Storyville, Final Account, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, Director Luke Holland
The simplest path is that of force. The crooked path is that of rhetoric and ideology. I ask myself a question here: Could I have done this. Could I have massacred men, women and children? My sympathy is not with the Nazis, but the victims of Neo-Nazism. My answer is Yes. Like 99% of other Germans I’d have looked the other way. I’d have lied and minimised my role. I’m aware of Miligram’s experiment (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment) that sought to teach us something about how we responded to authority. The Jesuit ideology of give me the child and I’ll give you the man.
But if you read and attempt to write you know the world is full of words and sand. Our thinking habits protect us from ourselves and others by not thinking. Gulliver bound by 10 000 threads asks to be released. Antoine Augustin Cournot’s idea that we do not resolve difficulties we only displace them. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, dissenter and critic of the Soviet Union asked ‘how did we get into this quagmire’ (of Communism)? The principle of the cult became state religion. We see that with the moron’s moron in America. Not naivety or pragmatism: xenophobia, sectionalism and crude belligerence. Reagan’s Making America Great Again clarion calls, sound very much like Making Nazi Germany Great or Saving Mother Russia. For the Nazi state it was a built-in given. Ubermensch and the tendency to view the world of others as inferior. The moron’s moron’s celebration of ignorance as a force for good. Blind optimism makes you blind. Collateral damage is what happens to those not in the cult. A term much used by George W Bush (junior) and his Yes man, Tony Blair. The idea if you say something enough people will no longer recognise what it means—deaths: 55 000 in Iraq, 500 000 children under-five due to United Nations sanctions, in particular, chlorine used in treating water plants. Samizdat art and writing was a recognised way of getting around what couldn’t be said in the Eastern bloc. When it is hot in the desert, one does not take clothes off, but put more on. We are back to those cloaked references and signs from Mother Russia. Since we cannot save our world, we save the memory of that world and burn as we go.
Primo Levi, Auschwitz survivor.
Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, ready to believe and act without question.
Arnold Wieber former Nazi.
Buchenwald. To each what he deserves (cf Auschwitz, work makes you free).
In 2008, filmmaker Luke Holland embarked on a journey to find and interview witnesses to the crimes (atrocities) of the Third Reich.
Karl Hollander, SS Liebstandarte, Adolf Hitler, Oberstumfuhrer.
[trained at Dachau, ‘did quite well,’ promoted to Sergeant).
Daughter: What is a Blood Order?
Father: It was a political decoration for participating in the 1923 Munich Uprising.
Did you take part?
You must have been only about nine.
Otto Duscheleit, Waffen-SS, Insterburg Germany
The [church] bells rang over all Germany when Hitler seized power. My mother voted for Hitler in 1932. My father also voted for Hitler in 1932.
Unemployment and inflation.
My older brother was already a convicted Nazi in 1932. In 1932, he was 11 years old. I remember he showed me his brass knuckles with spikes.
He said, ‘Today we are going to smash the Communist HQ.’
Germans don’t buy from Jews
He photographed Insterburg citizens that frequented Jewish shops.
And then these pictures were exhibited (shown) at the Insterburg Town Hall.
We had the task of standing guard in front of a Jewish department store. And we little boys—I was just 9—had to line up in front of the Jewish shop. And had to link arms and not let anybody through.
My friend said, ‘Let’s go in there.’ there must be something in there. we can recognise the jew by. The Jew smells. You can smell the Jew.
I was in a communication unit where we trained as wireless operators at the age of only 15 or 16. And my leader was drafted into the military. And then suddenly, I was a Hitler Youth Leader. They found me a bit girlish. I wasn’t the right kind of leader for Hitler Youth. Boxing in the afternoon. We weren’t allowed to stop until blood flowed. At the end of the week, the leader spoke to me. You don’t have what it takes to be a Hitler Youth Leader. You’re too soft. From 10 to 14 you joined Jungvolk. At 14 you joined the Hitler Youth.
Is that the Jewish grandmother?
That’s the Jewish generation. That’s her. And that’s her mother?
My older brother was a convinced Nazi. And later he realised that our Father was also Jewish, according to Jewish tradition.
His mother was Jewish.
[Therefore he was Jewish]
But he didn’t make that public. He kept that a secret. And when my brother realised he was a Jew, He wanted to be racially pure. When he realised that according to both Jewish and Nazi rules, our father was actually Jewish, a process of rethinking began.
For girls it was the Jungmaedel… and the BDM. The Association of German Girls.
Hans Werk, Berlin, Waffen-SS.
