Interrogation record of General Weidling, Commandant of Berlin (III)
Questions regarding Hitler's "commissar order"
Atrocities against the civilian population around Rzhev
25 November 1951
Weidling, Helmut, born 1891,
native of the town of Halbertstadt (Germany),
German, German national, former
commander of the defense of Berlin, General
Interrogation beginning at 1415 hours
------ “ ------ ending at 1940 hours
German translator Makeev has been advised regarding his responsibility for conducting a correct translation according to Article 95 of the Criminal Code of the USSR.
Question: What criminal orders of Hitler's are you aware of in regards to captured political officers of the Soviet Army?
Answer: I know that Hitler had issued an order at the start of the war that captured political officers of the Soviet Army were to be executed. I did not, however, see this order in writing.
Question: The imprisoned former Colonel-General of the German Army, Schmidt, Rudolf, testified during interrogation on 31 October 1951, that Hitler's orders concerning the execution of political officers of the Soviet Army had been given by word of mouth several days before the start of the war with the Soviet Union.
Answer: Apparently, this was so, for otherwise a written copy of the mentioned order would have been found at my divisional headquarters.
Question: Who informed you of this barbarous order on the part of Hitler?
Answer: I first heard about the existence of such an order during my first days on the Soviet-German front. On approximately 2 January 1942, I arrived at the sector of the 86th Infantry Division, which Hitler had ordered me to command. Upon assuming divisional affairs, I was informed of the existence of Hitler's order regarding the execution of political officers of the Soviet Army by my chief of staff: Colonel of the German General Staff von der Greben.
Question: How did you carry out this order of Hitler's?
Answer: I gave out no instructions regarding Hitler's order to the units and everything remained as it was before.
Question: In other words, the soldiers of the 86th Infantry Division under your command continued to execute captured political officers of the Soviet Army?
Answer: I do not recall cases of political commissars of the Soviet Army being executed by my subordinates. I do not deny, however, that cases where political commissars were executed could have taken place, but I was neither informed of this nor did I require my subordinates to stay apprised of this matter.
Question: It was like similar unwritten rules regarding bandit gangs. Is that right?
Answer: Indeed. Hitler's order regarding the execution of captured political officers of the Soviet Army was carried out in secret, without any written record, and in the same manner as a secret cabal..
It was only in captivity that I understood the entire criminal nature of Hitler's machinations against humanity. At that time, however, I believed the Nazi propaganda regarding the superiority of the German race over other peoples. In my mind, the Russians were not fully human [lit. full-value people] and thus their life had no value.
I acknowledge myself guilty of not revoking Hitler's criminal order regarding my division and of thus facilitating the implementation of this order. It is true, that I attempted to broach the matter of rescinding this order with the higher authorities. However, fearing for my personal military career, I did practically nothing to hinder the execution of Hitler's criminal order within my own formation.
Question: You have not been fully sincere in your testimony and this is attested to by the fact you have not recognised your guilt even now. The investigation has at its disposal material indicating that your subordinates from the 86th Division executed even rank and file soldiers and wounded prisoners of the Soviet Army. Why are you silent about this?
Answer: I acknowledge the fact that men of the 86th Division under my command executed prisoners of war – soldiers of the Soviet Army. I was informed about this but did nothing to stop it. As for the execution of seriously wounded Soviet prisoners, I do not recall a single instance and doubt it occurred under my command.
Question: Was there a Colonel Schenemann under your command?
Answer: Yes. Colonel Schenemann, the commander of the 184th Regiment of the 86th Division Division, was under my command. I have already testified to this.
Question: A former prisoner, the soldier Wagner, Heinrich of the 184th Regiment, 86th Division, stated: “Individual soldiers were not taken prisoner. They would first be put to use carrying machine guns and ammunition and then shot in the evening. Wounded Russians were also not bothered with as they were generally shot on the spot. On one occasion, we arrived in a Russian village late in the evening. Our platoon captured a house with 11 wounded Red Army men inside (I was at that time in the 8th Company, 184th Regiment, 86th Infantry Division). Our platoon commander, Sergeant Fogel, gave the order to collect the wounded men in a barn and shoot them. The order was carried out.
