FRANKFURT (Dec. 22)
West Germany’s biggest war crimes trial since the immediate postwar era was in recess here today, after having opened Friday. The trial, in which 22 former officials and guards at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death factory are charged with murder and complicity in murder of at least 4,000,000 men, women and children–most of the victims being Jews–will be resumed December 30.
On that date, as on the opening day of the proceeding, the accused will be given an opportunity to tell their personal histories. After January 6, according to the schedule set up today, the specific charges will be detailed against each of the prisoners. Court sessions will be held three days a week.
Television, newsreel and still cameras clicked and ground under hot lights as the trial opened Friday. Several of the defendants wore dark glasses. One of them, Herbert Scherepe, 56, now a butcher, tried to hide his face behind a book. Dr. Franz Lucas, a gynecologist charged with being an accessory to murder, failed to appear. His attorney said he was ill and in bed. Presiding Judge Hans Hofmeyer ordered that Lucas be tried separately.
The press section in the court room was filled with representatives of various news media. However, the section reserved for the public–with only 60 seats–was partly empty. Fifteen persons, relatives of victims murdered in Auschwitz or in satellite camps from 1941 to 1945, were represented by Dr. Henry Hormond of Frankfurt, Among the 15, representing 11 nations, were three Israelis–Yehuda Beigin, Prof. Aron Beilin, and Dr. Eugen Kiraly.
At the initial session, three of the defendants were called on to give details about their personal lives before and during their Nazi service. They were Robert Mulke, 68, adjutant to the first Auschwitz commandant, Rudolf Hoess, who was hanged by the Poles; Karl Hoecker, 52, adjutant to Richard Baer, the last Auschwitz commandant, who died in a Frankfurt jail last June awaiting trial; and Wilhelm Boger, 57, an SS lieutenant in Auschwitz accused of personally murdering more than 100 inmates.
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Mulke was on the verge of tears as he told his life story and his voice cracked with emotion several times but it was not for the millions of innocent lives sacrificed at Auschwitz. His eyes began to water when he related that, after leaving Auschwitz and returning to Hamburg, the big seaport was raided by British bombers. He described the devastated city as lying “in rubble and ashes; 70,000 women and children were killed.” In a tremulous voice, he added that he “did my best to help in the salvage work.” However, whenever judge Hofmeyer asked him about his activities in Auschwitz, the defendant was impassive.
The 22 defendants were seen as a strange lot, pleasant-looking men who represent a healthy, in some cases overly prosperous cross-section of West German citizenry. All are doting family men, presumably good and kindly fathers who have devoted their lives to earning a living and bettering the lot of their children. But in each man’s background there is a Dr. Jeky1 and Mr. Hyde existence–the time when they worked on the arrival ramp at Birkenau, or dropped Zyklon-B poison gas into the Auschwitz gas chambers, or mercilessly shot inmates in front of the black wall between cell blocks 10 and 11, from 1941 to 1945.
Only one of the defendants–Wilhelm Boger, 57–seemed unmoved and still fanatically loyal to the inhuman system he served for 16 years. Cocky and self-assured, he answered with a proud “yes” when Judge Hofmeyer asked him whether it was true he had joined the Nazi youth movement in 1922. He boasted that, in 1929, he became a member of the SS, the Hitler Elite Guard of sadists and murderers. One year later, he said in a ringing voice, “I became a member of the SS. My serial number is one of the lowest–2779. I was an old timer.”
Boger, who is on trial for some of the most serious charges in the case, told how he escaped from the transport of Nazi war criminals en route to trial in Poland. “God and luck were on my side,” he said. Afterward, he returned to a little village near Stuttgart where his family lived. There he managed to go undetected by not applying for the identity card which all German citizens must have. “I did not need a card,” he testified. “Everybody knew me and anyway knew what I had done in the war. The police knew who I was, the Mayor knew. I didn’t need an identity card. Nobody would have thought of turning me over to the Poles or the occupation authorities.”