The thirteenth day of the hearing, 23 January 1947

(Session begins at 9:40 a.m.)

Presiding judge M. Günter: I resume the session of the Supreme National Tribunal to adjudicate in the case of Ludwig Leist, Josef Meisinger, and Max Daume, indicted pursuant to the 21 August 1944 decree on the punishment of fascist-Hitlerite criminals.

The following witnesses will be heard: Father Michelis, Prof. Pieńkowski, Prof. Warchałowski, Mr. Jaworski, and Mr. Orzeszek.

Witness Michelis is a clergyman whose religious affiliation is legally recognized by the state.

Prosecutor Siewierski: I request that the witness be heard under the applicable law.

Presiding judge: Have the other witnesses been sworn in?

Witness Pieńkowski: No.

Witness Warchałowski: No.

Presiding judge: Then please take the oath. (Witnesses Pieńkowski and Warchałowski are sworn in).

We will now hear witness Michelis. (The witness is advised of the obligation to tell the truth and of criminal liability for making false declarations).

Witness Zygmunt Michelis, b. 1880, resident of Warsaw, affiliated to the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, provost of an Augsburg Confession church in Warsaw, no relationship to the parties.

Presiding judge: Please tell the Tribunal what you know concerning the case.

Witness: I can talk about the attitude of the occupying authorities toward the Polish Evangelical church in general, and particularly in the capital.

Immediately after the capitulation, still before the occupying troops took over the city, a dozen or so Gestapo officers came to the vicarage and made a list of all Evangelical clergymen active in Warsaw.

Sought in particular was the late Juliusz Bursche, a bishop of our church. As the provost of this parish, I was interrogated by these men and I had to answer their questions. From their conversations I concluded that they were a Gestapo team from Munich. They were under the command of a high-ranking officer named Bonifer (?). We were treated very roughly. We were addressed without the polite form or as Polish swine, and in the course of the interrogation, they made ironic remarks: “You’re not going to see your bishop alive ever again.”

Presiding judge: What was the archbishop accused of?

Witness: The accusation was that the Evangelical Church was an instrument for the Polonization of Polish citizens of German nationality and Evangelical religious affiliation. In particular, the bishop was accused of issuing an anti-German address when the war broke out and of ordering that it be read in all churches. Then, they said that “you’re not going to see your bishop alive again,” and we were crassly told, “You are all guilty enough to be liquidated, too.”

Presiding judge: Father, you said that the treatment was rough. Please tell us what it looked like.

Witness: We were addressed in a crass fashion and offensive words were used.

Presiding judge: Was anybody physically abused?

Witness: Not on that occasion.

Presiding judge: How long was the interrogation?

Witness: Around half an hour. Then, we all went to the church office and we were told to open the parish vault, from which all the money and valuables, such as gold and gilded church vessels, were taken. They were taken without counting or recording, and when I objected and wanted to protect these items, I was shoved aside and told that if I did not calm down, I would be taken away, too. When I demanded that the money be counted and recorded, the response was that such a demand was insulting to the German authorities, because nothing was ever unaccounted for with them. That was at the very beginning.

After a few days, the same officer came with an entourage and arrested us all. We were taken to the prison at Daniłowiczowska Street. We were detained, interrogated, sometimes threatened, and on that occasion I was even physically abused, having been hit by officer Bonifer. Being allegedly of German origin – although it was not true for everyone – we were pressurized into signing a declaration of loyalty, and then it was demanded from me that I agree to being appointed commissioner of the Evangelical Church on behalf of the German authorities, in light of the fact that the bishop had been arrested. When I refused, I was threatened that my entire family would be deported. I was also separated from the other priests, who were kept in a collective cell, while I was placed in a single cell and punished by starvation: for the first three days, I was not given any food at all and I was told that I would remain in this cell until I signed the declaration. In the meantime, German priests had arrived at the parish and an operation was launched of convincing and forcing people to sign the Volksdeutsche list. This had continued until the end of 1939. Then, Father Loth, the then provost, was released due to his old age and illness. He was over 70. We, in our turn, were moved to the Pawiak prison, and then we were transferred to Oranienburg, from where some since returned, but some only after the war – those who were still alive.

Presiding judge: Did a lot of priests die in the prison and the Oranienburg camp?

Witness: Overall, out of one hundred prisoners, 60 survived. In 1940, the General Government in Kraków issued an order stipulating that the authorities of the Evangelical Church were to be dismissed, the Church’s legal personality revoked, and the church assets transferred to the newly-established German parishes. Consequently, not a single Evangelical church had remained which could be used by Polish Evangelicals, and across the country, masses in Polish were allowed, or rather tolerated, at five locations only. Officially, the Church did not exist, nor did any Church authorities, and additionally, it was repeated on multiple occasions that this was just a transition period, until the end of the war, because after the war there would be no trace of the Polish Evangelical Church.

