Monday, March 20, 2017

Gassing Statements made by Robert Barth of Einsatzgruppe D in 1943 and 1946

Author: Jonathan Harrison
For several years, I have been intrigued by the revelation by Richard Breitman [Official Secrets, here, p.190] that gas van information may have been given to the British as early as November 1943 by an Austrian Einsatzgruppe D officer named Robert Barth, even though Barth did not give the testimony used at Nuremberg [NO-3663] until the Autumn of 1946. This would be powerful independent evidence of gas vans because it could not be accused of being contaminated by sources that did not surface until 1944-1945. Hans' excellent series on gas vans prompted me to dig further. I conclude that it is highly probable that Barth did discuss gas vans with the British before the end of 1943.

Breitman's account reads as follows:
The British received a major new source of information about past SS and police activities in the Soviet territories when, in October 1943, a plane carrying a Croatian Air Force captain and a German police escort landed behind British lines in Allied-occupied Italy. It happened that the German policeman, an Austrian named Robert Barth, had served previously in Einsatzgruppe D (Einsatzkommando 10b) and was frightened enough to talk about it. (Only the initial summary of Barth’s comments to British intelligence has been released so far.)

Barth described the formation of the Einsatzgruppen in May 1941 and their tasks—fighting partisans and Communism and carrying out general intelligence duties. He admitted that commissars and leading Communists were arrested and shot but misleadingly claimed that the Order Police (“Schupos”) and Waffen-SS did the shooting. (They did, but the Einsatzgruppen did even more.) Barth revealed that Jews were almost invariably shot and in later stages gassed. He then discussed the 1943 activities of Einsatzgruppe E [sic] in Serbia and Croatia [see note 60]. After the war, he gave American interrogators interested in prosecuting the heads of the Einsatzgruppen a much more detailed picture of events in Ger­many and the Ukraine in 1941 [see note 61], but it is unclear just how much detail he offered the British in late 1943.
....

60.    Summary of interrogation of Barth, approximately mid-Nov. 1943, in PRO HW 16/1, pp. 47-49.
61.    [NO-3663, October 1946]. See NA RG 238, Microfilm Series M-1019/R 5/240ff
I decided to order the 1943 British summary [HW 16/1, pp.47-49] and the 1946 Nuremberg affadavit [NO-3363, ordered as a Yad Vashem copy under reference O.18/293] to make my own comparisons. The order for HW 16/1, pp.47-49 failed because the interrogation could not be located but I had greater success when I re-ordered it, based on Irving's reference, at HW 16/9. A scan of the first page can be found below and reveals that this was a preliminary interrogation that would be followed by a more detailed one using the questionnaire that had just been received. It also noted that Barth was keen to supply as much detailed information as possible. The text of NO-3363 is also extracted below and shows that Barth gave a detailed account of Einsatzgruppe D activities in December 1943. Based on these two sources, I would conclude it to be highly likely that Barth gave his gas van details to the British in that December 1943 interrogation.

Moreover, the fact that these details were not "contaminated" or "coached" can be confirmed by the sequence of events described in HW 16/9, and in the tone used. The sentence on gassing is not highlighted or foregrounded in the text. Barth does not give the killing of Jews as being one of the three main tasks of the Einsatzgruppen, which in itself is chilling because it would mean that extermination was carried out as a matter of course, without needing to be spelled out as a main goal. It was simply a taken-for-granted assumption by Barth, as recorded by the British, that it was perfectly normal that Jews were "almost invariably shot or in later stages gassed"; so commonplace and embedded that it did not need to be emphasized. The British made no attempt here to feed Barth information that conformed to a British propaganda line of that moment; the interrogation was clearly designed purely to obtain information, not to produce misinformation, and its existence remained secret until the 1990s.

Figure 1: Extract from Report of interrogation of Robert Barth, undated [but some time between 1-15 November 1943], London HW 16/9:



Figure 2: Extract from Interrogation of Robert Barth, probably 8.10.46, Sandbostel, NO-3663





6 comments:

Nathan said...

