Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
S12 Ep1

Bugging Hitler’s Soldiers

Premiere: 4/30/2013 | 00:00:30 | NR

Spied upon by MI19 in a bugging operation of unprecedented scale and cunning, 4,000 German POW’s revealed their inner thoughts about the Third Reich and let slip military secrets that helped the Allies win WWII.



About the Episode

Spied upon by MI19 in a bugging operation of unprecedented scale and cunning, 4,000 German POW’s revealed their inner thoughts about the Third Reich and let slip military secrets that helped the Allies win WWII. Based on groundbreaking research conducted by a German historian, the film tells the story of how those conversations were recorded and how they can now reveal, in more shocking detail than ever before, the hearts and minds of the German fighter. In total, more than 100,000 hours of these secret recordings were made. Only now have they all been declassified, researched and cross referenced. They represent a startling new body of evidence with which to revisit events of the war and they show the political divisions between those top generals who supported the Nazi ideology and those that did not. They also demonstrate the complicity of the rank-and-file soldiers in taking part in Nazi war crimes. Now, 60 years later the chilling and totally uncensored thoughts of the Nazi elite will be heard. The documentary includes intense, full-dialogue dramatic reconstructions that use the verbatim transcripts of these bugged conversations to reveal the dark heart of the Nazi regime as never before. Hearing these shocking conversations will be like taking a time machine back into psyche of Hitler’s Germany.

An October Films Ltd. production for Channel 4 in association with THIRTEEN

Narrator: Jay O. Sanders
Writer/Director: Christopher Spencer
Executive Producer, October: Adam Bullmore
Executive in Charge: Stephen Segaller
Executive Producer: Steve Burns

(c) 2013 October Films Ltd.

Bugging Hitler’s Soldiers premieres Wednesday, May 1, 10-11 pm ET on PBS (check local listings).


Coming up on 'Secrets of the Dead'... an audacious act of espionage by the allies.

WOMAN: There were bugging devices in the lamp fittings, behind mirrors, in the fireplaces.

MAN: They weren'''t being interrogated.

They were speaking in what they thought was privacy.

ANNOUNCER: The recorded conversations revealed valuable military secrets... I saw it once. There'''s a special testing site.

And horrifying war crimes.

MAN ON RECORDING: We saw one of these executions.

It would have made you shudder.

ANNOUNCER: 'Bugging Hitler'''s soldiers' on 'Secrets of the Dead.'

Captioning made possible by Friends of NCI WINSTON CHURCHILL: We are in the preliminary stage of one of the greatest battles in history.

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.

NARRATOR: In the chaos and carnage of total war, high-grade intelligence is as vital as firepower.

MI19, an intelligence department of the British war office, set out to exploit German prisoners of war in the most ambitious surveillance operation ever attempted.

Three stately homes in the British countryside were converted into unlikely prison camps and wired for sound.

MI19'''s specially designed microphones reached everywhere.

Nothing was out of range.

WOMAN: There were bugging devices in the lamp fittings, behind mirrors, in the fireplaces.

It was a huge operation.

And something this technical and sophisticated had never been undertaken before.

The British were very clever at thinking into the mind-set of how they could get intelligence from the enemy.

And it was a very British thing to do, actually.

MAN, VOICE-OVER: We'''re very used nowadays to the idea of conversations being bugged.

People weren'''t during the second World War.

This was the beginning of modern surveillance.

This was entirely new.

NARRATOR: Hidden away in basements and attics were the listening rooms, filled with what at that time was state-of-the-art recording equipment.

I was told to report to the commanding officer, that what I was going to do was probably more important for the war effort than if I drove a tank or fired a machine gun.

So what can you tell me about nickel-carbide?

NARRATOR: Captured German soldiers were brought to the UK and interrogated.

If they were suspected of having important intelligence, the soldiers were then sent to bugged locations, where listeners were ready and waiting for them to start talking.

[Man speaking indistinctly over microphone] FRITZ LUSTIG: We were working in a special room which was called the M-room.

There were five or six of us sitting in front of something like an old-fashioned telephone switchboard.

And whenever the conversation seemed to be going towards the subject we were waiting for, we switched on the turntable and recorded on an old-fashioned 78 record what they were saying.

NARRATOR: The evidence comes from one of the most audacious operations British Intelligence ever conducted.

Conversations between German prisoners of war were secretly recorded and then transcribed word for word.

MAN: In the transcripts, we found totally new knowledge about war crimes, about huge war crimes.

[Man speaking indistinctly over microphone] I had an hour to spare, and we went to some barracks.

And there we slaughtered 1,500 Jews.

NARRATOR: These were German soldiers as they'''d never been heard before-- uncensored and unguarded.

LUSTIG: This operation was what was called top secret.

