The Katyn testimony of Reinhard von Eichborn

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The Katyn testimony of Reinhard von Eichborn

Post by David Thompson » 13 Aug 2004 22:01

On 1 Jul 1946, Reinhard von Eichborn testified at the IMT proceedings in regard to Soviet allegations that the Germans had committed the massacre of Polish POWs at Katyn Forest. His testimony can be found in volume 17 of the IMT proceedings, available on-line at the Avalon Project of the Yale University School of Law, at:
DR. STAHMER: Then, as another witness, I should like to call Lieutenant Reinhard von Eichborn.


[The witness Von Eichborn took the stand.]

Will you state your full name please.

REINHARD VON EICHBORN (witness): Reinhard von Eichborn.

THE PRESIDENT: Will you repeat this oath after me: I swear by God-the Almighty and Omniscient-that I win speak the pure truth-and will withhold and add nothing.

[The witness repeated the oath.]

THE PRESIDENT: You may sit down.

DR. STAHMER: Witness, what is your occupation?

VON EICHBORN: Assistant judge.

DR. STAHMER: Were you called up for service in the German Armed Forces during this war?

VON EICHBORN: Yes, in August 1939.

DR. STAHMER: And what was your unit?

VON EICHBORN: Army Group Signal Regiment 537.

DR. STAHMER: And what was your rank?


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VON EICHBORN: At the outbreak of the war, platoon leader and lieutenant.

DR. STAHMER: And at the end?

VON EICHBORN: First lieutenant.

DR. STAHMER: Were you on the Eastern Front during the war?

VON EICHBORN: Yes, from the beginning.

DR. STAHMER: With your regiment?

VON EICHBORN: No, from 1940 onward, on the staff of Army Group Center.

DR. STAHMER: Apart from this Regiment 537, was there an Engineer Battalion 537?

VON EICHBORN: In the sphere of the Army Group Center there was no Engineer
Battalion 537.

DR. STAHMER: When did you arrive with your unit in the vicinity of Katyn?

VON EICHBORN: About 20 September the staff of Army Group Center transferred its
headquarters to Smolensk, that is to say in the Smolensk region.

DR. STAHMER: Where had you been stationed before?

VON EICHBORN: How am I to understand this question?

DR. STAHMER: Where did you come from?

VON EICHBORN: We came from Borisov.

THE PRESIDENT: One moment. The witness said 20 September. That does not identify the year.

DR. STAHMER: In what year was this 20 September?

VON EICHBORN: 20 September 1941.

DR. STAHMER: Was Regiment 537 already there at that time?

VON EICHBORN: The staff of Regiment 537 was transferred at about the same time together with the staff of the army group to the place where the headquarters of the army group was. Advance units had already been stationed there previously, in order to set up communication facilities.

DR. STAHMER: And where was this staff accommodated?

VON EICHBORN: The staff of Army Group Signal Regiment 537 was accommodated in the so-called Dnieper Castle.

DR. STAHMER: Where was the advance unit?

VON EICHBORN: The advance unit may have occupied this building, too-or at least a part of this advance unit did-to safeguard this building for the regimental staff.


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DR. STAHMER: Do you know who was in command of this advance unit?

VON EICHBORN: Lieutenant Hodt was in command of this advance unit.

DR. STAHMER: When did this advance unit come to Katyn?

VON EICHBORN: Smolensk fell on about 17 July 1941. The army group had planned to put up its headquarters in the immediate vicinity of Smolensk, and, after this group had selected its quarters, this region was seized immediately after the fall of the city. The advance unit arrived at the same time as this area was seized, and that was probably in the second half of July of 1941.

DR. STAHMER: Therefore the advance unit was there from July of 1941 until 20 September 1941?


DR. STAHMER: And the entire staff was there from 20 September 1941?

VON EICHBORN: Yes. It may be that part of the staff arrived somewhat later, but the majority of the staff arrived on 20 September.

