One of the most horrifying testimonies from the horrors of the Holocaust was left by a conscience-stricken SS officer, Kurt Gerstein, who visited the deathcamps Belzec and Treblinka in August 1942 and witnessed the mass gassing of Jewish men, women and children. Gerstein was shocked by what he had seen. Yet, he realized that as a witness, his position was unique, and he was determined to expose what he knew to the world to stop the atrocities: “I was one of the handful of people who had seen every corner of the establishment, and certainly the only one to have visited it as an enemy of this gang of murderers …”
TALES ABOUT A HERO AND A WAR CRIMINAL (Μικρή συλλογή άρθρων)
Α)A strange and lonely hero, SS Officer Kurt Gerstein who tried to save Jews
As he noted in his post-war testimony:
“I prayed with them and cried out to my God and theirs. How glad I should have been to go into the gas chambers with them! How gladly I should have died the same death as theirs! Then an SS officer in uniform would have been found in the gas chambers. People would have believed it was an accident and the story would have been buried and forgotten. But I could not do this yet. I felt I must not succumb to the temptation to die with these people. I now knew a great deal about these murders.”
His report was one of the first and most important documents relating to the extermination of Jews in the death camps, including facts and events that Gerstein personally witnessed. After the war the basic facts of Gerstein’s report were verified by SS Obersturmbannführer Dr. W. Pfannenstiel before the Land-Court of Darmstadt in the Federal Republic of Germany, on June 6, 1950.
Kurt Gerstein, born on August 11, 1905, of an old Prussian family, graduated as a mining engineer in 1931. He had close links to the Christian anti-Nazi Resistance and remained very active in the youth groups, especially the Federation of German Bible Circles until it was disbanded in 1934. He joined the Nazi party in 1933, but outspokenly critical of Nazi blasphemies, he was expelled from the party in 1936. In 1938, he was arrested by the Gestapo and sentenced to a term in a concentration camp to reappraise his premises. Later Gerstein reapplied to become a Nazi party member but was refused.
In 1940 he applied to the SS in order to infiltrate the Third Reich and gather information about the Nazis and their dark secrets, after being told by the Bishop of Stuttgart that mentally ill patients were being killed at the institutions Hadamar and Grafeneck. In the beginning of 1941, Kurt Gerstein’s own sister-in-law, Bertha Ebeling, died mysteriously atHadamar. Gerstein was shocked by her death and became determined to find out the truth about the numerous deaths at Hadamar and similar institutions.
No questions were asked about his past, and on March 10, 1941 he was admitted to the Waffen SS.
In 1942 Kurt Gerstein was appointed head of the Technical Disinfection Department of the Waffen SS, responsible for improving the efficiency of the gas chambers by procuring the highly toxic prussic acid Zyklon B. In the late summer of 1942 he was sent on a mission to introduce Zyclon B gassing into the Nazi death camps in Poland in place of gas engines.
Photo of Auschwitz I gas chamber taken in January 1945
Kurt Gerstein was deeply shaken by what he witnessed – he had but one desire: to gain an insight into the Nazi death machinery and shout it to the whole world. Eventually he risked his life to inform the Allies. He described how the Jews were forced to undress, the piles of shoes were allegedly 25 meters high, the women’s hair was cut off, the naked Jews were driven between two barbed wire fences to the gas chambers. Kurt Gerstein desperately tried to alert the world about the atrocities:
“I see everything! The mothers, their babies at the breast, the little naked children, the men and women, naked. They enter into the death chamber, pushed by the leather whips of the SS. Pack well, that is what the captain ordered. Seven to eight hundred persons on twenty-five square meters. More than half are children …”
A five-year-old girl dropped a necklace and a three-year-old boy picked it up as they passed into the chamber, where victims were crammed in so tightly they could not move. Men, women, children filed past in ghastly parade as a burly SS man promised in a loud, priest like voice that nothing terrible was going to happen to them. “All you have to do is breathe in deeply. That strengthens the lungs. Inhaling is a means of preventing infectious diseases. It’s a good method of disinfection.” To those who timorously asked what their fate would be, the SS man gave more reassurance: the men would build roads and houses, the women would do housework or help in the kitchen.