I did not tell even my closest family what I had been doing for about 50 years after the war.

[Man speaking German] [Voice fades] [Overlapping male voices speaking German] NARRATOR: Using transcripts hidden for decades, these conversations are reconstructed for the first time.

MAN: Bet she let you sleep with her, too.

Yes. I mean, you couldn'''t tell that she was a Jewess.

She was quite a nice type, too.

It was just a shame that she had to die with everybody else.

75,000 Jews were shot there.

[Overlapping conversations over microphone] [Man speaking German] NARRATOR: In the aftermath of World War II, ordinary German soldiers claimed they knew nothing about the holocaust.

They blamed all its atrocities on the SS.

[Man speaking German over microphone] ...I saw one of these executions once.

We were actually there when a pretty girl was shot.

That'''s too bad.

But she knew she was gonna be shot.

NARRATOR: But these recently declassified transcripts exposed the full extent of that lie.

MAN: What did they do to the children?

They seized 3-year-olds by the hair, held them up, and shot them with their pistols and threw them in.

I saw it for myself.

PRISONER: On the second day of the Polish War, I had to drop bombs on a station at Posen.

Now, 8 out of the 16 bombs fell on the town, among the houses.

I didn'''t like that.

But I said to myself how orders are orders.

LUSTIG: We knew that the microphones must have been of very high quality because we could hear the prisoners very clearly.

And even if they whispered to their cell mate, it was very often possible to pick up what they said.

MAN ON MICROPHONE: On the third day, I didn'''t care.

And on the fourth day, I was enjoying it.

It was our before-breakfast entertainment to chase single soldiers across the fields with machine gun fire and leave them lying there with a few bullets in the back.

JOSHUA LEVINE: They weren'''t being interrogated.

They weren'''t minding what they were saying.

They were being very careful not to give anything away.

They were speaking to their equals in what they thought was privacy.

MAN: We attacked civilians in the street, all machine guns firing like mad. should have seen the horses stampede.

[Conversation continues indistinctly over microphone] NARRATOR: The recordings were translated into English, and transcripts were sent directly to Churchill himself.

GERMAN SOLDIER: ...before-breakfast entertainment to chase single soldiers across the fields with machine gun fire and leave them lying there with a few bullets in the back.

And soon they overheard secrets that helped save Britain in its darkest hour.

[Air-raid siren] For 8 consecutive months, the German Luftwaffe bombed British cities.

A million homes were destroyed.

In London alone, 40,000 civilians were killed.

LEVINE: The blitz came as a real shock to Britain and to the people of Britain because it was unrelenting.

And what the British really were having difficulty in understanding was, how were the Germans managing to guide themselves onto the targets night after night accurately in total darkness?

[Gunfire] NARRATOR: Scientists wondered if the Germans were using a secret navigation system.

Their answer came from a conversation between two Luftwaffe pilots.

MAN: The system is called X-Gerat.

I'''ll tell you how it works.

A beam is sent on a shortwave.

This shortwave beam has a width no broader than one kilometer... even as far as London.

LEVINE: This very small snippet of conversation about X-Gerat was hugely significant.

And what it was was a system of guiding the bombers in using radio pulses, using radio waves.

The bombers would effectively fly down the path of a radio wave.

NARRATOR: Armed with this top-secret information, scientists jammed the radio navigation beams, saving tens of thousands of lives.

They were so successful that some bombers even landed at RAF bases believing they were back in Germany.

But it is only now that we are piecing together the story of this extraordinary bugging operation.

And it'''s only by accident the transcripts were discovered at all.

[Man speaking German over microphone] NARRATOR: On a routine research trip to the National Archive in London, German historian Sonke Neitzel requested files on U-boat crews.

What arrived on his desk was the discovery of a lifetime.

MAN: I just ordered 3 files and had these 3 huge, massive files on my desk.

And I start reading them.

September '''43, German Navy personnel.

And, I mean, it was so authentic.

You could really just see the people speaking to each other.

[Indistinct conversation over microphone] NARRATOR: Sonke was given 800 pages of transcripts.

The Archives contain another 49,000.

SONKE NEITZEL: And then in that moment, I realized I might be standing on a tip of an iceberg.

NARRATOR: The transcribers even noted how the original words were spoken.

[Man speaking German] NEITZEL: You were really able to see these people talking.

You were able to get a feeling of the killing, the fighting, the dying, the war.

[Speaking German] MAN, VOICE-OVER: When I saw the documents, one of the things that struck me was how real they were.

I mean, the discussions, the way they conducted themselves, this is how soldiers talk.

[Indistinct conversations playing] NARRATOR: The recordings reveal shocking secrets about a war where both civilians and soldiers were on the front lines.

[Conversation continues indistinctly] Kharkiv was a delightful town.

Everybody spoke a little German.