On another occasion, our regiment captured a large Russian village (I have forgotten the name). In this village there was a brick building in which lay some 200 seriously wounded Russians... The regimental commander, Colonel Schenemann, issued an order to shoot these seriously wounded men.” You must be aware of these facts.
Answer: I do not doubt Wagner's statement that these cases of Soviet prisoners of war, including the seriously wounded, being executed took place. But I believe, that the cases described took place before my arrival at the division.
Question: If you mean by this that such cases did not occur under your command, then you are contradicting yourself. You have, indeed, acknowledged that you allowed the bestial orders of your predecessor regarding the treatment of political officers to remain in force. As a result, the men under your command could continue to commit any atrocity against Soviet prisoners of war without hindrance.
Answer: That is correct. Everything had remained as it was under my predecessor, Witthöft. I acknowledge that atrocities against Russian prisoners of war continued to take place even under my term as divisional commander. I am greatly at fault for not rescinding this cruel order of the former divisional commander, Witthöft, regarding prisoners of war.
Question: In your handwritten testimony from 10 January 1946, you state that Witthöft's order rescinding the execution of captured Soviet political officers remained in force under you. Why was the purpose behind this testimony?
Answer: My testimony from 10 January 1946 was written when I had still not recognised my criminal actions in a better light.
In actual fact, I did not leave in force such an order on the part of Witthöft regarding the revocation of the execution of political commissars, since such an order could not have existed. Witthöft would not have taken it upon himself to revoke Hitler's order. Lieutenant-Colonel von der Greben told me that Witthöft had allegedly attempted to bypass Hitler's order by sending captured commissars to the camps, but I do not believe this. Hitler's order regarding the execution of captured political commissars remained in force under my command.
Question: Colonel Schenemann apparently executed seriously wounded Soviet prisoners without your knowledge.
Answer: Colonel Schenemann did not inform me personally about such cases, but it was known within the division that he took part in the execution of Soviet prisoners of war. Thus, in the summer of 1942, during the fighting in the “Rzhev sack,” soldiers of the 184th Regiment under Schenemann's command executed Russian soldiers who had been taken prisoner.
I would like to point out that Hitler's newspapers, which printed articles about so-called “Bolshevik atrocities,” stirred up base animalistic instincts in the German soldiers and incited them to commit criminal acts.
Question: You knew about the atrocities committed by Colonel Schenemann?
Answer: I knew about cases where Russian soldiers had been executed by Schenemann's regiment, but I did nothing to halt further atrocities being committed against prisoners of war.
Question: In other words, you were an accomplice in the execution of those crimes committed by your subordinates.
Answer: I confess, that I was an accomplice in the execution of crimes against Soviet prisoners, which were committed by the division under my command.
In this sense, my actions – as divisional commander – bore a criminal aspect in regards the laws and customs of war.
Question: Your former subordinate, Wagner, reports further in his statement: “During our flight from the Red Army at the beginning of 1942, we received orders to create a 50-kilometer zone where everything was to be burned to the ground... The civilian population suffered inhuman torments as a result of our actions. The entire civilian population, including women and children, were driven out of their homes in -30 to -40 degree weather with no idea where to go. Whoever resisted the forcible measures of the Germans were punished by death.” Do you corroborate this?
Answer: I corroborate Wagner's testimony fully and entirely. I would like to introduce only one correction however: the events described by Wagner occurred in the spring of 1943, not in 1942. At the beginning of 1943, it was decided to free up a number of formations which had been hopelessly bogged down in the “Rzhev sack”. This was in connection with with the planned offensive which was to occur in the area of the “Kursk salient”. The commander of the 9th Army, Model, worked out a plan named “Buffalo Movement,” according to which the vast territory of the “Rzhev sack” was to become a “desert zone” following the withdrawal of German forces. According to this plan, my division was to withdraw westwards, destroying literally everything behind it: installations and buildings were burned down or blown up and the population driven out. Resisters were executed.