When the doors closed, the diesel engine would not work but broke down while pumping its deadly carbon monoxide gas into the chamber. While mechanics worked to repair the diesel engine, the Jews had to await death, pressed body-to-body against one another. An SS officer, Wilhelm Pfannenstiel, looking through the glass peep hole in the door of the gas chamber, commented that the Jews were weeping “as they do in the synagogue.”
Finally after two hours, it stuttered to life. “Up till then people were alive in these chambers .. another 25 minutes went by. True, many were now dead. After 28 minutes, only a few were still alive. At last after 32 minutes, everyone was dead. Finally, all were dead like pillars of basalt, still erect, not having any place to fall”, Kurt Gerstein later wrote.
The outside doors to the gas chamber were opened and the bodies taken out. “One could tell families even in death. They were still holding hands, stiffened in death so that it was difficult to tear them apart to clear the chamber for the next load,” Gerstein wrote.
Before the corpses of the Jews were tossed into large trenches, they were searched for valuables in the form of gold teeth or gems or gold hidden in the vagina or rectum. Gerstein was shown the processing of the dead: “With gold to the left – without gold to the right .. Dentists hammered out gold teeth, bridges and crowns. In the midst of them stood Captain Wirth. Hew as in his element, and showing me a large can full of teeth, he said: “See for yourself the weight of that gold! It’s only from yesterday and the day before. You can’t imagine what we find every day – dollars, diamonds, gold. You’ll see for yourself!”
Kurt Gerstein forced himself to watch the final process. The bodies were flung into trenches, each some hundred yards long, conveniently located near the gas chambers. He was told that the bodies would swell from gas after a few days, raising the mound as much as six to ten feet. Once the swelling subsided, the bodies would be piled on railway ties covered with diesel oil and burned to cinders.
Göran von Otter filed a report to his own government, which found it, as did other neutrals, too bizarre for credibility, and it was never acted on. But Gerstein maintained contact with the Swedish embassy in Berlin and kept it informed of the extermination operations.
Gerstein continued to tell people what he had seen, anyone he felt would spread the word about the atrocities:
“Taking my life in my hands every moment, I continued to inform hundreds of people of these horrible massacres. Among them were the Niemöller family; Dr. Hochstrasser, the press attaché at the Swiss Legation in Berlin; Dr. Winter, the coadjutor of the Catholic Bishop of Berlin – so that he could transmit my information to the Bishop and to the Pope; Dr. Dibelius, bishop of the Confessing Church, and many others. In this way, thousands of people were informed by me.”
Gerstein also urged members of the Dutch underground to broadcast his information by radio to Great Britain. But Kurt Gerstein was ignored – nothing happened. All were disinclined to believe his gruesome narrative of mass murder, it was rejected as atrocity propaganda. All his efforts to inform the church, the Allies and the opinion abroad proved futile as did his premise that, if the facts became known, the extermination of the Jews would be stopped via auschwitz.dk
As months continued to pass and still the Allies had done nothing to stop the extermination, Gerstein became increasingly frantic. He behaved in a desperate manner, risking his life every time he spoke of the death camps to persons he scarcely knew ..
A despairing Gerstein risked his life destroying shipments of Zyklon B gas to be used for the extermination of thousands of Jewish people. The gas was buried on the pretext that it had been spoiled in transit.
We drove by car to Lublin where the SS-Gruppenführer Globocnik awaited us. In the factory in Collin I had intentionally intimated that the acid was destined for the killing of human beings. A man appeared in the afternoon who was very interested in the vehicle and, after being noticed, promptly fled at a breakneck tempo. Globocnik said: “This whole affair is one of the most secret things of all in this time, one can say the most secret of all. Whoever talks about it will be shot on the spot. Only yesterday two blabbers have been shot.” Then he explained to us:
“Actually” – that was on 17 August 1942 – “we are running three facilities”, namely:
1. Belzec, at the country road and railway line Lublin – Lemberg, at the demarcation line with Russia. Maximum output 15,000 persons daily.
