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Originally established as the prisoner of war camp Stalag XI-C, in 1943 it became a concentration camp on the orders of Heinrich Himmler, where Jewish hostages were held with the intention of exchanging them for German prisoners of war held overseas. Later still the name was applied to the displaced persons camp established nearby, but it is most commonly associated with the concentration camp it became as conditions deteriorated between 1943-1945. During this time an estimated 50,000 Russian prisoners of war and a further 50,000 inmates died there, up to 35,000 of them dying of typhus in the first few months of 1945.
The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945 by the British 11th Armoured Division.60,000 prisoners were found inside, most of them seriously ill, and another 13,000 corpses lay around the camp unburied. The scenes that greeted British troops were described by the BBC's Richard Dimbleby, who accompanied them:
“ ...Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which... The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them ... Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live ... A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms, then ran off, crying terribly. He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days.
"This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.
For public opinion in Western countries in the immediate post-1945 period, the name "Belsen" became emblematic of Nazi horrors in general. The even greater horrors of Auschwitz, a camp which was liberated by the Soviets and of which Western soldiers and journalists had no direct experience, became widely known only later.
In September 1939 a prisoner of war camp was established at Fallingbostel, and the nearby Bergen-Belsen site became a Häftlingslager, or "prison camp", initially housing around 500 prisoners who were used as construction workers for the Fallingbostel project. In June 1940 it became a prisoner of war camp for around 600 French and Belgian soldiers, under the authority of the Wehrmacht, and in May 1941 it was designated prisoner of war camp Stalag XI-C, (Stalag XI-C/311 for the Belgian and French POW's). Conditions in the camp were very basic, with inadequate food and little shelter. Around 20,000 Soviet prisoners of war were sent to the camp between July 1941 and the spring of 1942, of whom about 18,000 died of hunger, cold and disease.
In 1942, Bergen-Belsen became a concentration camp, and part of it was placed under SS command in April 1943. Having initially been designated Zivilinterniertenlager ("civilian internment camp"), in June 1943 it was redesignated Aufenthaltslager ("holding camp"), since the Geneva Conventions stipulated that the former type of facility must be open to inspection by international committees. This was the "Star Camp" (so called because the inmates were made to wear the yellow star badge that designated them Jews). The Star Camp held several thousand Jews, mainly Dutch Jews, who were intended to be exchanged for German civilians interned in other countries. Star Camp inmates were made to work, many of them in the "shoe commando" which salvaged usable pieces of leather from shoes collected and brought to the camp from all over Germany and Occupied Europe. Families were permitted to meet during the day, and in general the Star Camp prisoners were treated less harshly than some other classes of Bergen-Belsen prisoner until fairly late in the war, due to their perceived potential exchange value. From September 1943 Italian military internees were also held at Bergen-Belsen. In March 1944, part of the camp was redesignated as an Erholungslager ("recovery camp"), where prisoners too sick to work were brought from other camps. In August 1944, a shipment of approximately 8,000 female prisoners of various nationalities arrived from Auschwitz, most of whom were sent to Arbeitskommandos to work in factories, and from October 1944 captured Polish Home Army soldiers also began arriving at the camp. In all there were eight separate sections to the camp with different groups, treated differently according to their status.
December 1944 saw the completion of the change-over of Bergen-Belsen into a concentration camp when SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer, previously at Auschwitz-Birkenau, became the new camp commander. The number of inmates in the camp on December 1, 1944, was 15,257. In 1945, large numbers of prisoners were moved to Belsen from the eastern camps as the Soviet forces advanced. The resulting overcrowding led to a vast increase in deaths from disease (particularly typhus) and malnutrition in a camp originally designed to hold about 10,000 inmates. The number of inmates increased from 22,000 on February 1, 1945, to 41,520 on March 1, 43,042 on April 1 and ultimately to about 60,000 on April 15. The number of deaths increased from 7,000 in February to 18,168 during March and 9,000 during the first half of April. The bodies of these prisoners were buried in mass graves.
There were no gas chambers in Bergen-Belsen, since the mass executions took place in the camps further east. Nevertheless, an estimated 50,000 Jews, Czechs, Poles, anti-Nazi Christians, homosexuals, and Roma and Sinti (Gypsies) died in the camp Among them were Czech painter and writer Josef ?apek (est. April 1945), as well as famous Amsterdam residents Anne Frank (who died of typhus) and her sister Margot, who died there in March 1945. The average life expectancy of an inmate was nine months.
After the war, there were allegations that the camp (or possibly a section of it), was "of a privileged nature", compared to others. A lawsuit filed by the Jewish community in Thessaloniki against 55 alleged collaborators claims that 53 of them were sent to Bergen-Belsen "as a special favor" granted by the Germans.
Liberation Former guards are made to load the bodies of dead prisoners onto a truck for burial, 17–18 April 1945 Some of the 60 tables, each staffed by two German doctors and two German nurses, at which the sick were washed and deloused, 1–4 May 1945 Dr. Fritz Klein stands amongst corpses in Mass Grave 3 The entrance to Bergen-Belsen A memorial stone erected near the ramps where prisoners for Belsen were unloaded from goods trains
When the British and Canadians advanced on Bergen-Belsen in 1945, the German army negotiated a truce and exclusion zone around the camp to prevent the spread of typhus. Under the agreement, Hungarian and regular German troops guarding the camp returned to German lines when Allied troops liberated the camp on April 15, 1945. Although many SS guards had fled the camp, a small number remained, wearing white armbands as a sign of surrender. The retreating Germans sabotaged the water supply to the barracks, making it difficult for the Allied troops to treat the ill prisoners.
When British and Canadian troops finally entered they found thousands of bodies unburied and approximately 55,000 inmates, most acutely sick and starving. Over the next days the surviving prisoners were deloused and moved to a nearby German Panzer army camp, which became theBergen-Belsen DP camp. The remaining SS personnel were then forced by armed Allied troops to bury the bodies in pits.[
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was then burned to the ground by flamethrowing "Bren gun" carriers and Churchill Crocodile tanks because of the typhus epidemic and louse infestation.The name Belsen after this time refer to events at the Bergen-Belsen DP camp.
In spite of massive efforts to help the survivors, about another 9,000 died in April, and by the end of June 1945 another 4,000 had died (after liberation a total of 13,994 people died). On the 13th day after liberation, the Luftwaffe bombed one of the hospitals in the DP camp, injuring and killing several patients and Red Cross workers. The total number of deaths at Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to June 1945 was about 50,000.
The British troops and medical staff tried these diets to feed the prisoners, in this order:
- Bully beef from Army rations. Most of the prisoners' digestive systems were in too weak a state from long-term starvation to handle such food.
- Skimmed milk. The result was a bit better, but still far from acceptable.
- Bengal Famine Mixture. This is a rice-and-sugar-based mixture which had achieved good results after the Bengal famine of 1943, but it proved less suitable to Europeans than to Bengalis because of the differences in the food to which they were accustomed. Adding the common ingredient paprika to the mixture made it more palatable to these Europeans and recovery started.
Many of the former SS staff that survived the typhus epidemic were tried by the British at the Belsen Trial. At the trial, the world got its first view of Irma Grese, Elisabeth Volkenrath, Juana Bormann, Fritz Klein, Josef Kramer, and the rest of the SS men and women who before served at Mittelbau Dora, Ravensbrück, Auschwitz I, II, III, and Neuengamme. Many of the female guards had served at small Gross Rosen subcamps at Neusalz, Langenleuba, and the Mittelbau-Dora subcamp at Gross Werther.[clarification needed] Dozens of the personnel of Bergen-Belsen were found guilty of murder and of crimes against humanity, and most of those were hanged.
Bergen-Belsen fell into neglect after the burning of the buildings and the closure of the nearby displaced persons' camp. The area reverted to heath, with few traces of the camp remaining.Ronald Reagan's visit to West Germany in 1985 (see Bitburg) included a hastily arranged stop at Bergen-Belsen, which prompted the West Germans to put together a small documentation center. It soon became inadequate for the accumulating archives, for the general liberalizing process of German identity building after the Berlin Wall fell, and for the growing public appetite abroad for Holocaust museums, along with the tourist economy they generated. On April 15, 2005 there was a commemorative ceremony, and many ex-prisoners and ex-liberating troops attended.
In October 2007 the redesigned memorial site was opened, including a large new Documentation Centre and permanent exhibition on the edge of the newly redefined camp, whose structure and layout can now be traced. The site is open to the public and includes a monument to the dead, some individual memorial stones and a "House of Silence" for reflection.
- Michael Bentine wrote this on his encounter with Belsen:
We were headed for an airstrip outside Celle, a small town, just of Hanover. We had barely cranked to a halt and started to set up the ‘ops’ tent, when the Typhoons thundered into the circuit and broke formation for their approach. As they landed on the hastily repaired strip – a ‘Jock’ [Scottish] doctor raced up to us in his jeep.‘Got any medical orderlies?’ he shouted above the roar of the aircraft engines. ‘Any K rations or vitaminised chocolate?’‘What’s up?’ I asked for I could see his face was grey with shock.‘Concentration camp up the road,’ he said shakily, lighting a cigarette. ‘It’s dreadful – just dreadful.’ He threw the cigarette away untouched. ‘I’ve never seen anything so awful in my life. You just won’t believe it 'til you see it – for God’s sake come and help them!’‘What’s it called?’ I asked, reaching for the operations map to mark the concentration camp safely out of the danger area near the bomb line.‘Belsen,’ he said, simply.Millions of words have been written about these horror camps, many of them by inmates of those unbelievable places. I’ve tried, without success, to describe it from my own point of view, but the words won’t come. To me Belsen was the ultimate blasphemy.After VE. Day I flew up to Denmark with Kelly, a West Indian pilot who was a close friend. As we climbed over Belsen, we saw the flame-throwing Bren carriers trundling through the camp – burning it to the ground. Our light Bf 108 rocked in the superheated air, as we sped above the curling smoke, and Kelly had the last words on it.‘Thank Christ for that,’ he said, fervently.And his words sounded like a benediction.
- Banksy's internet-based manifesto contained an account by Mervin Willett Gonin DSO of the immediate aftermath to the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, including an extract from Gonin's diary sourced by the Imperial War Museum.
- Leonard Webb, British veteran from the liberation of the camp.
- Leslie Hardman, British Army Jewish Chaplain and Rabbi, was the first Jewish Chaplain to enter the camp, two days after its liberation, and published his account in the collective book "Belsen in history and memory"
- Memories of Anne Frank, a book by Hannah Goslar
- In his book From Belsen to Buckingham Palace Paul Oppenheimer tells of the events leading up to the internment of his whole family at the camp and their incarceration there between February 1944 and April 1945, when he was aged 14 – 15. Following publication of the book, Oppenheimer personally talked to many groups and schools about the events he witnessed. This work is now continued by his brother Rudi, who shared the experiences.
- Anita Lasker-Wallfisch describes life in Belsen, its liberation and her period in the displaced persons camp in her autobiography Inherit the Truth
Bergen-Belsen had 8 Separate Sections
Army Training Camp on the right-hand side; concentration camp formerly on the bottom left-hand side, and former POW camp on the top left-hand side. British Air Force Photo, Sept. 1944
Bergen-Belsen was divided into 8 separate camps. Each of the camps was surrounded by high barbed wire fences and the inmates were strictly isolated from each other. The 8 camps were as follows:
1. Prison Camp (Häftlingslager)
When a detention camp at Bergen-Belsen was authorized in April 1943, its location was to be in the barracks formerly occupied by Prisoners of War. But first, the barracks had to be made suitable for the exchange Jews who had to be kept "healthy and alive" according to the orders of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. The Häftlingslager was established at the very beginning to house 500 male prisoners who were brought from other camps to do the work of constructing the detention camp for the exchange prisoners.
According to the Memorial Site, the prisoners in the Häftlingslager had to wear striped uniforms and were forced to perform hard labor to the point of exhaustion. The first transport of prisoners for this camp left Buchenwald on April 30, 1943 for Bergen-Belsen, according to Eberhard Kolb. Additionally, on May 18, 1943 a group of French prisoners were sent from the Natzweiler concentration camp to help in building the detention camp.
Erholungslager (Recuperation camp)
Beginning in March 1944, a section of the Prison Camp was used to house prisoners from other concentration camps or forced labor camps who were sick and unable to work any longer. By 1945, sick prisoners from all over Germany were being brought here. Prisoners in this section received inadequate medical care and there was a high mortality rate, according to the Memorial Site. This section was also sometimes called the Krankenlager or Sick camp.
The first transport brought to the recuperation camp arrived on March 27, 1944; it consisted of 1000 inmates from the Dora-Mittelbau camp, where prisoners were forced to work in underground factories building the V-2 rockets for the German military. Most of these prisoners were suffering from tuberculosis, a fatal disease. By the time Bergen-Belsen was liberated, a little over a year later, only 57 of them were still alive.
According to a booklet distributed by the Document Center at the Memorial Site, there were 200 prisoners in the Häftlingslager who were murdered by an injection of Phenol, administered by Karl Rothe, who had been appointed as "Head Nurse" in the sick camp by the SS. Rothe injected the prisoners on the orders of the SS who characterized these murders as "mercy killing." In September 1944, the prisoners organized a trial and sentenced Rothe to death; they carried out the death sentence themselves by killing Rothe at "an opportune moment," according the the Memorial Site booklet.
2. Neutral Camp (Neutralenlager)
Several hundred Jewish prisoners from neutral countries, such as Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Turkey, lived in this camp. These prisoners did not have to work and conditions were tolerable up until March 1945, according to the Memorial Site booklet.
