Institute for Historical Review
The Communist-edited Höss memoirs raise the basic question of the nature of the SS and its personnel. This is of decisive importance because of the dominant role of the SS in the administration of the concentration camps. Books denouncing the SS since 1945 are legion, but undoubtedly the two most comprehensive attacks are the narrative account by Gerald Reitlinger, The SS: Alibi of a Nation (London, 1956), and the documentary collection by Reimund Schnabel, Macht ohne Moral: eine Dokumentation über die SS (Power without Morality: a Documentation of the SS, Frankfurt a.M., 1957). Both Schnabel and Reitlinger trace the growth of the SS organization from its early birth within the National Socialist Party. Even in 1929, when Himmler was placed in command, there were, only 280 members.
The SS was designed to be the most loyal and single-minded security organization protecting the Hitler movement. Schnabel cited Himmler as saying at Goslar in 1935 that not many in Germany would like the SS and that some would become actually sick when they saw the SS uniform. Reitlinger placed special emphasis on major dramatic events such as the uprising of the Warsaw ghetto in April, 1943, and its suppression the following month by the SS and Polish auxiliary units. Both men seek to present the SS leadership as made up of dull, pedantic men without scruples, and the mass of the SS men as over-trained robots with an infinite capacity to rationalize deeds of horror.
There is, of course, another side to the SS story which it is necessary to consider in order to obtain the full picture. The SS troops resented the charge that they had been transformed and dehumanized. They were particularly indignant at the charge directed against them after the war that they had been criminal members of a criminal organization. Thousands of affidavits by former SS men testifying to the morality and worth of their organization have been preserved in the unpublished records of the Nuremberg trials.
The SS men were quick to point out that their social status and educational background were above average. They recalled that no criminal elements or men with criminal records were allowed in the organization. They considered themselves primarily loyal servants of the state and of peace and order rather than fanatical ideologues.
More than 5/6th of the SS membership had not been connected with the National Socialist Party prior to 1933. Only 20 per cent of the SS who served in all capacities during the war had volunteered for service prior to the outbreak of war. A decided majority of SS members participated actively in either the Catholic or Evangelical churches.
The SS men argued that their indoctrination on the Jewish question was customarily sophisticated and at a high level and it was most certainly not calculated either to instill hatred or a desire to exterminate the Jews. Indeed, the SS men considered it part of their office to protect Jews and their property as they had done in putting an end to the anti-Jewish demonstrations in German cities in November 1938. Some 99 per cent of the SS men declared that they had first heard rumors of the alleged atrocities against the Jews after the war was over, and they had no idea of so-called planned war crimes.
It was part of their teaching that brutality was considered unworthy of an SS man. All of them knew of atrocities against the Germans in Russia and Yugoslavia during the war, and of serious American mistreatment of the SS captives at the gigantic Fürstenfeldbruck camp after May, 1945. It was the understanding of the SS that foreign workers in the Reich during the war were on an equal status with German workers, and that undue pressure was not to be exerted to increase the production of the work detachments formed by concentration camp inmates. It was widely known in this branch of the service that two SS men had been dishonorably discharged for entering a Jewish domicile in Hannover in 1936 without permission. It was also known that two SS men were expelled at Düsseldorf in 1937 for mistreating a Jew.
The former SS men objected to the charge that all those connected with concentration camp administration were sadists. Men from such camps as Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, and Auschwitz insisted that the prisoners at the camps did not have abnormal work and appeared well-fed. The camps during most of the war were generally clean and well-organized; it was only in the last fearful months that the lack of food and the worst over-crowding took place. The actual camp guards were conscripted for their work. It was easy to obtain affidavits after 1945 from thousands of former concentration camp inmates who had received good treatment.
SS Judge Dr. Konrad Morgen, as chief investigator of the Reich Criminal Police Office, visited numerous camps in 1943 and 1944, including Auschwitz. He discussed confidentially with hundreds of inmates the prevailing situations. The working inmates received a daily ration even throughout 1943 and 1944 of not less than 2750 calories, which was more than double the average civilian ration throughout occupied Germany during the years immediately after 1945.
