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Hans Prause

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5029 | Film ID: 3331, 3332, 3333

Hans Prause was an engineer with the German Reichsbahn who was stationed in Warsaw, Radom, Lvov, and Malkinia. He talks about the good relations between the German and Polish railroads, preparing trains before the invasion of the USSR, the situation in Lvov, hostile relations between the Poles and the Jews, and visiting the Warsaw ghetto. He defends the fact that he signed orders by saying that the trains would have gone regardless of anyone's signature. He defends Ganzenmüller regarding transports to Treblinka.

FILM ID 3331 -- Camera Rolls #1-4 -- 01:00:07 to 01:33:56
Rolls 1-2 Prause sits at a table in front of a window. Lanzmann does not appear in the frame. Prause tells Lanzmann he was educated as an engineer and entered the service of the Reichsbahn in 1933. By 1938 he was a master builder or architect (Reichsbahnbaumeister) and he was posted to Poland after the war began. Prause talks about the structure of the Reichsbahn in Poland (Ostbahn), which consisted of Germans in leadership positions but was run mostly by Poles. The engine drivers of the trains were almost always Poles. The collaboration between the Germans and the Poles was very good. Prause clarifies that he only came to Poland in March 1941 to prepare parts of the railway for the attack on the USSR (although he did not know this at the time). He names several locations where he worked.

Roll 3 01:11:19 Prause learned of the attack on the USSR eight days before it happened when he was ordered to replace Polish telegraph operators at the border train stations with German soldiers. He was at the Malkinia train station when the war began. He details his titles and duties in Warsaw and other locations. He especially liked the people of Lemberg (Lvov/Lviv). He says that the relations between the Poles and the Jews were much worse than the relations between the Germans and the Jews. The Poles resented the Jews money because they were in debt to them. In the case of the Germans, the convinced Party members hated the Jews, but this was not the case with the common soldiers or the railway workers. He says that when railway workers were caught stealing (from the Jews?) they were sent home. A Polish woman sent him a Persilschein after the war (a postwar document used to prove that a person was not a Nazi or had behaved well during the war).

Roll 4 01:22:45 Prause says he was not an official NSDAP member but rather a member of the NSKK (Nationalsozialistische Kraftfahrer Korps) and that he had to join in order to be awarded an academic degree. Lanzmann asks him whether he had a Nazi worldview and he says no, and that his father was against Hitler. However, he enjoyed the companionship of the NSKK. He says that on the night of the Roehm purge in 1934 his NSKK Sturmfuehrer warned his men that something was happening, sent them all home, and told them to stay out of uniform. (The NSKK had earlier been part of the SA.) The Sturmfuehrer did the same thing on Kristallnacht. Lanzmann asks Prause what he thought of Kristallnacht and Prause says that he thought it was terrible (Mordschweinerei) but that one couldn't have done anything about it. Lanzmann returns to the subject of the locations where Prause was stationed when he was sent to Poland.

FILM ID 3332 -- Camera Rolls #5-7 -- 02:00:07 to 02:34:13
Roll 5 In response to a question from Lanzmann, Prause says that when he was in Lemberg (Lvov/Lviv) there was no ghetto yet and that the Janowska concentration camp came much later. He says that when he was in Warsaw he was visited by some railway workers from Lvov who told him that the best thing about Warsaw was that there were no Jews on the streets, and that was the first time he realized how much the Poles hated the Jews. He says that the young Poles thought the Germans should kill all the Jews and not just some of them, and that this sentiment was something one might hear from a Nazi but not from an average German. He says that if a German soldier refused to take part in the shooting of Jews he would be shot. In response to Lanzmann's question Prause says there were two killing centers in his region, Treblinka and Sobibor. Prause says he was invited to visit Treblinka but never went to either camp. Lanzmann mentions Belzec as well and Prause say he has heard the name but is not familiar with the location. Lanzmann asks Prause when he learned about the extermination of the Jews. Prause says he learned of it in the Ostbahn canteen in Malkinia and that he knew before the Warsaw ghetto was destroyed. He says that the man who ran the canteen in Celce (Kielce? Written "Celce" in the transcript) had been assigned 200 or 300 Jews as laborers on his farm and when he found out that they were to be rounded up he tried to help them by releasing them into the forest.

Roll 6 02:11:25 Prause says that the German population at home did not know about the destruction of the Jews, which Lanzmann says he finds astonishing. Prause says when he was on home leave in Hamburg at the end of 1942 some of his Reichsbahn colleagues asked him whether it was true that the Jews were being killed. Reluctantly, he told them about Treblinka, where the Jews were killed with cyanide (Zyklon B). Lanzmann corrects him, saying that the Jews were killed with carbon monoxide in Treblinka. One of his colleagues became greatly upset and denied that it could be true, saying that no German could do such a thing, before beginning to cry. He illustrates his point that the normal German soldier did not hate the Jews with a story about German soldiers who objected strenuously to the mistreatment by the SS of a group of Jews in Kielce (Celce).

Roll 7 02:22:52 Lanzmann asks about the members of the Sonderzugreferat (Referat 33) who were arrested after the war (?) for signing off on transports of Jews. Prause says that they could not have been expected to know what was being transported in the trains, that the trains would have gone even without the signatures, and that anyone who refused orders would have been punished. Lanzmann mentions that he had spoken with [Walter] Stier, the head of Referat 33, about certain telegrams relating to the contents of trains (Einlegetelegramme). He quotes from one of the telegrams about the various categories of people on deportation trains. Prause says that these telegrams were discovered by the Russians. Lanzmann says that the trains carried the Jews to Treblinka and came back empty and that Stier must have known this, to which Prause answers that Stier couldn't have done anything to prevent it. Lanzmann presses Prause on whether he knew that the trains were taking Jews to Treblinka.

FILM ID 3333 -- Camera Rolls #8,9 -- 03:00:06 to 03:23:26
Roll 8 Lanzmann says that he went to Treblinka and found that all of the Poles who lived in the area knew what was going on at the camp. Prause says he was invited to visit the camp but refused. He defends Albert Ganzenmueller (head of the Reichsbahn) and says he could have done nothing to prevent the transports. Lanzmann mentions the famous letter written by Ganzenmueller to Himmler's adjutant Karl Wolff. Prause describes the Polish black market and the black market in the Warsaw ghetto. He says there was no charity between the Jews when trading on the black market. He saw old people starving to death in the streets and that nobody cared for them. He says that the poverty and the "ice cold" haggling between the Jews were his main impressions of the ghetto. He had always thought before that the image of the "haggling Jew" was a joke.

Roll 9 03:11:23 Prause describes the beginning of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, which he witnessed. Some of the Jews escaped via the sewers but the Poles would not protect them. Prause was able to take some photographs of the uprising.

Event:  1978-1981 (Tournage en Allemagne)
Production:  1985
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2021-06-03 12:47:13
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