According to Eberhard Kolb, a transport of 441 Jews from Salonika arrived in August 1943, including 367 "Spagnioles" or Sephardic Jews, who had been living in Greece for a long time, but were nevertheless Spanish nationals. This group was sent to Spain in early February 1944, and from there they were sent to an internment camp in North Africa, from which they were finally sent to Palestine. The 74 other Greek Jews were put into the Star Camp.
Kolb also wrote that 155 Spanish Jews and 19 Portuguese Jews were arrested by the Nazis in Athens, Greece in March 1944 and transported to Bergen-Belsen where they remained until the camp was liberated.
3. Special Camp (Sonderlager)
According to the Memorial Site booklet, this camp held several thousand Polish Jews who had been deported in mid-1943 because they were in possession of temporary passports from South American countries. They did not have to work, but they were kept in strict isolation because they "had full knowledge of the cruelties committed by the SS in Poland." The booklet says that "By mid-1944 most of this group had been transported to Auschwitz and murdered. Only about 350 of them remained."
Eberhard Kolb wrote in his book "Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945," as follows:
In mid-July 1943 two transports with about 2300 - 2500 Polish Jews (mostly from Warsaw, Lemberg and Cracow) reached Bergen-Belsen. They mostly possessed Latin American papers (e.g. from Paraguay and Honduras), which however were not passports in most cases but so-called "promesas." These were letters by consuls of the respective countries saying that citizenship of the state represented by the consul was granted and that a passport would follow soon.
According to Kolb, these documents were of "very dubious quality" and the camp administration headquarters decided not to honor them.
Photo from the Stroop Report, taken in Warsaw Ghetto in April or May, 1943
Seven-year-old Tsvi C. Nussbaum was one of the Polish Jews who was arrested, along with his aunt, on July 13, 1943, in front of the Hotel Polski on the Aryan side of the Warsaw ghetto, where they had been living as Gentiles. Since they had foreign passports, they were sent to the Bergen-Belsen detention camp as "exchange Jews." Little Tsvi's parents had emigrated to Palestine in 1935, but had returned to Sandomierz, Poland in 1939 just before World War II started. Tsvi was one of the survivors of Bergen-Belsen. In 1945, he went to Palestine, but in 1953 he moved to America. He became a doctor, specializing in ear, nose and throat, in Rockland County in upstate New York. He was blessed with 4 daughters and 2 grandchildren.
Long after the war, Tsvi Nussbaum claimed to be the little boy in the photo above. However, this photo was allegedly taken during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising which took place between April 19, 1943 and May 16, 1943 before Tsvi was arrested; it is one of the photos included in the Stroop Report about the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. The soldier, who is holding a gun on the little boy in the photo, was Josef Blösche; he was put on trial in East Germany after the war and was executed after being convicted of being a war criminal.
On October 23, 1943 a transport of around 1700 of these Polish Jews arrived on passenger trains at the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, although they had been told that they were being taken to a transfer camp called Bergau near Dresden, from where they would continue on to Switzerland to be exchanged for German POWs. One of the passengers was Franceska Mann, a beautiful dancer who was a performer at the Melody Palace nightclub in Warsaw. She had probably obtained her foreign passport from the Hotel Polski on the Aryan side of the Warsaw Ghetto. In July 1943 the Germans arrested the 600 Jewish inhabitants of the hotel and some of them were sent to Bergen-Belsen as exchange Jews. Others were sent to Vittel in France to await transfer to South America.
According to Jerzy Tabau, who later escaped from Birkenau and wrote a report on the incident, the new arrivals were not registered. Instead, they were told that they had to be disinfected before crossing the border into Switzerland. They were taken into the undressing room next to the gas chamber and ordered to undress. The beautiful Franceska caught the attention of SS Sergeant Major Josef Schillinger, who stared at her and ordered her to undress completely. Suddenly Franceska threw her shoe into Schillinger's face, and as he opened his gun holster, Franceska grabbed his pistol and fired two shots, wounding him in the stomach. Then she fired a third shot which wounded another SS Sergeant named Emmerich. Schillinger died on the way to the hospital.
According to Tabau, whose report, called "The Polish Major's Report," was entered into the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal as Document L-022, the shots served as a signal for the other women to attack the SS men; one SS man had his nose torn off, and another was scalped, according to Tabau's report which was quoted by Martin Gilbert in his book, The Holocaust. Reinforcements were summoned and the camp commander, Rudolf Höss, came with other SS men carrying machine guns and grenades. According to another report, called "Jewish Resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe" written by Ainsztein and quoted by Martin Gilbert, the women were then removed one by one, taken outside and shot to death. However, Eberhard Kolb wrote that they were all murdered in the gas chamber.
In 1944, two more transports of the Polish Jews were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, leaving only about 350 in the special camp at Bergen-Belsen. They were the ones with papers for Palestine, the USA or legitimate documents for South American countries, according to Kolb.
4. Hungarian Camp (Ungarnlager)
This camp was established on July 8, 1944 for 1683 Jews from Hungary. According to the Memorial Site, they were treated even better than the inmates in the Star camp. They were allowed to wear civilian clothes, with a Star of David sewn on. They did not have to work, nor were they forced to attend the endless roll calls. They were given better food and the sick were properly cared for. They were known as Vorzugsjuden or Preferential Jews. Like the Star Camp, this camp had a Jewish self-administration.
5. Star Camp (Sternlager)
Approximately 4,000 Jewish prisoners, mostly from the Netherlands, lived in the Star camp, where conditions were somewhat better than in other parts of Bergen-Belsen. In the Star camp, the prisoners wore a yellow Star of David on their own clothes instead of the usual blue and gray striped prison uniform, but they did have to work, even the old people, according to the Memorial Site.
The following quote is from Eberhard Kolb's book Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945:
From the Dutch "transit camp'" at Westerbork all those inmates were transported to Bergen-Belsen who were on one of the coveted "ban lists", above all the "Palestine list", the "South America list", or the "dual citizenship list". Holders of the so-called "Stamp 120000" were also taken to Bergen-Belsen, i.e. Jews with proven connections to enemy states, Jews who had delivered up large properties, diamond workers and diamond dealers who were held back from transportation to an extermination camp but who were not allowed to go abroad, as well as so-called "Jews of merit". A total of 3670 "exchange Jews" of these categories, always with their families were deported from Westerbork to Bergen-Belsen in eight transports between January and September 1944.
According to Kolb, there were only 6,000 Dutch Jews who returned home after the war, out of a total of 110,000 who were deported by the Nazis. 20,000 more Dutch Jews survived by going into hiding until the war was over. More than a third of those who survived the camps were inmates of the Bergen-Belsen Star Camp.
6. Tent Camp (Zeltlager)
This camp was constructed at the beginning of August 1944. At first it was used as a transit camp for women's transports arriving from Poland. In late October and early November 1944, around 3,000 women who had been evacuated from Auschwitz-Birkenau were housed in the tents because pre-fabricated barrack buildings which had been removed from the Plaszow camp near Cracow and transported to the Star Camp were not yet ready for them. According to Eberhard Kolb (Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945) the Dutch Red Cross was told that the prisoners in this transport were "ill but potentially curable women" and because of this, they were the first to be evacuated from Auschwitz-Birkenau. These sick women, who had just completed a journey of several days in overcrowded railroad cattle cars now had to camp out in tents with no heat, no toilets, no lighting, no beds and only a thin layer of straw covering the bare ground.
Anne Frank and her sister Margot were transferred to Bergen-Belsen from Auschwitz in October 1944 and most likely were housed temporarily in the tent camp. Due to their condition of ill health, the prisoners in the tent camp were not forced to work.
7. Small Women's Camp (Kleines Frauenlager)
After a storm blew down several of the tents on November 7, 1944, the prisoners were crowded into the barracks of the Small Women's Camp which was right next to the Star Camp. This Women's camp had first opened in August 1944 for women who were transported from the death camp at Auschwitz, which was being evacuated because the army of the Soviet Union was advancing across Poland.
On December 2, 1944, there was a total of 15,257 prisoners in Bergen-Belsen and 8,000 of them were women and girls in this camp, which was called the Women's camp. On that date, Bergen-Belsen became officially a concentration camp, instead of a detention camp, and a new commandant, Hauptsturmführer-SS Josef Kramer, who had been brought from Auschwitz-Birkenau, took over from the previous commandant, Hauptsturmführer-SS Adolf Haas.
According to Eberhard Kolb, in January 1945, the Women's camp became a second Prisoner's Camp, or Häftlingslager II, for male prisoners. At the same time, Bergen-Belsen was expanded and a new camp was set up for the women prisoners.
8. Large Women's Camp (Grosses Frauenlager)
According to Eberhard Kolb, there were 9,735 men and 8,730 women in Bergen-Belsen on January 1, 1945. By January 15, 1945, there were 16,475 women and a new camp had to be set up for them. The former camp hospital in the POW camp was incorporated into the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the 36 barracks there were used to house the women. By March 1, 1945, there were 26,723 women in this camp. On March 15, 1945 there were 30,387 women in the new Women's camp.
Map of Bergen-Belsen camp at the Memorial Site
If you draw a diagonal line through this map, from the top left-hand corner to the bottom right-hand corner, you will see where six of the sections, described above, were located. Beginning at the top left, was No. 7 the original Women's Camp which later became a new Prison camp for men; next to it was No. 5 the Star Camp; then No. 3 the Special Camp and No. 4 the Hungarian Camp; next is No. 2 the Neutral Camp, and then No. 1 the Prison Camp. Outside the line which represents the boundary of the concentration camp is part of the German Army Training Center on the right-hand side.
If you draw another diagonal line through this map, from the top right-hand corner to the bottom left-hand corner, you will see the location of the new Large Women's Camp and the tent camp. The Large Women's camp is located inside the loop which outlines the Bergen-Belsen camp boundary, just down from the top right-hand corner. Outside the loop was the POW camp, which was first set up in 1940. In January 1945, the POW camp was closed and the Large Women's camp was put in the hospital section of the former POW camp. In the bottom left-hand corner of the photo is where the Documentation Center and Museum now stand. Just above these two buildings is where the tent camp once stood, inside the loop where it juts out on the left side. There are no buildings left now, but this map shows where the buildings were formerly located.
The Memorial Site is located on the left-hand side of the map above. The Documentation Center and Museum are shown in the bottom left-hand corner with a path leading to the former grounds of the camp. If you turn right where this path intersects the road around the former camp boundary, you will come to the place where roll calls were held. To the left, the road leads to the monuments. The large obelisk monument is shown in the top left-hand corner of this map. As you can see, the Memorial Site consists of only a small portion of the former concentration camp.
German Army Training Center next to Bergen-Belsen
On the left-hand side of the map above, you can see part of the former concentration camp, which was inside the loop which represents the road around the camp boundary. On the right-hand side of the map is the German Army Training Center which is still in existence. It is right next to the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. A POW camp was first set up in the Army barracks shown in the center of the map, next to the concentration camp on the left. The POW camp was later expanded to the section on the left, above the concentration camp. Part of this POW camp was incorporated into the concentration camp in January 1945 because a new women's camp was needed to hold a huge influx of prisoners. The diagonal line across the right-hand corner of the photo above represents the road from Celle to Belsen. The entrance to the Bergen-Belsen camp is about 1.5 kilometers from the Army Training Center, along this road.
German Army Training Center at Belsen
Piles of the dead at Bergen-Belsen
Piles of the dead at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on April 30, 1945. Some 100,000 people are estimated to have died in this one camp alone...
A German SS guard, standing amid hundreds of corpses, hauls another body of a concentration camp victim into a mass grave in Belsen, Germany in April of 1945.
November 10, 1906 – December 13, 1945
Kramer served in the Natzweiler camp before being appointed as the commandant of Auschwitz and later Belsen. In 1945, numbers in the camp increased from 15,000 to nearly 50,000. When the camp was liberated by Allied forces at the end of the Second World War they found more than 13,000 corpses.
The commandant of Bergen-Belsen, Josef Kramer, and fourty-four others were tried by a British war crimes court at the Belsen Trial in Luneburg, Germany, from August 17, 1945, to November 17, 1945. Kramer was found guilty and sentenced to death and hanged on December 13, 1945.Josef Kramer (November 10, 1906 – December 13, 1945) Was the Commandant of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Dubbed "The Beast of Belsen" by camp inmates; he was a notorious Nazi war criminal, directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. He was convicted of war crimes and hanged in Hamelin prison by noted British executioner Albert Pierrepoint after World War II.
In December 1944, Kramer was transferred from Birkenau to Bergen Belsen, near the village of Bergen. Belsen had originally served as a temporary camp for those leaving Germany, but during the war had been expanded to serve as a convalescent depot for the ill and displaced people from across north-west Europe. Although it had no gas chambers, Kramer's rule was so harsh that he became known as the 'Beast of Belsen'.
As Germany collapsed administration of the camp broke down, but Kramer remained devoted to bureaucracy. On March 1, 1945, he filed a report asking for help and resources, stating that of the 42,000 inmates in his camp, 250-300 died each day from typhus. On March 19, the number of inmates rose to 60,000 as the Germans continued to evacuate camps that were soon to be liberated by the Allies. As late as the week of April 13, some 28,000 additional prisoners were brought in.
With the collapse of administration and many guards fleeing to escape retribution, roll calls were stopped, and the inmates were left to their own devices. Corpses rotted everywhere, and rats attacked the living too weak to fight them off. Kramer remained even when the British arrived to liberate the camp. He remained indifferent and callous and took them on a tour of the camp to inspect the 'scenes'. Piles of corpses were lying all over the camp, mass graves were filled in, and the huts were filled with prisoners in every stage of emaciation and disease.Trial and execution Josef Kramer, photographed in leg ironsat Belsen before being removed to the POW cage at Celle, 17 April 1945.
