BONN (May. 21)
A former Nazi SS official, known by Auschwitz inmates for his brutality, claimed in court last week that he was unaware of a program for the systematic killing of Jews at the notorious death camp.
Heinrich-Johannes Kuehnemann, 72, is charged with the murder of at least five Jews and complicity in the killings of hundreds of other inmates. He is on trial in the western German city of Duisburg.
The charges against him are based on eyewitness testimony and documents made available recently by Poland and the Soviet Union.
He insists he is innocent. “I have always behaved in a proper manner and was never involved in wrongdoing,” Kuehnemann said.
He claimed no inmates were ever killed in the part of Auschwitz where he was stationed, known as Effektenkammer 1.
Kuehnemann was first identified in October 1989 at the trial of another suspected Nazi war criminal, Ernest August Koenig, who was thought to have been the commanding SS officer of the “Kanada” section at Auschwitz.
But Auschwitz survivors failed to recognize him as the man who shared responsibility for the selection of inmates for the gas chambers.
A former deputy in the Kanada section, Otto Graf, was then asked to tell the court the identity of the SS commander. Instead of naming Koenig, he gave Kuehnemann’s name.
Investigators gasped in disbelief, for the man he had named was a well-known opera singer in the town of Essen. Kuehnemann was later summoned to the court and identified by survivors as the notorious Auschwitz commander.