Re: The Katyn testimony of Eugen Oberhauser
David Thompson wrote:
On 1 Jul 1946, Eugen Oberhauser testified at the IMT proceedings in regard to Soviet allegations that the Germans had committed the massacre of Polish POWs at Katyn Forest. His testimony can be found in volume 17 of the IMT proceedings, available on-line at the Avalon Project of the Yale University School of Law, at:
DR. STAHMER: Yes, Sir. Then I shall now call Lieutenant General Oberhauser as witness.
[The witness Oberhauser took the stand.]
THE PRESIDENT: Will you state your full name, please?
EUGEN OBERHAUSER (Witness): Eugen Oberhauser.
THE PRESIDENT: Will you repeat this oath after me: I swear by God-the Almighty and Omniscient-that I will speak the pure truth-and will withhold and add nothing.
[The witness repeated the oath.]
THE PRESIDENT: You may sit down.
DR. STAHMER: General, what position did you hold during the war?
OBERHAUSER: I was the signal commander in an army group, first of all during the Polish campaign, in Army Group North; then, in the Western campaign Army Group B; and then in Russia, Army Group Center.
DR. STAHMER: When did you and your staff reach the neighborhood of Katyn?
OBERHAUSER: Sometime during September 1941.
DR. STAHMER: Where was your staff located?
OBERHAUSER: My staff was located in the immediate vicinity of the commander of the army group; that is to say, about 12 kilometers west of Smolensk, near the railroad station of Krasnibor.
DR. STAHMER: Was Regiment Number 537 under your command?
OBERHAUSER: Regiment 537 was directly under my command.
DR. STAHMER: What task did that regiment have?
OBERHAUSER: That regiment had the task of establishing both telegraph and wireless communications between-the command of the army group and the various armies and other units which were directly under its command.
DR. STAHMER: Was the staff of the regiment stationed near you?
OBERHAUSER: The staff of that regiment was located about 3, perhaps 4 kilometers west from my own position.
DR. STAHMER: Can you give us more detailed information regarding the exact location of the staff headquarters of Number 537?
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OBERHAUSER: The staff headquarters of 537 was in a very nice Russian timber house. Commissars were supposed to have been living there before. It was on the steep bank of the Dnieper River. It was somewhat off the road, perhaps 400 to 500 meters away. It was, from my place, 4 kilometers west of the main highway Smolensk to Vitebsk.
DR. STAHMER: Who was the commanding officer of the regiment after the capture of Smolensk?
OBERHAUSER: After the capture of Smolensk, Colonel Bedenck was the commander of the regiment.
DR. STAHMER: For how long?
OBERHAUSER: Until about November 1941.
DR. STAHMER: Who was his successor?
OBERHAUSER: His successor was Colonel Ahrens.
DR. STAHMER: How long?
OBERHAUSER: Approximately until September - it may have been August - 1943.
DR. STAHMER: Were you near Katyn as long as that, too?
OBERHAUSER: I was there until the command of the army group transferred its headquarters farther west.
DR. STAHMER: What were your relations with the commanders of this regiment?
OBERHAUSER: My relations with the regimental commanders were most hearty, both officially and privately, which is due to the fact that I had been the first commander of that regiment. I myself had formed the regiment and I was most attached to it.
DR. STAHMER: Did you personally visit the little Dnieper Castle frequently?
OBERHAUSER: I went to the Dnieper Castle frequently; I can well say in normal times once or twice a week.
DR. STAHMER: Did the commanders visit you in the meantime?
OBERHAUSER: The commanders came to see me more frequently than I went to see them
DR. STAHMER: Did you know anything about the fact that near Smolensk, about 25 to 45 kilometers to the west, there were three Russian camps which contained Polish prisoners of war...
OBERHAUSER: I knew nothing of that.
DR. STAHMER: . . . who had fallen into the hands of the Germans?
OBERHAUSER: I never heard anything about it.
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DR. STAHMER: Was there an order, which is supposed to have come from Berlin, that Polish officers who were prisoners of war were to be shot?