They had splendid cinemas and wonderful cafes.

It'''s beautiful country... NARRATOR: Lance Corporal Müüller told Sergeant Faust about his experiences as his unit moved into Russia.

MAN, AS MÜÜLLER: Everywhere we saw women working.

Extraordinary, lovely girls.

We drove past.

We would simply pull them into the armored car, rape them, and throw them out again.

And did they curse!

NEITZEL: I think these are typical conversations for a man at this time.

It was totally normal for them, but only for them.

For us, it'''s a very astonishing thing.

How can you tell a story about nice Russia as being a tourist and then combining that with a story of raping?

[Gunfire] NARRATOR: For the first desperate years of war, British Intelligence had few prisoners to spy on.

But in 1942, Britain'''s fortunes changed.

Victory over the Germans in North Africa brought thousands of P.O.W.s to England, among them the first senior officers, including the highly prized General Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma.

Von Thoma was taken back to London and confined to Trent Park, the stately but bugged home reserved for officers.

His capture was a coup.

Von Thoma knew the intimate secrets of Hitler'''s military machine.

And though a proud patriot, he was not a member of the Nazi Party.

He was met by Lord Aberfeldy.

MAN, AS von THOMA: When I was captured, the Italian generals who were taken at the same time arrived with a load of luggage.

They looked like tourists.

I immediately said, 'Please... don'''t put them with me.'

[Chuckles] MAN, VOICE-OVER: Von Thoma is very intelligent and exceedingly well-read.

He has a striking personality and is violently anti-Nazi.

Well, General von... NARRATOR: Von Thoma joined General Ludwig Cruwell who was also captured in North Africa, when his aircraft accidentally landed at a British airfield.

MAN, VOICE-OVER: Cruwell is a follower and admirer of Hitler, an ignorant, stupid, sentimental, vain, and self-satisfied type of Prussian senior officer.

NARRATOR: Holding such strong opposing political views, von Thoma and Cruwell inevitably clashed.

And when they did, the recorders were ready.

MAN, AS von THOMA: The stupid thing about our propaganda is that it'''s entirely negative.

Your attitude is negative.

But the propaganda, shouldn'''t it-- Wilhelm, everything else is bad.

Wherever you go, things are bad, according to you.

MAN, AS von THOMA: There are a load of things that are bad.

MAN, AS CRUWELL: Of course there are.

And for the English, everything is all right.

I'''ve never said anything of the sort.

I wouldn'''t dream of it.

But here in England, if there'''s dirty work, then it'''s brought up in Parliament.

At home if you so much as breathe a word, you end up in concentration camp.

MAN, AS CRUWELL: Of course.

But it'''s such a pity that they do that.

NARRATOR: British Intelligence listened with interest as their new lab rats began to fight.

KEVIN FARRELL: The allies believed that understanding the German mind, if you will, they see this as essential in the effort to defeat Nazi Germany.

If we could understand what makes them tick, what they'''re thinking, it would give us an advantage in defeating them.

NARRATOR: The trap so carefully set by MI19 was working as planned.

The captured generals brought to Trent Park were shown full respect for their rank.

They never imagined the lavish treatment was part of an ingenious plan to catch them off-guard.

[Radio program playing] NEITZEL: The German generals, they'''re really astonished at how nice it was in Trent Park.

I mean, they were supplied with newspapers.

They could listen to the radio.

Sometimes, they struggled with the British food.

But normally, they were quite comfortable.

The British obviously did this not because they were caring for these generals.

Because they knew, 'if we treat them well, they will speak.'

[Conversation in German] [Voice of man reading translation] '...villages of Europe 'under our absolute control.

'I am firmly convinced that is the only way 'that western civilization can be saved...' FARRELL: Having access to the opinions of the general officers gives us a very different view on the war than, say, the rank and file would have provided.

We can see what the generals themselves thought of the ultimate chance of victory, what they thought of Adolf Hitler, what they thought of the Party, and gain some insight as to how they were going to proceed in the future.

Are you ready?

[Engine starts] NARRATOR: To break the monotony of confinement and disarm them further, the guests, as MI19 liked to call their captives, were indulged with day trips to London and, on occasion, to luncheon at the exclusive Simpson'''s on the Strand.

HELEN FRY: When Churchill finds out about this, he'''s absolutely furious.

I mean, you can imagine Churchill.

He'''s absolutely enraged.

NARRATOR: Churchill calms down when he learned that the P.O.W.s spoke more freely when treated well.

In fact, the generals''' whole world was built on deception.

Nothing was what it seemed.

And that included Lord Aberfeldy, their welfare officer.

FRY: Of course, he wasn'''t a real lord.

He was an MI19 officer.

But he gained their trust because they kind of began to believe that he was on their side in an odd sort of way.

