Freia Anders, Hauke-Hendrik Kütscher und Katrin Stoll: "Bialystok in Bielefeld" Pages 131 to 133


The Bialystok trial in Bielefeld is remarkable in several aspects. Only in a few cases were deportations of Jews subject to prosecution in the Federal Republic. Frederic Christiaan Rüter, a professor at the Institute for Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam, has been documenting over the last forty years all decisions made by West German law courts concerning Nazi murder cases. Accordingly, the German justice system dealt with the deportation of Jews only in 19 proceedings, 13 in West and 6 in East Germany. Fifteen people were convicted altogether. Nine convictions by West-German law courts are juxtaposed to 38 acquittals.177 The first Bialystok trial in Bielefeld against Dr. Zimmermann, but also many other Nazi court proceedings show, that the evidence of intention could by no means be provided only by testimonies. The Bielefeld verdict of April 14, 1967 emphasizes that the great expenditure of investigation in order to proof intention was well above average. In this case the determination of knowledge that the defendant had, concerning what destiny awaited the Jews, was crucial. More than 1000 documents were included in the evidence as proof of the actions. More and more new documents were introduced during the trial and the list of witnesses was extended continuously. When Dr. Gaebert says, "I was acting as a historian during the trial"178 he confirms the need for further investigations during the trial. One consequence was the prolongation of the trial, which lasted altogether about a year.

The accomplishments of the court must also be seen in the context of the state of research of German historiography in the 1960s, regarding the Nazi persecution and killing of European Jews. In the first scientific overall portrayal of the Nazi regime, "The German Dictatorship" by Karl Dietrich Bracher from 1969, the portrayal of the Holocaust is only marginal. The killing of the Jews comprised only twelve pages out of 580. This marginality repeats itself throughout almost all portrayals written in German until the late 1980s. The research and public debate circled around the question of the cause of the "takeover", while little attention was paid to the war and the genocide.179 Raul Hilberg's fundamental study of the Holocaust, which had already been published in 1961 in its English original, was translated to German only 21 years later.180

Had the judges not gotten involved personally despite the adverse conditions, had the court not taken the effort upon itself, the Bielefeld proceedings would have ended in an acquittal for want of evidence.

The Bielefeld trial could not entirely clarify the whole extent of the killing of the Jews in the "Bialystock district" and the responsibility of the KdS's office.

However, suspicion arose during the taking of evidence, that the former KdS Althenloh was also responsible for deportations from other places in the "Bialystok district". The suspected facts however could not be clarified through an additional lawsuit, since Altenloh would have had to agree to it according to the 266 StPO (regulations of criminal processes). Hereupon the "Zentrale Stelle (central site) Dortmund" instituted new preliminary proceedings against him. It accused him of arranging "the deportation to extermination camps of 1) at least 9000 Jews from the Pruzana Ghetto, 2) approximately 10.000 Jews from the barracks of the 10th Polish Mounted Regiment, 3) around 1000 Jews from the former prisoners of war camp Piaski near Wolkowysk, 4) around 1000 Jews from the Ghetto of Jasionowka, on instruction of the head office of Reich's security and in awareness of the forthcoming destiny of the Jews. 181

It also instituted new preliminary proceedings for murder against Heimbach and Dibus.182

The trial in Bielefeld did not put an end to the clarification of the Bialystok complex.

The Bialystok trial, even though it was a big trial, did not rouse any response, neither in the public nor in historiography. A bitter aftertaste remains also since none of the defendants was sentenced as "perpetrator" but only as assistant to the "main-perpetrators" - Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, Mller and Kaltenbrunner. Recent historical research of the Nazi genocide casts serious doubt on the assumption that the Nazi-murder program was operated only by one center. It refers to the initiative of decision makers on the periphery that bore a crucial responsibility for the "success" of the extermination of the Jews.183

For the Jewish survivors, who gave evidence in the Bielefeld trial, the doubts about their credibility and the reliability of their personal memory must have been deeply offensive. Once in the ghetto they were defenseless at the mercy of the German "masters" and 23 years later they sat in front of them again in the courtroom and the defense attorneys, whose task was of course to exhaust the remedies of the defense, "had a go on them". However, it shows that the interaction between judges, defense counsels, prosecutors, defendants and witnesses was predominately factual.

The fair conduct of the trial by chief judge Witte is to be commended in particular.184

Translated by Iris Cohn-Aida from:
Freia Anders, Hauke-Hendrik Kütscher und Katrin Stoll:
"Bialystok in Bielefeld" (pages 131 to 133).
Verlag für Regionalgeschichte
Windelsblechter Strasse 13, 33335 Gütersloh e-mail:

LGD Landgerichtsdirektor = district court director
LGR Landgerichtsrat = district court judge
KdS Kommandeur der Sicherheitspolizei und des Sicherheitsdienstes = Commander of the security police and the security service
StA Staatsanwalt, Staatsanwaltschaft = public prosecuter, public prosecution service
StA DT Nordrhein -Westfaelisches Staatsarchiv Detmold = State archive of North Rhine-Westphalia

177 See foot-note 9.

178 Interview with LGR Gaebert

179 See HERBERT, Ulrich: Vernichtungspolitik. Neue Antworten und Fragen zur Geschichte des "Holocaust", in : Nationalsozialistische Vernichtungspolitik 1939-1945, p. 9-66, p. 15

180 HILBERG, Raul: Die Vernichtung der europ„ischen Juden. Die Gesamtgeschichte des Holocaust, Berlin 1982. The large German publishers refused to publish the work in German. The book could appear only in 1982 at the small West Berlin publishing house Olle & Wolter. See HILBERG, Raul: Unerbetene Erinnerung. Der Weg eines Holocaust-Forschers, Frankfurt a.M. 1994, p. 147ff.

181 See opening court order of the inquisitor at the district court in Hagen of 6.6. 1966, in: StA DT, D 21 A, No. 6251, p.27-28

182 See StA DT, D21A, No. 6252

183 Representative for this new tendency in historiography is the above-mentioned anthology "Nationalistische Vernichtungspolitik 1939-1945". See also Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, see foot-note 33.

184 Gnter Witte, born in 1906 in Weissburg/Elsace, had acted in various positions as judge, assessor, deputy and finally chief of a criminal division, but also as chief of a division for commercial matters at the district court in Bielefeld since 1.9.1949. From April 1967 until his retirement in January 1973, he was chief of the juvenile division. District court director Witte died in Bielefeld in 1997. The authors thank the vice president of the district court in Bielefeld, Mr. Hans-Dieter Dodt for the information on the CV of Witte. Materials that allow a closer look at his life are subject, for the time being, to the anonymity regulations of the archives utilization provision.