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Karl Kretschmer - Einsatzgruppen

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5018 | Film ID: 3246, 3247

Karl Kretschmer was Obersturmführer with Einsatzgruppe 4a (Babi Yar) and wrote an infamous letter to his wife and children about the killings. In this hidden camera interview, Kretschmer is very reluctant to talk. Lanzmann asks about Babi Yar and Kretschmer says he wasn't there. He says he doesn't remember what his letter said since he doesn't have them any more. Kretschmer says he was struck by the fact that the Jews put up no resistance at mass shootings.

FILM ID 3246 -- Camera Rolls #1-3 -- 01:00:00 to 01:12:37
Lanzmann sits in a hotel room reading some papers, preparing for a secretly taped interview with Kretschmer. The sound engineer, Bernard Aubouy, is also in the room. Lanzmann takes off his jacket and shirt and the technician fits him with the hidden camera. The camera is held in place on Lanzmann's left side by a strap around his chest. The technician helps him with his shirt and tie, and they speak in French as Lanzmann continues to dress. Lanzmann picks up a document from a table and reads aloud (a French translation of Kretchmer's letter to his family in September 1942 about Babi Yar). Lanzmann sits down and continues to read the letter and others aloud. He finishes reading the letters and picks up and studies a photo of Kretschmer (the viewer cannot see the photo). Lanzmann reads the letters aloud again on camera roll 3. [See departmental files for detailed description and some translation of this tape.]

FILM ID 3247 -- Camera Rolls #4-7 -- 02:00:00 to 02:31:09
The video and audio are both in and out for the first couple of minutes of the interview. The audio levels continue to be inconsistent. We see Kretchmer first at about two minutes into the tape. Lanzmann reminds Kretschmer that he was here once before. Kretschmer says that he cannot talk because he was workers in the house that day. He confuses Lanzmann's film project with "Holocaust," asking Lanzmann if it hasn't already been shown. Lanzmann says he has nothing to do with "Holocaust" but asks what Kretschmer thought of it. Lanzmann says that he really wants to talk to Kretschmer about the letters that he wrote to his wife and children, and he also wants to talk about Babi Yar. He offers to pay Kretschmer. Kretschmer, still standing in his doorway, says that he finds the subject repugnant and wants to be finished with it. He lists several postwar legal proceedings against him. Lanzmann points out that he was a member of Einsatzgruppe C and Kretschmer agrees but continues to talk about the many times he was imprisoned by different occupation authorities after the war. Lanzmann points out that Kretschmer has no more risk now and asks him about Babi Yar, to which Kretchmer answers that he was not there at [the time of the shooting] but arrived later, in 1942. Lanzmann counters that Kretschmer saw many shootings, about which he wrote to his family. Lanzmann asks if this was a great burden on Kretschmer's soul [seelische Belastung]. In response to a question from Lanzmann Kretschmer says that in the occupied territories, the definition of a saboteur was pushed very far. Lanzmann says that small children were not saboteurs and asks whether Kretschmer was a father. Lanzmann reminds Kretschmer that he wrote about witnessing a big massacre and that he said it was very difficult. Kretschmer says that he no longer has the letters and he can't remember exactly what he wrote. Lanzmann asks Kretschmer if he knew [Paul] Blobel, head of Sonderkommando 4a in Einsatzgruppe C. Kretschmer says he knows the name, but that Blobel was no longer there when he arrived. Kretschmer says that he doesn't want to talk about any of this anymore, but Lanzmann asks him how many Jews he saw murdered. Kretschmer answers that he did not stand there with a diary and count. Lanzmann asks Kretschmer why, in his opinion, the Jews did not revolt.

No video from 02:11:08 to 02:19:58. Lanzmann tells Kretschmer that he himself is a Jew. Kretschmer says he was struck by the fact that the Jews did not revolt. He says again that he wants to stop talking but Lanzmann says that Jews today want to understand what happened. He asks Kretschmer how many people were in the Einsatzgruppen, whether he was ever in Kulmhof [Chelmno], and whether he saw the gas vans. He continues to question Kretschmer, who says that he wants to stop, he must go back to the renovation work on his house. Lanzmann offers to pay Kretschmer "Jewish money." He makes a play on words, saying that the offer is "nicht Sonderkommando, aber Sonderangebot." Kretschmer asks Lanzmann if he is filming. Lanzmann offers money again, then offers to give Kretschmer's wife a fur coat [Persianer]. Kretschmer laughs at this. Lanzmann asks Kretschmer if he is still against the Jews, and Kretschmer answers no, although he is not pleased by what is happening in "Arabien" (meaning the Middle East?). He denies that he is now or ever was an antisemite. He tries again to end the conversation and Lanzmann asks where Kretschmer's wife is, then again offers Kretschmer money to continue the interview. He says that they must continue. Lanzmann asks Kretschmer if he still has faith in Hitler and Kretschmer says no, that in the end he realized they were all crazy. He tells Lanzmann to bury his hopes of getting an interview with him and Lanzmann tells him that he will return. Lanzmann speaks French with his collaborators.

02:19:59 Lanzmann and his female translator walk up to Kretschmer's house. They are now being filmed from across the street. The camera zooms in and for most of the interview shows only Kretschmer. Lanzmann opens the door and calls into the house, saying that he has a proposition for Kretschmer. Kretschmer closes the door and comes out onto the porch. Lanzmann offers him 2,000 DM for a one hour interview. He says that he wants a commentary on the letters that Kretschmer wrote. He quotes from one of the letters and asks for clarification on Kretschmer's assertion that the war was a Jewish war. Kretschmer says that they were convinced by Goebbels and by constant propaganda, and that what he believed then and what he believes now are completely different. Lanzmann points out that Germany was at war with America and Russia, not the Jews, and Kretschmer answers that the American government was full of Jews, just like it is today. Lanzmann asks why Kretschmer wrote in 1942 that there were no more Jews in Russia, did this mean that all of the Jews were destroyed? Kretschmer denies knowledge of how the Jews disappeared from Russia. Eventually Kretschmer agrees that the executions were a burden on the soul, but he says he will give no further clarification. Lanzmann reads a further quote from a letter to Kretschmer's wife, in which he says that he will not be able to get a fur coat for her after all, because the Jews who deal in furs are no longer alive. Lanzmann asks Kretschmer to explain a joke about Blutwurst that he made in one of the letters. Lanzmann says that he believes that Kretchmer meant that after an execution it was impossible to eat Blutwurst. Kretschmer finally ends the conversation by going inside and shutting the door, while Lanzmann tells him that it is perhaps his last chance to speak and think about these things. Lanzmann and his translator walk away from the house and then stand together looking up at a (religious?) statue that adorns the side of the house. The camera holds a shot of the house for about 1 minute 20 seconds.

Event:  Summer 1979
Production:  1985
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2022-07-28 22:02:32
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