FRANKFURT (Mar. 5)
The barns used to house thousands of prisoners at the Birkenau section of the Auschwitz murder camp were described today by a former SS general as inadequate for cows.
The testimony was given at the trial of 22 former Auschwitz camp personnel by Dr. Joachim Caesar, who headed the agricultural and research branch of the SS. He told the jury that the barracks-like buildings used for cattle at Auschwitz were of the same type as those into which as many as 1,200 prisoners were kept at Birkenau. The trial of the 22, charged with involvement in the wartime slaughter of between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000 victims, most of them Jews, is the biggest in West Germany since the Allied Nuremberg trials.
Another witness was Dr. Wilhelm Mench, a former SS doctor at Auschwitz who was acquitted of war crimes charges by a Polish court in 1946. Dr. Mench, testifying for the second time, repeated his statement that none of the camp doctors had been compelled to participate in the selection of inmates for the camp’s gas chambers. The witness, who was assigned to the camp by the SS Hygienic Institute in Berlin, testified that he objected to taking part in any action which led to the death of prisoners and “I got away with it.”
Asserting that he remained in the camp to help prisoners, he testified that “there was plenty of good that one could do to help and prevent even worse excesses without exposing oneself.” He also told the court that not only officers but enlisted men also helped select prisoners for the gas chambers, a statement of vital importance in the case because of assertions by defendants who were enlisted men that only officers performed this task.
He also repeatedly deflated the common argument, widely heard in war crimes trials, that SS officers at the camp had no leeway in their actions because they would have been killed or imprisoned for disobedience. He was asked specifically what would have happened to any SS doctor or officer refusing to obey orders to take part in the selection of prisoners for death or in the killings. He replied crisply: “Nothing would have happened.” He has been described by survivors as one of the few humane physicians at the camp.