-Moreover, the fact that these details were not "contaminated" or "coached" can be confirmed by the sequence of events described in HW 16/9, and in the tone used. -

I would go further than that. It sounds more like Barth was trying to justify or defend the EG by hyping up their primary tasks (fighting communists and partisans) in order to downplay their atrocities against Jews by describing them as an "afterthought". Hardly the words of a "coerced" man, or those of someone helping to create a propaganda "boogeyman".

Thanks for Sharing, Dr. H. This is really helpful.

The Black Rabbit of Inlé said...

>>> I would go further than that. It sounds more like Barth was trying to justify or defend the EG by hyping up their primary tasks (fighting communists and partisans) in order to downplay their atrocities against Jews by describing them as an "afterthought".

Your wishful thinking is absurd for several reasons: 1. Barth didn't write the summary about his own interrogation[s]; 2. He claimed to have been enrolled in the SS without consultation and had a document which the interrogators accepted was partial proof of his claim not to have sworn an oath of loyalty; 3. He allowed a Croatian officer he was escorting to take control of the plane and fly it into Allied territory so they could surrender to the enemy; 4. He claimed he was very anti-Nazi, and was willing to tell his interrogators everything he knew—the interrogator said he believe this was true and stated that Barth was very frightened.


Breitman is right, this interrogation summary is in HW 16/1.
http://fotos.fotoflexer.com/794d2e7bec1ce6cb537335673eada11e.jpg

His "pp. 47-49" is meaningless the pages were never Bates numbered when it was archived. But didn't Breitman work with MF copies of these files?

BP staff clearly filed the late-1943 interrogation report on Barth in this file because it already contained a lot of their earlier analysis of German police based on decodes.

- all of the other documents in the file are dated 1939-1941 [but mostly 1939-1940]
- the Barth report isn't even at the very back of the file, docs from 1940 are
- the date was in code for some reason "November 15£14"
- "pp. 47-49" is meaningless and therefore confusing
- dates written on the HW files are frequently misleading about their contents to those unfamiliar with them
http://fotos.fotoflexer.com/e814e993cd4565b43bd7c5eb3cc82137.jpg

I can sympathise with the copier who failed to find it for you.

The Black Rabbit of Inlé said...

>>> This would be powerful independent evidence of gas vans because it could not be accused of being contaminated by sources that did not surface until 1944-1945.

I don't think there's any evidence this report was contaminated, but the use of "gas vans" in Russia was common-knowledge from 22 July 1943 due to newspaper reports on the Krasnodar trial. The DT famously reported on 25.06.42 about Jews and gypsies having been murdered at Chelmno in a "special van fitted as a gas chamber".

Whilst the brief reference to Jews being gassed [no mention that it was in vans] in the Barth report suggests that he wasn't asked about gassings, sections J and K of the report show that the interrogators had been told what to ask him by whoever they wrote this report for. The gassing are mentioned in section D, whilst in section J the interrogators make no claim that section D answers questions they were told to ask him as they do when referencing other parts of this report. This further suggests they didn't specifically ask him about gassings nor were they told to.

Jonathan Harrison said...

Thanks. It took a lot of complaining to get the copier to do the extra digging.

Sergey Romanov said...

> This would be powerful independent evidence of gas vans because it could not be accused of being contaminated by sources that did not surface until 1944-1945.

I must sort of agree with the Rabbit above: while it couldn't be accused of being contaminated by post-43 sources, why couldn't it be accused of being contaminated by the 1943 sources?

While I agree with your last paragraph, I don't understand the chronological argument.

The Black Rabbit of Inlé said...

No worries. I've had similar experiences when trying to obtain photos of docs held on mf at the NARA and the USHMM. Not to slag them off, as usually they've quickly supplied what I wanted, but in the past I've provided researchers-for-hire with archive refs from books and given them pdfs of the finders guides for the relevant collection which had the items and their locations listed. Only to be sent 100-odd photos of something I didn't want or to be told that they couldn't find it.

For future ref, you might try asking me via pm on rodoh or AHF if I have photos of docs held at Kew that you want. It might save you the trouble and expense of ordering them direct.