Testimonies on the course of events
On 15 October 1942, the German boiler master Karl Rindfuss (Rindfuß) started work at the „Raffinerie Süd“ of the Karpathen-Öl AG in the Galician district town of Drohobycz. The Refinery South comprised the formerly independent refineries „Nafta“ and „Galicja“. His superior was the deputy plant manager of the refinery, R. Krause. During this time, Jews who did not have an „R“ badge (R = armour) were constantly hunted down. Jews who were still needed as workers important to the war were marked with an „R“ armband and pass.
In 1943, „Gestapo men and their Ukrainian guards surrounded the ‚Nafta‘ refinery, which … served as a magazine. Now Jews without R-badges were sorted out and put together in a group of 40-50 people. Krause is said to have carried out the selection himself with the help of a boiler foreman assigned as a work supervisor. Also seized was the elderly carpenter Isidor Littmann from the ZAL [forced labour camp] Boryslaw, who happened to be at the site because he belonged to the construction crew Central Workshop. Littmann did not have an ‚R‘. He tried to escape with a few other Jews; Krause’s overseer stormed in after him and shot Littmann“ (Sandkühler, p. 383)
The boiler master was Karl Rindfuss; the Jew who was shot was called Izydor Litmann (other spellings: First name Isidor; last name: Litman, Littman, Littmann, Litman-Haleman, resident in Boryslaw, Witowskigasse 26). Three eyewitnesses reported on this event: Wilhelm Krell, Genia Stock and Karoline Schnepf.
Eyewitness Karoline Schnepf, born in Drohobycz in 1912, was a forced labourer at Karpathen-Öl AG in Drohobycz from the end of 1941 to April 1944 – first as a worker in the Galicja and Nafta refineries, later in the bookkeeping department. She described the general course of such selections:
„From 1943 until the time of my deportation to Plaszów [13.04.1944], several actions took place at the Nafta refinery. During each of these actions, the Jews destined to be shot were picked out. I still remember exactly how these actions took place. All the Jews who worked in the Nafta refinery stood in the yard. Here Krause personally picked out the people who were to be shot.“ She also remembered the accused Rindfuss: „He was of medium build, strong, dark, a little younger than Krause. During this action (selection) Rindfuss guarded the Jews who had been sorted out by Krause.“ (Schnepf, p. 322f.)
Eyewitness Genia Stock (Eugenia Sztok), born in Drohobycz in 1903, was involved in clean-up work at the Galicja refinery and later worked in administration. She testified: We were „surrounded by Germans on our way to work … During the … selection one worker, the carpenter Litmann (who had no „R“) fled through the refinery „Nafta“. The German Rindfuss, whom I have already mentioned, also saw this. He ran after Litmann. I heard a shot and, when I returned to the „Galicja“ refinery, I saw – while I was on the way with the group that had survived the selection – Litmann’s corpse. It is quite clear that Litmann was shot by Rindfuss. I saw him running after Litmann, holding a pistol in his hand, then the shot was fired and consequently afterwards the corpse lay on the ground.“ (Genia Stock, p. 227f.)
Intentionally or unintentionally?
Apparently a completely different picture was painted by another contemporary witness. Nicolas Bronicki, born on 14 October 1905 in Drohobycz, testified as a witness in the trial against Friedrich Hildebrand on 26 October 1966. Subsequently, he was heard by the public prosecutor’s office in relation to several other accused persons. The transcript of the conversation states: „The witness remembers the accused Rindfuß as a man of decent character. However, he had once shot a Jew on the premises of the Nafta refinery. Afterwards, Rindfuß came to the witness, who was also held in a certain esteem by Gestapo people, and reported his deed to him with some despair, because he had obviously had pangs of conscience (the witness must have meant the case of the carpenter Litmann)“. (Bronicki, p. 1992)
How does this statement fit in with the other witness statements?
Nicolas Bronicki was not an eyewitness to the crime, but confirmed that Karl Rindfuss committed the crime. There is no doubt about that according to this testimony, but he saw the accused as a basically decent person who admitted to having shot and regretted his action afterwards. Nicolaus Bronicki certainly described this conversation truthfully. But Bronicki only came into contact with Rindfuss occasionally, while the other witnesses knew Rindfuss from their daily work in the refinery. We often find this pattern of behaviour, that members of the German occupation forces showed restraint, friendliness or even helpfulness towards individual Jews, while otherwise they were ruthlessly violent. The motives for this could be very different: for some perpetrators of violence it served to calm their own consciences (I personally am not an anti-Semite, I even have a good relationship with individual Jews, but orders are orders). Another motive, which became more frequent after Stalingrad and the looming military defeat, was precaution (If I am called to account after the defeat, I can name some Jews as witnesses that I behaved different and helped). We can only speculate about Karl Rindfuss‘ motives.
Let us therefore look at the act itself: How could it come to this – did Rindfuss have no choice?
