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April 2, 2016

Vera Atkins aka Vera Rosenberg — her testimony in war crimes trials

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust, Uncategorized, World War II — furtherglory @ 1:05 pm

The subject of Vera Atkins came up in a comment on my blog, so I am putting in my two cents worth in a new blog post.

Vera Atkins testified for the prosecution in several war crimes trials, for example the trial of Werner Röhde and 8 others.

The Trial of Werner Röhde and 8 others in a British Military Court at Wuppertal, Germany began on May 29, 1946 and ended on June 1, 1946. The nine men were charged with the murder of four British SOE agents on July 6, 1944 at the Natzweiler concentration camp in Alsace. Werner Röhde was a medical doctor who had allegedly murdered four SOE agents by giving them a lethal injection. It was the custom of the Allies to strip the title of Doctor from the accused in war crimes proceedings.

The 8 others in the dock, at the trial, were Fritz Hartjenstein, the Commandant at Natzweiler, Max Wochner and Wolfgang Zeuss from the Political Department at Natzweiler, Peter Straub who was the man in charge of executions, Franz Berg who was a prisoner in the camp, Emil Brüttel, Emil Meier and Kurt aus dem Bruch. Dr. Heinrich Plaza, who had also allegedly participated in the lethal injection of the women, was not on trial because he had not been captured.

In all of the Allied Military Tribunals, the concept of a “common plan” or co-responsibility for war crimes was used. This meant that anyone, who was present when a war crime was committed, was equally guilty because the accused should have acted to prevent the crime from taking place.

The evidence for the prosecution had been gathered by Major Bill Barkworth of the SAS War Crimes Investigation team and Vera Atkins, a Squadron Officer of the British SOE, who had interrogated the Natzweiler staff and some of the Natzweiler prisoners, who were also captured SOE agents.

The four SOE agents, who were allegedly murdered at Natzweiler, had been captured by the German Gestapo and had not returned after the war ended. The key prosecution witnesses, Albert Guérisse, Brian Stonehouse and Dr. Georges Boogaerts, who were all members of the SOE, had a motive for wanting these 4 women SOE agents to go down in history as heroines, not as missing persons.

The first witness for the prosecution was Vera Atkins, who testified on May 29, 1944 that Andrée Borrel, Vera Leigh, Diana Rowden and Noor Inayat Khan had been murdered at Natzweiler. It was not known until much later that Noor Inayat Khan was allegedly executed at Dachau and that Sonia Olschanezky was the fourth victim at Natzweiler. However, before her testimony, Vera Atkins had made sure that the Court would not allow the names of the victims to be published. Atkins herself was referred to in the press as a “WAAF officer” and her name was withheld.

According to Sarah Helm, who wrote a biography of Vera Atkins, entitled “A Life in Secrets,” Atkins did not want the SOE to be “exposed to any close scrutiny as a result of the case.” The SOE was a secret organization, also known as Churchill’s Secret Army, and it was engaged in espionage and sabotage behind enemy lines. The four women agents had been in the F section which operated as illegal insurgents in France after that country had signed an Armistice with Germany in 1940.

The attorney for the defense, Dr. Grobel, argued in court that “international law allowed for the execution of irregular combatants” and that the court should “consider this case from the point of view that it was a normal and simple execution of spies.” Vera Atkins was quoted by the press as saying that “the women were not spies.”

One thing the Allied Military Tribunals would not tolerate was any mention by the defense that the Allies had committed similar acts. During World War II, the British executed 15 German spies. The last person to be executed at the famous Tower of London was Josef Jacobs who was captured after he broke his leg during a parachute jump. He was shot on August 15, 1941.

In America, 8 captured German saboteurs were sentenced to death and 6 of them were executed in the electric chair. The other two sentences were reduced because the men had turned against their countrymen and cooperated with the Americans. Although the 8 Germans were caught before they had the opportunity to commit any acts of sabotage, 6 of them were executed because they had violated the Laws of War by going behind enemy lines to commit hostile acts without being in uniform.

