Kurt Gerstein, the sixth of seven children, was born in Münster, Germany, on 11th August 1905. His father, Ludwig Gerstein, was a former Prussian officer, was a judge and an authoritarian figure. According to Saul Friedländer, he proudly proclaimed that in his family's genealogical tree there was only Aryan blood and exhorted future generations to "preserve the purity of the race!" (1) He was also described as a "pious and unbending judge". (2)
Karl Gerstein pointed out that Kurt was the "most difficult" of his siblings and did not relate well to other members of the family. "Brought up by his father in the German traditions of obedience and hard work, he defied his father and took delight in being rebellious and disobedient. He regarded both his parents as cold and remote and felt particularly neglected by his mother." (3)
Kurt Gerstein was a difficult child at school and his teachers found him "lazy" and it was suggested that he failed to respond to the bad reports he was always receiving. However, he was an intelligent boy and in 1925 he had little difficulty being accepted to study at the University of Marburg. He later transferred to the University of Aachen where he graduated in 1931 as an engineer. (4)
During this period he became interested in religion and joined several Christian organizations including the German Association of Christian Students (DCSV), the Evangelical Youth Movement (CVJM-YMCA) and the Federation of German Bible Circles. He was also a supporter of Adolf Hitler and on 2nd May 1933, he joined the Nazi Party and two months later became a member of the Sturmabteilung (SA). (5)
Gerstein strongly disagreed with the Nazi religious policies and in 1933 he sent protest telegrams to Hitler Youth leader, Baldur von Schirach and Bishop Ludwig Müller, the new leader of the Reich Church. (6) Müller had recently made controversial comments including the view that "Christ was an Aryan" and that traditional Christianity was "whole-hearted Bolshevism under a tinsel of metaphysics". (7) Müller and the German Christians attempted to merge the Christian doctrine with Nazi ideology and with German mythology. They also sought to purge the Christian religion of its Jewish roots. For example, Jesus of Nazareth was turned into an "Aryan hero" and attempts were made to remove Old Testament studies from the school curriculum. (8)
In 1935 Kurt Gerstein protested at a performance of the anti-Christian play Wittekind by Edmund Kiss. As a result he got beaten up and "received a black eye, a cut mouth and some broken teeth". (9) " His reaction to further depredations by the Nazis on the Church was always extreme. His stance for what he saw as purity, and against Nazi obscenity, was fanatical, and yet friends remember a man who had a good sense of humour and a great capacity for irony." (10)
The following year he was arrested and imprisoned for having anti-Nazi literature. Released after only six weeks, Gerstein found that he had been dismissed from his job with the Miners' Association. He considered devoting his life to religion but eventually decided to go to the Protestant Missions Institute to study medicine. (11)
Kurt Gerstein married his long-term fiancee, Elfriede Bensch, on 31st August 1937. However, he continued his anti-Nazi work and in 1938 he was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. He was released after six months owing to lack of evidence. With the help of the son of Hugo Stinnes, he got a job in a potassium mine in Thuringia. (12)
In 1941 Gerstein's sister-in-law, Bertha Ebeling, was a victim of the euthanasia program directed at the mentally ill. (13) Gerstein responded by joining the Waffen SS in order "to see things from the inside", to try to change the direction of policies, and to publicize the crimes being committed. (14) In a letter to his wife he told her that he had joined the SS as an "agent of the Confessing Church." (15) Gerstein later claimed he was working for Martin Niemöller. (16)
Gerstein went to work in the hygiene section of the medical department of the SS where he designed a water filter for German troops. In January 1942 he was promoted and became head of the Technical Disinfect ion Department where he worked with poisonous substances. He visited several concentration camps to examine the possibility of using the highly toxic gas, Zyklon B, on the inmates.
Kurt Gerstein was sent to Belzec Extermination Camp to meet with Christian Wirth. While there he witnessed the killing of an entire trainload of Jews: "When the train arrived many were already dead, having been packed into the train with no room to move or lie down. The survivors were told that they were being sent to the bathhouse to be disinfected. They were assured that they would come to no harm and that they should breathe deeply to ensure that infectious diseases were prevented. The people were herded naked into the gas chamber. Families still clung together, children holding their parents' hands, husbands putting protective arms around their wives. The doors were slammed shut and the diesel pumping engine was started. Almost immediately it broke down.... The minutes passed while engineers were brought in to mend the faulty engine. From inside the gas chamber the sound of crying could be heard. Periodically an SS officer peered through the glass window in the door of the chamber to see what was happening inside. He reported that they were wailing like they did in the synagogue. This officer seemed to feel no sorrow or pity for the wretched souls squashed inside the small chamber, bodies pressed so tightly together that there was no room to turn or shift their weight from one leg to the other; no room for a mother to bend to comfort the small child clinging to her legs. Eventually, after being trapped for more than two hours, the diesel engine croaked into life, but it took another thirty minutes of pumping the deadly carbon monoxide into the chamber before everyone inside was dead."
Gerstein later told a friend: "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 was then shown how the bodies were processed: "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. He was 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!" (17)
While travelling back by train to Germany he found himself sharing a compartment with the diplomat Göran von Otter, who was based at the Swedish Legation in Berlin. Gerstein told him that "I saw something awful yesterday. Can I come and see you at the Legation?" Von Otter suggested that they should speak about the matter straight away. Gerstein then told him about the visit to Belzec. (18)
"There were beads of sweat on his forehead. There were tears in his eyes... We stood there together all night, some six hours or maybe eight, and again and again Gerstein kept on recalling what he had seen. He sobbed and hid his face in his hands. From the very beginning as Gerstein described the atrocities, weeping and broken-hearted, I had no doubt as to the sincerity of the humanitarian intentions." (19)
Kurt Gerstein begged Von Otter to pass what he had told him on to the Allies so that they might do something to stop the killing. He made a full report and handed it to his superiors. According to Anton Gill, the author of An Honourable Defeat: A History of German Resistance to Hitler (1994): "Von Otter duly made a report to his government, but it was suppressed because the Swedes did not want to damage their trade relations with Germany." (20)
Walter Laqueur, the author of The Terrible Secret (1980), has put forward another theory for this decision: "The argument that the Swedish Government found it too risky to pass the information to the Allies can hardly be taken seriously for there were, of course, ways and means to transmit it without directly implicating the Swedish Government. If so, why was the report not leaked at least to the press? Because, to put it in the shortest possible way, it was August 1942. The Swedish Embassy in Berlin was besieged by unfortunate Jews." Laqueur believes that the numbers requesting entry to Sweden would increase if this information became public. (21)
Gerstein also told his contacts in the Confessional Church. This included Bishop Otto Dibelius and Martin Niemöller. He also passed the information to Diego Cesare Orsenigo, the representative of the Vatican in Berlin. However, he was a supporter of Adolf Hitler and refused to take any action. He told Pope Pius XI that he advocated conciliation out of a fear that if the Church came into conflict with the Nazi government it would lead to "lapsed religiosity among German Catholics". He argued that "unless the clergy appeased the regime and relieved members of the church of a conflict of conscience". (22)
Gerstein later reported: "My attempt to report all this to the head of the Legation of the Holy See had no great success. I was asked if I was a soldier. Then I was denied any kind of interview and was requested to leave the legation forthwith. I relate this to show how difficult it was, even for a German who was a bitter enemy of the Nazis, to succeed in discrediting this criminal government.... 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, and many others. In this way thousands of people were informed by me." (23)
Owen Chadwick, the author of Britain and the Vatican During the Second World War (1988) states that "Diego Cesare Orsenigo saw nothing but ill to come from a breach between the Church and a Nazi State. As an Italian he believed in the Fascist State. His ideas on what ought to happen in Germany were formed on the basis of what happened in Italy". (24)
Bishop Dibelius also did nothing with this information. After the war he claimed that he was not aware of the "full implications" of the final solution. "There was no evidence which would have stood up in a court of law; no cardinal or bishop was ever permitted to visit Auschwitz, Sobibor or Treblinka. Their knowledge was based on hearsay, but it is unlikely that they had any doubts as to the authoritative character of this information." (25)
Kurt Gerstein surrendered to French forces in the town of Reutlingen on 22nd April 1945. The following month he was interviewed by Major D. C. Evans of the British Army and Major John W. Haught of the United States Army. "Kurt Gerstein told us that we were the first British and American personnel he had seen and that he wanted to speak to us regarding what he knew about German concentration camps. He informed us that he was a personal friend of Pastor Niemöller and that, working for him as a secret agent, he had obtained a post of responsibility in the Nazi Party. In this capacity, he had been present at meetings which dealt with the fate of prisoners in the concentration camps. When he was asked whether he was familiar with the use of gas chambers for killing prisoners, he replied that as an engineer he had often been called upon to advise on the workings of these installations. He said that the two gases used were hydrocyanic acid and the exhaust gas of internal combustion engines... Dr Gerstein fled from the Nazis only three weeks ago. He is evidently still affected by his experiences and has difficulty in talking about them. But he is anxious that the guilty parties be brought to trial for their crimes and states that he is prepared to act as a witness. He hopes that the information he has supplied will be transmitted as quickly as possible to the competent authorities in London." (26)
Kurt Gerstein also told the two officers that he had tried to give his report to the French authorities to whom he had surrendered, but that they were not interested in receiving it. In June 1945 he was taken to Paris and then put into the Cherche-Midi Military Prison and held by the French as a war criminal. "Conditions in the prison were disgusting, the cells were full of lice, it was cold and dark and the food was terrible." (27)
Kurt Gerstein was found dead in his cell on 25th July, 1945. He appeared to have torn a strip from his thin blanket and committed suicide. It was never discovered whether this was a result of the conditions he had to suffer or whether he found it impossible to endure being regarded as a war criminal.
In August 1950, Gerstein's name was put before the Denazification Court in Tübingen. The court ruled: "After his experiences in the Belzec camp, he might have been expected to resist, with all the strength at his command, being made the tool of an organized mass murder. The court is of the opinion that the accused did not exhaust all the possibilities open to him and that he could have found other ways and means of holding aloof from the operation." The Premier of Baden-Württemberg overturned this verdict on 20th January 1965.
A solitary child, Kurt Gerstein did not relate well to his brothers and sisters or to other members of his family. Brought up by his father in the German traditions of obedience and hard work, he defied his father and took delight in being rebellious and disobedient. He regarded both his parents as cold and remote and felt particularly neglected by his mother.
At school his behaviour was no better. Although he was intelligent and attended three different grammar schools as a result of his father being moved from Saarbrucken to Halberstadt and then on to Neurippin, he was lazy and totally unconcerned about his teachers' unfavourable opinions of him. He found it amusing to be regarded in such a bad light and no amount of chastising could make him change his ways. He "thumbed his nose" at authority and took absolutely no notice of the bad reports he was always receiving. In spite of this attitude he worked sufficiently well to be able to graduate from his grammar school and attend university.
Kurt Gerstein... came from a conservative, traditional family in Munster, where the values of obedience and stoicism had been bred into him from childhood. Obedience was not something to which he was inclined naturally, but he grew up conventionally, though his attachment to the Evangelical Church was noticeably passionate. At the end of 1933, despite having already joined the SA, Gerstein sent two telegrams protesting against the disruption by the Nazis of German evangelical youth work, in which he was deeply involved. The recipients of these, Nazi Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach and State Bishop Ludwig Muller, did not react, but the early protest was a courageous one. Further moves against the Church compounded Gerstein's outrage, and as Nazi skulduggery all round him became unbearably evident, so there grew within him a need to bear witness to the crimes of the regime which would not be denied.
In Hagen in 1935, the local Roman Catholics demonstrated at a performance of the anti-Christian play Wittekind by Edmund Kiss. The riot was quashed by the police. The following day, Gerstein booked a front-row ticket and from it conducted his own solo demonstration. In the fight which followed he lost several teeth. Although the introduction of the Nuremberg laws against Jews does not appear to have affected him (he came from a conventionally, but not violently, anti-Semitic background), he did help one Jewish convert friend to continue his theological studies. His reaction to further depredations by the Nazis on the Church was always extreme. His stance for what he saw as purity, and against Nazi obscenity, was fanatical, and yet friends remember a man who had a good sense of humour and a great capacity for irony.
He was first arrested in 1936 for organising the First Congress of the Miners' Association of the Saar, and though the Confessing Church, with which he was closely associated, interceded for him and prevented his imprisonment, he was dismissed from the Party. His dominant father forced him to apologise and recant. All his older brothers and his father were by now Party members. Not belonging was a severe hindrance to a career. He obeyed, but nevertheless continued his fight, through pamphlets and publications which he financed from the private income he derived from the family firm in Dusseldorf. Significantly, one series of pamphlets was called Of Honour and Purity, in which he was clearly trying to square his conscience and beliefs with Nazi ideology, but he was re-arrested in summer 1938 and accused of monarchist plotting. By now he was married and had started a family.
He was sent to a concentration camp for six months, but was then released owing to lack of evidence. Although his father continued to support him, Gerstein became depressed and pessimistic. He had used up his private supply of money on his pamphleteering, and had not been in work for a year. An attempt to take up medical studies foundered, as did another to read theology. Finally, with the help of a powerful industrialist, Hugo Stinnes Jnr, he got a job in a potassium mine in Thuringia in the summer of 1939.
My attempt to report all this to the head of the Legation of the Holy See had no great success. I relate this to show how difficult it was, even for a German who was a bitter enemy of the Nazis, to succeed in discrediting this criminal government....
I continued to inform hundreds of people of these horrible massacres. In this way thousands of people were informed by me.
Kurt Gerstein told us that we were the first British and American personnel he had seen and that he wanted to speak to us regarding what he knew about German concentration camps. He said that the two gases used were hydrocyanic acid and the exhaust gas of internal combustion engines. He was unable to give any details of the concentration used, but he said that with HCN death was almost instantaneous, while in the case of exhaust gas it took fifteen to twenty minutes.
