Kharkov trial Dec 1943

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Kharkov trial Dec 1943

Post by David Thompson » 15 Feb 2004 08:31

On 15-18 Dec 1943, the Military Tribunal of the 4th Ukrainian Front conducted the first war crimes trial against Nazi defendants. Here is the verdict in that case (the "Kharkov trial"), together with a news report of the execution of sentence, taken from Nazi Crimes in Ukraine 1941-1944, Documents and Materials, published by the Institute of State and Law of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR, Kiev:1987, pp. 279-283:
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Last edited by David Thompson on 15 Feb 2004 08:34, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by David Thompson » 15 Feb 2004 08:32

Part 2 (and final):
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Post by Panzermahn » 15 Feb 2004 12:03

David,

why post Bolshevik propaganda stuff as you know very well this Kharkov trial is a Bolshevik kangaroo trial?

(Bolshevik got kangaroos? Oops..sorry wrong metaphor..For reader's info, kangaroos exist only in Australia)

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Post by Paul Stamzer » 15 Feb 2004 19:10

Reading this stuff leaves me feeling unsettled. How much of it was faked Soviet wartime propaganda and how much of it is true and completely factual?

Similarly, if some of it was propaganda, how much of it was passed down and is found today in accepted history books?

I don't know one way or the other, but it does leave me wondering...

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Post by David Thompson » 15 Feb 2004 20:04

Panzermahn said:
why post Bolshevik propaganda stuff as you know very well this Kharkov trial is a Bolshevik kangaroo trial?


(1) Your comment is what's called a tautology. It assumes the very point at issue, namely that the Kharkov trial judgment is "Bolshevik propaganda stuff" and a "kangaroo trial." How do you know? Where's the proof? The whole point of the forum is to encourage posters and readers to get out some evidence, review it and use it to prove their point.

(2) You may not be familiar with this trial and why it is significant. There is a controversy in holocaust studies over the gassing of people in death vans. There have been a number of threads on the topic here in the H&WC section of the forum.

"Revisionists" claim that the killings were supposed to have been accomplished with diesel fumes, and that this is impossible. These people frequently mention the "Kharkov trial" as providing an example of a bogus diesel gassing claim. This gives "revisionists" the chance to claim that the convictions of the defendants at this trial were unjust, and resulted from a hoax.

When you actually look at the judgment in the "Kharkov trial," however, it does not allege that the vans were diesel-powered or that the victims died from inhaling diesel fumes.

Paul Stanzer said:
Reading this stuff leaves me feeling unsettled. How much of it was faked Soviet wartime propaganda and how much of it is true and completely factual?
That's what being an historian is all about, and that's why we have a forum like this.

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Post by Panzermahn » 16 Feb 2004 11:16

Hi David,

1) Your comment is what's called a tautology. It assumes the very point at issue, namely that the Kharkov trial judgment is "Bolshevik propaganda stuff" and a "kangaroo trial." How do you know? Where's the proof? The whole point of the forum is to encourage posters and readers to get out some evidence, review it and use it to prove their point.

(2) You may not be familiar with this trial and why it is significant. There is a controversy in holocaust studies over the gassing of people in death vans. There have been a number of threads on the topic here in the H&WC section of the forum.





allegations are simple enough...but where is the proof? where is the technical drawings of gas wagens.

if you read your post again, there is mentioned of preliminary and court investigations? what kind of investigations? what is the findings of the investigations? That this Germans are guilty without any doubt...

Off all the bolshevik mock trials, let me tell you that this Kharkov trial is the most authentic fabrication of all..

John Toland mentioned that the Soviet Kharkov Trials in 1943 had no basis of justification of war crimes except to execute German POWs in the face of the court

(John Toland, Hitler)

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Post by michael mills » 16 Feb 2004 13:15

Here is a brief statement on the Kharkov Trial from the book "Second World War" by Martin Gilbert (p. 480):

As the Russian forces moved forward, they uncovered more and more German atrocities, and on December 15, at Kharkov, four SS men were brought to trial, accused of using gas vans to murder Soviet civilians. One of the accused was a twenty-four year old SS lieutenant, Hans Ritz. On first having heard the words 'gas van' mentioned in Kharkov, Ritz told the prosecutor, 'I remembered the vehicle from my stay in Warsaw, where I witnessed the evacuation in it of the unreliable sections of the Warsaw population'. While in Warsaw, Ritz added, 'I got to know that part of the Warsaw population were evacuated by railway and another part were loaded into the "gas vans" and exterminated'.