But, of course, little did they know, these German generals, that even the trees were bugged.

NARRATOR: Once Lord Aberfeldy had earned their trust, he exploited it.

His casual questions were deliberately leading and timed to be within range of a microphone.

I'''ve read that the generals are taking over now and that the Nazi Party is being pushed aside to some extent.

If things get really bad, the Party will go, I can assure you, because so much hatred has been stored up.

But, of course, they'''ll try everything possible in order to stay in power.

But, no. A few thousand Gestapo men can'''t keep down a people of 18 million if the people are no longer with them.

But the SS at home, couldn'''t the SS suppress a revolutionary movement?

No. If it really broke down, it would be impossible.

NEITZEL: His real name was Ian Munroe.

And the British went even so far to put him in a distant relationship to the royal family.

So they felt quite impressed.

[Indistinct singing on radio] MEN: ♪♪ Working for the BBC... ♪♪ MAN: ♪♪ Graham... ♪♪ NARRATOR: The generals were supplied with a radio, books, newspapers.

Keeping them in touch with the outside world provoked useful conversations.

[Singing on radio continues] ANNOUNCER ON RADIO: The triumphant conclusion of the Battle of Stalingrad with the capture of 8 more German generals and 45,000 other prisoners in the past two days has overshadowed the rest of the news from Russia... NARRATOR: And it was radio news of the German defeat at Stalingrad that gave Trent Park its biggest breakthrough.

[Explosions] FARRELL: The defeat at Stalingrad affected the German generals profoundly.

This is the first all-out defeat.

It was unambiguous. It was a disaster.

NARRATOR: The humiliating surrender of General Paulus brought even von Thoma and Cruwell together in shared dismay.

I would have rather blown my brains out.

I am bitterly disappointed.

Bitterly disappointed in Paulus.

Yes. Yes, It'''s terrible.

And that so many generals surrendered.

MAN, AS VON THOMA: Frightful.

26 of them.

NARRATOR: The possibility of military defeat was a bitter prospect for such proud warriors.

Later, von Thoma discussed with Cruwell a new secret weapon that might yet save their beloved fatherland.

MAN, AS von THOMA: This rocket business... I saw it once.

There'''s a special testing site.

And they'''ve got these huge things.

They said they'''d got up 15 kilometers into the stratosphere.

How do you aim?

You can only aim at an area or at some central point.

But you'''re bound to hit something.

It'''s horrible.

But the major there was full of hope.

He said, 'Wait until next year and the fun will start.'

It was all very secret.

NARRATOR: Von Thoma was talking about the deadly V-2 being tested at Peenemüünde on the north German coast.

It was the first rocket fired through the stratosphere.

And there was no defense against it.

Von Thoma provided conclusive evidence that the terrifying weapon did exist.

FARRELL: This was crucial information for British Intelligence.

No longer is it in the realm of whispers or hearsay or what-it-is.

These are two high ranking individuals that have knowledge of a top-secret program that the Germans hope will turn the war in their favor.

[Explosions] NARRATOR: Von Thoma'''s evidence persuaded bomber command to carry out a risky raid on Peenemüünde.

The V-2 site was destroyed, and the rocket'''s use delayed by several months, buying the allies valuable time.

FARRELL: The V-2 certainly could have had a dramatic impact on the allied landings at Normandy.

Certainly, they wouldn'''t have gone off as planned, and they might have failed overall.

NARRATOR: But it wasn'''t just operational secrets that MI19 hoped to gather.

Factions began to form between the generals-- those who supported the Nazis and those who did not.

MAN, AS von THOMA: Every day that this war continues constitutes a war crime.

They should put Adolf Hitler in a padded cell.

LEVINE: And it was very important that these people revealed their secrets because if they were with the Nazis, then Hitler had a future.

If they were against the Nazis, there was a possibility there might be a coup; there was a possibility that Germany might go in a different direction.

So it was very important the British understood the thought processes of this officer class.

NARRATOR: General Cruwell headed those who supported the Füührer while General von Thoma led the anti-Nazi faction.

MAN, AS CRUWELL: I always say, no matter how many faults this system has, nor how wrong it is, I have served under this system.

I have fought under this system.

My soldiers have fallen under this system.

So I cannot at the moment, if things go wrong, say to hell with it.

No, I won'''t do that.

NEITZEL: Cruwell was fighting for his Füührer.

He was fighting for Hitler.

And he tried to take all these ideas of the Third Reich seriously.

And, obviously, he also saw negative things, but he tried to avoid that and to put this under the carpet somehow.

I regret every bomb, every scrap of material and every human life that'''s still being wasted in this senseless war.

The only gain it will bring us is an end to 10 years of gangster rule.

FARRELL: Von Thoma represents the traditional German officer.

