BERLIN (May. 17)
A defense argument which Adolf Eichmann used repeatedly in his Jerusalem trial–that he acted under orders which he could not disobey in transporting millions of European Jews to their doom–was heard again in court here today from. Albert Filbert, a former Nazi SS officer on trial for participation in similar mass murders of Jews.
Filbert, who has admitted he headed a Nazi commando unit which operated in German-occupied areas of Russia in 1941, told the court that “only a few thousand” victims were shot on his orders. He is on trial on charges of participation in the slaughter of 11,445 Russian Jews, and faces a possible life sentence. Five other ex-SS men, charged with “working” under Filbert, are on trial with him, facing lesser terms.
The former Nazi said he regularly falsified the number of victims of his squad in reports to Berlin which had ordered shooting of all “Jews, partisans, Communists and political commissars,” in the Vilna area. He admitted a personal role in the shooting of hostages, but insisted he did not kill any of them, adding “I aimed to one side.”
An SS report was then read, indicating Filbert had been recommended for an Iron Cross for his part in the “liquidation of Jews, Communists and guerillas” in the Vilna-Grodno-Vitebsk region. The report said Filbert’s unit had the greatest proficiency in shootings committed by his special extermination battalion. But Filbert insisted the quoted figure of 11,445 killings credited to his squad was incorrect. “I can’t say exactly how many people were shot, ” he declared, “but it was only a few thousand. “
VICTIMS ROBBED OF ALL CLOTHING, HAD TO PREPARE SELVES FOR EXECUTION
He stressed repeatedly that he had been acting under orders at the time of the slaying. Asked by the judge whether he agreed that there were criminal orders, which no “decent citizens” were forced to obey. Filbert replied: “We had no choice. We had to obey orders. “
He insisted it was not true that the victims had to remove all their clothes before they were killed. He explained that “all their belongings were taken from them and went to Berlin. They had to take off their underclothes. Then they had to lift their shirts over their heads and tie the sleeves across their eyes.”
He said the victims were forced to stand in front of “execution trenches” into which the bodies tumbled. Asked whether he had witnessed the shooting of Jewish women and small children on his orders, he said “I attended only two or three shootings of men. That is, nearly all the victims were men.” He added it was “difficult” to find volunteers to command shooting squads when the assigned victims included women and children.
He was asked about the recorded killing of 3,000 to 4,000 Jews in the Vitebsk Ghetto. He insisted that there were “only 700 to 800,” and added that “officially the Ghetto was liquidated because of infectious diseases.”