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Document Source: (Official translation of) Interrogation of SS-Unterscharführer Franz Xaver Sommerhof, born November 26, 1920, in Kosln-Kalk, AOK 11, by 2/Lt William S. Peal, 0555149, May 6, 1945.
I admit to having personally shot about 1427 people. I participated in extermination actions in which a total of about 20.000 people were shot. In detail, I wish to state that I joined the Waffen-SS on April 1, 1940, volunteering from the RAD (Reich Arbeitsdienst). After a training period of about ten weeks, I was assigned to the Totenkopf (Death’s-head) Division in France. We remained in France until May 1941; then we went to East Prussia, to Stuhm. My first case of shooting a person happened in the following way: we searched a wooded section and captured an elderly Russian in uniform. The Battalion Adjutant told me: Sommerhof, kill that man. I took the man aside and, without saying a word, I shot him.
The next time I participated in the killing of people was in connection with the gassing of 15.000 Jewish civilians in Pleskau. This group consisted of men, women, and children from the age of four to elderly people. They were Polish, Russian and German Jews. They were squeezed by us into the buses, where they were killed by gas during the trip. The Jews knew what it was all about, and gruesome scenes occurred. We pushed the people into the buses, and I assisted in beating them to get them into the cars. The children were pressed in together with the older people, about fifty people into one bus. These buses were painted grey. During the trip of ten minutes to a burial ground, these people were gassed. There were about twenty buses, and about five or six SS men served each bus. My group had accompanied the bus with a truck on about ten trips, and thus I loaded on these death carriages about five hundred men, women, and children, and locked the door after them. One bus made several other trips; however, the crew was changed, and I made about three trips a day. When we were through, we went to town and had a good time. Besides our bus, there were about nineteen other buses doing this work; all in all, in this action, about 15.000 Jews were killed. This action mas also called the 15.000 Jews Action.
When the bus arrived at its destination, which was a wooded section, after a ten-minute trip, we urged the Jews who were waiting there to open the doors. The corpses located at the door fell out immediately. The others were taken out by the Jews, and thrown in mass graves. On top of each other, crisscrossed. I do imagine that some of the gassed people were still living, in the event that they had strong constitutions. We did not determine whether all the people were dead, but simply threw them in the mass graves. The action took place in August 1941.
Following this incident, I was sent into action for a short time. I was slightly wounded and finally came back to Germany for recuperation. For a short time, I was with a signal battalion in Unna, and after that, I was transferred to the Concentration Camp at Orianenburg and then in Sachsenhausen. I arrived there in January 1942. After I was there for about two weeks, they looked for volunteers for an execution detail. I stepped forward in company with other SS men who also volunteered. I volunteered because I had previously boasted many times that I had participated in the 15.000 Jews Action, in Russia, and because I saw that it would add to my prestige.
My first job with the execution command was the shooting of about thirty prisoners. I finished this action in one day. The executed were mostly Belgians. After that, I became a guard on a work detail in camp where I killed in a single instance thirty men by shooting them in the back of the neck. This incident occurred in the following manner: my superior told me, pointing to one of the prisoners, that fellow is lazy – shoot him. Even to relieve one’s self without permission was one of the reasons, but in the main, there were no motives necessary. We were only to kill prisoners. I took aside the prisoners who were to be shot, walked in the back of them, and shot them with my weapon in the back of the neck. Sometimes, I had to shoot twice, because the prisoner was still alive after the first shot. They were mostly Poles, but I also remember Czechs and Germans. In the meantime, I participated in the shooting of about one hundred prisoners at one time. They were shot for being lazy. We were five men, and twenty of these prisoners were my portion.
At another time, on a different work detail, twenty to forty men were shot daily. My portion came to about ten men altogether, about 140 men in fourteen days. I was on the work detail for just six months, and as I have already admitted, I took part in the daily shootings by order of my superiors. Often I shot five or ten in one day; on other days, I shot none, or one or two. My daily average was approximately four. This accounts for 720 men shot by me during those months. I remember that in some cases during that action, Dutch, Czechs, and many Poles, also some Germans and all possible nationalities, were shot. On the first of March 1943, I was a guard over prisoners who were cleaning up after an air attack in Berlin. About thirty of these prisoners were lazy, and I with three other SS men had to shoot them.
This account in the number of persons who were killed by me is as follows:
a. The Old Russian Prisoner in the Forest by Pleskau – 1.
b. Participation in the extermination action against 15.000 Jews in Pleskau, during which I pushed about 500 persons into the gas-vent buses and closed the door – 500.
a. A group of 30, mostly Belgians, of which group six men were allotted to me – 6.
b. As a guard on a work detail in camp, through a single action, by shooting them in the neck – 30.
c. Shooting of 100 prisoners for being lazy, done by a detail of five men, my part of the shooting being – 20.
Sub-Total – 557
At another time, on another building lot, between 20 and 40 men were shot daily for 14 days. Approximately 10 men daily were my part – 140.
In general activities on different building lots for about six months, a daily average of 4 people were eliminated – 720.
On March 1, 1943, after the air attack on Berlin, approximately ten prisoners were eliminated – 10.
According to this, I have personally killed approximately 1427 persons, in actions resulting in the killing of a total of 20.000 people.
During the time I was stationed at Orianenburg, in my leisure time in the camp, I occupied myself with the theoretical study of medicine and biology, since I had always been interested in the natural sciences. I had gone to public school for four years, and eight years to Real Schule. ((Note: In the German educational system, a school is partly on the High School level.) In my free evenings at Orianenburg, I usually attended the movies. Frequently we went out with our comrades and had a good time. Once a week I was allowed to go to Berlin. There I went to the theater and philharmonic concerts. I am a music lover, and especially care for the music of Schubert, Haydn, and Mozart.
These statements are pure truth, and I will repeat them any time. I have given this statement without compulsion, and have sworn to it.
Read to me, read myself, and signed:
/s/ FRANZ XAVER SOMMEREOF
PS: I beg a mild judgemnt in my case, since I am basically a good-hearted man, I am a great animal lover, and have never hurt an animal.
/s/ FRANZ XAVER SOMMERHOF