The Menten Murder Trial
We now move forward to 4 April, 1977, to the Amsterdam court concerning the Podhorodze murder Trial and refer to certain extracts from the trial.
For the first time, witnesses identified Menten and testified about the happenings in Podhorodze on Sunday the 7th July, 1941. The tellers of the tale were four Polish women (Mrs K. Tuzimek, Paulina Tycznska, Sabina Jaworska, and Ludwina Szuster), three of them sisters. The sisters had seen Menten come into the village with the executioners; they had seen him lead the slaughter of many Jews and three non-Jewish Poles. Menten himself, they said, had shot his former estate manager, Novicky, and Novicky's wife, and her brother, Alfred Stepan.
Forced to stand by the execution pit, they saw Menten dressed in a dark uniform. Mrs Tuzimek said: ‘Menten stood on my left, he wore a uniform and a peak cap, he aimed at Novicky and at the same time I heard a shot. The man fell, and then another shot rang out. I could hear Mrs Novicky call out to the police chief Phillip Mueller, Phillip, help me. The young girls cringed when they heard the first shots in Pistiner's yard, but were not allowed to turn away, and so saw how the German uniformed Dutchman performed his murders in cold blood.’ Sabina and Paulina even remembered that before Menten fired his fatal shot at his ex- employee he snarled: ‘Here's one for Hitler!’ The image of Borislaw Novicka a few moments before her death is a disturbing memory for the four women: ‘I can still see her babushka fluttering sort of helplessly, in the wind,’ said K. Tuzimek, the eldest sister. They all remembered how Mrs Noviska kept standing after the first shot, refusing to fall into the pit. Menten walked up to her and viciously kicked the woman into the grave, still alive.
On the third day, a surprise witness appeared for the prosecution. A simple lampshade maker from Arnsberg, West Germany, Hans Geisler had read about
the trial in his local newspaper. It was his duty, he told the court, to clear up a misunderstanding. Menten testified that he had never been a member of Schoengarth's Einsatzgruppe. But Geisler had been a member, and he knew. He even brought along a couple of interesting old photographs. One showed a group of military officers surrounding one civilian, like students around a teacher in a graduation pose. At the time, before he sent the photograph home to his parents, Geisler had written on the back, ‘The man with the glass in his hand, that's me, because war makes one thirsty.’ The civilian, he had written, was ‘van Menten, a Dutchman who has a great deal of possessions.’ ‘Yes, (pointing in the court) that is Menten sitting there,’ he said. ‘That's not me,’ Menten said, examining the photograph. Ignoring him, Geisler said, ‘I had a lot of contact with him. I used to sit next to him at the table. One day I went for a drive with him and a few others to see his possessions around Lvov.’
Menten had always denied having worn a German uniform and alleged the photographs were faked. In the much later trial, the arresting office was able to rebut Menten's version:
‘As detective, I was at the time active in the case of P.N. Menten in Aerdenhout. In the course of performing my duties in making his arrest, I came upon several pictures of P.N. Menten himself, which I pocketed. When I left the PRA-Haarlem to join the national police I kept those photographs in my possession. At your request now, I deliver these pictures.’
Further corroboration as to the veracity of the photographic evidence was offered by a chief witness for the prosecution, the former Dutch consul in Krakow, Dr Bruin. He confirmed that the person in the picture (above) is P.N. Menten. He went on to say that the picture was in fact taken in 1941 in the garden of his house in Krakow: Alega Grottera No. 12. Further corroboration came from two other sources: a former Polish antique dealer who stated that he could give the names of witnesses who had seen Menten in German uniform and Dr Schoengarth who was biding his time in prison after the war as we shall see.
In those days, executions of Jews were beginning on the edge of Lvov, near the electricity plant. When Geisler was asked by the court if he knew of the Professors' murders, he replied ‘I am not aware of the Professors’ murders (of the Ostrowskis, and others on the night of July 3, 1941), ‘but Menten did seem enthusiastic about the executions’. He said to the ambitious Holz Apfel, who killed a lot of Jews, that he (Apfel) deserved the Iron Cross. ‘If I said that, I
meant it ironically,’ Menten said. Geisler replied, ‘Yes, maybe you meant it ironically. ’ Geisler turned to the judge, ‘But he considered Holz Apfel a hero. He also had a friend from the Einsatzgruppen named Kipka. Kipka was a bad person. He had a girlfriend who played the piano. When he didn't like it any longer he shot the piano to pieces. ’
In the early 1960s Rosenbaum had been arrested for War Crimes and in 1965 so he wasn't difficult to find as he was in Hamburg prison serving sixteen life sentences where he was interviewed. Rosenbaum was forthcoming to the detectives about Menten with his recollections of their plundering expeditions in and around Krakow and East Galicia in the 1940s where they had stored their illegal gains in the cellars of the Rabka SD-Sipo School. However, Rosenbaum had unfinished business with Menten over failure to get his share of the profits in 1951 and was now getting payment in kind: In 1951, Rosenbaum and his wife had travelled to Holland to seek out Pieter Menten who owed him a share of the looted property from East Galicia in the ‘Good Old Days’. Not finding Menten at home, Rosenbaum returned to Germany.
