Closing argument of Attorney at Law Thomas Walther – May 27, 2016

Final speech in the trial against Hanning on May 27, 2016

Detmold District Court


Honorable Court,

respected prosecutors, dear colleagues,

respected counsels for the defense,

those final hours before the end of hearing evidence two weeks ago may distort our perspective of what is so significant about his trial.

I am going to be very frank with you.

I have talked to too many Holocaust survivors not to know that every voice counts. And each survivor carries his or her personal Auschwitz inside, and no two of these hellish experiences are alike. The search for truth in Auschwitz, this diabolic place, always explores a realm in which ‘being human’ had ceased to exist.

In the eyes of the perpetrators – the SS leadership, SS physicians, SS officers, NCOs and guards – the victims, who were all deported to Auschwitz with the definite intent to kill them from the very start, had been ultimately and fully stripped of any physical right to exist as a human being.

At the same time, the propaganda to elevate the German people and the Aryan race helped eliminate any last scruples amongst SS members, who already had a sense of belonging to an elite, and made them accept and support the necessity to annihilate unworthy lives.

This was the consensus amongst the perpetrators.

I will try to show you some aspects of how the defendant did his utmost to obscure the evolution of a destructive, inhumane and cruel attitude in his personal development.

It began in 1935 with the Hitler Youth. Hanning describes the HJ in his home town as if it had been a sports club under the leadership of the village mayor. He goes to great lengths to underline that all they did was compete athletically, and that he soon didn’t have any time to serve with the HJ.

Participation was mandatory, however – twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Article 2 of the Hitler Youth Act of December 1, 1936, mandated: “Beyond the parents’ home and school, the entire German youth must be part of the Hitler Youth in order to be physically, mentally and morally taught to serve their country and develop a sense of national community in the spirit of National Socialism.” Why does Hanning want to make us believe that, at this point already, he didn’t have anything to do with it?

Until he voluntarily joined the SS, it seems that National Socialism, which was supposed to make the German youth “hard as Krupp steel” via the HJ, was entirely absent from the defendant’s life.

And his own decision to voluntary join the Waffen-SS, made by the 19-year-old defendant in 1940, is blamed on a future stepmother, a nurse, who was staunchly in line with the NSDAP.

Finally, Hanning does not even mention his officially documented formal transfer from the reserve regiment “Der Führer” in Stralsund to Auschwitz in January of 1942. Instead, he claims that his path took him from an alleged hospital in Kattowitz directly to a “sanatorium” at the “Solahütte” and from there to Auschwitz. He almost nostalgically describes how much he missed his old combat unit, which continued to fight in Russia after he started serving in Auschwitz. What he does not tell us is that in January of 1942, his 2000-strong SS regiment “Der Führer” under the command of Obersturmbannführer Otto Kumm was decimated within just a few weeks in the “Winter Battle of Rshew”, leaving only 35 survivors.

At his advanced age, shouldn’t he frankly admit to himself that the fact that he was in Auschwitz saved his own life?

I say: “All this just doesn’t add up.”

The defendant claims that it wasn’t the misguided notions of a young man in Eastern Westphalia at the beginning of a war that NS propaganda romantically portrayed as an epic struggle led by heroes in SS uniforms – but rather the impact of a “third party” that steered him one way or another towards the defining moments of his life.

“I don’t believe him.”

But let’s, once more, return to the “survivors’ voices”.

I said: “Each one of them counts!”

Therefore, I defined my personal objective long before this trial in Detmold or in Lüneburg, or the proceedings against Demjanjuk in Munich: If there ever was to be a trial, “the voices of the survivors must be heard”. The survivors were to lend the trial a human face. And it wasn’t just Demjanjuk I had in mind back then, in 2008. The trial against a Trawniki guard at the Sobibor extermination camp was supposed to open the doors for the many proceedings that German justice had failed to address, slept through, and swept under the rug. The “many” ended up being just a few.

The survivors were to give these proceedings a face, and a voice to speak on behalf of their murdered families as joint plaintiffs before the court.

My experiences over the years have taught me a certain humility. Far from every prosecutor, judge or lawyer shared or shares my views. Not every single Holocaust survivor wants to talk to a German lawyer about joining legal action, or the topic in general. And far from everyone who wants to speak has the strength to actually do so in a court of law.

Throughout my three decades as a judge and my years as public prosecutor, I have always been aware of the fact that prosecutors and courts have to be persuaded that the “survivors’ voices count and must be heard”. And I am of the opinion that we all did that very well.

Of course, in these efforts, I have also been shown my limits time and again, because I usually wanted to bring more people into the court room than the Code of Criminal Procedure allowed. That also just happened in this trial: One court-summoned witness from Canada appeared before the court twice, only to return home to Canada without having been heard. You all remember that during those days, other summoned witnesses were given precedence and eventually my questioning of witness Judith Kalman did not happen.

And yet, I maintain: “Every survivor’s voice counts!” For the statements by the witnesses who were heard at that time, Richt-Bein and Lesser, were significant beyond doubt. Their voice counts.

I learned that what really matters isn’t one single trial, and it certainly isn’t big media coverage with cameras, or newspapers reporting on this or that trial.

What matters for the real world, present and future, is change. It is a return to the principles of law as we grapple with and try to understand the worst crime against humanity in human memory:

We owe the victims justice!

And all of you here in the court room and the many people involved in the proceedings around the world have contributed to that and, in my opinion, rendered justice a great service.

