BUGGING HITLER'S SOLDIERS - SECRETS OF THE DEAD - EXCERPT OF TAPES
For the captured generals at Trent Park, the grim reality of Germany's future was finally sinking in.
GERMAN Voice – SUBTITLED "Der Krieg ist fuer uns verloren. Ohne ein Wunder ist der Krieg…" We've lost this war. We can't win the war unless a miracle … (Translation)
GENERAL We can't win the war unless a miracle happens. Only a few complete idiots still believe we can.
NARRATOR For months, the listeners could hear growing anxiety, recrimination and guilt in the voices of the generals.
VON THOMA He told me the kind of things that happened. I know myself that there were savage, brutalized louts there, who trampled on the bellies of pregnant women, and that sort of thing.
CRUWELL Yes, but these are very isolated cases for which even the SS can't be blamed. I cannot believe that Germans would do such a thing!
VON THOMA I don't think I should have believed myself, if I hadn't actually seen it.
CRUWELL I am the last to defend such atrocities but you must admit that we were bound to take the most incredibly severe measures to combat the illegal guerrilla warfare in those vast territories
VON THOMA But the women had nothing whatever to do with it!
COL. FARRELL Cruwell probably finds it difficult to believe these atrocities because now he's faced with the spectre not only of a lost war, but a criminal war as well.
CRUWELL If you listen to the gentlemen here, we've done nothing else but kill everyone off. But if you ask, they were never present themselves. They heard about it from von Thoma!
NARRATOR The confessions of the unwitting prisoners would have shaken even Cruwell's convictions.
NARRATOR These recordings are powerful evidence of atrocities committed not just by Hitler's elite SS but also by regular German forces.
GERMAN Voice – ATMOS NOT "… haben 1500 Juden umgelegt." … killed 1500 Jews. (Translation)
NARRATOR Luftwaffe pilot Fried described what happened after a routine transport flight…
FRIED I was at Radom once and had my midday meal with the Waffen S.S. battalion there. An S.S. captain or whatever he was said: "Would you like to come along for half-an-hour? Get a machinegun and let's go." So I went along. I had an hour to spare and we went to some barracks and there we slaughtered 1,500 Jews. There were some twenty men with machine-guns. It was over in a couple of seconds, and nobody thought anything of it.
BENTZ You fired, too?
FRIED Yes, I did. There were women and children there, too!
BENTZ They were inside as well?
FRIED Whole families, some were screaming terribly others were just apathetic.
COL. FARRELL One of the myths to come out of the war was that the mass murder genocide was committed by the Waffen SS. We know now that that was just that – a myth, that the army was complicit in carrying out the crimes of the Third Reich. This case shows us that conclusively.
BENTZ What – you fired?
FRIED Yes, I did. There were women and children there, too!
NARRATOR The brutality is shocking, but the transcripts raise a question – how could an ordinary person become a genocidal murderer?
STEVE REICHER SYNC What I find particular powerful about this extract is precisely that it's so matter of fact. This man doesn't have to spit hate; this man doesn't have to tell you lurid stories about why the Jews are so awful and why it's ok to kill them. He just assumes that nobody will have a problem with doing this…
People can kill, they can do appalling things when they can believe that what they were doing is good, is even noble…And Himmler encompassed that idea in a very powerful metaphor.
He described killing Jewish people like killing the rats in the sewers. It's a horrible job, nobody wants to do it, but only the noblest people are prepared to descend into the sewers to carry out the dirty task in order to preserve civilisation up above.
NARRATOR Just four days after Fried confessed his involvement in mass extermination, the generals at Trent Park prepared to celebrate the Fuhrer's birthday.
ABERFELDY O.S Hitler's health will be drunk in beer. It is agreed by the Nazi POWs that it is a great pity that this will have to be English beer. Cruwell is very worried in case Thoma refuses to stand up and drink Hitler's health.
CRUWELL Gentlemen, to the Fuhrer.
GENERALS COLLECTIVE The Fuhrer
NARRATOR But Cruwell did not know about the reports trickling in, detailing the SS's activities in the death camps.
GERMAN POW OS I've heard talk about the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. It's a hutted camp for Jews. I've heard say, that no one who enters the camp, comes out alive.
NARRATOR This direct evidence was recorded four months before the allies accepted the existence of Auschwitz. But, in what would later become a highly controversial decision, no action was taken.
KEVIN FARRELL At the time there can be no doubt that they were aware that bad things were happening. But I think in the minds of the allied senior leaders the, the most effective way to end these atrocities would be to end the war itself as quickly as possible. And that meant destroying Germany's ability to wage the war.
ARCHIVE NEWS BROADCAST The British, Canadian and American troops who landed on the Coast of France, North of the lovely town of Caen in broad daylight this morning are already several miles inland.
NARRATOR As the Allies advanced through Normandy, more prisoners arrived from liberated France…
ARCHIVE NEWS BROADCAST They're pushing steadily on backed by the tremendous fire power of heavy British, United States war ships.
NARRATOR Among them was the General Paul von Felbert who vehemently opposed the Nazis. He surrendered with little resistance and, in his absence, was sentenced to death for cowardice by Hitler himself.