Further corroboration comes from Dorothea Schoengarth (wife of Dr Schoengarth), who after the war in the trials of both Menten and Rosenbaum gave evidence that her husband had taken Menten along because he had an antiques shop in Lvov. Her husband had given him a uniform to perform his duties as interpreter for the commando and that Menten and her husband's deputy SS-Obersturmfuehrer Heim were mixed up in shady antiques deals. And, that Pieter Menten had honoured a promise to her husband by paying their daughter's school fees which had been agreed shortly before he was hanged for war crimes.
The Menten Verdict
After a 46-day trial the verdict was announced by Judge Schroder:
‘Mr. Menten, at the preceding sessions you have frequently voiced the expectation that you would be acquitted. You are only acquitted partially. The charges involving the Urycz massacre are dismissed. But in the case of Podhorodze we have found you guilty. The verdict is guilty, and a sentence will follow. The reading of our entire verdict and sentence will take two hours. I can imagine that you may not feel up to
hearing out the whole thing. So, if you wish, you may now leave the courtroom. You may also stay. But you must refrain from interrupting. If you don't, I shall have to have you removed.’
Menten: ‘No, Your Honour I stay. ’
The Judge read the court's decision: Urycz indictment—‘Not guilty.’
Evidence in the Urycz case was found to be insufficient for a conclusive guilty verdict. None of the witnesses saw Menten actually shoot anyone. Nor had any of them been able to determine definitively what role exactly had been played by Menten at Urycz. In addition, statements to the effect that Menten had been seen there were less convincing, since the people of Urycz had been forewarned, expected him to come, after what had happened in Podhorodze. So the element of ‘spontaneous recognition’ could not be said to exist in the Urycz case. However, Judge Schroeder made a point of adding that the court ‘is of the opinion that it is very likely that the defendant also participated in the Urycz executions.’ And he continued:
‘This acquittal does in no way imply that the court has found that the witnesses of Urycz have spoken untruths, as was repeatedly suggested by defendant and counsel. On the contrary, they probably did say what they had observed, exactly and truthfully. But those observations in themselves amount to insufficient evidence for a conviction.’
In the Podhorodze indictments—‘Guilty. ’ Judge Schroeder continued:
‘The court believes that a sentence of punishment should also be preventive, functioning partly as a warning, in order that the crime it is applied to will be less likely to occur again in the future. However, after ample and careful consideration, the court did not deem it appropriate to impose the maximum sentence. Administering justice in the name of Her Majesty the Queen, we sentence you to fifteen years in prison.’
According to Hans Knoop, who was present, Menten replied: ‘For so cleverly abusing the fact that I cannot appeal for another trial. ’ Menten knew well that his trial was brought under specially constituted war-crimes procedures and that only the sentence could be appealed.
Two days after the conviction, Menten's lawyer announced he would appeal on behalf of his client and bring the case to the Supreme Court in The Hague. The next day Prosecutor Counsel announced that he too would appeal, on the grounds that he did not agree with the relatively mild verdict.
According to Hans Knoop the Supreme Court decided differently. It unexpectedly annulled the Amsterdam court's verdict and announced that a new court in The Hague would reopen the case. All the twenty-eight grounds brought up by the defence counsel were rejected by the Supreme Court, but the Court itself discovered other grounds on which it decided the verdict had to be annulled. In the official records of the Amsterdam trial, the Supreme Court discovered that Menten had told the Court that in 1951 the late Minister of Justice, Dr Donker, had promised him that he would never be brought to trial. It was in that year that the minister had had to answer the Polish government's request for Menten's extradition to Warsaw. The Polish government already had sufficient evidence to put Menten on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, but the so-called ‘Cold War’ was then at its height and the minister turned down the Polish request and according to Menten promised him in a private conversation that he would never allow him to be extradited or to be prosecuted in Holland.