Meanwhile, we also know that with a little wisdom, the irritations of the past two weeks could have been entirely avoided. I don’t think anyone will argue with that.

Now for the outcome of the proceedings against defendant Reinhold Hanning:

Essentially, the public prosecution aptly summarized the results of the hearing of evidence. Any differences in nuance will later be clarified by my colleague Prof. Dr. Nestler.

Yet I will make some additional comments on the outcome of the hearing of evidence.

My final speech will mainly focus on the joint plaintiffs I represent, some of whom spoke before this court.

It is the defendant himself who provided me with the tenor of my final speech in the course of the past few days in court.

As I already said: The defendant wants to make us believe that in those defining moments of his life that set him on track towards being part of the crime against humanity that was the mass murder in Auschwitz, other people influenced or even made decisions for him against his will.

And now he has been sitting in this courtroom for weeks on end, showing us his face. No. He showed us two faces.

One of those faces was so consistently looking down at a 45-degree angle that for weeks, it seemed impossible to even make brief eye contact with him.

Some of the witness addressed the defendant because of his body language and lowered gaze. They asked him to look up. Hedy Bohm from Toronto said to him: “Look at me. You don’t have to be afraid!”

At times, the counsel for the defense asked me not to address his client directly.

But can you actually imagine this reverse déjà-vu the joint plaintiffs had to endure, the kind of emotional ordeal it was for them just to see that consistently downcast gaze? – Many witnesses and numerous survivors have described various situations in Auschwitz when looking an SS guard in the eye could spell unpredictable dangers. – One could only hope to get away with just a violent beating. At times, however, eye contact could also trigger a deadly response.

And now the defendant meets the survivors with the same body language they had assumed back in the day.

He first revealed his other face when it wasn’t an Auschwitz survivor who spoke, but witness Willms from the State Office of Criminal Investigation who reported on the defendant’s career with the SS, showing and explaining numerous documents some of which bore the defendant’s signature from those times. Now Hanning showed a keen interest. He followed witness Wilms’ explanations sitting bolt upright and looking straight at the depicted documents.

Even after we had exceeded the two-hour time slot for the proceedings by thirty minutes, Mr. Hanning did not exhibit the slightest sign of fatigue.

The witnesses who saw him 70 years after Auschwitz in the court room overwhelmingly interpreted the defendant’s two faces as follows: Back then, the SS demonstrated its disdain for Jews by not allowing them to overtly look at them. Today, Mr. Hanning will not meet the gaze of the same Jews for even a minute, thus basically demonstrating the same disdain again. NO eye contact.

Not looking at the witnesses also implies something else. It conveys his feeling that he personally does not have anything to do with the things that are being said. Only the documents about his own career with the SS touched the defendant’s “self”.

Mr. Hanning, you didn’t look at Max Eisen when he addressed this court from this very spot as a witness. He came to you to Auschwitz as a fifteen-year-old on May 18, 1944. This was still at the old ramp, when you and the 3rd company served there. Transports were unloaded at night. After a short while, Tibor, which was his name back then, became an assistant to the Polish inmate-physician Dr. Tadeusz Orzesko at the inmates’ sick quarters, block 21 of the main camp. He was near you. Back then, he was not allowed to look you in the eye. Today, you do not even deign to look at him.

On behalf of many witnesses and many more joint plaintiffs, let me repeat some of his words, which you shut out when he spoke them on February 18.

You purposefully shut yourself down, and refused to listen, even though you could hear.

Max Eisen said:

My family and I had only a minute or two together on the platform and I was so happy to see my mother and my two brothers. I could see that my baby sister was not responsive, probably because my mother could not breastfeed her …

And he went on to say….

To one side of this platform there was a plume of flame and smoke, and I thought, this must be some kind of a factory. I smelled burning flesh. Beyond the floodlit platform, all was dark…

And then ….

I found myself in the men’s line with my father and my uncle. My grandfather, my grandmother, my mother … my two younger siblings, and my aunt were all marched away. … I didn’t have an opportunity to speak to my mother, nor did our eyes ever meet, and I wasn’t able to say any final words to her. I found out later that my mother, grandparents, and siblings were all gassed in Crematorium II…

Herr Hanning: Listen to how you systematically starved the slave laborers who weren’t killed right away, and who were not allowed to look at you:

Max Eisen said:

… I lived on a 300 calorie diet a day, which consisted of a cup of tea in the morning and lunch was a ladle of soup that was mostly water and dinner was a cup of ersatz coffee, a thin slice of bread and a tiny square of margarine. This diet took a heavy toll on all of us. Our bodies were fast disappearing and breaking out in boils, and had my father and uncle not been with me, I would not have survived the first week in this place. I experienced the continuous pressure of hard work, beatings, very little food, and a body that was not functioning well. During the day’s exhausting work, there was no liquid given to us. I noticed that young men in their 20’s or so were falling by the wayside. They could not survive on this diet and simply gave up. The hunger drove some people to desperation – it was dehumanization by starvation. I recall one day when the daily soup was dished out, several inmates fought each other to push into the drum to get the last drop out. I made a decision then that, no matter what, I would never stoop to this level.

Herr Hanning: Listen to how a devout orthodox Jewish father saved his 15-year-old son from starvation. He already told us. But you were not looking or listening. Now I am telling you. You can hear me!

