Haupkommissar Berger had joined the police after the First World War, in which three of his older brothers had fallen. "I came from a good Catholic family with a tradition of civil service. My years with the military counted toward my career in the police, so that by 1925 I had made sergeant and had permanent status. In 1929 I switched to the detective division and in 1931 became a cub detective in the fraud department."
Until then Berger had belonged to no political party, but shortly after the seizure of power in the spring of 1933 he joined the NSDAP, and two years later the SS. "It was the temper of the times . . . As a civil servant I didn't want to be on the outside."
Toward the end of 1934 Berger was transferred to the Gestapo, where his first assignment involved combating "communist subversion". "We had our hands full at that time. Almost every day our informants brought us illegal pamphlets which had been distributed in the factories, or they reported that seditious slogans had appeared overnight on walls and bridges."
What Berger neglected to mention was that in the Gestapo he developed into a brutal interrogator whom all the prisoners feared. Early one morning in the winter of 1934-5 [Mr. Ney] ran into a worker he knew . . . [he] had blood streaming from his nose and mouth and could barely stand . . . The man's back was a bloody pulp from his shoulders to his buttocks -- the work of Berger, who had hauled him in for questioning on the previous day.
"Berger worked him over for hours with a length of rigid rubber tubing", Herr Ney told us later. "He beat the man with the regularity of a machine, one blow every five seconds, exactly twelve blows per minute. He wanted to find out who had painted "Down with Hitler!" on the factory wall . . .
When I asked Herr Berger about the methods of interrogation he had used over 25 years earlier, he knew exactly what I was talking about. His reaction, however, surprised me.
"Yes, yes," he said thoughtfully and without a trace of shame. He even smiled. "All kinds of stories made the rounds, and are still making the rounds, and much of what people say has been exaggerated. But it's true we had to be pretty tough on the suspects when an 'intensive interrogation' was ordered. I often had to clench my teeth to make myself go through with it. I got many beatings as a child, especially from my godfather, who raised me. He tended to get angry. Anger is a bad thing -- I always made a point of maintaining my self-control. After all, it was just part of our job. By the way, I never struck anyone unless I had written orders." He paused, as though expecting praise.
. . . "Order must be maintained", he said. "That was also the original purpose of the concentration camps: to teach those people order and discipline. Later on, of course, excesses did occur, in violation of the guidelines."
I asked him whether he had ever seen a concentration camp. . . I wanted to ask him his impressions of Buchenwald, but I was sure I would only hear again how clean and orderly he had found the camp. . . I inquired . . . "And how did you feel about what was called in those days 'the Jewish question'?
. . . "Yes, well, let me explain . . . You probably don't understand . . . You see, I came from a strict Catholic family . . . When I was a child he forbade me to play with the Jewish children next door . . . Well, I really can't say I felt hostile toward Jews . . . I really felt sorry for some of the people when I had to evacuate them . . ."
I was amazed to hear him use the term 'evacuate' without the slightest irony, as if he still believed the Gestapo had been moving the Jews to safety! "I suppose you went through special training . . ."
"And how! We had racial theory and ideological instruction, and also a special course on the 'Legal Position of the Jews'. Some of the instructors certainly put us through our paces. But I tell you, after that training and a few months on the job, I could recognize a Jew thirty feet away, no matter how he tried to blend in or how blond and blue-eyed he was. I had an unfailing instinct when it came to picking them out!"
"Of course" he added hastily, "I often closed one eye when I could do that without running afoul of the guidelines. But I recognized every single one."
His professional pride seemed to have gained the upper hand again.