Josef Kramer was imprisoned at the Hamelin jail. Josef Kramer and 44 other camp staff were tried in the Belsen Trial by a British military court at Lüneburg. The trial lasted several weeks from September to November 1945. He was sentenced to death on November 17, 1945, and hanged at Hamelin jail by Albert Pierrepoint on December 13, 1945.
"The Beast of Belsen"
Manacled following his arrest is Joseph Kramer, commandant of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Belsen, photographed on April 28, 1945. After standing trial, Kramer, "The Beast of Belsen", was convicted and executed in December of 1945.
Belsen Secretary Under Arrest (April 1945)
The German military secretary at Bergen-Belsen
Fraulein Horra under British detention
Belsen Suvivors Pass Shoes of the Dead
(April 15-May 1, 1945)
Survivors in Bergen-Belsen walking near a large pile of shoes.
Crematorium at Belsen
(April 28, 1945)
A crematorium oven where the corpses of prisoners were burned in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
Lost Images from Bergen-Belsen
Photos believed to be taken from Bergen-Belsen after liberation. They were given to a Canadian publisher by a veteran.
RAF Officer at Belsen Liberation
These photographs were taken by RAF Sgt. James Gunn,
who was stationed in Europe at the time of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen,
and were donated by his daughter, Carly Jones.
Women of SS Forced to Bury Bodies
Reagan Speaks At Bergen-Belsen
(May 5, 1985)
Chancellor Kohl and honored guest, this painful walk into the past has done much more than remind us of the war that consumed the European Continent. What we have seen makes unforgettably clear that no one of the rest of us can fully understand the enormity of the feelings carried by the victims of these camps. The survivors carry a memory beyond anything that we can comprehend. The awful evil started by one man, an evil that victimized all the world with its destruction, was uniquely destructive of the millions forced into the grim abyss of these camps.
Here lie people -- Jews -- whose death was inflicted for no reason other than their very existence. Their pain was borne only because of who they were and because of the God in their prayers. Alongside them lay many Christians -- Catholics and Protestants.
For year after year, until that man and his evil were destroyed, hell yawned forth its awful contents. People were brought here for no other purpose but to suffer and die -- to go unfed when hungry, uncared for when sick, tortured when the whim struck, and left to have misery consume them when all there was around them was misery.
I'm sure we all share similar first thoughts, and that is: What of the youngsters who died at this dark stalag? All was gone for them forever -- not to feel again the warmth of life's sunshine and promise, not the laughter and the splendid ache of growing up, nor the consoling embrace of a family. Try to think of being young and never having a day without searing emotional and physical pain -- desolate, unrelieved pain.
Today, we've been grimly reminded why the commandant of this camp was named ``the Beast of Belsen.'' Above all, we're struck by the horror of it all -- the monstrous, incomprehensible horror. And that's what we've seen but is what we can never understand as the victims did. Nor with all our compassion can we feel what the survivors feel to this day and what they will feel as long as they live. What we've felt and are expressing with words cannot convey the suffering that they endured. That is why history will forever brand what happened as the Holocaust.
Here, death ruled, but we've learned something as well. Because of what happened, we found that death cannot rule forever, and that's why we're here today. We're here because humanity refuses to accept that freedom of the spirit of man can ever be extinguished. We're here to commemorate that life triumphed over the tragedy and the death of the Holocaust -- overcame the suffering, the sickness, the testing and, yes, the gassings. We're here today to confirm that the horror cannot outlast hope, and that even from the worst of all things, the best may come forth. Therefore, even out of this overwhelming sadness, there must be some purpose, and there is. It comes to us through the transforming love of God.
We learn from the Talmud that: ``It was only through suffering that the children of Israel obtained three priceless and coveted gifts: The Torah, the Land of Israel, and the World to Come.'' Yes, out of this sickness -- as crushing and cruel as it was -- there was hope for the world as well as for the world to come. Out of the ashes -- hope, and from all the pain -- promise.
So much of this is symbolized today by the fact that most of the leadership of free Germany is represented here today. Chancellor Kohl, you and your countrymen have made real the renewal that had to happen. Your nation and the German people have been strong and resolute in your willingness to confront and condemn the acts of a hated regime of the past. This reflects the courage of your people and their devotion to freedom and justice since the war. Think how far we've come from that time when despair made these tragic victims wonder if anything could survive.
As we flew here from Hanover, low over the greening farms and the emerging springtime of the lovely German countryside, I reflected, and there must have been a time when the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen and those of every other camp must have felt the springtime was gone forever from their lives. Surely we can understand that when we see what is around us -- all these children of God under bleak and lifeless mounds, the plainness of which does not even hint at the unspeakable acts that created them. Here they lie, never to hope, never to pray, never to love, never to heal, never to laugh, never to cry.
And too many of them knew that this was their fate, but that was not the end. Through it all was their faith and a spirit that moved their faith.
Nothing illustrates this better than the story of a young girl who died here at Bergen-Belsen. For more than 2 years Anne Frank and her family had hidden from the Nazis in a confined annex in Holland where she kept a remarkably profound diary. Betrayed by an informant, Anne and her family were sent by freight car first to Auschwitz and finally here to Bergen-Belsen.
Just 3 weeks before her capture, young Anne wrote these words: ``It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them because in spite of everything I still believe that people are good at heart. I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness. I hear the ever approaching thunder which will destroy us too; I can feel the suffering of millions and yet, if I looked up into the heavens I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end and that peace and tranquility will return again.'' Eight months later, this sparkling young life ended here at Bergen-Belsen. Somewhere here lies Anne Frank.
Everywhere here are memories -- pulling us, touching us, making us understand that they can never be erased. Such memories take us where God intended His children to go -- toward learning, toward healing, and, above all, toward redemption. They beckon us through the endless stretches of our heart to the knowing commitment that the life of each individual can change the world and make it better.
We're all witnesses; we share the glistening hope that rests in every human soul. Hope leads us, if we're prepared to trust it, toward what our President Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. And then, rising above all this cruelty, out of this tragic and nightmarish time, beyond the anguish, the pain and the suffering for all time, we can and must pledge: Never again.
Female survivors lie in bunks inside the barracks of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
From the USHMM.
Bergen Belsen, Germany, Bodies of children after liberation, April .
Josef ?apek (1887 – 1945)
1887 – 1945
Josef ?apek was a Czech artist, writer and poet and brother to author Karel ?apek.
Josef ?apek was a student of Cubism, which combined with his own playful style, exhibited a primitive note in his paintings. Josef ?apek collaborated with his brother on numerous occasions, which produced many plays and short stories. Josef ?apek is also famous for penning the Czech children’s classic Doggie and Pussycat.
Although his brother Karel is usually noted as the man who coined the word Robot, it was actually Josef; Karel introduced the word Robot into literature. Due to his and his brother’s negative attitude towards Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Regime, Josef was arrested shortly after the German invasion in 1939, and was sent to the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp where he died in 1945. While in Bergen-Belsen he wrote a collection called Poems from a Concentration Camp.
Dorianne Kurz Born: Vienna, Austria March 1936
Under the rule of Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, who came to power in 1932, Jews in Austria enjoyed relative freedom and equality. For that reason, Doriane's Polish-born parents settled in Vienna, where her father ran a thriving branch of the family's multinational optical frames business.
1933-39: I was born in Vienna just two years before the Germans annexed Austria in 1938. Our family fled to the Netherlands soon after the annexation. Unlike many Austrian Jews, we went south to Maastricht on the Belgian border; Maastricht was the site of the Dutch branch of the Kurz Brothers' optical frames business. There, I attended nursery school.
1940-45: In 1940 we moved to Amsterdam, but the city soon fell under German occupation. With my father already in Auschwitz, my mother, brother Freddie and I ended up in Bergen-Belsen in 1944. Freddie and I would remain in the barracks when the adults were marched to work. We started the day by watching the carts, drawn by inmates, that came every morning to collect the dead bodies. The rest of the day we spent speaking about food, slicing our bread rations so they could last longer, and picking the lice out of our hair.
In June 1945 Doriane was one of many inmates evacuated from the camp on cattle trains and then freed by Soviet troops. A year later, she settled in the United States.
Alice Lok Cahana Born: 1929, Budapest, Hungary
Germany occupied Hungary in 1944. Alice was deported to Auschwitz in the same year. At one time she was selected for the gas chamber, but survived because of a malfunction. As Allied forces approached the camp, Alice and other inmates were evacuated to the Guben labor camp. Alice, her sister, and another girl escaped during a forced march from the camp but were found and sent on to Bergen-Belsen. Alice's sister was taken to a Red Cross hospital, but Alice never saw her again. After the war, Alice emigrated to the U.S.
Several days later we arrived to Bergen-Belsen. And Bergen-Belsen was hell on earth. Nothing ever in literature could compare to anything what Bergen-Belsen was. When we arrived, the dead were not carried away any more, you stepped over them, you fell over them if you couldn't walk.
There were agonizing...people begging for water. They were felling...falling into planks that they were not pulled together in the barracks. They were crying, they were begging. It was, it was hell. It was hell. Day and night. You couldn't escape the crying, you couldn't have escaped the praying, you couldn't escape the [cries of] "Mercy," the, it was a chant, the chant of the dead. It was hell.
Bella Jakubowicz Tovey Born: 1926, Sosnowiec, Poland
Bella was the oldest of four children born to a Jewish family in Sosnowiec. Her father owned a knitting factory. After the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, they took over the factory. The family's furniture was given to a German woman. Bella was forced to work in a factory in the Sosnowiec ghetto in 1941. At the end of 1942 the family was deported to the Bedzin ghetto. Bella was deported to the Graeben subcamp of Gross-Rosen in 1943 and to Bergen-Belsen in 1944. She was liberated in April 1945, and emigrated to the U.S. in 1946.
Bergen-Belsen was, was not a, was not like Auschwitz. There were no gas chambers. They didn't need any gas chambers, it was a really death camp. I remember we were brought into a big, empty barrack. There was only straw on the floor. We were pushed into that barrack so that you could not stretch your legs. We were sitting with our knees practically up to our...you know, next to our chins.
And, uh, and you couldn't stretch your legs, and it was cold and we were hungry. Uh, I want to tell you that it didn't take long and we could stretch our legs, because people were...people were dying. Almost immediately people were dying all around us. And, uh, we had to take out the dead people and we had to carry them out on a...outside there were always big piles of dead bodies and I...I carried many. I don't know how I kept going. I tell you I...people have some way of protecting themselves. I know that I never, never looked at the faces, just didn't look at the faces.
The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen, 15 April 1945
15 April 1945
The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was voluntarily turned over to the Allied 21st Army Group, a combined British-Canadian unit, on April 15, 1945 by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the man who was in charge of all the concentration camps. Bergen-Belsen was in the middle of the war zone where British and German troops were fighting in the last days of World War II and there was a danger that the typhus epidemic in the camp would spread to the troops on both sides.
Before negotiations with the British began, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the head of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), had sent an order on April 7, 1945, directly to the Commandant of Bergen-Belsen, Josef Kramer, that all the prisoners in the camp should be killed, rather than let them fall into the hands of the enemy, according to Gerald Fleming, author of "Hitler and the Final Solution," who wrote that this order had come from Hitler himself.
When this news reached representatives of the World Jewish Congress in Stockholm, they contacted Felix Kersten, a Swedish chiropractor who had treated Himmler. According to Fleming, Kersten succeeded in persuading Himmler to reverse the order. When Hitler heard this, he flew into a rage, according to Fleming.
Eva Olsson was a 20-year-old Hungarian Jewess who was sent to Auschwitz in May 1944 and later transferred to Bergen-Belsen where she was liberated on April 15, 1945. After Olsson gave a talk to students at the Canadian WC Eaket Secondary School in Blind River, "The Standard" reported the following from her presentation:
"Six days before we were liberated the Gestapo (Germany's secret police) had given orders that on April 15, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon all prisoners were to be shot."
The shootings continued even after the camp was seized, done out of sight of Allied forces.
Olsson explains after the camp was taken a British officer made a declaration. The man said for every prisoner killed now that the camp was taken a German official or guard would be executed immediately.
Hungarian soldiers in the Germany Army, who had been sent to keep order while the camp was transferred to the British, were in fact shot by the British, according to British soldiers who participated in the liberation.
Negotiations for the transfer of the Bergen-Belsen camp to the British took several days. Then on the night of April 12, 1945, a cease-fire agreement was signed between the local German Military Commander and the British Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Taylor-Balfour, according to Eberhard Kolb in his book, "Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945."
An area of 48 square kilometers around Bergen-Belsen was declared a neutral zone. The neutral zone was 8 kilometers long and 6 kilometers wide. Until British troops could take over, the agreement specified that the camp would be guarded by a unit of Hungarian soldiers and soldiers from the German Wehrmacht (the regular army as opposed to the SS).
They were assured that they would be allowed free return passage to the German lines within six days after the British arrived. The SS soldiers who made up the staff of the camp were to remain at their posts and carry on their duties until the British arrived to take over. There was no specific stipulation in the agreement about what their fate would be, according to Eberhard Kolb.
On the afternoon of Sunday, April 15th, British soldiers arrived at the German Army training garrison, next door to the concentration camp, and the transfer of the neutral territory of the Bergen-Belsen camp was made. A short time later, a group of British officers entered the concentration camp, which was right next to the garrison, although the distance by road was about 1.5 kilometers.
