Secrecy and the Final Solution

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Secrecy and the Final Solution

Post by David Thompson » 12 Jul 2004 01:07

The question of how many people were aware of the "Final Solution" in WWII Germany is still unsettled. Discussions in this section of the forum have, for the most part, been of the "They had to know!" "They couldn't have known!" variety. In an effort to bring some documents to bear on the question, here are extracts from Nuernberg Military Tribunal Proceedings vol. 5, pp. 809-21, in which some of the concentration camp and slave labor program administrators sought to raise a "secrecy defense" at the WVHA trial (United States v. Oswald Pohl, et al.). The concept was that the "Final Solution" was so secret that not even the defendants knew about it:
D. Selections From the Testimony of Defense Witnesses and From Defense Affidavits Concerning Secrecy




I, Dr. Paul Barnickel, at present interned by the Americans in Nuernberg, have first of all been reminded that I make myself liable to punishment, if I make a false affidavit. I declare in lieu of oath that my deposition is the truth and was made in order to be submitted as evidence to the Military Tribunal No. II at the Courthouse in Nuernberg, Germany.

I. My last official position was that of Reich Public Prosecutor at the Reich Supreme Court of Justice in Leipzig. Hitler's well known decree in which he orders that matters be kept secret [Geheimaltungspflicht] by officials was posted on the wall of my office, as well as in all German Government offices. When I was in my office for the last time in the fall of 1945 I took the order with me because of its historical interest. Late that fall I left the Russian zone in order to return to my home, to Bavaria. Since I took the possibility into account that the decree might be taken from me when crossing the border, I did not take it with me,
* Defendant in case of United States vs. Josef Altstoetter, et al., vol. III.


but did take it down in shorthand on a small piece of paper which I took with me in my purse. The following copy corresponds to my shorthand notes.

II. Basic order of 25 September 1941:

1. No one: no office, no official, no employee, and no worker may be informed of a matter which is to be kept secret, if it is not absolutely necessary for him to have cognizance of it for official reasons.

2. No office, no official, no employee and no worker may have any more information about a matter which is to be kept secret than is absolutely necessary for the execution of his assignment.

3. No office, no official, no employee, and no worker may be informed of that part of the matter to be kept secret, which pertains to him, any sooner than is absolutely necessary for the execution of his assignment.

4. The thoughtless forwarding of decrees, orders and information, the secrecy of which is of decisive importance, because some general distribution key is in use, is hereby prohibited.

Adolf Hitler
Nuernberg, 13 June 1947

[Signed] Dr. Barnickel
(Dr. Paul Barnickel)



* * * * * * * * * *

Q. You have based your testimony during your examination on 3 January on a chart which bears different names. Did all the persons named [on the chart] know about this special order?

A. I cannot say so for sure. I assume that the majority of them knew about it. If you will show me the chart, I can tell you with which persons I discussed it. (The witness looks at the chart.) I remember that in autumn 1942 a meeting of Eichmann's Department on business routine took place in Berlin. Pursuant to this meeting I ascertained that Eichmann had discussed this new order with several of his staff. I can now indicate the names of those people from the chart of whom I know that they were initiated into this order.

Q. Yes. Please do.


A. Hauptsturmfuehrer Brunner, Sturmbannfuehrer Hans Guenther, Hauptsturmfuehrer Otto Hunsche, Hauptsturmfuehrer Franz Nowak, Untersturmfuehrer Hartenberger, Hauptsturmfuehrer Dr. Seidl, Hauptsturmfuehrer Dannecker, Obersturmbannfuehrer Krumey and Hauptsturmfuehrer Burger. These are the men whom I know were initiated by Eichmann either in autumn 1942 or later.

Q. Did Eichmann place very special personal confidence in these people, exceeding the confidence customary between a superior and a subordinate?

