The Holocaust Historiography Project

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If You Can’t Eat Em, Beat 'Em, Or, How I Killed Thousands With My Bare Hands

Carlos W. Porter

In the Far Eastern war crimes trials, Japanese defendants were commonly convicted of killing POWs by fiendish torture (possibly for tenderizing purposes), after which the victims were eaten. Today, of course, it is recognized that the Japanese are a nation of fastidious eaters who consume little meat; nor do they devour dogs, cats, rats, and bird’s spittle, like many Chinese.

In the German war crimes trials, the evidence concerning fiendish torture is much the same, except that we are spared this final culinary insult (or perhaps the food was less appetizing).

Certainly no one familiar with the average year’s “Holocaust survivor” crop (even in a good year) could get his taste buds in a twist for such cuisine-on-the-hoof (or even pre-prepared). In addition to its often unsavory appearance, there is the danger that such fare, like polluted shellfish. might prove toxic to the eater.

With “eating” eliminated, there remains “beating.” A survivor, like an egg, spends a great deal of time being beaten (when he is not being steamed, fried, or poached); this may explain the scrambled nature of his testimony.

The evidence in prison camp trials (both Japanese and German) is very repetitive. Dozens of witnesses appear and describe horrific tortures in which inmates are beaten to a pulp with hands, fists, boots, and a variety of objects.

The defendant then appears and testifies, in effect: “I slapped them; sometimes I hit them with my fist; once in a while I kicked them. But I never hit them with an object, or beat them so badly as to cause serious injury. But if I am serving food and they are all trying to steal it, what am I supposed to do? Write out a written report, in which case they will all be punished more severely later, or just hit them and make them stop?”

This, of course, is taken as a “confession.” “Hit” is translated as “beat,” giving the impression of repeated blows and serious injury. Since thousands of inmates died of disease (this is always admitted by the prosecution somewhere or other), many of those he “hit” have died; therefore, he has beaten thousands of people to death.” He is then hanged on the basis of his “confession,” corroborated by “eyewitness evidence.”

The following testimony, from the Trial of Martin Gottfried Weiss, is probably typical of thousands of cases:

A: I used the whip once that I can remember … seven bottles of wine were stolen … each block elder received three over his buttocks. There was no report handed in … I always hit them with the hand. I was strict but just. It was entirely necessary, because … these block elders and the capos took their own rations from their own people. Butter and other things were stolen from the kitchen or taken outside and sold, and in some instances cases of eggs were missing …

Q: … you slapped prisoners every time you came into contact with them, did you not?

A: No, prisoners weren’t beaten without a reason.

Q: … you always had a reason for beating them, didn’t you? … you beat prisoners, slapped them in the face and hit them in the head? Is it not true that you broke bones and hit them in other places besides their buttocks?

A: No, it never happened that I hit a prisoner in the face or broke bones or drew blood.

(Above is the testimony of Tempel, microfilm pages 000445-50. Tempel was a member of the SS. The SS overseers claimed that the prisoners beat each other, since most of them were criminals and there were not enough guards. Tempel was hanged.)

Q: Did you ever beat, or beat to death, prisoners?

A: I never beat anyone to death, or else I would be in jail today. Now and again I administered a slap in the face as a reprimand, but that was necessary to avoid punishment reports to the SS …

Q: Did you ever kick with your feet?

A: I never kicked with my feet, but I told people while marching “get up, see that you get up.”

Q: The witness Siebold said that you beat Russians to such an extent that their noses bled as a result. Is that correct?

A: It is possible that a slight bleeding of the nose occurred on a person whom I slapped on the face. I cannot remember any such case …

Q: … Becher, there was a witness who testified that you beat another prisoner, Kowalski, to such an extent that he had to be sent to the hospital, and died.

A: I can remember the case of Kowalski exactly … I gave him two slaps in the face, and he had to go to the plantation for easy work. When he came back he had dysentery. He remained in the block for three days, made the beds filthy, and then I took him over to the hospital. After five or six days, the report came in that he had died of dysentery … it sometimes happened that certain prisoners attempted to make homosexual advances on other prisoners, and, naturally, these people had to be corrected. It happened that people stole. For example, the smoking tobacco of a man was stolen. Thereupon I asked him whether that was true. He said, “No, it was not true, I could swear to it.” Then the other prisoner told me to search him, he had the tobacco in his pocket. And that was actually true. I found the tobacco belonging to the other man in his pocket.

Q: … and you beat Kowalski in the face, did you not?

A: With the flat of the hand.

Q: And you beat Kowalski in the body, did you not?

A: No, only in the face …

Q: … now Becher, how many of these men did you beat while you were block eldest?

A: Me, beat people? I didn’t beat people. I only corrected them. If somebody stole from his companions, or if he was a homosexual. What else could I do?

Q: It is a fact, isn’t it, that you corrected them by beating them?

A: Yes. With the hand. I beat them with the hand, and never with an object, and never so that they would be injured or go to the hospital …

(Above is the testimony of Becher, microfilm pages 000608-9, 000615-6. Becher was a Communist who claimed that the SS had beaten people, but denied beating people himself.)

Q: Do you admit to having beaten people?

A: No. But I did give out slaps in the face, where, according to my feeling, I had a right to do so. Or else, if I didn’t, I would have to make a report to the SS. Or in order to save the prisoner from getting the twenty-five and the usual things that accompanied it, because I myself experienced the twenty-five and the other things.

Q: You said before that you did that in order to correct them.. What made you correct them?

A: In order to tell that to the court I would have to talk until tomorrow, in order to explain all those things that could happen in a block with one thousand people. I would like to tell you only one case. One evening, while passing by a block, I see somebody there using a newspaper instead of the toilet. I wanted to look in to see what he is doing, but I didn’t look in for long, because the whole mess flew in my face … or else if the room eldest gave jam and bread to somebody else for distribution, at noon when they fall in again, ten or twelve complain that they didn’t have any marmalade … or else when you were trying to select fifty or sixty people for work, you picked out ten because they were the strong ones. By the time you picked out ten more, the first ten would have disappeared. And these various cases, I could continue to tell about them into tomorrow morning …

(Above is the testimony of Kick, microfilm pages 000619-20. Kick was another Communist. Kick was hanged for making mole-skin coats out of Jewish inmates.)

Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 380-382.