Monday, November 22, 2010
The True Story Behind Vernichtung Part 1
Since a bunch of you guys read my Vernichtung treatment, I thought I should give you the lowdown on the actual events that inspired it. For a while, back in the mid-nineties, I tried to market a novelized version of the Konrad Morgen story...to my very great surprise, no one was interested, in spite of the fact that it's one of the most astonishing pieces of history I've ever run across, every bit as incredible, in its own way, as the horror-fantasy yarn that I derived from it. Even though Morgen exaggerated the results of his campaign, he got much farther in his assault on the Nazi extermination system than anyone would have any reason to expect, and he deserves to be a great deal more celebrated than he is. The synopsis which follows is drawn from primary sources ranging from Nuremberg transcripts to microfilms of Seventh Army interrogations. That's a picture of Morgen up at the top by the way...I believe it's from The World at War.
Introduction: Pandora's Box
In order to set the stage for Morgen's exploits, I'll start with a brief history of the SS.
Originating as Hitler's elite bodyguard, the SS came under the control of Heinrich Himmler. Even before the Nazis took power, he created an SS intelligence bureau, the Ic, which developed into the SD, or Sicherheitsdienst; in 1934, Herman Goering gave him the Gestapo in exchange for his support in the blood purge against SA leader Ernst Roehm, whose concentration camps Himmler also obtained. In 1936 Himmler became Minister of the Interior, acquiring the Landeskriminalpolizei, the pre-Nazi Criminal Police, or Kripo. Theoretically, the Kripo, like the Gestapo, was subordinated to the SD, but in reality, the SD, Gestapo, and Kripo vied with each other savagely. A central security bureau, the RSHA, was created to oversee them, to little effect; even though the members of the various organizations were given ranks in rival hierarchies, interservice friction remained and intensified, with multiple chains-of-command adding confusion to enmity. SD-men didn't consider Gestapo-men to be true members of the SD, or even of the SS, for that matter; the Gestapo-men agreed. Disdaining both the SD and Gestapo, the investigators of the Kripo continued to view themselves as ordinary policemen. Many weren't even members of the Nazi party, and some were anti-Nazis; Kripo chief Arthus Nebe began collaborating with the German resistance in 1938, and would ultimately participate in the Valkyrie plot, even though he was also deeply implicated in the Final Solution.
The growth of Himmler's security empire was matched by SS expansion into military and economic spheres. The Waffen SS was created as a Party army to rival and eventually replace the Wehrmacht, with the WVHA formed to supply and administer the Waffen SS. In this role, the WVHA developed its own armaments and construction industries; it also took over the concentration camps, whose storehouses bulged with treasure despoiled from inmate-laborers and, eventually, exterminated “subhumans.” Corruption on a vast scale developed, with camp commandants enriching themselves at the expense of the Reich, and kicking back the choicest loot to Oswald Pohl, the WVHA chief. The commandants surrounded themselves with the worst scum in the SS, as well as cadres of professional criminals, so-called “Kapos,” who terrorized the other prisoners. Captives who witnessed theft and black-marketeering were eliminated; in defiance of regulation, sex with prisoners and sadism become routine diversions of the SS guards and Gestapo. In time, even Himmler had to acknowledge that the camps festered with crime, but he seemed not to realize that any full-scale assault on “illegality” would also compromise the “legitimate” functions of his domain. Most of his chief exterminators were guilty of transgressions against Nazi law. Pandora's box was filled with demons that would make even the Reichsfuehrer SS recoil in horror. But in the Spring of 1943 he chose, most ill-advisedly, to lift the lid...
Part One: The Bloodhound Judge
Konrad Morgen was born in 1910 in Frankfurt-Am-Main, son of a railwayman, his background solidly middle-class. He joined the Nazi party and the General SS in 1932, but was subjected to a Party trial in 1934 when he refused to vote for Hitler as State President, expressing “misgivings about leaving the entire power of the state in the hands of one man.” But the proceedings against him were halted because of his contacts in the SS, who admired his character if not his views.
He studied international law in Frankfurt, the Hague, Rome, Berlin, and Kiel, and in1936 published his doctoral dissertation, War Propaganda the Prevention of War, which concerned the role of international co-operation in the suppression of warmongering. Its tone was idealistic and humane; he pleaded for nations to respect the “otherness” of other peoples. Even though the book was passed by the censors, there was very little National Socialism evident in its pages, a fact that didn't go unnoticed; he was severely criticized for not blaming the World War and other conflicts on the Jews.
In 1939, he became a judge at Stettin, but was dismissed after his first trial. A schoolteacher had beaten a Hitler Youth member in self-defence, and Morgen weighed in on his side, deadlocking the three-judge panel. At the outbreak of war, Morgen was drafted into the Waffen SS, and because of his legal training, was made an investigator and posted to the Polish Generalgouvernement to deal with SS internal affairs.
In Poland he swiftly established a reputation for incorruptability, skill, and doggedness. Physically imposing, a frightening interrogator, he chalked up one conviction after another, finally training his sights on Otto Fegelein, who was trading in wares confiscated from a Jewish furrier. But Fegelein was Eva Braun's brother-in-law, and also one of Himmler's closest adjutants in Poland. Infuriated, Himmler blocked the investigation.