The Supreme Court held that the lower court should have investigated Menten's claim, either verifying or refuting it: it should not have ignored it. The Supreme Court indicated clearly that even if it had been established that such a promise had been given to Menten, the Amsterdam court could still have convicted him provided it had explained in its verdict why it had ignored the promise. Thus the verdict was annulled, and a new court in The Hague was appointed to investigate and clarify these points.
The Supreme Court had not acquitted him, nor had it declared that the prosecution had no legal right to prosecute him. So Menten remained in the hospital section of Scheveningen prison while an investigative judge was appointed by the court in The Hague to hear as many witnesses as possible and to clarify once and for all whether or not Menten had indeed been promised immunity from trial by the late Minister of justice.
It was about this time that the twenty-room house in the wealthy Amsterdam suburb which had contained Menten's $7-million art collection caught fire and was reduced to rubble. It was suspected that an arsonist had firebombed the premises.
At the end of 1978 the Menten trial reopened in The Hague. In his plea, Defence Counsel insisted that his client had been given a promise that he would not be prosecuted for collaboration (re the Donker affair above) and that any legal body including an independent court had to honour such a promise. In his view the evidence that such a promise had been given was sufficient. Furthermore, defence counsel referred to the Declaration of Human Rights which stipulated that a legal case against an accused person should be ended within a ‘reasonable’ period of time, arguing that twenty-six years was far from being a ‘reasonable’ period.
The prosecution stated that the crimes Menten was accused of were so serious that they had to be brought to the attention of the court and that the court should pronounce upon them. However, the court was not considering the crimes, only the question of the alleged immunity promise. For the moment it was up to the prosecution to convince the court that the evidence was hearsay and insufficient.
According to Knoop, Menten was given a last word, a ‘word’ that lasted for two hours and was once again full of allegations against Police Commissioner Peters, against me and against all those others who had contributed to his conviction. Once again he stated over and over again that the late minister Donker had given him that promise. Or to be more precise, that he, Menten, had managed to extort such a promise from the minister:
‘In the early 1950s,’ he said, ‘I managed to buy for an awful lot of money a secret report from somebody that contained shocking revelations concerning high ranking Dutch officials who all collaborated with the Germans during the war. The minister knew that I had that report and was dead scared that I would publish it. That's why he gave me the promise that I would not be prosecuted if I kept my mouth shut and did not reveal the contents of that dossier. I made a deal with him,’ he said, and then continued: ‘I am willing to make a deal with you as well.’
Menten said that he was afraid that the court in The Hague would not decide in his favour because if he were freed it would mean that he could ask millions of guilders' compensation from the government as well as from individuals. ‘If you release me from prison and leave me alone I am willing to refrain from any lawsuits for compensation,’ Menten bluntly proposed to the court.
After his last word, the President of the court closed the session:
‘The accused,’ he said, ‘has made very serious and insulting allegations directed against many people present here. The fact that we did not stop him from doing so does not mean that the court agrees with the accused, but only that we did not want to restrict his defence. The court will announce its verdict on Monday, December 4.’
Finally, on 4th December 1978, the court in The Hague announced its verdict. They had decided that the prosecution had no grounds on which to prosecute Menten because of the promise given to him by the late Minister of Justice. The court had accepted Van Heijningen's ‘hearsay’ evidence that such a promise had been given and in its verdict declared that ‘the prosecution had to respect the expectations that were aroused in Menten after he'd received such a promise.’ Furthermore it accepted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights issue that ‘a case against an accused should be ended within a reasonable period of time’ and that this period had been greatly exceeded. Although he had been released on a technicality, his guilt remained. That same day the Prosecution appealed against the verdict.
In March 1979 the advocate-general addressed the Supreme Court for the second time. ‘The verdict,’ he said, ‘cannot be confirmed by the Supreme Court.’ It did not indicate, he said, why the accusations against Menten had been ignored, and the reference to the Declaration of Human Rights was baseless. ‘This refers only to the duration of a prosecution. A prosecution should be finished within a reasonable period of time. Well, the prosecution against Menten only began at the beginning of 1977. The time should be measured from 1977, and not from 1951. If we were measuring from 1951, or even from the time he committed the crimes  this would mean that we respected a Statute of Limitation. As there is no Statute of Limitation, the Declaration of Human Rights cannot be applied to Menten,’ the advocate-general concluded. Menten himself was not present but still in hiding somewhere in Holland. The hearing was adjourned until May 22nd 1979.
On that day the presiding judge took twelve minutes to read the judgment, but the verdict was clear from the very first paragraph. In fact, the Supreme Court rejected all the grounds on which Menten's appeal had been granted the previous December, and ordered that he should stand trial again before a special court in Rotterdam.