2. Treblinka, 120 km northeast of Warsaw. Maximum output 25,000 persons daily.
3. Sobibor, also in Poland, I don’t know exactly where. 20,000 persons maximum output daily.
4. – Then in preparation – Majdanek near Lublin.
Belzec, Treblinka, and Majdanek I have visited personally in detail, together with the leader of these facilities, Polizeihauptmann Wirth. Globocnik consulted me alone and said: “It is your task in particular to disinfect the extensive amounts of textiles. The whole Spinnstoffsammlung [= Collection of spun material in Germany] has only been gathered in order to explain the origin of the clothing material for the Ostarbeiter [eastern workers] etc, and to present it as an offering of the German nation. In reality the yield of our facilities is 10 – 20 times larger than that of the whole Spinnstoffsammlung.”
Thereafter I discussed with the most efficient companies the possibility of disinfecting such amounts of textiles – it consisted of an accumulated stock of approximately 40 million kgs = 60 complete freight trains – in the existing laundries and disinfection facilities. However it was absolutely impossible to place such huge orders. I used all these negotiations to make known in a skilful way or at least to intimate, the fact of the killing of the Jews. In the end it was sufficient for Globocnik that everything was sprinkled with a bit of Detenolin so that it at least smelled of disinfection. That was then carried out.
“Your other and far more important task is the changeover of our gas chambers which actually work with diesel exhaust fumes into a better and quicker system. I think especially of prussic acid. The day before yesterday the Führer and Himmler were here. On their order I have to personally take you there, I am not to issue written certificates and admittance cards to anybody!”
Then Pfannenstiel asked: “What did the Führer say?” Glob.: “Quicker, carry out the whole action quicker.” Pfannenstiel’s attendant, Ministerialrat Dr. Herbert Lindner, then asked: “Mr. Globocnik, do you think it is good and proper to bury all the corpses instead of cremating them? A generation could come after us which doesn’t understand all this!”
Then Globocnik said: “Gentlemen, if ever a generation will come after us which is so weak and soft-hearted that it doesn’t understand our task, then indeed the whole of National Socialism has been in vain. To the contrary, in my opinion one should bury bronze plates on which it is recorded that we have had the courage to carry out this great and so necessary work.”
The Führer: “Good, Globocnik, this is indeed also my opinion!”
Later the alternative option was accepted. Then the corpses were cremated on large roasts, improvised from rails, with the aid of petrol and diesel oil. More details from deathcamps.org
B)Top 10 Facts About SS-Standartenführer Joachim Peiper
Many men, soldiers, and supporters of Hitler and his politics, helped Germany do the damage it did during World War II. One of those men was Joachim Peiper.
A young teenager when Hitler first rose to power in his home nation of Germany, Peiper joined the SS after serving as a member of the Hitler Youth. His rise to prominence within the Nazi Party occurred quickly, and he held important positions as a member of the SS by the ages of 18 and 19 years old. Peiper spent his adulthood rising through the ranks of the SS, and in doing so, racked up many accomplishments — and many deaths of his nation’s enemies.
Post-World War II, Peiper spent his years in prison and sitting on trial for his actions, leaving behind a legacy of war crimes. Yet Joachim Peiper lived a life filled with interesting moments and facts beyond his work as an SS official. These are ten facts about Peiper that offer insight into the man, the SS legend, and the war criminal.
Peiper earned more than 20 military awards and honors during his service as a member of the Nazi regime’s SS — and many of those achievements were accomplished before Peiper reached his mid-twenties in age. Almost as quickly as his career in the SS began, Peiper was earning both the admiration of his superiors and military awards.
He was honored for his skill and expertise in leading Nazi troops upon the battlefield, earning awards that included the Eastern Front Medal in September of 1942; the Infantry Assault Badge in Bronze in the fall of 1940; the Close Combat Clasp; and the prestigious Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. Peiper also earned accolades for his success as an SS member, achieving accomplishments like the Sudetenland Medal in 1938; the SS-Honour Ring; two SS Long Service Awards for four and eight years of service; and the Panzer Badge.