A. Yes. He was on familiar terms with most of these people.

Q. Can you now tell me what special measures were taken to keep this order of Eichmann's secret?

A. It was not permitted to make any written records about them; and then Eichmann, in the discussion I had with him in August 1942 and also later, told me of a number of measures which he had taken in order to keep these things absolutely secret. He mentioned that he was maintaining Theresienstadt for this reason in order to be able to take commissions of the International Red Cross or foreign diplomats into the Theresienstadt camp, to make it appear as though the standard at Theresienstadt was the normal standard of accommodation for the Jews. Besides, he had thought out a special system of post cards and letters, whereby he believed he could mislead the public. The Jews brought to Auschwitz or to other extermination camps were forced, prior to being murdered, to write post cards. These post cards — there were always several for each person — were then mailed at long intervals, in order to make it appear as though these persons were still alive. Moreover, he invited various press representatives to Auschwitz. I myself once accompanied a German journalist from Slovakia on a trip to Soshoviez and Auschwitz. It was absolutely impossible on these tours of inspection to gain the impression that Auschwitz was an extermination camp.

Q. Did you already know at that time that Jews were being exterminated there?

A. No. This visit was before the time when Eichmann initiated me into the fact.

Q. A short time before?

A. Yes, a short time before.

It is hereby certified that the above is a verbatim and correct copy of the document in question.

Nuernberg, 23 June 1947

[Signed] Dr. Haensel

[Typed] Dr. Carl Haensel
Counsel for the defendant G. Loerner



* * * * * * * * * *

DR. HOFFMANN (counsel for the defendant Scheide) : Witness, when were you arrested for the first time?

WITNESS BICKEL: In September 1935. From that day on I was under arrest until February 1945, and I was finally liberated on 3 May 1945.

Q. Witness, what did you know about the concentration camps from 1933 up to the time when you were arrested?

A. I only knew what I read about them in a book in Zuerich in 1934. The name of the book was "The Hell at the Edge of the Woods of Esterwegen." That was the camp where I finally ended up myself.

Q. Would you have had a possibility to know anything about the concentration camps without your having been abroad, in Zuerich and Switzerland, that is?

A. Probably yes, at least after 1935, it would have been possible since from our point of view, that is, from the point of view of the concentration camp inmates, we believe that actually, if the German people had wanted to, they could have kept their eyes somewhat open. They would have been able to see. They must have seen. The story I always have to listen to now is: "I didn't know anything and I didn't see anything." That is absolutely untrue. One could only say that the German people did not want to see anything, and they thought it much more simple to keep their eyes shut. If I think it much simpler to keep my eyes shut, then I shut my eyes. Then I simply can't see. They claim they couldn't see. Naturally, because they had their eyes closed.

PRESIDING JUDGE TOMS: Don't you think they kept their eyes and ears shut because of fear?

WITNESS BICKEL: No, definitely not. Out of fear you wouldn't have to close your eyes in order not to see. I can keep my mouth shut after I have seen something because I am afraid, but at the moment when I close my eyes I still don't know what I am closing my eyes for, but the moment I know that I am shutting my eyes because of something that might scare me, I already saw. Then I can't say I didn't see anything.

Q. Well, perhaps I was too figurative. They didn't read newspapers and they didn't listen to the radio. That is what I mean by closing their eyes and ears. Do you think they did that because they were afraid?
*Complete testimony is recorded in mimeographed transcript, 31 July, 4 August, 1947, pp. 5881-5512.


A. You mean that the people did that because they were afraid ?

Q. Because they were afraid.

A. The concentration camps were so numerous in Germany; near every large city there was a concentration camp, and again and again there were connections between the inmates and the population. You had on one hand the connection between inmates in camps and the population on the other side, and everyone could notice those things who did want to notice them. In Oranienburg there were tens of thousands of inmates. Nearby you had Berlin. In Neuengamme you had 10,000. Hamburg is right near there. Everyone of them must have seen something at sometime. Whoever saw it must have passed the story on. Then in every civilized state of the world, with the exception of Germany, of course, there would have been a disturbance, which would not have been occasioned by the heart of human beings, but rather it would have been a disturbance due to the feelings of humanity in every human being, and due to this disturbance of the human feelings on the part of a human being it would have been their duty to see what was to be seen. But it was much simpler not to see, and the "blessings" of the Third Reich could be enjoyed much better by the German people while they had their eyes shut. It was much simpler in the evening to go to the KdF meeting without having seen anything. It was much better to wear one's decorations and the uniform while not seeing anything. However, it still should have been their duty to see what was going on.

