These former SS men who served in Belzec, were brought to trial in Munich
in August 1963
, charged with murdering Jews in the Belzec death camp.
Dubois, Werner Acquitted Driver/mechanic
Fuchs, Erich Acquitted Driver/mechanic
Girtzig, Hans Acquitted Chief of canteen
Gley, Heinrich Acquitted Driver
Jührs, Robert Acquitted Male nurse
Oberhauser, Josef 4½ years Burner
Schluch, Karl Acquitted Male nurse
Unverhau, Heinrich Acquitted Gas chamber assistant
Zierke, Ernst Acquitted Driver
The crimes of genocide committed in the death camps Belzec, Sobibor
only began to unravel during the euthanasia trials in
who had been in charge of the locomotive depot
at Belzec (cutting out yellow stars after the victims had been gassed), was the first to be arrested and charged
in connection with the killing of patients at Grafeneck
euthanasia centre. It
was during the course of the trial that information began to emerge about the Aktion Reinhard
, after a lengthy hearing into the euthanasia allegations,
was acquitted of all charges and released. His references to the death camps were held to be inadmissible
and were disregarded by the court.
Even then, the wheels of justice were slow to turn. It was only in 1959
that the West
German government instigated a wide-ranging investigation into the Aktion Reinhard
Belzec was first to be been identified as a major killing center in the East. At the conclusion of their
enquiries and in quick succession, the "Belzec 8" were arrested and interrogated.
In August 1963
, they were arraigned at the Munich
Assizes indicted with several counts appertaining to the murder of several hundred thousand Jews in Belzec.
Although the defendants had made admissions, the defence proffered was a mixture of defensive lies,
self exoneration to the actual killing and, not without some foundation, that they were in fear
of their very lives and their families lives, should they not carryout the express orders of the
Belzec camp commanders Wirth
The defendants attempted to lessen their own involvement in the genocide, by suggesting that
the "actions of destruction" could not have been carried out without the assistance of the Jews.
They had suggested to the court that the Jews carried out the whole operation: removed the victims
from the transports, cut the hair of the females, removed their bodies from the gas chambers,
extracted gold teeth and buried the bodies in the pits, which they had previously prepared.
Fortunately, on this point the court was not persuaded.
To convict these men of the Belzec crimes there had to be direct evidence identifying them as the
perpetrators of destruction. Whilst there was circumstantial evidence or loose admissions by the accused,
the main requirement, i.e. witnesses to events implicating individual defendants, was absent.
The prosecution traced the Jews who had escaped from Belzec in 1942
, but only two,
(alias Rudolf Reder
made written statements. When the trial opened,
was too ill to attend court to give evidence.
, who had travelled from
, Canada, was unable to positively
identify any of the defendants.
To rebut the general defence proffered collectively by the defendants, the prosecution relied
on one principle: that the defendants were guilty of collective participation, even though they had
not acted as instigators. In principle, the one in charge who gives the orders (Wirth,
), is solely responsible. The one who carries out these orders must also share the
responsibility if he knows the task in hand is unlawful. The jury disagreed.
On 30 January 1964
the trial collapsed and all the defendants, with the exception of
, were acquitted. The defence of "acting out of fear for life"
was accepted by the court.
Immediately on leaving the court as free men, Zierke, Dubois, Fuchs, Jührs and
were re-arrested and held in custody on similar charges relating to
case against Josef Oberhauser
was adjourned, and a new trial was ordered.
In January 1965
again appeared before the
Assizes, but this time the prosecution were more prepared.
claimed to the court that he had already been
sentenced to a term of imprisonment for the Belzec crimes at the Magdeburg
(East Germany) in 1948
, where a Soviet Military Tribunal sentenced him to a term of
fifteen years imprisonment.
When the Munich
court investigated Oberhauser
claims, it was established that he had been tried and sentenced for crimes relating to euthanasia and not the Belzec
crimes as these were not known at the time. The trial continued.
Giving evidence against him were the co-defendants from the previous Belzec trial.
Witnesses for the prosecution were 73 year-old Wilhelm Pfannenstiel
, consultant hygienist and professional chemist, who had visited
Belzec with Kurt Gerstein
in April 1942
Roman Robak (Reder)
, 84 years-old. Neither witness was able to
described his visit to Belzec in August 1942
and stated that it was the worst
experience of his life. He confirmed that he had seen the Jews operating the gas engines, a point picked-up
in closing speeches of the prosecution:
"The facts learned in this case show the extent of the conveyor belt killings. It is a
mockery, that Jewish people were forced to participate in the killings of their brothers in faith, while
people like the accused get away with playing the gentlemen.
In his defence, Oberhauser
refused to comment on any issue relating to
the allegations, but statements, made by him previously to the investigating officers, were read to the
court. Among the defensive answers to the officer's questions, Oberhauser
made two relevant points:
"What Wirth ordered, I had to carry out.
It would have not mattered to him to shoot even an SS man, if he refused to carry out an order.
As far as gassing of the old Jews was concerned, I could understand it; anything over and above that
was too much for me. I thought to myself that there must be some other way of getting rid of the Jews,
a sentiment shared by Zierke
Because of Oberhauser
's close association with
and his arrogant aloofness in Belzec, his colleagues
took the opportunity in the court to discredit him. They implicated him with the camp construction
and the full gassing operations. Former SS-Scharführer Karl Schluch
"If Oberhauser maintained that he did not
participate in the
extermination of the Jews in Belzec, or that he did not see the whole operation from beginning to end -
from the unloading to the removal of the bodies -, then I say, "try another one!"
Oberhauser not only knew well the entire running of
the extermination operation but he also took part in it. In my opinion, there is no doubt that
Oberhauser was an authoritative person in the killing of the Jews
in Belzec camp. The Belzec camp operated for only one reason, and for what
Oberhauser did, he was well promoted.
One point, that came over very strongly during the trial and was corroborated by all the defendants to
’s advantage, was that Wirth
law and discipline was fearful with no way of challenge.
The prosecution were able to weaken Oberhauser
's defence ploy of only
being on the periphery of events in Belzec. He was convicted and sentenced to four years and six months
After having served only half his sentence, he was released from prison and returned to
where worked as a barman in a beer hall. He died in
For the Belzec crimes of murdering over 600,000 Jews there, Josef Oberhauser
was the only conviction.
Robin O'Neil. Extracts from Belzec - The Forgotten Camp
© ARC 2005