OBERHAUSER: No, such an order was never issued.
DR. STAHMER: Did you yourself ever give such an order?
OBERHAUSER: I have never given such an order.
DR. STAHMER: Do you know whether Colonel Bedenck or Colonel Ahrens ever caused such shootings to be carried out?
OBERHAUSER: I am not informed, but I consider it absolutely impossible.
DR. STAHMER: Why?
OBERHAUSER: First, because such a decisive order would necessarily have gone through me, for I was the direct superior of the regiment; and second, because if such an order had been given, for a reason which I could not understand, and transmitted to the regiment through some obscure channel, then the commanders would most certainly have rung me up or they would have come to see me and said, "General, they are asking something here which we cannot understand.”
DR. STAHMER: Do you know First Lieutenant Hodt?
OBERHAUSER: Yes, I know him.
DR. STAHMER: What position did he have in Regiment 537?
OBERHAUSER: Hodt held various posts in the regiment. Usually, he was sent ahead because he was a particularly qualified officer-especially in regard to technical qualifications-in order to make preparations when headquarters was being changed. He was therefore used as advance party of the so-called technical company in order to establish the new command posts; and then he was the regimental expert for the telephone system, dealing with all matters relating to the telephone and teletype system with the command headquarters of the army group. In my staff he was occasionally detailed to fill the positions of any of my officers when they were on leave.
DR. STAHMER: Was he also in charge of the advance party during the advance on Katyn?
OBERHAUSER: That I cannot say. I can only say that I personally heard from my staff signal commander that he had sent an officer ahead, after it had been ascertained how the headquarters were to be laid out, that this officer was acting on my behalf, as at the time I still remained in the old quarters, and he was preparing things in the way I wanted them from the point of view of the signal commander. I do not know who was in charge of that
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advance party at the time, but it is quite possible that it was First Lieutenant Hodt.
DR. STAHMER: Were you in Katyn or the vicinity during the period after the capture of Smolensk, which was, I believe, on or about 20 July 1941, and up to the transfer of your staff to Katyn on 20 September?
OBERHAUSER: I was in the vicinity. I was where the headquarters of the army group wanted to settle down; that is, in the woods west of Smolensk, where Katyn is located.
DR. STAHMER: Were you frequently there during that time?
OBERHAUSER: I should say three or four times.
DR. STAHMER: Did you talk to Hodt on those occasions?
OBERHAUSER: If he was the officer in charge of the advance party, which I cannot say today, then I must certainly have talked to him. At any rate, I did talk to the officer whom I had sent ahead and also to the one from my regiment.
DR. STAHMER: Did you hear anything about shootings occurring during that time?
OBERHAUSER: I heard nothing, nor did I hear anything at all except in 1943, when the graves were opened.
DR. STAHMER: Did you or Regiment 537 have the necessary technical means, pistols, ammunition, and so on, at your disposal which would have made it possible to carry out shootings on such a scale?
OBERHAUSER: The regiment, being a signal regiment in the rear area, was not equipped with weapons and ammunition as well as the actual fighting troops. Such a task, however, would have been something unusual for the regiment; first, because a signal regiment has completely different tasks, and secondly it would not have been in a position technically to carry out such mass executions.
DR. STAHMER: Do you know the place where these graves were discovered later on?
OBERHAUSER: I know the site because I drove past it a great deal.
DR. STAHMER: Can you describe it more accurately?
OBERHAUSER: Taking the main road Smolensk-Vitebsk, a path led through wooded undulating ground. There were sandy spaces, which were, however, covered with scrub and heather, and along that narrow path one got to the Dnieper Castle from the main road.
DR. STAHMER: Were the places where these graves were later discovered already overgrown when you got there?
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OBERHAUSER: They were overgrown just like the surrounding ground, and there was no difference between them and the rest of the surroundings.
DR. STAHMER: In view of your knowledge of the place, would you consider it possible that 11,000 Poles could have been buried at that spot, people who may have been shot between June and September 1941?
