Nazi Death Squads (2009) s01e04 Episode Script

Time of Reckoning

Jews would come and ask us for food.
Apparently, in the cement ditch, they had Jewish workers dig up bodies, pile them up, douse them with gasoline and burn them.
Small groups came to our kitchen with guards.
Regina Jablonska had a job cooking for the Lithuanian killers in Ponary Forest, just outside Vilnius.
She witnessed Operation 1005 activities, as they emptied mass graves which held almost 100,000 people.
She saw the ordeal of the Jews, forced to dig up and burn the corpses.
Did you know what was going on? Of course we did.
How did you guess? They could have been doing something else.
Something else? Like what? They were living in the pits and doing that job.
It smelled awful.
The flames lit up the sky.
People said Ponary was on fire.
What was happening was obvious.
People aren't stupid.
Wasn't it terrible work for these Jews? Terrible.
Worse, they had to live in the pit.
We came to work one morning, and my God, what a mess! We wondered what had happened.
It turned out that the Jews had escaped the night before.
The bodies they dug up still had valuables on them.
Some still had gold teeth.
Others had rings.
The Jews collected the gold and gave it to the Austrian guards.
They had also dug a tunnel.
They carried out the sand in their pockets.
They bribed the guards not to see the tunnel.
A survivor told the story.
I don't know how many were caught and shot.
But only two managed to escape.
After, one of them came back and told us everything.
This is a film made by a young German soldier.
Home in Breslau after a year on the Eastern Front, he got some of his little sister's cast-off toys, imagined this scene, and filmed it.
In Byelorussia, Soviet prisoners of war were assigned to exhume the corpses and burn them.
They put phosphorous on the pyres so they'd burn better.
All the bodies were burned.
Even the ashes were crushed, so nobody would find anything.
That's why nothing was found.
It was top secret.
The whole area was cordoned off.
Nobody could get in or out.
We sat there and guarded the prisoners.
The ones doing the work.
As workers, they could move around freely.
In the evening, at a certain time, work stopped.
They returned to their bunker and had a good meal.
We used a little trick on them.
We told them, "You'll be freed.
" They had to sign release papers.
Do you know where they were taken next? To the East? No, to gas vans.
They were liquidated.
There was a Russian doctor who said to me, "We'll never be freed.
" He spoke good German.
"We'll never be freed.
I'm sure of it.
Because with all that we know, they'll never let us go.
" They volunteered for this work.
If they hadn't, they would have been dead.
When these volunteers were about to be "freed," they signed release papers.
Then we made them take a bath so at least they'd be clean.
Did they get in the vans willingly? Yes, they had to go.
No one was freed.
German defeat was now a certainty.
Nevertheless, trainloads of European Jews from Western Europe were still chugging eastward.
Convoy 73, packed with 878 men from Drancy, France, was headed for Fort 9 at Kaunas.
Henri Zajdenwerger is its only living survivor.
Our convoy was headed for Auschwitz, but we didn't go there.
We never understood why.
On May 9, I was sent to Drancy, and on the 15th, I left on convoy 73 which was unusual in that it was a convoy composed only of men, men and adolescents.
We got on the train cattle cars, of course.
We were crammed in there for three days.
Conditions were dreadful.
And then we arrived at Kaunas.
We felt the train maneuvering, going backwards and forwards.
They uncoupled some cars.
And quite randomly, I found myself in the part of the train that went on to Estonia.
All those who stayed in Kaunas went on to Fort 9.
They were killed immediately.
In their cells at Fort 9, the prisoners from France left their mark on the wall with whatever they could find.
We found traces of names.
"Paris," dates of departure There's one big graffito: "We are 900 Frenchmen.
" The part of the train I was in went on to Tallinn, arriving the next day.
May 18th or 19th, 1944.
I was assigned to a commando which was working on this airfield.
Other people were assigned to work in the forest.
In the morning, the commando would go off to work in the forest and would come back at night with fewer people.
Because there were deportees who'd been shot in the forest.
They killed them in the forest and put them in mass graves.
They must have needed our labor to finish the runways at the airfield.
For some reason, I had the luck, like all the others with me in that commando, to work on the airfield.
The collapse of the German armies unleashed sheer chaos on Eastern Europe.
