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CHAPTER 3 WHO KILLED THE JEWS? THE TREBLINKA INVESTIGATION AND TRIAL Who killed the Jews? Not I, cries the typist, not I, cries the engineer, not I, cries Adolf Eichmann, not I, cries Albert Speer. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Were they Germans? Were they Nazis? Were they human? Who killed the Jews? —Jacob Glatstein, “Riddle” For former death camp guards, there were strategies useful in avoiding a murder conviction in West German courts. At the Belzec trial, the defendants argued with varying degrees of success that they had acted under duress or that their activities within the camp did not involve murdering the Jews. Others contended that they had exploited every available option to secure reassignment , or performed their tasks in a spirit of refractory opposition to the government ’s exterminatory goals. For seven of the eight Belzec guards indicted by the Munich prosecutor, these arguments carried the day. The eighth defendant , Josef Oberhauser, failed to extricate himself from liability, chiefly because of his close relationship with notorious death camp leaders Christian Wirth and Odilo Globocnik. The strategy of Kurt Franz, the leading defendant at the Düsseldorf Treblinka trial in 1965, was to concede nothing and deny everything. This must have struck the court members and the West German public as a baroque defense , in that it sharply contradicted the words of Jewish witnesses and Franz’s former colleagues at Treblinka. Based on the witness testimony, the regional court would write in its verdict that Franz “revealed a kind of sadism and such contempt toward all Jewish life that can scarcely be envisioned by the human Who Killed the Jews? 72 imagination.” His influence on events within the camp was so malign that, in the court’s words, “a large part of the river of blood and tears that flowed through Treblinka may be laid solely to his account.”1 Undissuaded by the voluminous witness testimony against him, Franz argued that he had not succeeded Franz Stangl as commandant of Treblinka in October 1943 because he was not present in the camp at that time. Witnesses had misidentified him as “Lalka” (“doll”), a nickname given to the man they called the “terror of the camp”; according to Franz, the real “Lalka” was Treblinka’s first commandant, Irmfried Eberl.2 Impenitent to the bitter end, Franz dismissed the Jewish witnesses ’ accusations against him as “plain lies.” None of these defenses worked. Along with two of his codefendants, Franz was finally convicted of mass murder and sentenced to a life term in prison. The restoftheaccusedwereconvictedasaccomplicestomassmurder(saveone,Otto Horn, who was acquitted for lack of proof). In the history of the Operation Reinhard trials, Treblinka was the antipode of the Belzec proceeding. The reason for the difference was the presence of Jewish witness-survivors able to refute the accused’s defense and attest to specific acts of mind-boggling violence committed by them. In the end, Ludwigsburg’s and the prosecutor’s success in casting a worldwide net in search of witnesses was decisive. When the trial concluded after ninety-four days, there was no question about who killed the Jews. The Treblinka Investigation Even before the arrest of Adolf Eichmann in May 1960, staff members in the Israeli national memorial authority of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem, had been working with West German investigators to locate documentation for the trials of ex-Nazi defendants in the Federal Republic. The Israelis were invaluable partners to the West Germans for two reasons. First, numerous survivors of the Polish death camps had taken up residence in Israel—persons who could serve as essential witnesses against accused Nazi war criminals. Second, the Israelis had obtained British microfilm of captured German documents dealing with Nazi Jewish policy. As David Cesarani notes, both of these resources—the British microfilm materials and the Yad Vashem staff—later became critical to the Israeli police as they collected documentation for the Eichmann trial. Yad Vashem’s personnel were chosen to assist the police because of their prior experience working with the West Germans.3 Collaboration with the Israelis on criminal investigations of suspected perpetrators may have also gained urgency from the Hallstein Doctrine and its consequences. It is true that the West German government, in response to the East German Blutrichter campaign, temporarily suspended the embargo on contacts with East Bloc countries so as to permit evaluation of judicial re- Who Killed the Jews? 73 cords in the GDR. This détente may have encouraged Schüle to pursue “semiofficial ” contacts with Warsaw investigators in...


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