At aged 6, in 1933 I attended the local primary school. The teacher was a local party operative. He raised us according to the Nazi doctrine.
In the morning we had to stand up: Heil Hitler.
He practically raised me to be a Nazi. Against my parents’ wishes I trusted him more than them. Our teacher asserted strong control over us. This is my Hitler Youth membership card. I joined the Jungvolk at aged 10 and received this. 1st May 1937.
Even before I was 10 years old. I couldn’t wait.
We learned to read with the normal alphabet book. But we also had a Jew themed alphabet book. It was published by Streicher, who also published the Nuremberg Race Laws. And had a caricature of a Jew for each letter. I remember one in particular, a butcher’s shop that was really greasy and filthy. A disgusting Jew with long hair and a hat behind the counter. Next to him, was a blond German girl, with a white apron. He had his hand where it shouldn’t be. The Jews were to blame for everything. We were a village of 175 people. No electricity. The Mobile Nazi Film Unit come to show films. ‘Suess the Jews’. They showed Nazi films in the smallest villages. You can’t imagine today, what kind of presence they had.
There were no Jews in my village.
My parents had contact with a Jew who came from Freideberg-Ostbanhof. He bought the skins that was sold him on slaughtering days. I always went with Woldenberg with him, to get my hair cut. His name was Piefke. One day he didn’t turn up.
I asked, where is Piefke?
They told me he emigrated.
Marianne Chantelau, Wilhemshaven, Germany. Bund Deutscher Madel.
When you’re 10 or 12, you want to in a group. You want to get out of the house. We were allowed to play sports. We could play tennis on the main sports field. We were allowed to use the pool. We were allowed to play on the lawn in the park. Everything was forbidden before.
Klaus Kleinau, Bernburg, Germany, Waffen-SS.
My mother was active in the Frauenschaft. That was a women’s organisation. We went for walks on a Sunday, when I was little. My father always put on his uniform. And then we went for a walk. My mother didn’t like that at all. Women didn’t have a uniform, but he made sure that she wore a Frauenscaft badge on her coat. So that everybody could see they supported the Nazi ideology.
Karl-Heinz Lipok. Brandenburg, Germany, SS Death’s Head Unit.
I would like to have got involved, but father said no. And in the summer of 1933, they finally said yes. And I got a brown shirt and black blazer for my birthday. And that was in Stendal, when we visited my grandparents. And they bought the uniform from a Jewish store.
We did things that we enjoyed. But that faded. Then we moved to the Hitler Youth aged 14. Participation was mandatory.
Hugo Gotz, Slawentzizt, Germany, Wehrmacht.
Between Slawentzizt and Ujest, there was a Jewish cemetery. There was at least 100 graves or more. So there must have been a Jewish community. At some point. We were in the Jungvolk and Hitler Youth. And that’s when the Jew-baiting started. As we repeatedly went to the Jewish cemetery. We went at midnight for the witching hour. It was a test of courage.
Blue skirt, white blouse and the knot made out of leather. It was a triangular necklace held together with the knot. There were these social events were we would meet
There were evenings when we spoke about Nazism and the Fuhrer.
Sometimes Hitler’s Mein Kampf, bits of that.
We didn’t support the party, but we liked the uniform. We went along with it, because we enjoyed it. Putting on the uniform and going on marches. Or singing and so on.
Oh, that was lovely. There were hiking songs that you could sing today. It was lovely.
[Sings: Raise the flag…
Comrades shot by the red front and reactionaries.
Henrich Schulze, Celle, Germany, Wehrmacht.
The Jews weren’t popular, where they? And this had consequences.
[reporter question: Why weren’t the Jew’s popular?
Apparently, they were into deal-making. They had hooked noses.
Heinz Hennig, Bernburg, Germany. Wehrmacht.
Originally, it was a perfectly normal hospital for psychiatric patients. And it remained one. But the Fascists turned part of it into their Extermination Centre. It was all kept very secret. But word got round. That buses were arriving in Bernburg with blackened windows. In the direction of the Sanatorium as Bernburgers called it. Every few days, black smoke rose, and it smelled sweet. For this, many people concluded that people were being burned there. People arrived and were murdered. The furnaces are still there today. It was talked about a little. Very quietly. It was dangerous to talk about it. It was only whispered about in private.
Bernburg was one of six euthanasia centres in Germany and Austria. Approximately, 14 000 people regarded by the Nazis as ‘Not worthy of life’, were murdered here.
Herbert Fuchs Waffen SS, Obersturmfuhrer Bergenz, Austria, 1919.