Dr Gerstein fled from the Nazis only three weeks ago. He hopes that the information he has supplied will be transmitted as quickly as possible to the competent authorities in London. He handed over to the signatories a note in English, a seven-page typewritten report and some invoices from the firm of Degesch for the supply of Zyklon B to concentration camps. He also showed us, as evidence of his past activities, a religious pamphlet written by him in 1938. There is reason to consider whether Dr Gerstein should not be protected against the local Nazis.
Both Catholic and Protestant church leaders (such as the German Bishop Dibelius) have claimed after the war that until the very end they were not aware of the full implications of the final solution. This may well be true if the stress is put on the "full implications". There was no evidence which would have stood up in a court of law; no cardinal or bishop was ever permitted to visit Auschwitz, Sobibor or Treblinka. Their knowledge was based on hearsay, but it is unlikely that they had any doubts as to the authoritative character of this information.
Kristallnacht (Answer Commentary)
Adolf Hitler's Early Life (Answer Commentary)
Heinrich Himmler and the SS (Answer Commentary)
Trade Unions in Nazi Germany (Answer Commentary)
Adolf Hitler v John Heartfield (Answer Commentary)
Hitler's Volkswagen (The People's Car) (Answer Commentary)
Women in Nazi Germany (Answer Commentary)
German League of Girls (Answer Commentary)
The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (Answer Commentary)
The Last Days of Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)
(1) Saul Friedländer, Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good (1969) page 10
(2) Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2001) page 708
(3) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) page 108
(4) Saul Friedländer, Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good (1969) page 11
(5) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) page 109
(6) Anton Gill, An Honourable Defeat: A History of German Resistance to Hitler (1994) page 151
(7) Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2001) page 718
(8) Louis R. Eltscher, Traitors or Patriots? A Story of the German Anti-Nazi Resistance (2013) page 80
(9) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) page 109
(10) Anton Gill, An Honourable Defeat: A History of German Resistance to Hitler (1994) page 151
(11) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) page 109
(12) Anton Gill, An Honourable Defeat: A History of German Resistance to Hitler (1994) page 152
(13) Saul Friedländer, Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good (1969) page 73
(14) Pierre Joffroy, Spy for God: Ordeal of Kurt Gerstein (1974) page 133
(15) Saul Friedländer, Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good (1969) page 215
(16) Report by Major D. Evans and John W. Haught, on their interview with Kurt Gerstein (May, 1945)
(17) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) pages 110-111
(18) Saul Friedländer, Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good (1969) pages 124-125
(19) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) page 112
(20) Anton Gill, An Honourable Defeat: A History of German Resistance to Hitler (1994) page 154
(21) Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret (1980) page 50
(22) José M. Sánchez, Pius XII and the Holocaust: Understanding the Controversy (2002) page 101
(23) Kurt Gerstein, statement to Major D. Evans (May, 1939)
(24) Owen Chadwick, Britain and the Vatican During the Second World War (1988) page 21
(25) Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret (1980) page 50
(26) Report by Major D. Haught, on their interview with Kurt Gerstein (May, 1945)
(27) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) page 115
The Gerstein Report
Kurt Gerstein, retired mining civil servant, graduate engineer, on 27 September 1936 released from the Höheren Preußischen Bergdienst because of subversive activity.
Born on 11 August 1905 in Münster (Westfalen), associate of the engineering works De Limon Fluhme & Co. in Düsseldorf, Industriestraße 1 - 17 . Special factory for automatic grease systems for engines, Knorr- and Westinghouse brakes.
Personal record: 1905-1910 in Münster (Westfalen). 1910-1919 Saarbrücken . 1919 until 1921 Halberstadt . 1921-1925 Neuruppin near Berlin . There in 1925 school-leaving examination at the humanistic grammar school. Studies: University Marburg a. Lahn 1925-1927 . Berlin 1927-1931 , college of technology Aachen 1927 . Graduate engineer examination 1931 in Berlin-Charlottenburg . Since 1925 active member of the organized Protestant Youth (CVJM-YMCA) and the bible circles at secondary schools.
Political activity: Active follower of Brüning and Stresemann . - Since June 1933 persecuted by the Gestapo because of Christian activity against the Nazi State. On 2 May 1933 joined the NSDAP, on 2 October 1936 expulsion from the NSDAP because of subversive (religious) activity for the denominational church. At the same time expulsion as official from the civil service because of disturbing a party solemnity ceremony at the state theatre in Hagen (Westfalen) on 30 January 1935 - a performance of the drama "Wittekind" - thrashed in public and injured. On 27 November 1935 mining service examination at the economics ministry in Berlin , all examinations passed with distinction. Until arrest on 27 September 1936 civil servant at the Saarland mines administration in Saarbrücken . This first arrest happened because of sending 8,500 subversive (re the Nazis) pamphlets to all heads of ministerial departments and high judicial officers in Germany. In accordance with a life-long wish I then studied medicine in Tübingen at the Deutsches Institut für Ärztliche Mission. This was possible because of my economic independence. As an associate of the De Limon Fluhme & Co. in Düsseldorf I earned an average income of 10,000 Reichsmark yearly. I used to spend approximately one third of this income for my religious ideals. In particular, I had 230,000 religious and anti-Nazi pamphlets printed and distributed at my own cost.
On 14 July 1938 my second arrest occured, and I was committed to the Konzentrationslager Welzheim because of subversive activity. Before that I was frequently warned and interrogated by the Gestapo, and received a ban on speaking throughout the whole Reich area.
When I heard about the beginning of the killing of mentally ill persons at Grafeneck and Hadamar and other sites, I decided to make every effort to look into the matter of these ovens and chambers in order to learn what happened there. This was all the more relevant as a sister-in-law by marriage - Bertha Ebeling - was compulsorily killed in Hadamar . With two references from Gestapo officers who had worked on my case, I easily succeeded in joining the SS. The gentlemen took the view that my idealism, which they probably admired, must be of advantage to the Nazi cause. On 10 March 1941 I joined the SS. I received my basic training in Hamburg-Langenhorn , in Arnhem (Holland), and in Oranienburg . In Holland I immediately contacted the Dutch resistance movement (graduate engineer Ubbink , Doesburg ) [See our page "Gerstein’s report in the Netherlands"]. Because of my dual studies I was soon taken over by the technical-medical service and allotted to the SS-Führungshauptamt, Amtsgruppe D, Sanitätswesen der Waffen-SS Abteilung Hygiene. I completed the training in a course together with 40 physicians. At the Hygienedienst I could determine my activities for myself. I constructed mobile and stationary disinfection facilities for the troops, for prisoner-of-war camps, and concentration camps. With this I had great success and was from then on undeservedly considered as a kind of technical genius. Indeed it turned out well at least to some extent, by getting the horrible epidemic typhus wave in 1941 in the camps under control. Because of my successes I soon became Leutnant and then Oberleutnant.
At Christmas 1941 the court which had ordered my expulsion from the NSDAP was informed about my joining the SS in a leading position. The result was a severe witch hunt against me. But because of my great successes and my personality I was protected and kept in office. In January 1942 I became head of the department of health engineering and in addition in a double function for the same sector I was taken over by the Reichsarzt SS und Polizei. In this function I took over the whole technical disinfection service including disinfection with highly toxic gases.
In this capacity I was visited on 8 June 1942 by the until then unknown to me SS-Sturmführer Günther from Reichssicherheitshauptamt Berlin W, Kurfürstenstraße . Günther arrived in civil clothing. He gave me the order to immediately obtain 100 kg prussic acid for a very secret Reichs order, and to drive with it by car to an undisclosed location which would be only known by the driver. Then some weeks later we drove to Prague . I understood little of the nature of the order but accepted it because here was an accidental opportunity to do something which I had longed for for a long time - to be able to view inside these objects. In addition I was recognized as such an authority and considered so competent as an expert on prussic acid, that in every case it would have been very easy for me to declare on some pretext that the prussic acid was unsuitable - because of decomposition or the like - in order to prevent its use for the real killing purpose. Together with us travelled - merely by chance - Professor Dr. med. Pfannenstiel , SS-Obersturmbannführer, full Professor of Hygienics at the University of Marburg/Lahn .
Then 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.
The next day we drove to Belzec . A small special station had been created for this purpose at a hill, hard north of the road Lublin-Lemberg , in the left angle of the demarcation line. South of the road some houses with the inscription "Sonderkommando Belzec der Waffen-SS". Because the actual chief of the whole killing facilities, Polizeihauptmann Wirth , was not yet there, Globocnik introduced me to SS-Hauptsturmführer Obermeyer (from Pirmasens ). That afternoon he let me see only that which he simply had to show me. That day I didn't see any corpses, just the smell of the whole region was stinking to high heaven in a hot August, and millions of flies were everywhere.
Near to the small double-track station was a large barrack, the so-called 'cloakroom', with a large counter for valuables. Then followed the barber's room with approximately 100 chairs, the barber room. Then an alley in the open air, below birches, fenced in to the right and left by double barbed wire with inscriptions: 'To the inhalation- and bath rooms!'. In front of us a sort of bath house with geraniums, then a small staircase, and then to the right and left 3 rooms each, 5 x 5 metres, 1.90 metres high, with wooden doors like garages. At the back wall, not quite visible in the dark, larger wooden ramp doors. On the roof as a "clever, little joke" the Star of David. In front of the building an inscription: Hackenholt -Foundation. More I couldn't see that afternoon.
The next morning, shortly before 7 a.m. someone announced to me: "In ten minutes the first transport will come!" In fact the first train arrived after some minutes, from the direction of Lemberg . 45 wagons with 6,700 people of whom 1,450 were already dead on arrival. Behind the barred hatches children as well as men and women looked out, terribly pale and nervous, their eyes full of the fear of death. The train comes in: 200 Ukrainians fling open the doors and whip the people out of the wagons with their leather whips. A large loudspeaker gives the further orders: 'Undress completely, also remove artificial limbs, spectacles etc. Handing over valuables at the counter, without receiving a voucher or a receipt. The shoes carefully bound together (because of the Spinnstoffsammlung), because on the almost 25 metre high heap nobody would have been able to find the matching shoes again. Then the women and girls to the barber who, with two, three scissor strokes is cutting off all hair and collecting it in potato sacks. "That is for special purposes in the submarines, for seals or the like!" the SS-Unterscharführer who is on duty there says to me.
Then the procession starts moving. In front a very lovely young girl so all of them go along the alley, all naked, men, women, children, without artificial limbs. I myself stand together with Hauptmann Wirth on top of the ramp between the gas chambers. Mothers with babies at their breast, they come onward, hesitate, enter the death chambers! At the corner a strong SS man stands who, with a voice like a pastor, says to the poor people: "There is not the least chance that something will happen to you! You must only take a deep breath in the chamber, that widens the lungs this inhalation is necessary because of the illnesses and epidemics." On the question of what would happen to them he answered: "Yes, of course, the men have to work, building houses and roads but the women don't need to work. Only if they wish they can help in housekeeping or in the kitchen."
For some of these poor people this gave a little glimmer of hope, enough to go the few steps to the chambers without resistance. The majority are aware, the smell tells them of their fate! So they climb the small staircase, and then they see everything. Mothers with little children at the breast, little naked children, adults, men, women, all naked - they hesitate but they enter the death chambers, pushed forward by those behind them or driven by the leather whips of the SS. The majority without saying a word. A Jewess of about 40 years of age, with flaming eyes, calls down vengeance on the head of the murderers for the blood which is shed here. She gets 5 or 6 slashes with the riding crop into her face from Hauptmann Wirth personally, then she also disappears into the chamber. Many people pray. I pray with them, I press myself in a corner and shout loudly to my and their God. How gladly I would have entered the chamber together with them, how gladly I would have died the same death as them. Then they would have found a uniformed SS man in their chambers - the case would have been understood and treated as an accident, one man quietly missing. Still I am not allowed to do this. First I must tell what I am experiencing here!
The chambers fill. "Pack well!" - Hauptmann Wirth has ordered. The people stand on each other's feet. 700 - 800 on 25 square metres, in 45 cubic metres! The SS physically squeezes them together, as far as is possible.
The doors close. At the same time the others are waiting outside in the open air, naked. Someone tells me: "The same in winter!" "Yes, but they could catch their death of cold," I say. "Yes, exactly what they are here for!" says an SS man to me in his Low German. Now I finally understand why the whole installation is called the Hackenholt -Foundation. Hackenholt is the driver of the diesel engine, a little technician, also the builder of the facility. The people are brought to death with the diesel exhaust fumes. But the diesel doesn't work! Hauptmann Wirth comes. One can see that he feels embarrassed that that happens just today, when I am here. That's right, I see everything! And I wait. My stop watch has honestly registered everything. 50 minutes, 70 minutes [?] - the diesel doesn't start! The people are waiting in their gas chambers. In vain! One can hear them crying, sobbing. Hauptmann Wirth hits the Ukrainian who is helping Unterscharführer Hackenholt 12, 13 times in the face. After two hours and 49 minutes - the stop watch has registered everything well - the diesel starts. Until this moment the people live in these 4 chambers, four times 750 people in 4 times 45 cubic metres! Again 25 minutes pass. Right, many are dead now. One can see that through the small window in which the electric light illuminates the chambers for a moment. After 28 minutes only a few are still alive. Finally, after 32 minutes, everyone is dead!
From the other side men from the work command open the wooden doors. They have been promised - even Jews - freedom, and some one-thousandth of all valuables found, for their terrible service. Like basalt pillars the dead stand inside, pressed together in the chambers. In any event there was no space to fall down or even bend forward. Even in death one can still tell the families. They still hold hands, tensed in death, so that one can barely tear them apart in order to empty the chamber for the next batch. The corpses are thrown out, wet from sweat and urine, soiled by excrement, menstrual blood on their legs. Children's' corpses fly through the air. There is no time. The riding crops of the Ukrainians lash down on the work commands. Two dozen dentists open mouths with hooks and look for gold. Gold to the left, without gold to the right. Other dentists break gold teeth and crowns out of jaws with pliers and hammers. .