THE PRESIDENT: Are you speaking of the staff of the army group or the staff of the signal regiment?

VON EICHBORN: I am speaking of both staffs, because the moving of large staffs such as that of an army group could not be undertaken in 1 day; usually 2 to 3 days were needed for that. The operations of the signal corps had to be assured, and therefore the regiment had to leave some of the staff behind until the entire staff had been moved.

DR. STAHMER: Where was the advance unit accommodated?

VON EICHBORN: At least part of the advance unit was accommodated in the Dnieper Castle. Some of the others were in the neighborhood of those places where later on the companies were billeted. The reason for that was to keep the billets ready for this regiment until the bulk of it had been moved.

DR. STAHMER: How about the Regimental Staff 537?

VON EICHBORN: That was in the Dnieper Castle.

DR. STAHMER: Can you give us the names of the officers who belonged to the regimental staff?
VON EICHBORN: At that time there was Lieutenant Colonel Bedenck, the commanding officer; Lieutenant Rex, adjutant; Lieutenant Hodt, orderly officer; and a Captain Schafer, who was a


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telephone expert. It may be that one or two others were there as well, but I can no longer remember their names.

DR. STAHMER: The preceding witness has already told us about the tasks of the regimental staff. How were the activities of the regimental staff controlled?

VON EICHBORN: The regiment, which consisted of 10 to 12 companies, had to give an exact report each evening as to what work had been allotted to the various companies. This was necessary as we had to know what forces were available in case of emergency, for undertaking any new tasks.

DR. STAHMER: How far away from the Dnieper Castle were you billeted?

VON EICHBORN: Approximately 4 to 5 kilometers. I cannot give you the exact distance as I always made it by car, but it would be about 4 to 5 kilometers.

DR. STAHMER: Did you frequently go to Dnieper Castle?

VON EICHBORN: Very frequently when I was off duty, as I had belonged to this regiment and knew most of the officers, with whom I was on friendly terms.

DR. STAHMER: Can you tell us about the kind and extent of the traffic to the Dnieper Castle?

VON EICHBORN: In order to judge this you have to differentiate between persons and things. So far as people were concerned, the traffic was very lively because the regiment had to be very centrally organized in order to be equal to its tasks. Therefore, many couriers came and commanders of the various companies frequently came to visit the regimental staff.

On the other hand there was a heavy traffic of trucks and passenger cars, because the regiment tried to improve its billets there; and since we remained there for some time all sorts of building alterations were carried out in the house.

DR. STAHMER: Did you hear anything about there being three Russian camps with captured Polish officers, 25 to 45 kilometers west of Smolensk, which had allegedly fallen into German hands?

VON EICHBORN I never heard anything about any kind of Polish officers' camps or Polish prisoner-of-war camps.

DR. STAHMER: Did your army group receive reports about the capture of such Polish officers?

VON EICHBORN: No. I would have noticed that, since the number of' prisoners, and especially the number of officers, was always submitted to me in the evening reports of the armies which


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took these prisoners. It was our responsibility to receive these signal reports and we therefore saw them every evening.

DR. STAHMER: You did not receive a report to that effect?

VON EICHBORN: I neither saw such a report from an army, which would have issued it, nor did I ever receive a report from an army group which would have had to transmit this report in their evening bulletin to the High Command of the Army (OKH).

DR. STAHMER: Could a report like that have been handed in from another source or been sent to another office?

VON EICHBORN The official channel in the Army was very stringent, and the staffs saw to it that official channels were strictly adhered to. In any case the armies were always required to make the detailed reports, following the lines stipulated in the form sheets and this applied especially to the figures concerning prisoners. Therefore, it is quite out of the question that if such a number of officers had fallen into the hands of an army, it would not have reported the matter through the appropriate channel.