The first British units to enter the camp, in a van with a loudspeaker, were from the 14 Amplifier Unit, Intelligence Corps and 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery. Three of the soldiers on the tanks were Jewish. Chaim Herzog was a young Jewish officer with the Intelligence Corps; he later became Israel's Ambassador to the UN and then President of Israel. In honor of the part he played in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, an honorary tombstone has been placed near the Jewish Monument at the Memorial Site which is now on the grounds of the former camp.
Child survivors at Bergen-Belsen
According to Michael Berenbaum in his book "The World Must Know," Commandant Josef Kramer greeted British officer Derrick Sington at the entrance to the camp, wearing a fresh uniform. Berenbaum wrote that Kramer expressed his desire for an orderly transition and his hopes of collaborating with British. He dealt with them as equals, one officer to another, even offering advice as to how to deal with the "unpleasant situation." That same day, Commandant Kramer was arrested by the British; five months later he was brought before a British Military Tribunal as a war criminal.
On April 8, 1945, around 25,000 to 30,000 prisoners had arrived at Bergen-Belsen from other concentration camps in the Neuengamme area. On that date, there were over 60,000 prisoners in the camp and some had to be housed in the barracks of the adjacent Army Training Center.
The Geneva Convention specified that civilian prisoners were to be evacuated from a war zone, and up until this time, the Nazi concentration camps had been either evacuated or abandoned as the war progressed. But because of the typhus epidemic, it was impossible to evacuate all the prisoners from Bergen-Belsen. The camp could not be abandoned for fear that the epidemic would spread to the soldiers of both sides.
Between April 6 and April 11, 1945, three transports of Jews were evacuated from the Neutrals camp, the Star Camp and the Hungarian Camp on the orders of Heinrich Himmler. These were prisoners who held foreign passports and were considered "exchange Jews."
Brigadier Llewelyn Glyn-Hughes, a medical officer, was in command of the relief operation. The British had known that there were terrible epidemics in the camp, and that this was the main reason the camp had been surrendered, but they were unprepared for the gruesome sight of the dead bodies, and it came as an enormous shock to them.
In a book entitled "The Belsen Trial" by Raymond Phillips, published in 1949, Brigadier Glyn-Hughes is quoted in this description of the terrible scene that the British found at Bergen-Belsen:
"The conditions in the camp were really indescribable; no description nor photograph could really bring home the horrors that were there outside the huts, and the frightful scenes inside were much worse. There were various sizes of piles of corpses lying all over the camp, some in between the huts. The compounds themselves had bodies lying about in them. The gutters were full and within the huts there were uncountable numbers of bodies, some even in the same bunks as the living. Near the crematorium were signs of filled-in mass graves, and outside to the left of the bottom compound was an open pit half-full of corpses. It had just begun to be filled. Some of the huts had bunks but not many, and they were filled absolutely to overflowing with prisoners in every state of emaciation and disease. There was not room for them to lie down at full length in each hut. In the most crowded there were anything from 600 to 1000 people in accommodation which should only have taken 100. [...]
There were no bunks in a hut in the women's compound which contained the typhus patients. They were lying on the floor and were so weak they could hardly move. There was practically no bedding. In some cases there was a thin mattress, but some had none. Some had draped themselves in blankets, and some had German hospital type of clothing. That was the general picture."
Typhus barracks at Bergen-Belsen had no bunks
One of the survivors who was liberated that day was Adam Koenig, a German Jew, born in 1923. A week after the war began in 1939, Koenig was sent to Sachsenhausen, a camp near Berlin. In October 1942, he was transferred to Auschwitz. Koenig's parents and four of the eight children in his family died in the Holocaust; his father died at Auschwitz.
Koenig survived the death march out of Auschwitz in January 1945, and ended up at Bergen-Belsen where he was among those who had survived after six years of imprisonment by the Nazis. In 2005, on the 60ieth anniversary of the liberation of the camps, 82-year-old Adam Koenig and his wife Maria, also an Auschwitz survivor, were still active in giving lectures to students to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.
Reverend Leslie H. Hardman was the 32-year-old Senior Jewish Chaplain to the British Forces, attached to 8 Corp of the British 2nd Army when Bergen-Belsen was liberated. Hardman was born in Wales; his father was from Poland and his mother was from Russia. After the war, he wrote a book entitled "The Survivors - the story of the Belsen remnant" (Vallentine, Mitchell & Co. Ltd) in which he described what he saw at Bergen-Belsen.
He wrote that when he first approached the camp, he saw posters which warned "Danger - Typhus." Once inside the camp he was horrified at what he saw. He wrote that Belsen consisted of several wooden barracks, fifty metres long, poorly constructed and possessing window openings and doorways devoid of windows or doors so that the huts became effective wind tunnels for the freezing winter climate to do its worst. The roofs leaked so that straw scattered on the floor quickly became sodden. The beds were mere planks of wood. Each barrack housed seven thousand, according to Hardman's account.
Chaplain Hardman wrote that illness was endemic and medical treatment was unknown. Each day the outdoor roll call in freezing conditions lasted for four hours or more and those who fell down were dead. He described the camp as so lice-ridden that the clothes appeared to move on their own. Victims scratched themselves on the struts, which held the hut together and developed open sores and boils, which became infected. And then came typhus with such ferocity that a quarter of all the men and women in the camp died.
Lt. Lawrence Aslen was one of the British soldiers who was there on the day of the liberation of the camp. According to his son, Niall Alsen, his father "arrived some hours after the first troops, but his first impression was that bodies were everywhere, certainly hundreds if not several thousands." Lt. Alsen told his son that "the scale of the problem just overwhelmed them.
There were so many more in the huts as well that it became a priority to get them disposed of to lessen the attrition from disease. Many British soldiers were not vaccinated, but the SMO (Senior medical Officer) of the field hospital ordered emergency inoculations for everybody. Even so, several British soldiers contracted typhus and a severe form of dysentery. Happily none of them died."
In an e-mail to me, Niall Alsen wrote that as far as his father was concerned, the SS guards at Bergen-Belsen "were utterly evil and depraved murderers who should all have been hanged." Alsen said that his father described the inmates as lethargic, listless and lost. To them, the British were just another lot of troops sent to guard them and it took several days before many of them believed they were actually free.
This transition came when nurses from the field hospital began taking the sick away to a converted barracks nearby, and it was the sight of these women that told them they were liberated. When they began to feed the inmates with high calorie food, it actually killed some of them, who were so unused to real food. Alsen said that his father only really spoke to him about Bergen-Belsen a couple of times. He was too badly traumatized by the experience to talk about it.
Niall Alsen said that his father told him that the photograph of the woman guard, who looks very angry in the phtotograph below, was taken just after the guards had been paraded past the survivors and told that they were to start burying the bodies. Niall wrote in an e-mail to me:
Many of them demurred and protested; possibly this is the moment it was captured on film. A Sergeant told them in German "You bastards created this F***ing mess so you can F***ing well clear it up!"
Women guards at Bergen-Belsen
In answer to my question about whether the British liberators had killed any of the Hungarian soldiers, who were sent to the camp to help with the transition and were promised that they could return to their lines after six days, Alsen wrote the following, based on what his father Lt. Lawrence Alsen had told him:
Yes, some of them were shot out of hand for mutiny. A burial detail of Hungarians refused to handle the dead bodies. One officer refused to obey the order saying it was contrary to the Geneva Convention. The captain in charge immediately told them they were under martial law and any refusal was mutiny. The officer still refused and so did four of his men. The captain drew his revolver and cocked it, pointing it at the officer's forehead. The officer still refused and the captain shot him dead. The other four attempted to rush the captain, a somewhat foolish attempt against 8 loaded sten guns in the hands of men itching to use them. All five ended up in one of the grave pits. The officer then reported what he had done to the Colonel who told him not to worry: "You've just saved the hangman a job."
In response to my question about whether any of the SS guards had died from typhus after being forced to handle the dead bodies with their bare hands, Niall Alsen answered as follows, based on what his father Lt. Lawrence Alsen had told him:
That report is true. They were also made to live in one of the huts in the same filthy conditions as the Inmates and fed the same basic rations; that could also be the reason so many contracted Typhus. However, there are suspicions that two of the more sadistic guards were thrown into one of the huts by British troops for a lark; they were kicked and punched to death. (Death by natural causes?) My father said it was very difficult to control the men from meting out summary justice; perhaps it would have been better if that had happened.
Bergen-Belsen survivors line up for food
Sign put up by the British after Bergen-Belsen was liberated
One of the prisoners who had arrived in Bergen-Belsen in early February 1945 on a transport from Sachsenhausen was Rudolf Küstermeier, who wrote the following, which was quoted in Derrick Singleton's book "Belsen Uncovered," published in 1946.
In the night before April 15 I lay awake and only fell asleep in the small hours. Suddenly I was woken up by one of the Russian workers in our block. "Come, come, quick! There are tanks on the street." I heard the unmistakable clanking, rumbling noise...From far I heard the tanks pass through the camp entrance and a voice call from a loud speaker van. I knew we were free. I lay there musing. Incessantly I had to fend off fleas and bugs who did not stop torturing me for a minute. I was feverish and my head was heavy and stupefied, but I was aware of the fact that we were free. More than eleven years of imprisonment were over. I lived. I would have a chance to recover. I would be able to participate in the tasks of reconstruction. I did not think of revenge but I knew that the most devilish tyranny the modern world had seen had lost its last footing, and that there would be a chance now for new men and a new life. I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude.
Küstermeier was a Social Democrat who was arrested on November 19, 1933 on a charge of doing illegal activities against the Nazi regime. He was tried and convicted by the Volksgerichtshof (the People's High Court) and sentenced to ten years in prison. After he had served his time, he was sent to a concentration camp to be placed under protective custody as an enemy of the state. In August 1945, he wrote a report which was included in the book, "Belsen Uncovered" by Derrick Sington. An excerpt from his report is quoted below:
Then the last phase began. The SS provided civilian clothes and rucksacks for themselves to prepare for their disappearance. They barely entered the huts anymore, and the dreadful roll-calls stopped. Here and there in the camp small groups of prisoners assembled in order to take over the administration if necessary.
But the SS did not intend to leave without an escort. They published an appeal, especially to the Germans and Poles, to fight voluntarily on the side of the SS against the Allied forces. A few days later all the Germans, except for a few who went their own ways, were assembled in a hut, and the majority, above all most of the Block Elders and Kapos, left with the SS on April 14.
It had become known shortly beforehand that an agreement had been made between British and German officers declaring the camp neutral territory. This was not announced officially, but the changes which occurred seemed to corroborate the rumors. Most of the SS men disappeared and in their stead Hungarian troops and soldiers of the German Wehrmacht appeared. The remaining SS had the special task of repairing the camp and especially of taking the dead to the mass graves.
Bergen-Belsen inmates drag diseased body using a blanket
Thousands of bodies in various stages of decomposition were lying in heaps all over the camp. As their last task before turning the camp over to the British, the SS began repairing the camp and trying to bury the bodies in mass graves which were dug in a remote spot about one kilometer from the barracks.
Between April 11 and April 14, all prisoners in the camp who were still able to work were recruited to help with burial of the corpses. While two prisoner's orchestras played dancing music, 2000 inmates dragged the corpses using strips of cloth or leather straps tied to the wrists or ankles. This monstrous spectacle went on for four days, from six in the morning until dark. Still, there were 10,000 rotting corpses remaining in the camp.
Corpses are gathered at the site of one of the mass graves
Sick prisoners were moved to the hospital at the German Army base right next to the camp. The photo below shows prisoners who are recovering from typhus and other diseases.
Bergen-Belsen survivors in hospital at German Army base
Allied Troops are Coming
April 7, 1945
On April 7, 1945, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the head of the Reich Security Office, sent an order directly to the Commandant of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Josef Kramer, that all the prisoners in the camp should be killed, rather than let them fall in the hands of the enemy. However on April 8, 1945, another 25,000 prisoners arrived at Bergen-Belsen from other concentration camps in the Neuengamme area. By now there were over 60,000 prisoners in the camp.
The Geneva Convention specified that civilian prisoners were to be evacuated from a war zone, and up until this time, the Nazi concentration camps had been either evacuated or abandoned as the war progressed. However it was impossible to evacuate all the prisoners from Bergen-Belsen because of the typhus epidemic. Nor could the camp be abandoned for fear that this epidemics would spread to the soldiers of both sides. Negotiations for the transfer of the Bergen-Belsen camp to the control of the British Army took several days. On the night of April 12, 1945, a cease-fire was signed between the local German Military Commander and the British Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Taylor-Balfour. An area of 48 square kilometers around Bergen-Belsen was declared a neutral zone.
Until British troops could take over, the agreement specified that the camp would be guarded by a unit of Hungarian soldiers and soldiers from the German Wehrmacht (the German army). These soldiers were assured that they would be allowed free return passage to the German lines within six days after the British arrived. The SS soldiers who made up the staff of the camp were to remain at their posts and carry on their duties until the British arrived to take over. Thousands of bodies in various stages of decomposition were lying in heaps all over the camp. As their last task before turning the camp over to the British, the SS began repairing the camp and trying to bury the bodies in mass graves. Between April 11 and April 14, all prisoners in the camp who were still able to work were recruited to help with burial of the corpses. This went on for four days, from six in the morning until dark and still there were 10,000 rotting corpses remaining in the camp. On April 15th, British soldiers arrived and the transfer of the neutral territory of the Bergen-Belsen camp was made and the first British units entered the camp. These units were a loudspeaker van from 14 Amplifier Unit, Intelligence Corps and 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery. Three of the soldiers on the tanks were Jewish. Chaim Herzog was a young Jewish officer with the Intelligence Corps; he later became Israel's Ambassador to the UN and then President of Israel. The Camp Commandant Josef Kramer greeted British officer Derrick Sington at the entrance to the camp After handing over the camp he was later arrested by the British and five months later he was brought before a British Military Tribunal as a war criminal. Brigadier Llewelyn Glyn-Hughes, a medical officer, was in command of the relief operation. The British had known that there were terrible epidemics in the camp, and that this was the main reason the camp had been surrendered, but they were unprepared for the sight of the dead bodies, and it came as an enormous shock to them.
