Soviet Russia is infamous for its systematic mistreatment, torture and murder of millions of prisoners from all walks of life already prior to the war with Germany. The legal standing of prisoners certainly did not improve with the outbreak of hostilities, and reached a fever pitch toward the end of the conflict. The treatment that German prisoners (or those helping the Germans) received in Soviet captivity can be gleaned from the behavior of the defendants during the Soviet show trials in Krasnodar and Kharkov. As was typical for Soviet show trials prior to the war, the defendants behaved as if they were fanaticized prosecutors, enthusiastically embracing any accusation made against them, using the same ideological polemics as their detractors, and demanding harsh punishments for themselves, while behaving like pre-programmed automatons. (See Bourtman 2008 for an assessment of the Krasnodar trial.)
Some cases of Soviet physical torture have come to light. For example, Karlheinz Pintsch, adjutant to Rudolf Hess, was tortured for months by the KGB in Moscow, and a certain Jupp Aschenbrenner was tortured to make him “confess” allegations relating to the use of gas vans behind the eastern front. The use of outright physical abuse to achieve the mindless compliance in show trials does not seem to have been systematic, however. As Alexandr Solzhenitsyn has described in detail in his trilogy Gulag Archipelago (1974, vol. 1), the main method used in Stalin’s Soviet Union in order to break a prisoner’s will and make him comply with whatever was asked of him was sleep deprivation, commonly carried out by sticking prisoners naked into an unheated, moist stand-up cell of such a small floor area that it was impossible to sit down, let alone lay down in it. This torture method leaves no physical traces but breaks down everyone eventually.
Since the Soviet Union never let anyone investigate the conditions in its interrogation centers, there is little direct evidence pointing at systematic torture of prisoners who later became defendants or testified during Soviet show trials, but the behavior of the defendants can only be explained by systematic and massive abuse.
Little is known about the detention and interrogation conditions in post-war Poland. However, we need to consider that it was a Stalinist country that was in the process of genocidally cleansing everything German from its territory. In his book An Eye for an Eye, John Sack has described this genocidal atmosphere of vengeance, where German civilians in Polish detention were systematically abused and deprived of life’s essentials, and many dying as a result. While the defendants of the Polish post-war show trials were apparently treated somewhat better, their meek and compliant behavior in court, even when faced with evidently untrue or even absurd charges, indicates that they had been psychologically worn down in some way. The only account we have about detention conditions stems from Rudolf Höss, who mentioned that the abuse and deprivations he had to suffer from guards and co-inmates in Polish prison wore him down and almost finished him off (Höss 1959, p. 195).
After several German and American defense attorneys involved in U.S. trials against Germans in occupied Germany complained that their clients and other defendants and witnesses had been systematically tortured in U.S. detention and interrogation centers, several official U.S. commissions investigated some of these claims in 1949. However, these committees were accused by U.S. civil-rights organizations of being merely symbolic fig-leaves for the U.S. Army and for politics alike, since they had served to cover up the true extent of the scandal.
One particularly dedicated investigator at that time was Senator Joseph McCarthy, active as an observer sent by the U.S. Senate. He resigned his post after two weeks and gave a moving speech before the U.S. Senate in protest against the collaboration between investigative committee members and the U.S. Armed Forces during the cover-up of the scandal. His detailed list of abuses inflicted upon German defendants in U.S. captivity is horrifying (McCarthy 1949).
Another investigation led by Edward van Roden, of former U.S. Chief of Military Justice, and Gordon Simpson, judge at the Texas Supreme Court, described conditions during the U.S. post-war trials held in Dachau in detail, listing the following abuses inflicted by U.S. investigators on German prisoners, among others (Roden 1949):
- beatings and brutal kickings;
- knocking out teeth and breaking jaws;
- mock trials with sham death sentences, followed with false promises of acquittal when signing confessions;
- solitary confinement with no contact to anyone;
- all but two of the 139 cases had their testicles injured beyond repair;
- unsigned affidavits of prisoners driven into suicide by torture were used as evidence anyway.
Considering the abuses inflicted by U.S. investigators on prisoners in Iraq (Abu Ghraib) and in Guantanamo Bay, we see a pattern, almost a U.S.-American tradition.
In 2005, the British authorities released archival documents from hitherto undisclosed internal investigations showing that, during and after the war, Germans in British captivity had been systematically mistreated in veritable torture centers both in Germany and Britain. In London, the British had set up the so-called “London Cage,” a secret torture center where German prisoners, concealed from the Red Cross, were beaten, deprived of sleep, held in stress positions for days at a time, threatened with execution or with unnecessary surgery, starved and hair ripped out.
Another such facility, “Camp 020,” kept prisoners in either total light or total dark for days at a time, subjected them to mock executions, or left them naked for months at a time.
Of greatest concern in all this, apart from the humanitarian abuses, was the fact that
“[A]fter the war, interrogators switched from extracting military intelligence to securing convictions for war crimes. Of 3,573 prisoners who passed through [the Cage], more than 1,000 were persuaded to sign a confession or give a witness statement for use in war crimes prosecutions.” (Cobain 2012)
Historian Stephen Howe summed up the situation (Howe 2012):
“a horribly repetitive picture […] of British governments and their agents using systematic brutality […] and then lying about it all.”
Suffice it to say that virtually any statement, on any topic, could be obtained from the captive Germans under such conditions.
Worse still were interrogation centers set up in the British occupation zone in postwar Germany, most infamous among them a prison in Bad Nenndorf, some 15 km west of Hanover. Prisoners there were systematically beaten, exposed to extreme cold, starved and tortured using specific torture devices.
Many a prominent German wartime official went through that torture center and was treated with these methods to soften them up and make them cooperative and confessing, among them Rudolf Höss, the former commandant of the Auschwitz Camp, and Oswald Pohl, head of the Economic and Administrative Main Office, which was in charge of the German wartime camps. Both have described their torture. In Höss’s case, the massive three-day torture he suffered right after his arrest was confirmed in detail and with pride by his tormentors decades later.
August Eigruber, former Gauleiter of Austria, was mutilated and castrated after the war. Josef Kramer, last commandant of the Bergen-Belsen Camp, as well as other SS men and women, were tortured until they begged to be allowed to die (Belgion 1949, pp. 80f., 90). The British journalist Alan Moorehead reported how he was allowed to see prisoners in such a British torture center (Connolly 1953, pp. 105f.):
“The man was lying in his blood on the floor, a massive figure with a heavy head and bedraggled beard […] ‘Why don’t you kill me?’ he whispered. ‘Why don’t you kill me? I cannot stand it anymore.’ The same phrases dribbled out of his lips over and over again. ‘He’s been saying that all morning, the dirty bastard,’ the sergeant said.”
Even West Germany’s official top “Nazi hunter” of the 1970s and 1980s, public prosecutor Adalbert Rückerl, recognized that during the Allied post-war trials, confessions of defendants were used that had been obtained “sometimes under the worst possible physical and psychological pressure.”
Official documents, acts, reports, or other records by any authority or commission of any Allied country that was based on this kind of “evidence” were then considered “facts of common knowledge.” According to Article 21 of the London Agreement defining the legal framework of the Nuremberg post-war trials, such “facts of common knowledge” were incontestable, hence could not be challenged by the defense. In this manner, clearly inadmissible evidence was admitted through the backdoor that had been obtained systematically by all occupying powers involved with barbaric methods. This is one important aspect of the “evidence” on which most “Holocaust” accusations rest.
(For more details, see Rudolf 2023, pp. 401-404, 406-408.)