On May 31, 1979 the Rotterdam court met in camera to consider the application for Menten's arrest. After hearing the defence counsel's submission (which dwelt chiefly on the poor state of his client's health), and the forceful counter-arguments of the prosecution, the president adjourned the session. The court announced its decision the following day: Menten was to be arrested but because of his ill-health, would be allowed to remain in his own home under guard. An Amsterdam police officer was instructed to notify Menten of the verdict and to read him the warrant. That same day the police went to Menten's residence and when they read the warrant to him Menten collapsed. An ambulance was immediately called and Menten was rushed, with a police escort, to the university hospital at Utrecht. Once again, with the retrial scheduled for the autumn of 1979, drama and uncertainty hung over the future of the Menten Affair.
In between his court appearances, Menten was busy making claims to the Dutch government for his alleged losses at the hands of the Dutch Resistance in 1945. He collected 700,000 guilders for missing family property but failed to share the proceeds with his brother Dirk. His next endeavour was to sue the West German government, by claiming that in Poland he had been the victim of the Nazis. In this he was aided and abetted by one former SS-Lt. Wilhelm Rosenbaum, who testified to the court that he had known Menten in Krakow, and knew him to have been imprisoned and robbed by the German security forces in 1943. Menten received 500,000 Deutschmarks. It is not known if Rosenbaum ever received a share of this bounty or any of the other valuables that Rosenbaum had been chasing Menton for over the years.
Trial Time Line: The Menten Affair
In that summer of 1979 the trial re-opened at the Rotterdam court which was one last gasp by Pieter Menten to bamboozle the court and witnesses into so much confusion that no other verdict than ‘Not Guilty’ was likely. Whereas the prosecution were content to rely on written evidence given to the court in previous sessions, Menten's defence spread their net wide issuing witness summonses to the judiciary, police, politicians, and former SS Officers et al. One final arrogant and contemptuous act was to dismiss his legal team and seek to represent himself and claim to the court that this whole prosecution was a conspiracy thought up by the establishment, and further, that the evidence presented by the prosecution was directed at the wrong man. They should be looking for no other than his brother Dirk who was the real executioner of the Pohorodze murders. The courtroom gasped at this incredulous statement and it seemed that Menten, by his uncontrollable conduct, had had a breakdown in the dock. The court adjourned directing a medical report of the defendant's mental suitability to stand trial. Pieter Menten left the court to seek professional help in one last bid to beat the verdict.
This final twist was indeed the last throw of the dice as the court, the Psychiatrists and ‘uncle tom cobley’ were not fooled and the court reconvened in the spring of 1980, thirty-nine years after the villagers of Podhorodze had been shot into the pit. Days of examination and cross-examination passed with the same allegations by the accused. One final twist which shocked the court to its foundations was the appearance as a witness of his brother, Dirk Menten. Dirk had been devastated that he had been brought into his brother's murderous activities in 1941. Entering the court not looking left or right, Dirk entered the witness box. He had not seen or corresponded with his brother for twenty years:
‘Unfortunately, I am Pieter's brother. I have known about what happened in Podhorodze for quite a long time Pieter signed the contracts with the Pistiners. The lawsuits concerned themselves with wood from maple trees. There was a lot of chicanery in the contract. But Pieter, an incomprehensible human being, does not know the concept of ‘mine’ and ‘yours’—only ‘mine’. We always felt that because of his greed, he was not accountable for his actions. For my own security, we
drew up a statement, my wife and I, and we promised my mother (before she died) that we would only use the statement if our personal honour or good name were ever threatened by him. His accusations have given me good reason to use it now.’
Dirk Menten produced a document from his briefcase dated 1953, signed and notarized. It would appear that in the winter of 1943, Pieter had visited Dirk in Paris.
‘He was worried about how the war was going to end. It was there that he told us how he had been at the execution in 1941. He said that Jews had dug their own grave, and he had warned two people, Schiff and Altmann. It was the first time he told us of this.’
Now eighty-one years old, Menten stood silent with head bowed; he was finished and had lost all his composure with little fight left.
In 1980 Menten was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was fined 100,000 guilders for war crimes, including being accessory to the murder of Jewish villagers in 1941, Poland.
Upon his release he believed he would settle in his County Waterford mansion in Ireland, only to find out Garret Fitzgerald, the Taoiseach at the time, had barred him from the country.
The Barbarossa campaign had sparked Menten's deep commitment to something altogether darker than legalised art-robbery and treachery to his adopted country—namely, to Hitler's ‘Final Solution’.
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