The regular diet thus described was frequently supplemented both on outside work and in the camps. Morgen saw only a few undernourished inmates in hospitals and here disease was a factor. The pace and achievement in work by inmates was far lower than among the German civilian workers. Premiums were used to increase production, and as a result the inmates often had more tobacco than the outside population or even the guards. Recreational facilities for the prisoners in the camps included radio, library, newspapers, movies and all sorts of sports.
SS court actions were conducted in the camps during the war to prevent excesses, and more than 800 major cases were investigated prior to 1945. Morgen made a statement at Nuremberg on July 13, 1946, which was based on reports he had heard since the war, to the effect that a secret extermination campaign might have been in progress without his knowledge, but later he retracted this statement.
The administration of the German concentration camps was the focal point in the trial of Oswald Pohl at Nuremberg in 1948. Pohl was the chief disbursing officer of the German navy until 1934, when he transferred to service in the SS at the insistence of Himmler. During eleven years he was the principal administrative chief of the entire SS and it was his responsibility after 1941 to see that the concentration camps became major industrial producers. Yet all the testimony permitted Pohl at his trial is confined to seven pages in Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals, 1946-1949, vol. 5, pp. 555ff.
A peak point of irony was reached at the trial when the prosecution said to Pohl that "had Germany rested content with the exclusion of Jews from her own territory, with denying them German citizenship, with excluding them from public office, or any like domestic regulation, no other nation could have been heard to complain." The fact is that Germany was bombarded with protests and economic reprisals, and especially from the United States, for the treatment of the Jews precisely along these lines in the years prior to 1941. The prosecution tried very hard to prove that Pohl had seen some gas chambers at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944, but Pohl repudiated this charge, at every opportunity. It is a fact that Pohl had earlier signed some incriminating statements after being subjected to severe torture. Konrad Morgen presented a special affidavit denying that he had ever intended to implicate Pohl in any possible attempt to exterminate Jews. But it was to no avail, and Pohl was sentenced and hanged. This dejected and broken man was falsely depicted at his trial as having been a veritable fiend in human form during his days of power.
The impression which Pohl made on other people during the days of his influence was decidedly different. In December, 1942, Pohl explained to Heinrich Hoepker some of those medieval, anti-personal property concepts of the SS which had been derived from the traditions of the German Order of Knights. Marc Augier, Goetterdaemmerung (Twilight of the Gods, Freising, 1957) has made clear that the SS did not have the slightest desire to extend these principles to private German society.
Hoepker was an anti-Nazi friend of Pohl's new wife. Pohl, previously a widower, had remarried in 1942. Hoepker was a leading mason of the Grand Lodge of Royal York, and, until 1934, he had been the vice-president of the Prussian Statistical State Office. He came into contact with Pohl repeatedly during the period 1942-1945. Pohl's conversation with Hoepker in December, 1942, marked Pohl's first attempt to give a full exposition of the SS and its functions to a prominent anti-Nazi figure. Hoepker noted that Pohl's attitude on this occasion was characterized by serenity and imperturbable optimism.
Hoepker noted on all subsequent occasions that a cornradely and pleasant atmosphere prevailed among Pohl and his SS colleagues. Hoepker, during a visit to Pohl in the spring of 1944, was brought into contact with concentration camp inmates who were working on a special local project outside their camp area. Hoepker noted that the prisoners worked in a leisurely manner and in a relaxed atmosphere without any pressure from their guards.
Hoepker knew that Pohl did not entertain a highly emotional attitude on the Jewish question, and he knew that the Inspector did not object in the slightest when the Jewess Annemarie Jaques who was a close friend of Pohl's wife, visited at the Pohl home. Hoepker was fully convinced by the beginning of 1945, after several years of intimate and frequent contact with Pohl, that the chief administrator of the German concentration camp system was a humane, conscientious, and dedicated servant of his task. Hoepker was thoroughly astonished when he learned later in 1945 of the Allied accusations against Pohl and his colleagues. Hoepker concluded that the Inspector was either completely psychotic (schizophenic), or else knew nothing of the excesses with which he was charged.