Among all this Hauptmann Wirth is running around. He is in his element. Some workers search the genitals and anus of the corpses for gold, diamonds, and valuables. Wirth calls me to him: "Lift this can full of gold teeth, that is only from yesterday and the day before yesterday!" In an incredibly vulgar and incorrect diction he said to me: "You won't believe what we find in gold and diamonds every day" - he pronounced it (in German Brillanten) with two L - "and in dollars. But see for yourself!" And now he led me to a jeweller who managed all these treasures, and let me see all this. Then someone showed me a former head of the Kaufhaus des Westens in Berlin , and a violinist: "That was a Hauptmann of the Austrian Army, knight of the Iron Cross 1st class who is now camp elder of the Jewish work command!"
The naked corpses were carried on wooden stretchers to pits only a few metres away, measuring 100 x 20 x 12 metres. After a few days the corpses welled up and a short time later they collapsed, so that one could throw a new layer of bodies upon them. Then ten centimetres of sand were spread over the pit, so that a few heads and arms still rose from it here and there. At such a place I saw Jews climbing over the corpses and working. One told me that by mistake those who arrived dead had not been stripped. Of course this has to be done later because of the Spinnstoffsammlung and valuables which otherwise they would take with them into the grave.
Neither in Belzec nor in Treblinka was any trouble taken over registering or counting the dead. The numbers were only estimates of a wagon's content. Hauptmann Wirth asked me not to propose changes in Berlin re his facilities, and to let it remain as it is, being well established and well-tried. I supervised the burial of the prussic acid because it allegedly had decomposed.
The next day - 19 August 1942 - we drove in the car of Hauptmann Wirth to Treblinka , 120 km north northeast of Warsaw . The equipment was nearly the same as, but much larger than in Belzec . Eight gas chambers and real mountains of suitcases, textiles, and clothes. In our honour a banquet was given in old German style in the communal room. The meal was simple but everything was available in sufficient quantity. Himmler himself had ordered that the men of these commandos received as much meat, butter and other things, especially alcohol, as they wanted.
Then we drove in the car to Warsaw . I met the secretary of the Swedish legation in Berlin , Baron von Otter in the train when I tried in vain to get a bed in a sleeping car. Still under the immediate impression of the terrible events, I told him everything with the entreaty to inform his government and the Allies of all of this immediately because each day's delay must cost the lives of further thousands and tens of thousands. He asked me for a reference, as to which I specified Generalsuperintendent Dr. Otto Dibelius , Berlin, Brüderweg 2, Lichterfelde-West , an intimate friend of the pastor Martin Niemöller and member of the church resistance movement against Nazism. I met Mr. von Otter twice again in the Swedish legation. Meanwhile he had reported to Stockholm and informed me that this report has had considerable influence on Swedish-German relations. At the same time I tried to report to the Papal Nuncio in Berlin . There I was asked if I am a soldier. Then any further conversation with me was refused and I was asked to leave the embassy of His Holiness. While leaving the embassy, I was shadowed by a policeman on a bicycle who shortly passed me, got off, and then absolutely incomprehensibly, let me go.
Then I reported all this to hundreds of personages, among others the company lawyer of the Catholic bishop of Berlin , Dr. Winter , with the special entreaty to forward it to the Holy See. I must also add that SS-Sturmbannführer Günther from the Reichssicherheitshauptamt - I think he is the son of the Race- Günther - again demanded from me very large amounts of prussic acid in early 1944 for a very sinister purpose. On the Kurfürsten-Street in Berlin he showed me a shed in which he intended to store the prussic acid. I consequently explained him that I cannot take sole responsibility. It was approximately several wagon loads, enough to kill millions of people. He told me that he himself doesn't know whether the poison would still be needed when, for whom, in which way etc. But it has to be permanently kept available.
Later I often thought about the words of Goebbels . I can believe that they wanted to kill a majority of the German nation, surely including the clergy or the unpopular officers. It should happen in a kind of reading rooms or club rooms, so far as I gathered from the questions re the technical realization that Günther asked me. It could also be that he intended to kill the foreign workers or prisoners of war - I don't know. In every case I managed to ensure that the prussic acid disappeared for some purpose of disinfection after arrival in the two concentration camps Oranienburg and Auschwitz .
That was somewhat dangerous for me but I could have easily said that the poison had already been in a dangerous condition of decomposition. I am sure that Günther tried to get the poison in order to probably kill millions of persons. It was sufficient for approximately 8 million people, 8,500 kgs. I have authorised invoices for 2,175 kgs. I always allowed the invoices to be authorised in my name, allegedly for the sake of discretion, but in truth because of being free to dispose of the poison and being able to allow it to disappear. Above all I avoided presentation of invoices again and again, delaying payment and putting off companies until later."
As for the rest I avoided appearing in concentration camps too often because it was sometimes usual to hang people or to carry out executions in honour of the visitors.
All my statements are true, word-for-word. I am fully aware of the extraordinary tragedy of my record before God and the whole of mankind, and take it on my oath that nothing of all this that I have registered has been made-up or invented but everything is exactly the truth.
The Holocaust: Kurt Gerstein
German anti-Nazi, SS officer and head of the Waffen SS-Institute of Hygiene in Berlin. Gerstein was the sixth of seven children born to a well-established Lutheran family in Muenster, in the German state of Westphalia. Gerstein's father was a judge and German nationalist his mother died when he was young.
Gerstein studied mining engineering and received his degree from the university in Marburg in 1931. Two years later, he joined the Nazi Party, while remaining in the Protestant youth movement.
Conflict between his faith and Nazi ideology soon got him into trouble. After speaking out against a play approved by the regime in 1935, he was beaten by storm troopers. Later, he was arrested for planning to disseminate anti-Nazi pamphlets. He was expelled from the Nazi Party for activities on behalf of the dissident Bekenntniskirche (“Professing Church”) and was twice incarcerated in concentration camps (1936 and 1938).
With the help of his father and several influential officials, Gerstein was readmitted to the Nazi party in 1939. Anxious to know more about the Nazis' horrifying activities, he volunteered for the Waffen-SS in March 1941 and became an employee at its Hygiene Service. There are, however, other versions of the reason for his entry into the SS. One explanation is that he was suspicious of the death of his sister-in-law in the euthanasia program. It is unclear if she was indeed killed or that she died before Gerstein applied to join the SS.
At the hygiene institute he developed techniques for vermin control and maintaining quality drinking water for combat troops, which helped earn him a series of promotions to First Lieutenant. He was subsequently given the responsibility for delivering Zyklon B – a poison gas used in fumigations – to Auschwitz and other camps.
In 1942, Gerstein was sent by the RSHA to Belzec and Treblinka , where his task was to substitute Zyklon B for diesel exhaust fumes as a means of mass murder. At Belzec he witnessed the killing of several thousand Jews from Lvov.
Upon his return to Berlin, Gerstein tried to stop the murders, informing Swedish and Swiss legations, the Holy See, and underground Church groups, the German Confessing Church, of his experiences, but despite the accuracy of his reports, he encountered disbelief and indifference. Charged with the task of continuing to supply the murderous gas to the camps, Gerstein succeeded in destroying two consignments.
As the outcome of the war became evident, Gerstein turned himself in to French authorities and insisted he wanted to provide information to convict the people responsible for the atrocities. Gerstein, however, was suspected of involvement in the crimes.
He was imprisoned in Paris in May 1945 and submitted to an Anglo-American intelligence team a detailed report on Nazi atrocities, particularly his experience at Belzec, which was used at the Nuremberg trials. Another, in German, was published after his death in Vierteljahreshefte fuer Zeitgeschichte (vol. 1, 1953), entitled “Augenzeugenbericht zu den Massenvergasungen.”
Gerstein was found hanged in his cell on July 25, 1945, victim either of suicide or murder. He left no note so we can only speculate whether he was distraught over his failure to prevent the atrocities or was just afraid of being convicted as a war criminal. Regardless, his testimony remains essential to our understanding of Belzec, where so little first-hand information was available.
According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, “On August 17, 1950, a denazification court in Tuebingen found Gerstein to have been a Nazi offender for his assistance in the production and delivery of Zyklon B. His widow was denied a pension. Almost 15 years later, with the help of Baron von Otter and other well-placed friends, Gerstein's wife obtained posthumous pardon for her husband in January 1965.”
S. Friedlaender, Kurt Gerstein, the Ambiguity of Good (1969) idem, in: Midstream, 13 no. 5 (1967), 24 F. Helmut, K. Gerstein (Ger., 1964) R. Hochhuth, The Representative (1963), (U.S. title –The Deputy). P. Joffroy, A Spy for God: The Ordeal of Kurt Gerstein (1971).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
“Kurt Gerstein,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, Washington, DC, USHMM, 2014.
Kurt Gerstein – SS Officer who Tried to Stop the Holocaust
The policy of the Third Reich towards the Jews was contained in the expression “Final Solution.” This euphemism really meant the mass annihilation of the Jewish population of Europe, and was an escalation of the anti-Semitism of the German National Socialists.
One SS officer, named Kurt Gerstein, is considered to have tried to sabotage the “final solution” while remaining faithful in matters not related to a crime against humanity. Risking his life, he gave information about the existence of Nazi death camps.
Kurt Gerstein was born on August 11, 1905 in Münster into a Lutheran family and was the sixth of seven children. His father was a staunch German nationalist, worked as a judge, and actively imposed his political position on his children.Kurt Gerstein
Gerstein’s mother died when he was young, so most of his care was provided by a Catholic servant, a woman known as Regina.
Portrait of Kurt Gerstein (1905 – 1945), German SS officer and member of the Institute for Hygiene of the Waffen-SS. Photo: Morburre CC BY-SA 3.0
Despite his natural curiosity, Gerstein was not an ideal student at school. He ignored schoolwork but in 1925, he easily got his abitur. Then he studied mining at the university in Marburg, where in 1931 he received a diploma.
In early 1933, Gerstein’s brothers joined the Nazi Party. For this reason, he also joined the Party on May 1, 1933, approximately 5 months after Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor.
Hitler with Nazi Party members.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 119-0289 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Adolf Hitler addressing the Reichstag on 23 March 1933. Seeking assent to the Enabling Act, Hitler offered the possibility of friendly co-operation, promising not to threaten the Reichstag, the President, the States or the Churches if granted the emergency powers.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-14439 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
As a teenager, Gerstein became an active member of the Confessing Church and devoted all his free time to church work, supporting the Christian education of young people. Several factors contributed to this, such as his parents’ lack of interest, poor home life, and religious devotion.
However, thanks to his ecclesiastical views, he came into conflict with the Nazi regime. Gerstein faced the choice of church or the Nazis, and at first, he chose the church.
Synodal elections 1933: German Christians and Confessing Church campaigners in Berlin
In late January 1935, he openly spoke out against the Nazi regime in a church play. About a year later, Gerstein was arrested by the Gestapo in connection with the distribution of prohibited materials in favor of preserving the autonomy of the church. At this time, he was briefly imprisoned and was expelled from the Nazi party.
After his release, Gerstein could not find a job and went to school to study medicine. Since 1936, he lived in the city of Tübingen, and on August 31, 1937, he married a woman named Elfriede. He continued to oppose the Nazi regime until July 1938, when he was arrested and charged with treason.
His father and several selected influential people from the SS helped secure his release on June 10, 1939. At that time, Gerstein returned to the Nazi party, which enabled him to get another position in a mining company.
Membership of the Nazi Party from 1939
In February 1941, Gerstein learned that his sister-in-law, Berta Ebeling, died in a psychiatric hospital in Hadamar, Germany. He also learned that the German government had embarked on a program of euthanasia with the aim of physically destroying people with mental disorders, mental retardation, and hereditarily burdened patients.
Berta’s death seemed suspicious to Gerstein and contributed to his entry into the SS ranks. He wanted to discover for himself the Nazi plans for the mass extermination of people.
Hitler’s order for Aktion T4.Aktion T4 was a postwar name for mass murder through involuntary euthanasia in Nazi Germany.
In 1941, Gerstein applied for membership in the SS. Despite his dubious record, was accepted in March 1941. After two months of training, he was admitted to the Waffen SS Hygiene Institute in Berlin on June 1, 1941. This agency was subordinate to the SS General Directorate of Operations.
Gerstein proved himself to be a good specialist in the field of sanitation and technology. He made an important contribution to the development of methods for combating parasites and maintaining quality drinking water for soldiers.
Waffen-SS-Division „Das Reich“.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101III-Hoffmann-04-23 Hoffmann CC-BY-SA 3.0
By April 20, 1943, Gerstein had been appointed an SS First Lieutenant in the Waffen SS. Because of his expertise in decontamination methods, Gerstein was called upon to help implement the “final solution.”
His responsibilities included being responsible for delivering large quantities of Zyklon B to Auschwitz and other camps. He was also called upon to inspect the Belzec extermination camp.
Belzec extermination camp SS staff, 1942.
According to Gerstein, he disliked this process. He claimed later that on one occasion he was able to deliberately “fail” to deliver a load of Zyklon B gas, and disposed of it instead.
He considered distributing leaflets to inform the public about the ongoing killings, but this idea was not translated into reality. He later decided to inform the whole world about the horrors that he saw.
Deportation of Jews to Bełżec extermination camp from Zamość, April 1942
In April 1945, when the defeat of Germany was inevitable, Gerstein appealed to the French authorities in the town of Reutlingen. He announced that he was giving up, and offered to provide all his knowledge to punish those responsible for the massacres.
However, Gerstein became a suspect, not a witness. At the end of May, he was transferred to the Cherche-Midi Prison in Paris. There he wrote a statement known as the “Gerstein Report.” The report described everything that Gerstein had seen over the years of service in the SS, including the experience in Belzec.
Prison Cherche Midi in Paris (non-existent) at postcard of 1910
In his statement, Gerstein tried his best to reject suspicions of involvement in the massacres from himself. However, whether because of the nature of the charges against him, the fear of being convicted, or disappointment that he could not slow down the implementation of the “final solution,” Gerstein hanged himself in July 1945.
On August 17, 1950, a denazification court in Tuebingen stated that for his help in the production and delivery of Zyklon B, Gerstein was a Nazi criminal.