Max Eisen said:

Another day after coming back from work, I saw my father and my uncle waiting for me inside the gate as they usually did. My unit was always the last to come back in the evening, and I always saw them waiting there for my return. A few times, they had managed to bring back a piece of bread or a potato during a work detail and they always shared their good fortune with me. As the work units came marching back to camp from their daily labor, the SS Sergeant in charge of the gate scrutinized the prisoners to see if anyone was carrying contraband hidden under their jackets or pants…

And he went on….

On this particular day, their unit was working near a barracks called “Canada” (a place where the belongings of murdered prisoners were stored and sorted) and a girl from our town recognized my father and managed to slip him a chunk of bacon wrapped in a rag. My father smuggled it into the camp under his jacket. He slipped the piece of bacon under my jacket while we were standing in a huddle and my uncle blocked the view so that nobody would see this transfer. I was surprised that I was holding a piece of bacon in my hand. Coming from a traditional Orthodox family, we did not eat pork and yet my father told me that I must eat a little piece of it every day.

And he continued….

… Every night, I had another bite, a small shot of this energy, and I am positive that this little bit of protein gave me the strength to face the next day.

Herr Hanning, you were neither listening nor looking on February 18, when Max Eisen told us about the selection in the prisoners’ sick quarters, block 21. You were there and made sure that he, the fifteen-year-old boy could not run away and regain his freedom. Now hear from me what

Max Eisen said:

I witnessed how this small camp hospital was all part of the deception. People did not have time to recover; many of them were loaded onto trucks shortly after medical procedures and sent to the gas chambers in Birkenau. The drivers of these trucks returned several hours later to the operating room where they pulled bloody rags from their pockets that were full of teeth with gold crowns and fillings that I was instructed to remove with the instruments available to me. I was shocked to learn of these scavengers, who were enriching themselves in such a gruesome way.

Herr Hanning, witness Max Eisen is a few years younger than you. Since the murder of his family in Auschwitz, he has suffered the same recurrent nightmare that haunts him in his sleep. On February 18, he said:

I see my grandparents, my mother, my three siblings and my aunt locked inside a crowded gas chamber, where the gas is spreading from the floor upward to the ceiling, engulfing everyone inside. I see them suffocating and dying while the SS officers watched this death struggle through reinforced, glass peepholes. This thought will never leave me.

Max Eisen spoke of a nightmare.

Max Eisen is wrong.

This isn’t a nightmare. And his family did not “die”. Neither they, nor any of the Hungarian Jews in the gas chamber of Crematorium II “died” on May 18, 1944. They were murdered in the cruelest of ways. And it is neither a trance nor a nightmare.

It is their reality during this night of May 18, 1944. – It is our reality.

None of us knew these people who have this indelible spiritual bond with Max Eisen since May 18, 1944. Only Max Eisen has met them since his childhood so long ago. They are, amongst others, his 40-year-old mother Ethel Eisen, nee Friedman, with his two brothers, 12-year-old Shmuel and 8-year-old Moshe as well as his little sister Judith who was only nine months old. They were murdered, but they weren’t silenced. They mandated and allowed their eldest son and big brother Tibor – whose name is Max Eisen today – to speak on their behalf. It is his duty to speak about them and to remind us all of them here and today in this trial.

These names remind us that these people were alive once, that they lived happy, cheerful lives. They worked, they enjoyed their lives. The parents relished their families and their children. Tibor was, and remains as Max Eisen, one of the men in this family.

From his indelible bond, he draws the obligation to speak of their murder – not their death – no, of their murder and to always remind us of it.

This remembrance is supposed to be a remembrance in all of us, of the murder of this family and all the other families that were mentioned in Detmold, and the many thousands of families who turned into bleak ash, nameless and unknown, by the hands of other men.

On Friday, May 6, just a few weeks ago, we marked the Jewish day of Holocaust remembrance Yom Hashoa. On this day, I spoke in a large synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida, while at the same time in Poland, Max Eisen arrived in Auschwitz on the “March of the Living”. On this day, I learned something about “Neshama” – “Neshomele” in Yiddish. According to Jewish belief, it is the highest of three stages of immortality a human soul can attain. In most of the families that I met there, the consequences of the murders in Auschwitz and all the other hellish places can be seen and felt in their words, even though not everyone directly speaks of them. In deeper conversations, however, they will mention “Neshama” in connection with the murdered families. The souls of these dead sometimes give the living the strength and the power that we had the privilege of seeing in the Detmold witnesses. And in immortality, the Neshama soul encounters the living as an admonition and as a lament, not only at night in their dreams. It also sometimes talks through them at a place like this one here, in Detmold.

Herr Hanning, it was May 18, 1944, in Auschwitz when the Eisen family arrived at night. It was a Thursday. I stress that because I will later come back to the significance of another day in your own life – possibly Saturday, May 20, 1944.

Given the differences with the public prosecution regarding the ELIGIBILITY of joint PLAINTIFFS Haelion and Handeli, I must also stress:

Based on the matter that is subject of the indictment and which was determined in the main negotiations, all joint plaintiffs in these proceedings who lost parents and/or siblings during the period in question to the mass murder at the main camp, which was planned, systematic and based on division of labor, were entitled to be part of these proceedings.

This is why, from the beginning, the scope of the indictment also included accessory to the murders of the families Schwarzbaum, de Vries, Sonder, Friedländer and also Haelion as well as Handeli, beyond the “Hungarian operation”.

