Heinz Schubert - Einsatzgruppen

Language of Description
Alt. Identifiers
  • 1996.166
  • RG-60.5013
1 Jan 1979 - 31 Dec 1979, 1 Jan 1985 - 31 Dec 1985
Level of Description
  • German
EHRI Partner


Biographical History

Claude Lanzmann was born in Paris to a Jewish family that immigrated to France from Eastern Europe. He attended the Lycée Blaise-Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand. His family went into hiding during World War II. He joined the French resistance at the age of 18 and fought in the Auvergne. Lanzmann opposed the French war in Algeria and signed a 1960 antiwar petition. From 1952 to 1959 he lived with Simone de Beauvoir. In 1963 he married French actress Judith Magre. Later, he married Angelika Schrobsdorff, a German-Jewish writer, and then Dominique Petithory in 1995. He is the father of Angélique Lanzmann, born in 1950, and Félix Lanzmann (1993-2017). Lanzmann's most renowned work, Shoah, is widely regarded as the seminal film on the subject of the Holocaust. He began interviewing survivors, historians, witnesses, and perpetrators in 1973 and finished editing the film in 1985. In 2009, Lanzmann published his memoirs under the title "Le lièvre de Patagonie" (The Patagonian Hare). He was chief editor of the journal "Les Temps Modernes," which was founded by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, until his death on July 5, 2018. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/postscript/claude-lanzmann-changed-the-history-of-filmmaking-with-shoah

From 1974 to 1984, Corinna Coulmas was the assistant director to Claude Lanzmann for his film "Shoah." She was born in Hamburg in 1948. She studied theology, philosophy, and sociology at the Sorbonne and Hebrew language and Jewish culture at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and INALCO in Paris. She now lives in France and publishes about the Five Senses. http://www.corinna-coulmas.eu/english/home-page.html

