ordinarily, soldiers of lower rank. It applies naturally also to officers, but only provided they are serving under another officer of a higher rank. Unless one accepts this meaning the word "commanders" appearing in his second sentence would be entirely elusive as to its significance. But it is to be noted that in square juxtaposition to the men (and perhaps officers) who make up the military unit, the Article puts the commanders of such units; and by "commanders" is obviously meant the officers or acting officers, in charge of any armed unit.
As the colonel is commander of a regiment, the major of a battalion, and the captain of a company, the sergeant or 2d lieutenant may be in charge of a platoon. If the unit commander were not responsible, and the responsibility climbed upward from 'grade to grade, the result would be that the only one who could ever be accountable for an illegal order would be the chief executive of the nation, that is, the President, King, or Prime Minister, depending on the country involved. That such singular responsibility was not intended is evidenced in the use of the plural ''commanders'' instead of the singular "commander". Making this meaning absolutely clear, the provision specifically mentions two types of "commanders" who are to be held responsible--
(a) commanders who order their units to commit war crimes; and (b) commanders if the troops under their authority commit such crimes.
Thus, the provision proclaims clearly that the commander is to be responsible whether he gives the order to commit war crimes, or whether the troops under his authority commit them at the behest of somebody else, since he has the control over the troops and is responsible for their acts.
Since it has not been denied that the defendants were commanders of Einsatz units, they clearly would fall within the Provisions of Article 347, American Rules of Land Warfare. This Article 347 was repealed in 1944, but it has here been discussed at length because defense counsel made much of it, and because it was still law at the time the Einsatzgruppen were operating. In further confirmation of the interpretation above given of Article 347, reference is made to Article 64 of the American Articles of War which announces punishment for the disobedience of any lawful command of a superior officer. Obviously if the order is unlawful he may not be punished for refusing to obey it.
The subject of superior orders is not so confusing and complicated as it had been made by some legal commentators. In considering the law in this matter, we must keep in mind that fundamentally there are some legal principles that stand out like oak trees. Much underbrush has grown up in the vicinity and they seem to confuse the view. But even the most casual observation will catch on the legal landscape these sturdy oaks which announce that--
1. Every man is presumed to intend the consequences of his act.
2. Every man is responsible for those acts unless it be shown that he did not act of his own free will.
3. Deciding the question of free will, all the circumstances of the case must be considered because it is impossible to read what is in a man's heart.
Dr. Aschenauer correctly referred to one of these trees in Lord Manfield's charge to the jury in Stratton's case (1780) Howell, State Trials, Volume 21, page 1062-1224:"A state of emergency is a reason for justification, since nobody can be guilty of a crime without having intended it.
If there is irresistible, physical duress, then the acting person has no volition with regard to the deed."
Was there irresistible, physical duress? Was there volition with regard to the deed? The answering of these two questions will serve as safe guides in applying the criteria herein announced in the discussion on the subject of superior orders.