Those courageous enough to refuse to kill Jews under orders from the German army did not die for their decision, according to research done by those trying to understand the Holocaust.
"In the 135 cases of individuals or groups I have found who refused to execute Jews, hostages, partisans or prisoners-of-war, none of them died for that refusal," said David H. Kitterman, from Northern Arizona University, who presented a paper at the 25th Annual Scholars Conference on the Holocaust at Brigham Young University this week.His book "Refusing to Kill in the Midst of the Holocaust: The Case of Klaus Hornig" - the story of a single German officer's effort to stop the bloodshed and atrocities - is due to be released shortly.
Before a crowded lecture room, Kitterman discussed Hor-nig's story briefly, noting that while 50,000 death sentences were handed down by German Army officials for crimes as minor as stealing mail, no one was shot for refusing to kill innocent people.
However, officers such as Hornig were imprisoned, beaten, stripped of rank and prestige and threatened with death for their impertinence. Hornig, a staunch Catholic, actually ended up in a Jewish concentration camp with those he did not kill. Even after the liberation, he suffered at the hands of his fellow prisoners because they suspected him of being a German army spy - although he had hidden French Jews beneath his bed to save their lives.
Hornig escaped a date with death many times during the years following his refusal to carry out the execution of 780 Soviet prisoners of war in November 1941.
"The execution itself was a terrible sight," Kitterman quoted Hornig. "A huge sandy grave filled with half-naked Russian prisoners were killed with Russian machine guns that spattered the soldiers' coats with brains, blood and bone of the dying."
In addition, the soldiers were stabbing the desperate prisoners as they ran to the open grave.
Hornig screamed at them to stop and was consequently accused of being too soft and humane, of inhibiting the execution of orders, inciting mutiny and hostility against the SS.
Refusal to obey orders was listed as just one of his crimes.
But Hornig, unwilling to stay silent as well as stubborn about his refusal to kill the innocent, pointed out that paragraph 47 of the German Military Code allowed soldiers the right to refuse an order recognized as illegal.
He taught men under his command that they did not have to follow orders that went against their moral and legal conscience. He was an embarrassment to the army, and his court-martial was a kangaroo court that dragged on for years.
Orders for his execution were en route to the camp he was held in the day it was liberated.
Hornig lives in Germany today, one of the few survivors Kitterman was able to interview. He testifies at war trials for those who claim "they had no choice" in the mass executions and crimes against those who suffered.
Kitterman said U.S. officials have met Hornig's heroism with comments like "Why didn't you stop Hitler?" implying it wasn't enough to simply refuse to take part.
"Only the Yankees could be so dumb," Kitterman said Hornig replied.