He'''s well-read; he'''s old-world, if you would.

He'''s very comfortable with academic and intellectual circles.

Such an individual with such a background would look at a relatively low-born, coarse individual like Adolf Hitler, he would have looked at him with suspicion, if not outright disgust.

NARRATOR: Hostilities came to a head when a young officer told Cruwell that von Thoma had made derogatory remarks about the Füührer.

Acting on this report, Cruwell confronted von Thoma, and the recorders captured the angry exchange.

I would like to discuss something with you.


Hubbuch came to see me and asked me to tell you not to try to influence him with propaganda.

What'''s all this about?

He said you gave him your views on the situation.

Because he talked such a damned load of nonsense.

He fancies saying all English newspapers are Jewish.

I have a thoroughly good impression of him.

But the boy is bound to feel upset when you say to him, 'Hitler isn'''t normal.'

It'''s common knowledge he'''s not normal.

I don'''t agree.

I also know that you'''re saying that to everyone.

And I know that a great many people take exception to it.

Don'''t make any mistake about that.

A great many people here are not at all amused... when you say that. All right.

Tell me who they are.

I shall be delighted to tell you.

Well, tell me, then.

Well, I must ask them first.

All right, then. Bring them to me.

I will. Then we'''ll see what happens.

Right. I will.

And they should come with you.

I'''ll see to that.

With you. I will.

[Scoffs] NARRATOR: As the generals in Trent Park argued over Hitler'''s sanity, the listeners heard accounts of just how far that madness had spread.

MAN ON RECORDING: We saw one of these executions once.

Believe me, if you'''d have seen it, it would have made you shudder.

Did they shoot them with machine guns?

With submachine guns.

NARRATOR: Horst Minnieur was one of the new group of P.O.W.s who saw action on the Eastern Front.

[Gunfire] They were the Shock Troops, participating in the Nazis''' ideological fight against Jews and communists.

And in a special decree signed by Hitler himself, they were given free rein to act without restraint.

FARRELL: The war in the East is a completely different war.

Torture is not prohibited.

In fact, the civilian population is quite literally eliminated in many cases and always treated ruthlessly.

We were actually there when a pretty girl was shot.

That'''s too bad.

But she knew she was gonna be shot.

We were going past the motorcycles, and we saw a procession.

And suddenly she called to us, and she said that they were going to be shot.

And at first, we thought she was making some sort of joke.

But did she walk there in her clothes?

Yes. She was smartly dressed.

She certainly was an incredible girl.

Surely the one who shot her shot wide.

Nobody could do anything about it.

The guys were standing there with their machine guns.

They clipped on a magazine, fired to the right and to the left, and that was that.

It didn'''t matter whether they were still alive or not.

When they were hit, they fell over backwards into a pit.

And then the next lot came up.

What about the people who were in there who were not dead yet?

Well, that'''s bad luck for them. They died down there.

[Laughing] And I can tell you, you heard a terrific screaming and shrieking.

Were you watching when the pretty Jewess was there?

No, we weren'''t there then.

All we know is that she was shot.

Well, had you met her before?

Yes, she cleaned our barracks.

The week we were staying there, we went to the barracks to sleep so we didn'''t have to stay outside.

I'''ll bet she let you sleep with her, too.

Yes, but you had to be careful not to be found out.

It'''s nothing new.

It was really a scandal the way we slept with Jewish women.

What did she say?

Well, we--we chatted together, and she said she was at Gööttingen University.

And a girl like that let anyone sleep with her?

Yes. I mean, you couldn'''t tell that she was a Jewess.

She was quite a nice type, too.

It was just her bad luck that she had to die with the others.

75,000 Jews were shot there.

NARRATOR: For many of the listeners, these shocking confessions carried an added chill.

It was really a scandal the way we slept with Jewish women.

The stories of killing Jews touched them personally.

LUSTIG, VOICE-OVER: We all tried not to get emotionally involved in it.

We tried to remain detached from what we heard.

NARRATOR: Lustig was a German Jewish refugee with relatives left behind in Berlin.

For the bugging operation to work properly, MI19 needed hundreds of native German speakers, men who were also committed to the allied cause.

FRY: The answer was actually staring them in the face, and it was in the British Army'''s Pioneer Corps, where a number of German Jewish refugees were serving in British Army uniform.

They had fled Nazi persecution, and now they were giving something back to Britain for saving their lives.

LUSTIG: We felt that what we were doing was in a way retribution for what the Nazis had done to us and to other Jews.

We felt we were getting back at them, and that was very satisfying.

When I told English people at first that I had joined the British Army during the war, their reaction would often be 'How awful for you to have to fight your own people.'

They cannot understand that they were not our own people anymore.

They were our enemies, and we wanted to fight them, we had to fight them.