The SS and the SD adopted a scorched-earth strategy, leaving a trail of massacred civilians and razed villages in their wake as they retreated.
They were terrifying when they were fleeing.
Truly frightening.
They weren't men but animals.
They'd go into any house and take everything.
My grandmother's house had a big front porch.
They came and sat on a bench.
Our grandma came out and said, "Kamerad, what's that I see?" Across the stream, the village of Piski was burning.
The German looked at grandma and said, "Mutter, our kamerad tossed his cigarette, and the village caught fire!" In the spring of 1944, SS divisions operating in Eastern Europe were sent to the Western Front.
In Italy, France, and Belgium, units for whom violence and mass murder were routine brought along the methods they had practiced on the Eastern Front.
In Tulle and Oradour-sur-Glane, in France, the Das Reich Division, which had participated in Einsatzgruppe B extermination operations, perpetrated the type of massacre that was daily fare in the Byelorussian hinterlands.
642 people were brutally murdered and the village was burned to the ground.
And yet the Nazi extermination machine continued, ineluctably.
The gas chambers and furnaces operated until the final hours before the German retreat.
Many of those who had not been gassed perished during the "death marches.
" Henri Zajdenwerger, then a prisoner at Stutthof death camp, survived this ordeal.
Those too weak to keep up were killed.
They fell in the ditch, and there they stayed.
I also recall My feet were wrapped in big paper cement bags.
That's how I walked along.
And I ate snow.
I didn't want to think about what would happen to me later.
I had blinkers.
And I I followed blindly without wondering what might happen tomorrow.
I lived in the present moment.
I'd say, "I'm still alive right now.
That's the main thing.
" I focused on the present.
In the Crimea, Otto Ohlendorf’s Einsatzgruppe, flanked by a militia of Tartar killers, had exterminated the Jews of Simferopol at Kilometer 11 â€" over 10,000 people between December 9 and 13, 1941.
Three years later, while the Germans were beating a retreat, a final Aktion was carried out on March 13, 1944.
I was born April 8, 1939, to a family with a Jewish father and a Ukrainian mother.
It was a loving family.
My parents had met at school.
They really loved each other.
There had been no objections to the marriage, on either side, the Jewish or the Ukrainian.
It was a true marriage of love.
We lived well.
My Jewish grandparents were named Kizilstein.
David Meyerowicz and Rozalia Abramovna Kizilstein were their names.
They died tragically in December 1941 at Simferopol when the Germans came.
After the murder of her father and her Jewish grandparents, Nina Lysitsina survived, concealed by a priest.
When he was hanged by the Nazis for rescuing Jews, she hid in her grandparents' cellar.
Her false certificate of Aryan background was no help when she was denounced by a neighbor in the last days of the German occupation.
April 13, 1944, in our apartment, I was already ill.
I had tuberculosis of the eyes and lungs.
I had a cough.
I was dying from the fever and living in the cellar.
Our forces were already at Perekop when a Gestapo man came.
Grandma was somewhere in the yard.
He caught me.
I was only five years old.
They took me away.
I was near a woman in black holding a child.
Who was she? How many people were lined up? We'd driven there in a cart.
They had packed us in.
They were catching everyone: political commissars, officers, Jews, anyone.
They caught us and shot us.
Then my mind's a blank.
Wounded in the shoulder and left for dead, the little girl managed to crawl between the corpses and climb out of the ditch.
I came to at night, in a pit.
I don't know how many hours it took me to get out of the pit.
When I got out, it must have been around 11 p.
It was night.
When they shot us, there was sun.
I went up to a house.
The dog didn't bark.
I tapped on a window and they opened the door.
The Kurnessenkos have been recognized as Righteous.
I was covered with human blood.
They immediately heated some water and washed me.
They'd killed all the hens and were leaving.
They knew the Germans would burn the village to get rid of witnesses to the massacre.
The Battle of Berlin sounded the death knell of Nazism.
The Third Reich, intended to last 1,000 years, was crushed by Allied bombing.
On April 2nd, 1945, a few weeks before he killed himself in his bunker, Hitler wrote, "In a world where the moral order is increasingly contaminated by the Jewish poison, a people immunized against it will someday recover its superiority.
From this point of view, eternal gratitude will be due to National Socialism, because I have exterminated the Jews in Germany and Central Europe.
