Erich Naumann

Natty S.S.-Brigadier-General Erich Naumann affected a short, bright-tan military jacket in the courtroom. With regular features and an excellent military bearing, he must have struck an impressive figure as, arrayed in general's uniform, with gleaming boots and a shining sword, he led his columns to the execution grounds, all to the glory of Adolf Hitler and the purification of the Aryan world.

From Smolensk, Russia, he had sent to Eichmann the reports which we had before us, one of them stating that during November 1941, his Einsatzgruppe B had killed 17,256 Jews, sixteen of them children in a children's home. Another report spoke of executions between March 6th and 30th, 1942, numbering thousands of persons. Although some of the deaths in this report were labelled as punishment for "theft", "attempted murder", "sabotage" and "spying", most of them were listed simply under the designation of "Jews", "gypsies", or "membership in the Communist Party". Naumann acknowledged that his Einsatzgruppe possessed two or three gas vans which "were used to exterminate human beings".

Here a little diversion may be in order regarding Eichmann's direction and supervision over the Einsatzgruppen, as brought out through Naumann's activities. At the Eichmann trial I testified to the fact that Schellenberg, as head of Department VI of the R.S.H.A., had been involved in a project entitled "Operation Zeppelin", the purpose of which was to get Russian prisoners-of-war to spy on fellow-Russians. Some of these Russian spies were later themselves executed by the Germans. the actual shooting being done by men from Einsatzgruppe B, headed by this same Brigadier-General Naumann. I pointed out in my testimony that in this operation Schellenberg "worked hand in glove with A.M.T. IV, the Gestapo, and because of that association, aside from the usual routine office camaraderie between individuals in the same organisation, Schellenberg came into contact with Eichmann, who of course was heading B4 in the Gestapo". It was because of this association, in addition to Schellenberg's officiating for Mueller when the latter was absent, that Schellenberg acquired intimate knowledge of Eichmann's work. Schellenburg related to me in Nuremberg, and I so testified in Jerusalem, that "Eichmann as chief of that part of the R.S.H.A. which dealt with Jews, supervised and directed the activities of the Einsatzgruppen in the extermination of Jews".

Naumann, like Braune and Ott, subscribed to the "no exception" rule. When he took the stand in his defence, and I asked him if he thought that "in order to win the war it was necessary to kill hundreds of thousands of defenceless people, men, women and children, unarmed," he replied unhesitantly in the affirmative.

Later, however, he probably felt that he had committed himself too far and withdrew to the sheltering statement that he did entertain some misgivings about the Führer-Order. I now naturally assumed that he was conceding it was wrong to kill blameless populations, especially women and children, and accordingly asked him if that was so. But he replied, as a wave of surprise rippled through the Nuremberg courtroom attentive with spectators and newspapermen from many countries: "Not wrong, your Honor, because I was given the authority to do so, because there was a Führer decree."

However, still later, his answers again began to drift towards definite acknowledgment of evil in the Führer-Order, and I consequently put the question: "Therefore, you thought there was something wrong about it, something morally wrong?" But again, unexpectedly, he replied: "No."

"You saw nothing wrong in mowing down these defenceless men and these helpless women and children? You saw nothing morally wrong in that?"

"Not unjust, your Honor."

Since there was no doubt about Naumann's participation in the killings attributed to him and his unit, the only question left for us to resolve was whether he shot down the thousands listed in the reports because he wholeheartedly approved of the Führer-Order, in which event his guilt would be established conclusively, or whether he was compelled, against his will, to conduct executions, in which case the verdict would favour him. Thus, it was vital to the decision of the Tribunal that we know if Naumann perceived any illegality in the Führer-Order. To a question directed towards getting an answer on this specific point, he replied: "Your Honor, I know that my yes or no will be very decisive and I do not hesitate to answer."

But he did hesitate, and in the heavy silence which followed I sought to relieve the tension by explaining that all we wanted was the truth. He either thought the order was right or it was wrong. Which was it? "There is certainly no disposition to coerce you into giving one answer or the other." I pointed out the extraordinariness of the fact that under the Führer-Order people were shot down without opportunity to defend themselves or even to protest. "Now you either agreed with this order or you did not agree with it."

His voice vibrant, he replied: "Yes, your Honor, I did agree with it."

But as soon as these words left him, he seemed to regret having uttered them. He looked fixedly ahead as if realising that here at Nuremberg he was standing at the crossroads of world-reckoning. The muscles of his throat visibly tightened as I assumed he was preparing to say that his conscience had bothered him and that he did entertain qualms about executing an order whose savage scope might have shocked the feelings of even a cannibal king. But still he wavered. He apparently could not bring himself to repudiate the man who had made him a general with the greatest power that can be bestowed on any mortal, that of issuing unappealable decrees of death. He withdrew to the ramparts of his original decision that he approved of the Führer-Order.

Wanting to make certain that this was his well-considered conclusion, I asked: "And then you had no reluctance about putting it into effect because you agreed with it?"

His fingers played a tattoo on the ledge of the witness-box; he blinked several times. A sense of mortal guilt was now perhaps suggesting an answer which would show to the world that he was not without honour. "I have already said that I had misgivings. It was with reluctance and it was a fight between duty and conscience and the realisation that this measure was necessary in order to fight Bolshevism."

I was, of course, aware, as he had himself said, that his answers could be decisive. Accordingly, I wanted him to take all the time he needed in which to reflect fully on what he had done and how he would account for what he had done. "Then you did not agree with the Führer-Order completely? Let me point out to you, witness, that when a soldier goes into battle, he has no misgivings. He is going to fight. He knows that his opponent is armed. He knows that he is fighting for his country and he may kill. Further, afterwards, if he comes out alive, he goes home and he sleeps tranquilly at night; he has no misgivings, no regrets. On the contrary he may be enthusiastic over the combat he waged. But here you say you did have some misgivings; you did entertain some reluctance, so, therefore -" and here I paused, while the whole world seemed to pause with me. The defendant sat as still as quiet as the bronze hour-glass attached to the wall. Equally the whole courtroom settled into the stillness of statuary. Sunlight streaming through the windows cast on the floor distorted shadows of the human tableau; it fell on the witness-chair and brightened Naumann's military jacket until it shone like burnished armour. Time seemed to stop.

Clearing my throat to complete my statement, I started at my own voice: "So therefore, I ask you whether or not you did not believe at the time that there was something wrong with the order."

Again there was silence. Outwardly Naumann was as still as the bronze hour-glass, but inwardly, undoubtedly, the pendulum of deliberation pitched in alternating decision. Which did he prefer: To stand high in the estimation of his Führer, even though he was dead? Or to seek the respect of the world, thousands of whose guiltless inhabitants he had slaughtered? He turned slightly in the chair so that he could face me directly. He straightened out the wrinkles in his jacket, and in a modified, respectful voice he answered: "No, your Honour, I considered the decree to be right, because it was part of our aim of the war and therefore it was necessary."

So that there could be no doubt about his decision, I pointed out the interpretation we could take from his words. "Then the Tribunal will accept from your answer that you saw nothing wrong with the order, even though it did involve the killing of defenceless human beings. That is what we draw from your answer."

He nodded affirmation: "Yes, your Honour." And as he stalked back to the prisoner's enclosure, one could almost imagine his doing it to the Wagnerian strains of Götterdämmerung.

Musmanno, Michael A., Justice. The Eichmann Kommandos. London: Peter Davies. 1961. pp. 156 - 161

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Electric Zen
Ken Lewis
May 26, 1998
Rev. 1.0