According to Rita Kramer, who wrote a book entitled “Flames in the Field,” the proceedings of the British Military Court were widely publicized by the press, but the names of the women who had been allegedly executed at Natzweiler were not published until two years later, and even then it was not revealed that they had been the subject of a British Military Court where nine men had been prosecuted for their alleged execution.

In 1958, a series of articles in a British newspaper, which was a condensed version of a book entitled “Death be not Proud” by Elizabeth Nichols, accused the authorities of keeping the names of the dead women secret as a “War Office cover-up of official blunders,” according to Rita Kramer. The alleged “cover-up” was for the purpose of keeping secret the accusation that the British SOE had deliberately sent radio operators to France to be caught so that the British could transmit false information to their radios after the agents were captured by the Germans.

The senior counter intelligence officer with RSHA, the Reich Security Head Office in Berlin, was Horst Kopkow; he was responsible for all orders pertaining to the SOE agents captured in France. If any order was given for the execution of four SOE agents at Natzweiler, he would have been the man who signed it. He had not yet been captured when the trial of Dr. Röhde and 8 others began.

By the end of 1946, Kopkow was in British custody, but he denied any responsibility for the murder of any female F section SOE agents, saying that it was Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler who had personally decided their fate, according to Sarah Helm’s book “A Life in Secrets.”

Himmler was the head of the SS and all the concentration camps. All punishments in all the camps had to be approved by the head office in Oranienburg and all punishments of female prisoners had to be personally approved by Himmler, including executions.

Sarah Helm wrote that Kopkow was taken to England for interrogation in 1948, but when he arrived, he was found to be running a temperature, and two days later he died from bronchial pneumonia before any information could be obtained from him. A death certificate was issued for him and information was released that he had been buried in the POW section of a Military Cemetery.

By 1948, the Allies had realized that the real enemy was the Communist Soviet Union. Kopkow had not died; he had been “released from custody to work for British and American intelligence,” according to the book “A Life in Secrets,” by Sarah Helm. Kopkow’s death had been faked so that he could help the Allies in fighting the Cold War against the Soviets.

If Kopkow had authorized the execution of the 8 women SOE agents, he would have given the order to Herman Rösner of the Karlsruhe Gestapo to carry out. Rösner would then have instructed Max Wassmer and Christian Ott to take the women to Natzweiler and Dachau.

Under the “common plan” concept used by the Allies in all their war crimes trials, Rösner would have been guilty of murder, but he was never prosecuted. In the 1960ies, he was hired by the British to provide intelligence for NATO, according to Sarah Helm’s book.

The men who were brought before the Allied military tribunals were called the accused, not the defendants, because they were considered guilty until they were proven innocent. They were guilty from the moment that they had allegedly committed a war crime. As war criminals, rather than POWs, they were not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention

It could be argued that the execution of the British spies was not legal under international law because they had not been given a trial, as required by the Hague Convention of 1907. However, using the standards of the Allied war crimes trials, spies were not entitled to a trial because they lost their protection the moment they parachuted behind enemy lines with the intent to commit war crimes.

The procedure was to interrogate the accused before the proceedings began and to obtain depositions which the accused would then repeat before the Court. However, in the British and American proceedings, the accused were allowed to have an attorney to represent them. Their attorneys were allowed to use any means to defend them, including the accusation that their clients had been unduly persuaded to give incriminating information in their depositions which they now wanted to recant on the witness stand.

Testimony or confessions about prior bad acts could be admitted, even though it had nothing to do with the crime that was being prosecuted. For example, one of the accused, Peter Straub, who had worked for a number of years in Auschwitz before being transferred to Natzweiler, had supposedly told Walter Schultz, a prisoner at Natzweiler, that he had “put four million people up the chimney.” What kind of a person voluntarily confesses to such barbarity, knowing that he would surely be executed, and uses the terminology of Auschwitz survivors to describe his crime?