The crucial element in the above statment by Ritz is his claim that he personally saw a gas van being used in Warsaw, and people from Warsaw being killed in it.

No historian today claims that gas vans were used in the extermination of any part of the population of Warsaw. The generally accepted account is that the Jews held in the Warsaw Ghetto were evacuated by railway to Treblinka II camp and killed there in stationary gas chambers.

Therefore Ritz cannot possibly have seen a gas van in operation at Warsaw, or have seen large numbers of people being killed in it there. Therefore, his statement was a falsehood.

The question is, why did Ritz make that false statement?

One possibility is that he deliberately made an obviously false statement of his own volition, in order to alert observers of the trial that other statements made by him were false.

Another possibility, more likely in my view, is that Ritz was induced to make the false statement by his interrogators, who were unaware that gas vans were not used at Warsaw. In other words, Ritz was simply regurgitating a script that had been given to him by the prosecutors.

Either way, any statement made by him concerning the use of gas vans at Kharkov or elsewhere must be treated with a high degree of reserve.

Now to the judgement itself. It states that over 30,000 innocent citizens of the city of Kharkov were killed during the German occupation; of that number, the great majority, some 20,000, were "peaceful Soviet citizens" who were taken in November 1941 to barracks situated on the Kharkov Tractor Station as subsequently shot in small groups.

That leaves 10,000 other victims, but the judgement does not give any figures adding up to anywhere near that total. It mentions 435 inmates of the Kharkov Regional Hospital killed in December 1941, and 800 wounded Red Army men killed in a hospital in March 1943 (presumably after the city was recaptured by the Waffen-SS), a total of 1,235.

Accordingly, we must assume that the figure of 30,000 is an exaggeration plucked out of the air, and that the true total was a bit over 20,000, consisting essentially of the "peaceful Soviet citizens" imprisoned in the barracks at the Kharkov Tractor Station in November 1941 and later shot progressively in small groups.

What the judgement conceals is the fact that the 20,000 "peaceful Soviet citizens" were all Jews. That is known from original German documents, which describe how the Jews of Kharkov were rounded up and held for several months in a ghetto situated at the tractor station, and were eventually shot in a series of actions in early 1942.

Thus, almost all the victims of the German occupation of Kharkov, apart from a very small number of hospital patients and Red Army men, were members of the Jewish minority, not ethnic Ukrainians or Russians. The question is, why did the judgement conceal that fact?

The answer is to be found in the situation of the Soviet Government in 1943. It was engaged in a life-or-death struggle with the German invaders, and was trying to win that struggle by mobilising the entire Soviet population for its war effort. In order to achieve that mobilisation, it had to convince all parts of its population that they were all targeted for destruction by the German invaders, and that the only way they could save themselves was to support the Soviet Government in its struggle, even though they might loath and detest Communism.

Now, the aim of the Soviet Government to mobilise its population against the German invader would be frustrated if the large majority groups, Russians and Ukrainians, came to realise that they were not being targeted as a group by the Germans at all, and that it was only the Jewish minority that was being targeted, a group that the rest of the Soviet population did not like and regarded as arch-collaborators with their oppressive Communist rulers. If the majority population realised that they were not being targeted, they would be less likely to risk their lives by opposing the ruthless German occupation for the sake of saving the Soviet Government.

Thus, it was vitally important to the Soviet Government to hide the fact that it was primarily the Jews who were being targeted for destruction by the German invaders, and that in some cases, as at Kharkov, the victims of the occupation were almost entirely Jewish. That explains the deceptive formula "peaceful Soviet citizens" used in the judgement at the Kharkov Trial.

Now a word on the German defendants. If we disregard the more sensational elements of the charges against them, it appears that their main crime was their involvement in interrogations of prisoners, only to be expected given that they were officers of the Security Police. No doubt in carrying out those interrogations they used vogorous methods, including beatings and torture. However, it is most likely that the persons interrogated had been involved in various sorts of resistance to the German occupation administration, perhaps partisan activity.

The judgement of course proclaims that the persons interrogated were all "completely innocent citizens" who had been "framed". But I suggest that is to be taken with a rather large grain of salt.