We are seeing “joint plaintiffs” in many contemporary proceedings. Most of the times, they did not passively suffer the ordeal of the crimes the victims endured. What is special about the joint plaintiffs in this trial is that they became joint plaintiffs through the loss of life of their parents and siblings, but at the same time they belong to the group of Holocaust survivors who experienced the hell of Auschwitz themselves in all its inhumanity, and who had to endure all the cruelties on the path towards death, until just a very slim sliver of life separated them from their own death. This is why we have to always be aware of the very close and intimate connection between the murdered and their surviving siblings and/or children in this very narrow zone between life and death.

The ca. 20% of Hungarian Jews who were deported late, namely in 1944, and not killed immediately following their arrival, were most likely to survive this window of time planned for their extermination. Their lifespan was purposefully limited from the start by way of malnourishment, which inevitably leads to death, sooner or later depending on individual constitution and some particulars of daily life.

The late arrival of the joint plaintiffs in this trial not only applies to the Hungarian Jews from May 16, 1944, but also to the Greek Jews from April 1944. Mrs. Friedländer, who arrived in Theresienstadt in June of 1944, also owed her survival to this circumstance.

Leon Schwarzbaum, who arrived in Auschwitz on August 1, 1943, and Erna de Vries, who arrived on July 16, 1943, were able to survive despite their early arrival because they were transferred to other camps, while it is nothing short of a miracle that Justin Sonders, who arrived on March 3rd, 1943, made it through 17 selections in Monowitz, extreme physical labor and the death marches.

The survival of each and every joint plaintiff is unique and thus the inversed image of the mass murder that was planned for them, too.

The indictment against Hanning describes the omnipresence of death in the survivors’ reality as a “comprehensive approach to murder”.

For the planned murder in Auschwitz went beyond the cruel killings in the gas chambers after immediate selection at the ramp.

And this is what makes this indictment so unique: For the first time in the history of prosecuting murders in extermination and concentration camps, it also captures the slow murder by way of consuming life energies in gradual, regulated and actively organized starvation. We have heard experts talk about scientific findings on starvation. In our society of affluence, we need science to explain to us the extreme cruelty of death by starvation because we don’t even know what hunger is any more.

This organized starvation led to daily selections during roll call, physical collapses in work brigades, the emaciated appearance of what was called “Muselmänner” and dying in one’s sleep.

No! – They did not die in their sleep! – They were murdered in their sleep.

A lack of health care and letting disease run its course without treatment, as well as killings in the sick quarters turned the slightest illness into a death sentence, often carried out by the victim’s own body and organs without a final execution.

The dreaded typhus fever was often combated with selections in the sick quarters by way of phenol injections, or – depending on available capacities – by way of transport to the gas chamber. Thus, the lice, mites, ticks or fleas that carried the disease were gassed along with the Jewish victims.

With the indictment in this trial, we are facing the diabolic extremes and ultimately, also the ruins of a society that was the product of a barbarization of human beings – including the defendant.

Now for some few details of the “defense pleading”, which was an anachronistic and inappropriate attempt to exempt the defendant from this process of barbarization and dehumanization.

I am addressing information the defendant had presented via his defense attorney, without answering any follow-up questions that begged to be answered.

On December 5th, 1944, the defendant submitted a marriage application to the Central Office for Racial Affairs and Settlement, asking for a permit to marry his later wife Genoveva Hajduga. At the time, she was seven months pregnant and lived 14 miles north of Auschwitz in her home town of Myslowitz.

When the Red Army fast approached Auschwitz from the East in December of 1944, the defendant, as Unterscharführer, had already spent six months 400 miles away from his bride with the 8th company of the SS-Totenkopf guard battalion at the concentration camp Sachsenhausen near Berlin.

Dated November 14, 1944, Hanning wrote a resume to go with his marriage permit application, in which he describes how he joined the Waffen-SS and his career in a few lines:

„… from the age of 7 – 14 I attended the elementary school in Billinghausen, which went through 8th grade. From the day I left school to the day of my conscription, I worked at a factory. On April 20, 1935, I joined the Hitler Youth. On July 25, 1940, I voluntarily joined the Waffen-SS. After my training with the SS reserve battalion “Der Führer” I was placed with the SS field regiment “Der Führer” in December of 1940. I participated in the occupation of Holland and France as well as the Serbian and Russian campaigns with the same unit. On September 9, 1941, I was wounded in the East. From the reserve military hospital Radom, where my wound healed, I was transferred to the SS reserve battalion SS “Der Führer”. On January 23, 1942, I was transferred to the SS Totenkopf Sturmbann Auschwitz and on June 14, 1944, to the SS Totenkopf guard battalion Sachsenhausen, where I am still serving today.”

In the statement which was read before this court on April 29, 2016, the defendant’s career sounded very different. Hanning had his lawyer declare that his resume is “not quite correct as it is.”

I am going to show you that every word of this resume is correct.

Today, the defendant wants to make us believe that as early as July of 1940, his father’s second wife compelled him to volunteer for the SS, five months before she even got married to his father. He claims he just wanted to sign up with the Wehrmacht. But even that, he claims, was primarily not his idea, but his grandfather’s. The grandfather wanted him to sign up in Augustdorf – Sennelager – with a schoolmate so that they could at least do basic training together.

The latter seems to be the rather naive idea of a caring grandfather, given that is was already the first year of the war, while the future “evil Nazi stepmother” seems to be a creative exaggeration of the alleged impact that a nurse with NSDAP membership could have on the Waffen-SS.

The critical background was determined by the Military Law of May 21, 1935. According to article 8, paragraph 2, conscripts were drafted in the calendar year of their 20th birthday, which means Hanning was scheduled to be drafted in 1941.