Soon afterwards, Morgen was drawn to Lublin by reports of an unusually large number of convictions for looting and assault, the culprits all under the command of Dr. Oskar Dirlewanger, who'd spent three years in a mental institution for child molestation...formed expressly to commit atrocities, his commando was composed of felons recruited from SS prisons. Morgen discovered that Dirlewanger's favorite dinner entertainment was watching the death struggles of young Jewish women injected with strychnine; afterwards, the victims were boiled down for soap---Morgen actually acquired a bar of it. When he tried to arrest Dirlewanger, he learned from his superior, Friedrich Kruger, that the Dirlewanger commando was outside normal SS chains-of-command, receiving its orders directly from Gottlob Berger in Berlin. Quarrelling with Kruger, Morgen demanded execution for Dirlewanger and many of his men,and caused such a firestorm in the SS judiciary that Berger was forced to transfer the Dirlewanger unit to the Russian front.
But Morgen paid a steep price. When he acquitted a soldier in a case of “race pollution,” he was demoted and underwent six months of “Prussian amusements” in an SS penal battalion. Later he learned that Himmler wanted to put him in a concentration camp, but relented after pressure from SS judges. Clad in a summer uniform at the beginning of December 1942, Morgen was shipped off to the Russian front himself. A panzergenadier in the Viking Division, he saw five months of furious combat, and fought in the Donets counteroffensive, the last great German victory. An SS company was 200 men, and six hundred troops went through Morgen's company during his time in the east...he was one of only eighteen survivors.
But somehow, during all this, he'd found time to write and publish articles on investigating criminal corruption in the SS, and they'd caused quite a stir in the SS legal establishment...again he'd drawn Himmler's eye, but this time, he was pulled out of the front and brought back to Germany.
Forbidden to deal with political cases, Morgen was attached to Arthur Nebe's Kripo and sent to Munich to deal with a routine black-marketeering case at the Buchenwald concentration camp...investigators needed an SS rank to enter the camp, hence Nebe's need for Morgen. Taking up residence at the Elephant hotel in Weimar, Morgen went after a local party official named Bornschein, who was suspected of having sold supplies earmarked for Buchenwald. Rumor had it that Karl Koch, Buchenwald's one-time commandant, was Bornschein's partner.
Morgen visited the camp. As concentration camps went, it was a relatively benign establishment, a mere prison, not a death-factory like those he would eventually discover in Poland. He learned from the new commandant, Pister, that Koch had been investigated before, not only for corruption, but also for the murder of two Jewish prisoners, Peix and Kramer, potential witnesses. A close study of the hospital records revealed discrepencies that indicated foul play. Brandishing official-looking documents at Weimar banks, Morgen exmained Koch's accounts and found huge and quite inexplicable deposits.
As Morgen closed in on Koch, witnesses all over Germany were murdered. After Morgen persuaded one of Koch's accomplices to to testify, the man was poisoned in protective custody, apparently by the camp doctor, Waldemar Hoven. Morgen arrested Hoven, who disclosed crucial evidence during an interrogation by Morgen's assistant, Wehner. But before Morgen could arrest Koch, he needed authorization from Himmler. To Morgen's surprise, Himmler gave it, perhaps to send a message to Koch's superior, Oswald Pohl. When Koch was recalled to Buchenwald, Morgen, pistol in hand, arrested him at his home, and the next day, arrested Koch's wife Ilse, the notorious “Bitch of Buchenwald..” After hours of questioning, Koch finally cracked when Morgen told him about Ilse's infidelities with Hoven and Hermann Florstedt, once Koch's adjutant, and now commandant of Maidanek. Koch was indicted for corruption and murder, Florstedt for various crimes, including the killing of two hundred Jewish witnesses.
Incensed by what Morgen uncovered at Buchenwald, Himmler authorized Morgen's SS-Police Court Kassel to investigate crimes in all concentration camps. Presently the Lublin Sipo (Security Police) sent Morgen a report regarding a very suspicious event---a sumptuous Jewish wedding-feast at Maidanek, attended by SS guards.
Morgen went to Lublin, where he met Kriminalkommissar Christian Wirth at the Chelmska Street camp, a sub-unit of Maidanek. Asked about the wedding, Wirth boasted about his system, whereby Jewish trustees were allowed to enrich themselves---briefly---at the expense of other Jews, who they helped to exterminate. When Morgen expressed his incredulity, Wirth explained enthusiastically that all the Jews of Europe were being liquidated, and proved his point by showing him the contents of the Chelmska street warehouses, huge piles of jewelry and currency, watches, bars melted from dental gold, shoes, toys, glasses, human hair...faced with literal mountains of evidence, Morgen realized Wirth had to be telling the truth..
A brief history of the Final Solution.