Scope and Content

Lanzmann used the false name Dr. Sorel and filmed this interview clandestinely. Heinz Schubert was Otto Ohlendorf's adjutant in Einsatzgruppe D. He was sentenced to death in the Einsatzgruppen trial at Nuremberg for his role in the massacre of Jews in the Crimean town of Simferopol. His sentence was commuted to ten years in prison. Schubert never admits to much criminal or moral guilt. The interview ends when Schubert discovers that Lanzmann has been filming it. Several men, among them Schubert's son, attack Lanzmann and his interpreter, Corinna Coulmas. The Schuberts pressed charges against Lanzmann and he was forced to give up filming clandestinely. Lanzmann is eventually cleared after writing an impassioned letter to the prosecutor and his camera (called a Paluche) is returned to him. The filming and the discovery is recounted in Lanzmann's memoir The Patagonian Hare (see pgs. 458 - 465 in the English translation that appeared in March 2012). FILM ID 3216 -- Camera Rolls #1A,1B,1C,1D -- 01:00:00 to 01:30:05 (audio ends a few seconds before video) Audio only until 01:00:16. The image of Lanzmann approaching Schubert's house appears on the screen in the van that received the video feed. Once inside the house, Lanzmann makes small talk with Schubert's wife about Germany and Paris. The video is interrupted periodically. Audio only from 01:08:32 to 01:11:05. Mrs. Schubert thinks that she knows Lanzmann's female interpreter, Corinna Coulmas. Schubert enters at 01:11:11. He and Lanzmann (Dr. Sorel) discuss the fact that Schubert did not answer Lanzmann's letter. Lanzmann tells Schubert that his institute, in collaboration with "Paris University" is collecting oral histories and Lanzmann has been assigned to collect oral histories about World War II, and specifically about the Einsatzgruppen. Audio only from 01:13:15 to 01:14:52. The picture becomes clearer around 01:18:04 but is still sometimes fuzzy. Lanzmann continues to try and persuade a reluctant Schubert to talk to him. Schubert refuses to have the interview tape recorded. He talks about the trouble it could cause him with the German government and he says that he does not know what will happen to such tapes in thirty years. He says that the records of the [Einsatzgruppen] trial are there to read in black and white and he cannot say more than what appears in the records. Lanzmann tells Schubert that he has questions to ask that were not asked at Schubert's trial, for example about why it was so easy to take the Jews, and about the role of the Wehrmacht in the fight against the partisans. Audio only from 01:25:45 to 01:27:34. Video comes back on identifying slate which reads "34A Video." Schubert says that if he tells the truth about the Wehrmacht it will cause him trouble. He says that documents that could have helped him and the other defendants in the Einsatzgruppen trial were suppressed in order to shield the Wehrmacht. The documents suddenly appeared in the trial against the German generals and the generals' defense attorney, Laternser, told Ohlendorf that this deception was necessary to keep the reputation of the Wehrmacht clean. FILM ID 3217 -- Camera Rolls #2B,3,4 -- 02:00:00 to 02:24:36 Schubert now appears full-screen; the quality of the image varies. Schubert continues to waver on whether he should grant an interview to "Dr. Sorel." He says that he has helped several of his comrades from that time by testifying for them. He says he refused to testify against Field Marshall von Manstein in his trial in Hamburg because he knew it would be seen as an attempt to save his own life (he was imprisoned in Landsberg and sentenced to death at the time). Video but no audio from 02:06:50 to 02:07:17. The transcript indicates that he is still talking about von Manstein, the fact that he was freed by the Americans, and that he later wrote a book which in Schubert's opinion is worthless. He says that von Manstein's words were vetted and approved by the Americans. He says that his position as Ohlendorf's adjutant was an important one that meant he saw quite a bit of what was going on. He says that he traveled to Yalta with Ohlendorf as he was on his way to meet von Manstein at the castle where the victory celebration after the battle for Sebastopol was taking place. Von Manstein also gave the order that Simferopol (in the Crimea) should be "cleaned up" [Jews, Roma, and others executed] before Christmas. The video breaks up at 02:11:51 to 02:14:45. They discuss further the December 1941 execution in Simferopol in which some 14,000 Jews and Roma were killed with equipment provided by the Wehrmacht. 02:16:25 Good close-up of Schubert's face. Video only from 02:19:28 to 02:20:08. Schubert reads a passage from the book Lanzmann has brought with him and complains that at his trial the defendants were not allowed access to the documents that would have proved they were telling the truth: that their orders were given by the army. No video from 02:22:28 to end of tape. Lanzmann names the different units that comprised Einsatzgruppe D. Schubert gets a telephone call and Lanzmann and his translator speak softly in French. FILM ID 3218 -- Camera Rolls #5,6 -- 03:00:00 to 03:23:06 No video until 03:03:16. Schubert affirms that he was [Ohlendorf's adjutant? Part of Einsatzgruppe D in the Crimea?] from October 1941 until July 1942. 03:01:50 Schubert tentatively asks Lanzmann about the title of the book they have been reading from, which is Raul Hilberg's Destruction of the European Jews. Schubert says that he would not generally read such a thing because it churns everything up for him. He then begins to speak haltingly and vaguely about what he knew and did not know, saying that of course he saw some of what was happening but he often didn't know about certain events until after they happened, etc. Lanzmann asks him whether he was in Pretsch [where the Einsatzgruppen were first formed in May, 1941]. Schubert says he was not and then says that he does not want to say anything bad about anyone, that he could still be called to give evidence at proceedings in Ludwigsburg. Good shots of Schubert. He wonders why a certain person who knows much more than he does, who he refuses to name, has not been questioned by the court in Ludwigsburg. This person was at Pretsch and knew about Hitler's wish to destroy the Jews (he does not use this word), which was the reason Himmler formed the Einsatzgruppen. Lanzmann guesses correctly that Schubert is talking about Bruno Streckenbach, who had died recently. Schubert was unaware of this. Lanzmann says that the "Fuehrerbefehl" is mysterious - there was no written order; the order for the