According to article 8, paragraph 3, Hanning would have had to serve his six-month mandatory service with the Reichsarbeitsdienst as a requirement for active service prior to joining the Wehrmacht starting in June of 1940. He could then have been drafted for active duty from February 1941.

The draftees of the 1921 cohort were usually called up for their physical between May 27, 1940, and June 22, 1940.

I refer to the Lüneburg trial. Oskar Gröning was also born in 1921 and volunteered to join the SS, even though his older brother had joined the Wehrmacht. Gröning did not conceal the fact that he was a convinced National Socialist at the time. Defendant Hanning, however, is intellectually hiding behind an evil, scheming Nazi stepmother.

Yet, we ascertain that he did not let himself be drafted by the Wehrmacht in 1941, as his grandpa had advised, but voluntarily joined the SS as early as July 1940. This allowed him to avoid the mandatory Reichsarbeitsdienst, just like Gröning, who did the same.

I quote from the verdict by the District Court of Lüneburg of July 15 of last year as an example for the cohorts of conscripts who voluntarily joined the SS, since we have not heard anything of consequence about the matter from Hanning himself. Perhaps Mr. Hanning will eventually feel compelled to state something “credible” in his final statement regarding his own attitudes and decisions beyond the stepmother story. Does he really believe that his behavior thus far will help him “save face” or protect his family? Wouldn’t a certain measure of frankness be liberating and helpful, as it was for Oskar Gröning?

The Gröning verdict reads:

In the eyes of the defendant, the SS was an “elite caste”, a “nifty troop that always returned home awash in glory”. He was thrilled by the military successes of German troops in Poland (“Kicked the Poles’ butts in 18 days!”) and France. In order to be part of what he believed to be the glorious SS, he joined it as a volunteer in October of 1940. Because he – Gröning – had no intention to “receive death”, as the phrase went in SS ideology, in other words, risk his life at the front, he stated right away, during his physical, that he wanted to be a “treasurer”. After basic training, he was stationed with SS payroll departments in Ellwangen and Dachau in accordance with his request, where he received further training.”

Hanning presented an overview of his various front deployments. Only his deployments in Holland, France, Serbia and eventually, Russia, appear to deliver on the promise of that “nifty, glorious troop” that Gröning joined three months after Hanning.

The defendant claims that the data on his “service at the front” is so very precise because he wrote an overview of it on a typewriter “at the time”. Along with defense statement, he submitted a copy of a tiny, 6’’ x 2.5’’ piece of paper that could not have fit into any typewriter.

And what exactly does “at the time” mean in regards to when he typed this list on a typewriter?

The information ends with a line that reads “September 20, 1941…. Battle in the Kiev area (wounded)”

I am convinced: The original of this photocopied document wasn’t and isn’t only 2.5 inches in height. The snippet we are presented with is a partial copy of a complete overview the defendant is withholding from us.

For the time between December 8,1940, to September 20, 1941, it lists precise deployments, closely trackable by military history, with exact dates, in Holland and northern France, labeled as “security deployment”, “occupation” etc.;

the Serbian campaign, within ten days before Serbia’s surrender on April 18, followed by the deployment of his regiment “Der Führer” as part of the SS division “Reich” in the context of operation “Barbarossa” from June 25 with the advance towards Beresina until July 8; and the engagements at the Djepr and the Jelnja passes near Smolensk, all the way to the Battle of Kiev, where he was wounded on September 20, 1941.

One wonders why the defendant only offers this 6’’ x 2.5’’ scrap of paper and fails to describe his continued service at the front with the same degree of precision.

He also remains very vague about his injury “in the Kiev area”. The formative experience of a severe injury, however, he described very precisely, in military jargon:

“I lost a lot of blood at the time. I still remember how the paramedics wanted to help me, but as soon as they approached me, they got under enemy fire, Russian fire. Finally, our tanks came and shelled the location of the Russian muzzle flashes. Then they were able to take me away.”

Even though he was removed from the chaos of the battlefront and taken to a field hospital following his injury, and eventually ended up in Auschwitz, the scrap of paper that was typed “at the time” ends with a vague mention of an “injury near Kiev”.

According to the documents provided by WAST (Wehrmacht information center) that were examined in the main proceedings, the location of the injury was PUSTOWOITOWKA,

a place name in Germanized spelling, which today, in Ukrainian, is called PUSTOVIITIVKA and located about 150 miles east of Kiev.

After his graphic description of Russian “muzzle flashes” that were shelled by “our tanks”, he continued as follows:

“Then they were able to take me away. I was taken to a nearby field hospital. That was near Radom. That’s where I received first aid.”

He didn’t say “in Radom”. He said near Radom”.

If we were to rely on the defendant’s information, we would think that “Radom” is near Kiev, or actually, near PUSTOVIITIVKA.

Yet in fact, Radom is almost 600 miles west of PUSTOVIITIVKA, south of Warsaw.

The following sentence from his defense explains why the defendant stated that his first aid in faraway Ukraine was administered in the allegedly “nearby” field hospital of Radom:

“From the field hospital in Radom is was then taken to the hospital in Kattowitz.” – In fact, Radom is only 143 miles away from Kattowitz. Which, as we all know, is a mere 20 miles north of Auschwitz.