Despite this, the exact nature of his relationship with the SS and the Nazi party remains a mystery. However, his friends and witnesses with whom he spoke during the war claimed that Gerstein was always a staunch opponent of the Nazi regime.
Kurt Gerstein, a righteous . SS-man
Post by yerbamatt » 25 Jun 2004, 03:41
A fascinating and tragic story of Kurt Gerstein, a SS-man with conscience.
Post by Karl » 25 Jun 2004, 04:42
Post by Lucius Felix Silla » 25 Jun 2004, 09:11
More appropriate title of this topic: Kurt Gerstein a liar.
Post by Earldor » 25 Jun 2004, 09:48
Lucius Felix Silla, I understand that the Gerstein evidence hurts your denial and that must sting, but I see that you haven't even tried to back up your claims.
LFS simply calls Gerstein a liar. No attempts to present even the usual flimsy denier evidence.
Post by Mostowka » 25 Jun 2004, 12:25
Taken from page two of the article, apparently they were not at all aware of the effort Gerstein had put into informing people about the gassings, nothing is mentioned of witnessess stepping up in his defense and thus it would be hard for him to prove anything as all he did was struggle to realese information.
In my eyes not a witch-hunt, only a poorly informed court who made a terrible mistake.
Post by Karl » 25 Jun 2004, 12:50
This thread is seriously pissing me off. Two of my posts have been deleted and another poster’s post has been edited and no mention of these occurrences.
Now it seems people are keen to discover another denier or apologist or whatever you wish to label me. You are barking up the wrong tree.
If you look at my words you will see the crucial word some.
Mistake? How many mistakes do you think occurred? Do you have any idea how many of these trials went down after the war? If you look again I generalized. Fact is, many people jumped the gun. How many lives were destroyed in this manner after the war? Unfortunate is maybe the word some would use. Most despicable is this man was not even alive to defend himself.
People like Goldhagen might not agree, but more then a handful of Germans made it through the war with their honour still intact.
Post by Marcus » 25 Jun 2004, 12:56
That would be me and since I'm just human I forgot to write a post about it here, but of course it is just a big evil conspiracy.
Post by Karl » 25 Jun 2004, 13:27
Marcus Wendel wrote: That would be me and since I'm just human I forgot to write a post about it here, but of course it is just a big evil conspiracy.
That is just fine. No need for snide remarks.
Post by Lucius Felix Silla » 25 Jun 2004, 16:38
Earldor wrote: Lucius Felix Silla, I understand that the Gerstein evidence hurts your denial and that must sting, but I see that you haven't even tried to back up your claims.
LFS simply calls Gerstein a liar. No attempts to present even the usual flimsy denier evidence.
Speak of Belzec, and You have immediately a contrast with Earldor.
I think that You are really, the last man on earth to believe to mass of absurdities of Kurt Gerstein.
PS-2170 p.5: 700-800 people in one gas chamber of 25sq. mt.! in other words 28-32 people for sq.mt.!
PS-1553 p.7: At Belzec and Treblinka 25 millions of people have been killed!
The various rapports written by Gerstein are full of these ridiculous statements. He was probably mentally affected by schizoids tracts, as acknowledged by the same Friedlander!
Post by Beppo Schmidt » 29 Jun 2004, 04:20
Post by Earldor » 29 Jun 2004, 18:01
His possible mental problems do not affect the overall value of his evidence or taint it.
Remember that Von Otter met him and corroborates that Gerstein told him the same story already in 1942. Gerstein had no reason to lie.
Also, all the other evidence we have of Belzec agrees with Gerstein's description of what was going on in the camp. Remember that Pfannenstiel gave almost identical evidence. The Oberhauser trial and the other Aktion Reinhardt related trials again point in the same direction. Also, Gerstein named Wirth and Hackenholt.
Can you give us a consistent and strong alternative interpretation of the Holocaust and the gas chambers, that agrees with the evidence we have at this time, or are you simply denying all the evidence that conflicts with your interpretation?
Post by Lucius Felix Silla » 29 Jun 2004, 18:40
His possible mental problems do not affect the overall value of his evidence or taint it.
Remember that Von Otter met him and corroborates that Gerstein told him the same story already in 1942. Gerstein had no reason to lie.
Also, all the other evidence we have of Belzec agrees with Gerstein's description of what was going on in the camp. Remember that Pfannenstiel gave almost identical evidence. The Oberhauser trial and the other Aktion Reinhardt related trials again point in the same direction. Also, Gerstein named Wirth and Hackenholt.
Can you give us a consistent and strong alternative interpretation of the Holocaust and the gas chambers, that agrees with the evidence we have at this time, or are you simply denying all the evidence that conflicts with your interpretation?
1) Where and when von Otter have confirmed his presumed meeting with Gerstein dated august 1942 or september 1942?
I must note that of the existence of this presumed meeting don't exist any proof: he was confirmed only AFTER the war by same von Otter. I doubt that von Otter have ever meet Gerstein: but also if this meeting was real, why von Otter never written a rapport for Sweden Governement?
To You the reply.
2) As for Wilhelm Pfannenstiel I can observe that isn't entirely true that he have confirmed Gerstein statements. For example in the IG Farben Trial he have says that he never was in Belzec nor in Treblinka (see IG Farben Trial - Int nr. 2288). in a private letter to Paul Rassinier he dismiss the Gerstein rapport as untrue.
3) As for other evidence about Belzec, You can post something of more specific?
Post by Helly Angel » 29 Jun 2004, 19:00
Why Do you say Mr Gerstein is a lier?
Can you explain me clearly with details and observations the true or dark points where the testimony of Gerstein is false?
I have a edition in spanish, I know the existence of two versions of this testimony accord Rassiner. But until now I understand that this stament is true.
Note: for your archives, a rare photo of Mr. Gerstein.
Post by Lucius Felix Silla » 29 Jun 2004, 19:08
Helly Angel wrote: Dear Lucius,
Why Do you say Mr Gerstein is a lier?
Can you explain me clearly with details and observations the true or dark points where the testimony of Gerstein is false?
I have a edition in spanish, I know the existence of two versions of this testimony accord Rassiner. But until now I understand that this stament is true.
Note: for your archives, a rare photo of Mr. Gerstein.
Look at Your spanish edition. Probably was manipulated respect to the various versions originals. There's 8 versions of statements. What's Your?
Post by Earldor » 29 Jun 2004, 20:06
So in other words, as I suggested, you are "simply denying all the evidence that conflicts with your interpretation." I also notice that you fail to offer an alternative explanation. Your tactic seems to be to attack all the evidence that has been amassed during the 60 years after the Holocaust.
Your doubt is simply not good enough. Von Otter has told his story, there is no reason to suggest that the story is fabricated. If you think otherwise, feel free to present the evidence.
As to the report to the Swedish government, the following might clear a few issues.
"His Honour, Judge Halevi, asked me to find out whether the Swedish Government took action on the information it received from its representative in Berlin, von Otter, which was based on reports he had been given by Dr. Gerstein. The Israel Embassy in Stockholm applied to the Swedish Government and an official announcement was published in Stockholm on 8 June 1961. It says that von Otter reported orally about his conversation with Gerstein, that the Swedish Government knew about broadcasts over Radio London on 9 June 1942 by Sikorsky, President of the Polish National Council, and that in that broadcast attention had been drawn to the mass killings of Jews in Poland. The Swedish Government did not, therefore, think it proper to direct attention once again to the same subject since it assumed that the matter was already known to the world. In November 1942 the Swedish Foreign Minister was informed about a report by an eye witness to the atrocities in Poland, which had been published in London."
"We also have here the certificate of the judge at the interrogation that the witness in his presence identified the document which was attached to this signature as a document which her husband had addressed to her. This is our document No. 1565.
The director of the political department of the Swedish Foreign Ministry confirmed to the Israeli ambassador in Stockholm on 17 February 1961 - in connection with a conversation between an anti-Nazi SS officer, Kurt Gerstein, and a Swedish diplomat, von Otter, in 1942 - that an aide- memoire had been sent on this matter to the British Foreign Office on 13 August 1945. We have a copy here of this aide memoire, and the political department of the Swedish Foreign Ministry adds: "We have no objection to the presentation of this report at the Eichmann Trial." This corroborates what Gerstein himself says in the document which I am requesting the Court to admit. Therefore, this is an additional verification of the contents of Gerstein's statement."
The Swedish government certainly seems to think that von Otter did report the event.
WAWA CONSPI - The Savoisien
What historians are saying about the Roques thesis. . from now on researchers will have to take his work into account. -Alain Decaux, member, Academie Francaise Had I been a member of the jury, I would probably have given a grade of "Very good" to Mr. Roques' thesis. -Michel de Bouard, Institut de France
. from now on researchers will have to take his work into account.
-Alain Decaux, member, Academie Francaise
Had I been a member of the jury, I would probably have given a grade of "Very good" to Mr. Roques' thesis.
-Michel de Bouard, Institut de France
This is the expose which shattered the myth of Pope Pius XII's complicity in the Holocaust, and struck at the very roots of the Holocaust story's credibility by challenging the "confessions" of SS officer Kurt Gerstein. Author Henri Roques' doctoral thesis made world headlines in 1986, when for the first time in the history of French academe a duly awarded doctorate was revoked by state fiat.
For the first time, the accusations of Kurt Gerstein - the enigmatic, twisted Third Reich functionary who claimed to have witnessed mass gassings of Jews in 1942 - are here subjected to thorough critical review. Roques' stunning conclusion: not only are Gerstein's allegations of a mass extermination of Jews and a Roman Catholic cover-up of the slaughter groundless, but postwar academics have deliberately manipulated and falsified key parts of Gerstein's tortured testimony.
An indispensable resource for scholar and layman alike, The 'Confessions' of Kurt Gerstein provides transcripts and translations of an unprecedented six versions of Gerstein's story, as well as photocopies of the originals a searching examination of both the authenticity and credibility of the "confessions" and numerous documents and records which have never before been published. Henri Roques' thesis is sure to become a classic, not only of meticulous scholarly detective work but of the liberating power of free inquiry in the time-honored Western tradition.
Henri Roques is the first man in the nearly eight-century history of French universities to have his doctorate "revoked" by government order. In 1979, toward the end of his career as an agricultural engineer, Roques, then an amateur in history, was spurred by an intemperate criticism of the work of French Revisionist Robert Faurisson to undertake a critical study of the Gerstein statements and their use in the historiography of the alleged Jewish Holocaust. Roques' careful thesis, which was awarded high marks and for which he was awarded a doctoral degree by the University of Nantes in 1986, was then cancelled by decree of French education minister Alain Devaquet. Roques, 69 years old, now lives in retirement in a suburb of Paris.
Kurt Gerstein - History
Kurt Gerstein was an art thief: are no memories sacred?
WELL, well. It turns out ( see French article below ) that -- like the father of Madeleine Albright , Josef Korbel , who stole paintings from the Austrian home in which he was billeted after the war, and which she still refuses to return to their proper owner -- the SS officer Kurt Gerstein ( right ) was a petty thief and looted at least one fine painting. Among his effects was found in 1947 a priceless work by Henri Matisse , "Mur rose de l'hôpital de Calvi".
Gerstein was the SS officer who headed the Abteilung Entwesung und Entseuchung (Pest Control and Decontamination Dept) at Auschwitz, and signed for the tons of canisters of Zyklon used each year for fumigation. After the war he was imprisoned by the French, and wrote seven different versions of a report on what he knew, each report more lurid and helpful to the victors than the predecessor he then no less helpfully committed suicide, so they said. At any rate he was carried dead out of the French jail.
French historian Henri Rocques ( left ) was awarded a PhD degreee on the strength of his annihilating thesis on the Gerstein Report, only to have it formally and solemnly stripped from him because the Jewish community of France was outraged -- the only emotion they ever seem to experience.
We have his further research to thank for this unexpected discovery. He found it in an essay on looted Nazi art in the Encyclopædia Universalis . The author, Didier Schulmann , may not have realised who Gerstein was. The item has since disappeared from the encyclopaedia website, but the Google search engine runs an excellent service whereby web pages can be resuscitated from the dead, and it was found there. We shall keep it permanently alive here, in cyber-cryogenic space, for the delectation of our friends and, ahem, the outrage of our enemies.
Here is a translation of what it says [French text]:
David Irving adds some minor points:
I DEAL extensively with Hermann Göring's art looting activities in my major biography of him, which was also published in France. Author Didier Schulman has lifted many of the results of my original research for his article below. Many years ago, incidentally, walking round Basel, Switzerland, with my friend Rolf Hochhuth , we bumped into the brother of Kurt Gerstein, a dim, shadowy figure in a cafe, and chatted briefly with him Rolf knew him well. He had used poetic licence to put Gerstein on stage in his famous play about Pope Pius XII , Der Stellvertreter .
Poetic licence does not however extend to historians. In the Lipstadt Trial I had some happy moments cross-examining Lipstadt's witness Professor Christopher Browning , who had relied heavily on the Gerstein Report in his expert witness statement, but had carefully deleted all the passages which made it look ludicrous (like a twenty - meter high mountain of discarded clothing). [Transcripts]
From the Encyclopædia Universalis :
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Les spoliations d'oeuvres d'art par les nazis
Auteur: Didier Schulmann
Conservateur en chef au Centre Georges Pompidou,
chargé de la documentation du Musée national d'art moderne.
Les spoliations d'oeuvres d'art par les nazis
LE DOSSIER du destin des uvres d'art pendant l'Occupation a été rouvert publiquement à la fin de l'année 1995. La publication de l'enquête du journaliste Hector Feliciano Le Musée disparu et la traduction en français de la somme de l'historienne américaine Lynn H. Nicholas Le Pillage de l'Europe ont, d'entrée de jeu, alimenté le débat de nombreuses controverses.