NARRATOR: Fritz and his fellow listeners amassed damning evidence of German war crimes, but there were still far darker secrets to come.

By the end of 1943, the war had turned against Germany.

North Africa was lost, the Italians had surrendered, and in Russia, the Germans were decisively defeated at the world'''s largest ever tank battle at Kursk.

[Static] [People singing 'Stille Nacht' in German] For the captured generals at Trent Park, the grim reality of Germany'''s future was finally sinking in.

Heh heh heh.

[Speaking German] We can'''t win the war unless a miracle happens.

Only a few complete idiots still believe we can.

NARRATOR: For months, the listeners could hear growing anxiety, recrimination, and guilt in the voices of the generals.

He told me the kind of things that happened.

I know myself that there were savage, brutalized louts there who trampled on the bellies of pregnant women and...that sort of... yes, but these are very isolated cases for which even the SS can'''t be blamed.

I cannot believe that Germans would do such a thing!

I don'''t think I should have believed it myself if I hadn'''t actually seen it.

I am the last to defend such atrocities, but you must admit that we were bound to take the most incredibly severe measures to combat the illegal guerrilla warfare in those vast territories.

But the women had nothing whatever to do with it.

FARRELL: Cruwell probably finds it difficult to believe these atrocities because now he'''s faced with the specter not only of a lost war but a criminal war, as well.

If you listen to the gentlemen here, we'''ve done nothing else but kill everyone off, but if you ask, they were never present themselves.

They heard about it from von Thoma.

NARRATOR: The confessions of the unwitting prisoners would have shaken even Cruwell'''s convictions.

These recordings are powerful evidence of atrocities committed not just by Hitler'''s elite SS but also by regular German forces.

Luftwaffe pilot Fried described what happened after a routine transport flight.

I was at Radom once and had my mid-day meal with the Waffen-SS battalion there.

An SS captain or whatever he was said, 'Would you like to come along for half an hour?

Get a machine gun. Let'''s go.'

so I went along.

I had an hour to spare, and we went to some barracks, and there we slaughtered 1,500 Jews.

There were some 20 men with machine guns.

It was over in a couple of seconds, and nobody thought anything of it.

You fired, too?

Yes, I did.

There were women and children there, too.

They were inside, as well?

Whole families, some screaming terribly.

Others were just apathetic.

FARRELL: One of the myths to come out of the war was that the mass murder, genocide was committed by the Waffen-SS.

We know now that that was just that, a myth, that the Army was complicitous in carrying out the crimes of the Third Reich.

This case shows us that conclusively.

What? You fired?

Yes, I did.

There were women and children there, too.

NARRATOR: The brutality is shocking, but the transcripts raise a question-- How could an ordinary person become a genocidal murderer?

FRIED: Some screaming terribly. Others were just apathetic.

What I find particularly powerful about this extract is precisely that it'''s so matter-of-fact.

This man doesn'''t have to spit hate, this man doesn'''t have to tell you lurid stories about why the Jews are so awful and why it'''s OK to kill them.

He just assumes that nobody will have a problem with doing this.

People can kill, they can do appalling things when they can believe that what they are doing is good, is even noble, and Himmler encompassed that idea in a very powerful metaphor.

He described killing Jewish people like killing the rats in the sewers-- it'''s a horrible job, nobody wants to do it, but only the noblest people are prepared to descend into the sewers to carry out the dirty task in order to preserve civilization up above.

NARRATOR: Just 4 days after Fried confessed his involvement in mass extermination, the generals at Trent Park prepared to celebrate the Füührer'''s birthday.

[Band playing on radio] ABERFELDY, VOICE-OVER: Hitler'''s health will be drunk in beer.

It'''s agreed by the Nazi P.O.W.s that it'''s a great pity that this will have to be English beer.

Cruwell is very worried in case Thoma refuses to stand up and drink Hitler'''s health.

Gentlemen, to the Füührer.

To the Füührer!

[Band playing on radio] NARRATOR: But Cruwell did not know about the reports trickling in detailing the SS'''s activities in the death camps.

[Man speaking German] I'''ve heard talk about the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

It'''s a hutted camp for Jews, and I'''ve heard say that no one who enters the camp comes out alive.

NARRATOR: This direct evidence was recorded 4 months before the Allies accepted the existence of Auschwitz, but, in what would later become a highly controversial decision, no action was taken.

FARRELL: At the time, there can be no doubt that they were aware that bad things were happening, but I think in the minds of the Allied senior leaders, the most effective way to end these atrocities would be to end the war itself as quickly as possible, and that meant destroying Germany'''s ability to wage the war.

[Men shouting] [Machine guns firing] MAN ON RADIO: The British, Canadian, and American troops who landed on the coast of France north of the lovely town of Caen in broad daylight this morning are already several miles inland... NARRATOR: As the Allies advanced through Normandy, more prisoners arrived from liberated France.

