Today I read in the news here that leading British and American researchers are pushing to open the United Nations archive which holds documents from 10,000 cases against accused World War II criminals. Half way through the article I read this quote:
Duplicates of commission documents obtained by AP from the National Archives in Maryland include staff lists for the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald with the names, ranks and accusations against them.
Buchenwald camp leader Max Schobert, described as taking part in all mass and individual executions, was quoted as giving orders to bring him at least 600 Jewish death reports every day, and to take all university graduates and rabbis to the camp gate and bury them alive. He was found guilty of war crimes in 1947 and was hanged the following year.
I rushed to my hoard of books, gathering dust on the shelves in my home, and looked for the book entitled Justice at Dachau, written by Joshua M. Greene. I found Schobert’s name in the index; he is mentioned on page 249 as one of several SS men whose job it was to escort prisoners to the execution room in a stable at Buchenwald. Strangely, Greene did not mention anything about Schobert burying university graduates and rabbis alive at the Buchenwald camp gate.
On which side of the Buchenwald gate did Max Schobert bury the university graduates and rabbis alive? When I visited Buchenwald, I did not see any monument or memorial at the spot where the rabbis were buried? What were their names? Maybe Elie Wiesel, the most famous prisoner at Buchenwald, would know. Did anyone ever think to ask him?
If I had known that there were rabbis buried alive at Buchenwald, I would not have walked over this sacred ground when I visited Buchenwald. The ground near the gate is covered with gravel. Surely Schobert could have found an easier spot to dig holes to bury people alive!
I continued my research into the story of Max Schobert at this website where I read the following quote:
In 1947, thirty one members of the Buchenwald camp staff were tried for their crimes by an American court. Pister, his deputy Max Schobert, Krautwurst and Wolff were condemned to death and hung, resulting from evidence given by Yeo-Thomas.
So Schobert was convicted on the basis of the testimony given by the famous Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas, a British SOE agent, at the American Military Tribunal proceedings against the 31 war criminals of Buchenwald, which took place at Dachau in 1947.
Max Schobert was executed on November 19, 1948. And now British and American researchers want to open the United Nations archive to find out more about German war criminals like Max Schobert! I wonder what they will discover.
I read this about Yeo-Thomas on Wikipedia:
After the war, Yeo-Thomas was to be an important witness at the Nuremberg War Trials in the identification of Buchenwald officials. He was a key prosecution witness at the Buchenwald Trial held at Dachau Concentration Camp between April and August 1947. At this trial, 31 members of the Buchenwald staff were convicted of war crimes.
Max Schobert was convicted of a war crime at the American Military Tribunal in 1947 because, according to the testimony of prosecution witness Paul Shilling, he was one of the SS men who escorted Russian POWs to the horse stable in Buchenwald to be executed. If he had refused to do this, he would have been executed himself because the Russian POWs were executed on the orders of Adolf Hitler.
The Buchenwald camp guidebook, which I purchased at the Buchenwald Memorial site in 1999, says that “8,000 Soviet Prisoners of War were executed in Buchenwald. They were killed according to the Commissar Order (Kommissarbefehl) issued by the supreme command of the Germany army.”
Rudolf Höss, the former Commandant of Auschwitz, wrote the following in his memoir, regarding the execution of Soviet POWs who were Communist Commissars:
The reason for this action was given as follows: the Russians were murdering any German soldier who was a member of the Nazi party, especially SS members. Also, the political section of the Red Army had a standing order to cause unrest in every way in any POW camp or places where the POWs worked. If they were caught or imprisoned, they were instructed to perform acts of sabotage.
These executions, under the Commissar order, were carried out by a special detachment known as Kommando 99 in Buchenwald. The execution site was the horse stable, a brick building, 55 meters long, which was next to the Riding Hall where Commandant Koch and his wife Ilse rode their horses indoors, while the SS orchestra played military marches.
In the horse stable, a measuring device ( like the one shown above) of the type used in a doctor’s office was hung on the wall. A narrow slot in the device allowed the executioner to shoot the prisoner in the neck from a booth behind the wall.
According to the Buchenwald guide book “military marches sounded through the building” to drown out the noise of the shots. The dead bodies were removed in large galvanized containers, an example of which is on display in the pathology lab next to the crematorium.
The horse stable was torn down by the Soviet Union, but the measuring stick has been recreated, in the pathology lab in the crematorium, for the benefit of tourists. The photo above shows the reconstructed measuring stick.
At the American Military Tribunal proceedings against the staff of the main Buchenwald camp, Horst Dittrich, a member of the SS staff at Buchenwald, testified for the prosecution. Under interrogation, Dittrich had confessed to the crime of executing Russian POWs at Buchenwald and was awaiting his own trial in a subsidiary case.
The Russian POWs, who were executed, had been determined to be Commissars in the Communist party. They had been ordered to organize escape attempts and make trouble in the camps.
During his testimony, Horst Dittrich had no explanation for why this surreptitious and inefficient method of killing was allegedly used to murder 8,000 Russians at Buchenwald, even though the execution of the Commissars had been ordered by the Reich Security Main Office on the authority of Adolf Hitler himself. Dittrich testified that the room had to be cleaned with a water hose after each execution.
At Dachau, 6,000 Russian Commissars were allegedly taken to a firing range outside the camp and executed, although this was not proved at the proceedings against the Dachau staff.
The measuring device was only used in executions at Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen, which were both in the post-war occupation zone of the Soviet Union, but not at Dachau which was in the American zone of occupation.
Max Schobert, and the other SS men on trial in the Buchenwald case, were charged with violations of the Geneva Convention of 1929 with respect to Soviet Prisoners of war, although the Soviet Union had not signed the Convention, and did not treat German POWs according to its laws during the war, and for 10 years afterwards.
Regarding the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929 with respect to Soviet POWs, defense attorney Captain Lewis said the following during the Buchenwald trial:
We think that the language of the Convention is simple and clear. It binds only those nations who sign it as between themselves. It is not binding as between a signatory and a nation that has refused to join the family of nations.
In reply, prosecutor Lt. Col. Denson said the following:
I am perfectly ready, willing, and able to talk at this time of legality and of the law that is to be applied here. In Hall’s Treatise on International Law, we have the following quotation: “More than necessary violence must not be used by a belligerent in all his relations with his enemy.” The fact that Russia was not a signatory to the convention did not give Germans the right to mistreat Russian Prisoners of War. The Hague and Geneva Conventions were nothing more than a clarification of customs and usages already in practice among civilized nations.