" Even before the German surrender, Nazi henchmen were seized and brought to justice.
In 1943, the town of Kharkov, freed by the Soviets, held the first trial of the Nazi killers and their collaborators.
Such courts became common all over Eastern Europe.
On Soviet territory, the trials were held at a frenetic pace in the decades after the war.
They didn't undress us because it was already dark.
They took us to the edge of the ravine.
We could hardly stand.
They started to shoot.
I closed my eyes and clenched my fists.
I tensed my muscles and let myself fall in the pit.
After what seemed like forever, I landed on some bodies.
Some were only wounded.
Later, the shooting stopped.
And I heard Germans climb down into the ravine to shoot the ones who were suffocating.
They had flashlights to see who was still alive.
I kept lying there.
I stayed as still as I could so they wouldn't spot me.
I thought my end had come.
I waited in silence.
They began covering the bodies with soil.
I was covered in soil and felt I was suffocating.
I was afraid to move.
I only had a few gulps of air to go before suffocating.
I'd have preferred being shot to dying of suffocation.
I started to move.
I didn't realize it was so dark.
I freed my left hand.
I got my breath back and brushed away the soil.
After having taken a few breaths, using what strength remained, I got out from under the earth.
It was now night time, but it was dangerous to move because the Germans were lighting the pit from above.
They were still shooting the wounded and could have hit me.
So I had to be very careful.
I managed to crawl to the walls of the ravine, and with a superhuman effort, I hoisted myself out.
In Riga, at the Officers' Hall, on January 26, the trial of atrocities committed by the German fascist invaders began.
Defendant Friedrich Jeckeln, SS Obergruppenführer, and General-in-Chief of the SS Army and Police Obviously this trial did not comply with international law.
It was a war tribunal.
The verdict and outcome were known in advance.
The trial was a formality.
That said we weren't expecting a real trial.
What further evidence did we need? Everyone knew he was behind the massacres at Rumbula as well as Babi Yar.
In the southern Ukraine and southern Russia, he had organized the most massive and efficient massacres of Jews.
The truck drove up to the gallows.
Two soldiers boosted up the condemned man and put his head in the noose.
Jeckeln's last movement was to wiggle his head around to prolong his life for a few instants.
The public applauds the sentence.
These fascist murderers have killed thousands of the sons and daughters of our nation.
They've covered our homeland with forests of gallows.
Now is the time for the executioners to hang.
The death knell of their vile acts has sounded.
May the brown fascist plague be forever eradicated.
May it never more be a threat to freedom-loving Soviet peoples.
He wanted to live! His conduct at the trial attested to his will to live.
He even filed a plea for amnesty.
It should be published.
He wanted to live, "to make amends.
" But he had hundreds of thousands of lives to pay for.
I don't see how he could have done it.
To me, the fact that Jeckeln wrote to the Soviet Supreme Court to plead for his life was Nazism's greatest ideological failure.
About 2,300 youths were made harmless in a similar way.
And from the last In Western Europe, Nazi criminals were judged at the Nuremberg trials.
After he had condemned Goering and the top leaders of the regime, Benjamin Ferencz, the young American prosecutor who found the Einsatzgruppen reports in Berlin, convinced the tribunal to add a trial dedicated to the crimes of the death commandos on the Eastern Front.
It opened on September 15, 1947.
to hear these charges of international crimes and to adjudge them in the name of civilization.
We had the list.
I knew who they were.
We captured their roster.
We immediately sent the information out to all of the POW camps.
"Anybody who's on this list, please report to headquarters.
" Some of the men we already had in custody for the international military tribunal trial.
Though we had about 10 million Nazi party files that we captured, we just selected a few sample cases to prove to the world beyond doubt what had happened and to hold accountable a few of the leaders who were responsible for those crimes.
Most of them had doctor degrees.
Many of them were lawyers.
Some of them one of them in particular had two doctor degrees: Doctor Doctor Rasch.
I had a special affection to put him on trial.
His lawyer came to see me.
He was, of course, indicted for that crime without reference to Babi Yar.
We just knew it was an area of Kiev from his report.
His lawyer came to see me.
And he said, "We have to drop the case against Rasch.
" And I said, "Why?" He said, "Because he's sick.