The defendant wants to tell us that after receiving “first aid” at the field hospital in Radom, they did not perform surgery to remove the grenade splinter, because the doctors at the “first aid” field hospital were not equipped to do so. The doctors at the hospital in Kattowitz apparently also had an extremely hard time with this surgery. The defendant therefore explained:

“Later, I received head surgery there – that is in Kattowitz. Finally, they were able to remove the grenade splinter. The surgery was difficult, however, because the splinter was stuck rather deeply in my temple. As they later told me, the doctors initially did not dare perform the surgery.”

In reality, medical care for the severely wounded SS soldier Hanning followed completely different paths and definitely did not end in Kattowitz. That is evident from the WAST documents that were part of the hearing of evidence.

After his severe injury, suffered as a member of the 6th company of SS regiment “Der Führer” during the battle near PUSTOVIITIVKA on September 20, 1941, and after receiving first aid at one of the unit’s medical posts, Hanning was taken to field hospital 615 mot. in Konotop on September 22 – 40 miles north of the site of the battle, recorded under serial number 361 of the patient register. From there, he was taken to the backline field hospital mot. 623 in Nowhorod on September 24 – another 62 miles north – recorded under serial number 1090 of the patient register. One day later, on September 25, there was another transfer by train, to field hospital mot. 6/582 in Gomel – another 137 miles to the west – recorded under serial number 2481 of the patient register. Finally, on October 3, 1941, he was taken to the reserve and military hospital Radom – 472 miles further to the west – recorded under serial number 225 of the patient register.

Now, the defendant was transported to a central reserve and military hospital via three other field hospitals, where he was to receive surgery and heal. Obviously, the military hospital Radom, in a large town of 100,000 residents at the time, more than 620 miles from the location of the battle, is not a field hospital near Kiev, as the defendant and his defense lawyers want to make us believe.

At the time, splinter wounds caused by hand grenades were commonly treated in field hospitals and also in larger military hospitals, but not in general hospitals, and not at the hospital in Kattowitz, either.

Why on earth would Hanning dish up such a story after witness Willms presented the WAST documents?

After a total of four weeks at the reserve and military hospital Radom, the defendant was discharged from the hospital and transferred to the 1st company of SS reserve regiment SS “Der Führer” to STRALSUND. Now Hanning, as a member of the SS regiment “Der Führer”, was back where he was at the beginning of his service with the SS, when he trained with the same reserve unit in Graz. The reserve unit was transferred from Graz to Stralsund in late summer of 1941.

The result of this story, in a nutshell, is that Hanning was transferred to Auschwitz as a battle-proven member of the Waffen-SS. At the same time, some of his comrades from the SS reserve regiment “Der Führer” were also transferred from Stralsund to Auschwitz, who, like him, had previously served the regiment at the front.

That is what expert Dr. Hördler called the ‘cohort’ of German, front-experienced SS-men who formed the backbone of the guard company of predominantly ethnic German SS men together with Otto Stoppel, who was later to become head of the third company. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to grasp that the simultaneous promotions of members of this cohort were precisely planned to secure the successful SS deployment by the 3rd company for the murder of Europe’s Jewry in Auschwitz. I don’t want to make the same mistake as Federal Parliament President Jenninger made in 1988. I will not quote Himmler’s Posen Speech of October 6, 1943. In the very unequivocal words of Himmler, mass murder was presented as a rational, necessary measure in the renewal of Europe under German dominance. SS commanders were praised for their toughness in committing the murders and were assured that they “remained decent” while doing it.

These are, more or less, the thoughts that come to mind, and that Oskar Gröning already confirmed in his own words in Lüneburg.

But defendant Hanning stays well clear of even the slightest association with this mindset. Sturmbannführer Otto Stoppel earned the War Merit Cross, 2nd class with swords for his work with his battle-proven lieutenants of the 3rd company to “perform special tasks of military relevance”, as the mass murder in Auschwitz was called.

There are many more statements by the defendant that would merit questioning and analysis, in which he describes himself as a mere curious spectator strolling through the camp “after duty”, even though he spent two years as a lieutenant supervising the ethnic German SS guards of the 3rd company at the very heart of the murder machinery every day.

He also describes his tasks as UvD (lieutenant in charge) in great detail, spelling out almost ridiculous formal tasks, lodging in a 3-bed room as his superior’s right hand. At the same time, he talks about no more than 3 or 4 soldiers at a time – and he means SS guards, with whom he as “platoon leader” guarded prisoners in the work brigade. He said his 3 or 4 soldiers would “circle” the prisoners. Even a layman will have a hard time imagining 3 or 4 guards forming a circle. If you know, however, that a company consists of 100 to 120 men, which is 3 or 4 platoons of 30 to 40 men each, and that he identified himself as a “platoon leader”, we can visualize the “circle” of guards under his command – we are indeed talking about 30 or 40 men of the platoon of the 3rd company under his command.

The 4-men room also makes more sense as the lieutenants’ quarters where the platoon leaders, the backbone of the company, were housed.

I am not going to get into any more detail. My point is clear: A defense statement that lacks substance where it matters and is told from the aloof perspective of a casual observer is not credible.

From the point of view of the joint plaintiffs, he is improperly trying to talk and sneak his way out of this responsibility.

I will now briefly address a part of the defendant’s PRIVATE LIFE at the time, making a connection with MAX EISEN in May of 1944.

One day before the defendant reported for duty in Sachsenhausen on June 14, 1944, he got engaged to Genoveva Hajduga before the Office for Racial Affairs and Settlement on June 13. She was a Polish citizen, born out of wedlock, and registered on the list of ethnic Germans on November 4, 1944, thus obtaining provisionary German citizenship.

Their son Richard was born on February 12, 1945.