It was the 9th November 1938. The SS was sworn in on that date every year. The SS from all over Germany concentrated on the Feldherrenhalle. It was night. And we marched there in ranks. And then came Hitler, Himmler and some others. To the left, under the Residenz, next to the Feldherrenhalle, there was a glow of fire. It didn’t mean anything. Just a fire somewhere. We returned to the barracks. The next day we found out: Kristlnacht. I had no idea. The fire was the synagogue.
Marianne Chantelau, Wilhemshaven, Germany. Bund Deutscher Madel?
The Party ordered the schools to take the children there. The children should see it.
Q What was their motive.
A They did not belong to our ethnic group. Apparently, I don’t know the motives.
Q Can you remember your reactions?
A Firstly, I was too young then.
A But look, it wasn’t in our neighbourhood. And, honestly, we didn’t really leave our neighbourhood.
Karl-Heinz Lipok. Brandenburg, Germany, SS Death’s Head Unit.
From 1829 [plaque on wall] until its destruction on 10th November 1938, this was the centre of the Jewish community in Weener. Synagogue from 1829 to 1938. A school from 1853. Rabbi and Teacher’s house from 1887. I can’t read the Jewish.
Q So there was a Jewish community here?
A Yes, in Weneer?
Q Who burned it all down?
A People from the SA.
? I didn’t really care if the synagogue was burned down. I wasn’t sorry about that. I didn’t feel any pity for the Jews.
Q So for you, it wasn’t a crime?
A No, not for me. Well, hold on. Crime…One would always have to say, Yes. However, I don’t consider it one. It was all the same to me. But if you look at it from a legal perspective, one would have to consider it a crime, because it is the destruction of other people’s property. And the one who destroyed it was the criminal. But I didn’t feel that way.
Karl-Heinz Rinne, Wehermacht, Berlin 1922.
We were on Fasenenstrasse and saw the synagogues ablaze. And the fire brigade stood in front of it. And they did nothing. They did nothing at all. We were astonished that they didn’t intervene. They just let it burn down. I only understood it all later. They only made sure the neighbouring houses wouldn’t catch fire. But that was only the beginning of the hounding of the Jews.
Kristallnacht 9-10 December 1938.
Some 1400 synagogues and places of worship were destroyed.
Over 7000 properties and cemeteries were damaged.
Many Jews were murdered. 30 000 were imprisoned.
The event caused a major Jewish exodus.
Karl Hollander, SS Liebstandarte, Adolf Hitler, Oberstumfuhrer.?
We didn’t have any civilian clothes. We were always in uniform from morning until evening. And when you are in uniform the whole year round that leaves a mark. You have no time to orientate yourself as a civilian.
NAPOLA Nazi Political Academy.
In the Nazi Political Academy is was important that graduates should enter into all the professions. There should be people everywhere who played an elite role in Nazism.
Everyone hoped to be drafted as soon as possible. To become a soldier and go to war. Many of us volunteered for the Waffen SS.
So just as there was an elite. We wanted to be part of the elite (elite).
SS Lieutenant Karl-Heinz Lubbener Hollander. Believer [passport/book]
With the swastika. See?
Q This shows you are Aryan?
A Yes, of good stock.
Q You couldn’t become an officer in the SS otherwise?
A No. That was a prerequisite.
Q What was your rank?
A SS Obersturmfuhrer, First Lieutenant, at the end.
Karl-Heinz Lipok. Brandenburg, Germany, SS Death’s Head Unit?
I went to the SS because I heard they trained you hard. I was an athlete. Athletics, boxing, skiing, football, hiking. I liked sports. It got you tough.
Hans Werk, Berlin, Waffen-SS.
On 15th March I signed up for the SS. The SS was the elite corps. They had the best tanks. And we got excited. Well, I did anyway. My father wasn’t so excited about it. I did it without his knowledge.
I had written farewell letters to my parents.
‘When I fall, you should be proud. You should not wear black.’
Nonsense like that. You wonder how that could happen.
Karl Hollander, SS Liebstandarte, Adolf Hitler, Oberstumfuhrer?
My parents took me to a career counsellor. The man said: First he must complete his Labour and Military Service. That’s two and a half years. Or you could send him to Oranienburg. To the Death’s Head Unit. They’ll take him at 16. And then he won’t have to do any Labour Service.
Arbeit Macht Frie (Work sets you free)
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Oranienburgh, established by the SS, 1936.
Once I saw a man there. He once brought stamps from me for charity. And I wanted to go over. He hadn’t done anything! My comrade held me back and said, ‘You idiot! Haven’t you noticed what’s going on?’
