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Aftermath and Retribution

“The facts learned in this case show the extent of the conveyor-belt killings. It is a mockery that Jewish people were forced to participate in the killings of their brothers in faith, while people like the accused get away with playing the gentlemen.”[1]

The fomer SS-NCOs from Belzec--Dubois, Fuchs, Gley, Jührs, Schluch, Unverhau, Zierke, Girtzig, and Oberhauser--were arrested between 1959-63 and underwent pre-trial interrogations and court hearings. After lengthy proceedings, the judge, accepted their pleas, with the exception of Oberhauser, in mitigation and decided that a public trial was not warranted. All the accused (except Oberhauser) were therefore not acquitted, but simply released without any public trial ever being held. Only Oberhauser had a public trial in January 1963.

The crimes of genocide in Auschwitz and associated camps were well known during and immediately after the war. The crimes of genocide committed in the death camps at Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka only began to emerge for the first time during euthanasia trials of 1946-48. Former SS-Scharführer Josef Hirtreiter, a locksmith, had been interrogated in Frankfurt on July 6, 1945 about the euthanasia at Hadamar. He mentioned a camp near Malkinia (Treblinka) where the gassing of several thousand Jews had taken place. He named several Hadamar colleagues who had accompanied him there.

The most revealing evidence that was to rock the establishment and focus their minds came during the Nuremberg proceedings on August 8, 1946, in the testimony of former SS-Sturmbannführer George Konrad Morgan), the former SS-Judge mentioned above regarding the corruption investigations of the SS. Up to now, only casual references had been made to the death camps, but now Morgan revealed to the court that the directives for genocide came directly from Hitler's Chancellery, via T4.[2] Further evidence of the death camps and the connection with euthanasia and the KdF emerged in 1947 during the investigation into chief physician Adolf Wahlmann and other Hadamar staff.

Heinrich Unverhau, who had been in charge of the sorting depot in the second phase at Belzec (cutting out yellow stars after the victims had been gassed), was the first to be arrested and charged in 1948 in connection with the killing of patients at Grafeneck euthanasia . It was during the course of the trial that information began to emerge about the Reinhardt death camps. After a lengthy hearing into the euthanasia allegations, Unverhau was acquitted of all charges and released as it was proved he had not been involved in the killings.[3] His testimony regarding the death camps was simply ignored by the court as being not relevant to the Grafeneck Case.

Even then, the wheels of justice were slow to turn. It was only in 1959 that the West German government instigated a wide-ranging investigation into the Reinhardt death camps. Belzec, for the first time, was identified as a major killing center in the East. At the conclusion of their inquiries and in quick succession, the “Belzec 9” were arrested and underwent further interrogations. In August 1963, they were brought before examining magistrates with several counts appertaining to the murder of several hundred thousand Jews in Belzec.[4]

Although the defendants had made admissions, the case was a mixture of defensive lies, self-exoneration of the actual killings and, not without some foundation, that they were in fear of their very lives and the lives of their families should they not carry out the express orders of the Belzec camp commanders, Wirth and Hering. The defendants attempted to lessen their own involvement in the genocide, by suggesting that the “actions of destruction” could not have been carried out without the assistance of the Jews. They suggested to the court that the Jews carried out the whole operation: removed the victims from the transports, cut the hair of the females, removed their bodies from the gas chambers, extracted gold teeth, and buried the bodies in the pits, which they had previously prepared.[5] Fortunately, on this point the court was not persuaded. However, the examining magistrates were entirely persuaded on two points: the mortal fear of Wirth, and that the Jews were an integral part of the murder machinery and carried out “the dirty work.”

To convict these men of the Belzec crimes there had to be direct evidence identifying them as the perpetrators of destruction. While there was circumstantial evidence or loose admissions by the accused, the main requirement--witnesses to events implicating individual defendants--was absent. The prosecution traced the Jews who had escaped from Belzec in 1942, but only one, Roman Robak (alias Rudolf Reder) and Sara Ritterbrand made written statements. When the pre-trial examination opened, Ritterbrand was too ill to attend court to give evidence. Robak (Reder), who had traveled from Toronto, Canada, was unable to positively identify in court any of the defendants. (He had, well before the trial, identified Oberhauser, Girtzig Unverhau, and Schwarz from photographs shown to him by the police.)

To rebut the general offered collectively by the defendants, the prosecution relied on one principle: that the defendants were guilty of collective participation, even though they may not have acted as instigators.