Mrs. Pohl noted that her husband retained his imperturbable serenity in the face of adversity until his March, 1945, visit to the concentration camp, at Bergen-Belsen. He encountered this camp, which had been a model of order and cleanliness, in a state of chaos during a sudden typhus epidemic which was raging there. The situation was frightful, and Pohl was able to do very little under the desperate circumstances which the war had reached by that time. The visit of Pohl took place at about the time that Anne Frank was reported to have died there. Pohl eventually returned to his wife as a broken man, and he never recovered his former state of composure.
Dr. Alfred Seidl, who played a prominent role throughout the Nuremberg trials and whose gifts as defense attorney were highly respected by Allied prosecutors, defended Pohl at his trial. Seidl went to work on behalf of Pohl with the passion of a Zola seeking to exonerate Dreyfus. This was understandable, because Seidl had been a personal acquaintance of Pohl for many years, and he was thoroughly convinced of his innocence with respect to the charge of planned participation in any action of genocide directed against the Jewish people. The Allied judgment which condemned Pohl did not prompt Seidl to change his opinion in the slightest. He realized that the Allied prosecutors had failed to produce a solitary piece of valid evidence against Pohl.
The role of Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich in exonerating the Dachau concentration camp, leadership from the charge of practicing genocide against the Jewish people is well known. The Communist-edited Höss memoirs correctly suggest that conditions of discipline were more severe at Dachau in 1933 and 1934 than at Sachsenhausen or Flossenbürg. This was largely due to personnel factors at Dachau which were later modified. Hundreds of affidavits testify to the fact that conditions at Dachau in wartime were orderly and generally humane. For instance, the Polish underground leader, Jan Piechowiak, was at Dachau from May 22, 1940 to April 29, 1945, nearly the whole war period. He testified on March 21, 1946 that the prisoners at Dachau during his stay received good treatment, and he added that the SS personnel at the camp were "well disciplined."
Berta Schirotschin, who worked in the food service at Dachau throughout the war, testified that the Dachau work details, until the beginning of 1945, and despite the increasing privations in Germany, received their customary second breakfast at 10:00 -a.m. every morning. It would take an impossible stretch of the imagination to contemplate any such consideration for German prisoners of war in Allied detention camps both during and after the war.
The German camp personnel in the various camp locations remained surprisingly complacent and lenient in the face of the notoriously poor work performance of concentration camp inmates. A typical exposition of this situation was made on August 13, 1947, by Richard Goebel, an official of the Portland Cement Corporation. Goebel was in contact with Auschwitz inmates and their work details throughout 1943 and 1944. He cited one instance of a project in a quarry with 300 free German workers and 900 Auschwitz inmates. All of the more difficult jobs were done by the free Germans, and at no time were the inmates required to work more than a normal eight-hour shift. Goebel had previously conducted the same project with 350 free workers, and he noted that he was unable to obtain a higher rate of production with his new combined labor force of 1200. In other words, the work of 900 inmates was equivalent to that of 50 free German workers. Goebel never once encountered mistreatment of Auschwitz prisoners, and be noted that the inmates who worked well received ample premium certificates for supplementary food supplies and tobacco.
The laxity of the work performance of inmates, attested to by hundreds of affidavits from Auschwitz and the other concentration camps, did not, as might have been expected, automatically provoke harsh treatment or reprisals. This laxity was taken for granted as a permanent factor by the administration camp personnel. The slow down tactics on work details were especially notorious at Dachau, but the veteran Communist leader, Ernst Ruff, testified in an affidavit of April 18, 1947, that the treatment of prisoners in the camp and on the work details remained humane.
The pathetic astonishment of SS personnel at the accusations leveled against their organization is reflected in the affidavit of SS Major-General Heinz Fanslau, who had visited most of the German concentration camps during the last years of the war. Fanslau had taken an intense interest in concentration camp conditions, quite apart from his military duties at the front, and he was selected by the Allies as a prime target in the allegation of a conspiracy to annihilate the Jewish people. It was argued that Fanslau, with his many contacts, must have been fully informed. When it was first rumored that Fanslau would be tried and convicted, there were hundreds of affidavits produced on his behalf from Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses who had been inmates at the camps which he had visited. When he read the full scope of the indictment against the concentration camp personnel in supplementary Nuremberg trial no 4, Fanslau exclaimed in despair on May 6, 1947: "This cannot be possible, because I, too, would have had to know something about it."