That was a Mr Warschauer.
Q But why did they send him to Sachsenhausen?
A I can’t tell you that. Being a Jew was probably enough. Yes. Locking this man up was a disgrace. We did not agree with that. You can imagine. But when you’re caught up in it. [shake of the head] You keep your mouth shut. At 16! I’m sorry. But that’s the truth.
And then I heard screams outside. I put the table under the window. And then stood on top. So I could look through the window. And then I saw it. How people were beaten. With bull whips. And others hanging. Their arms behind their backs. The stool was pulled from under their feet. And they screamed until they were unconscious.
Q If an officer asked you to do it?
A If an officer had asked me to pull the stool away? The stool would have gone flying. No doubt about that.
200 000 prisoners were held in Sachsenhausen. Tens of thousands were murdered by shooting, gassing and medical experiments.
Karl Hollander, SS Liebstandarte, Adolf Hitler, Oberstumfuhrer.?
[trained at Dachau, ‘did quite well,’ promoted to Sergeant).
On 10th January 1940, I was ordered to attend the Officer Training school in Dachau. I passed the exams with fairly good results.
The school was next to the concentration camp.
Q My question would be why Jews were interred in Dachau?
A No. We didn’t know that.
Q You didn’t know that?
A No, for us they were political prisoners.
Kurt Sametreiter Gastein Valley, Austria, 1922, Waffen SS, Oberscharfuhrer
If somebody says they don’t know about the concentration camps, this is just not true. The concentration camp inmates went to work in their prison uniforms. With 2 or 3 guards depending on how many prisoners. Everybody saw this.
I was stationed at Dachau, 1st April 1938. There was also Jews there. I know this, because our local police commander was there. He was also a Jew. And he was taken there. I even saw him.
Q in the camp, in Dachau?
A Well, yes, on his way to work.
Dachau Concentration Camp 1933-1945.
The first of a network of concentration camps under SS control, where millions, mostly Jews were murdered.
Karl Hollander, SS Liebstandarte, Adolf Hitler, Oberstumfuhrer?
What Adolf Hitler came to power all those who opposed him were arrested overnight. Put into concentration camps, killed…The intellectual leadership of the resistance was gone. And anyone who still protested was promptly killed. Killed. So people were scared. I can’t explain it any other way. These heroes you expect to find—and there aren’t many of them.
Mauthausen Concentration Camp, Austria. Established by the SS, 1938.
Margarete Schwartz, Melk, Austria, 1925, Civilian.
I was 14 years old. I was nanny for an SS family for six years. I looked after their children. Because their mother worked in the concentration camp. We took the children sometimes when they wanted to see their mother. She never came home. She normally slept over there. She worked nights in the canteen. I also went to the cinema in the camp. The prisoners filled my teeth. They sorted out my teeth.
Q, So, you had dentists there?
A Yes, prisoners were the dentists.
A Yes, he filled my teeth. They were very nice prisoners. The Kapos and so on. They were nice. Only the poor Jews were killed straight away. When they arrived, they were immediately taken to the gas chambers. They burned them immediately. They killed so many people.
Franz Splek, Muhlverteregion, Austria, 1925. Apprentice Stonemason.
In Mauthausen they had the ‘Death Stairs’. In order to avoid a detour… because the camp was at the top of a hill, and the quarry was at the bottom. To make it quicker, they built the ‘Death Stairs’. The steps were different heights. And when it rained there was those who slipped and fell. Or dropped the stone. And injured someone else’s foot. Many lost their life. There were many accidents.
Q Did you see that too, back then?
Franz Splek, Muhlverteregion, Austria, 1925. Apprentice Stonemason.
And then there was another steep wall. And some were pushed down, either by Kapos, or by the SS, over the steep slope. Twenty metres in free-fall onto stones. Nobody survived that.
Mauthausen was at the centre of camps providing labour to German and Austrian industry. Of the nearly 190 000 prisoners, nearly half were murdered.
U-Boat Bunker, Valerin, Bremen, Germany.
These are tomatoes. I don’t have anything green. But I don’t think that matters. Smell this.
Q is it local.
A Homemade, yesterday.
This [photo] was taken for my ID card for the bunker site. I was a wage’s clerk. I did the payroll for the German workers. For the foreign workers, I only submitted their hours. Because the concentration camp prisoners did not get paid. There were groups of labourers in Kap Horn. And here at Valentin Bunker, where they built submarines.