Based on a pregnancy of 268 days and Richard’s birth on February 12, 1945, Hanning and his future wife were aware of the pregnancy (which had to have been conceived around May 20, 1944) at the time of their engagement on June 13, 1944 and his subsequent reporting for duty in Sachsenhausen.

On January 12, 1945, with the due fast approaching, Hanning made an urgent request for a marriage permit from the Office for Racial Affairs and Settlement, citing his fitness for front service and the danger of being deployed at the front. He described the pregnancy as “advanced” and “two weeks away” from full term. Nine days later, on January 21, 1945 – and thus three days after the commencement of the death marches from Auschwitz – Hanning wrote to the Office for Racial Affairs and Settlement once more: “… if you haven’t sent my marriage permit yet, I ask that you do not send it to my bride, as she is being evacuated, but rather to me.” He indicates his address as Unterscharführer of the 8th company of the SS Totenkopf guard battalion at the concentration camp Sachsenhausen.

Now a rather personal remark, as I myself was also born during one of these Auschwitz years:

Herr Hanning, when Max Eisen’s family arrived in Auschwitz on Thursday, May 18, 1944, you were a young man far removed from the horrific battles of the Eastern front, “in safety”, and – so I hope – madly in love. Your sweetheart Genoveva lived only 12 miles from Auschwitz.

Your girlfriend got pregnant. Technically, one can calculate that her pregnancy started on Saturday, May 20. That was 72 years ago. And then, about three weeks later, you had to follow marching orders to go to Sachsenhausen and you got officially engaged the day before you left. You stood by your fiancé and your child. You made sure that your fiancé obtained German citizenship, and you married her. Apparently, she managed to be evacuated prior to the arrival of the Red Army.

Those were very fortunate circumstances for you, weren’t they?

Don’t you agree??

It is the stark opposite of the fates of those people who bore witness here, and of their families. Max Eisen told us how on May 18 – also 72 years ago – his little 9-month-old sister Judith lay lifelessly in his mother’s arms at the moment he lost them both forever at the ramp. Judit Eisen would be 1 ½ years older than your son Richard Hanning, had she not been murdered as a baby.

As a lieutenant in charge of the guards of the 3rd company, you stood across from Max Eisen and his family in those days in May of 1944.

You and your wife Genoveva had the privilege to survive with your son Richard.

How great would it be if you could find some objective honesty and overcome that romanticizing SS mindset that you somehow “stayed pure” in this inferno.

You have the ‘last word’!

Why don’t you take responsibility today for the convictions you held back then!

You have the ‘last word’!

And don’t portray yourself as a victim of circumstance who inadvertently stumbled into the Waffen SS and then, under equally nebulous circumstances, ended up in Auschwitz via an alleged Sanatorium at Solahütte, only to then observe what went on there as a casual bystander.

You found your family in Auschwitz. You were able to obtain the authorities’ blessing for your marriage, and you were able to save your young family thanks to Auschwitz.

At the same time, Max Eisen and all the others lost their families to the perfectly organized murder machinery of Auschwitz.

But: …. You have the “last word”!

At the end of my introduction, I said:

We owe the victims justice!

I said that all those involved in this trial worked hard for it, and are still working towards justice. The defendant, in his statement, did not do his part to contribute to this “justice”.

The sentences he read himself lack a personal connection to the injustice that was done. He referred to the SS as a criminal organization, as it was designated during the Nuremberg Trials. He stated that the deaths fell under the responsibility of the SS, in order to avoid the only applicable term, which is “murder”.

I would like to ask for your attention for one other topic. I talked about it a few months ago in Dresden’s Frauenkirche.

We owe the victims justice!

I use this sentence as a positive statement on the unspeakable – the chaos of infernal truths – and decades of failure on the part of the German justice system.

I’m talking about justice. And what I actually ought to be talking about is the terrible injustice committed by legal professionals in the justice as well as the political system by turning a blind eye.

When I say that justice is “owed”, I thereby imply that justice is also served to the victims. That in a way, justice is flowing in a cornucopia of law.

Justice is a term anchored in life. The word means that there is a mental exchange between people about real-life circumstances. This justice creates a balance of peace and intellectual diversity. Violations and injustices are called out and etched into the collective memory of the world around us.

And now I will speak of the victims – the victims of the greatest crime against humanity, those who are supposed to be on the receiving end of this justice.

How can justice be done to the countless dead?

During this trial, we recognized that in Auschwitz, people aged 13 or 14 or 18 or 20 stopped being mere sons and daughters, brothers and sisters within their families – as we all are today. Up until that moment at the Auschwitz ramp, they were like me, “my parents’ son” and “my brother’s brother”.

They were the “living”, like us, and they became “those who lived”, because their fathers, mothers and siblings were killed in the cruelest of manners. Gassed. Burned to ashes. Dumped into marshes and rivers – scattered on fields as fertilizer.

We are listening to them.

We are turning to them.

And they tell us what they remember.

No two stories are the same.

And yet:

All of the pain is the same.

Each survivor has his or her own Auschwitz. At the backdoors of hell in various slave camps, where they were liberated by the Allies after an eternity as youngsters, they had become old men and old women with a burden of suffering that exceeded all human measure. The experience of suffering and pain was so vast that it is located at the very limits of the measurable, the outermost stretches of human imagination. At the end, this ultimate pain is both so very much the “same” – and so “immeasurable”.

And yet, each and every survivor carries his or her very own Auschwitz inside oneself – And only in oneself!

