The West-German trial against defendants accused of having been deployed at the Belzec Camp is a typical case of a show trial where the facts of the case and a guilty verdict were a foregone conclusion. It was conducted by the same Munich court which had tried Himmler’s chief of staff Karl Wolff just a year earlier – the scandalous circumstances of which were revealed ten years later by one of the jury members: The judges had pressured the jury to a guilty verdict with the argument that the whole world was watching and was expecting Wolff to be sentenced.
The same framework existed also during the Belzec Trial. The “facts” of what had transpired at Belzec had been cast in stone ever since the Allied postwar trials. Kurt Gerstein’s various absurd postwar statements and their later “confirmation” by Wilhelm Pfannenstiel, who also testified in Munich in 1965, and perjured himself once again, set the stage, together with the only former inmate witness to testify, Rudolf Reder, who on that occasion systematically contradicted his own statements of the immediate postwar period. Most importantly, his claim of 1944/45 that definitely no exhaust gas was used to kill people, had turned around 180 degrees: yes, an engine’s exhaust gas was pumped into the chambers to kill the people.
In a normal murder case, traces of the victim(s) and the weapon of crime are absolutely essential to open a criminal investigation, let alone to come to a conviction. But not so in this or any other similar Holocaust case. Neither the defense nor the court asked for any evidence confirming that the claimed crime happened. No forensic examination of the former campgrounds were requested, and no expert opinion was heard as to whether the claimed murder method could have worked. No one tried to compare Reder’s or Pfannenstiel’s earlier statements with their new ones to look for consistency or contradictions. No one critically scrutinized the testimonies submitted to the court by Polish authorities, which they had pulled from their archives. In other words: facts didn’t matter. Everyone during that trial could just claim whatever they wanted, as long as the overarching dogma of mass-murder by engine-exhaust gas chambers was confirmed.
The defense played along with that game, and the court made it easy for them. Seven of the eight original defendants saw their charges dropped with the excuse that they were convinced they had acted under duress. In exchange for this tremendous favor, they all confirmed the dogma of mass murder by engine-exhaust gas chamber, repeating with brief and superficial statements the basic tenets of the dogma, which was well-known to the entire world by then. However, none of them contributed anything new or essential that would confirm first-hand knowledge of anything. Some uttered nonsense, such as normal barracks having been restructured into gas chambers. Others claimed to be unfamiliar with even the most basic data, such as how many gas chambers there were. No one challenged their statements by comparing them with other sources or with what was physically possible, and no one pressed them for more details, which they should have known, if mass murder really occurred. One of them – Karl Schluch – testified that, upon opening the gas chamber after the murder, the victims were standing upright, since they had no space to fall over. Here we have a detail enabling us to say that this certainly did not happen.
The last defendant standing was Josef Oberhauser. The court claimed that he was the liaison officer of the camp’s commandant Christian Wirth, and hence could not claim to have acted under duress. During pre-trial interrogations, he offered some embarrassing statements, which led to the prosecution avoiding them during the trial. Among other things, he claimed that the first gas chamber (singular) initially used bottled carbon monoxide rather than engine exhaust.
Oberhauser was eventually found guilty of 300,150 cases of murder. However, instead of receiving 300,150 life sentences, he was sentenced to just 4.5 years imprisonment. Since his pre-trial detention was counted, and because he was released after serving only half his time, Oberhauser was a free man again a short while later. Clearly, in show trials, the defendant’s fate does not matter. What matters is that the dogma is confirmed, and some version of “justice” is served.