FRANKFURT (Jan. 27)
A physician who served the Nazis at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death factory during the war told the court here today that he had been at the Birkenau arrival ramp at least 20 times but claimed that he had never selected prisoners for the gas ovens.
“I was always harassed by the other officers. I think I was transferred from Auschwitz because of my attitude,” he stated. He testified that, at one time while working at Auschwitz, he had “looked up the Archbishop of Osnabrueck, and told him what was happening at Auschwitz.” He said that the archbishop “told me to do what I could to reduce suffering, but not to violate orders.”
The defendant was Dr. Franz B. Lucas, 52. He is one of the 22 ex-Nazis, all of them supervisors, guards or medical personnel at Auschwitz-Birkenau, on trial here for the mass murder of several million persons, most of them Jews. The trial, which started December 20, entered its sixth week today. It is the biggest proceeding of the kind in West Germany since the Nuremberg War Crimes trials in 1946.
Dr. Lucas testified that he served at the death camp for five months in the spring and summer of 1944. He said that, of the 20 times that he had been assigned to the arrival ramp, he was not accompanied by any other medical personnel on four occasions. Other witnesses had testified that the doctors on duty at the ramp had the job of “selecting” the prisoners, deciding which of them was to go to the gas chambers immediately and which was to be assigned to work details.
“During those five months,” said the doctor, “I never violated orders, but I did what I could to circumvent them.”
“What were you doing there when you were all alone, without any other SS doctors?” asked Presiding Justice Hans Hofmeyer.
“I reported to the commandant,” the physician insisted, “and always told him I wasn’t feeling well. Once it had to do with my gall bladder, once with my stomach. Generally, I was excused. The selection of which inmates were to go to the gas chambers, and which were to be put to work, was always made by the commandant.” Two dentists, who are among the defendants, had testified last Friday that the “selections” were always made by the physicians and SS officers on duty at the arrival ramp.
“If you didn’t want to be responsible for killing,” Judge Hofmeyer told Lucas, “you could have saved many lives by participating in the selections and pulling out inmates for labor assignments, couldn’t you?” Lucas remained silent, and the judge repeated the question, whereupon he replied: “What difference would it have made? Most of those assigned to work gangs died later anyway.”
The Frankfurt authorities today invited the city’s school youths to attend sessions of the trial of the Auschwitz defendants to improve their knowledge and understanding of the country’s Nazi past.