DR. HOFFMANN: Witness, could one go to Sachsenhausen, for instance, and walk through the gate of the concentration camp and visit it?

WITNESS BICKEL: One of the most important prerequisites was that every connection was interrupted between the inmate and his family.

Q. In order to come back to your description, Witness, how was it that a person could possibly find out what was going on behind the walls of Sachsenhausen if one could not enter, particularly since you didn't have any connections with your family?

A. Let me give you two examples, from a group of many. In May 1940 the death figure in Sachsenhausen was more than the crematorium could possibly take care of. Thereupon an auxiliary crematorium was used in a nearby city. I think it was Fuerstenwalde.* The boxes with the dead — black, rough boxes — were loaded on hired trucks, and such a truck with the trailer full of dead inmates turned over. It took quite a while to block off that road.
* Witness evidently is referring to Fuerstenberg, approximately 60 miles north of Berlin, the location of Ravensbrueck concentration camp.


In the meantime, people saw it. That should have acted like an atomic bomb on the feelings of the German people because they had seen this. And with the same zeal that Hitler's victories was putting spirit in the hearts of Hitler's followers, this should have gone to the hearts of the German people. Let me give you another example. When we came from Sachsenhausen to Neuengamme, we had to get out at the railroad station of Neuengamme and walk through the village there for a whole hour. Everyone of the people saw it. From Neuengamme we had to take care of some canal there by the name of Dove [sic]-Elbe. That place of work was approximately one hour and 15 minutes to one hour and 30 minutes from our camp. We had to walk that distance. In their desperation some of our comrades would commit suicide rather than go to work. Sometimes you could find 3 or 4 inmates on the road from the concentration camp to the working place. These inmates had broken through the line, or had fallen out, or had broken through the chain of guards, and these guards shot them. They committed suicide this way. All those things were seen by the population there. That was in the morning, but they also saw our return when we came back from our place of work. I don't see how such a return march could possibly pass unobserved in other countries such as France or in Sweden without speaking, of course, of a highly democratic country like America. A long column of one thousand inmates is jogging along the road. All men are tired. At the end of the column we have 30 or 40 pushcarts. We have one dead inmate on each pushcart pushed by an inmate half dead himself. The head of the dead inmate is banging against the wheel of the pushcart. The SS men spur on the inmates; the SS men let those bloodhounds loose on the half-dying inmates in order to spur them on; teams of four men carry inmates who are about half dead. Nothing but a long mournful column, day after day, for one hour and a half. On the left and right side of them, were the German people of culture, namely, the nation of Goethe. Now some German comes along, or someone else, and tells me that this one single picture would not have been enough to react like an atomic bomb on the feelings of their hearts. But it is much simpler not to see anything. It was much more clever not to say anything. It was too easy not to see anything.

Q. Witness, with regard to the conclusions which you reached about such a long column of human beings, and the people dying left and right, for instance, when you described the truck which tipped over, and you say this should have acted like an atomic bomb on the feelings of the German people, I would like to discuss three more things with you: first of all, you said that in Germany every large city had its concentration camp. I don't believe that


was the case at any time, but if so, it must have been later on, that is, during the last few months. Shall we say from 1943 to 1945 and after that?

A. Yes, you are quite right. The concentration camps were not very numerous from 1933 on, but we could really say 1941. That was the starting point when, on the average, there was no German, except of course, if he was in a lunatic asylum, who did not know anything about the existence and character of the concentration camps. I was a person who was amongst the inmates and I can really tell you about it. And with the exception of those few who were sympathetic for humanitarian reasons, the mass of the German population found it too nice and agreeable to follow their great Fuehrer by looking upon us inmates as dirt on the road.

Q. Witness, here again I want to come back to the facts. You described your story in 1940 when a truck turned over full of the dead inmates. Where was that?

A. That was in a village on the road between the concentration camp Sachsenhausen and the crematorium. I don't remember very well whether it was Fuerstenwalde or something similar. That. was the place where the concentration camp Ravensbrueck was.

