Victims and Perpetrators
Hans Friedrich: 1st SS Infantry Brigade
In scenes repeated across the area of the Soviet Union occupied by the Nazis in 1941, men, women and children were ordered to strip and prepare to die
From the moment the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Nazi special units operating throughout the countryside and towns shot many male Jews including Communists, civic leaders and even those just of military age. After a series of meetings between Hitler and Himmler in the summer of 1941, there was an escalation in the persecution of the Soviet Jews. New units were committed to special duties in the East, among them the 1st SS Infantry Brigade, which began to target Jewish women and children as well as men.
Hans Friedrich was a member of the 1st Infantry Brigade. He claims not to recall exactly the actions in which he took part that summer, but he does admit that he participated in the killing of Jews.
Hans Friedrich: Try to imagine there is a ditch, with people on one side, and behind them soldiers. That was us and we were shooting. And those who were hit fell down into the ditch. …
They were so utterly shocked and frightened, you could do with them what you wanted.
Interviewer: Could you tell me what you were thinking and feeling when you were shooting?
Hans Friedrich, 1st SS Infantry Brigade
Hans Friedrich: Nothing. I only thought, 'Aim carefully' so that you hit properly. That was my thought.
Interviewer: This was your only thought? During all that time you had no feelings for the people, the Jewish civilians that you shot?
Hans Friedrich: No.
Interviewer: And why not?
Hans Friedrich: Because my hatred towards the Jews is too great. … And I admit my thinking on this point is unjust, I admit this. But what I experienced from my earliest youth when I was living on a farm, what the Jews were doing to us—well that will never change. That is my unshakeable conviction.
Interviewer: What in God's name did the people you shot have to do with those people who supposedly treated you badly at home? They simply belonged to the same group! What else? What else did they have to do with it?
Hans Friedrich: Nothing, but to us they were Jews!
Michal Kabác: Slovak Hlinka Guard
Slovakian propaganda anti-Semitic poster
Some 90,000 Jews lived in Slovakia, a Nazi satellite state after the Germans partitioned Czechoslovakia in 1939. One of the first German-allied countries to agree to the deportation of Jews as part of the "Final Solution," Slovakia signed an agreement with Nazi Germany in March 1942. Between March and October of that year, approximately 60,000 Slovakian Jews were sent to their deaths in German-occupied Poland.
For most of the Slovakian Jews, deportation began with imprisonment at a holding camp outside the city of Bratislava. During the roundups as well as in such camps, the Slovakian Jews were under the control of the Hlinka Guard, Slovakia's pro-Nazi militia. Michal Kabác belonged to this unit. Soon after the deportations began, he became aware of the Jews' likely fate.
Michal Kabác: A Jew would never go to work. None of them work; they only wanted to have an easy life. Our people were happy to receive their stores. We called it aryanising them. And that's how they become rich. …
Later when the Jews were coming to the camps, we used to take their belongings and clothes.
The deputy commander came and said to us to go and choose from the clothes. I took some clothes, others did as well. Then I took 3 pairs of shoes. Everyone took what he could. I wrapped it all with a rope and brought it back home.
We, the guards, were doing quite well.
Interviewer: How could you personally participate in the deportation knowing those people were certainly going to die?
Michal Kabác: What could I have done? I was thinking both ways. I thought it will be peace and quiet here, you deserved it. But on the other hand, there were innocent people among them as well.
I was thinking both ways.
Oskar Gröning: SS Garrison, Auschwitz
Luggage being collected from an arriving train at Auschwitz
In the fall of 1941, SS private Oskar Gröning began work at Auschwitz. His jobs eventually included supervision of the collection of luggage taken from Jews as the deportation trains arrived. He was also put in charge of counting the money stolen from the Jews at Auschwitz and organizing its transfer to Berlin.
At the time, Gröning agreed with Nazi ideology, which falsely affirmed that there was a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world, but the available evidence does not indicate that he took part directly in killing Jews at Auschwitz. Nor did he wish to remain at Auschwitz. Documents confirm that he applied for a transfer to the front, but his request was refused.
Oskar Gröning: It was not long before I was assigned to supervise the luggage collection of an incoming transport.
When this was over, it was just like a fairground, there was lots of rubbish left and amongst this rubbish were ill people, those unable to walk. And the way these people were treated really horrified me. For example, a child who was lying there naked was simply pulled by the legs and chucked into a lorry to be driven away, and when it screamed like a sick chicken, then they bashed it against the edge of the lorry, so it shut up.
SS private Oskar Gröning
We were convinced by our world view that we had been betrayed by the entire world, and that there was a great conspiracy of the Jews against us.
Interviewer: But surely, when it comes to children you must realise that they cannot possibly have done anything to you?
Oskar Gröning: The children, they're not the enemy at the moment. The enemy is the blood inside them. The enemy is the growing up to be a Jew that could become dangerous. And because of that the children were included as well.
Interviewer: But … aren't you sorry that you made your own life more comfortable while millions actually died?
Oskar Gröning: Absolutely not. Everybody is looking out for them selves. So many people died in the war, not only Jews.
So many things happened, so many were shot, so many snuffed it. People burnt to death, so many were burnt, if I thought about all of that I wouldn't be able to live one minute longer.
… The special situation at Auschwitz led to friendships of which I'm still saying today I like to look back on with joy.
There are many in the world today who deny the reality of the atrocities committed by the Nazis. And it is to confront those who disbelieve that Oskar Gröning broke his silence and testified about what he saw at Auschwitz.
Oskar Gröning: I see it as my task, now at my age, to face up to these things that I experienced and to oppose the Holocaust deniers who claim that Auschwitz never happened.
And that's why I am here today.
Because I want to tell those deniers: I have seen the gas chambers, I have seen the crematoria, I have seen the burning pits - and I want you to believe me that these atrocities happened.
I was there.