Presiding judge: Aside from the church and the church fittings, did the Evangelical Church oversee any charitable institutions, shelters, etc., and what happened to them?

Witness: Yes, it did, but all of them were taken over and confiscated, bar in Warsaw: the city had numerous care facilities, and the two smallest ones were left for the Poles to use, while the others were given to the Germans. In the countryside, all such facilities were taken over and liquidated. Just like in Warsaw, the country priests were all arrested, the majority of them deported to camps. Receiving the worst treatment were the priests in the former Prussian Partition, in Pomerania, in the Poznań area, and in Silesia.

Presiding judge: What happened to Bishop Bursche?

Witness: He was arrested at the very beginning in Lublin. Then, he was transferred to a prison in Radom. After that, he was moved to Oranienburg. There, he was kept in a separate bunker, isolated, and that is where I accidentally caught a glimpse of him twice and where he died in circumstances unknown to us.

Presiding judge: Reportedly, he was beaten to death.

Witness: I heard about it from my comrades who survived the camp, but they were referring not to him but to his brother, a professor of theology. He wore a long beard which set the Gestapo men off and when he was brought in they beat him up terribly. He was tortured, he had holes in his head, they pulled his beard, and when he was changing into his prison uniform, they put him through some “sport” in that they locked him in a narrow wardrobe and ordered other prisoners to roll it over, and he was rattling around inside. He came out bruised and battered. Then, after some six weeks, he was transferred from Oranienburg to Mauthausen. There, because he was walking tall, he was beaten to death.

Prosecutor Siewierski: Did these repressive measures affect Bishop Bursche’s entire family?

Witness: That is correct. All men form this family were arrested: they were Professor Bursche, who was beaten to death, attorney Bursche, who died in Mauthausen, and the third brother, an architect, was the only one to return from Mauthausen, his health ruined, while the bishop’s son, who was in Łódź, disappeared without a trace after he was arrested. He simply vanished – apparently he was murdered immediately.

Prosecutor: Were there attempts to set up Polish Evangelical parishes?

Witness: During the occupation, we privately approached the new church authorities and said that we had our faith communities everywhere and we wanted to provide pastoral care to them, at least on the road, to which the German clergymen said, “Yes, that might be possible, but first you need to make a request with the occupying authorities, swear allegiance, and apply for the legalization of the Polish Evangelical Church and for a permission to appoint church authorities. Until that, you may not provide service anywhere.”

We declined these offers, saying that we did not recognize the dissolution of the Church. No authority can dissolve the Church, we would not be pledging allegiance, we did not recognize the dissolution of the Church, which we considered to be still in existence, just unable to operate in the face of violence. We had no opportunity to provide pastoral care, and our faithful, not only in the annexed territories but also elsewhere, were dying and were buried either without any clerical assistance or by Catholic clergymen, as long as the local provost agreed to it – which happened often.

Prosecutor: Were religious issues and the Evangelical Church set-up in the purview of the district, that is the Government, or of the Stadthauptmann [city mayor]?

Witness: These were in the district’s purview. If I remember correctly, we received correspondence from the district signed by SS-man Kreube, who was the desk officer responsible for church matters. The Stadthauptmann had nothing to do with this. It was always the Gestapo who were at the center of things. Once, after I returned from Oranienburg, an anonymous denunciation was submitted against me at the district concerning my prewar anti-German activities. I used to be an editor, so clippings from the papers which I had edited were attached and I was summoned to the Gestapo headquarters, where I was informed that all this was on file at the district’s church department and had been sent specifically for the purpose of the Gestapo investigations. My impression was that the church matters received special attention from the Gestapo.

Presiding judge: The way to the Gestapo led via the district.

Witness: That is correct.

Presiding judge: You said that the correspondence was sent by the district.

Witness: That is correct, from the church department.

Prosecutor Siewierski: You saw the cooperation of administrative and police bodies.

Witness: Sometimes – although I did not see it personally – you approached the district and were referred to the Gestapo, or the other way round, the Gestapo referring you to the district. One authority did not make decisions on these issues without consulting the other. There was a special desk officer, whose name, I think, I have already stated, who dealt with these matters.

Presiding judge: There was a special body in the district.

Witness: There were church departments in the district and in the Gestapo.

Prosecutor Siewierski: Were there some official policy-related statements concerning what the Germans would do with the Polish Evangelical Church, or was it all limited to such conversations with brutal officials who expressed their opinions?

Witness: Officially, there was the order issued by the General Government concerning the dissolution of our Church and stating that this Church did not legally exist. Other than that, I had no knowledge of any official statements.