FRANKFURT (Dec. 30)
Wholesale denials of any wrong-doing or wilful participation were entered here by some of the 22 former guards and medical personnel at the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau death factory, whose trial was resumed here today before a court composed of three judges and six jurymen. All were charged, when the trial opened a week ago, with participation in the torture and murder of 4,000,000 inmates–mostly Jews–of the Nazi annihilation camps in Auschwitz and Birkenau.
The proceeding–the biggest mass trial of accused Nazi murderers since the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials of 1946–was postponed today after a six-hour session, until January 6. On that date, the court announced, the trial will be resumed on a three-day-a-week basis, sessions to be held Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.
The first of the accused to be questioned, 59-year-old Heinrich Bischoff, admitted he was transferred from another SS unit to a job as a guard at Auschwitz. However, he maintained he did not even know what the SS was, had been drafted into that formation of Hitler’s Elite Guards, and “I didn’t want to have anything to do with them.” He served at Auschwitz three years.
Bischoff was charged with brutally shooting down five or six Birkenau inmates in the summer of 1943, with stamping on another inmate’s neck until the victim was dead, with dancing on the corps of still another man he had just shot. But Bischoff insisted he was “merely a victim of circumstances, drawn into Auschwitz inadvertently.”
CHARGED WITH SADISTIC ACTS OF TORTURE AND MURDER OF VICTIMS
His style of defense was followed by all the others questioned today, Bruno Schiage, 60, a building superintendent, charged with having been a member of numerous selection squads which picked victims for murder, denied everything. Johann Schoberth, 41, a farmer, said he knew nothing about the allegations that he participated in numerous executions and helped select inmates for shipment to the gas chambers.
Heinz Hoffmann, an engineer already under sentence to life imprisonment for two murders committed at Dachau, was accused of specializing in selecting children for annihilation at Auschwitz, and of having sent hundreds of adults also to the gas ovens. He too said he was innocent of these charges as he was, also, of the murders committed at Dachau.
Among the charges against Hoffman were two accusing him of forcing a dozen prisoners to undress and stand naked in sub-zero weather until they died. “I was falsely convicted at Munich on the Dachau charges,” he yelled at the court, “and I am equally innocent of these charges.”
Among the other prisoners who continued the litany of denials, after being charged with sadistic acts of torture and murder, were Oswald Kapuk, who shouted: “I haven’t done anything; I shouldn’t be here.” He insisted he had “never heard of the SS.”
Two of the accused are dentists, Dr. Willi Frank, 60, and Dr. Willi Schatz, 58. Alongside the dentists was a pharmacist. Dr. Viktor Kapesius, 56. All three had worked in the Auschwitz medical section. They were accused of murdering dozens of inmates by injecting them with phenoline and by beating them. But they insisted they were innocent.
PRESIDING JUDGE REBUKES CHIEF OF THE GROUP OF DEFENSE LAWYERS
Near the end of the day’s session, Judge Hans Hofmyer spoke up sharply to Dr. Hans Laternser, chief of the team of defense attorneys, a lawyer remembered here as the man who defended Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel and other Nazi generals during the Nuremberg trials in 1946.
Dr. Laternser objected to questioning of the accused by Dr. Henry Ormond, a private prosecutor representing the surviving relatives of 15 Auschwitz victims. As Dr. Ormond started to interrogate some of the accused. Dr. Laternser leaped to his feet and told the court: “I have instructed my clients not to answer Dr. Ormond’s questions, and I shall instruct them now not to answer your questions if the same questions are repeated by the court.”
Beating a pencil on the bench for emphasis, Judge Hofmyer interrupted the attorney, saying: “You have the right to instruct your clients as you wish. But your clients also have the right to ignore your instructions. Furthermore, I have the right to ask whatever questions I desire, regardless of who has already posed them in this court room.” There was loud applause from the visitors’ gallery, where some 50 or 60 German high school and college students were seated.
Most of the accused who professed their innocence so volubly today are broken, sick, aged or aging men, some leaning on canes, all by their appearances implying that they couldn’t hurt a fly–and never did. Today, 20 years after Auschwitz, they continued denying they were the vicious killers pictured by the prosecution. They seemed relieved when the clock in Frankfurt’s City Council chamber, where the trial is being held, rang at 4:30 this afternoon, ending the court session.