DR. STAHMER: You said, just a little while ago, that you were in particularly close relationship with the officers of this regiment. Did you ever hear that Polish prisoners of war, officers, were shot at some time or other in the Katyn forest at the instigation of Regiment 537 under Colonel Bedenck or under Colonel Ahrens?

VON EICHBORN: I knew nearly all the officers of the regiment, as I myself had been over a year with the regiment, and I was on such familiar terms with most of the officers that they told me everything that took place, even anything of an unofficial nature. Therefore, it is quite out of the question that such an important matter should not have come to my knowledge. From the nature of the whole character moulding in the regiment, it is quite impossible that there should not have been at least one who would have come to tell me about it immediately.

DR. STAHMER: Were all the operational orders for Regiment 537 officially known to you?

VON EICHBORN: The operational orders for this army group signal regiment were twofold:
The orders which concerned only the wireless company and those which applied to the nine telephone companies. Since I was a telephone expert, it was quite natural for me to draft these orders and submit them to my superior, General Oberhauser. Therefore, each order which was issued had either been drafted by me or I had seen it beforehand.

DR. STAHMER: Was there ever at any time an order given out by your office to shoot Polish prisoners of war?


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VON EICHBORN: Such an order was neither given to the regiment by our office nor by any other office. Neither did we receive a report to this effect, nor did we hear about things like that through any other channel.

DR. STAHMER: If an order like that came through official channels, it could come only through you?

VON EICHBORN: This order would have necessitated a great many members of the regiment being taken away from their own duties, which were to safeguard the system of communications. As we were very short of signallers, we had to know what almost every man in the regiment was doing. It would have been quite out of the question for any member of the regiment to have been taken away from such a duty without our knowledge.

DR. STAHMER: I have no further questions, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Kranzbuhler, whom are you appearing on behalf of?

FLOTTENRICHTER KRANZBUHLER: For Grossadmiral Doenitz, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: There is no charge made against Grossadmiral Doenitz in connection with this offense at all.

FLOTTENRICHTER KRANZBUHLER: Mr. President, the exhumations and the propaganda connected . with them occurred during the period when Grossadmiral Doenitz was Commander-in-Chief of the Navy. The Prosecution alleges that at that time Grossadmiral Doenitz was a member of the Cabinet and had participated in all acts taken by the Government. Therefore, I must consider him as being implicated in all the problems arising out of the Katyn case.

THE PRESIDENT: That would mean that we should have to hear examination from everybody who was connected with the Government. And the Tribunal has already pointed out, with reference to Admiral Raeder, that his case was not connected with this matter. It is only when a case is directly connected with the matter that counsel for the individual defendants are allowed to cross examine, in addition to the defendant's counsel who calls the witness. If there is any suggestion that you want to make to the counsel who is calling the witness, you can make it to him, but you are not entitled...

FLOTTENRICHTER KRANZBUHLER: But I am asking your permission to put two or three questions to this witness.

THE PRESIDENT: If you have any special questions to put, you may suggest them to Dr. Stahmer, and Dr. Stahmer will put


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them. Dr. Kranzbuhler, if you want to put any questions, you may put them to Dr. Stahmer, and he will put them to the witness.

FLOTTENRICHTER KRANZBUHLER: Mr. President, I did not quite understand. Shall I propose to Dr. Stahmer to put the questions or...

THE PRESIDENT: If you cannot do it verbally, you may do it in writing; and you may do it later on. But I really do not think there can be any questions which are so difficult to suggest to Dr. Stahmer as all that.

FLOTTENRICHTER KRANZBUHLER: They can also be put through Dr. Stahmer. I was only thinking that I would save some time by putting the questions myself.

THE PRESIDENT: I told you if you wish to ask any questions, you must ask them through Dr. Stahmer.


THE PRESIDENT: In the meantime, the Tribunal will go on with the cross-examination, and any questions which you wish to put can be put in re-examination.

Does the Prosecution wish to cross-examine?