Wirth was a key participant in the development of Nazi extermination procedure; after pioneering the use of carbon monoxide on mental defectives, he was given a special commission from Hitler to turn his methods on the Jews. It had been his task to kill most of the Polish Jews, who'd been rounded up in Action Reinhard, and to this end, he was given three vernichtungslagers, extermination camps, Belzec, Treblinka, and Sobibor, which were built along similar lines to his own specifications. By the time of Morgen's visit, Wirth's task had been largely completed, the camps probably already razed. All three had used Wirth's technique, whereby exhaust from tank and submarine engines was pumped into sealed chambers.
Wirth was very proud of his work, and revelled in the thought that he was Hitler's chief Jew exterminator. He told Morgen everything, describing his “special process,” whereby bodies were burned in the open, without ovens, on giant grilles made of railway railing. He seemed oblivious to Morgen's revulsion, and even allowed him to examine his mail. To his horror, Morgen saw that Wirth was receiving his orders directly from Number 4 Tiergartenstrasse, the office of Martin Bormann, Hitler's Chief of Staff.
Morgen decided to hinder Wirth any way he could; even though Wirth was following directives from Berlin, he operated in close conjunction with his immediate superior in Poland, Odilo Globocnik, against whom Morgen had a score to settle---Globocnik had been Dirlewanger's superior as well. He was also notorious for his greed. When Morgen's auditors discovered that Globocnik had been skimming loot from Action Reinhard, Morgen was only too pleased to relay the facts to Himmler.
Ostensibly secret, the findings of corruption and mass murder filtered through the SS hierarchy. In response to the growing scandal, Himmler officially revealed the existence of the extermination program to a gathering of Reichleiters, Gauleiters, and SS generals at Posen in October 1943, his intention to implicate them in the genocide, so they'd fight all the harder. But the actual effect of the speech was to demoralize and disgust many of them; the truth continued to spread, and pressure mounted for the termination of the murder program.
Morgen had also learned of another killing complex, run by a man Wirth referred to as his “untalented disciple.” This incompetent was Rudolf Hoess, and his operation, located in the Polish Protectorate, was Auschwitz.. Needing evidence of a crime to penetrate Hoess's domain, Morgen soon learned of a gold-smuggling case ( a huge quantity of dental gold turned up at an APO), and gained entry for one of his subordinates, named Wiebeck. In very short order, while Morgen was off investigating Globocnik, Wiebeck uncovered all manner of illegalities. Arriving in Auschwitz at last, Morgen got a guided tour, and was even allowed to inspect the Zyklon-B extermination facilities at the Auschwitz II, Birkenau. Everywhere he found depravity and corruption on a massive scale; having committed so many murders, and convinced that they themselves would be liquidated to protect the secret of the exterminations, Hoess's personnel were enriching themselves any way they could, dulling their consciences with drink and sex. At the gas-chambers, one asked Morgen: “What will become of us?”.
Soon afterwards, Dr. Edward Wirths, a tormented soul who performed medical experiments on prisoners, but refused to carry out other kinds of killing, came forward, claiming that Maximilian Grabner, the head of the Auschwitz Gestapo and the man who oversaw the gassings, ordered him to murder every pregnant Polish woman in the complex with phenol injections. According to Wirths, Grabner had also recorded political killings at the so-called “Black Wall” as hospital deaths.
Morgen confronted Grabner, who'd more than earned his reputation as one of the grisliest killers in the Reich; questioned about the Black Wall executions, Grabner maintained that he had authorization from Hoess and Kattowice Gestapo Chief Rudolf Mildner. But Hoess denied any knowledge, and Mildner wasn't available for questioning; Grabner was charged with with two thousand murders.
But in spite of such progress, Morgen almost ended his investigation then and there. Travelling to Constanz on the Swiss Border, he fully intended to reveal his horrible discoveries to the whole world, but decided against it at the last moment, convinced that the Allies would inflict a terrible punishment on Germany---that is, if they could even be persuaded to believe his story.
He tried to gain personal access to Himmler in Berlin; if indeed the Reichfuehrer-SS was shocked by the corruption Morgen had found, perhaps he could be persuaded that the true cause of the crime lay in the underlying lawlessness of the Nazi terror system.
But Morgen had to go through channels; at a meeting with Nebe, RSHA chief Ernst Kaltenbrunner, and Heinrich Mueller, head of the Gestapo, he was subjected to a tirade by Mueller, who suggested Morgen should arrest him, little knowing that Morgen would try to do exactly that. Morgen responded with freezing silence, staring him down and driving him from the room. Nebe and Kaltenbrunner merely turned away; access to Himmler, denied.
Undeterred, Morgen resolved to try and halt the exterminations by decapitating the collective leadership of the camps. Ordered by Hitler, the gassings couldn't be officially challenged, but the exterminators could be brought down for sadism, unauthorized killings, black marketeering, and a host of other violations. Moreover, Morgen knew that many so-called “unauthorized” killings were actually authorized, a fact that men such as Grabner would point out at their trials. Official confirmation of such orders would cause a profound crisis in the SS Judiciary, a situation Morgen believed he could exploit; denial of responsibility would remove all protection from the executioners---and permit a direct assault on the Final Solution itself.