En France, depuis les années 1970, le film Le Chagrin et la pitié (1971) puis les révélations apportées par la traduction de l'ouvrage de Robert Paxton La France de Vichy (1972) ont focalisé l'examen de cette période de l'histoire sur la responsabilité d'institutions nationales impliquées dans la collaboration avec les nazis. Il est pourtant très vite apparu que l'administration la plus exposée alors sur ce terrain, la Direction des musées nationaux, avait réellement joué le rôle de "bouclier" (que d'aucuns, dans les années 1960, avaient cru pouvoir attribuer à l'État vichyste tout entier, thèse désormais bien abandonnée). En organisant le transfert, la protection et la mise à l'abri des collections publiques et d'un grand nombre de collections particulières, dans des châteaux privés difficilement repérables et accessibles (la crainte, alors, n'était ni les pillages ni les spoliations, mais les bombardements), puis en compliquant la tâche de l'occupant quand il cherchae à les réquisitionner, ce secteur de l'État avait, spontanément, adopté une attitude "résistante" face aux exigences nazies. Après la Libération, des dizaines de milliers d'uvres retrouvées en Allemagne sont revenues en France et ont pu, pour l'essentiel, être restituées. Les Musées nationaux uvrèrent alors afin que des pièces importantes non restituables dans un premier temps, parce qu'elles étaient d'origine douteuse, ou imprécise, ou encore parce que planait sur elles une présomption de spoliation, soient écartées des ventes qu'organisait l'administration des Domaines légitimement désireuse de procurer des liquidités à un État exsangue sur le plan budgétaire. C'est ainsi que fut constitué, dès le début des années 1950, un fonds d'un peu plus de 2000 références que l'on baptisa M.N.R.: Musées Nationaux Récupération. Ces uvres, qui ont été confiées à la garde des musées, ne sont, en aucune manière, considérées comme faisant partie du domaine public.
La tentation de la polémique
En 1996, la presse quotidienne, les revues et les magazines eurent à rendre compte du colloque Pillages et restitutions , le destin des uvres d'art sorties de France pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale , organisé au Louvre par la Direction des musées de France (D.M.F.) le 17 novembre 1996 ainsi que des recherches menées sur la question des spoliations artistiques par les nazis, en tant que problématique historiographique à la convergence des politiques culturelles du IIIe Reich et des persécutions antisémites. Les M.N.R. apparurent alors comme de véritables "buttes-témoins" de cet aspect oublié du pillage, et se retrouvèrent sous les feux de l'actualité.
Un raccourci trop rapidement tracé (uvres en M.N.R. = uvres spoliées) engendra une confusion: l'État aurait accaparé des uvres spoliées et perpétuerait ainsi l'acte des spoliateurs. À coup d'équivalences hâtivement établies, ce point de vue se nourrissait des découvertes que des chercheurs accomplissaient, en France et à l'étranger, dans des fonds d'archives consacrés à d'autres secteurs touchés par les spoliations ou les appropriations criminelles: dépôts bancaires, contrats d'assurances, entreprises commerciales ou industrielles sans parler du "scandale" de l'immobilier parisien du quartier du Marais qui avait fait long feu entre-temps.
Force est de constater, que, en 1995, la documentation sur l'histoire de ces 2 000 uvres pendant l'Occupation n'avait guère été enrichie depuis leur versement dans ce fonds M.N.R. Ces lacunes autorisèrent alors toutes les hypothèses, encore activées par les révélations des historiens sur l'ampleur du trafic des uvres d'art au cours de la Seconde Guerre mondiale. S'appuyant sur un faisceau de démarches judiciaires (rapport de la Cour des comptes du 7 décembre 1995) et administratives (saisine de la chancellerie par la D.M.F. sur l'avenir des M.N.R.), la presse se livra à une surenchère particulièrement insistante, au contenu hâtif -- on citera notamment deux articles du Monde "Mille Tableaux de nos musées attendent leurs vrais propriétaires", 26 avril 1996 "Les musées détiennent 1,955 uvres d'art volées aux Juifs pendant l'Occupation", 28 janvier 1997, quatre colonnes à la une -- qui provoqua l'exposition nationale de plusieurs centaines de M.N.R., dans une dizaine de musées, en avril 1997.
L'état de la question au cours des années 1990
Lorsque, à la fin de l'année 1995, Hector Feliciano publie les résultats de son enquête, que sait-on exactement du "phénomène" de la spoliation des uvres d'art? Dans le détail de son déroulement, de son étendue, de ses conséquences et de la façon dont la question a été traitée -- et considérée comme étant globalement résolue -- à la fin de la guerre, on ne sait plus grand-chose. Le seul ouvrage sur la question, Le Front de l'art, le livre-témoignage de Rose Valland , est épuisé depuis plus de trente ans en France, aucun travail universitaire n'a été entrepris sur ce sujet précis. Laurence Bertrand-Dorléac , dans sa thèse (en 1986) puis en consacrant au pillage et aux spoliations le premier chapitre de son livre (en 1993), qui traitait des politiques, des comportements, des styles et des engagements publics adoptés par des artistes, des institutions, des galeries et la critique pendant l'Occupation,, a, pour la première fois, orienté les préoccupations des chercheurs et du public sur le caractère fondateur et déterminant des exactions nazies, puis vichystes, dans pourtant bien pressenti à quel point les spoliations avaient constitué l'acte fondateur sur lequel s'était bâti l'extraordinaire développement du marché de l'art au cours de la période. Ces deux ouvrages révélaient déjà que c'était bien l'exorbitante démesure des spoliations nazies qui avait, d'une certaine manière, autorisé tous les débordements dans lesquels le marché de l'art s'était engouffré.
En réalité c'est un savoir imprécis qui circulait dans le milieu de l'art (tant parmi les marchands et les collectionneurs que chez les experts, les commissaires-priseurs et les conservateurs de musées). De façon générale (et surtout parmi les jeunes générations), on considérait qu'à l'étendue des confiscations, dont témoignaient les rares exemplaires subsistants du Répertoire des biens spoliés (publié en 1945-1947, à partir des déclarations des victimes), correspondait la certitude que, grâce aux restitutions et aux indemnisations, les dommages étaient réparés, qu'un grand nombre d'uvres avait été détruites et que l'Armée rouge (l'Union soviétique ne s'en était pas cachée) avait prélevé son "dû" sur le reliquat. Les quelques interventions des héritiers du marchand Paul Rosenberg ou du collectionneur Adolphe Schloss qui, dans les années 1970, revendiquaient des uvres apparaissant ponctuellement sur le marché, permirent au milieu de l'art d'avoir l'impression réconfortante que seuls ces deux cas n'avaient pas été intégralement réglés.
Il est désormais admis qu'il n'y a pas eu, dans les années d'immédiat après- guerre, de règlement total et définitif de la question des uvres spoliées. C'est donc à l'examen des faits mis à l'épreuve du droit qu'il convient de se référer. Mais, pour que le droit soit dit, il doit s'appuyer sur une relation des faits qui rende compte non seulement des exactions et des persécutions commises par les nazis et des brèches délictueuses que leurs agissements ouvrirent dans le marché de l'art, mais aussi des difficultés des entreprises de récupération et de restitution, du climat social et politique, et des sensibilités qui prévalurent après guerre tant parmi les victimes de spoliations que parmi les survivants.
Les processus et les dispositifs d'appropriation, de mise en coupe réglée du patrimoine artistique présent sur le sol français ne relèvent ni de "la bonne aubaine", ni d'une exploitation des circonstances nées de la victoire du Reich ils résultent d'une intention, non seulement longuement mûrie et préparée, mais constitutive et fondatrice de l'expansionnisme nazi, qui classe les spoliations au nombre des buts de guerre de l'Allemagne. Le fondement de cette politique, c'est l'antisémitisme exterminateur d'Hitler . Ses conséquences, c'est l'espèce de blanc seing que les spoliations nazies donneront à tous les trafiquants. C'est la mise en uvre de cette politique qui rend possible le projet de collection qu'Hitler rêvait d'installer dans son musée de Linz ainsi que les entreprises prédatrices des dignitaires nazis, les transferts massifs d'uvres en Allemagne et, enfin, le formidable développement du marché de l'art parisien, qui n'était d'ailleurs pas limité au commerce d'uvres spoliées.
En 1947, dans la préface à un recueil de documents nazis sur la question, Jean Cassou , directeur du Musée national d'art moderne, avait parfaitement discerné comment la haine pour les Juifs et la haine pour les uvres, principalement celles des artistes modernes, étaient, chez les nazis, indissolublement mêlées:
Ce n'est qu'à la mesure de cette histoire, qui doit inclure la formidable entreprise de récupération, de retour, d'identification et de restitution de la plupart des uvres emportées en Allemagne, que peut s'apprécier la question, spécifiquement française, des M.N.R. À la fin de la guerre, aucun autre pays européen n'a d'ailleurs pris la précaution, respectueuse des victimes comme des recherches à entreprendre, de constituer un fonds comparable.
Dès le lendemain de la visite éclair d'Hitler à Paris, le 23 juin 1940, alors que la Wehrmacht n'occupe la capitale que depuis dix jours, des dispositions sont prises pour que les trophées de guerre d'origine allemande conservés aux Invalides soient expédiés au musée militaire de Berlin. L'émoi que suscite cette mesure, somme toute "normale" dans le cadre des vexations que le vainqueur inflige au vaincu, camoufle la décision prise quelques jours plus tard par l'ambassadeur Otto Abetz qui ordonne les saisies des stocks et collections de quinze très importants marchands parisiens, tous juifs: les Seligmann , Georges Wildenstein, Alphonse Kann , les Bacri , Paul Rosenberg , Bernheim-Jeune , et ce antérieurement à la promulgation, par Vichy, de la loi portant déchéance de la nationalité pour les Français ayant quitté le territoire.
Ce que l'opinion de l'époque ignore également, c'est l'existence d'une liste, dressée sous la responsabilité d'Otto Kümmel , directeur des musées du Reich, de mille huit cents références correspondant à des uvres, appartenant aussi bien à des musées qu'à des collectionneurs, dont, à des titres divers, l'Allemagne revendique la restitution: elle servira aux agissements d'un historien de l'art, Hermann Bunjes , initialement agent du Kunstschutz , transféré par Göring au sein de l'E.R.R. avec un grade d'officier de la S.S., et dirigeant, à Paris, l'Institut d'histoire de l'art allemand en France. C'est sous couvert de cet organisme à la façade universitaire que seront organisées les tentatives d'enlèvement de certaines uvres des musées, qui se heurteront à la farouche résistance des conservateurs et du directeur du Louvre, Jacques Jaujard . Ce dont personne, en France, n'avait pris la mesure, c'est à quel point, les nazis s'étaient, depuis des années, tant pour l'établissement de cette liste (qui restera secrète et peu exploitée par ses auteurs) que pour parvenir rapidement et sélectivement au sein des gisements d'uvres qu'ils convoitaient, livrés à un travail de repérage, à coup d'échanges inter-universitaires, de stagiaires infiltrés dans les départements du Louvre, de thésards accueillis dans les bibliothèques, les archives, les documentations et les réserves des musées.
Dans le domaine de la diffusion des idées, de l'histoire de l'art, le pangermanisme était pourtant détectable: Pierre Francastel , qui publia en 1945 son cours de l'année 1939-1940 dispensé à l'université de Strasbourg repliée sur Saint-Étienne, intitula le volume: L'Histoire de l'art , instrument de la propagande germanique. Il y dénonce le détournement, au profit d'une exaltation nationaliste et raciale, de certaines théories sur l'art médiéval (la transition du roman au gothique) et sur les foyers de développement du classicisme et du baroque. La pression sur les persécutés pouvait être telle qu'un historien de l'art, allemand et juif, aussi sourcilleux que Max Friedländer , quoique chassé du Reich et réfugié aux Pays-Bas, soit "retourné" par les nazis: protégé par eux, il renseigna abondamment les agents de Göring qui cherchaient à localiser des uvres de maîtres flamands dont il était spécialiste, pour compléter, par rapines, échanges ou achats, l'immense collection que leur maître rassemblait dans sa propriété prussienne de Karinhall.
Les spoliations, les agissements de l'E.R.R.
Forts de tous ces préparatifs, au cur de l'été de 1940, les nazis peuvent commencer leurs entreprises de spoliations à une très vaste échelle. Deux services concurrents interviennent dans un premier temps: la Gestapo, utilisée par l'ambassadeur Otto Abetz, et le très correct Kunstschutz , dépendant de la Wehrmacht, et dirigé par le comte Metternich . Ces militaires sont chargés de localiser, d'inventorier, de protéger et de maintenir en place le patrimoine artistique français. Mais, Abetz comme Metternich sont, dès la fin du mois d'août, doublés par l'E.R.R., Einsatzstab Reichleiters Rosenberg (le service de l'état-major Rosenberg), du nom de l'"idéologue" officiel du nazisme qui assurait la direction de ce service. Alfred Rosenberg (gauche) était l'auteur d'un des ouvrages de référence des nazis Mythe du vingtième siècle . L'E.R.R. bénéficie du soutien politique du Reichmarschall Göring, "dauphin" d'Hitler, qui met à sa disposition l'appui logistique de la Luftwaffe, et ses experts personnels, Bruno Lohse et Walter Andreas Hofer . L'E.R.R. s'installe au Jeu de Paume dès octobre 1940 et y transfère instantanément plus de quatre cents caisses stockées auparavant au Louvre et à l'ambassade d'Allemagne et qui correspondaient aux premières saisies. L'E.R.R. aura -- au terme de son action à l'été de 1944 -- procédé à la confiscation et à l'inventaire systématique de plus de 250 stocks de marchands et de collections, totalisant environ 15 000 uvres et objets: outre les noms déjà cités, les listes de l'E.R.R. les plus fournies (celles qui correspondent à plus de 100 uvres) comprennent les noms de Hans Arnold , des David-Weill et des Dreyfuss , de Jules Fribourg , des familles Halphen , Kalmann, Kalmann-Lévy, Kraemer, Mayer, Merzbach , d'e Eugène Spiro , Jacques Stern, Walter Strauss , des familles Auxente , Lévy de Benzion, Weinberger et, évidemment, de toutes les branches Rothschild , dont les immenses collections excitaient la cupidité nazie.
