Saturday, July 02, 2016

German Footage of a Homicidal Gassing with Engine Exhaust. Part 4: Responsibility (II).

Author: Hans Metzner
German Footage of a Homicidal Gassing with Engine Exhaust
Part 1: Provenance
Part 2: Location
Part 4: Responsibility (II)
Part 6: Forgery Allegation

In the previous parts of this series, it was established that the gassing footage (shown below as titled compilation and without the sound added after the war) was taken during an action by Einsatzkommando 8 in the Mogilev asylum. In this part, we will look more closely on the circumstances of what may picture the scene.

 (attention: graphic video!)

The Mogilev Test Gassing

In September 1941, the head of Einsatzgruppe B Arthur Nebe summoned his specialist on explosives and toxicology Albert Widmann from the Criminal Technical Institute of the Security Police (KTI) to Minsk and Mogilev to kill mentally ill people with explosives and engine exhaust because "he could not demand from his men to shoot incurable mentally ill" (interrogation of Widmann of 11 January 1960, BArch B162 / 5066, p. 130). Widmann's team - consisting of four people of the KTI and the Reichs Criminal Police (RKPA) in Berlin - headed to Mogilev to kill mentally ill persons with engine exhaust.

In Mogilev, the KTI/RKPA team was joined by the Einsatzgruppe B staff and Einsatzkommando 8. Widmann described the gassing taking place in an asylum in Mogilev as following:
"With the help of a Russian male doctor and two female doctors a room was selected in the asylum, it was a small lab close to the entrance door. The window of this room was walled up, two holes were spared to introduce the sockets for the gas-tubes...On the next morning the exhaust pipe of a car was connected to the introduction socket. Then the mentally ill were led into the room. I cannot tell how many. They were brought with a panje wagon, I estimate it had room for 5 to 8 persons...When the mentally ill were in the room, the engine was started up. Nebe observed the process in the room through a little window and noticed after 5 to 8 minutes that there was no effect. Thereupon a truck engine was connected to the second introduction socket and started up. The consequence was that the mentally ill became unconscious in relatively short time. For safety reasons the engine was still running for 10 minutes. All persons died in this way."
(interrogation of Widmann of 27 January 1960, BArch B 162 / 4338, p. 85, my translation)

Two other members of the team, Hans Schmidt, laboratory assistant at the KTI, and the RKPA driver Alfred Bauer essentially confirmed this action after the war (interrogation of Schmidt of 18 December 1959 & 6 April 1960 & 4 May 1962, BArch B 162 / 5066, p. 127ff. & BArch B 162 / 4338, p. 216 & BArch B 162 / 1604, p. 495ff; interrogation of Bauer of 3 March 1961 & 9 December 1961, BArch B 162 / 4339, p.78 f. & B 162 / 4340, p. 27f). The forth man, the RKPA driver Noack was not available for interrogation, i.e. he was either dead or not tracked down by investigators.

The four men left the scene after the test gassing of 20 to 30 victims (this figure is provided by Schmidt and Bauer). According to Widmann and Bauer, they had previously blown up a bunker with mentally ill in Minsk and moved on to Smolensk after the Mogilev gassing, while according to Schmidt they first carried out the gassing and then went on for the explosive action to Minsk, which is also indicated by Nebe's staff member Andreas von Amburger, who was told about the gassing by the Einsatzgruppe B doctor Hans Battista. According to von Amburger's testimony, 80 mentally ill were killed in batches of 20 victims (interrogation of von Amburger of  27 December 1945 & 25 September 1959 & 3 April 1962, BArch B 162 / 21555, p. 1327 & B 162 / 5066, p. 116 & BArch B 162 / 3298, p. 144).

According to Widmann, he was supposed to meet with Nebe and the Higher SS and Police Leader Erich von dem Bach in Smolensk to discuss the results, but allegedly von dem Bach did not show up because he was "injured from a low strafing attack" (interrogation of Widmann of 11 January 1960, BArch, B 162 / 5066, p. 136). Von dem Bach's diary reports a similar incident on 17 September 1941 - he almost became victim of a Soviet air raid -, except that he was not injured and did actually meet with Nebe on this day (diary of von dem Bach, cited in Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, p. 649). Gerlach points out that Widmann may have had tried to cover von dem Bach by denying that he was present during the discussion of the killing trials in Smolensk. According to Bauer, the gassing took place on a Monday (interrogation of Bauer of 3 March 1961, BArch B 162 / 4339, p.78). If Widmann's and Bauer's sequence of the events is correct, this suggests that the experimental gassing in Mogilev was carried out on Monday, 15 September 1941.

It is usually considered that the film footage of the Mogilev gassing shows this test run described by the KTI/RKPA team (e.g. Beer, The Development of the Gas-Van in the Murdering of the Jews, Angrick, Besatzungspolitik und Massenmord, p. 371, Winkler & Hohendorf, Die Ermordung der Psychiatriepatientinnen in Mogilew 1941/42 in: Winkler et al., Krieg und Psychiatrie 1914 - 1950, p. 91). Other than substanial similarities between the testimonies and the footage (e.g. bricked window with two connections, two hoses connected to an Adler cabriolet, which was indeed among vehicles brought from the RKPA, and a truck), it is also plausible that such first experiment with engine exhaust was documented in some way. Furthermore, the film sequence was found in the former house of Nebe after the war and Nebe's presence at the test gassing has been attested by Widmann & Bauer. Nebe also seems to have had some affinity to such kind of footage, as he supposedly showed the Euthanasia film Dasein ohne Leben to hundreds of SS officers.

Conclusion & Outlook

It is the most straightforward and intuitive interpretation that the footage shows the test gassing described by Widmann and others. It is, however, also not without its problems, as we will see in the next part. It will also feature alternative interpretations.

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