According to Rita Kramer, all of the accused would “later deny their complicity,” after giving depositions beforehand in which they stated that they had been involved in the execution of the four SOE agents at Natzweiler. The fact that all of the accused wanted to change their previous testimony, given in their depositions, indicates that they had somehow been induced to incriminate themselves before the proceedings began.

Peter Straub, the executioner at Natzweiler, denied everything, claiming that he was not present when the executions took place. Straub was the hangman; executions at Natzweiler were normally carried out by hanging and all the prisoners were required to watch.

Read more on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/Natzweiler/SOEagents5.html

Read more about the British SOE agents on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/DachauScrapbook/BritishSOEagents.html

Otto Skorzeny, once nicknamed “the most dangerous man in Europe”

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 8:39 am

The title of my blog post today comes from the words in a comment by one of the regular readers of my blog.

The words in a comment by Tim are quoted below:

Begin quote

I got a question(actually two questions) It’s off the subject . Anybody that knows of this,feel free to jump in. Otto Skorzen. He was one of hitlers most favored ss men. Heard he went to work for the Mossad. It said he told Wiesenthal he’d go to work for them,if Wiesenthal tore up the arrest warrant he had on him for war crimes . I don’t know what his “crimes” were,but if the hebs put out the arrest warrant,I’m guessing it had something to do with the holo. He was put on trial at the end of WW2 ,by the Americans,for something unrelated to the holo. He became a contract killer for mossad. I don’t care if you’re a hired gun for mossad or you worked at one of the units in the nazi prison system . Murder is murder. Yet this guy is handed a “get out of jail free card”,because he becomes a killer for Israel .So what’s up here ? You’re going to be arrested for crimes involving the holo,but if take out marked people for Israel,they’ll turn a blind eye to your past transgressions ? I’m beginning to think they weren’t to overly concerned with getting justice for the Jews . How many other nazis did the Jews let skate,because they went to work for them? I know Israel had their own hit people. What. Did they feel like God having a former ss man under their thumb. They pull shit like this,don’t bang on my door looking to borrow a cup of sympathy.

End of Comment by Tim

Otto Skorzeny

Otto Skorzeny

I have written at length about Skorzeny on my website. The words below are from my website:

In another Dachau [trial] proceeding, which began in August 1947, Lt. Col. Otto Skorzeny and nine others were charged as war criminals for the illegal use of US Army uniforms and with killing more than 100 Prisoners of War during the Battle of the Bulge. Lt. Col. Rosenfeld was also the law member of the panel of judges in this proceeding, but this time he allowed defense testimony that US troops had worn German uniforms in combat during World War II in similar efforts to confuse the enemy.

An affidavit from the Malmedy Massacre proceeding was introduced by the prosecution in the Skorzeny case, and when the defense protested, Lt. Col. Rosenfeld dropped the charges of killing POWs. There were no corroborating witnesses for the killings, and Rosenfeld ruled that the case could not be tried on affidavits alone.

This was an important ruling because in all the war crimes military tribunals conducted in Germany after World War II, witnesses were not required to appear in person and affidavits were allowed to be entered, so that the defense had no opportunity to cross-examine the person who signed the affidavit.

Otto Skorzeni

Otto Skorzeni

Otto Skorzeny, shown in the photo above, was acquitted after the presiding judge allowed testimony that the American military had committed the same crime of wearing enemy uniforms during the Battle of the Bulge. Although he was acquitted, Skorzeny was still held in prison after the verdict; he finally escaped and fled to South America.

In the first few days of the Battle of the Bulge, there was mass confusion caused by a team of 28 Germans dressed in American uniforms, led by the famous commando Otto Skorzeny. Riding in stolen American jeeps, they created havoc by directing American troops down the wrong road, changing signposts and cutting telephone wires to General Bradley’s field headquarters. Four of the team were captured and when they confessed their mission, the American army immediately broadcast the news that there were thousands of Germans operating behind enemy lines. Skorzeny and his men were later brought before the American military tribunal at Dachau in another proceeding.