His job as boiler master was a responsible technical task. „Overseer of the Labour Jews“, however, was an additional task he took on voluntarily.
He took part in selections – other technicians refused.
Rindfuss guarded the selected Jews even though their imminent shooting was common knowledge – people he had worked with before.
As a guard, he armed himself with a pistol – a tool with which he himself could kill other people. No other civilian employee around him carried a gun.
- If Jews tried to flee before they were killed, he would not have had to pursue them, but he did: „After the selection, when I was back in my room where I was working, I looked out of the window and saw Rindfuss running around in the field on the other side of the Chaussee, looking for the people who had fled during the selection.“ (Schnepf, p. 323)
- In the case of Litmann, the carpenter who was killed, it was also not a spontaneous reaction, but an intentional act: he „ran after Litmann“ (Stock, p. 227) before firing the fatal shot.
After the shooting of Litmann, Rindfuss was shunned by German colleagues: „I know that even the Germans who worked as technicians in ‚Galicja‘ and had not taken part in the action later boycotted Rindfuss, because as a non-Gestapo member he should not have done any ‚dirty work‘, which was the Gestapo’s job.“ (Stock, p. 228). On 16.11.1943 Karl Rindfuss left Drohobycz. Was he held accountable for his actions after the war?
A legal disaster
In 1968, according to the German law in force at the time, murders for which those involved could be sentenced to life imprisonment became time-barred after 20 years. Beginning in 1949, politically motivated murders from the Nazi era would have been barred by the statute of limitations in 1969. To prevent this, the Bundestag first extended the time limit by ten years, i.e. until 1979. At the same time, the Ministry of Justice drew up a reform that would no longer criminalise petty crimes: they were to be treated as „administrative offences“ (Ordnungswidrigkeiten). On 24 May 1968, the German Bundestag unanimously passed a seemingly innocuous law introducing this reformed law on administrative offences (EGOWiG). Hidden in this law, however, was an amendment to the Criminal Code: participants in a crime were to be punished as if they had only attempted the crime, if these participants in the crime could not be proven to have special characteristics such as murderousness or racial hatred as motives. For participation in murders, only a maximum sentence of 15 years was then possible, and as a result, the acts of those involved in murder were retroactively barred by the statute of limitations as early as 1960! The members of the Bundestag were not aware of this possible consequence when they voted.
This trick was thought up by a senior official in the Ministry of Justice, Dr Eduard Dreher. During the Nazi era, as a public prosecutor at the special court in Innsbruck, he had requested particularly high sentences – in at least twelve petty cases even the death penalty, because the defendants were „pests of the people“. Dreher had thus amnestied himself by changing the law.
„You have to imagine the EGOWiG like a bomb hidden in a child’s toy. This legal bomb tore apart the already ongoing investigation and criminal proceedings against the Nazi perpetrators and prevented further ones. The huge proceedings against hundreds of accused from the Reich Security Main Office, which had been the terror headquarters of the so-called Third Reich, collapsed – the work of eleven public prosecutors, 150,000 files perdu; all in vain. Thousands of investigative proceedings could no longer be continued.“ (Prantl, op. cit.)
The investigating prosecutors in the Rindfuss case had to reckon with the fact that the judges would not see any special aggravating features in the accused and that the offence would thus be time-barred. The investigation against Karl Rindfuss was not continued – there was no indictment and no trial in which the allegations of the crime could have been clarified, even with further witnesses and documents.
Notes on Rindfuss, in: Landesarchiv Schleswig-Holstein LASH, Abt. 352.4 Lübeck, vol. 1748, pp. 24-29 and 39;
Statement by Wilhelm Krell, in: Bundesarchiv (BArch) Ludwigsburg B.162, vol. 5832, pp. 207, 207R, 208
Statement by Genia Stock, Haifa, 23 May 1962, in: BArch B.162, vol. 5832, pp. 225-228
Statement by Karoline Schnepf, Tel Aviv, 4.10.1962, in: BArch, B.162, vol. 5832, pp. 322-324;
Minutes Nicolas Bronicki, Bremen, 26.10.1966, in: LASH Dept. 352.4, vol. 1736, pp. 1985a-1992
KL Plaszow access list from Drohobycz and Boryslaw, list of women, no. 162, in: Arolsen Archives, 188.8.131.52 / 489049;
Isydor Litman-Haleman, entry in: DALO Archives (Lviv), R 85-2-28, List of Jewish workers and employees of Carpathian Oil, 1942-1943, sheet 25, no. 41 (also: YVA M52.140, p. 50).
Manfred Görtemaker, Panne mit Kalkül, in: ZEIT Geschichte, 6/2020, p.94f.;
Heribert Prantl, Kalte Amnestie, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 6/5/2018.
Thomas Sandkühler, „Endlösung in Galizien“, Bonn 1996, p. 383 and 538