Only two of the defendants, the German Retzlaw and the Russian collaborator Bulanov, appear to have been found guilty of involvemnt in killings using gas vans. Whether they actually were guilty is a matter of conjecture. As the quote from the Martin Gilbert book shows, the "confessions" made by the defendants in relation to the use of gas vans must be regarded as dubious.

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Post by xcalibur » 16 Feb 2004 18:12

panzermahn wrote:Hi David,

1) Your comment is what's called a tautology. It assumes the very point at issue, namely that the Kharkov trial judgment is "Bolshevik propaganda stuff" and a "kangaroo trial." How do you know? Where's the proof? The whole point of the forum is to encourage posters and readers to get out some evidence, review it and use it to prove their point.

(2) You may not be familiar with this trial and why it is significant. There is a controversy in holocaust studies over the gassing of people in death vans. There have been a number of threads on the topic here in the H&WC section of the forum.







allegations are simple enough...but where is the proof? where is the technical drawings of gas wagens.

if you read your post again, there is mentioned of preliminary and court investigations? what kind of investigations? what is the findings of the investigations? That this Germans are guilty without any doubt...

Off all the bolshevik mock trials, let me tell you that this Kharkov trial is the most authentic fabrication of all..

John Toland mentioned that the Soviet Kharkov Trials in 1943 had no basis of justification of war crimes except to execute German POWs in the face of the court

(John Toland, Hitler)


What is Toland's evidence for this assertion?

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Post by David Thompson » 17 Feb 2004 02:45

Michael -- You said:
No historian today claims that gas vans were used in the extermination of any part of the population of Warsaw. The generally accepted account is that the Jews held in the Warsaw Ghetto were evacuated by railway to Treblinka II camp and killed there in stationary gas chambers.

Therefore Ritz cannot possibly have seen a gas van in operation at Warsaw, or have seen large numbers of people being killed in it there. Therefore, his statement was a falsehood.


I don't know if your first sentence is accurate. The second is accurate. However, even if true, it does not follow from your first paragraph that "Therefore Ritz cannot possibly have seen a gas van in operation at Warsaw" and "Therefore, his statement was a falsehood." Your conclusion is one of several possibilities, not an inescapable corollary.

This is one of those cases that leaves me wanting more detail. Gilbert's excerpt of Ritz's statement could be anything from a lie extracted from or volunteered by Ritz, to a mistake he later clarified, to a mischaracterization of Ritz's words or an inconsistency. It would be nice to have his full statement.

Certainly, if the Soviets merely wanted to publicize bogus war crimes charges, they could have done it more frequently, and with more and higher-ranking defendants than the Kharkov trial offered. The Kharkov defendants are distinctly small fry, and the Soviets had higher-ranking POWs from Stalingrad and elsewhere by the end of 1943.

In any event, there certainly wasn't anything in Ritz's statement quoted statement about the death vans of Kharkov using diesel engines.

As for the statement:
Now a word on the German defendants. If we disregard the more sensational elements of the charges against them, it appears that their main crime was their involvement in interrogations of prisoners, only to be expected given that they were officers of the Security Police.
As I read the judgment, all of the defendants except Retzlaw were accused and convicted of having personally murdered POWs and/or civilians.

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Post by Oleg Grigoryev » 17 Feb 2004 05:27

Accordingly, we must assume that the figure of 30,000 is an exaggeration plucked out of the air, and that the true total was a bit over 20,000, consisting essentially of the "peaceful Soviet citizens" imprisoned in the barracks at the Kharkov Tractor Station in November 1941 and later shot progressively in small groups.


During the German occupation of Kharkov there was powerful explosion on Sumskaya st. 100. Germans hoarded all men from two nearest city blocks and shot every second one. Akim Rodionovich got lucky yet again being #1. Number “1”s Germans heaped into some underground chamber : in case of repeat explosion they would have been shot too. Germans only came to remove corpses or to shovel in new people. They were not fed. People were eating fecal matter, catching roaches and spiders was the only additional source of food. At least there was water dripping from somewhere. In about two months case some important German and sent survivors off to Germany. From the words of Akim Rodionovich, over half of them died on the way.

From the biography of Akim Potozkiy –one of those sites that do genealogical research http://www.bird.dn.ru/?e=1&a=v&id=1324

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Post by David Thompson » 17 Feb 2004 07:40

Here's an account of some more victims in the Kharkov area, also taken from Nazi Crimes in Ukraine 1941-1944:
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Post by David Thompson » 17 Feb 2004 07:41

Part 2 -- an additional massacre (of psychiatric patients) in the Kharkov region is recounted at:

viewtopic.php?t=42206
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Post by Oleg Grigoryev » 17 Feb 2004 08:19

small tibid of information: before the war population of Kharkov ran at 930 thousands. After the liberation it was 190 thousands. According to Ukranian scientists 200 thousands died during the occupation. 70% of the city was destroyed.