In principle, the one in charge who gives the orders (Wirth/Hering), is solely responsible, yet he who carries out these orders must also share the responsibility if he knows the task in hand is unlawful. The plea of mitigating circumstances, i.e., acting out of fear for life, was accepted by the examining magistrates[6] who decided not to proceed with a public trial. Only Oberhauser was ordered to stand trial because of his close association with Wirth throughout Reinhardt. Immediately on leaving the court as free men, Zierke, Dubois, Fuchs, Jührs, and Unverhau were re-arrested and held in custody on similar charges relating to Sobibór.[7])

In January 1965, Oberhauser appeared before the Munich Assize Court. Immediately, Oberhauser claimed to the court that he had already been sentenced to a term of imprisonment for the Belzec crimes at the Magdeburg court (East Germany) in 1948, where a Soviet Military Tribunal sentenced him to a term of 15 years' imprisonment. When the Munich court investigated Oberhauser's claims, it was established that he had been tried and sentenced for crimes relating to euthanasia and not the Belzec crimes, as these was not known at the time. The trial continued.

Giving evidence against him were the co-defendants from the previous Belzec trial. In addition, and attending as a witness for the prosecution, was 73 year-old Wilhelm Pfannenstiel, former SS-Standartenführer, consultant hygienist who had visited Belzec with Kurt Gerstein in August 1942, and Roman Robak (Reder), now 84 years-old. Neither witness was able to identify Oberhauser. Pfannenstiel, when describing to the court of his visit to Belzec in August 1942, stated that it was the worst experience of his life. He confirmed to the court that he had seen the Jews operating the gas engines, a point picked-up in closing speeches of the prosecution. In his defense, Oberhauser had refused to comment on any issue relating to the allegations, but statements made by him previously to the investigating officers were read to the court:

“What Wirth ordered, I had to carry out. It would have not mattered to him to shoot even an SS man if he refused to carry out an order…. As far as gassing of the old Jews was concerned, I could understand it, anything over and above that was too much for me. I thought to myself that there must be some other way of getting rid of the Jews. ”

A sentiment shared by Zierke and Fuchs.[8]

Because of Oberhauser's close association with Wirth and his arrogant aloofness in Belzec, his colleagues took the opportunity in the court to discredit him. They implicated him with the camp construction and the full gassing operations.

Said SS-Scharführer Karl Schluch:

“If Oberhauser maintained that he did not participate in the extermination of the Jews in Belzec, or that he did not see the whole operation from beginning to end – from the unloading to the removal of the bodies – then I say, 'Try another one!'

Oberhauser not only knew well the entire running of the extermination operation but he also took part in it. In my opinion, there is no doubt that Oberhauser was an authoritative person in the killing of the Jews in Belzec camp. The Belzec camp operated for only one reason, and for what Oberhauser did he was well promoted.”[9]

One point that came over very strongly during the trial and was corroborated by all the witnesses, to Oberhauser's advantage, was that Wirth's law and discipline were feared and there was no way to challenge them.

The prosecution was able to weaken Oberhauser's defense ploy of only being on the periphery of events in Belzec. He was convicted and sentenced to four years and six months' imprisonment. After having served only half his sentence, he was released from prison and returned to Munich where worked as a barman in a beer hall. He died in 1979.[10]

For the crime of murdering over 600,000 Jews in Belzec, Josef Oberhauser was the only person ever convicted.

Sobibór trial - 20 December 1963 in Hagen[11]

1. Zierke, Ernst (Belzec)[12] Acquitted  
2. Bolender, Kurt[13] Suicide Male nurse
3. Dubois, Werner (Belzec)[14] 3 years imp.  
4. Frenzel, Karl[15] Life imp. Builder
5. Fuchs, Erich (Belzec[16]) 4 years imp.  
6. Ittner, Alfred[17] 4 years imp. Male nurse
7. Jührs, Robert (Belzec)[18] Acquitted  
8. Lachmann, Erich[19] Acquitted Police officer
9. Lambert, Erwin[20] Acquitted Builder
10. Schutt, Heinz-Hans[21] Acquitted Male nurse
11. Unverhau, Heinrich (Bel)[22] Acquitted  
12. Wolf, Franz[23] 8 years imp Photographer

First Treblinka trial - 3 September 1965 in Düsseldorf

1. Franz, Kurt Life imp. KZ/Cook
2. Hirtreiter, Josef Life imp. Male nurse
3. Küttner, Kurt Died Male nurse
4. Horn, Otto Richard Acquitted Male nurse
5. Lambert, Hermann 4 years Builder
6. Matthes, Arthur Life imp. Male nurse
7. Mentz, Willy Life imp. Farm worker
8. Münzberger, Gust 12 years Cook
9. Rum, Albert 3 years Photographer
10. Stadie, Otto 6 years Male nurse
11. Suchomel, Franz 7 years Photographer

Second Treblinka Trial - 13 May 1970 in Düsseldorf [24]

  Stangl, Franz Paul Life Police officer

Between 700,000 and 900,000 persons, predominantly Jews, but also including Gypsies, were killed in Treblinka.[25] According to the Stroop Report (Official German report to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising), approximately 310,000 Jews were transported in freight trains from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka during the period from July 22 to October 3,1942. Approximately another 19,000 Jews made the same journey during the period from January 1943 - mid-May 1943.