Kap Horn was surrounded by water on three sides. On one side were pontoon, boats that the concentration camp inmates were herded into. And then taken to the steel works. We Germans were not supposed to go there. But I went once. And I saw how people stood. Packed in tightly like matches on a boat.
I am ashamed to this day that humans could do that to other humans.
The Kapo came from a sub-camp, Nuengang concentration camp. And he had a group of 15-20 men . And these group of 15-20 men had to be brought back to the concentration camp- dead or alive. They dragged them along. Just so he could hand over the same number of men.
Q You mean at the end of the shift?
A Yes, when they could barely walk.
Q How did you know that?
A I saw it. Our hut was just 20 metres from the bunker. But as a bookkeeper I had nothing to do with it.
Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, established by the SS in 1943, Germany.
They were unloaded from the trains. And then had to walk five or six kilometres to the camp. When they walked past in their wooden clogs it sounded like a threshing machine. Here they come again, we’d say to each other.
Most people benefited from it. They could work here and earn money. And those who earned money were okay with it.
Q They made a profit out of it, you mean?
A You could find advantages in it, yeh.
Q They benefited?
A Yes. Yes.
In some way the concentration camp had an effect on all of us. Local shops benefited too, of course. The butchers shops. The bakeries. And all the grocers.
Q Your grandfather was a delivery man?
A yes. He was a delivery driver. With a cart and horses. He collected goods from the train station in Bergen and took them to the camp.
Q The prisoners were hiding here somewhere (farm buildings?)
A Yes, they hid in the hayloft, or the pigsty. Or on top of the pigsty. I mean, they are big buildings. Either we discovered them in the morning or they came to us. Well, they were hungry.
Q And then what happened to them?
A Well, they were picked up. Here in the barracks, there was a bit, what do I know…Or to the concentration camp. They took them to the camp.
Q And who picked them up?
A Yes, Guards, you know.
Q But how did guards know that people were hiding here?
A Well, we discovered them and reported. At least that’s what I remember.
Q Did you make a telephone call or …?
A yes, yes, yes.
Q Did you know what happened to those prisoners?
A No. Nobody knows that.
Slawentzitz,44 kilometres from Auschwitz.
My father was a railway man. My father was also head of the cargo department. That was why our flat was right in the train station. It was interesting, because when the trains came we could see clearly what was happening.
Q What were his duties?
A Well, to register these trains. Let’s say, a freight train loaded with people. And headed for Auschwitz. It had to be registered on the paperwork at the freight yard. Where all the trains went.
Slawentzitz was one of many sites, that included concentration camps and factories, that formed part of the Auschwitz industrial complex.
The Nazi policy of Extermination Through Labour claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
They cut down all the trees for about ten kilometres. And they put up factories in no time. Massive camps of prisoners and Jews and so on. They were unloaded at the freight yard. And were marched to their respective camps. Every day, I saw guards escorting Jews from work back to camp. Sometimes they had to carry one of their fellows. Because they could not walk any more. They put them on some kind of stretcher. I saw that often.
My father knew where people were going. No-one came back. Sometimes my father came home and said: ‘They dispatched Jews again today’. To Auschwitz. People said quietly: ‘They are driven up the chimney there.’
I still have the smell of the crematorium in my nose. When you saw the smoke going up, like when you burn car tyres, then we said, ‘They’ve put some more in’. At least three people were put on there at a time on a metal grille. As the skin burned it produced a lot of smoke. You could smell it two kilometres away.
Grunewald station includes a memorial to 50 000 Jews deported to Auschwitz and other concentration camps.
Their departure was witnessed by Berlin’s residents.
Ebensee, Austria, the site of a concentration camp, established in 1943, where 30 000 individuals were imprisoned. Almost 9000 were worked to death.
Q [residents in Home] are you all from Ebensee?
A yes, we were all born in Ebensee.
Q All of you? What did you know of the concentration camp during the war? How much did you know?
A [resident] we know nothing. At least I didn’t. I can’t speak for the others. I knew nothing. Everything about the camps was covered up. You understand? It was all hushed up. Suppressed. People would talk quietly. But not out loud!
B [resident] well, it was awful. It was awful. My old neighbour- he moved to Poland. He told me so much. Because he was in the concentration camp and survived. He survived. They were hungry. So many of them starved to death.
Q The camp inmates worked in the tunnels?
A –[c resident] Those who still could. Others had to carry them back in the stretchers when they couldn’t take any more. No food. They were finished.
[b resident] yes, but so many.
Q What happened to those that could no longer work?
A [c resident] they were burned. Yes, exactly, every time. The ovens were fired up. You could see the smoke from the ovens. You knew what was going on.