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Witness, I am interested to know your exact function in the army. Were you in charge of teleprinter communications at the headquarters of Army Group Center or were you a wireless expert?

VON EICHBORN: No, Mr. Prosecutor, you are wrong. I was the telephone expert of Army Group Center, not the wireless expert. ~

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: That is exactly what I am asking you. The translation was evidently incorrect. So you were in charge of telephone communications, were you not?

VON EICHBORN: Yes; you are right.

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Ordinary telegrams, or ciphered telegrams?

VON EICHBORN: The task of a telephone expert connected with an army group consisted in keeping the telephone lines intact . . .

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: No, I am not interested in the tasks in a general way. I would like to know whether these were secret ciphered telegrams or the ordinary army mail, army communications which were not secret.

VON EICHBORN: There were two kinds of telegrams, open and secret.


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MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Were secret telegrams transmitted by you, too?

VON EICHBORN: Both came through me.

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Consequently, all communications between the Wehrmacht, between Army units and the highest police authorities also passed through you; is that correct?

VON EICHBORN: The most important telegrams, and especially the secret ones were submitted to the telephone expert.

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Yes. Consequently, the correspondence between the police authorities and the Armed Forces units passed through you; is that correct? I am asking you this question for a second time.

VON EICHBORN: I must answer with the reservation that the messages did not pass through the telephone expert, but only the most important secret teletype matters were submitted to him- not the whole correspondence, because that went also through the mail as well as by courier service.

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: That is clear. Do you know in this case that in September and October 1941 there were special detachments in Smolensk whose duty, in close co-operation with the Army, was to carry out the so-called purge of the prisoner-of-war camps and the extermination of prisoners of war?

DR. LATERNSER: Mr. President, I must decisively object to this questioning of the witness. This questioning can have only the purpose of determining the relations between the General Staff and the OKW and any commands of the Security Service. Therefore, they are accusing the General Staff and the OKW; and if I, Mr. President, as defense counsel for the General Staff and the OKW am not permitted to put questions, then on the basis of equal treatment, the same rules must apply to the Prosecution as well.

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: May I, Mr. President, make a short statement?

THE PRESIDENT: Colonel Smirnov, the question is competent.

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: I beg your pardon.

THE PRESIDENT: I said the question was competent. You may ask the question.

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: I would like to ask you the following question, Witness. Since all secret teletypes passed through you, did you ever encounter among. these telegrams any from the so-called 1st Einsatzgruppe "B"-that was the so-called first command-or from the Special Command "Moscow" which at


1 July 46

that time was located at Smolensk and kept in reserve in anticipation of better times? The latter had the order to perpetrate mass murders in Moscow. Both commands were located at Smolensk at that time.

VON EICHBORN: No such reports came into my hands. I can fully explain this to you, Mr. Prosecutor. When any detachments of this sort had been established in the area of Army Group Center, these detachments had their own wireless stations. It was only later on in the course of the Russian campaign that these posts had teletype facilities as well; then they used the army group network.

However, that only happened later.

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Consequently, the telegrams of those special units which, by order of high police authorities, were assigned to carry out special actions in co-operation with military units, did not pass through your hands in September and October of 1941?

VON EICHBORN: That is correct. At that time, there were no teletype facilities and offices for such special units, even if they were in that area at all.

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Mr. President, this document was already presented to the Court together with the Extraordinary State Commission Report, Document Number USSR-3. If the High Tribunal will permit it, I should like to present to the Tribunal and to the Defense photostatic copies of one of the documents which was attached to the report of the Extraordinary State Commission. If the Tribunal will look at Page 2 of this document, it will see that the Special Command "Moscow" and the Einsatzgruppe "B" were both located in Smolensk. It says on the first page that these detachments together with units of the Armed Forces, were assigned to carry out mass killings in the camps. If the Tribunal will permit me, I shall submit this document now...