During the period from August 1, 1942 to August 23,1943, additional transports of Jews arrived by freight train at Treblinka from other Polish cities, including Kielce, Miedrzyrec, Luków, Wloszczowa, Sedziszów, Czestochowa, Szydlowiec, Lochów, Kozienice, Bialystok, Tomaszów Mazowiecki, Grodno, and Radom. Other Jews arrived at Treblinka in horse-drawn wagons and trucks, as did the Gypsies, including some from countries other than Poland. In addition, Jews from Germany and other European countries, including Austria, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Greece, were transported to Treblinka, mostly in passenger trains.

In the trials listed above only one defendant was a bona-fide member of the SS. In a random selection of 22 personnel who entered T4, only four were members of the SS.

Were these men who had come from a disrupted society of average or below average intelligence? Were these men who had carried out the most horrendous crimes natural-born killers and sadistic psychopaths who had been spurred on by blind loyalty to their Führer? Or, as I suggest, were they caught up in the unstoppable merry-go-round of Nazi pseudo-political criminality when cold mass murder had ceased to touch them by its repetitiveness over many years of political and anti-Semitic indoctrination? The Christian Wirth leadership is central to these quandaries and it is clear that a major contributory factor was fear of Wirth and retribution by the state.

Each man was privy to his own thoughts and reasons for his own actions. After several years of transformation in the euthanasia program and Reinhardt, these more or less 'ordinary' men manifested the effects in their daily behavior. As the historians Browder and Browning et al have emphasized, all of them had in some way significantly contributed to the Third Reich.

Soviet Retribution

When the tide of the war turned in the east, the Soviets were quick to exploit their military advances. To show the world that Soviet justice was paramount, hastily convened war crimes trials were held where summary justice was generously meted out to former German collaborators, usually finalized with a 25-year sentence in the Gulag or simply a military firing squad.

Initially, these trials were held in public, but as Soviet westward gains consolidated their position, there was less emphasis on the “public,” and more on trials held behind closed doors. As early as 1943, trials were held in Krasnodar in July, and Kharkov in October, when various grades of collaborators were dealt with. However, as the Great Patriotic War came to an end in 1944, the Soviet machinery of Justice (some say in undue haste) unleashed a ferocious prosecution program. This purge came in two phases: between 1947 – 1952 and between the 1960s and 1970. High on the list for retribution were the Soviet citizens who had been former guards in the death camps of Operation Reinhardt: the Trawnikimänner.

The Soviet state trials of those who had not managed to seek refuge in the West were short and direct. On the day of conviction - there was no appeal - they were taken out and shot. The Wachmann Nikolay Petrovich Malagon, who served briefly in Belzec and who had been interrogated by the Soviets in February 1945, has given us a general overview of the torture and cruelty inflicted on helpless people in the Reinhardt camps. Malagon served in Belzec for only five days when there was an attempted escape by his compatriots. All were arrested and returned to Trawniki. Malagon was later posted to Auschwitz and then Buchenwald concentration camp, from where he escaped in March 1945.[26] Many of these guards were hunted down and arrested by the Soviets and placed on trial in Kiev; few escaped the wrath of the mother country. B. Bielakow, M. Matwijenko, I. Nikifor, W. Podienko, F. Tichonowski, F. Schultz, J. Zajczew, and several others who had served in Belzec and Sobibór, were tried and executed. In 1965, at Kiev, a further 10 guards who had served in these camps were arrested, tried, and executed by firing squad. In a third Kiev trial, another three Ukrainian guards met the same fate.[27]

The history of the Trawnikimänner has yet to be told. The main archival sources remain with the Federal Security Service (AFSB) in Moscow. Other sources are held in various archives at district level spread throughout the former Soviet Union. Documents cited here were collected from various archival locations, but all originate from the United States Department of Justice and from Israel in connection with the criminal proceedings against Ivan (John) Demjanuk. The former KGB archives in Vilnius, Lithuania, and in Prague, Czech Republic, all hold a vast amount of material relating to Soviet criminal proceedings against German collaborators. The lack of resources by the archives has inhibited important indexing and filing of this material. So far we have only scratched the surface of this most important aspect of Holocaust research. David Rich's Reinhardt Footsoldiers points the way, but it is a chapter of history just waiting to be explored and written.


