In the last weeks of October and the beginning of November 1942 SS officer Untersturmfuhrer Max Taubner found himself and his platoon at something of a loose end. He was on the Eastern Front in the town of Alexandriya, somewhere behind the front lines. The rains had begun and his unit was unable to move. Taubner learnt that a part of the Jewish population in the area had not yet been ‘resettled’ so decided to take matters into his own hands.
A relatively full account of what happened was recorded in the SS archives because Taubner was disciplined for acting in an unauthorised manner. The matter only came to the attention of the Nazi authorities because Taubner took a number of photographs of the episode, had them developed while he was home on leave in Germany and showed them to his wife and a number of friends and acquaintances.
A total of 459 Jews were recorded as being killed by Taubner’s unit. They were not all killed by firing squad, there were beatings and other excesses which some of the men in his platoon were unhappy about.
During the trial his own men gave statements about the events in Alexandriya. Ernst Gobel was one of the SS men who gave evidence as to what happened:
The victims were shot by the firing-squad with carbines, mostly by shots in the back of the head, from a distance of one metre on my command.
Before every salvo Taubner gave me the order – ‘Get set, fire!’ I just relayed Taubner’s command. The way this happened was that I gave the command ‘Aiml Firel’ to the members of the Hring-squad, and then there was a crack of gunfire.
Meanwhile Rottenfuhrer Abraham shot the children with a pistol. There were about five of them. These were children whom I would think were aged between two and six years.
The way Abraham killed the children was brutal. He got hold of some of the children by the hair, lifted them up from the ground, shot them through the back of their heads and then threw them into the grave.
After a while I just could not watch this any more and I told him to stop. What I meant was he should not lift the children up by the hair, he should kill them in a more decent way.
Heinrich Hesse described how he shot one ‘young woman of about twenty to thirty years’ because he wanted to spare her from some unspecified excesses:
She was a beautiful woman, I was glad to be able to shoot her so that she did not fall into the hands of the Untersturmfuhrer. But please don’t take that to mean that I enjoyed it. I said to the Jewess when I brought her from the cellar that the Untersturmfuhrer wanted to speak to her, or something to that effect.
My only thought was that if I had to do something I should cause the person as little pain as possible. I did not want the Jewess to suffer fear of death. I then made her come out ofthe cellar. She went in front of me. On the way to the grave or graves, which had already been dug, I suddenly shot her from behind.
Ultimately Taubner was convicted of offences against the SS code but the reasoning of the SS and Police Supreme Court was ‘guided by the following considerations’:
The accused shall not be punished because of the actions against the Jews as such. The Jews have to be exterminated and none of the Jews that were killed is any great loss.
Although the accused should have recognized that the extermination of the Jews was the duty of Kommandos which have been set up especially for this purpose, he should be excused for considering himself to have the authority to take part in the extermination of jewry himself.
Real hatred of the Jews was the driving motivation for the accused. In the process he let himself be drawn into committing cruel actions in Alexandriya which are unworthy of a German man and an SS officer.
Taubner was sentenced to imprisonment and served two years before being pardoned by Himmler and resuming his duties in 1945. After the war the German authorities declined to prosecute him because of ‘double jeopardy’ rules – he could not be prosecuted twice for the same offence. Although he had been prosecuted by the Nazi regime for disobeying orders and not for mass murder, it was considered to be the same matter.