[b resident] these were horrific times.
[a resident] and they beat them to the end. In the labour camps, they beat them to the end.
Then it was over.
Q So you think the people here knew what was going on?
[b resident] Quietly, no one would admit it, for fear of going there themselves. People said, ‘Don’t say anything or you’ll end up in the camp too.’
Everyone knew, but nobody said anything. The day before the Americans came, there was lots of smoke and it smelled awful. They burned them all. The ones who were worn out. They burned them all. I remember that.
[c resident] I always sat by the window, so I saw a lot. The Jeep drove up, the Americans opened the gate. Imagine the rejoicing when they came. How they screamed! How they screamed! But for joy. They were cries of joy! They were so glad.
The townspeople got scared they’d break into the houses or something. But this didn’t happen.
[resident a] And suddenly, all the SS guards were gone. None to be seen, from one moment to the next.
[c resident] they would ring your doorbell, late at night. And your whole flat was searched.
But someone was there?
My friend. Yes, my boyfriend. Well, he was with the SS. They would have caught him.
But he was not from Ebensee. No, he was not from Ebensee.
Your husband. Was he a Nazi?
Your husband was an SS camp guard?
C resident: If I hadn’t hid him for nine months, they would have arrested him. But they didn’t get him.
Herman Knoth, Hamburg, German, 1927, Waffen-SS.
For the German people, the Waffen-SS were at the peak of the nation. Not just physically, spiritually too. Yes, an elite.
Yes, it’s still here (tattoo mark on his arm)
Whenever I have surgery I tell them about it. I’ve had quite a few operations. It’s somewhere. Here, look.
[another member] Hans Werk
Now you should be able to see it. [showing tattoo]
Q what was your blood group.
A ‘O’. It was interesting you’d expect it to be done for all soldiers. To help everyone. But there was an awareness of an elite. Only the Waffen-SS.
[another SS member]
They come and said, ‘Show your arm.’ It was supposed to be your blood group. In case you were wounded. But many said they also did it to mark us forever.
The Waffen-SS had nothing to do with the terrible and brutal treatment of Jews and dissidents. And the concentration camps. The Waffen-SS had nothing to do with it whatsoever. Nothing in the slightest. We were always frontline soldiers. We were never involved in actions behind the front. Always at the front, eye to eye with the enemy. Nothing else. I have no regrets. And I’ll never regret being with that unit. Truly not. A camaraderie like that…You could rely on every man, one hundred percent. There was nothing that could go wrong. That was the beauty of it.
Friedrich Elder, Salzburg, Austria 1925, Wehrmacht.
There were SS units that fought on the front line and they were merciless. They shot whole villages. Nothing remained standing. The people lay around like dead flies. That too, was SS units. The Russians were already driven out, but with civilians…they did what they liked. There were more dead than alive. The living received us begging ‘Please, Please…’ Generally, the Russians were taken prisoner. With some exceptions. I don’t know the percentage, but generally where the ordinary soldiers, not the elite troops, they drove away in their tanks, were shot. And buried in a mass grave. They had to dig their own graves which we put them in. Well, I wasn’t there. When they were forced to dig, they knew they’d be shot.
Q Did they talk to one another?
A No, there was a deathly silence
We were in the Pripvat swamps. A doctor and three medical orderlies. And we were attached to the Hungarian SS unit. And allegedly, they found ammunition in a village. We witnessed as they started to set the houses on fire. The people flooded out of their homes. There was thick black smoke everywhere. It was like a film. It was a dark night. And these troops on their rather small horses and they’re riding back and forth shooting like savages. It was like a cowboy film. In the middle, was a house that was bigger than the rest. It may have belonged to a mayor. And when they people ran into this house, it too was set on fire. When the people inside could no longer stand the heat and smoke. They ran out of the house. Machine guns had been set up outside. And as they ran out they were just picked off. The whole village was wiped out. Women and children and men who were just… they would have burned alive if they didn’t come out. And if they came out they were shot.
Q What was the role of the medical personnel?
A We had no role. We never had a chance. If a grenade had been thrown, and had injured a few Hungarian SS then perhaps…
Q If the SS men had been hurt?
Q Why did your officer not write a report?
A I don’t know. I can’t say. Perhaps they didn’t want one.
Q What do you mean?
A What is not in the archives does not exist.
And then we withdrew further with the tank. And drove through a village, which was engulfed in flames. And I didn’t know this… I didn’t know about this ‘scorched earth’ order. Hitler instigated a ‘scorched earth’ policy. At the Fuhrer’s command no house should fall into the hands of the Russians. He hoped the Russian advance could be slowed down that way. Yes, it was cruel. But I did not care who burned.