And as we listen intently – without any inner or visible impatience, eventually a door will open. Through it, we gain a surprising insight – haven’t we all at times asked ourselves the question:

“How were these people able to carry on with this most excruciating of all conceivable life experiences, the experience of extermination, without permanently losing all sense of a positive attitude and way of life?”

That is the question to which I want to dedicate my final thoughts.

In the survivors’ flow of remembrance, images begin to form, which often go way back to their childhoods, when they were still living in peace and without persecution in their intact families. In a memory that is distinctly melancholy, yet happy, they steer their senses back to their childhood days. Words begin to condense into images. Father and mother are painted with words and filled with animated life. Their tender love for their siblings is almost palpable. Grandmothers and grandfathers, uncles and aunts walk in and out of their “house of remembrance”. Some still remember their mother’s or their father’s smell. Smells are crafted with words.

We experienced these words when we heard them from the witnesses before this court, and if we listened intently, we could feel how we ourselves could clearly sense, comprehend and see the form and identity of the murdered ones in their former lives – before the gorges of the hells of Auschwitz swallowed them.

In these encounters, we experience the humanity of the victims, the “being” of the parents, the siblings and their extended families.

What we are able to restore to these people in a court trial is the dignity of their ‘selves’, their identity and voice from a certain time of their lives – without a debilitating fear of death.

I learned, and in conclusion, will state some examples that prove that

justice for the victims is achieve by an antithesis of love to hate.

The survivors spoke.

Their love has many expressions.

And the faces of the joint plaintiffs as witnesses before this court are looking our contemporary society in the eye.

These faces, Mr. Hanning, also wanted to look you in the eye.

The predominant emotion in these people is a yearning love for their loved ones, who were turned into ashes by the hatred of a perfectly organized murder machinery.

And only by steadily fostering this level of emotion were so many of the survivors able to find an antithesis to that destructive hatred.

Time and again in court, we see people build an internal memorial to their murdered loved ones in this way.

During the Demjanjuk trial, a tearful joint plaintiff in the courtroom could not bring himself to hand a final letter which he possessed to the judge for inspection, because it was “the last thing” he owned.

This is how his love spoke.

More than a year ago in Montreal, Ernest Ehrmann, a joint plaintiff in this Detmold trial, had long, heart-wrenching conversations with me, during which he tearfully said there was no way he could take the framed photograph of his murdered family out of its frame because he was genuinely convinced of the danger that it could literally crumble into dust.

This is how his love spoke.

Bill Glied spoke of his father’s humiliation on the camp street in Auschwitz, when he was severely beaten because he failed to subserviently salute an SS officer, and then, after a brutal beating, bleeding … humbly apologized.

More than 70 years later, the son, then 13, still suffers boundlessly from the shattering image of a beaten father.

This is how his love speaks.

94-year-old Leon Schwarzbaum showed the court a family photo with his parents from Będzin, the home of his youth, a mere 30 miles north of the place of their death in Auschwitz. At 94, he is as immensely proud of his parents as he was back then when the photo was taken.

This is how his love speaks.

Erna de Vries lived her life with this creed: “I’m not leaving my mother.” Being what the Nazis called a “half Jew”, she was not condemned to end up in Auschwitz. Yet she chose to go to Auschwitz with her mother, knowing what awaited them there. Only minutes away from the gates of the gas chamber, she was “selected” out from the mass of those who were to be killed.

As a “mixed-blood”, she was supposed to live, after all, and perform slave labor for Siemens. A daughter’s ultimate loyalty to her mother until death.

This is how her love speaks.

I am coming to my conclusion:

The defendant is to be sentenced for accessory to murder. The court will have to determine the degree of the punishment, and my colleague Professor Dr. Nestler will make a statement on the severity of his participation in the crimes.

Yet I myself want to make a critical comment about one aspect of determining the punishment, the prospect of a mitigation of the sentence, held out to the defendant in just a few words by the prosecution.

And that is concerning the allegedly existing extenuating circumstance of “remorse”.

When I served as judge, I encountered remorse in defendants in many trials. In most cases, this remorse naturally ad logically followed a comprehensive confession. I do not remember any case in which the defendant assumed the role of a qualified spectator in crimes committed by anonymous third parties and then explicitly talked of “remorse”.

Hanning regrets having been a member of a criminal organization. But Hanning is not on trial for having been a member of the SS. He stressed that this organization is responsible for the deaths of many innocent people. Even now, Hanning only speaks of “deaths” and not of “murders”, which are the sole responsibility of the SS as an “organization”.

In the context of his meaningless written statement, I believe this “remorse” to be a farce and a mere continuation of his “silence”, because the statement merely served to obscure the true occurrences and his own responsibilities.

All I can do is vehemently assure the defendant that what he calls “remorse”, voiced on April 29 before this court, does not meet the conditions of the traditional extenuating circumstance of “remorse”.

The mitigation of the sentence as assumed by the prosecution will therefore not be applicable in the event that the defendant is sentenced.

If the defendant really wants to create a realistic basis for a significant mitigation of the sentence, he has only one more opportunity to do so when he has the “final word”, which he should make use of.

He still has a chance to explain his actual mental and concrete involvement in the crimes in a way that the word “remorse” does not sound like a continuation of the inveteracy and the denial of any personal responsibility in the ears of the joint plaintiffs.

The court will be receptive to genuine remorse; however late it comes.

Only then can he expect any real mitigation of his sentence.

Thomas Walther


Detmold, May 27, 2016