A conversation between von Felbert and fellow inmate General Heinrich Kittel provided the Allies with disturbing intelligence.
VON FELBERT Were you also in places where Jews had been liquidated?
VON FELBERT And that was carried out quite methodically?
VON FELBERT Women and children – everybody?
KITTEL Everybody! It was horrible! For instance, in Latvia, near Dvinsk, there were mass executions of Jews by the SS. I got up and went outside and said: "What the hell's all this shooting about?" The orderly said to me: "You ought to go over there, sir, you'll see something." 300 Men had been driven in from the town, they dug a communal grave then marched home again. The next day along they came again, men women and children – the executioners first laid all the clothes out in a big pile. And then twenty women were made to take up their positions – naked – on the edge of the trench. Someone gave the command and the twenty women dropped like ninepins down into the trench. I went away and I thought: "I'm going to do something about this. So I went over to the Security Service man and I said: "once and for all, I forbid these outside executions, where people can look on. If you kill people in the woods or somewhere where no-one can see, that's your business. But I absolutely forbid another day's shooting here. We draw our drinking water from deep springs; we'll get nothing but corpse water!
VON FELBERT What did they do to the children?
KITTEL They seized three-year olds by the hair, held them up and shot them with a pistol and then threw them in. I saw it for myself.
VON FELBERT That's why everyone hates us – not because of this one incident, because all these murders.
KITTEL If one were to destroy all the Jews in the world simultaneously there wouldn't be anyone left to do the accusing.
VON FELBERT It's obvious, it's such a scandal. We don't need a Jew to accuse us – we ourselves must bring the charge! We must accuse those what done it.
KITTEL Then we have to admit that our government is all wrong.
VON FELBERT It is, it's obvious that it's wrong, there's no doubt about it. Such a thing is unbelievable.
KITTEL We are the tools
NARRATOR Kittel's account of the massacre was carefully filed away for future war crime trials.
SONKE SYNC He saw the mass killings, he saw the mass shootings, and he might have been in the position to say no we have to stop this.
NARRATOR Interactions between the generals at Trent Park grew increasingly volatile.
This tension reflected what was happening in Germany. And then a shocking turn of events revealed just how bad things were for the Nazis.
GERMAN Radio – SUBTITLED "Zum Mordanschlag auf den Fuehrer" News of an assassination attempt on the Führer! (Translation)
"Zum zweiten Mal in diesem vom Judentum entfesselten Kriege …" For the second time in this war started by the Jews (Translation)
"… wurde ein rueckloser Mordanschlag auf unseren Fuehrer veruebt." there has been an assassination attempt on the Führer. (Translation)
"… hat die Vorsehung den Mann beschirmt, " Fate has protected the man… (Translation)
der das Schicksal des deutschen Volkes in seinen Haenden traegt." … who holds the future of Germany in his hands. (Translation)
NARRATOR MI19 urgently needed the general's reaction to this attempt on Hitler's life.
GERMAN Radio – SUBTITLED "Der Fuehrer bliebt unverletzt." The Führer is unharmed! (Translation)
NARRATOR They made sure no one missed the German radio broadcast.
GERMAN Radio "Dass der Fuehrer lebt, ist fuer uns das Wichtigste." That the Führer is unharmed is the most important thing. (Translation)
ABERFELDY Who is this Stauffenberg?
BRUHN What happened?
ABERFELDY He threw the bomb. A Count Stauffenberg, a Colonel.
BRUHN He was on my staff.
ABERFELDY He has been shot.
BRUHN Good God! It can't be true! An excellent man like that! He was my operations officer… Has HIMMLER taken over the Army?
SCHLIEBEN Now there will be a massacre in Germany, and we can only guess the scale.
ABERFELDY It has already started.
BRUHN And no one will die of natural causes!
ABERFELDY I heard Hitler's broadcast. He said that the bomb exploded two metres away from him. Even so, he wasn't wounded.
ABERFELDY Well, excuse me, gentlemen!
SCHLIEBEN This is the end.
BRUHN Good God, why did that bomb have to be so small!
VON THOMA Well, he didn't want to kill any of the others.
SCHLIEBEN Yes, but that just can't be helped. It must have been a hand grenade; it can't have been anything larger.
BRUHN Good God, good old Stauffenberg.
SCHLIEBEN My God, it's a tragedy that he missed.
VON THOMA Yes, it really is…
NARRATOR Though the assassination failed, it signalled the beginning of the end.
As the Allies advanced, fresh prisoners brought news of a regime in its death throes.
NARRATOR Four weeks after the assassination attempt on Hitler, the puffed-up General Dietrich von Choltitz, ex-commander of Paris, was captured and sent to Trent Park.
With his arrival came news of Hitler's state of mind.
NARRATOR And the listeners recorded his every word.
GERMAN Voice – SUBTITLED "Hitler hasst uns. Ja, er hasst uns." Hitler hates us! Yes, he hates us. (Translation)
VON CHOLTITZ Hitler hates us.
SCHLIEBEN Yes, he hates us!
VON CHOLTITZ Yes. I saw Hitler four weeks ago.