He can't stand trial.
" I said, "What does he have?" He said, "He has Parkinson's disease.
" I said, "What's Parkinson's disease?" He said, "He's shaking all the time.
" I said, "If I killed that many people, I'd be shaking, too.
" He died.
I don't know in which direction he moved, but, uh I think it was a just result.
Immediate justice.
Blobel was his chief, a general, SS.
But Blobel, by the time he got around to it, after Stalingrad, and they thought, "Hey, there may be a day of reckoning," he tried to conceal the evidence of his crimes by digging them up and blowing them up so there would be no evidence available.
It didn't help him.
How do you plead to this indictment, guilty or not guilty? Not guilty.
You may be seated.
Judge Speight will now question the following defendant.
And then, for the ridiculous reason, we limited the number of defendants to 24 in fact, two of them dropped out, one for death and one for suicide.
We had 22.
And the reason it was limited for 22 or 24, out of 3,000 mass murderers, was we didn't have any more seats in the courtroom.
The psychological profile was probably very much the same, but the argumentation in the courtroom was different.
Some of them lied outrageously.
Which meant, "I hear now for the first time that Jews were killed.
" Some said, "We were only obeying superior orders.
" This was standard.
Others said, "I wasn't there.
" I could play one against the other, and the evidence given in court was mostly a pack of lies.
But the mentality was all the same.
These were loyal German Nazi fanatics who believed in what they were doing, who thought what they were doing was right.
The best explanation for the justification for what they did was given by Otto Ohlendorf.
Ohlendorf was an intelligent man.
Otto Ohlendorf.
Father of five children.
General in the SS and a fairly honest man.
He explained why he did this.
And it's important to know the mentality of mass murderers.
If you want to stop mass murderers, you must know what motivates them.
How do their minds work? And Ohlendorf was the perfect man to explain that to me, and I drew it out of him, the judges drew it out of him as well.
From June 1941 until Heydrich's death in June 1942, I led Einsatzgruppen D and was deputy chief of security police and the 11th Army Intelligence Service.
To which army was Group D attached? Group D was not attached to an Army corps, but directly attributed to the 11th Army.
Where did Group D operate? Group D operated in the southern Ukraine.
And he said, "We did it in self-defense.
" I said, "What do you mean, self-defense? Nobody attacked Germany.
Germany attacked Poland, Russia, France, Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Norway.
Where is your self-defense?" "Aha," he said, "but I knew, we knew, that the Soviet Union intended to attack us, and therefore we had to attack them first to preempt an attack against us.
" And why did you kill all the Jews? "Well, everybody knows the Jews were sympathetic to the Bolsheviks.
And so you had to kill them, too.
" And why did you kill all the children? "Well, if we eliminated the parents, the children would grow up and they would be enemies of the Reich as well, so we were interested in the long-term security of our country and therefore we had to kill the children, too.
" As if to say, it's perfectly logical to kill thousands of little children.
Otto Ohlendorf states that his estimate of the number killed by the Einsatzgruppe D during the time that he was in charge was 90,000.
And he comes to that conclusion from the reports.
And that is what I understand he says today.
I do not agree with this answer, Your Honor.
For this reason: as I said, it may have reported that 90,000 people had been killed, but I cannot confirm that 90,000 really were killed, still less that they were killed by the Einsatzgruppe, because the Einsatzgruppe, or rather the Einsatzkommandos, also reported external events.
Therefore, I can only repeat, that 90,000 were reported.
Ohlendorf was a good example of the type of man who would do that.
And he explained that he would have done it again, he would do it again.
He believed that the Fuhrer knew more than he did, and if it was necessary for the protection of Germany, he would do it again.
And he was the father of five children.
And because he was honest, I thought, well, I didn't want him to have the feeling that my personal intervention was vengeance as a Jew and glorifying, you know, getting even with this Major General in the SS who killed 90,000 Jews.
I thought, well, he's a human being.
He's got a family.
He's got five children.
Maybe he wants me to take some message to his wife or something like that.
So I went down to the death house, which is right below the courtroom.
There's a little lift goes down and there are the various cells.
And they brought him out in a little cell with a heavy glass in between.
A few holes in it.
And I said, "Hey, Ohlendorf" I spoke to him in German.