On the 20th January 1942, in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee, senior Nazi officials met to discuss the implementation of the ‘Final Solution’ the mass murder of all European Jews.
On the 9th May 2011, former SS man Hans Werk met a group of young students at the site of the Wannsee Conference.
Q You said you are ashamed to be German, is that correct?
A No, I didn’t say that. I am ashamed today that I joined that organisation. That I was proud to serve in the Liebenstart. And I was proud to bear this tattoo. And our leader, this hero, hid in a bunker, like a coward. And shot himself and escaped responsibility. And Adolf and his cliché brought to disgrace. They cause us to lose our homeland. And I lost my honour.
Q And what?
A My honour!
Q But you were full of honour and pride, back then?
A What was I? If you’d kept your honour? You’re ashamed now that you had the honour of standing for your fatherland? No I don’t understand?
He’s ashamed of that?
A I’m ashamed of the crimes committed. To stand up for the fatherland is something completely different.
Q Everybody goes soft on camera.
A Think about it…The majority cheered when they bombed London and Coventy to ash. Knowing that woman and children were killed. These are the consequences of letting ourselves be seduced? No, that’s the result. The concentration camps in Germany. The destruction of Warsaw. Wherever you go today you have to be ashamed.
Q Anybody in this room with a weakness of character? Will think, ‘Shit, now I’m a German. What am I going to do now?’ That’s what you’re doing now. You’re judging people. Even though you said, it’s not our fault. Somebody with a weakness of character will think, ‘On, No, I’m a German, I must be ashamed my whole life.’
A why don’t you show your face? Why are you such cowards [screen faces blanked out.] Look at the camera and say what you think.
Q-A Then I’ll get a criminal conviction and get persecuted by the state.
Hans: I say, you’re one of them. Why are you hiding?
Q-A because I’ll be made out to be a criminal.
Hans: Why won’t you be?
Q-A of course I will.
Hans. That’s rubbish.
Q-A in your eyes, I’m a criminal, like your old comrades?
Hans: Then I would have to be afraid the Nazis would set my house on fire.
Q-A what nonsense.
Hans, shouldn’t I?
Q-A I don’t believe it, really.
Hans, when I speak so openly.
Q-A you shouldn’t be afraid that some Albanian stabs you on public transport? You should be afraid of that. Not your own kind.
Hans I’m getting agitated, but one should stay really calm.
Q-A But you’re doing it
Hans. Enough now. I belonged to a murderous organisation. What else was it? But innocent women… One can think one’s actions are wrong. Even very wrong. But innocent women, or because they were Jewish or Gypsies, or because they were weak, physically, or were sickly. They were killed by injections. Euthanasia…I remember a man called Frank Lemke. We used to tease him as a kid. One day he was gone. It turned out they had injected him in Landsberg. Gone. We were told that those ‘unworthy of life’ had to be destroyed. ‘Unworthy of life’. We carried it out to perfection. Planned at the Wannsee Conference, in this house. Around a table like this one. In comfort, with coffee. They decided how the Jews, women and children were to be killed. By this horrid method. I cannot be proud of that. I am ashamed of that. It can’t be taken for granted that a Jew would wish to talk to a SS man like me, who was convinced that what Adolf did was right. Think about what that means. I met 23-year-old German Jews. Their fathers were in the war. An old Jewish lady of over 80 years told me: ‘My father was in the First World War, he received medals. He did not want to believe that the Nazis would kill him. He refused to flee Germany. ’ You can imagine what happened. For me, this is too much. But I believe it is important to talk to young people like you. I ask only this of you. Do not let yourself be blinded!
[another former SS soldier]
Q are you still proud today? That you were a member of the Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler?
A Of course. Not just anyone could join.
Q you mean it was…?
A An elite. You could say that.
Q Are you willing to accept that the Liebstandarte was involved in the murder of Jews among others? How can you say this is an elite in the modern sense?
A They weren’t involved in those murders.
Q But the SS?
A Maybe, I don’t know. I never witnessed it.
Q Will you admit the SS was a criminal organisation?
Q You won’t accept that?
A I won’t accept that. I would dirty myself if I admitted to that. And I won’t do that. The whole SS organisation was recognised as a criminal organisation at the Nuremberg Trials. But not by a German court. So, I won’t accept that.
[new/old former SS soldier]
Q So, you are saying that the reports that came out later about the murder of Jews in the extermination camps, it’s said to be 6 million.
A That’s a joke.