The list of his honors and awards is lengthy, and it is clear he was among the most highly decorated SS officials by the war’s end.
2. Himmler’s Right Hand Man
Peiper acted as high-ranking SS official Heinrich Himmler’s right-hand man for many of his years, and the two maintained a close relationship even after the fall of the Nazi regime. During his very early years within the Nazi Party, Peiper formed a relationship, if not friendship, with Himmler that served him well during his years of service as an SS officer.
Soon after officially becoming a full-fledged member of the SS, Peiper was placed in the post of adjutant to Himmler, working in his anteroom alongside the highest ranking members of the SS. Himmler liked Peiper and took him under his wing. Once Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939, Himmler began to bring Peiper everywhere he went on official SS business. This allowed Peiper to be present at the execution of 20 Polish citizens just weeks later in Bydgoszcz Blomberg, an event that was part of Hitler’s special assignment for Himmler to “eliminate intellectuals.”
In the months that followed, Peiper took on, even more, power under Himmler’s watch as he began to assist in the creation and implementation of policies intended to control the Polish populace. Peiper was present at the gassing of Polish psychiatric facilities; alongside SS troops at the Battle of France; and meetings of Reich leaders, during which Peiper was privy to Hitler’s plans for war.
As Germany’s quest for power intensified, Peiper opted to join the forces on the battlefront, and Himmler gave his young mentee permission to fight as a company commander in the 11th Company of 1st SS Division. Once the fighting died down, Peiper returned to Himmler’s side and accompanied his superior on meetings with international politicians and figureheads, and on inspections of Hitler’s concentration camps.
It wasn’t until the war with the USSR began that Peiper left Himmler’s employ for good, once again choosing to see combat.
3. Fanatical Nazi
Peiper never rescinded his support of Hitler, or his adherence to the Nazi mindset, and kept close ties to his former SS allies and friends despite undergoing mandated rehabilitation. Although Peiper faced great accusations, and significant judgment, for his actions while a member of the SS, he did not waver in his political stance or associations — he remained a man of the SS throughout his entire life.
After serving out his post-war sentence in a Belgium prison, Peiper was required to secure a job to prove that he was working towards rehabilitation. With the help of the SS allies, Peiper earned his first job at a car manufacturer. This, however, was not his last contact with his former SS friends. In his life after prison, and after the war, Peiper maintained regular contact with those in the SS whom he was close with, top-ranking SS officials like Kurt “Panzer” Meyer, Sepp Dietrich, and Paul Hausser.
Peiper even tried to help restore glory to the SS by hiding information about its dirtiest deeds. Perhaps most indicative of Peiper’s mindset, though, was a remark he once shared with a friend: “I personally think that every attempt at rehabilitation during our lifetime is unrealistic.”
4. Blowtorch Battalion
Peiper was the man responsible for developing a particular enemy attack: he was the first to attack enemy-controlled villages from all sides during the dark cover of nightfall while simultaneously advancing his armored tanks at full speed and firing at all visible buildings. Thanks to this innovative battle tactic, which he first used in February of 1943, Peiper was awarded the Deutsches Kreuz in Gold award in May of that same year.
When Peiper and his troops began to use this new strategy on a regular basis, they became known as the “Blowtorch Battalion” — they were recognized for setting large-scale fires in villages, torching them in their entirety and murdering the residents. This attack-on-all-sides method also became Peiper’s calling card and was believed to represent his “win at all costs” mentally in combat.
5. War Crimes
When World War II ended, Peiper was accused of a variety of war crimes committed in Germany, Italy, and Belgium. However, he escaped sentencing for many of these and served time in prison for only the crimes he committed while in Belgium.
Luckily for Peiper, the courts of Italy and Germany decided that the charges against him lacked enough evidence to allow for fair prosecution, and he escaped those trials unscathed.