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Post by michael mills » 17 Feb 2004 08:20

David Thompson wrote:

I don't know if your first sentence is accurate. The second is accurate. However, even if true, it does not follow from your first paragraph that "Therefore Ritz cannot possibly have seen a gas van in operation at Warsaw" and "Therefore, his statement was a falsehood." Your conclusion is one of several possibilities, not an inescapable corollary.



David,

If you can find any trustworthy evidence that gas vans were used for homicidal purposes at Warsaw, I will change my conclusion about Ritz's statement.

In the meantime, I think my conclusion about his claim is the most reasonable one.

As you say, there are other possible conclusions that can be drawn from his claim.

For example, a gas van or vans may indeed have been used at Warsaw to exterminate "unreliable sections of the population", but Ritz was the only person to have seen it. That is quite clearly impossible, since continued use of a gas van to kill, not just a few people, but a section of the population of Warsaw, would been witnessed by a relatively large number of people, Germans, Poles, surviving Jews.

Another possibility is that a relatively large number of people witnessed the gas-van in operation in Warsaw, but all of them except Ritz have since said nothing about it, so that historians have never found out about the use of a gas-van in Warsaw. That seems preposterous to me, given that fooremr German guards, Polish onlookers and surviving Jews have all talked about the loading of Jews from Warsaw onto trains and their despatch to extermination camps; if part of the Warsaw population had indeed been killed in gas vans, why has nobody talked about it since the Kharkov Trial?

I think my conclusion is the most reasonable one. At the Kharkov Trial in 1943, Ritz claimed to have seen a gas van in operation in Warsaw, and to have seen considerable numbers of people exterminated in it. Since that time, no-one else has mentioned the use of a gas van in Warsaw, although Ritz's other claim, that part of the Warsaw population was evacuated by railway, is confirmed by scores of other eyewitness accounts and to a limited extent by German documentation.

Since no-one else has mentioned the use of a gas van in Warsaw (not just one experimental use but its continued use to evacuate the "unreliable sections of the Warsaw population", and there is no extant documentary evidence for it, the inescapable conclusion is that gas vans were not used at Warsaw, and Ritz's claim to have seen such use is false.

But as I said, I am willing to alter my view if someone can come up with some hard evidence of the use of a gas van or vans in Warsaw to "evacuate" a part of the population.

As for the charges against the defendants, in summary they were:

1. Langheld:

Active participation in killings of and atrocities against war prisoners and civilians;
Interrogation of war prisoners and civilians, using torture to obtain false evidence.

2. Ritz:

Organised and/or participated in torture and shootings in Podvorki and Taganrog;
Conducted interrogations, using beatings to obtain false evidence.

3. Retzlaw:

Conducted interrogations, using torture to obtain false evidence;
Participated in an extermination in a gas van.

4. Bulanov:

Participated in exterminations using gas vans;
Participated in shootings, including of children.

Thus, the one charge in common to all three German defendants is that of conductiong interrogations, allegedly for the purpose of obtaining false evidence and framing innocent Soviet civilians. Is that not exactly what I wrote previously?

The killings of war prisoners and civilians in which Langheld and Ritz were charged with participating may well have been related to their security activity of interrogating persons suspected of anti-German activity. That is to say, the persons killed by Langheld and Ritz may well have been people who had been interrogated and judged guilty of partisan activity, or other activities against the German occupation.

Of course the Soviet prosecutors claimed that all the persons interrogated and killed by Langheld, Ritz and Retzlaw were comnpletely innocent. But I find it unlikely that members of the German Security Police, in a situation of wide-spread violent opposition to the German occupation, would have wasted their time trying to frame totally innocent people when there were plenty of real partisans and resisters to occupy them. It is quite likely that those interrogated and killed by the three German defendants had been involved in resistance activity of one sort or another; whether the manner of their interrogation and their execution was illegal and criminal is of course a matter of legal interpretation.

Finally, no-one has addressed the main point of my post, which is the reasons why the Soviet court concealed the fact that the overwhelming majoity of the victims of the German occupation of Kharkov were Jewish.