Q One million, maybe a little more in Auschwitz.
A yes [shrugs, means no]. I don’t believe it. I will not believe it. It can’t be. Today they say… Excuse me, but it’s the Jew who puts it that way. The scale that is claimed today. I deny that too. It didn’t happen. I can’t imagine that back home. So many horrible things happened. I don’t know.
[new/old former SS]
The majority of those under Nazism said after the war again and again, firstly, ‘I didn’t know,’ secondly, ‘I didn’t take part’, and thirdly, ‘If I’d have known I’d have acted differently’. Everyone tried to distance themselves from the massacres committed under Nazism, especially those of the final years. And that’s why so many said: ‘I wasn’t a Nazi’.
An SS officer was lying next to me And an American officer came to his bed and said: ‘Are you a Nazi?’ to this SS officer. And he said, ‘Yes, I am.’ The American officer shook hands with him and said, ‘The first German to admit he was a Nazi. A pleasure to meet you.’ Later, I asked myself what I would have said to this American officer if he’d said to me. ‘Are you a Nazi?’ Probably the same as everybody else. I was forced to. I joined the Hitler youth. And so on…I wouldn’t have said I was a Nazi.
We are, at least, complicit in other people’s crimes. We can’t be accused of being active perpetrators. We didn’t do that. We didn’t beat, or imprison anyone, or do anything like that. But we went along with it.
Q How can you say that you didn’t imprison anyone when you were a camp guard? A member of the Death’s Head SS.
A A valid question. A very valid question. That’s when complicity begins to turn to guilt. That’s why I got out.
Q At what point does complicity make you a perpetrator?
A Complicity begins by going there in the first place. Not to have turned around straight away. We didn’t dare. Nobody walked away.
Let’s say there was an order to exterminate the Jews. If, as a policeman, or a soldier, I am forced to help round up Jews and take them to a concentration camp. What does that make me? If I go voluntarily. Then I’m definitely a perpetrator. If I’m ordered to do it… Has perpetration begun if I say, ‘Move along Jews…’ I don’t know. I can’t answer that question. What else could I have done? If I refused I could have been put against the wall and shot.
Q Did you ever yourself hear of this happening?
A No, never.
Q there is no record of it happening, in the literature, either?
A I never heard of it.
Q If you received such an order what would you have done?
A Yes, that is a good question. If ninety-nine men had said yes before me, I might have participated as well.
[woman, former Nazi]
Q The main responsibility of the murder of the Jews in the second world war
A in the second world war the responsibility is German. It is the stigma they will bear for the rest of their lives. But I don’t feel part of the collective guilt of the Germans.
Q So who is to blame for these atrocities?
A God will be judge of that.
Q Put the good Lord aside.
Q I would like to have your opinion.
A Yes, but… the good Lord doesn’t sit opposite me. But I feel… I’m ashamed as a German. Because something so cruel happened in the German name. With this meticulousness. With this bookkeeping accuracy.
What it comes to judging between those who did it and…Actually, they were all perpetrators. They were all perpetrators.
Q The concentration camp guard… do you consider him a perpetrator?
A Well, yes…I was one of them. I feel like a perpetrator.
I’ve always said we didn’t know. But in the end, we are perpetrators too. We let it happen. We should have got to the bottom of it. So, in the end, we’re perpetrators too.
Do I consider myself a perpetrator? [laughs] That’s such a broad question. I wouldn’t have been a perpetrator if I’d the courage to say ‘no’ at any point. So, if you say that I didn’t say that, then I’m a perpetrator. That’s an easy answer of course. But I can’t be convicted as a perpetrator. Because really I was an ideological perpetrator. And not a…But let’s finish now, shall we? [laughs]
[unrepentant SS former officer]
Q So you are not willing to blame Hitler?
Q For you? Hitler is not responsible?
A I will not blame him.
Q You will not blame him?
Q Do you still honour him?
A I certainly do. The idea was correct.
Q And the murder of the Jews, was that also correct? That’s what Hitler…
A No, I don’t share that opinion.
A I don’t share that opinion that they should be murdered. They should have been driven out to another country, where they could rule themselves. That would have saved a great deal of grief.
Angela Merkel [former] Chancellor of Germany.
The mass murder of six million Jews, carried out in the name of Germany has caused indiscriminate suffering to the Jewish people, Europe and the entire world.
The Shoah fills us Germans with shame. I bow before the victims. I bow before the survivors and those that helped them survive.
Luke Holland. In memory of my murdered grandparents and millions of others.
Filmed and directed by Luke Holland.