Rose Valland, attachée de conservation au Musée national des écoles étrangères (le Jeu de Paume avant l'Occupation), assura sur place un contrôle périlleux pour elle. Elle renseignait Jacques Jaujard au jour le jour. Sa présence attentive, ses notes et ses rapports permirent de suivre et de connaître le provenance et la destination des uvres entrant et sortant du bâtiment, de les mettre en relation avec la vingtaine de visites que Göring y accomplit, de comprendre l'organisation et les méthodes de travail de l'E.R.R., de débusquer la centaine d'uvres impressionnistes ou modernes qui, par le biais d'échanges entre l'E.R.R. et des marchands allemands chargés de fournir Göring en uvres anciennes et classiques, ne furent pas expédiées vers l'Allemagne, mais se retrouvèrent sur les marchés de l'art français et suisse. En effet l'E.R.R. se livrait, au Jeu de Paume, à un véritable commerce, sous forme de trocs dûment consignés sur contrats. Sur le plan quantitatif, l'échange était inégal: il visait à fournir, pour les collections de Göring, d'Hitler et celles d'autres dignitaires nazis, de la peinture ancienne contre de la peinture impressionniste ou moderne, dans une pièce ancienne s'échangeant contre quatre à douze uvres modernes. Les transactions, orchestrées par Kurt von Behr , chef de l'E.R.R. à Paris, se déroulaient essentiellement sous le contrôle d'Hofer, de Lohse et d'un autre rabatteur, Hans Wendland , avec un marchand allemand installé dans la capitale depuis les années 1920, Gustav Rochlitz . Celui-ci fournissait de la peinture ancienne prélevée sur son stock ou acquise sur le marché, et écoulait la "marchandise" moderne ou impressionniste ainsi obtenue auprès de courtiers (dont certains, juifs, furent déportés ultérieurement) ou de grandes galeries ayant pignon sur rue dans la capitale.
Alors que le pillage méthodique des grandes collections ou des stocks prestigieux se déroule de l'été de 1940 à juin 1944 (avec, semble-t-il, une plus forte pression de mars à septembre 1942), deux nouveaux dispositifs vont permettre d'augmenter le flux de la spoliation artistique: l'un allemand, l'autre français. À partir de janvier 1942, à l'initiative de l'E.R.R., qui cherche à étendre ses activités, les lieux de pillage se multiplient et se diversifient: c'est le début de la M-Aktion, M pour Möbel (meuble). Il s'agit, sans aucune concertation réglementaire avec Vichy, de vider de tous leurs meubles les appartements occupés par des Juifs ayant fui ou ayant été déportés les semaines qui suivront la rafle du Vél' d'Hiv' (16 juillet 1942) élargissent considérablement -- socialement et géographiquement -- le terrain de chasse des nazis. Ce programme visait, dans un premier temps, à fournir du mobilier pour les colons allemands installés dans les territoires de l'Est, puis à remplacer les destructions causées par les bombardements alliés en Allemagne. En "razziant" 71 619 logements (en France, en Belgique et aux Pays-Bas), les agents de l'E.R.R. récupérèrent des milliers, et sans doute des dizaines de milliers d'uvres d'art, depuis la marine insipide jusqu'à la peinture de maître oubliée, dont, dans leur hâte et leur indifférence, ils ne consignèrent pas l'origine (leur provenance modeste ne pouvait rivaliser en effet avec le prestige des grandes collections).
La participation française à la spoliation par l'"aryanisation"
Préalablement à cette mise en coupe réglée, les dispositions réglementaires de Vichy à l'encontre des Juifs (10 septembre 1940, second statut du 2 juin 1941) avaient atteint les uvres d'art. L'aryanisation des biens et des entreprises appartenant à des Juifs avait conduit les administrateurs provisoires "aryens" nommés par le Commissariat général aux questions juives, prenant en main la gestion des biens immobiliers des Juifs déchus, déportés ou partis, à se saisir du reliquat du mobilier "oublié" par l'E.R.R. et à le mettre en vente à l'hôtel Drouot.
La recherche, sur ce chapitre, ne fait que commencer. Elle a déjà révélé que, à la requête de l'administrateur provisoire "aryen" Elie Pivert, les uvres d'art et les objets négligés chez Alphonse Kann par l'E.R.R. furent vendus à Drouot en novembre 1942 et rapportèrent 1 million de francs ceux des Bacri, dont la vente fut échelonnée en trois vacations de janvier à mai 1943, rapportèrent 2700000 francs que l'administrateur provisoire versa au Commissariat général aux questions juives qui virait les fonds à la Caisse des dépôts Pas un seul nom allemand n'apparaît dans la liste des adjudicataires des 199 lots de la vente Kann: seuls d'honorables marchands parisiens, de nombreux "puciers" et de futurs épurés se pressèrent à Drouot, attirés par l'annonce officielle qui précisait: "Vente de biens israélites Khann [sic]". Sauver les meubles? Se servir sur la bête? Tous les comportements, toutes les motivations, peuvent être envisagés dans un secteur d'activité dopé par la soudaine irruption d'une telle manne et par le sentiment qu'on se la partageait entre Français.
Le marché de l'art ou le libre jeu de l'offre et de la demande
À cette face noire du marché correspondait une face grise ou, plutôt, vert-de-gris: celle des milliers d'achats réalisés "régulièrement", en galeries ou en ventes publiques, aux prix très élevés du marché, par des musées ou des collectionneurs allemands, ou par les agents des dignitaires nazis. Ils constituent le gros des uvres aujourd'hui inventoriées en M.N.R. et, avec celles issues de la M-Aktion qui n'ont pu être restituées, l'essentiel des 13 000 lots vendus par l'administration des Domaines en 1949-1951. Au nombre de ces achats, on trouve, par exemple, des bronzes de Despiau fondus par Rudier sur commande du musée de Francfort comme des "dégénérés" (selon les canons nazis), Max Ernst ou Torrès-Garcia par exemple, vendus, par une galerie de la rive gauche, sur son stock antérieur à la guerre. Notons au passage, pour souligner la complexité des situations, que l'acheteur, en l'occurrence un industriel allemand, était par ailleurs le protecteur d'artistes du Bauhaus pourchassés.
Toutes ces transactions, en vertu d'une déclaration inter-Alliés de Londres de 1943, seront déclarées nulles, et les uvres correspondantes, retrouvées en Allemagne à partir de 1945, reviendront en France. Les Allemands fréquentaient également Drouot: quatre peintures italiennes des xviie et xviiiee siècles vendues aux enchères par Me Maurice Rheims , en avril 1941, à des agents de Göring, dans la liquidation, selon le droit commun, de la succession d'un collectionneur juif italien, furent naturellement classées en M.N.R. après leur retour d'Allemagne. Le fruit de la vente avait permis de rembourser les créanciers de ce collectionneur. Les uvres ont été récemment restituées à ses héritiers par un arrêt de la cour d'appel de Paris (arrêt du 2 juin 1999) qui a considéré comme spoliatrices les quatre adjudications, étant donné les circonstances exceptionnelles dans lesquelles le statut des Juifs plaçait les enfants du collectionneur.
La quête de quatre années qui conduira les Alliés, puis les Allemands eux-mêmes, tous grandement aidés par Rose Valland, jusqu'e à la fin de 1949, à localiser les uvres, à se les faire remettre et à en identifier les provenances aboutira à la réexpédition vers la France de plus de 60 000 pièces. Sur la base de ses recherches et investigations propres, suscitant et collectant 2 290 dossiers de demandes de restitution, déposant des plaintes et provoquant des enquêtes diligentées par plusieurs juges d'instruction aidés par un groupe de policiers qui interrogea tout le marché de l'art parisien, la Commission de récupération artistique parvint, de l'automne de 1944 à 1949, à restituer plus de 45 000 uvres. Parallèlement, diffusé au niveau international, le Répertoire des biens spoliés signalait les milliers d'uvres réclamées qui n'avaient pas été retrouvées.
L'essentiel du travail de "remise en place" était terminé les mesures financières de réparations et d'indemnisations, introduites ultérieurement par des dispositifs législatifs allemands, parachevaient l'édifice.
La résurgence de souvenirs, le besoin de comprendre et de parler, les curiosités les plus diverses (celles des jeunes générations, celles des historiens), l'accessibilité et l'intelligibilité des archives, l'uvre du temps tout converge pour qu'à l'établissement des faits corresponde l'énoncé des responsabilités individuelles et collectives. Il n'en demeure pas moins qu'une différence majeure existe entre les biens immatériels que sont les fonds, les comptes et les contrats et les uvres d'art, ces dernières sont certes destinées à la délectation de l'esprit mais elles sont aussi soumises à un système qui les fait vivre: le marché de l'art.
On comprend seulement aujourd'hui à quel point il était inévitable, après un tel bouleversement et malgré les efforts accomplis pour tenter d'en réparer les effets, que des situations résiduelles, des cas ponctuels (si on pense à la masse des uvres déplacées) réapparaissent aujourd'hui comme autant de faits ayant échappé aux règlements d'après guerre. Au-delà de la question des uvres M.N.R., à propos desquelles la Mission d'étude sur la spoliation des Juifs de France, installée par le Premier ministre en 1997.. et présidée par Jean Mattéoli , aura à proposer, cas par cas, des solutions pour leur avenir, il y a évidemment d'autres uvres dont le sort n'est pas réglé, mais combien? Elles se trouvent dans des musées où elles semblent repérables, sur le marché de l'art ou chez des collectionneurs où elles le sont moins. La loi, le droit auront à dire si, aux crimes contre l'humanité perpétrés contre des personnes et qui sont imprescriptibles, on doit assimiler les forfaits commis sur les biens, forfaits qui accompagnèrent ces crimes. Ces objets doivent devenir des symboles, tout en restant des uvres, mais il faut éviter d'en faire des allégories. En tout état de cause, et comme pour les autres aspects des persécutions, il n'y aura pas de retour à un statu quo ante. Il conviendra de ne pas oublier que les musées, et même les musées d'art, sont des lieux de mémoire du génie, comme des souffrances, de l'humanité et que l'évocation des crimes nazis trouve plus pédagogiquement sa place sur les cimaises de nos musées que sous le marteau des commissaires-priseurs, auxquels auxquels on voit des descendants de victimes de spoliations confier les uvres restituées.
Quelques sites Internet pour en savoir plus :
- Catalogue des MNR (Musées nationaux Récupération) Site du Ministère de la Culture : il propose le catalogue en ligne des oeuvres pillées et récupérées à la fin de la guerre.
- Mission d'étude sur la spoliation des Juifs de France La Documentation française a mis en téléchargement l'ensemble des rapports de la mission Mattéoli remis à Lionel JOSPIN en avril 2000.
- Centre national d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou Le Centre Georges Pompidou présente le catalogue en ligne de l'exposition organisée en avril 1997, qui rassembla 38 oeuvres inscrites au registre MNR. Une analyse des faits et une chronologie des événements permettent d'approfondir leur contexte historique.
- Le Monde - La spoliation des biens juifs Le Monde consacre un dossier aux spoliations de biens juifs et à la commission Mattéoli. Un bon nombre d'articles retrace l'itinéraire des oeuvres d'art pillées et retrouvées.
Quelques oeuvres, visibles sur le site du Centre Georges Pompidou, ont une histoire particulière qui mérite d'être relatée :
Max Ernst - Fleurs de coquillages
"Fleurs de coquillages" a été commandé à Max Ernst par le marchand Léonce Rosenberg en 1929. En 1947, dans le cadre des déclarations obligatoires d'achats effectués en France pendant l'Occupation, un industriel de Wüppertal, collectionneur et, par ailleurs, protecteur d'artistes du Bauhaus pourchassés par les nazis, reconnaît avoir acheté ce tableau en 1944, dans une galerie de la rive gauche, dont Léonce Rosenberg fréquentait alors les vernissages. À la Libération, Léonce Rosenberg a d'ailleurs déclaré explicitement qu'il n'avait été spolié d'aucun de ses biens. L'uvre est répertoriée parmi les M.N.R. (Musées nationaux récupération) à partir de 1949.
Fernand Léger - Femme en rouge et vert
Ce "contraste de formes" de Fernand Léger, "Femme en rouge et vert", 1914, appartenait au marchand Léonce Rosenberg en 1935. Retrouvée en Allemagne, en 1948, dans une cache du marchand Gustav Rochlitz qui l'avait échangée avec l'E.R.R. pour lequel il travaillait. Cette toile figure d'ailleurs sur la photographie de la salle des Martyres du Jeu de Paume à Paris (voir page 85). On ignorait où elle avait été pillée, Léonce Rosenberg ne l'ayant pas déclarée comme spoliée. En 1999, les recherches ont permis d'établir que l'E.R.R. s'en était saisi en octobre 1941 au siège de la galerie du frère de Léonce, Paul Rosenberg, alors réfugié aux États-Unis. La restitution de ce M.N.R. est une question qui se pose désormais.
Henri Matisse - Paysage, le mur rose
[ English text ] On perd la trace de ce "Mur rose de l'hôpital de Calvi", peint par Matisse en 1897, après une vente aux enchères, à Paris, en 1914. Il est retrouvé, en juillet 1947, à Tübingen, dans la cache d'un officier SS, Kurt Gerstein , qui s'était suicidé en 1945 à la prison du Cherche-Midi, à Paris, où il venait d'être transféré après un interrogatoire. Le témoignage de Kurt Gerstein est une pièce centrale dans la description du système exterminateur: ses propos constituent le seul témoignage existant, précis, technique et détaillé de gazages de Juifs, auxquels il a assisté, en tant que pourvoyeur du gaz Zyklon B, pour les camps de Belzec et de Treblinka. Les circonstances au cours desquelles il est entré en "possession" de ce Matisse (actuellement répertorié en M.N.R.) demeurent encore inconnues.