On April 17, 1945, British Medical units arrived. The first thing they did was to set up a hospital area in the barracks of the Germany Army training camp nearby. The British arrested the entire personnel of the SS Commandant's office, the 50 men and 30 women who had voluntarily stayed behind to help the British. On April 18, 1945, the burial of the dead began. The staff members, who were now prisoners of the British, were ordered to bury the dead.
On April 21, 1945, the evacuation of those still alive began. The prisoners were first deloused and then moved into the barracks of the German Army Training camp next to the camp. The Red Cross were brought in to help. The epidemics had not yet been brought under control and 400 to 500 prisoners were still dying each day. However by April 28, the burial of the bodies in the mass graves was completed.
German civilians from the towns of Bergen and Belsen were brought to look at the camp on April 25, 1945. Prisoners continued to die, in spite of the medical treatment provided by the Red Cross and the British Army. Nine thousand died in the first two weeks after the British arrived, and another 4000 died in May. The bodies were buried in unmarked mass graves.
On April 29, the SS soldiers were taken to the prison in the city of Celle near to the camp. The next day, 97 medical students arrived in Bergen-Belsen to help with the sick prisoners, and on May 4th, more British medical units arrived. On that same day, part of the German Army surrendered to the British in the area near the camp.By May 19, 1945, all the former prisoners had been evacuated to the nearby Army barracks and on May 21, 1945, the last hut at the Bergen-Belsen camp was burned to the ground. The horror that was Bergen-Belsen had been completely wiped off the face of the earth. Today the former camp is a landscaped park with heather which covers the mass graves In July 1945, 6,000 survivors were taken to Sweden to recover from their ordeal at Bergen-Belsen. Some of them stayed there as long as three years to recover from typhus.
A photograph of the British solider Herbert Martin who was one of the liberators of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, 04/1945.
A liberated Russian slave labourer points out a German guard who had beaten prisoners, 1945.
SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Kramer and 44 other Nazi SS guards who had been in charge of Bergen-Belsen camp were tried by a British military court at Lueneburg. The trial lasted from 17 September to 17 November 1945. The prosecution case was based on the grounds that Allied nationals, who had been ‘captured by surrender or extradition or otherwise,’ had been killed there. The prosecution council established that the actions constituted war crimes. Thirty of those on trial were found guilty. Those sentenced to death appealed to the convening officer, Field Marshal Montgomery. All the appeals for clemency were rejected. Ten, including Kramer, the camp doctor and female SS leaders, were hanged on 13 December 1945. The other 20 found guilty were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment.
Zdenka Fantlova is a truly remarkable woman. Now in her 80s, this charming lady is still busy travelling and lecturing about her life experience. Meeting her, you would never guess she has been through hell. Coming from a Czech Jewish family, at the age of 18 she was transported to the Terezin concentration camp in Bohemia. Other camps followed: Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen and Mauthausen.
She was finally liberated from Bergen-Belsen, only to find out that none of her family members had survived the Holocaust. In this, the first part of our interview with Zdenka Fantlova she recalls what followed immediately after the Second World War broke out.
"Well it all started with the German occupation and it came overnight, as a shock. None of us in [Czechoslovakia] expected what followed...In front of us was darkness, because we had no idea what would happen. And it developed day by day - new laws, new restrictions, expulsions for school...and transports."
How old were you then?
"I was eighteen at that time. I was in 'gymnasium', or high school. I was evicted and my schoolmates said: 'This is nonsense. You will see they will change their mind.' And well, it was nonsense but they didn't change their minds. And I was out.
"But because I was young and I didn't want to sit at home and darn my socks, as my mother wanted to, I entered the English Institute here in Prague for a year, at the British Council, simply because I had heard Fred Astaire singing a song from an American musical, a Broadway melody, 'You are My Lucky Star'. And I was so fascinated that I though I'd have to learn this language. I was learning the song word by word and had no idea what I was singing. And that saved my life.
Bergen-Belsen, April 1945 "Little did I know that five years later in Bergen-Belsen I would be able to communicate in English with a member of the British Army who saved my life in the nick of time, the last minute before my death. So, you see there are little things in life which determine... I sort of feel that we have a blueprint, we work on a blueprint. Maybe we think we have free will - maybe we have.
"But somehow I feel it is like skiing slalom from stick to stick and you decide I'm not going to do this stick. But it doesn't matter. You have the start, you have the finish. And that's fate. And nobody will talk me out of it."
First of all you went to Terezin, is that right?
Terezin "Yes, we went to Terezin which wasn't frightening. It was still on our territory, there were Czech gendarmes, the language was Czech, and we had no idea what was going on. Of course nobody knew what was ahead of us.
"And because there was such a concentration of talent, and the Czech culture which was brought in from...pre-war, into Terezin, in theatre and music and so on...I joined a theatre and it was the happiest time of my life. I would never, ever have had a chance - not only to meet these people, let along to work with them.
"So the two and a half years in Terezin passed almost happily, I'm sorry to say. Because we did not expect and didn't know what was happening. Only the Germans knew what was ahead of us, that we were actually sentenced to death.
"They thought, oh well, let them sing and play - the smile will soon be wiped off their faces. So we were sort of happily dancing under the gallows. Because we thought soon the war will have to finish.
Auschwitz "But it didn't. Instead of that we went to Auschwitz. That was a shock, because you suddenly landed in a place which was unreal. You were not prepared for that, you had no idea what this place is...And from then on your survival depends on your instinct.
"You do things in your immediate vicinity, you have no wish to see the whole...history of what's happening in front of you, no...You have an invisible circle around your feet, where you look where to step, where are the guards, where is water, where is the next ration of bread. And that's all you care about.
"I do a lot of lectures in German schools and they always ask me, how did you survive? Well, it's not a simple recipe. It's a very complicated and complex process.
"First of all you have to lucky, that they don't push you into the gas chambers because then it doesn't help whether you're brave or not. Secondly you have to be young rather than old, healthy rather than sick, and preferably not married but in love. That's what I was.
"Love is such a power that we have no idea how much strength we can draw from it. Because you want to survive - for him, to be together again. And there is nothing in your way. You will survive, you will overcome, whatever happens.
Zdenka Fantlova in 1947 "I feel that we humans don't even know who we are, what's in us, what kind of power we have. Because it's never put to a test - until there is a crisis and then it shows...what you are capable of.
"This I only recognised after the war - the inmates in the camp were really divided into two groups. Those who felt like victims...and if you feel like a victim you become a victim, and you react like a victim...and it takes all your strength away.
"And you might even die as a victim. Even if you survive as a victim you're not happy, because you feel that you have lost and you have suffered - it's a negative kind of attitude.
"The other half...or not half, small part...are mostly artists, they are observers. I was an observer, I wasn't a victim...It didn't weaken me. And that cannot be bought.
"That's why I'm saying, we have something inside us which I call a survival kit, a survival kit which we never use. In the survival kit is something which I call not 'first' aid, but 'last' aid. These are medications or bandages - these are orders. That voice in that survival kit tells you what to do, and you do it, you don't think. It doesn't come from your intellect, from your brain, you just act instinctively. And either you are a survivor or not."
Women Guards in Bergen-Belsen
6 November 44...
Daily the huts are subjected to a strict check. This is done by a young SS girl, the "gray mouse", who looks elegant and coquettish in her perfectly fitting uniform and pretty, shiny knee-length boots. Arrogant and noisy, she storms into the hut accompanied by a soldier and the Jewish camp leader (the "Judenältester").
The "gray mouse" gestures exaggeratedly, provocatively throws her body around sharply and utters theatrical, calculated, horrified cries whenever she sees badly washed dishes or a bed that has not been made carefully enough. She excels in slapping people in the face so as to produce a loud crack, impulsively, quickly and suddenly, without taking her glove off.
Without any reason she daily punishes at least seven or eight prisoners in each hut by canceling their bread or meal. Her only aim is to bully, to torment and to humiliate. Her visits serve no other purpose. Diary Notes of Hanna Levy-Hass, September 1944 - April 1945
Bergen-Belsen Overseers are guarded by British soldiers after the liberation
Irma Grese was the youngest and most hated of the female guards
Overseers at Bergen-Belsen were well-fed and some were overweight
Irene Haschke in the center, and Herta Bothe on the right
Mug shot of Irene Haschke
Mug shot of Herta Bothe
As of 2005, Herta Bothe was still alive and still defensive about her job as a female guard at Bergen-Belsen, maintaining that she had been conscripted in September 1942, at the age of 21, to work in the concentration camps;
she claimed that she would have been put into a concentration camp herself if she had refused. After four weeks of training at the Ravensbrück women's camp, Bothe was first sent to the Stutthof camp near the city formerly known as Danzig, and then to the Bromberg Ost sub-camp in July 1944. She had previously worked as a nurse in a German hospital.
When Bergen-Belsen was turned over to the British on April 15, 1945, Herta Bothe had been a guard there, in charge of 60 women prisoners, for no more than seven or eight weeks. She had arrived in the camp between February 20th and February 26th in charge of a death march of women prisoners evacuated from Poland. Bothe was one of the 80 guards who volunteered to stay behind to help the British take over the camp, not realizing that under the Allied concept of co-responsibility, she would be put on trial as a war criminal.
In the photo above, taken by the British at an Allied prison in Celle, Bothe looks haggard and has dark circles under her eyes after working for weeks in the camp to bury around 17,000 corpses including the bodies of 13,000 prisoners who died after the British took over.
Today, Herta Bothe is well known because of her defiant attitude and her show of anger when the women were ordered by the British to carry the rotten corpses to mass graves with their bare hands. In interviews years later, Bothe described how she was terrified of contracting typhus because the guards were not allowed to wear gloves or masks.
She described how the arms and legs of the decomposed bodies came off in her hands when she tried to pick them up, and how lifting the emaciated bodies caused her back pain. Although the British brought in bulldozers and shoved some of the bodies into the mass graves, they forced the former guards to do most of the work manually as their just punishment for the horrible conditions found in the camp.
In trial, Sala Schiferman served as a witness against Bothe, testifying that she saw Bothe beat an 18-year-old girl for eating peelings in the kitchen. When prisoners protested, Bothe said, "I will beat her to death." The girl was later declared to be dead by camp doctors. Another witness, Luba Triszinska, accused Bothe of frequently beating internees with wooden sticks and causing their deaths.
Bothe was known for shooting at weak women as they were carrying the heavy containers of food. One man, Wilhelm Grunwald, testified that he saw Bothe do this sometime between April 1st-15th, 1945. Bothe claimed that she never used anything but her hands to beat the women under her command and that she never carried a pistol.
Bothe was sentenced to ten years in prison after being convicted by a British Military Tribunal in 1946. She was released on December 22, 1951.
During World War II Irma Grese was the most notorious of the female Nazi war criminals. She was born on October 7, 1923, to a agricultural family and left school in 1938 at the age of 15. She worked on a farm for six months, then in a shop and later for two years in a hospital. Then she was sent to work at the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp.
She became a camp guard at the age of 19, and, in March 1943, she was transferred to Auschwitz. She rose to the rank of Senior SS-Supervisor in the autumn of 1943, in charge of approximately 30,000 women prisoners, mainly Polish and Hungarian Jews. This was the second highest rank that SS female concentration camp pesonnel could attain.
After the war, survivors provided extensive details of murders, tortures, cruelties and sexual excesses engaged in by Irma Grese during her years at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. They testified to her acts of pure sadism, beatings and arbitrary shooting of prisoners, savaging of prisoners by her trained and half starved dogs, to her selecting prisoners for the gas chambers.
She habitually wore heavy boots and carried a whip and a pistol. She used both physical and emotional methods to torture the camp's inmates and enjoyed shooting prisoners in cold blood. She beat some of the women to death and whipped others mercilessly using a plaited whip.
The skins of three inmates that she had had made into lamp shades were found in her hut.
After the Kommandant of Bergen-Belsen, Josef Kramer, Irma Grese was the most notorious defendant in the Belsen Trial, held between September 17 and November 17, 1945. Grese was convicted and sentenced to be hanged. She was executed on December 13, 1945.
Irma Grese at Bergen-Belsen 17 April 1945
Irma Grese and Josef Kramer standing in the courtyard of the Prisoner of War cage at Celle. Kramer said that the gas chamber story was “untrue from beginning to end.” Both were convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death. Aug. 8, 1945. Source Imperial War Museum collection: unrestricted access.
Elizabeth (or Elisabeth) Volkenrath was an SS supervisor at several concentration camps during World War II. She trained under SSsupervisor Dorothea Binz at Ravensbruck, and in 1943 went to Auschwitz Birkenau as an Aufseherin. There she took part in selections and abuse. In November 1944, she was promoted to SS Oberaufseherin and oversaw three hangings. She later went to Bergen Belsen as supervising wardress and did nothing for the conditions there.
In April 1945 she was arrested by the British Army and sent to prison. She eventually stood trial with Irma Grese and many other Naziguards at the Belsen Trial. She was handed down a death sentence and was hanged on December 13, 1945, at Hameln by Albert Pierrepoint.
