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German Witness Challenges Excuse of Nazis on Trial for Killing Jews

A widely-used and frequently successful claim by defendants in Nazi war crimes trials that they had to obey orders from superiors to slaughter Jews was challenged today by the testimony of a former German district commissar at the trial here of 10 former SS and Gestapo members.

Hans Gewetke testified that in 1942 he not only defied an SS leader who said he had been instructed to liquidate the ghetto in the Lithuanian town of Sthaulem, but also that his resistance to the murder of the Jews had caused him no difficulties whatever in his job.

Gewetke testified that he told the SS leader “if you touch but one Jew in the ghetto, I will arm my police and the Lithuanian partisans to fight against you.” The defendants in the Einsatz Commando trial are accused of the killing of more than 5,000 victims.

Asserting that his superior Reich commissar had, on his request, prevented the murder of thousands of Jews, Gewetke testified that he had reported to SS headquarters, after his warning to the local SS leader, that the Jews of Sthaulem were urgently needed to work in a local leather factory supplying the German army. He said the fate of the Sthaulem Jews remained undecided until they were taken to Germany in 1944.

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