G. BAZIN, Souvenirs de l'exode du Louvre, Somogy, Paris, 1992 L. BERTRAND-DORLEAC, L'Art de la défaite 1940-1944, Seuil, 1993 J. CASSOU, Le Pillage par les Allemands des uvres d'art et des bibliothèques appartenant à des Juifs de France, Éditions du Centre de documentation juive contemporaine, Paris, 1947 La Collection Schloss, ministère des Affaires étrangères, Paris, 1998 H. FELICIANO, Le Musée disparu, Austral, Paris, 1995 L. NICHOLAS, Le Pillage de l'Europe, Seuil, Paris, 1995 J. PETROPOULOS, Art as Politics in the Third Reich, Harvard University Press, 1996 R. VALLAND, Le Front de l'art, Plon, Paris, 1961 rééd., Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 1997. Pillages et restitutions: le destin des uvres d'art sorties de France pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, Actes du colloque organisé par la Direction des musées de France le 17 novembre 1996, ministère de la Culture et Adam Biro, 1997, Paris.
INSTITUTE FOR HISTORICAL REVIEW
Rezeptionsgeschichte, or "history of reception," has been a significant concept in German literary studies in recent decades. This notion can well be extended to other lines of investigation, including the study of the documents on which political and social history is based, in conjunction with such approaches as textual analysis and criticism. In the present instance, the narratives left by the SS officer Kurt Gerstein after his death in 1945 have served for almost half a century as the chief evidence for the existence of "death-camps" at Belzec and Treblinka (and to a lesser extent Sobibor and Majdanek) in Poland, at which many millions of Jews are said to have been gassed or otherwise exterminated. In this French doctoral thesis, Henri Roques examines critically the Gerstein texts themselves, their internal consistency, their conformity to what is known from other sources, and the history of their reception down the decades (of which the story of Roques' thesis itself forms a part). In so doing, Roques thoroughly demolishes the credibility of Gerstein's affirmations and hence of the existence of any extermination programs at these locations.
In a "Foreword" (p. i-xv), the translator Ronald Percival provides a brief history of the underhanded methods by which Roques' doctoral degree was revoked after he had passed his examination, his thesis had been accepted and the degree granted at the University of Nantes in 1985. Roques' treatment of Gerstein's "confessions" begins with his Introduction (pp. 1-17), presenting the reasons for discussing them critically. The core of the book (pp. 18-168) consists of four chapters. In the first, "Establishment of the Texts" (pp. 18-119), Roques presents the six (not five, as previously believed) versions of the texts in which Gerstein narrates his alleged observations at Belzec and Treblinka (with mention of Sobibor and Majdanek) in Poland in 1942. There are four texts in (rather poor) French, to which Roques gives the numbers T I, T II, T IV and T V, and two in German (T III and T VI). In this edition, they are all given in English translation in the French edition, they are presumably transcribed from the French originals and translated from those in German.
The translations of these six texts occupy the first half of Chapter I (pp. 19-89). Photostatic reproductions of the original documents are given, for T I though T VI, in an appendix (pp. 210-287), but for the "Additions and Drafts" which occupy the rest of the chapter (pp. 89-119), they are intercalated in the body of the discussion, a procedure followed in later chapters as well. In a highly important section containing eleven comparative tables (A -- K), Roques contrasts and evaluates Gerstein's allegations in texts T I through T VI. These tables are printed on six long fold-out sheets tipped in between pp. 117 and 118, with a photostatic reproduction of a letter from Pastor Martin Niemoller to Frau Gerstein on an unnumbered page (recto preceding 118).
The "Authenticity of the Texts" is Roques' topic in Chapter II (pp. 121-142). Was Gerstein the author of all six, or of only some? On the basis of their content, style, and typing, Roques concludes (p. 137) that the two texts in German (T III and T VI) were not by Gerstein, but were fabricated after his death on the basis of various documents left by him. Comparison of the typewritten versions shows that at least three different machines must have been used, one with a French keyboard and two with slightly variant German keyboards. Roques considers the hand-written texts in French to be authentic.
Chapter III treats "The Veracity of the Texts" (pp. 143-156). Since Gerstein's assertions have been widely accepted as a major keystone in the evidence for the existence of homicidal gas-chambers in Nazi concentration camps, Roques observes (p. 143) "Such a keystone should have the quality, accepted by all, of an historic document" and asks "Do the 'confessions' of Gerstein have this indisputable quality?" His answer is strongly negative, based on a summary of the Confessions" (pp. 144-146) and a statement of the improbabilities and peculiarities which they contain (pp. 147-153). There are, Roques suggests (pp. 153-156), degrees of improbability, diminished somewhat in the German texts (T III and T VI), which strengthen the hypothesis that these were fabricated to lessen their readers' skepticism. Even these, however, contain sufficient impossibilities to cast the gravest doubt on Gerstein's entire narrative.
The posthumous reception of the Gerstein story is Roques' topic in Chapter Four, "Gerstein's 'confessions' and the views of their readers" (pp. 157-168). Before their publication, they were accessible only to the Allied military authorities, who were not sufficiently impressed to use them as evidence at Nurnberg or in other courts, although not doubting the existence of the gas-chambers and related phenomena (p. 167).- After they were published, readers' reactions varied, and Roques divides those who have discussed them into three groups. Chief among those who do not doubt" (pp. 158-159), Roques names Pierre Joffroy, "Gerstein's hagiographer." Of "those who do not believe" (pp. 159-161), the leader was the late Paul Rassinier, followed in more recent times by Robert Faurisson. The great majority of current discussants fall into the category of "those who believe the essential points" (pp. 162-166), i.e. admit that some of Gerstein's statements and particularly his statistics are exaggerated, but consider that he actually saw the events he describes. Among the last-mentioned group are Léon Poliakov (whose many alterations of Gerstein's text are notorious) and such other Holocaust-mongers as Saul Friedländer, Raul Hilberg, Lucy Dawidowicz, Gerald Reitlinger, et hoc genus omne.
In his "Conclusion" (pp. 169-174), Roques sums up the manifold "incoherencies, improbabilities, and inconsistencies" (p.174) which he finds in Gerstein's tales, to emphasise their total undependability. Ronald Percival supplies an "Afterword: The Gerstein Story: Questions and Comments" (pp.168-206), dealing with further aspects of Gerstein's highly unstable, schizoid personality his incompetence in technical matters and his (partly unlikely) life-history which did not form part of Roques' critical evaluation of the texts themselves. An interesting suggestion (pp. 191-194) is that his possession of invoices for Zyklon B may indicate that Gerstein was engaging in some black-market activity connected with this pesticide, and that his "confessions" may have been a mystification aimed at covering up such activities.
The final third of the book contains supplementary material.
In a long "Appendix I: Map and Gerstein Confessions Photocopies" (pp. 207-287), a sketch-map showing the location of various concentration camps (p. 209) is followed by the already mentioned reproductions of Gerstein's six texts (pp. 210-287). A second, much shorter appendix, "Kurt Gerstein: His Life, His Death, His ëConfessions' (pp. 289-294) provides not only a curriculum vitae (pp. 289-291), but also a chronology of the reception of Gerstein's "Confessions" from 1945 to 1983 (pp. 291-294), with critical remarks on the way in which they were garbled and misrepresented by Holocaust-maniacs."
A brief "Bibliography" (pp. 295-298) is followed by two "Postscripts" dealing with persons whom Gerstein mentions as having been involved in his trip to Poland and back and as knowing (at either first or second hand) of the situation and events he narrates. The first of these (pp. 297-308) deals with Wilhelm Pfannenstiel, with whom Gerstein travelled to Poland in 1942, and who was for many years cited as a witness to "authenticate" Gerstein's account. Roques characterises Pfannenstiel as "a reticent witness but cooperative as to essentials" (p. 299), but suggests (pp. 304-308) that, according to correspondence between Pfannenstiel and Rassinier dating from 1963, the former may have "grown weary of the role he was asked to play" (p. 304). The second postscript (pp. 309-315) is entitled "Von Otter, or the Prudence of a Diplomat." Gerstein claimed that, on the train returning from Poland, he met a Swedish legation-counsellor, one Baron von Otter, to whom he recounted the horrors he asserted he had witnessed, begging von Otter to report this to the Swedish government. The outcome of the whole matter is still unclear, because of von Otter's extreme caution in confirming Gerstein's assertions. A brief, incomplete and not wholly accurate index of personal names (pp. 316-318) concludes the book, which is reasonably well printed, with relatively few misprints. Unfortunately, several pages have not been given numbers, so that in certain sections the odd numbers are on the left-hand pages and the even on the right.
Although Roques modestly disclaims (p. 1) that he is "here concerned with an historical study," he has in fact combined two types of criticism, the textual and the historical, which are normally the province of specialists in separate fields. All writing of history depends on reliable sources, especially accurate texts. These latter have to be established through careful evaluation of original writings (manuscript, printed, or typed) and of the language(s) involved. The transmission of the writings often casts light on the metamorphoses which the original may have undergone, and the textual critic's task is to reestablish the latter as well as possible. If there are multiple versions, they must be compared, and if (as here) there are too many different versions to establish a single archetype, the critic must reproduce the various forms in which the texts occur. Roques has done this with a high degree of competence, in accordance with the best methods of textual criticism as established by Lucien Havet and others.
Roques' demonstration of the internal inconsistencies and discrepancies between the six texts and what we know from other sources (especially as shown in Tables A -- K) is in itself a piece of devastating historical criticism. After a careful reading of Roques' work, even without Percival's valuable additions, no-one can grant any credence to Gerstein's stories about millions of Jews being exterminated at Belzec or Treblinka, nor his assertions concerning the mass burnings of corpses the killing of millions of children at Auschwitz (which he did not see) by means of a pad soaked in prussic acid (!) held under their noses, and the like. To continue believing utterly fantastic stories like these, the "true believers" of the Holocaust faith have to follow the example of those religious fanatics who said credo quia impossibile, "I believe it because it is impossible." No wonder that the L.I.C.R.A. (Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et l'Anti-Sémitisme) and other Zionists pressured the French government into illegally cancelling Roques' degree!
From The Journal of Historical Review, Summer 1990 (Vol. 10, No. 2), pages 223-227.
Man on the Inside, Pt. 2
Kurt Gerstein defies easy categorization. The Germans didn't know what to think of him, the French changed their minds. His friends and family paint a picture of a man torn between two worlds. Facts about his life seem to clash with one another. Even decades after World War II ended, people still couldn't figure out whether he had participated in, or sabotaged, the German murder machinery.
Guest speaker: Valerie Hébert is associate professor of history and interdisciplinary studies at Lakehead University Orillia. She teaches European history, specializing in Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, and the photography of human rights violations and international conflict. She has published on the German resistance figure Kurt Gerstein, as well as on the Nuremberg Trials, Rwanda’s Gacaca Tribunals, the evolution of human rights law, and Holocaust photography.
Man on the Inside, Pt. 2 - Transcription
Hi, my name’s Nate Nelson, welcome back to ‘On the Holocaust’ from Yad Vashem. A quick note before we begin: this is the second in a two-part story about Kurt Gerstein. If you haven’t already listened to “Man on the Inside: Part One,” go back and do that, as what follows here builds on what we covered there.
When Kurt Gerstein surrendered to the French military commandant in charge of Reutlingen, he was received with honor. Literally: the Allied army held him in what was termed “honorable captivity.” He was put up at the Hotel Mohren in the nearby town of Rottweil, where he wrote a now famous report detailing what he’d witnessed as a lieutenant for the Schutzstaffel. Gerstein was so comfortable with his accommodations, in fact, that upon completing the report, he wrote to his French handlers saying, basically, that he was ready to go home. Oh, and, he wanted his old mining job back, if they could swing it.
That was April and May, 1945. In June, he found himself in a less honorable captivity: behind bars at the Cherche-Midi military prison in Paris.
Now, viewed from a distance, Cherche-Midi did have the appearance of a perfectly pleasant building--the kind that might house middle-class apartments, or a school. It was located on an ordinary street, but a thick wall and big wooden doors isolated the inside from pedestrian traffic. And with a closer look you’d notice the metal bars in the windows. Inside. let’s just say it was a far cry from the Hotel Mohren. We know it from accounts written by other German POWs. Quote:
"There was no window in the cell [. . .] It was a gloomy hole without illumination or heating. Added to this, the cell was alive with bugs and lice which defied all attempts to destroy them. Apart from rare exceptions, the food was completely inadequate, with the result that we got thinner and thinner. [. . .] The sanitary arrangements in that ancient building were indescribable."
It was as Gerstein sat in one of these cold, dark cages that an inquiry was opened into his case, quote, “in regard to murders and complicity in murder.” But only two weeks later, on July 25th, the inquiry was cut short when the accused was found sprawled out in his cell, the torn blanket he’d used to hang himself still wrapped around his neck.
Valerie Hebert : There was apparently a note. It was lost.
Valerie Hebert, associate professor at Lakehead University.
Valerie Hebert : I tried to access records about his time at Cherche-Midi, there's just nothing. There is very little to go on about what happened in those intervening days. The thing is about Gerstein though, I mean, there was some suspicion that perhaps he'd been killed by somebody else housed in the same prison, because he was willing to incriminate others. Certainly, that's plausible, but I also think suicide is also entirely plausible.
Suicide was the official determination. We can only speculate about motive. Perhaps Gerstein just couldn’t take it any longer. Perhaps he thought he wouldn’t receive a fair trial. Or, perhaps, he feared what that trial might expose.
To grasp what so deeply tortured Kurt Gerstein in his final hours--frankly, his final years--we have to rewind his story: way back, all the way to the beginning.
As a young man, Gerstein became deeply embedded in the Christian church. For example, in 1932, he became the head of the entire country’s Evangelical youth movement.
Valerie Hebert : And like a lot of other men of his generation, he joined the SA. These were the Storm Troopers and also called the Brown Shirts. This was the paramilitary organization attached to the Nazi Party. And then he joined the Party itself in May 1933.
At the same time he was leading church circles, the young Kurt Gerstein was also participating in Nazi paramilitary exercises.