ARNIM?? Think line is said by VonThoma?? What kind of impression did he make?
VON CHOLTITZ Oh God, well, it was just shortly after the assassination attempt and he was still rather the worse for wear!
SCHLIEBEN Was he still injured?
VON CHOLTITZ Well, he was more worn out than anything. He has put on almost 8 kilos.
VON THOMA Mentally, he is ill, very ill.
VON CHOLTITZ I went into the room and there he stood, a fat, broken-down old man with festering sores on his hands… they'd been scratched a bit as a result of the attempt on his life. I almost felt sorry for him. He said (imitating HITLER):'A people which does not surrender can never be defeated'.
ALL General laughter
VON CHOLTITZ We all went out for lunch. Two-hundred and-fifty Generals were rushed by air from the front. And he talked and talked; after about seven minutes 40 per cent of the Generals were all snoring.
ALL General laughter
VON CHOLTITZ But as usual, once he's worked up he notices nothing!
NARRATOR But while von Choltitz amused the generals with Hitler gossip, MI19 was about to hear the Nazis' darkest secret of all.
PFAFFENBERGER You've no idea of the amount of people killed at Buchenwald while I was there. It could easily be about 30,000…
NARRATOR Accused of being a communist, Private Pfaffenberger was a political prisoner for more than seven years at the Buchenwald death camp. He was only released when Germany became desperate for soldiers.
PFAFFENBERGER The senior inmate in each hut told us: "All those who have tattoo marks are to report to me." He needed about a 100 of them. Those who had attractive tattoo marks were injected and killed. They were handed over to the pathologists who removed as large a piece of skin as they needed with the tattoo mark on it and the rest of the body was taken to the crematorium and burnt. The pieces of skin were impregnated and tanned. The wife of the commandant got them and she had a lamp-shade made out of them.
Human skin tans wonderfully, I've held pieces in my hand. I wanted to steal a couple.
FRITZ SYNC Any mention of atrocities…were recorded, the records were especially marked in red because they were possibly used later on for war crime trials.
NARRATOR Pfaffenberger's account of the death camps was one of the earliest, detailed descriptions the Allies had.
JOSH LEVINE SYNC It says here at the top of Pfaffenberger's transcript, it says "his statements appear fantastic but they're given for what they're worth". In other words the people listening to this, hearing it they couldn't actually believe these could be true, these could be taken seriously…and of course this is a legacy of the Nazis.
VON THOMA This is the great tragedy in our history that we needed such a terrible, lost war as this, to come to our senses.
NARRATOR For Cruwell and his followers, their world and its values were in ruins.
ABERFELDY (V.O.) Cruwell has been heading for mental disaster. He quite openly admits that he is getting into a nervous state. At any time he is to be found alone in his room staring into space or fumbling with patience cards.
ARCHIVE Radio Broadcast We are interrupting our programme to bring you a news flash. The German radio has just announced that Hitler is dead. I repeat that, the German radio has just announced that Hitler is dead.
COL. FARRELL As the end of the war approaches and it's clearly a lost war, it's a day of reckoning, if you will and they're going to have to account how it got to be the way that it was and what their individual roles were.
KITTEL I am certain to be named as a war criminal. 18,000 Jews were killed at ROSTOV. Of course I had nothing to do with the whole business! I was the only known general there… By the way, I'm going to hold my tongue about what little I do know until such time as they pick me out.
CHOLTITZ The worst job I ever carried out – which however I carried out with great efficiency – was the liquidation of Jews. I carried out this order down to the very last detail.
VON THOMA The whole thing was done on Hitler's orders.
NARRATOR With the war over, MI19 confronted their guests with the shame of the regime they served.
SYNC FROM MOVIETONE REEL – MUSIC Track General Eisenhower comes to see with his own eyes the atrocities at Nazi Germany prison camps captured by the allied armies. He orders German civilians to be compelled to come and look at the ghastly evidence among them a Nazi officer who was a commander of the camp. Reluctant the Nazi officer a camp commander knows well enough what he'll see.
SCHLIEBEN That's the only thing about the 'thousand year Reich' which will last for a thousand years.
VON FELBERT Yes, we are disgraced for all time.
BRUHN If you ask me: 'Did we deserve victory?' I say: 'No, not after what we've done. Not after all the human blood we've shed. I see now we deserve defeat; we deserve our fate…
NARRATOR As they stripped the stately homes of listening equipment, MI19 faced a choice: They had 50 thousand pages of damning transcripts. But releasing them meant revealing their methods of espionage.
HELEN FRY SYNC Now Churchill wanted them released for war crimes trials… and what's now emerging is that there was an intense debate within British Intelligence over whether the files should or should not be released.
SONKE SYNC So there is an exchange of letters, what should we do with this material, should we use this in the Nuremberg Trials, for example, and the answer was very clear, no. We were very successful, we want to be successful in the future as well, so keep it secret, close your mouth, and we lock it away.
NARRATOR In the end, the British chose to protect their new methods for the coming cold war – even at the expense of justice.
Not one of Trent Park's prisoners was ever convicted of a single war crime on the basis of what they said while imprisoned.