FRANKFURT (Jan. 19)
A standard refrain of Nazi war crimes defendants was heard again at the Auschwitz camp trial here yesterday when Franz Hofmann, a former SS captain, insisted in testimony that all 22 defendants were innocent.
“We are only the little fish,” the 57-year-old heating engineer asserted. The big shots in Berlin were the ones who were really guilty.” He was the ninth defendant to testify in the biggest German war crimes trial since the Nuremberg tribunals of 1946.
Because he was already under sentence of life imprisonment by a Munich court for murdering two inmates at the Dachau camp, the prosecution expected him to testify against other defendants on the premise that he had nothing to lose. But Hofmann carefully refrained from doing so.
He admitted being on the arrival ramp at Birkenau several times and helping to Select inmates to be sent to the gas chambers but for the most part, he insisted, “my job consisted of keeping peace and quiet in the camp.” He said that each day, “the SS doctors would be told by the camp commandant how many of the new arrivals were to be spared for work gangs and how many were to be killed.”
Asked to name the doctors who worked on the platform, Hofmann identified several including Josef Mengele, who has been reported several times to be hiding in some South American country. But Holmann carefully avoided mentioning any of the doctors Among the other 21 defendants.
Under questioning by presiding Judge Hans Hofmeyer, Hofmann at first denied, then admitted he had personally sent 40 to 50 children, ages six to 12, to the gas chambers. He is also charged with forcing 10 to 12 Soviet war prisoners to undress in sub zero cold and to stand outside until they froze to death. He is also accused of having shot down one Jewish Inmate and to have caused fatal injuries to another by hitting him on the head with a bottle.
Burn Schlange, 60, a guard chief in the arrest block in cell II, denied having killed anyone. Though charged with personally shooting prisoners, he insisted his only job was to guard the keys to the individual cells in the block.