HERTA EHLERT - BERGEN-BELSEN TRIAL
26 March 1905 – 4 April 1997
Herta Ehlert (26 March 1905 – 4 April 1997)
On 15 November 1939, Ehlert became a camp guard and trained in Ravensbrück concentration camp. In October 1942 she was moved as an Aufseherin to the Majdanek camp near Lublin. There she served in a few of its subcamps in Lublin. A few SS officers there noticed that she was too lenient, polite and helpful to the prisoners, so the SS sent her back to Ravensbrück to undergo another training course, this time by Dorothea Binz. During this time Ehlert divorced her husband. After the World War II, Ehlert described the "training course" at Ravensbruck as "physically and emotionally demanding."
Ehlert was later moved to the Auschwitz concentration camp as an Aufseherin where she oversaw women commanding Kommandos (slave labor groups). Ehlert later served as a guard at theAuschwitz subcamp in Rajsko, Poland, before she was transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she became deputy wardress under OberaufseherinnenElisabeth Volkenrath and Irma Grese.
When the British Army liberated the Belsen camp, Ehlert was arrested and tried at the Belsen Trial. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison. She was released on 22 December 1951. After the war Ehlert lived under the assumed name Herta Naumann.
Mugshot of Hildegard Kambach Dated: 1945
Hildegard Kambach during the forced burials. Dated: 23 April 1945
Juana Bormann was a murderous SS woman, who served in the deathcamp Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. She was known as The woman with the dogs, who took sadistic pleasure in setting her wolfhounds on prisoners to tear them to pieces.
Juana Bormann joined the SS as a civilian employee on March 1, 1938, because - as she later said during The Belsen Trial - I could earn more money ..
After World War II, Juana Bormann was found guilty and convicted of war crimes and the execution was set for December 13, 1945. In his book of memoirs, Executioner, the English hangman Albert Pierrepoint described Juana Bormann's last hours. The afternoon before execution each prisoner was weighed so the correct drop could be calculated for them:
"She limped down the corridor looking old and haggard. She was forty-two years old, only a little over five feet high .. she was trembling as she was put on the scale. In German she said: I have my feelings .."
Charlotte Klein is the tall girl on the extreme far left of the photograph.
November 8th 1918
Lohbauer, factory worker, was due to her refusal of her workplace, a weaving mill in Württemberg , to move into a munitions factory in 1940 in the Ravensbruck concentration camp briefed. From there it was in March 1942 in the Auschwitz concentration camp is over, where she worked for four weeks a prisoner in the main camp and then was in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Around Christmas 1942, she was for four weeks, Kapo , but lost that post again. No later than early 1944 Lohbauer worked as a leader in Birkenau labor service. Her responsibilities included the management of external commands that control the work performed and the observance of order and cleanliness in Birkenau. Your were under 25-30 Kapo. She was known in Auschwitz as a woman without a SS uniform.
After the evacuation of Auschwitz in January 1945, she came up with an evacuation transport back to the Ravensbruck concentration camp and from there into a transport with the Kapo Ilse Lothe in March 1945 in the Bergen-Belsen . There she was again in the labor service and supervised work parties.
After the war, Lohbauer was the first Bergen-Belsen process (number of charges 11) accused of the Auschwitz concentration camp Bergen-Belsen and the crimes committed. During her interrogation she was indeed ill-treatment of some prisoners, but refused to acknowledge their guilt. Lohbauer on 17 November 1945 was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of ten years, but already on 15 Released from prison in July 1950. Their fate is unknown after discharge.
Second Bergen-Belsen Trial
(May - June 1946)
Walter Quakernack: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 11th October 1946)
Heinz - Züder Heidemann: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 11th October 1946)
Heinrich Redehase: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 11th October 1946)
Karl Schmitt: 15 Years Imprisonment
Kapo Kasimir Cegielski: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 11th October 1946)
Five ex-officials of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp were tried by a British military court at Wuppertal from the 16th May 1946 to the 30th May 1946, all of the defendants were found guilty, and four were sentenced to death, and one to imprisonment. Those sentenced to death were executed on the 11th October 1946.
A second Bergen-Belsen Trial was conducted at Luneberg from June 13-18, 1946 by a British Military Court to try Kazimierz Cegielski, a Polish National who was a "KAPO" ("Camp Police") at Bergen-Belsen, arriving there in March 1944, according to his testimony.Kapos were prisoner-trustees assigned by the SS as overseers over their fellow prisoners. They tended to be "political" or criminal prisoners. There were five Kapos in Bergen-Belsen, two of them under the name "Kazimierz" differentiated as "Big Kazimierz" (the defendent) and "Little Kazimierz".
Cegielski was charged with cruelty and murder and was noted for beating and at times killing the sick and weakend prisoners with large wooden sticks or poles. While in Bergen-Belsen he was having an affair with a prisoner, a young Jewish woman from Amsterdam, Hennny DeHaas. He was caught in 1946 when he came to Amsterdam ostensibly to find and marry DeHaas. He was convicted on June 18th, 1946 and sentenced to death by hanging. The day before he was to be hanged he made a statement saying his real name was Kasimir-Alexander Rydzewski. He was executed at Hameln Prison at 9:20 A.M. on October 11, 1946. (First-hand witness account as transcribed by Steven Hess)
Excerpts from The Belsen Trial
Opening Statement and Charges
Excerpts from The Trial of Josef Kramer and 44 others: The Belsen Trial, Edited by Raymond Phillips, M.C., M.A., B.L.C. (Oxon.), Barrister-at-Law, William Hodge and Company, London, 1949.
There were two charges Kramer was under during the trial (pp. 4-5):
COMMITTING A WAR CRIME IN THAT THEY
At Bergen-Belsen, Germany, between 1st October, 1942, and 30th April, 1945, when members of the staff of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp responsible for the well-being of the persons interned there, in violation of the law and usages of war, were together concerned as parties to the ill-treatment of certain of such persons, causing the deaths of..... Keith Meyer (a British national),...... Anna Kis, Sara Kohn (both Hungarian nationals),...... Heimech Glinovjechy and Maria Konatkevicz (both Polish nationals), and Marcel Freson de Montigny (a French national), ......Maurice Van Eijnsbergen (a Dutch national), ......Maurice Anvlenaar (a Belgian national),...... Jan Markowski and Georgej Ferenz (both Polish nationals), ......Salvatore Verdura (an Italian national),...... and Therese Klee (a British national of Honduras), .....Allied nationals, and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown,..... and physical suffering to other persons interned there, Allied nationals, and particularly to...... Harold Osmmund le Druillenec (a British national),...... Benee Zuchermann, a female internee named Korperova,..... a female internee named Hoffmann,..... Luba Rormann,.... Isa Frydmann (all Polish nationals) ....and Alexandra Siwidowa, a Russian national and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown.
COMMITTING A WAR CRIME IN THAT THEY
At Auschwitz, Poland, between 1st October, 1942, and 30 April, 1945, when members of the staff of Auschwitz Concentration Camp responsible for the well-being of the prisoners interned there, in violation of the law and usages of war, were together concerned as parties to the ill-treatment of certain of such persons, causing the deaths of Rachella Silbersein (a Polish national), Allied nationals, and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown, andphysical suffering to other persons interned there, Allied nationals, and particualrly to Ewa Gryka and Hanka Rosenwayg (both Polish nationals) and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown.
From the opening speech for the Prosecution (Colonel Backhouse speaking, p. 21):
So far as one knows, Belsen was originally a small camp, a transit camp, but at the end of November of last year Josef Kramer, who had been in the concentration camp service throughout the period of Nazi ascendancy, having joined as a volunteer in 1932, was called to Berlin.
He had been the commander of a portion of Auschwitz. In Berlin he saw the head of the concentration camp service and was told that Belsen was to become a convalescent camp for sick persons from concentration camps, factories, farms, displaced persons from the whole of northwest Europe.
He was told to go and look at the camp and if he found any difficulties he was to report back. He went there, and from 1st December he was the Kommandant of the camp and in sole charge. There were no standing orders from Berlin; the administration was left to him, and the Prosecution will ask you to say that he is primarily responsible for everything that happened in that camp.
He was assisted by an officer in charge of administration, who I regret is not before the Court, by a criminal investigation officer, a doctor, a dentist, and the rest of his staff, apart from the guard commander who did not come directly under him, were Warrant Officers and N.C.O.s of the S.S. numbering some 60 to 70.
Backhouse continues (p. 24):
That is the picture of what Belsen was like. It may be that it will be put to you that what was happening was that transports full of people were coming in from other camps, that they were over-run and it was impossible to get food owing to the British having smashed up the transport.
Kramer says he did everything he could to try to provide food for these poor people, to try and provide water for them and to see to their health and well-being. You will hear Major Birnie [Burney], who arrived on the 15th of April with Colonel Taylor. The next morning he went off to a Wehrmacht camp which was about a mile up the road and saw the quartermaster.
You will hear that is where the food for the concentration camp came from. Kramer will tell you that the reason he could not get food was because it came from Celle and Hanover, but it in fact came from the Wehrmacht Camp. In that camp there was any amount of food which could have been distributed to these poor people. Kramer, of course, says that it was impossible to get bread, but he tried his best.
You will hear of a fully stocked bakery in the Wehrmacht Camp with a terrific grain supply and capable of turning out 60,000 loaves a day which it did immediately afterwards and continued to do so with the same staff and from the same stock of grain.
There were vast quantities of medical supplies which have not been exhausted yet. You will hear that in the administration block in No. 1 Camp there were about 100 wooden boxes of tinned milk and meat which were in S.S. quarters marked "Hungarian."
They were Red Cross parcels which had been sent to the Hungarian internees by the Hungarian Red Cross and had been stolen by the S.S. guards. With regard to the water supply, although the camp had been without water for from three to five days and that all there was were these foul concrete tanks with bodies in them, as soon as somebody started to try and do something, within two days, with the equipment which was already in that camp and with no addition to it, there was an adequate working water supply laid on to every kitchen, and within five days, with the assistance of only the local fire brigade, there was a complete and proper water system running throughout the camp.
So much for the story that this was a breakdown of organization due to war conditions. You will hear that there was nothing lacking to provide full water and sanitation in that camp had anybody wanted to do it at all.
From the testimony of Vice-Director of Medical Services Brigadier Hugh Llewelyn Glyn Hughs (pp. 31-34):What water supply was there?
-- The huts had had water laid on but it was not functioning, and in addition there were large concrete ponds in the camp near the cookhouses.
[...]Would you describe in your own words the general state of the camp?
-- [...] There were various sizes of piles of corpses lying all over the camp, some outside the wire and some in between the huts, and the frightful scenes inside were much worse... . The gutters were full and within the huts there were uncountable numbers of bodies, some even in the same bunks as the living... Some of the huts had bunks but not many, and they were filled absolutely to overflowing with prisoners in every state of emaciation and disease. There was not room for them to lie down at full length in each hut. In the most crowded there were anything from 600 to 1000 people in accommodation which should only have taken 100.
What was the state of sanitation?
-- There was none. The conditions were indescribable because most of the internees were suffering from some form of gastro-enteritis and they were too weak to leave the hut. The lavatories in the huts had long been out of use. In the women's compound there was a deep trench with a pole over it but no screening or form of privacy at all. Those who were strong enough could get into the compound: others performed their natural functions from where they were. The compounds were absolutely one mass of human excreta. In the huts themselves the floors were covered, and the people in the top bunks who could not get out just poured it on to the bunks below.
Now take the women's compound?
-- No. 2 was on the same side as those three I have described, to the left of the camp. This, although small, had about 6000 in it. The conditions were infinitely worse. They were absolutely frightful. No. 1 Compound was a very large and contained between 22 and 23,000 women. The huts were set amongst trees and conditions were frightful, but perhaps not as bad as No. 2 Women's compound. In this compound there was a very large pile of corpses.
Was there any particular hut in that compound which you could describe?
-- In Hut No. 208, which was close to the pile of corpses, there were dead women lying in the passage, which was so full that no women could lie down straight. The main room on the left of the passage was one mass of bodies and you could not get another into it. The inmates were in a state of extreme emaciation and women were dying frequently.
Could you give details of the medical supplies?
-- There were quite a few large stocks in the store, but one issue, I was told by the chief doctor there, was 300 aspirin tablets for 17,000 sick people for one week. I do not think there were any large quantities of disinfectant available and no anti-louse powder issued. I found a large number of Red Cross boxes sent by Jewish Associations for the Jews. I was told that no issue of the contents had been made except an occasional issue of sweets to the children. The boxes contained meat extracts and food of all kinds, biscuits, milk. There was some stealing of meat by the Hungarian soldiers while I was there.
What was the food supply in the camp?
-- At the time of entry practically nil -- at the most, one meal a day of watery stew made of vegetables.
What was the method of distribution?
-- In large metal containers which were very heavy. There had been no bread for a fortnight and no water for rather a shorter time, and there appeared to be absolutely no method of ensuring that each person got their share. When a man or woman got too weak to fetch for themselves and their friends became indifferent through their own condition, then they got none.
In your considered opinion for what period at the least must conditions have been bad in that camp to have produced the results that you saw?
-- Including the last five or six days it would take several months to produce death in people who were fit and well. What the condition of the prisoners was who were admitted I do not know, but if they were not robust it would have been a matter of a short time. But I should have said, with reasonable health, two or three months.
Testimony from Major Berney (pp. 54-55):
What was the position in relation to water when you arrived?-- There was none except in what I took to be emergency water reserve tanks. In the concentration camp area there were three tanks and in the S.S. administration portion there was one. The water in the tanks in the concentration area was completely foul, and as an immediate emergency measure some army water-carts were sent in. To restore the water supply we utilized the fire pumps and hose which we found inside the camp to pump water from a river to the camp itself. It took about four or five days after we entered. We found enough materials to complete a working water supply throughout the camp.