extermination of the Jews was given orally. Lanzmann asks whether Schubert spoke to Ohlendorf or Seibert about Pretsch. Schubert says he did so only once: in Simferopol Ohlendorf told him he should be happy he was just an adjutant and had nothing to do with such things. But he did become involved, when he observed the Jews and Roma at the collection point before their execution in Simferopol, in order to report to Ohlendorf whether the operation was carried out according to his orders. Audio only from 03:11:33 to 03:12:03. Schubert is not quite clear in his wording and Frau Schubert interrupts to make clear that he is speaking about an order given by Ohlendorf, not an order given by Schubert himself. Schubert apologizes for his wife, who has suffered more than he has since 1945. They talk about Schubert's position in the SD. He describes Ohlendorf as the most hated man in the upper party leadership because he reported things as they were, even when Hitler no longer wanted to hear it. Schubert mentions Streckenbach again. 03:16:58 Lanzmann says that Ohlendorf claimed that he did not know definitively in Pretsch that the Einsatzgruppen were meant to kill the Jews, only that there was an ideological battle [between Bolshevism and Fascism.] Schubert says that it was not explicitly laid out in any case, they knew only that the Einsatzgruppen were to secure the area behind the army. He says the conditions on the ground determined the way each operation was carried out and the outcome was also determined by the lower-level officers, who were commanded simply to ensure that the Fueherbefehl was carried out. He says that men like Streckenbach could have helped him and his fellow defendants quite a bit by testifying on their behalf at Nuremberg, by saying in front of the whole world that those who bore the real responsibility were not those sitting in the prisoners' dock. 03:21:18 Lanzmann quotes both Ohlendorf and Schubert as saying that the killings burdened their souls and he asks Schubert what he meant by that. Schubert says that it was difficult to suddenly be confronted by a large group of people who should be executed and there is no reason why, at the individual level. The larger reason is of course the Fuehrerbefehl. Frau Schubert interrupts to point out that her husband did not [directly] take part in executions. FILM ID 3219 -- Camera Rolls #7,8 -- 04:00:00 to 04:21:07 Continuing from the previous tape, Schubert agrees that he became involved in one single execution Aktion [Simferopol]. Frau Schubert says that her husband was sentenced to death for a crime that he did not commit and then pardoned because it was acknowledged that he did not commit it. Lanzmann says that many Einsatzgruppen members report suffering from this burden on their souls. Frau Schubert points out that her husband feels his soul to be burdened because he knew, because he had something to do with it while sitting at his desk, not because he physically participated in the shooting. Schubert continues to try and explain what he meant by saying that his soul is burdened, while Lanzmann says that they should not worry, he has nothing to do with the courts. Schubert says that a great number of the men [presumably Einsatzkommando members] suffered and that they asked Ohlendorf to be released from duty because they had children at home or other reasons. Lanzmann quotes Schubert as saying that he [Schubert? Lanzmann's sentence is not complete] had to ensure that the executions were carried out as Ohlendorf wanted them to be carried out. The interpreter (?) points out the difference in the two words meaning "to supervise" and "to observe," and Frau Schubert says that in one case he is responsible and in the other case he is not responsible. Schubert reads from a piece of paper with pen in hand. He gets up to show Lanzmann the paper and moves out of camera view. He says that he signed the document (with the word "beaufsichtigen," supervise) under pressure at Nuremberg and that the interrogator used this word. Video goes out from 04:04:49 to 04:05:22. Schubert speaks at some length of how he was kept in his cell and refused food until he finally signed the document in question. He says that this incorrect word was why he was sentenced to death. He says that despite the entreaties of the British and American prosecutors he refused to testify against von Manstein while he was sentenced to death. A governmental commission from the US came to Germany to review the last 29 death sentence cases in Landsberg. Picture goes out at 04:09:35. The members of the commission had heard the audio tape in which Schubert argued with the prosecutor about the wording ("observe" vs. "supervise") and recommended that he be granted clemency. McCloy reduced his sentence to ten years. 04:15:40 Lanzmann brings the conversation back to the question of Schubert's "burdened soul." He asks if it was difficult to watch executions. Schubert answers that it was difficult, but they nonetheless had to carry out orders, they were at the front. He knew that if he were to speak out against the executions he would probably be executed himself by a military court. He speaks of the brutalities suffered by his comrades at the hands of the Russians. Lanzmann asks what Ohlendorf meant when he specified that the executions must be carried out in a military and humane fashion. Schubert answers, with suggestion from Lanzmann, that it meant that the executions should be carried out quickly, for example with pistols or automatic weapons. He begins to talk about the specific situation at Simferopol, but the tape breaks off. 04:19:04 Frau Schubert says that she saw and heard the tape recorder. They have figured out that there is a vehicle outside where the whole conversation is being recorded. Lanzmann denies this but Schubert keeps insisting that he see the contents of Lanzmann's bag. Frau Schubert says they should call the police. Voices are raised and the tape breaks off.


  • Staff-curated clips include: Clip 1, Film ID 3218, 03:03:54-03:11:33 Clip 2, Film ID 3218, 03:12:03-03:22:58 Clip 3, Film ID 3219, 04:01:03-04:04:45

  • Claude Lanzmann spent twelve years locating survivors, perpetrators, and eyewitnesses for his nine and a half hour film Shoah released in 1985. Without archival footage, Shoah weaves together extraordinary testimonies to render the step-by-step machinery of the destruction of European Jewry. Critics have called it "a masterpiece" and a "monument against forgetting." The Claude Lanzmann SHOAH Collection consists of roughly 185 hours of interview outtakes and 35 hours of location filming.




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