6. When standing trial for war crimes, he denied almost nothing
Instead, he welcomed the charges — or, as he did in his older years, claimed he could not remember the facts of what, exactly, it was that he did. Over the course of his post-wartime trials, Peiper faced accusations of war crimes in the vein of POW murders, violations of wartime treaties, and even playing witness to some greater war crimes. He did not outright deny any of these charges; in fact, he took responsibility for both his actions and those of the men under his command.
Though he faced much questioning, and even torture tactics, by those conducting the investigation, Peiper admitted that he accepted all responsibility for the actions of the men under his command — even if it was brutal and uncalled for. In his later years, Peiper was called before trials and juries who wanted to convict other SS officials; instead of offering details or admonitions of guilt, Peiper claimed that his failing memory prevented him from recalling specifics, which the courts believed.
7. Sentenced to Death
Peiper was sentenced to death by hanging, but the sentence was never carried out. Truthfully, and with great fortune, Peiper evaded death; though he was convicted by a jury, controversy befell the court proceedings. Because of this, United States’ officials changed Peiper’s sentence from immediate death to lengthy imprisonment. It was thought that Peiper and other defendants had earned their “guilty” verdicts due to a flawed judicial process, so all of Peiper’s war crimes were commuted in their sentencing.
By the end of these trials and the time period, Peiper was required to serve 12 years in prison for his war crimes in Belgium alone.
8. Freelance writer and book translator
His work was published under the pen name, or nom de plume, Rainer Buschmann. After trying his hand as an automobile salesman and other professions, Peiper decided to publish written works under a fake name. He wrote for the French magazine Auto, Motor und Sport, and became a self–employed translator for French book publisher Stuttgarter Motor-Buch Verlag.
During his time as a translator and writer, Peiper published a number of works translated from German to English.
9. After the War
When his prison sentence ended, and he rejoined the civilian world, Peiper worked for both Porsche and Volkswagen. That’s right — the former Nazi, the former high-ranking SS officer, took an average job within the production facilities of Porsche. Once released from prison and tasked with finding employment to prove he was on the path to rehabilitation, Peiper enlisted the help of his former SS friends to secure a job at Porsche.
He began his new career in January of 1957, in the company’s technical department. Much like the years of his involvement with the SS, Peiper quickly rose through the ranks at Porsche — however, because he was a criminal during wartime, he was never allowed to travel beyond European borders when he was promoted and required to travel. In his later years, after parting ways with Porsche, Peiper became an auto salesman for another German car company, Volkswagen.
10. Peiper did not die of old age
He was murdered by attackers who, to this day, are still unnamed and unknown. Though he was initially sentenced to death by hanging, as mentioned above, Peiper evaded this fate and lived a long, fruitful life after World War II. He met his end not by hanging during the outcome of his military tribes, but instead at the hand of unknown assailants.
While living in France in the later years of his life, Peiper was shot in July 1976 by strangers. Once certain Peiper was dead, his attackers took their vengeance a step further by setting his residence and home alight with fire. It was in that blaze, with a gunshot wound, that Peiper finally met his end.
Joachim Peiper led quite an eventful life — not only was he a high-ranking member of the SS and renowned military leader during the years of Hitler’s reign, but he also spent his lifetime rubbing elbows with even more notorious and powerful men within the Nazi Party.
However, he was a man with many murders attributed to his name, such as those American soldiers he massacred at Malmedy, and the civilians he killed in Belgium, and it is that reputation that he is remembered by today. Despite these crimes and the horrors that occurred during World War II, Peiper was certainly an intriguing figure in history.
Controversial even today, he was also a courageous and dedicated member of the German military, and highly respected by those whom he worked alongside. Piper left behind a complex legacy, one mixed with both good and evil, a product of the regime that he both supported and worked within.
“Bundesarchiv Bild 101III-Weill-060-13, Metz, Heinrich Himmler” by Bundesarchiv, Bild 101III-Weill-060-13 / Weill / CC-BY-SA 3.0. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Wikimedia Commons.