Hermann Pister, the ex-Buchenwald commander, was tortured into signing a statement at Nuremberg that concentration camp prisoners who, refused to work were shot. But the Allied prosecution failed to reckon with the tough perseverance and stamina of Gerhard Maurer, who had been in charge of all camp labor at Buchenwald. Maurer never cracked, and, in a comprehensive affidavit from Nuremberg on July 11, 1947, he analyzed horoughly the situation which existed. He proved that the fictitious order to shoot prisoners refusing to work was contrary to the practice which prevailed, and that such an order was never actually issued.
SS Lieutenant-Colonel Kurt Schmidt-Klevenow, who was a legal officer with the economy and administration office of the concentration camp system, was especially eloquent on August 8, 1947, in arguing that Pohl had always been a conscientious and responsible official. It is small wonder that neither his testimony nor the sample affidavits cited above have ever been printed, because they present a picture quite different from that which the Nuremberg prosecution wished to, give to the world. Indeed, it is to be hoped that some day Nuremberg documents will be published which have been carefully and fairly selected by objective editors. All of the, existing published series of Nuremberg documents are positively farcial in their one-sidedness.
Schmidt-Klevenow pointed out that Pohl, beginning with the successfully conducted Saubersweig case in 1940, had given judge Konrad Morgen full support in his judicial investigations of irregularities at various camps. Indeed, Pohl actually took a far more energetic role in the difficult Lakebusch case that did Morgen himself. In the notorious Morgen trial prosecution of Commander Koch of Buchenwald, to which the German public was invited, both Pohl and Schmidt were for the conviction and execution of Koch, whereas Morgen was content with the indefinite adjournment of the trial and the retirement of Koch.
Schmidt explained in 1947 that Pohl was instrumental in arranging for local district police chiefs to share with the SS in important jurisdictional functions of the concentration camp system. Pohl on numerous occasions took personal initiative in insisting on strict discipline over camp personnel, and it was due to his efforts in the Ramdohr case that a Gestapo man who had beaten a woman at Ravensbrueek was prosecuted and convicted.
A typical prosecution affidavit contested by the defense in the concentration camp trial was that of Alois Hoellriegel, who had been instrumental in securing the conviction and execution of SS leader Ernst Kaltenbrunner in 1946. Hoellriegel had claimed that mass gassing operation had taken place at the Mauthausen camp in Austria, and that he, as member of the camp personnel, had witnessed Kaltenbrunner taking part in these operations.
It was impossible to sustain this statement signed by the tortured Hoellriegel at the time of the Pohl trial in 1947. The defense proved that all deaths at Mauthausen were systematically checked by the regular local police authorities. In addition, hundreds of affidavits from former Jewish inmates at Mauthausen were collected which testified to humane and orderly conditions at the camp and to good treatment for the prisoners.
The effective work of the defense attorneys, which received no recognition in the official Nuremberg documents, was, nevertheless, confirmed by many prominent American officials who investigated the problem. A typical example of this is reflected in the comments of Stephen F. Pinter, who served as a lawyer for the War Department of the United States in the occupation forces in Germany and Austria for six years after the war. He made the following statement in the most widely read American Catholic magazine, Our Sunday Visitor, for June 14, 1959:
I was in Dachau for 17 months after the war, as a U.S. War Department Attorney, and can state that there was no gas chamber at Dachau. What was shown to visitors and sightseers there and erroneously described as a gas chamber was a crematory. Nor was there a gas chamber in any of the other concentration camps in Germany. We were told that there was a gas chamber at Auschwitz, but since that was in the Russian zone of occupation, we were not permitted to investigate since the Russians would not permit it. From what I was able to determine during six postwar years in Germany and Austria, there were a number of Jews killed, but the figure of a million was certainly never reached. I interviewed thousands of Jews, former inmates of concentration camps in Germany and Austria, and consider myself as well qualified as any man on this subject.
It is small wonder under such considerations that the Holy See has steadfastly and consistently refused to join those who charge that Germany practiced a deliberate policy of seeking to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe. It was possible after Pinter departed from Germany for Americans to visit Auschwitz, but in the meantime many years had elapsed and there had been ample opportunity for the Communist authorities in Poland to set the stage for such visits.