THE PRESIDENT: Colonel Smirnov, that is a matter of argument. We shall take judicial notice of it, of course, of everything which is in the Soviet Government's publication. And I understand you to say that this document is a part of the Soviet Government communication or Soviet Government report.

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Yes, Mr. President; but I would like to ask permission to present an original German document, a secret document, which states that in the Smolensk area there were two large special commands whose duties were to carry out mass murders in the camps, and that these actions had to be carried out together with the Armed Forces units which had to co-operate with them.


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THE PRESIDENT: Colonel Smirnov, is this document which you have just handed up to us a part of the report USSR-3?

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Yes, Mr. President, it is a part of the report, Document USSR-3, called "Special Directives of the Hitler Government Concerning the Annihilation of Prisoners of War." I would like to ask the Tribunal to allow me to present one of the original documents even if the report, USSR-3, has been already submitted in full. It says there that these special units were located in Smolensk and were assigned together with the Armed Forces units to carry out mass killings in the camps.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, Colonel Smirnov. This' document is already in evidence, if the Tribunal understands correctly.

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Thank you, Mr. President.

[Turning to the witness.] Consequently, we may consider it as an established fact that the correspondence, the telegraphic messages of these special detachments did not pass through your hands; is that correct?

THE PRESIDENT: He has said that twice already.

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Excuse me, Mr. President.

[Turning to the witness.] Why did you assert with such certainty that there were no reports about the killing of the Poles? You know that the killing of the Polish prisoners of war was a special action, and any report about this action would have to pass through your hands? Is that correct?

VON EICHBORN: I answered the prosecutor-rather, I answered Dr. Stahmer - that if in the area of Army Group Signal Regiment 537 killings of that sort had taken place, I would undoubtedly have known about them. I did not state what the prosecutor is now trying to ascribe to me.

THE PRESIDENT: Colonel Smirnov, the Tribunal think you had better read this passage from this document, which is in the German language, to the Tribunal so that it will go into the record.

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: In this document, Mr. President, it is stated...

THE PRESIDENT: Go on, Colonel Smirnov.

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Thank you, Mr. President. This document is dated "Berlin, 29 October 1941." It is headed, "The Chief of the Security Police and of the Security Service." It has a classification, "Top Secret; Urgent letter; Operational Order Number-14." Reference is made to decrees of 17 July and 12 September 1941. I shall now read a few short sentences, and I shall begin with the first sentence:


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"In the appendix, I am sending directions for the evacuation of Soviet civilian prisoners and prisoners of war out of permanent prisoner-of-war camps and transit camps in the rear of the Army...

"These directives have been worked out in collaboration with the Army High Command. The Army High Command-has notified the commanders of the armies in the rear as well as the local commanders of the prisoner-of-war camps and of the transit camps.

"The task force groups, depending on the size of the camp in their territory, are setting up special commands in sufficient strength under the leadership of an SS leader. The commands are instructed immediately to start work in the camps."
I break off here, and will continue reading the last paragraph:
"I emphasize especially that Operational Orders Number 8 and 14 as well as the appendix are to be destroyed immediately in the case of immediate danger."
I shall finish my reading and now I shall only mention the distribution list. On Page 2 I quote the part concerning Smolensk. It says here that in Smolensk the Einsatzgruppe "B" was located, consisting of Special Commands 7a, 7b, 8, and 9; and in addition to this, there was already located in Smolensk a special command, which had been rather prematurely named "Moscow" by its organizers.

These are the contents of the document, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal directs that the whole document shall be translated.

We will now recess until 5 minutes past 2 o'clock.

[The Tribunal recessed until 1405 hours.]


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Afternoon Session

MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Mr. President, I have no more questions to put to this witness.


DR. STAHMER: Witness, do you know who owned that little castle near the Dnieper before the occupation by German troops? Who owned it, who lived there?