OBERHAUSER: I consider that it is out of the question, for the mere reason that if the commander had known it at the time he would certainly never have chosen this spot for his headquarters, next to 11,000 dead.
DR. STAHMER: Can you tell me how the graves were discovered?
OBERHAUSER: Officially I had nothing to do with that. I only heard that through local inhabitants or somebody else it had become known that large-scale executions had taken place there years ago.
DR. STAHMER: From whom did you hear that?
OBERHAUSER: Quite probably from the commander himself, who, because he was located on the spot, had heard more about it than I had. But I cannot remember exactly now.
DR. STAHMER: So you did not receive official notice about the discovery of the graves, did you?
OBERHAUSER: No, I never did.
DR. STAHMER: After the opening of the graves, did you talk to the German or foreign members of the commission?
OBERHAUSER: I have never talked to any members of that commission.
DR. STAHMER: I have no further questions, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Colonel Smirnov.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Witness, you arrived in the region of Katyn in September
OBERHAUSER: 1941, not 1943. \
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Excuse me, I meant September 1941. Is that correct?
OBERHAUSER: Yes, September 1941.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: And you contend that you did not know anything either about the camps for Polish prisoners of war or the prisoners in the hands of the German troops, is that so?
OBERHAUSER: I have never heard anything about Polish prisoners of war being in the hands of German troops.
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MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: I understand that this had no relation to your official activity as the commander of a signal regiment. But in spite of this you may perhaps have witnessed that various German troops combed the woods in the vicinity of the Smolensk-Vitebsk highway to capture Polish prisoners of war who had escaped from the camps?
OBERHAUSER: I never heard anything about troops going there in order to, shall we say, recapture escaped Polish prisoners of war. I am hearing this here for the first time.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Please answer me. Have you perhaps seen German military units escorting Polish prisoners of war who were captured in the woods?
OBERHAUSER: I have not seen that.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Please answer the following question: You were on good terms with Colonel Ahrens, were you not?
OBERHAUSER: I have had good relations with all commanders of the regiment.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: And in addition to that, you were his immediate superior?
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Colonel Ahrens found out about the mass graves at the end of 1941 or at the beginning of 1942. Did he tell you anything about his discovery?
OBERHAUSER: I cannot believe that Colonel Ahrens could have discovered the graves in 1941. I cannot imagine that-I especially cannot imagine that he would tell me nothing about it.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: In any case do you contend that neither in 1942 nor in 1943 did Colonel Ahrens report to you in regard to this affair?
OBERHAUSER: Colonel Ahrens never told me anything about it, and he would have told me if he had known.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: I am interested in the following answer which you gave to a question by defense counsel. You remarked that the signal regiment had not enough weapons to carry out shootings. What do you mean by that? How many, and what kind of weapons did the regiment possess?
OBERHAUSER: The signal regiment were mostly equipped with pistols and with carbines. They had no automatic arms.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Pistols? Of what caliber?
OBERHAUSER: They were Parabellum pistols. The caliber, I think, was 7.65, but I cannot remember for certain.
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MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Parabellum pistols, 7.65, or were there Mauser pistols or any other kind of weapons?
OBERHAUSER: That varied. Noncommissioned officers, as far as I know, had the smaller Mauser pistols. Actuary, only noncommissioned officers were equipped with pistols. The majority of the men had carbines.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: I would like you to tell us some more about the pistols. You say that they were 7.65 caliber pistols, is that so?
OBERHAUSER: I cannot now, at the moment, give you exact information about the caliber. I only know that the Parabellum pistol was 7.65 or some such caliber. I think the Mauser pistol had a somewhat smaller caliber.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: And Walter pistols?
OBERHAUSER: There were also Walters. I think they had the same caliber as the Mauser. It is a smaller, black pistol; and it is better than the somewhat cumbersome Parabellum pistol which is heavier.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Yes, that is quite correct. Please tell me whether in this regiment the noncommissioned officers possessed those small pistols.
OBERHAUSER: As a rule, noncommissioned officers had pistols but not carbines.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: I see. Perhaps you can tell us about how many pistols this signal regiment possessed?