Did you have any expert advice that was not available to the Germans with regard to the water supply?
-- We pumped the water from the river, using S.S. men. Later a R.E.M.E. Major arrived to help to get the water supply working. The water in the river was fit to drink.
Major Berney is questioned by the Judge Advocate (p. 56):
Can you tell us whether the water-supply system erected by you which was made from local materials was capable of lasting for some time or was it very temporary?
-- It would have lasted, and did last, for some time.
At this point begins the Belsen conditions as Kramer saw them.
Josef Kramer is questioned by his defense council, Major Winwood (pp. 157-158):
When you arrived at Auschwitz who was the Kommandant of the whole camp?
-- Obersturmbannführer Hoess. It was a very large camp and was subdivided into Camp Nos. 1, 2 and 3. I was Kommandant of Camp No. 2, Birkenau.
Will you explain to the Court how it is that, in the first statement you made, you said the allegations referring to gas chambers, mass executions, whipping and cruelty were untrue?
-- There are two reasons for that. The first is that in the first statement I was told that the prisoners alleged that these gas chambers were under my command, and the second and main reason was that Pohl, who spoke to me, took my word of honour that I should remain silent and should not tell anybody at all about the existence of the gas chambers. When I made my first statement I felt still bound by this word of honour which I had given. When I made the second statement in prison, in Celle, these persons to whom I felt bound in honour -- Adolf Hitler and Reichsführer Himmler -- were no loner alive and I thought then that I was no longer bound.
Did Kommandant Hoess say anything to you about the gas chambers?
-- I received a written order from him that I had nothing to do with either the gas chambers or the incoming transports. The Political Department which was in every camp had a card index system of prisoners and was responsible for personal documents and for any sort of transports or incoming prisoners. At Auschwitz the Political Department was also responsible for all the selections from incoming transports for the gas chamber. In the crematorium the S.S. and prisoners -- Sonderkommando -- were under the command of the Kommandant of Auschwitz, Hoess. As the place where the transports generally arrived was in the middle of my own camp I was sometimes present at their arrival. The people who took part in supervising and who were responsible for the security were partly from Auschwitz No. 1, and partly from my own camp at Birkenau, but the selection of these people who had to supervise was done by the Kommandant of Auschwitz No. 1. The actual selections of the internees were made only by doctors. Those who were selected for the gas chambers went to the different crematoria, those who were found to be fit for work came into two different parts of my camp, because the idea was that in a few days they were to be re-transferred to different parts of German for work.
What did you think of the whole gas chamber business?
-- I asked myself, "Is it really right about these persons who go to the gas chambers, and whether that person who signed for the first time these orders will be able to answer for it?" I did not know what the purpose of the gas chamber was.
Now on to his cross-examination by Major Backhouse (p. 174):
I suggest to you that you went on lying about the gas chamber until you were shown a photograph which had been taken of one at Natzweiler, and that was the first time you admitted the existence of such a thing?
-- It was not so, because between the two statements I was not asked any more.
What was the purpose of the Natzweiler camp?
--To let prisoners work in a quarry near by?
Were the prisoners not regularly supplied from that camp to Strasbourg for experiments?
Was there no gas chamber there before you arrived?
Was it constructed under your instructions and did you quite deliberately gas 80 prisoners in that gas chamber?
--Yes, on the orders of Reichsführer Himmler.
Did you force these people into the gas chamber yourself?
Did you actually put the gas in yourself and watch them inside as they died through a peephole you had made?
Did you not describe that the women continued to breathe for about half a minute?
-- One could hear that. It was not necessary to observe.
Were you not chosen as Kommandant of Birkenau because you had proved yourself willing to do this sort of thing?
-- No, I do not think so, because I got a special order that I had nothing to do with either crematoria or transports.
When Kommandant Pohl demanded your word of honour not to talk about the gas chambers, why was it that you could not tell anybody if it was all legally proper and above board?
-- I do not know. Nothing could be said about concentration camps in the outside world.
Was the purpose of the gas chambers not a part of the determination of your Party to try and exterminate the Jewish race and all the intelligent people of Poland?
-- I do not know.
[...]Kramer, under questioning about Belsen by the Prosection's Colonel Backhouse (p. 178):
Did you watch these people slowly starving and dying?
-- Yes. That is to say I did not look at it, but I saw from the daily reports how many people were dying every day.
Did you see these people gradually dying of starvation and thirst?
-- Yes, I mentioned these facts in my letter to Glücks.
And in spite of the fact that these people were starving and dying you ordered them out to Appell? [roll call]
-- Not the sick people.
Are you seriously suggesting that two doctors could certify the sick in that camp?
-- With these two doctors there were a certain number of doctors coming from the prisoners themselves. It is not my fault that I did not get any more S.S. Doctors.
Is it true that these people stood for hours on Appell fainting and being left where they lay in the snow?
-- It is not true. With the arrival of so many transports it was practically impossible to hold roll-calls, and at the utmost only two roll-calls were held each week.
How far was the river from the camp?
-- 400 to 500 metres.
Why did you not pump water from the river?
-- I had no apparatus or material.
Do you know that British troops did it with the material that was in the camp?
--Perhaps in the Wehrmacht barracks, but not in my camp.
Did you ever march some prisoners down to the river and let them get a drink?
--No, I was told that the water was not fit for drinking. The pumps worked with other water.
Do you know that is the water that has been used for the camp ever since?
You were using water out of the concrete tanks in the camp. Do you know what filth was found in those cisterns?
--No, I only know that when these ponds were pumped out for the first time there was dirt in them.
Was the reason you did not go to the General and tell him exactly what was happening because you were frightened to tell any decent person what was going on in your camp?
There was a bakery in the Wehrmacht barracks capable of making 60,000 loaves a day. Do you not think that the General or any other decent person would have helped you with food if you had told them of the way in which these people were dying and shown them the living skeletons that were in your camp?
-- The General could not have helped me as the food that was in the stores could only be obtained by means of special indents and I could only get my food from civilian administration. He was not allowed to give me anything.
Did you ever ask him?
-- No. The food that was stored there was only for the Wehrmacht and the only thing I received from them was 10,000 loaves every week.
Did you not get vegetables from the Wehrmacht stores?
--No, but Camp No. 2 received some.
Is not the truth of the matter that you never tried in any way to help these people at all?
-- That is not true. I have written to the several firms to get additional food.
Kramer is questioned by the Judge Advocate (p. 181):
When a Jew was gassed and cremated at Auschwitz was any official record made in the records of the country of that person's death?
-- I do not think so. All these things were done by the Political department of Auschwitz No. 1.
Colonel Backhouse cross-examines Mrs. Rosina Kramer, the wife of Joseph Kramer (p. 183):
You said that Hoess had been sent to Auschwitz for the incoming transports. what transports were these?
-- I believe these were the transports which were destined for the gas chambers.
You knew about the gas chambers, then?
-- Everybody in Auschwitz knew about them.
Charles Sigsmund Bendel, sworn and examined by Colonel Backhouse concerning the Auschwitz camp (pp. 130-133):
-- I am a Rumanian doctor living in Paris and when I was arrested on 4th November, 1943, I had lived in France for 10 years. The reason for my arrest was because I did not wear the Star of David, the Jewish star, which I was forced to wear. I was taken to a camp called Drancy, near Paris, and then to Auschwitz on the 10th December, 1943, where I worked as a stone mason in a part of the camp called Buna.
On the 1st of January, 1944, I was transferred to the main camp, and on 27th February, 1944, into the gipsy [sic] camp in Birkenau, where I worked as a doctor. The senior doctor was called Dr. Mengele. He was in charge of the whole medical side of that camp, particualrly infectious diseases in which Professor Epstein from Prague and myself assisted.
Dr. Mengele engaged in the research of injections in the crematorium. These were injections which were supposed to produce instantaneous death, and in the gipsy camp he worked mainly on research tests against twins. He continued to make all sorts of tests on those twins, but it was not enough.
He wanted to see them dead, to see what they looked like. When first I went to that camp there were 11,000 occupants, but at the end of July, 1944, 4300 had gone to the crematorium. Prior to that, 1500 had been selected for working parties and all the others had died of natural causes or some other sort of death in the camp. Those who went to the crematorium never left it alive -- they were gassed.
In June, 1944, was your employment changed?
-- Indeed it was changed. Dr. Mengele gave me the honour to attach me to the crematorium. the men who worked there were called Sonderkommando, a Special Kommando numbering 900. They were all deported people. Just as there existed Sonderkommando amongst the prisoners so there was a Sonderkommando also amongst the S.S.
They enjoyed special privileges, for instance, in alcohol, and were completely separated from the other S.S. There were about fifteen S.S. in this Sonderkommando, three for each crematorium. The prisoners amongst the Sonderkommando lived in the camp in two blocks which were always locked, and were not allowed to leave them. [...] At first I lived in the camp with the other prisoners, but later on in the crematorium itself.
The first time I started work there was in August, 1944. No one was gassed on that occasion, but 150 political prisoners, Russians and Poles, were led one by one to the graves and they were shot. Two days later, when I was attached to the day group, I saw a gas chamber in action. On that occasion it was the ghetto at Lodz -- 80,000 people were gassed.
Would you describe just what happened that day?
-- I came at seven o'clock in the morning with the others and saw white smoke still rising from the trenches, which indicated that a whole transport had been liquidated or finished off during the night.
In Crematorium No. 4 the result which was achieved by burning was apparently not sufficient. The work was not going on quickly enough, so behind the crematorium they dug three large trenches 12 metres long and 6 metres wide. After a bit it was found that the results achieved even in these three big trenches were not quick enough, so in the middle of these big trenches they built two canals through which the human fat or grease should seep so that work could be continued in a quicker way.
The capacity of these trenches was almost fantastic. Crematorium No. 4 was able to burn 1000 people during the day, but this system of trenches was able to deal with the same number in one hour.
Will you describe the day's work?
-- At eleven o'clock in the morning the chief of the Political Department arrived on his motor cycle to tell us, as always, that a new transport had arrived. The trenches which I described before had to be prepared. They had to be cleaned out. Wood had to be put in and petrol sprayed over so that it would burn quicker. About twelve o'clock the new transport arrived, consisting of some 800 to 1000 people.
These people had to undress themselves in the court of the crematorium and were promised a bath and hot coffee afterwards. They were given orders to put their things on one side and all the valuables on the other. Then they entered a big all and were told to wait until the gas arrived. Five or ten minutes later the gas arrived, and the strongest insult to a doctor and to the idea of the Red Cross was that it came in a Red Cross ambulance.
Then the door was opened and the people were crowded into the gas chambers which gave the impression that the roof was falling on their heads, as it was so low. With blows from different kinds of sticks they were forced to go in and stay there, because when they realized that they were going to their death they tried to come out again.
Finally, they succeeded in locking the doors. One heard cries and shouts and they started to fight against each other, knocking on the walls. This went on for two minutes and then there was complete silence. Five minutes later the doors were opened, but it was quite impossible to go in for another twenty minutes. Then the Special Kommandos started work.
When the doors were opened the bodies fell out because they were compressed so much. They were quite contracted, and it was almost impossible to separate one from the other. One got the impression that they fought terribly against death. Anybody who has ever seen a gas chamber filled to the height of one and a half metres with corpses will never forget it.
At this moment the proper work of the Sonderkommandos starts. They have to drag out the bodies which are still warm and covered with blood, but before they are thrown into the ditches they still have to pass through the hands of the barber and the dentist, because the barber cuts the hair off and the dentist has to take out all the teeth. Now it is proper hell which is starting.
The Sonderkommando tries to work as fast as possible. They drag the corpses by their wrists in furious haste. People who had human faces before, I cannot recognize again. They are like devils. A barrister from Salonica, an electrical engineer from Budapest--they were no longer human beings because, even during the work, blows from sticks and rubber truncheons are being showered over them.
During the time this is going on they continue to shoot people in front of these ditches, people who could not be got into the gas chamber because they were overcrowded. After an hour and a half the whole work has been done and a new transport has been dealt with in Crematorium No. 4.
Have you seen any S.S. doctors there?
-- Yes, Dr. Klein on one occasion when the gas was being brought by the Red Cross ambulance. He came out from the seat near the driver. I have seen him also on other occasions.
Dr. Fritz Klein, SS doctor, is examined by his council, Major Winwood (p. 184):
What happened to those people whom the doctors selected as unfit for work?
-- The doctor had to make a selection but had no influence on what was going to happen. I have heard, and I know, that part of them were sent to the gas chambers and the crematoria.
Was your work completed when you had divided the transports into fit for work and unfit?
Did you ever go down to the gas chamber yourself?
-- Yes, once, when it was not working. I had no duties to perform there.
What was your personal opinion about this gas chamber business?
-- I did not approve, but I did not protest because it was no use at all.
Klein is cross-examined by the Prosecution, Colonel Backhouse (pp. 186-187):
Dr. Klein, you are an educated man and were educated at a non-German university. When you went to Auschwitz and found these transports of people being taken to the gas chambers and being killed, did you not realize that that was murder?
Is it not true that those who were not fit for work were simply destroyed?
When the Hungarian transports arrived was the gas chamber working day and night then?
-- It might have been.
Were they sent to the gas chamber?
-- I do not know exactly, but I believe so.
Examination, by the Prosecution, of SS member Peter Weingartner (p. 191):
Were not the people who were selected for the gas chamber taken down the road right along the side of the women's camp where you were working, to get to the crematoria?
-- Yes, I have seen people there, but whether they went to the bath-house or the crematorium I cannot say.