Uh, he has been sentenced to death.
We both knew he was a dead man.
Uh, "Is there anything I can do for you?" And, uh It was a human gesture.
I didn't think in terms of clemency.
It was just a human gesture.
I thought he might say, "Well, tell my wife, my children I love them, I'm sorry," something.
He said, "The Jews in America will suffer for this.
" He was threatening me.
I said, "Goodbye, Mr.
Ohlendorf" in English.
I turned around and walked away.
The next time I saw Ohlendorf was on a photograph of him dropping in the gallows and lying there dead in a coffin.
Those were the only words I ever exchanged with Ohlendorf or with any of the defendants.
The only words I ever wanted to exchange.
Of the 24 Einsatzgruppe officers judged at Nuremberg, two were sentenced to jail for life, six to shorter terms, and 14 to death by hanging.
Only four of them were actually executed.
The ten other death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.
And in 1958, all the prisoners were freed.
Why were the death sentences commuted? They were commuted because, starting in 1947-'48, the Americans were well aware of their need for a strong, stable West Germany, firmly allied with the West, in the face of the looming Cold War.
But German opinion was very touchy on the question of justice and trials by victors.
There was a strong resemblance between public perceptions of the ends of the two World Wars.
War criminals had been tried in Leipzig after World War I.
German opinion was strongly affected by conservative trends.
They saw these Nuremberg Trials as victor-run trials, trials that were just going to be about German culpability.
The Americans sought to avoid a 1918-style end-of-war.
As a result, their policy on enforcing the sentences was extremely liberal, indeed.
Sandberger, for example, had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment, then five years.
He was freed in 1954, I think.
Instead of hanging, he served six years.
Nothing happened to the thousands of shooters.
Nothing happened to commanders that we didn't have in custody.
Because, as a practical matter, if we didn't have them, we couldn't stay on in Germany and continue to search for them.
Years later, the Germans, as the result of some provocation I won't go into the detail set up its Zentrale Stelle, or central office, for the prosecution of Nazi criminals.
And I knew the people who were in charge of that, and they were good people.
And they got dossiers of all of these Einsatzgruppen files that we had.
We turned our files over to them and also to the state prosecution authorities, and they began a number of prosecutions.
Later, the lower-ranking officers were tracked down, questioned, and sometimes indicted.
But it's not surprising that relatively few investigations led to trials.
The Germans made the fundamental choice to reduce the prosecutors' scope by setting a statute of limitations.
The only charges were murder and complicity in murder.
German law had no definition of crimes against humanity until later, so they could not be charged.
Most of the thousands of German killers returned to jobs with the police, their pre-war occupation.
Men who had operated at the heart of the Nazi death squads could be found directing traffic, investigating crimes, or writing reports in the offices of the West German Interior Ministry, after the war.
They were never bothered.
Sixty-five years after the perpetration of the crimes against humanity on their soil, two decades after the collapse of the Soviet empire, the countries of Eastern Europe seem to have come back to life.
The devastation left by World War II, then the Soviet dictatorship, have nonetheless left indelible traces.
The killers and their collaborators have done their time at the gulag â€" at least, those who were sent there.
I swear by God that I will fight Bolshevism until my last breath! Freed only recently from Communism, the Eastern European countries needed to regain their national pride, identified with nationalist movements for whom Russia was the first enemy.
Some of these nationalists were the murderers who helped commit the genocide in the first years of the war.
Today, the Galicia SS lie in sparkling new mausoleums, while most of the mass graves where thousands of Jews were murdered are in a state of total neglect.
This gathering in modern-day Lviv honors both the UPA, a Ukrainian nationalist militia, and the Galicia SS, both of which lent armed thugs to the pogroms of June 1941.
Lithuania has no intention of trying its elderly citizens for crimes against humanity.
The implosion of Soviet power has led to such lawlessness and humiliation in Russia that neo-Nazi groups have sprung up.
They randomly seize and kill people from ethnic minorities, using methods similar to those of the Einsatzgruppen.
But the Jewish communities who lived for centuries on the Ukrainian plains, in the Baltic cities, and in the Byelorussian countryside, their Yiddish culture, rich and lively until the cataclysm of June 1941, all the farmers, tailors, factory workers, and poets they have disappeared forever.