OBERHAUSER: Of course I cannot tell you that now. Let us assume that every noncommissioned officer had a pistol...
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: And how many noncommissioned officers were there? How many pistols in all were there in your regiment if you consider that every noncommissioned officer had a pistol?
OBERHAUSER: Assuming that every noncommissioned officer in the regiment had a pistol that would amount to 15 per company, a total of 150. However, to give a definite statement about that figure retrospectively now is impossible. I can only give you clues.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Why do you consider that 150 pistols would be insufficient to carry out these mass killings which went on over a period of time? What makes you so positive about that?
OBERHAUSER: Because a signal regiment of an army group deployed over a large area as in the case of Army Group Center is never together as a unit. The regiment was spread out from Kolodov
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as far as Vitebsk, and there were small detachments everywhere, and in the headquarters of the regiment there were comparatively few people; in other words, there were never 150 pistols in one and the same place.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: The main part of the signal regiment was located in the Katyn woods, was it not?
OBERHAUSER: I did not understand your question.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: The main portions of your regiment were located in the Katyn woods, were they not?
OBERHAUSER: The first company was mainly located between the regimental staff quarters and the actual command post of the army group. That was the company which was handling the communications, the telephone and teleprinted communications for the army group. It was the company, therefore, which was nearest.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: One more question. The officers of your regiment were obviously armed with pistols and not with carbines?
OBERHAUSER: Officers had pistols only, and as a rule they only had small ones. Possibly one or the other may have had a Parabellum pistol.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: That is to say either a Walter or a Mauser?
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Did you frequently visit the villa where the headquarters of Regiment 537 was located?
OBERHAUSER: Yes, I was there at least once, sometimes twice, a week.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Were you ever interested as to why soldiers from other military units visited the villa in Kozy Gory and why special beds were prepared for them as well as drinks and food?
OBERHAUSER: I cannot imagine that there were any largescale visits of other soldiers or members of other units. I do not know anything about that.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: I am not speaking about a great number. I am speaking of 20 or sometimes 25 men.
OBERHAUSER: If the regimental commander summoned his company and detachment) commanders for an officers' meeting, then, of course, there would be a few dozen of such officers who normally would not be seen there.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: No, I am not talking about officers who belonged to the unit. I would like to ask you another
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somewhat different question. Would the number 537 appear on the shoulder straps of the soldiers belonging to that regiment?
OBERHAUSER: As far as I recollect the number was on the shoulder straps, but at the beginning of the war it could be concealed by a camouflage flap. I cannot remember whether during that particular period these covers were used or not. At any rate at the street entrance to the regimental headquarters there was a black-yellow-black flag, which bore the number 537.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: I am speaking of soldiers who came to the villa in Kozy Gory, and who did not have the number 537 on their shoulder straps. Were you ever interested in finding out what those soldiers did there in September and October of 1941? Did the commander of the unit report to you about this?
OBERHAUSER: May I ask what year this was supposed to be, 1941?
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Yes, 1941, that is the year which is concerned.
OBERHAUSER: I do not think that at that time there was much coming and going of outsiders at staff headquarters because during that period everything was in course of construction and I cannot imagine that other units, even small groups of 20 or 25 people should have been there. I personally, as I have told you, was there only once or twice weekly, and not before September or October.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Beginning with what date of September did you start visiting there? You said it was in September but not from what date.
OBERHAUSER: I cannot tell you. The commander of the army group moved at the end of September from Borossilov, shortly before the battle of Vyazma, which was on 2 October, into that district.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Consequently, you could start visiting this villa for instance only at the end of September or the beginning of October 1941?
OBERHAUSER: It was only then that the little castle was finally occupied, for the regiment did not arrive much earlier than we from the command of the army group.