MAN ON RADIO: They are pushing steadily on, backed by the tremendous firepower of heavy British and United States warships.

[Explosion] NARRATOR: Among them was the General Paul von Felbert, who vehemently opposed the Nazis.

He surrendered with little resistance and in his absence was sentenced to death for cowardice by Hitler himself.

A conversation he had with fellow inmate General Heinrich Kittel provided the Allies with disturbing intelligence.

Were you also in places where Jews had been liquidated?


And this was carried out quite methodically?


Women and children, everybody?


It was horrible.

For instance, in Latvia near Dvinsk, there were mass executions of Jews by the SS.

I got up and went outside and said, 'What the hell is all this shooting about?'

The orderly said to me, 'You ought to go over there, sir.

You'''ll see something.'

300 men had been driven in from the town.

They dug a communal grave, then marched home again.

Next day, along they came again, men, women, and children.

The executioners first laid all the clothes out in a big pile, and then 20 women were made to take up their positions naked on the edge of the trench.

Someone gave the command, and the 20 women dropped like 9-pins down into the trench.

I went away, and I thought, 'I'''m gonna do something about this.'

So I went over to the security service man, and I said, 'Once and for all, 'I forbid these outside executions 'where people can look on.

'If you want to kill people in the woods 'or somewhere where no one can see, 'that'''s your business, 'but I absolutely forbid another day'''s shooting here!

'We draw our drinking water from deep springs.

We get nothing but corpse water.'

What did they do to the children?

They seized 3-year-olds by their hair, held them up, and shot them with their pistols, threw them in.

Saw it for myself.

That'''s why everyone hates us!

Not because of this one incident!

Because of all these murders!

If one were to destroy all the Jews in the world simultaneously, there wouldn'''t be anyone left to do the accusing.

It'''s obvious it'''s such a scandal!

We don'''t need a Jew to accuse us.

We ourselves must bring the charge!

We must accuse those who have done it!

Then we have to admit that our government is all wrong.

It is!

It'''s obvious that it'''s wrong!

There'''s no doubt about it.

Such a thing is unbelievable.

We are the tools!

NARRATOR: Kittel'''s account of the massacre was carefully filed way for future war crime trials.

He saw the mass killings, he saw the mass shootings, and he might have been in the position to say, 'No, we have to stop this.'

NARRATOR: The generals grew increasingly volatile.

This tension reflected what was happening in Germany, and then a shocking turn of events revealed just how bad things were for the Nazis.

[Man speaking German on radio] [German continues] NARRATOR: MI19 urgently needed the generals''' reaction to this attempt on Hitler'''s life.

[German continues] They made sure no one missed the German radio broadcast.

[German continues] ABERFELDY: Who is this Stauffenberg?

What happened?

He threw the bomb, a Count Stauffenberg, a colonel.

He was on my staff.

He'''s been shot.

Good God! It can'''t be true.

An excellent man like that?

He was my operations officer.

Has Himmler taken over the Army?


Now there will be a massacre in Germany.

We can only guess the scale.

It'''s already started.

And no one will die of natural causes.

I heard Hitler'''s broadcast.

He said that the bomb exploded two meters away from him.

Even so, he wasn'''t wounded.

Well, excuse me, gentlemen.

This is the end.

Good God.

Why did the bomb have to be so small?

VON THOMA: He didn'''t want to kill any of the others.

Yes, but that just can'''t be helped.

It must have been a hand grenade.

It can'''t have been anything larger.

Good God! Good, old Stauffenberg!

My God. It'''s a tragedy that he missed.

Yes. It really is.

NARRATOR: Though the assassination failed, it signaled the beginning of the end.

As the Allies advanced, fresh prisoners brought news of a regime in its death throes.

[Speaking German] 4 weeks after the assassination attempt on Hitler, the puffed-up General Dietrich von Choltitz, ex-commander of Paris, was captured and sent to Trent Park.

Ha ha ha!

NARRATOR: With his arrival came news of Hitler'''s state of mind, and the listeners recorded his every word.

[Von Choltitz speaks German] Hitler hates us.

Oh, yes. He hates us.

Yes. I saw Hitler 4 weeks ago.

What kind of impression did he make?

Oh! God.

Well, it was shortly after the assassination attempt, and he was still rather the worse for wear.

Was he still injured?

Well, he'''s more worn out than anything else.

He has put on almost 8 kilos.

Mentally he'''s ill, he'''s very ill.

I went into the room, and there he stood, a fat, broken-down old man with festering sores on his hands.

They'''d been scratched a bit as a result of the attempt on his life.

I always felt sorry for him.

He said, 'A people which does not surrender can never be defeated!'