Although there was an automatic review process in which American military personnel reviewed all the Dachau proceedings, there was no appeal process for war crimes verdicts handed down by the American military court. This did not seem fair to Everett, who was a southern gentleman from a prominent family in Atlanta, GA. Everett prepared a 228-page analysis of the pre-trial interrogations and the trial, which he sent to the officers who would be conducting the automatic review of the case. This report included the accusations against the prosecution interrogators.

When 12 of the death sentences were upheld by the review board, including that of Col. Jochen Peiper, Everett decided to petition the US Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus on the grounds that the 73 accused were being illegally held in Landsberg prison after being convicted as a result of “illegal and fraudulently procured confessions.”

When the news of Everett’s charges, that the Malmedy Massacre accused had been forced to sign confessions, was leaked to the media, the American public was outraged. World War II was “the Good War” in which Americans fought for their democratic ideals and their freedom. The Malmedy Massacre case had made a mockery of the rights of the accused to a fair trial. This was not the American way. American soldiers had fought and died to preserve this freedom.

When the case came to the attention of Secretary of the Army Kenneth C. Royall, he ordered a stay of execution for the 12 men who were scheduled to be hanged in just a few days, and then directed General Lucius D. Clay, the highest authority of the American occupation in Germany to investigate Everett’s charges against the prosecution. Not satisfied with that, Royall then appointed a three-man commission, headed by Judge Gordon Simpson of the Texas Supreme Court, to investigate not only the Malmedy Massacre case, but other Dachau proceedings, which had involved the same Jewish interrogators. The other two members of the commission were Judge Edward L. Van Roden and Lt. Col. Charles Lawrence, Jr.

After a six-week investigation conducted from an office which they set up in Munich, the Simpson Commission made its recommendation to Royall. The Commission had looked at 65 mass trials of German war criminals in which 139 death sentences had been handed down. By that time, 152 German war criminals tried at Dachau had already been executed.

The 139 men who were still awaiting execution were staff members of the Dachau concentration camp, SS soldiers accused of shooting POWs at Malmedy and German civilians accused of killing Allied pilots who were shot down on bombing missions over Germany. On January 6, 1949, they recommended that 29 of these death sentences, including the 12 death sentences in the Malmedy Massacre case, be commuted to life in prison.

In February 1949, an article entitled “American Atrocities in Germany,” which was allegedly written by Judge Van Roden, was published in The Progressive. In his article, Van Roden wrote as follows:

American investigators at the U. S. Court in Dachau, Germany, used the following methods to obtain confessions: Beatings and brutal kickings. Knocking out teeth and breaking jaws. Mock trials. Solitary confinement. Posturing as priests. Very limited rations. Spiritual deprivation. Promises of acquittal. Complaints concerning these third degree methods were received by Secretary of the Army Kenneth Royall last Spring (1948).

The statements which were admitted as evidence were obtained from men who had first been kept in solitary confinement for three, four, and, five months. They were confined between four walls, with no windows, and no opportunity of exercise. Two meals a day were shoved in to them through a slot in the door. They were not allowed to talk to anyone. They had no communication with their families or any minister or priest during that time.

This solitary confinement proved sufficient in itself in some cases to persuade the Germans to sign prepared statements. These statements not only involved the signer, but often would involve other defendants. Our investigators would put a black hood over the accused’s head and then punch him in the face with brass knuckles, kick him, and beat him with rubber hose. Many of the German defendants had teeth knocked out. Some had their jaws broken.

All but two of the Germans, in the 139 cases we investigated, had been kicked in the testicles beyond repair. This was Standard Operating Procedure with American investigators. Perl admitted use of mock trials and persuasive methods including violence and said the court was free to decide the weight to be attached to evidence thus received. But it all went in.

Read more at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/DachauScrapbook/DachauTrials/MalmedyMassacre04.html