TV Interview with Hans Münch
The doctor and former SS-Untersturmfuehrer Hans Münch was among the 40 members of the Auschwitz camp personnel indicted and tried in Krakow in Poland 1946-1947. The trial led to some 20 death sentences, but Muench was acquitted.
He had taken part in gassings but had refused to assist in the so-called selections. Some ex-prisoners also testified in his favor. After his release, Münch returned to Germany where he continued his medical practice. In 1964 he testified at the Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt am Main. He agreed to an interview with Swedish television in 1981, against the wish of his family. It has been broadcast twice on Swedish TV, in 1982 and 1992.
Excerpts from an interview with Dr. Hans Münch.
Münch: I received eight weeks of normal military training and then came to the Waffen-SS Institute for Hygiene in Berlin. That was the highest authority for all institutes of hygiene within the Waffen-SS. The Waffen-SS was considered to be on an equal footing with the German army. From Berlin I was ordered to Field Laboratory South-East, and this Field Laboratory South-East had been set up to deal with the diseases that had appeared in Auschwitz.
Swedish Television: So you came to Auschwitz? Did you know what Auschwitz was?
M: No! It was in 1943, in the spring, early summer. There I... That field laboratory had been established because of the diseases that were prevalent in the camp and that leaked out through the camp fence, and threatened the men and the civilian population. Expert bacteriological research had to be conducted and adequate measures taken. That was our task.
ST: Not to save the prisoners?
M: By no means...There was the possibility, but the risk for a major epidemic among those close to 100 000 people in unhygienic conditions and in a not too hygienic environment...
ST: The purpose was to save the personnel?
M: Yes, and the surroundings. The town of Auschwitz was not far away. A major epidemic would certainly have erupted. [...] During my time, the crematories were used several times a week to burn the corpses that came. Soon after my arrival, at the latest towards the end of the summer, transports came that were exterminated and Auschwitz was then used as an extermination camp.
ST: The camp that was seven kilometers from Auschwitz was Birkenau, right?
M: Yes, five or seven kilometers. Next to the camp Birkenau was the machinery of extermination.
ST: How do you know that the extermination there was carried out with gas?
M: When one's professional task is to inspect the hygienic conditions of the camp and one has to pass through the camp it was impossible not to notice.
ST: Did you see the crematories yourself?
M: Yes, of course. It wasn't part of my daily routine, but it was impossible to avoid it, even if I hadn't known what it was. Everybody active in the SS in Auschwitz knew of course what the crematories were, and it was impossible not to notice the smoke and the chimneys and feel the smell. In the SS the use of gas was discussed quite openly.
ST: Were doctors present at the gassings?
M: They had to be present. According to strict regulations they had to be present, as in civilized states at every normal individual execution for legal reasons. In the same way there was a military order that at least one doctor had to be present at exterminations by gas in Auschwitz, for two reasons. Firstly, the whole thing had to be under medical supervision. And the gas wasn't thrown in by the regular camp personnel but by the camp doctors' medical orderlies.
ST: When you were off-duty you spoke about this? About special treatment, about the gassing?
M: It was discussed very intensely, hardly ideologically, whether it was ideologically correct to exterminate the Jews, but rather the technical problems that always occur at this overstraining of the camp.
ST. You refused to participate in it. Could you say so openly?
M: I had nothing to do with it in the first place. I was ordered there and belonged to the Hygienic Institute. One has to explain those bureaucratic things precisely...
ST: I understand that, but did you discuss it with each other?
M: Yes, very intensely, also ideologically.
ST: Did you object to it, for example because of medico-ethical reasons?
M: Yes, exactly. Among doctors we could discuss it openly, like we talk about it today. There was no limit at all. Outwardly you were completely isolated. Everybody knew very well that among civilians or military personnel he should never say a word. I was for instance often in Plaszow... No, not in Plaszow. It was a training camp for the Waffen-SS, near Krakow. It was also important, a military camp. There I ate in the messroom, the officers' mess. There were SS doctors and SS officers too. "Do you come from Auschwitz?" - everybody wanted to know how it was there. "Is it really like that? One hears the most horrible things." It was very difficult to be evasive. I would never have dared to tell any SS officer, who still had to be considered an "insider", anything at all about Auschwitz. In Auschwitz it was completely different.
ST: There you could dissociate yourself from it?
ST: What objections did your colleagues have who were for it?
M: "Is it necessary to do this in the middle of the war? There will be time for it later." "One should try to get as big a work force as possible. It would be better if the people were fed better." That was one view. Then there was the opposite view. "It has to be done at once. If we wait any longer there will be objections, and there are those who are against it."
ST: From a purely technical point of view, people were against it? And economically?
M: That was the main problem.
ST: But ideologically?
ST: The majority was for it?
M: The majority of the doctors were against it from a purely technical point of view, and also because of economic reasons.
ST: But ideologically in favour?
M. Ideologically nobody differed.
ST: What was the ideology?
M: Simply National Socialism, as expounded by [Alfred] Rosenberg. The Germanic race was the future of the world and a guarantee against corruption and mismanagement and for keeping our Europe pure. The root cause of every evil in culture, of every degeneracy was the Jews, which is clear from the fact that the Jews weren't tolerated already in the Middle Ages. There must have been good reasons to put them into ghettos. There were constant pogroms, not only in Germany, in the whole of Europe. That is because the Jewish race is a destructive factor. There is no development, no peace, nothing worth living for when the Jews have a finger in the pie.
ST: Therefore they must be exterminated?
M: Because it hasn't succeeded so far in spite of all the severe measures, but they continually take hold of decisive posts in the economy, in the state, in cultural life. It has to be stopped. That can be done only by total physical extermination.
ST: Isn't the ideology of extermination contrary to a doctor's ethical values?
M: Yes, absolutely. There is no discussion. But I lived in that environment, and I tried in every possible way to avoid accepting it, but I had to live with it. What else could I have done? And I wasn't confronted with it directly until the order came that I and my superior and another one had to take part in the exterminations since the camp's doctors were overloaded and couldn't cope with it.
ST: I must ask something. Doubters claim that "special treatment" could mean anything. It didn't have to be extermination.
M: "Special treatment" in the terminology of the concentration camp means physical extermination. If it was a question of more than a few people, where nothing else than gassing them was worth while, they were gassed.
ST: "Special treatment" was gassing?
M: Yes, absolutely.
ST: And "selection".
M: That was the selection of those who were still fit for work and those who were no longer economically useful.
ST: Doctors made the "selection"?
M: It was supposed to be that way, but it was impossible considering the number.
Source: The Nizkor Project