[All laughing] We all went out for lunch.

250 generals were rushed by air from the front, and he talked and talked.

After about 7 minutes, 40% of the generals were all snoring!

Ha! But as usual, once he'''s worked up, he notices nothing!

Ha ha ha!

NARRATOR: But while von Choltitz amused the generals with Hitler gossip, MI19 was about to hear the Nazis''' darkest secret.

You'''ve no idea of the amount of people killed at Buchenwald while I was there.

It could easily be about 30,000.

NARRATOR: Accused of being a communist, Private Pfaffenberger was a political prisoner for more than 7 years at the Buchenwald death camp.

He was only released when Germany became desperate for soldiers.

PFAFFENBERGER: The senior inmate in each hut told us, 'All those who have tattoo marks are to report to me.'

Needed about 100 of them.

Those who had attractive tattoo marks were injected and killed.

They were handed over to the pathologists, who removed as large a piece of skin as they needed with the tattoo mark on it, and the rest of the body was taken to the crematorium and burnt.

The pieces of skin were impregnated and tanned.

The wife of the commandant got them, and she had a lampshade made out of them.

Human skin tans wonderfully.

I'''ve held pieces in my hand.

I wanted to steal a couple.

LUSTIG: Any mention of atrocities were recorded.

The records were specially marked in red because they were possibly used later on for war crime trials.

NARRATOR: Pfaffenberger'''s account of the death camps was one of the earliest detailed descriptions the Allies had.

LEVINE: It says here--at the top of Pfaffenberger'''s transcript, it says, 'His statements appear fantastic, but they'''re given for what they'''re worth.'

In other words, the people listening to this, hearing it, they couldn'''t actually believe these could be true, these could be taken seriously, and of course this a legacy of the Nazis.

von THOMA: This is the great tragedy in our history, that we needed such a terrible lost war as this to come to our senses.

NARRATOR: For Cruwell and his followers, their world and its values were in ruins.

ABERFELDY: Cruwell has been heading for mental disaster.

He quite openly admits that he'''s getting into a nervous state.

At any time, he'''s to be found alone in his room staring into space or fumbling with patience cards.

[Radio crackling] WOMAN: We are interrupting our program to bring you a news flash.

MAN: The German radio has just announced that Hitler is dead.

I repeat that.

The German radio has just announced that Hitler is dead.

FARRELL: As the end of the war approaches and it'''s clearly a lost war, it'''s a day of reckoning, if you will, and they'''re going to have to account how it got to be the way that it was and what their individual roles were.

I am certain to be named as a war criminal.

18,000 Jews killed at Rostov.

Of course I had nothing to do with that whole business.

I was the only known general there.

By the way, I'''m going to hold my tongue about what little I do know until such time as they pick me out.

The worst job I ever carried out, which however I carried out with great efficiency, was the liquidation of Jews.

I carried out this order down to the very last detail.

The whole thing was done on Hitler'''s orders.

[Music playing in newsreel] NARRATOR: With the war over, MI19 confronted their guests with the shame of the regime they served.

NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: General Eisenhower comes to see with his own eyes the atrocities in Nazi prison camps captured by the Allied Armies.

He orders German civilians to be compelled to come and look at the ghastly evidence, among them a Nazi officer who was a commander of the camp.

Reluctant, the Nazi officer, a camp commander, knows well enough what he'''ll see.

That'''s the only thing about the thousand-year Reich which will last for a thousand years.

Yes. We are disgraced for all time.

If you'''re asking did we deserve victory, I say no, not after what we'''ve done, not after all the human blood we'''ve shed.

I see now we deserved defeat.

We deserve our fate.

NARRATOR: As they stripped the stately homes of listening equipment, MI19 faced a choice.

They had 50,000 pages of damning transcripts, but releasing them meant revealing their methods of espionage.

FRY: Now Churchill wanted them released for war crimes trials, and what'''s now emerging is there was an intense debate within British Intelligence over whether the files should or should not be released.

NEITZEL: So there'''s an exchange of letters-- 'What should we do with this material?

Should we use this in the Nuremburg Trials, for example?'

And the answer was very clear.

'No. We were very successful.

'We want to be successful in the future, as well, 'so keep it secret, close your mouth, and we lock it away.'

[Indistinct chatter] NARRATOR: In the end, the British chose to protect their new methods for the coming Cold War, even at the expense of justice.

Not one of Trent Park'''s prisoners was ever convicted of a single war crime on the basis of what they said while imprisoned.

[Camera clicks] Captioned by the National Captioning Institute The 'Secrets of the Dead' investigation continues online.

For more in-depth analysis and streaming video of this and other episodes, visit

This 'Secrets of the Dead' episode is available on DVD for $24.99 plus shipping.

To order, call 1-800-336-1917.


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.