Valerie Hebert : And given what he was to become, these choices are – seemed out of character and baffling. He never did fully explain why he joined the SA and the Party. His family supported the movement, particularly his father so it might just have been pressure from within his own family. But he was also a graduate engineer and had a budding career in the civil service. He worked for a state mining enterprises. And so, party membership certainly would have been helpful career-wise. That might have been a reason.
There is evidence that he was attracted to the Party’s promises to repair the battered economy of Germany. He certainly also sympathized with the Nazi’s anti-Bolshevism.
it was the Bolshevik’s rejection of organized religion that probably would have resonated deeply with him and the Nazi’s promise to rid Germany of Bolshevik presence.
There are all kinds of explanations for why Kurt Gerstein involved himself with the Nazi party. Perhaps it’s so difficult to pin down because the notion of a passive, largely apolitical Nazi is so anathema to us today.
Valerie Hebert : for a number of years, what you see happening was Gerstein is this on-going struggle between desire I think to try and have it both worlds through the world of the government in power in Germany at that time and then also this Christian world where he is motivated by very strict and clear moral principles.
Gerstein may have lacked strong feelings about the Third Reich until they forced his hand by taking over the church. He resisted and, rather than being met with some kind of harmonious compromise--harmonious compromise not being a particular strength of the Nazi party--he instead got a taste of the darker side of his government. First he was targeted by the Gestapo, who gradually made themselves more present in his life.
But even as he spread anti-government literature, Gerstein still wasn’t prepared to totally distance himself from that government. For example, after his first arrest…
Valerie Hebert: Once he was released, he actively sought reinstatement to the Party, again, that seems strange to us. How can he pursue these two paths, resistance and also trying once again to place himself in the Party?
In his reapplication, he claimed that he had just been trying to be a good Christian but had now seen the light. He was committed to being a loyal Nazi. Letters he wrote at the time suggest he was doing this under pressure from his father, his own brother said as much.
With help from his family, and connections higher up in the party, Kurt managed to get his status changed from “exclusion” to the less harsh “dismissal.” Of course, that didn’t stop him from opposing the government--his public speaking ban and subsequent detainment at the Welzheim prison camp were still to come.
The really confusing thing in all this is that, even after six weeks of starvation and forced labor at Welzheim, Kurt Gerstein never totally disavowed national socialism. He simultaneously opposed them on moral and religious grounds, and was willing to turn the other way in certain other respects.
To help parse out this apparent juxtaposition, we can look to a letter he wrote in 1938 to relatives in America. This was just after his release from Welzheim and, even in such a state, you can tell that he was of two minds. Quote:
In your visits to Germany you have seen the good that the Hitler movement has produced: roads, employment, construction--but you were not able to see the tragedy that results from the loss of intellectual freedom, religious freedom, and justice… We have all been at pains, where we have had to raise resistance, not to strike at political National Socialism, because that is not our affair. We have only tried to defend rights and responsibilities that were and are again and again solemnly guaranteed to us by Herr Hitler and National Socialism
Valerie Hebert : So this attempt to try and square both the on-going resistance activity and this on-going sympathy
I don’t think we can entirely square these things.
Is there anything to be gleaned from Kurt Gerstein’s apparently unbreakable sympathy for at least certain aspects of the Nazi movement? For example, might it have made the otherwise unthinkable notion of joining the SS thinkable?
Or perhaps it casts a certain light on one other mystery of Gerstein’s life. You see, even if his express purpose was to expose and undermine the S.S., there’s still the matter that he, alongside all his resistance activities, still did serve them for four years.
Valerie Hebert : and his early work there involved building disinfection systems for soldiers, so mobile things that could be taken into the field. He was also designing disinfection systems and water filtration equipment for POW in Concentration Camps and he was quite successful on this work, so much so that he was made head of the Health Engineering Department, which included developing disinfection services using poisonous gases.
Even trained spies get caught sometimes. Kurt Gerstein, by contrast, raised few red flags among his fellow soldiers. Apparently he spent enough of his time doing regular S.S business.
Valerie Hebert: And so, this is what, again, sort of the one of confounding things about Gerstein. As much as he might have been motivated to join the SS in order to learn about the regime’s crimes and to be in a position to work against them or exposed them, in order to be in that position, he also had to carry out his work with competence and with success. So while the intention was to sabotage the regime, he is also in his day-to-day routines supporting and advancing the larger Nazi project. So is he still a committed anti-Nazi? Yes. Is he also serving the SS? Yes.
It’s around this point where we can start to understand why the French liberators might have had reason to question Gerstein and his motives. Perhaps he really was a resistor, but it certainly wasn’t so clear-cut as it might have first seemed.
In fact, it was much less clear-cut than even they likely realized at the time. Whether Kurt Gerstein was a resistor, or a perpetrator, was a question that would be litigated for years, and even decades beyond the man’s death.
Valerie Hebert: so there were three sets of legal proceedings that dealt with Gerstein’s case after the war. It was fascinating because they were all different bodies, operating for different purposes according to different laws. And what they all shared though was they had to pass some kind of judgment on Gerstein, a person who has worked both opposed and supported a criminal regime.
The first legal body that took a view of Kurt Gerstein’s service to the S.S. occurred in 1948 and 1949. A trial was arranged not for Gerstein but, rather, three employees of The Degesch Company: Germany’s sole manufacturer of Zyklon B poison gas.
Valerie Hebert: The principal defendant was the former manager. His name was Gerhard Peters. And he was charged with murder and accessory to murder for having delivered Zyklon B to Auschwitz. The pivotal issue in determining his guilt and this was a function of German law on murder and accessory to murder, the pivotal issue was whether Peters knew at the time that he sold this gas that it was intended to be used to kill people.
And so this is where Gerstein comes in because it was Gerstein who approached him with the request for shipment of Zyklon B. And so, the court became very interested in what Gerstein said during that initial meeting. And then also, whether the gas actually was used to kill people.
The Zyklon B that Kurt Gerstein ordered from Gerhard Peters in 1943 was to be delivered to two locations. Those locations, on their own, revealed quite a bit about how the chemical might have been used. The first was Oranienburg.
Valerie Hebert: what do we know about how this gas was used? Well, Oranienburg or Sachsenhausen was a camp for forced laborers, for POWs, for political prisoners. It had a very small gas chamber, about the size of two standard shower stalls. It was mainly used for experimental purposes. Most of the people who died there perished by shooting.
Whether the delivery to Oranienburg would be used in mass murder wasn’t clear. Less of a question surrounded the second delivery, headed straight for Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Valerie Hebert : Auschwitz, which in this context included the main killing center of Birkenau, this was the primary killing center for the East. So it makes sense that Zyklon B would be delivered there if it was to be used for killing people.
The court in Frankfurt noted evidence that Gerstein had faked a truck accident in order to destroy the first shipment from Degesch, and that, in so doing, he may have prevented that batch from ever being used against people. The court also heard testimony from workers at Oranienburg, who recalled that a shipment Gerstein had delivered--identifiable, as it came in non-standard 100-gram canisters--had actually been rerouted out of the camp. To where, they didn’t exactly know.
Valerie Hebert: They said, “Well, we can’t count any of Gerstein’s gas that went to Oranienburg. But it still left the Auschwitz shipments in contention.
Through what records survived the war, it appeared Gerstein was unable to divert at least 1,775 kilograms of Zyklon B from reaching Auschwitz, but that he may have had some hand in at least delaying its use.
Valerie Hebert: it’s possible that all of this gas had just been accumulating at Auschwitz and in May 1944, it still hadn’t been used. They are willing to accept that that was possible. But it was at that very time, that very moment that there was a significant increase in the demand for Zyklon B at Auschwitz for two reasons. One was the deportation of Hungary’s Jews which began in May and about only six weeks, 440,000 Hungarian Jews were sent to Auschwitz. Most of them perished there. So that’s happening right at the moment where this potential stockpile of Zyklon B sitting there. Also, the manufacturing plant in Geisa was bombed. And this meant there was now a shortage in the supply.
So even if Gerstein had somehow prevented its use until then, the court didn’t believe this could be assured after May 1944. And the total that they could – that they evidence for, that they could account for was 1,775 kilograms. Only about 6 kilograms was needed to asphyxiate 1,500 people. So if we work out these calculations, Gerstein’s 1,775 kilograms of Zyklon B perhaps still sitting there stockpiled at Auschwitz was enough to cause the deaths of about 450,000 people.
By the end of the Frankfurt trial, the judges concluded that Gerstein, quote, “represent[ed] the type of man who rejected the Nazi regime from deepest conviction, even hated it, but took part in it, to prevent worse things and to work against it from the inside.” End quote. At the same time, however, they found that, quote, “he did not succeed in eliminating the deliveries of poison gas in a decisive way.” End quote. In other words, in spite of any good intentions, he may have a hand in anywhere from 0 to 450,000 murders.
In 1949, Frau Gerstein--now four years without her husband, the bread-winner of the household--filed for welfare. It may have been necessary from a financial standpoint, but it opened up a can of worms all over again.
Valerie Hebert: so anybody seeking any kind of responsible employment or political or political office, anyone seeking state support would have to prove that their past was free of sort of Nazi contamination.
So, Gerstein’s did. But even for his heirs to receive state support, there had to be an investigation into his past.
The judges in Kurt Gerstein’s second posthumous assessment agreed with the judges in his first: that his intentions were good, but that he most likely failed at making any significant dent in the Nazi machine. And they went one step further.
Valerie Hebert: he was in a position where he could have predicted that failure. He could have seen that the machinery was stronger than him and he should have simply removed himself all together rather than try continually pursue this fruitless path of resistance.
The denazification evaluation included five official categories: main offender, tainted, lesser offender, follower, or exonerated. For reference, Paul Salitter--whom we covered in a different episode of this podcast--was deemed a category three “lesser offender” for his role in transporting 1,007 Jews to the ghetto in Riga, Latvia.
At the conclusion of Kurt Gerstein’s denazification trial, the court handed down their ruling: he was “tainted.” Category two.
Valerie Hebert: The widow and these three children are still in dire financial straits. So there were another few options available. They could try and have this denazification classification overturned. There was also the possibility of pursuing compensation for Gerstein having been imprisoned by the regime for his resistance. They could also pursue compensation for his – what they alleged was his wrongful death in French custody. There was also the possibility of seeking a pension because he had been a state employee for a short time in the 1930s and just over the beginning of the war.
And these cases which actually only concluded in 1969, they went on for years and years and years, a lot of complicated legal wrangling, various provincial and federal bodies took on this case using different laws. There were decisions, appeals, new cases. But essentially, they fell into – they followed a similar pattern, right? They believed that he had been an opponent of the regime in the early years. They questioned his motives for joining the SS. He did at least superficially cooperate with the murder of the Jews. And certainly, once he had full knowledge of what the regime was doing, he should have recognized his own, how should I put this, like his own incapacity that he was only one person, that he didn’t have the power or was not highly placed enough in order to affect real change about this. And it would have been better for him if he had simply left the SS all together.
The final legal decision with regards to Kurt Gerstein was made on June 13th, 1969. Government authorities offered Mrs. Gerstein a settlement on the grounds that her husband, three decades prior, had lost his position as a state employee for reasons, quote, “other than officially sanctioned.” End quote. In other words, their decision had only to do with Gerstein’s employment through 1936, his S.S. service being entirely irrelevant. That made things a lot less complicated.
Valerie Hebert: And that was where they left it. There was no reason to deny him nor his heirs his pension so it was allowed to be paid out. But the terms of agreement were also very stern in telling his widow, “It ends here. this ends any further appeals, requests, or revisiting of the case.”
23 years after his death, the matter of Kurt Gerstein was finally laid to rest. It was befitting a man of such contradictions that no definitive judgment was reached.
Interviewer: What outstanding mysteries of Gerstein’s story nag at you?
Valerie Hebert: I wish I knew why he was directed to obtain these shipments of Zyklon B to Auschwitz and Oranienburg, because what he obtained represented only a fraction of what was actually used there.
I’d like to know what his day-to-day activities were. He listed having – mentioned having visited these other camps. He said he tried to avoid this because it was customary to hang a prisoner in honor of one official visit from someone. But certainly, he was at these places. Why? We don’t know what else was he involved in. And it’s not so much that I suspect he was wavering in his resistance or faltering in his opposition but I just would like to know more about what he was doing.
Things that nagged me about his story, one is the terrible loneliness of his position. He tried to alert people of influence. The information went nowhere. It changed nothing. He believed he had to stay with the SS even though it brought him deeper and deeper into the worst crimes of the regimes. I think he had to know he was part of that machinery.
And his suicide at the end of the war suggests at a minimum that he was not at peace. So, there’s something very tragic about that.
The legal decisions trouble me. They came to this similar and repeating conclusion that Gerstein ultimately failed. He could have predicted this failure. What they are saying is that he would have been in a better legal and some even suggest at a better moral position if he had left the SS after Belzec, if not sooner. And this is troublesome in two ways because one, the laws that the courts applied, privileged action over intention, which meant that they couldn’t take full account of the context. And it raises questions about the law’s capacity to confront morally complex cases. It’s troublesome also in how the law was interpreted because the judgment suggested that it’s better to uninvolved, to retreat, than to fight and defend principles that when the odds are stocked against us, it’s better to set our conscience aside and with it abandon others who might be in harm’s way.
There are all kinds of ways you can judge Kurt Gerstein, even though the facts never change. He both participated in and sabotaged an unprecedented, total, and systematic genocide. Regardless of context, or motive, both of these are truths, and neither cancels out the other.
Valerie Hebert: I don’t think there is a way to come to a satisfying conclusion about him because these two fundamental things about him can’t be reconciled. At the same time, I think that is where the truth actually is. He was an accessory to murder and a courageous opponent of a murderous regime simultaneously indivisibly. Now, the courts had to choose one side of the story but we don’t.
This has been On the Holocaust, from Yad Vashem. Our program was produced by Itamar Swissa, Dani Timor and Ran Levi. Research and content management by Jonathan Clapsaddle, Irit Dagan and Dafna Dolinko. The story you heard was written by me, Nate Nelson. Thank you for listening.