Q. Not in Berlin?

A. No. Not in Berlin.

Q. Don't you think, Witness, that apart from this one exception, do you think if a truck turned over in Berlin in the middle of a large road, some thoroughfare, don't you think it would have taken the radio and newspapers to make such an occurrence known all over Germany?

A. No. That is absolutely out of the question. Within a few days we knew in Neuengamme what was going on in Mauthausen. The rumors had begun. This great man Goebbels proved by his rumor propaganda, that a rumor propaganda from another side but ours could have been successful. It is surprising that it can't be explained very well, how quickly news which might be of decisive importance can be passed on by mouth to mouth and locality to locality. I only gave you one example before, but I could extend that example and give you dozens of them. But I am not doing this here in order to make reproaches. The only thing is that we have to explain this phenomenon known as the SS. As I said this morning, without the attitude of the German people to help the SS by subordinating themselves to the SS, nothing would have happened.

Q. Witness, you stated that you also had a rumor propaganda and that you could have started one. It is to be assumed, isn't it, Witness, that you did that?


A. Yes. Of course, we did that.

Q. Don't you think that this propaganda was stopped for the very simple reason that due to the fact that the rumors which you passed on also came back to you, isn't that a fact?

A. It takes some courage to carry on a rumor propaganda, you see, Mr. Defense Counsel, and that was the thing that the German people were lacking. There was a lack of courage. This little bit of courage which was necessary was replaced by the German people by just taking things easy.

Q. Witness, I am not fighting your statements. I just can't follow your line of thoughts about your statement that according to what you told us, every German should know about the things going on in the concentration camps. Isn't that a subjective idea that you have from the inside of the concentration camp? Don't you think it is, Witness?

A. I never did say, and I am controlling myself very much to say that the Germans were supposed to know everything, but I state, and I am asserting that, and I am under the influence of objectivity. I believe that within every German life, that is between 1936 and 1945, there was at least one little thing that was heard. This little thing should have started a fire of holy will power, and that feeling should be found out there today [pointing toward the street].

* * * * * * * * * *

Q. Witness, I would like to ask you two more reasons now which I want you to check on, and tell me if that is your opinion about those points and if not, please change it. There were soldiers who, already in 1939 had been conscripted into the Wehrmacht and who were fighting in the front lines. There were some soldiers who received leave once in a while. How do you think that they found out about what was going on in the concentration camps?

A. We had also Wehrmacht members serving as guards in the concentration camps. We had air force men, naval men, and infantrymen. I already explained this morning how this spirit worked on these SS people the moment they passed the barbed wire fences. That applied to the Wehrmacht members also. They were not better and they were not any worse.

Q. Witness, the German Wehrmacht had approximately ten million members. I don't know if that figure is correct. Now, if five or six thousand of them — which is just a small number which I just took out — were also used as guards in the concentration camps, and then had knowledge, how do you think that these five or six thousand could inform all the other ten million about the whole thing. That couldn't possibly get through, do you think, Witness?


A. For us there was no reason to examine and to weigh between the two as to how much the Wehrmacht knew about it, about the treatment which we suffered, and if it agreed with the treatment which we were receiving. All we knew was that the Wehrmacht agreed with the madmen in Berlin. We knew that the Wehrmacht was doing everything — even dying — in order to be able to support the powers in Berlin. But we also knew that the Wehrmacht was sending men from its own rank into the concentration camps when they had done something against the National Socialist character of the Wehrmacht. It was already in ’38 or ’39 that I met quite a few comrades of the "Special Department Wehrmacht." We called it "SAW," amongst ourselves. I saw some of these boys die; I saw them suffer and die. Those were the people who were sent to the camp by the Wehrmacht because of opposition to the Fuehrer.

Q. Witness, you further testified that it was much easier to participate in KdF [Kraft durch Freude — Strength through Joy] programs than to show humanitarian feelings, I mean it was simpler, wasn't it?

As far as I gained knowledge of all those things in these trials, the concentration camps became horrible from 1940 to '41 to 1942. Don't you think that a part of the German population already had its own troubles and its own worries so that quite a few things didn't penetrate as far as they were as it would have before? Don't you think so?