  1. Ibid. Opening statement of the prosecution. Return

  2. PRO, File No. WO/208/4673: Interrogation of George Konrad Morgan, 8 August 1946. Return

  3. Blatt, Sobibor, 95 Return

  4. Josef Oberhauser: Procuring materials for destruction; received transports into the camp; close collaboration and conspiring with Christian Wirth, well knowing that Belzec, Sobibór and Treblinka were camps for the murder of Jews. That he assisted in the murder of approximately 450,000 Jews. Werner Dubois: Procuring materials for the camp gassing barracks; being party to the murder of 360,000 Jews. Erich Fuchs: Assisting in the construction of the gas chambers and party to the murder of 150,000 Jews. Heinrich Gley: Being party to the murder of 170,000 Jews. Robert Jührs, Karl Scluch, Heinrich Unverhau and Ernst Zierke all being party to the murder of 360,000 Jews. Return

  5. TAL/ZStL, Belzec Case:. (Official communique of the court in Munich announcing suspension of the pretrial Belzec hearings). Return

  6. Ibid. Certified copy of the court conviction. Return

  7. Ibid. Return

  8. TAL/Belzec Case: Statements of Oberhauser, Zierke and Fuchs. Return

  9. TAL/ZStL, File No. 208 AR-Z 252/59: Case Against Josef Oberhauser et al. (BelzecCase): statement of Karl Schluch, 11.11.1961. This comes from the earlier court hearing's, not from Oberhauser's trial. In fact ,thanks to the court testimony of Oberhauser's former colleagues from Belzec, he came off in rather a good light. They either would not - dared not? - say anything incrminating against him in court). Return

  10. In 1976, Oberhauser was among a number of former SS personnel and Dieter Allers who were tried in absentia by an Italian Court in Trieste for crimes committed the San Sabba camp. Oberhauser and Allers were both sentenced to life imprisonment. After his release Oberhauser returned to Munich where he worked in a beer hall and was a subject of Claude Lanzman's film Shoah. See Lanzmann, Shoah, 63. (* Neither Allers nor Oberhauser served any sentence for San Sabba). Return

  11. TAL/ZStL, File No. 208, AR-Z 251/59: Sobibor Case. The Sobibór trial commenced on 6 September 1965 and concluded on 20 December 1966. SS-Gruppenführer Jakob Sporrenberg's report to the HSSPF Kraków gave details of the revolt. See also: Blatt, Sobibor, 86. Of a total of 17 SS staff and approximately 120 guards at Sobibór, 10 SS-NCOs, 2 Volksdeutsche and 8 Ukrainians were killed in the revolt. (2 of the SS-NCOs had previously served at Belzec). Return

  12. Accused of participating in the mass murder of 30 Jews. Return

  13. Accused of participating in mass murder of 86,000, and personally murdering 360 Jews. Committed suicide while on remand in prison. Return

  14. Accused of participating in mass murder of 43,000, and 15,000 Jews. Return

  15. Accused of personally killing 42 Jews and participating in mass murder of 250,000, and 150,000 Jews. Return

  16. Accused of participating in mass murder of 3,600 and 76,000 Jews. Return

  17. Accused of participating in mass murder of 57,000 and 68,000 Jews Return

  18. Accused of mass murder of 30 Jews. Return

  19. Accused of participation in mass murder of 150,000 Jews. Return

  20. Accused of participation in mass murder of an unknown number of Jews. Return

  21. Accused of participation in mass murder of 86,000 Jews. Return

  22. Accused of participation in mass murder of 72,000 Jews. Return

  23. Accused of participating in mass murder of 115,000, and 39,000 Jews. Return

  24. Passed on 22 December 1970 in the trial of Franz Stangl at the Court of Assizes, in: TAL/Düsseldorf: Az-Lg X1-148/69 S, 111 ff. Return

  25. Like Belzec and Sobibór, it has not been possible to establish the exact number of people transported to Treblinka. Calculations are based on a formula that has formed the bases of subsequent assessments: 60 wagons per transport, each containing 100 persons (6,000). Where people were transported in ordinary passenger carriages, these estimates may be halved. See: expert opinion submitted to the court by Dr Helmut Kraunsnick, Director of the Institute for Contemporary History (Institut für Zeitgeschichte) in Munich. The Belzec calculations were 40 wagons x 100 people? Return

  26. Malagon Protocol, 00268, 18 March 1978. Return

  27. Blatt, Sobibor, 99. By the time Reinhardt was dissolved, it is estimated that 80% of this close-knit SS and guard personnel had served in all three-death camps. More importantly, throughout its existence, Reinhardt had one senior command administration for security personnel, and although not the most senior, Christian Wirth was the binding force and improviser of the procedures in all three camps, and we can therefore be reasonably confident that was happening in Belzec was also happening in Treblinka and Sobibór. Return

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