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Post by David Thompson » 17 Feb 2004 09:29

Michael -- Your analysis of alternative explanations for Ritz’s statement omits the most likely alternatives – a mistake, a misunderstanding or a mischaracterization – in the absence of the testimony itself. A recent thread showing how isolated statements can be grotesquely mischaracterized by being taken out of context (by others) may be found at:

The problematic testimony of Dr. Bendel
viewtopic.php?t=42672

As for the number of victims of Nazi crimes in the Kharkov region, you said:
Now to the judgement itself. It states that over 30,000 innocent citizens of the city of Kharkov were killed during the German occupation; of that number, the great majority, some 20,000, were "peaceful Soviet citizens" who were taken in November 1941 to barracks situated on the Kharkov Tractor Station as subsequently shot in small groups.

That leaves 10,000 other victims, but the judgement does not give any figures adding up to anywhere near that total. It mentions 435 inmates of the Kharkov Regional Hospital killed in December 1941, and 800 wounded Red Army men killed in a hospital in March 1943 (presumably after the city was recaptured by the Waffen-SS), a total of 1,235.

Accordingly, we must assume that the figure of 30,000 is an exaggeration plucked out of the air, and that the true total was a bit over 20,000, consisting essentially of the "peaceful Soviet citizens" imprisoned in the barracks at the Kharkov Tractor Station in November 1941 and later shot progressively in small groups.


Your reasoning does not take into account executions during the first week of Jan 1943, in which approximately 15,000 Soviet Jews were shot and killed in the nearby Drobitski Ravine. (Encyclopedia of the Holocaust p. 1775).

This brings me to the main point of your post, which you say is the reasons why the Soviet court concealed the fact that the overwhelming majoity of the victims of the German occupation of Kharkov were Jewish.

Your logic is this:
The answer is to be found in the situation of the Soviet Government in 1943. It was engaged in a life-or-death struggle with the German invaders, and was trying to win that struggle by mobilising the entire Soviet population for its war effort. In order to achieve that mobilisation, it had to convince all parts of its population that they were all targeted for destruction by the German invaders, and that the only way they could save themselves was to support the Soviet Government in its struggle, even though they might loath and detest Communism.

Now, the aim of the Soviet Government to mobilise its population against the German invader would be frustrated if the large majority groups, Russians and Ukrainians, came to realise that they were not being targeted as a group by the Germans at all, and that it was only the Jewish minority that was being targeted, a group that the rest of the Soviet population did not like and regarded as arch-collaborators with their oppressive Communist rulers. If the majority population realised that they were not being targeted, they would be less likely to risk their lives by opposing the ruthless German occupation for the sake of saving the Soviet Government.

Thus, it was vitally important to the Soviet Government to hide the fact that it was primarily the Jews who were being targeted for destruction by the German invaders, and that in some cases, as at Kharkov, the victims of the occupation were almost entirely Jewish. That explains the deceptive formula "peaceful Soviet citizens" used in the judgement at the Kharkov Trial.


It must have been pretty obvious that while the Jews certainly were targeted for immediate destruction by the German invaders, the local populations were targeted for a more gradual destruction as Nazi serfs. By then, most of the Jews in Nazi-occupied areas of the eastern front were dead. And for that reason the Russian and Ukrainian majority population were targeted – for Nazi slave labor projects. Those members of the majority population had already lived through two years of German occupation, spoliation and plunder. There were plenty of non-Jewish victims of Nazi rule in the area. I don’t think that this was very difficult to understand by the time of the Kharkov trial in Dec 1943. The subject is fairly well set forth in scans of the history of the Soviet Partisan movement at:

viewtopic.php?t=23908 and

viewtopic.php?t=23644

Some Soviet courts emphasized the murders of Jews, others did not distinguish the victims specifically as psychiatric patients, Jews, Gypsies, Ukrainians, Russians and Poles. If you would like me to post some of the various extraordinary commissions’ findings that mention Jews specifically as victims of Nazi mass murder, I’d be happy to oblige. If, as you say, it “was vitally important to the Soviet Government to hide the fact that it was primarily the Jews who were being targeted for destruction by the German invaders,” it doesn’t show in the documents I have.

The painting is Sergei Gerasimov's "The Mother of a Partisan" (1943), State Russian Museum, scanned from Bown, Matthew Cullerne, Art Under Stalin, Oxford: 1991, p. 214.
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