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Supplier of Cyanide Used in Killing Jews at Auschwitz Acquitted

May 31, 1955
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Gerhard Peters, whom a local court had found to be an impenitent Nazi who supplied at least 5, 000 pounds of a special brand of potassium in the full knowledge that it was to be used to asphyxiate human beings, walked out of a court here a free man this week-end. He was charged with collaboration in the murder of at least 300, 000 people, most of them Jews, at the Auschwitz death camp.

Peters will return to his post as a management executive in a chemical plant near Cologne. His trial here resulted in acquittal and the reversal of six previous guilty verdicts.

Judge Werner Hummerich in his summation, said that it was impossible to believe that the defendant really thought the mass concentration camp executions were legal. But, the Judge contended no “conclusive proof” existed that the Zyklon B. poison gas crystals furnished to the Auschwitz camp by Peters’ “German Society for Vermin Extermination” were actually put to use in the gas chambers there. Possibly the crystals were used in some innocuous fashion by the S. S officer in charge of potassium cyanide procurement Lt. Col. Gerstein the summation went on, despite the fact that the moving confession made by Gerstein in 1945 before he committed suicide did not even claim that he had ever sidetracked any of the regular shipments from Peters’ plant.

Yet if that were the case, the Judge went on was Peters still not guilty even of being an accessory to attempted murder# The Judge answered his own question with a “no,” and went on to say that conviction on that ground would, indeed, have been possible at the time of the crime or even during peters’ six earlier trials. But the German penal code had been changed in 1953. Judge Hummerich pointed out, and since that time “participation in attempted, but unsuccessful killings” is no longer punishable.

Peters himself, in a final statement said that his intention had only been “to make possible a more humane method of killing” and that he was “upset” at the “abuses” to which his Zyklon B had been subjected. A last surprise witness, Dr. Otto Wolken, who came from Vienna at his own expense, was heard just before the Peters declaration was made.

Still trembling at the pictures conjured up by his own testimony. Dr. Wolken, a former camp inmate, testified under oath that DEGESCH Zyklon B cans were stored in a special basement. As soon as new transports of Jewish prisoners arrived, he continued, the cans were taken to the gas chambers in ambulances bearing Red Cross insignia.

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