Widmann, Albert

Albert Widmann (8 June 1912 – 24 Dec. 1986), SS Sturmbannführer, was a German PhD chemist who in 1940 became the head of the section of analytical chemistry at the German Institute for Criminological Technology in Berlin (Kriminaltechnisches Institut, KTI). Right at the beginning of the Third Reich’s euthanasia action, Widmann is said to have received verbal orders from Arthur Nebe, then head of the Reich Police Department for Criminal Investigations (Reichskriminalpolizeiamt), to find a suitable poisonous chemical with which to kill severely mentally disabled patients. Widmann recommended bottled carbon monoxide.

In late 1941, Widmann is said to have been involved in the development of “gas vans.” In this context, Widmann spread a rumor on how this alleged murder method was “discovered.” It starts out with a preposterous rumor that Widmann’s boss Nebe had the idea of using engine-exhaust gases because he once accidentally gassed himself this way, which is most certainly untrue (see the entry on Arthur Nebe for more). Next, instead of using the vast research and experimental resources available to them in their institute in peaceful Berlin and at the various mental institutions in Germany, Nebe and Widmann allegedly picked up 400 kg of explosives somewhere and several meters of metal hoses, then drove 1,000 km with this load to Minsk near the Russian-German front, of all places, in order to do some experiments there with patients of a mental asylum.

The first experiment they are said to have conducted allegedly consisted of putting several mental patients into a shed, then blowing it up with some of the explosives they had brought along. Why it took an experiment to verify that people surrounded by explosive get killed when the explosives detonate is an unsolved mystery. It goes without saying that the results of that experiment were unsatisfactory as well, because body parts “whirled through the air and got stuck in the trees,” as Germany’s news magazine Der Spiegel quoted Widmann’s trial statement. This conclusion did not require any experiment either, because any moderately intelligent person can predict that blowing up people with explosives leads to body parts and organs being thrown all around. Cleaning up this mess was neither an easy nor a pleasant job (Widmann also mentioned the crater that needed filling in…), so this murder method was abandoned. (Note that Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski made similar postwar claims, and that Rudolf Höss, the former commandant of the Auschwitz Camp, stated after the war that Paul Blobel had tried to make corpses disappear(!) by blowing them up. See the two entries on explosives.)

This story was invented by Widmann himself during an interrogation conducted in 1960. It contains more absurd claims about how they got the explosives. We therefore may assume that he was taking his interrogators for a ride. During his trial, Widmann repeated this nonsense. The court believed him unquestioningly, and the media spread the gory news. No one exercised the least degree of critical thinking, which is what nearly always happens when Holocaust atrocity claims are involved.

This was not the end of this tragicomedy, though. After they realized that dynamite was not the ideal murder weapon, they presumably connected the exhaust pipe of their car to a tube inserted into the wall of one room of a mental institution, using some of the metal hoses they had brought along. The first attempt didn’t work, so they had a second vehicle, this time a truck, also connected to the room through a second tube. Now there was success; all patients locked up in the room eventually died. During his interrogation leading up to his trial, Widmann was confronted with seemingly corroborating evidence for this alleged gassing in a mental asylum: He was shown four photographs showing a scene that he later described. However, later research has shown that these photos were stills from staged footage recorded for a U.S. propaganda documentary for the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal (see Schwensen 2013). Hence, nothing of what Widmann testified had any relation to real-world events.

If Widmann really developed, in 1939, the murder method for euthanasia killings in German’s mental institutions, and if those had been working very reliably for two years by late 1941, then why did Widmann have to travel 1,000 km east to try some insane methods to find out how best to kill mental patients there? Even Widmann’s interrogator in preparation of his trial was doubtful, as he asked him whether such a single experiment would have justified such a journey. If bottled carbon-monoxide gas wasn’t good enough, experiments with other methods, such as engine exhaust or generator gas, could have easily been done in Berlin. Additionally, at the time of the Minsk trip, some early version of “gas vans” were allegedly already in use, if we believe the orthodox narrative, so Widmann’s tale is not just absurd, but also anachronistic.

Widmann also confirmed that he was involved in testing the efficiency of a new set of “gas vans” equipped by the Berlin Gaubschat Company. However, when reading Widmann’s testimony in this regard, the disorganization, ridiculous incompetence and gross carelessness of all involved is striking. He also insisted that his tests “did not have a useful result,” which is difficult to believe – unless he tried getting toxic fumes out of a diesel engine. Of course, this cannot but yield useless results, as diesel exhaust is rather harmless. That’s a trivial statement in the world of engine-fume toxicology, and was certainly known to Germany’s top toxicologists, so they would never have tried testing a diesel truck’s exhaust gases for mass-murder in the first place. In other words: Widmann describes things that would not have happened in the real world.

Widmann also spread the lie that the crematorium chimney of a hospital emitted “5 m high flames,” although that was technically impossible. He claimed to have been asked for advice as to how such chimney fires can be prevented. No hospital administrator in his right mind would ask an analytical chemist about issues of cremation technology, though. This case highlights once more that Widmann was making up wild stories on whatever topic he was talking about – perhaps consciously, as a sign that he was being interrogated under duress.

(For more details, see Alvarez 2023, pp. 219-225.)

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