A. I don't believe that the Germans had such a lot of trouble. I didn't see their trouble. I only heard about it from the papers and when we sometimes listened to the radio — we listened to it once in a while. All we heard was the number of pleasures they had, the number of joys which the German people had in the early days of the war. And we found out that only one-thousandth of one-thousandth of all this pleasure and joy was turned toward us. If they had been able to do that we would have been able to save many, many who died.

Mr. Defense Counsel, I hope that maybe you don't think that I am acting too subjectively, but, after all, the wound is too deep and it is still fresh; it has been only two and a half years. I don't know if you should ask me any further questions in this field, Mr. Defense Counsel, but we have our own opinion. I came here with the real will to be as objective as possible, and I know that there is one man sitting in the defendants' dock who, as seen from my small point of view, is excepted from the entire hate which we have for all these men. He is the "white sheep." Don't forget that if the Allies wouldn't have taken over the question of the SS and the concentration camps, and if they would


have left it to us, then there would have been no trial; and, with the exception of this one defendant who is the "white sheep" here, Mummenthey, none of the defendants would be alive today. * * * If the Allies wouldn't have been here, then I am sure that our subjective hate would have taken care of all those people in a summary manner. And I am sure God would have forgiven us. It is our duty. But those of us who were in the camps have the rights and the duty to comply with the orders on the part of the Allied forces and to be objective about it.

A Human being is a human being, and whoever says he is more than a human being is a dog. All I can tell you is that objectivity, after such long troubles and pain, is absolutely difficult — very difficult.

Q. Witness, I hope you didn't think that I didn't want to believe you, but, after all, that is the whole idea which prevails here, namely to put certain arguments before you. Those are the rights we have in this Tribunal.

A. Yes, absolutely, you can avail yourself of this. I am speaking about the collective guilt of the German people as compared to the collective guilt of the German soldier.

DR. HOFFMANN: No further questions.

* * * * * * * * * *

DR. GAWLIK (counsel for defendants Volk and Bobermin) Witness, you have stated that you could not believe that the German people had suffered so much during the war, is that correct ?

WITNESS BICKEL: No, not quite. I was talking about a certain period of time. I referred to the period from 1941 to 1943. After 1943 the German people may have had many worries, and perhaps these worries can be compared to the worries we had about our self-preservation. However, as long as the German people were able to enjoy so many pleasures, and as long as —

Q. Witness, I don't want you to give me reasons. Just answer this question with yes or no. Don't take too much of the Tribunal's time. I understood you to say that you do not believe that the German people suffered so much until 1943. Isn't that correct?

A. Yes. That is correct.

Q. Do you call it a worry if women are mourning for their men, when children are mourning for their father, and when parents are trembling for their sons who are at the front? Answer this question with yes or no.

A. When you say that I shouldn't take up so much of the time of the Tribunal —

Q. Witness, answer.


A. This question can be answered with no. However, only then —

Q. Thank you, that is sufficient.

PRESIDING JUDGE TOMS: You can't cut the witness off, although I don't want to encourage him to speak unnecessarily, but if he can't answer the question by a simple no, he has a right to answer it in his own way. I don't see that the topic you are discussing has anything to do with the indictment. I presume that we can take it for granted that when any country is at war, Germany or any other country, that there is plenty to worry about.

DR. GAWLIK : Your Honor, here we are dealing with a question which my colleague, Dr. Hoffmann, has already mentioned. We are discussing the question of knowledge here, and the witness has stated that the German people had knowledge by saying that they did not have any worries.

PRESIDING JUDGE TOMS: We aren't trying the German people for having guilty knowledge. Let's stick to the indictment.

DR. GAWLIK : Yes, but after all, since the German people had knowledge, as alleged by the witness, then, of course, it can be concluded that the defendants had knowledge also.

PRESIDING JUDGE TOMS: Yes, but you are talking about worry. You are talking about worry.

DR. GAWLIK: The witness has just given us his reason, and he has answered the question of my colleague Hoffmann whether the German people, as a result of the many worries which they had, did not pay any attention to what happened in the concentration camps, and he answered that in the negative.

PRESIDING JUDGE TOMS: Go ahead; go ahead, and question him.