THE PRESIDENT: Colonel Smirnov, is it necessary to go into this detail? Have you any particular purpose in going into so much detail? I'
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Mr. President, I ask this question for the following reasons: Later we shall interrogate witnesses for the Soviet Prosecution on the same point and particularly the
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chief of the medico-legal investigation. That is why I would like to ask the permission of the Court to clarify this point concerning the time when the witness visited the villa. That will be my last question to this point.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, very well. Do not go into greater detail than you find absolutely necessary.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Consequently, at the beginning of September and the first part of October 1941 you were not in the villa of Katyn woods and you could not be there at the time, is that true?
OBERHAUSER: I cannot remember that exactly. The regimental commander had spotted the little castle and set it up for his staff headquarters. When exactly he moved in I cannot know, because I had other jobs to do.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: No, I asked whether you personally could not have been in the viva during the first part of September. Could you not possibly have been there before 20 September?
OBERHAUSER: I do not think so.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: I have no further questions, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Do you wish to re-examine, Dr. Stahmer?
DR. STAHMER: Unfortunately, Mr. President, I shall have to come back to the question of time because it was not brought out too clearly during these last questions.
When did Regiment 537 move into the castle?
OBERHAUSER: I assume it was during September.
DR. STAHMER: Beginning or end of September?
OBERHAUSER: Probably rather more toward the end of September.
DR. STAHMER: Until then only the advance party was there, or . . .
OBERHAUSER: The advance party of the regiment was there and my officers whom I had sent ahead.
DR. STAHMER: How many noncommissioned officers were with the advance party?
OBERHAUSER: I cannot tell you exactly how many the regiment sent. I personally had sent one officer. Generally the regiment could not have sent very many. As a rule, as is always the case, the regiment was still operating at the old command post in
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Borossilov and simultaneously it had to set up the new post. Consequently, during this period of regrouping, on the point of moving a command of an army group, there is always a considerable shortage of men. The old headquarters still has to be looked after, the new post requires men for its construction, so that as always during this period there were certainly too few people.
DR. STAHMER: Can you not even give us an estimate of the figure of that advance party?
OBERHAUSER: There were 30, 40, or 50 men.
DR. STAHMER: How many noncommissioned officers?
OBERHAUSER: Probably one or two officers, a few noncommissioned officers, and some men.
DR. STAHMER: The regiment was very widely spread out, was it not?
DR. STAHMER: How far, approximately?
OBERHAUSER- In the entire area of Army Group Center, shall we say between Orel and Vitebsk-in that entire area they were widely dispersed.
DR. STAHMER: How many kilometers was that, approximately?
OBERHAUSER: More than 500 kilometers.
DR. STAHMER: Do you know Judge Advocate General Dr. Konrad of Army Group Center?
DR. STAHMER: Do you know whether, in 1943, he interrogated the local inhabitants under oath about the date when the Polish officers were supposed to have been shot in the woods of Katyn?
OBERHAUSER: No, I do not know.
DR. STAHMER: I have no further questions, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Were there any Einsatzkommandos in the Katyn area during the time that you were there?
OBERHAUSER: Nothing has ever come to my knowledge about that.
THE PRESIDENT: Did you ever hear of an order to shoot Soviet commissars?
OBERHAUSER: I only knew of that by hearsay.
THE PRESIDENT: When?
OBERHAUSER: Probably at the beginning of the Russian campaign, I think.
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THE PRESIDENT: Before the campaign started or after?
OBERHAUSER: I cannot remember having heard anything like that before the beginning of the campaign.
THE PRESIDENT: Who was to carry out that order?
OBERHAUSER: Strictly speaking, signal troops are not really fighting troops. Therefore, they really had nothing to do with that at all, and therefore we were in no way affected by the order.
THE PRESIDENT: I did not ask you that. I asked you who had to carry out the order.
OBERHAUSER: Those who came into contact with these people, presumably.
THE PRESIDENT: Anybody who came in contact with Russian commissars had to kill them; is that it?
OBERHAUSER: No, I assume that it was the troops, the fighting troops, the actual fighting troops at the front who first met the enemy. That could only have applied to the army group. The signal regiment never came into a position to meet commissars. That is probably why they were not mentioned in the order or affected by it in any way.
THE PRESIDENT: The witness can retire.