VON EICHBORN: I cannot say that for certain. We noticed that the little castle was astonishingly well furnished. It was very well laid out. It had two bathrooms, a rifle range, and a cinema. We drew certain conclusions therefrom, when the facts became known, but I do not know anything about the previous owner.

DR. STAHMER: The Russian Prosecutor submitted to you a document dated 29 October 1941, "Directives to the Chief of the Sipo for the Detachments in the Stalags." With reference to that document, I want to ask you whether you had an opportunity personally to ascertain the attitude of Field Marshal Kluge, your commander of Army Group Center, regarding the shooting of prisoners of war?

VON EICHBORN: By chance I became the ear-witness of a conversation between the Commanders Bock and Kluge. That conversation took place about 3 or 4 weeks before the beginning of the Russian campaign. I cannot tell you the exact time.

At the time Field Marshal Von Bock was the commander of Army Group Center, and Field Marshal Von Kluge was commander of the 4th Army. The army group was in Posen and the 4th Army at Warsaw. One day I was called by the aide-de-camp of Field Marshal Von Bock, who was Lieutenant Colonel Count Hardenberg. He gave me the order...

THE PRESIDENT: These details are entirely irrelevant, aren't they. All you want to ask him is: What was the attitude of Von Kluge? That is all.

DR. STAHMER: The answer did not come through. I did not understand what you said, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: What I said was that all these details about the particular place where Von Kluge met some other army group commander are utterly irrelevant. All you are trying to ask him is: What was Von Kluge's attitude toward the murder of war prisoners? Isn't that all?


[Turning to the witness.] Will you answer the question briefly, Witness. Please just tell us what Von Kluge said.

VON EICHBORN: Von Kluge told Von Bock, during a telephone conversation, that the order for the shooting of certain prisoners of


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war was an impossibility and could not be carried out, with regard to the discipline of the troops. Von Bock shared this point of view and both these gentlemen talked for half an hour about the measures which they wanted to adopt against this order.

DR. STAHMER: According to the allegations of the Prosecution, the shooting of these 11,000 Polish officers is supposed to have been carried out sometime in September 1941. The question now is: Do you consider it possible, in view of local conditions, that such mass shootings and burials could have been carried out next door to the regimental headquarters without you yourself having heard about it?

VON EICHBORN: We were very busy in preparation for the move of the army group to Smolensk. We had assigned a great number of signal troops for setting up perfect installations. On the entire site there was a constant going and coming of troops laying cables and telephone lines. It is out of the question that anything of this kind could have occurred in that particular area without the regiment and I getting knowledge of it.

DR. STAHMER: I have no further questions to put to the witness, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: The witness can retire.

DR. STAHMER: Mr. President, before calling my third witness, Lieutenant General Oberhauser, may I ask your permission to make the following remarks?

The Prosecution has up to now only alleged that Regiment Number 537 was the one which had carried out these shootings and that under Colonel Ahrens' command. Today again, Colonel Ahrens has been named by the Prosecution as being the perpetrator. Apparently this allegation has been dropped and it has been said that if it was not Ahrens then it must have been his predecessor, Colonel Bedenck; and if Colonel Bedenck did not do it, then apparently - and this seems to be the third version - it was done by the SD. The Defense had taken the position solely that Colonel Ahrens was accused as the perpetrator and it has refuted that allegation. Considering the changed situation and the attitude adopted by the Prosecution, I shall have to name a fourth witness in addition. That is First Lieutenant Hodt, who has been mentioned today as the perpetrator and who was with the regimental staff right from the beginning and who was, as we have told, the senior of the advance party which arrived at the Dnieper Castle in July. I got the address of First Lieutenant Hodt by chance yesterday. He is at Glucksburg near Flensburg; and I, therefore, ask to be allowed to name as a witness First Lieutenant Hodt, who will give evidence that during the time between July and September such shootings did not occur.


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THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Stahmer, the Tribunal will consider your application, when they adjourn at half past 3, with reference to this extra witness.

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