DR. GAWLIK : Do you consider it a worry when the people go to bed at night and don't know whether they will be killed by a bomb during the night?

WITNESS BICKEL: I have a counterquestion. Do you consider it a worry —
Q. You can't ask me any counterquestions. You are to answer my question with yes or no.

A. Yes. That worry exists without any doubt. However, please don't interrupt me again. Let's discuss the matter here in detail, and let's make it comprehensible to the Tribunal. Just think that every second you have this torture in front of your eyes, and then look at the worry that the German people drew from the war which they had intended and which they wanted. We didn't want a total concentration camp, but one day from the loud speakers in the concentration Lion camp Neuengamme I heard the question of the Fuehrer, "Do you want a total war?" and here again I hear the millions of Germans cheering, "Yes, we do want a total war."


Q. That is sufficient, Witness. You see, as a defense witness you are not here to give speeches, but you are only here to answer my questions.

A. I have answered your question.

* * * * * * * * * *


DR. FROESCHMANN (counsel for the defendant Mummenthey) Witness, I want to put to you a few brief questions. Did you, when you were in your concentration camp, hear anything about the air raids on Dresden, Hamburg, and our ancient Nuernberg?

WITNESS NICKEL: We heard about these air raids, the ones on Hamburg we saw and experienced ourselves. We experienced them inasmuch as we had to salvage the corpses from Hamburg, for which our commandant received the Iron Cross 1st Class, I believe.

Q. What were the means you had to keep informed about what was happening outside? A. We received newspapers for our own money, the Reich Unity newspaper. We had our wireless connections which we could use sometimes. Of course, we also had our secret radios and we listened to BBC and Allied soldiers stations. We had first-rate sources of information from our own initiative.

Q. These were secret radios which you had in the camp?

A. Yes. We had secret receivers and transmitters.

Q. And from there you gained your knowledge about what was going on outside?

A. Yes. Apart from the fact that people would tell us things and we would tell people things. There was an exchange of ideas and facts going on because from that time onwards inmates worked among people. I said before that the whole camp went out in so-called "construction brigades" to dig up the corpses after air raids and the people were kind and receptive after we dug up one of the corpses of their relatives. They talked to us and were receptive to what we told them, until the next propaganda speech restored their former peace of mind again.

Q. Therefore your knowledge is confined to a particular sector among the German people?

A. No. Our knowledge went quite beyond what the German people themselves knew because we had unlimited — in our eyes unlimited — possibilities of receiving news by radio.

Q. You therefore had means which a large part of the German people did not.

A. They would have had the same means had they had the same will as we had.


Q. That is your assumption, a quite subjective opinion, is it not ?

A. Yes, quite so.

Q. What is the truth? What is the human being?

A. Yes. One could ask that question.

Q. Well, you could say where was the truth and what is the truth. Do you understand —

A. I am afraid we are losing ourselves in philosophy.

Q. Do I understand you correctly, that you, on the basis of the communications and experiences, you formed the impressions of which you have given us this picture here?

A. Yes. I have endeavored to speak objectively, such as we have learned from the Allies, and which is the first condition if you want to be democrats.

Q. Witness, one of my colleagues asked you how it came about that you were examined before this Court, and you told us that at the time you wrote to the prosecution and to Mummenthey's defense counsel, whose name you did not know, that you were at their disposal as a witness.

A. It is quite correct. It is only for the fifth time I am telling you this.

Q. Yes, quite so. All I wanted to state was that I heard from you in the course of this year that you were quite ready to appear as a witness, and that you also told me that you had also informed the prosecution of this.

A. Yes. I don't think anybody could be fairer. I don't think that the SS would ever have been quite so fair as we have been to them.

Q. Is it also correct, that even then, and not only under the impression of conversations, you emphasized that you regarded it as your duty to tell the Court anything and everything which might be favorable to Mummenthey ?

A. If you want to describe facts, you cannot be influenced either in the good or the bad sense of the word. I don't think that you have gained the impression that any good or bad influence can be exerted on me. Facts are so tremendous that only history will form the proper picture. No influence can be exerted in this or in another way.

DR. FROESCHMANN: May it please the Court, I have no further questions to this witness.


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