Question: Was Model's plan detailed?
Answer: Model's plan on balance consisted of general instructions and designated zones of “destruction” for each division. In accordance with this plan, each divisional commander issued orders, taking into account the details of the impending “operation”.
Question: How did you carry this out in practice?
Answer: In March 1943, I issued an order: upon withdrawing from the “Rzhev sack,” everything was to be destroyed along the path of retreat, the population driven to the west and those resisting shot. The order – with my signature – was sent out to all the units of the division for immediate execution.
Question: Your order was carried out?
Answer: Yes. My order was carried out. After the division withdrew from the “Rzhev sack” there remained only ruins: everything was burned down or blown up and the population driven westwards.
Question: Was this order called for by military necessity?
Answer: No. The order to burn everything down to the ground in an area of tens and hundreds of square kilometers was not called for by military necessity.
Question: The former soldier, Blumenkamp, from the 5th Company, 167th Regiment, 86th Infantry Division has stated the following regarding the withdrawal of Germans from the area of Rzhev and Byeliy: “Here I saw how men belonging to the field police of the 86th Infantry Division beat the civilian population without cause as they drove the civilian population to forced labour and they mercilessly grabbed everything that they were in need of”. Did such facts take place?
Answer: I think Blumenkamp has stated the truth, although I did not personally observe such occurrences.
Question: But the field police were following your instructions.
Answer: I did indeed issue orders to the field police to compel the civilian population to perform various forced labour in clearing streets, roads, and so on. In carrying out my orders, the police resorted to physical coercion on those persons who did not want to work for the Germans.
Question: Besides the testimony of your former troops, you have also been exposed in your criminal activity by the Extraordinary State Commission concerning the crimes of the German-Fascist invaders in the cities of Vyazma, Gzhatsk and Sychevka in Smolensk province and in the city of Rzhev, Kalinin province from 6 April 1943, and by the investigation regarding the crimes of the Germans in the city of Rzhev from 20 October 1943.
These documents indicate that troops belonging to the units and formations comprising Model's 9th Army and the XXVII Army Corps and, consequently, your division as well, not only beat peaceful civilians, burned and destroyed installations and drove the Soviet people into servitude, but also subjected innocent people to inhuman torments and tortures, shot and hanged Soviet prisoners of war and robbed and starved the civilian population. Do you acknowledge your participation in the crimes committed by the Germans in the territory around Rzhev?
Answer: The soldiers of the 86th Infantry Division under my command committed such crimes as indicated in the documents of the Extraordinary State Commission. My 86th Division comprised part of the XXVII Army Corps which was under the immediate command of the 9th Army.
I bear responsibility, as commander of the indicated division, for those crimes which were committed by my subordinates. I ask only to make note that neither I nor my forces were in the city of Rzhev and that I am not responsible for the crimes committed there.
Question: In the documents concerning the crimes of the German-Fascist invaders in the Rzhev area (Case No. 510, 11-13) the following is noted: “Upon withdrawing through the village of Starushevtsi (Chentsovskiy village soviet), the Germans drove into the rear the entire civilian population, two of whom were shot for refusing to go into servitude. The rest of the population which could not leave were driven into a barn which was readied to be set on fire and only the timely arrival of a Red Army detachment saved these unfortunate people from death”. Is this how your order appeared in practice: the population driven into the West and resisters shot?
Answer: Due to the passage of time, I do not recall individual cases of repression against the inhabitants and I have also forgotten the names of the settlements through which we withdrew. However, the atrocity committed by German soldiers against the inhabitants cited in the document could also have taken place within the confines of the 86th Division's withdrawal.
Interrogator: Ass[istant] Sections Ch[ief] of the Investigations Department, 2nd M[ain] Adm[inistration] MGB USSR, Sen[ior] Lieutenant LISOVETS
Translator: Translator for the Investigations Department of the 2nd M[ain] Adm[inistration] MGB USSR, Lieutenant MAKEEV