The examination of S.S. member Franz Hoessler (pp. 196-197):
Did you have to attend selections for the gas chamber?
-- Yes, I attended these selections because I had to guard the prisoners. I did not make selections myself, and there were no selections without doctors.
Will you explain exactly what happened when the transports arrived in the camp?
-- The transport train arrived at the platform in the camp. It was my duty to guard the unloading of the train and to put the S.S. sentries like a chain around the transport. the next job was to divide the prisoners into two groups, the women on the left, the men to the right.
Then the doctors arrived, and they selected the people. The people who had been selected by the doctors and found to be fit for work were put on one side, the men and the women. The people who were found to be unfit for work had to go into the trucks, and they were driven off in the direction of the crematorium... . .
Did this mean that they [people in quarantine] were to be sent to the gas chamber?
-- No, but I believe that the witnesses must have thought that those people would come into this banned Block 25, which really did lead into the gas chambers.
Irma Grese, testifying for Major Cranfield, gives a brief history of her life (p. 248):
I was born on 7th October, 1923. In 1938 I left the elementary school and worked for six months on agricultural jobs at a farm, after which I worked in a shop in Luchen for six months. When I was 15 I went to a hospital in Hohenluchen, where I stayed for two years.
I tried to become a nurse but the Labour Exchange would not allow that and sent me to work in a dairy in Fürstenburg. In July, 1942, I tried again to become a nurse, but the Labour Exchange sent me to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, although I protested against it. I stayed there until March, 1943, when I went to Birkenau Camp in Auschwitz. I remained in Auschwitz until January, 1945.
Let's step back a few pages and see Irma Grese from the point of view of her sister, Helene, who was examined by Major Cranfield and cross-examined by Colonel Backhouse (pp. 247-248). Examination of Helene Grese:
-- I am the sister of Irma Grese, 20 years old, and live at Wrecken in Wreckensburg. My father was an agricultural worker, and I have two sisters and two brothers. My mother died in 1936. When she was 14 years old, my sister Irma worked on a farm of a peasant in a village near where we lived.
From the time that she entered the Concentration Camp Service I saw her twice. In 1943 she came home on leave, and the only thing she told us about her work was that her duties consisted of supervising prisoners so that they should not escape. I saw her when she left Auschwitz in 1945, and she told me that she had been working for a considerable period in a sort of a post office, receiving and distributing mail, and that sometimes she had been detailed to guard duties.
From your knowledge of your sister, do you think her a person likely to beat the prisoners under her charge?
-- No. In our schooldays when, as it sometimes happens, girls were quarrelling and fighting, my sister had never te courage to fight, but on the contrary she ran away.
Cross-examination of Helene Grese:
When your sister went to work on the farm when she was 14, how long did she stay there?
-- About six months to a year.
Where did she go from there?
-- She went to Hohenluchen as a sort of nurse, and then to a small dairy in Fürstenburg, where she worked, I believe, twelve to eighteen months.
Did she go from there into the S.S.?
-- Yes, in 1942 she went to Ravensbrück, which was very near us.
How long before 1943 was it since you had seen your sister?
-- In spring, 1942, when she was working in the dairy.
When she came home in 1943, did your father give her a thrashing?
-- I did not see that, but he was quarrelling with ther because she was in the S.S.
Did he forbid her to come to the house again?
-- I do not know. She never came again.
Was not that because she told you what she did at Ravensbrück?
-- I do not know why.
You would be 16 at that time; you never asked your sister what she was doing in the concentration camp, and she never told you?
-- She told us she was supervising the prisoners working inside the compound, and she had to see that they were doing their work well and that they did not escape. We asked her: "What do the prisoners get for food, and why have they been sent to a concentration camp?" and she answered that she was not allowed to talk to the prisoners and did not know what sort of food they got.
Why did your father lose his temper with her?
-- Because he was very much against her being in the S.S. We all wanted to belong to the Bund Deutscher Mädchen, but he never allowed us to do so. I have not seen my father since April, 1945.
Irma Grese again, questioned by her lawyer Major Cranfield (pp. 249, 250-251):
Did you carry a stick at Auschwitz?
-- Yes, an ordinary walking-stick.
Did you carry a whip at Auschwitz?
-- Yes, made out of cellophane in the weaving factory in the camp. It was a very light whip, but if I hit somebody with it, it would hurt. After eight days Kommandant Kramer prohibited whips, but we nevertheless went on using them, I never carried a rubber truncheon.
Where did the order come from for what we call "selection parades"?
-- That came by telephone from a RapportFührerin or from Oberaufseherin Dreschel.
When the order came were you told what the parade was for?
What were the prisoners supposed to do when the whistle went?
-- Fall in fives, and it was my duty to see that they did so. Dr. Mengele then came and made the selection. As I was responsible for the camp my duties were to know how many people were leaving and I had to count them, and I kept the figures in a strength book. After the selection took place they were sent into "B" Camp, and Dreshel telephoned and told me that they had gone to another camp in Germany for working purposes or for special treatment, which I thought was the gas chamber. I then put in my strength book either so many for transfer to Germany to another camp, or so many for S.B. (Sonder Behandlung). It was well known to the whole camp that S. B. meant the gas chamber.
Were you told anything about the gas chamber by your senior officers?
-- No, the prisoners told me about it.
You have been accused of choosing prisoners on these parades and sending them to the gas chamber. Have you done that?
-- No; I knew that prisoners were gassed.
Was it not quite simple to know whether or not the selection was for the gas chamber, because only Jews had to attend such selections?
-- I myself had only Jews in Camp "C."
Then they would all have to attend the selection for the gas chamber, would they not?
As you were told to wait for the doctors you would know perfectly well what it was for?
When these people were parading they were very often paraded naked and inspected like cattle to see whether they were fit to work or fit to die, were they not?
-- Not like cattle.
You were there keeping order, were you not, and if one ran away you brought her back and gave her a beating?
Examination by her defense council (p. 251):
The witness, Szafran, has accused you of beating a girl at Belsen with a riding crop about a fortnight before the British troops arrived, and also that at Auschwitz during a selection two girls jumped out of the window and you shot them while they were lying on the ground. Is that true?
-- I never shot at all at any prisoner.
Earlier, the Prosecution had examined D. Szafran (p. 85):
Whilst you were at Auschwitz did you see any other persons beaten besides yourself?
-- I saw it very often when I was working in Kommando 103 and we were carrying loads of earth and coal. I have seen Kramer beat a person so often that I cannot really say how many times. I have see Grese do it in Auschwitz, and about a fortnight before the British troops liberated Belsen I saw her beat a girl in the camp. She had a pistol, but she was using a riding-crop. The beatings were very severe. If they were not the cause of death they were not called severe in the camp.
Grese's council had cross-examined D. Szafran (p. 87):
Do you remember telling us that you had seen Grese, No. 9, beating a girl in Belsen about a fortnight before the British troops arrived?
-- I remember it now, it was in the kitchen. Grese was not the kitchen Kommandant, she came there with the Lager Kommandant on inspection. She beat the girl with a riding whip made of leather.
If I tell you that at Auschwitz Grese carried a stick and sometimes a whip, but that at Belsen she never carried either, are you sure that you are not confused over this incident?
-- In Auschwitz she wore a pistol and in Belsen she went about with a riding whip. She was one of the few S.S. women who had a permit to carry arms. I cannot say whether she was wearing a pistol at the time of this incident. Perhaps it is possible that by that time members were not allowed to carry arms.
Then, upon re-examination of this witness by the Prosecution (p. 90):
You said that you could tell us of a good many more instances of Grese's conduct?
-- Yes. In Camp A, Block 9, Blockälteste Ria and Hoessler and Dr. Enna, the prison doctor, made a selection for the gas chamber, and two selected girls jumped out of the window and Grese approached them as they were lying on the ground and shot them twice. She was always active in the camp gate making inspections and if any of the prisoners wore another sock or shoe or anything like that, he or she would be beaten up. I cannot remember with what she used to beat them because I had to stand at attention.
You have been asked a good many questions about dates. Were you given calendars either at Auschwitz or Belsen?
-- No, but I remember very well because they were so terrible and ghastly.
We return to Irma Grese's examination, by her own council (p. 251):
The witness Stein told us that at selection in the summer of 1944 some prisoners tried to hide, but that you saw them, told somebody, and a woman was shot. It was suggested that the woman was shot by an S.S. man on guard. Had you any authority to issue orders to an S.S. guard?
The same witness alleged there was an incident when a mother was talking to her daughter over the wire between two compounds, that you arrived on a bicycle and beat the mother so severely that she was lying on the ground where you kicked her?
-- I do not deny that I beat her, but I did not beat her until she fell to the ground, and I did not kick her either.
Ilona Stein's earlier cross-examination by Grese's council (pp. 99-100):
With regard to the incident you described of a woman being shot when trying to escape from a selection parade in Auschwitz, was she a Hungarian?
You described an incident when Grese arrived on a bicycle and beat another woman. did she beat her with her belt?
-- I do not know exactly what was in her hands, but I did see that she had something in them. I do remember, however, that I have seen Grese taking off her belt and beating prisoners with it.
Was the body taken away on a stretcher by hand or was it taken away by something on wheels?
-- When somebody died, which happened in very many cases, he was simply put into a blanket and dragged away.
Have you ever been beaten by Grese yourself?
-- No, not in the kitchen where I was working, but once when I was out on a working party Grese saw me talking to somebody through the barbed wire and she immediately started beating me.
Did you see Grese beating a great many people a great many times at both camps?
-- I saw her more frequently doing this in Auschwitz than in Belsen.
Was the reason you only had this one beating from her because you behaved yourself well?
-- I had not very great contact with her because, working in the kitchen, we were rather separated.
Ilona Stein's deposition reads, in part (p. 747):
2. Whilst I was at Birkenau an S.S. woman named Irma Grese was responsible for many beatings, one murder and sending people to the gas chamber. I identify No. 2 on photograph Z/4/2 as Irma Grese. What I speak of I speak of to my own knowledge.
3. In July, 1944, I was working in the kitchen at Birkenau when I saw a woman, whose daughter was in an ajoining camp, go to the dividing wire in order to speak to her daughter.
Grese, who was passing on a bicycle, immediately got off, took off her leather belt and beat the woman with it. She also beat her on the face and head with her fists, and when the woman fell to the ground she trampled on her. The woman's face became swollen and blue. A friend of the woman's daughter took her away and the woman was in the hospital for three weeks suffering from the effects of the beating. I saw everything myself that Grese did to this victim.
4. Whilst at Birkenau I have seen Grese making selections with Dr. Mengele of people to be sent to the gas chamber. On these parades Grese herself chose the people to be killed in this way. In one selection about August, 1944, there were between 2000 and 3000 selected.
At this selection Grese and Mengele were responsible for selecting those for the gas chamber. People chosen would sometimes sneak away from the line and hide themselves under their beds. Grese would go and find them, beat them until they collapsed and then drag them back into line again. I have seen everything I describe. It was general knowledge in this camp that persons selected in this way went to the gas chamber.
5. Sometime in August or September 1944, at one of these selection parades, one Hungarian woman who had been selected tried to escape from the line and join her daughter in another line which was for those not chosen.
Grese noticed this and ordered one of the S.S. guards to shoot the woman, which he did. I did not hear the order, but saw Grese speak to the guard and he was shot at once. In the company of some nurses from the hospital I took the dead body to the mortuary.
We again return to Irma Grese, under prosecution questioning by Col. Backhouse (p. 256):
You affected heavy top-boots and you liked to walk around with a revolver strapped on your waist and a whip in your had, did you not?
-- I did not like it.
You thought it very clever to have a whip made in the factory and even when the Kommandant told you to stop using it you went on, did you not?
What was this whip really made of?
-- Cellophane paper plaited like a pigtail. It was translucent like white glass.
The type of whip you would use for a horse?
Then most of these prisoners who said they saw you carrying a riding whip were not far wrong, were they?
-- No, they were not wrong.
Did the other Aufseherinnen have these whips made too?
It was just your bright idea?
In Lager "C" you used to carry a walking-stick, too, and sometimes you beat people with the whip and sometimes with the stick?
Were you allowed to beat people?
So it was not a question of having orders from your superiors to do it. You did this against orders, did you?
Were you the only person who beat prisoners against regulations?
-- I do not know.
Did you ever see anyone else beat prisoners?
Did you sometimes get orders to do so?
Did you give orders to other Aufseherinnen working under you to beat prisoners?
Had you the right to give such authorization?
Belsen Trial Photos
Arrested SS Aufseherin. Irene Haschke, Herta Bothe, Herta Ehlert, Johanna Bormann, Elisabeth Völkenrath, Getrud Sauer, Ilse Forster, Klara Opitz, Rosina Scheiber and Gertrud Neumann among others. Block 317 is visible rear right.
Dated: 16/17/18 April 1945
Left to right: Herta Bothe, Charlotte Klein and Herta Ehlert after being arrested, probably at the prison in Celle. Dated: circa June 1945
Kramer, Gura, Charlotte Klein, Mathes and Fritz Klein on the first day of the trial.
Dated: 17 September 1945
Aufseherinen Charlotte Klein, Herta Bothe, Frieda Walter and Irene Haschke at the trial.
Dated: 17 September 1945.
Mathes, Kulessa , Hössler, Charlotte Klein, Bothe, Bormann, Völkenrath, Ehlert, Grese, Lothe, Schrierer, Löbauer, Dörr, Klippel, Barsch, Zoddel and Schmedidzt at the trial.
Dated: 17 September 1945
September - November 1945
Josef Kramer: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 13th December 1945)
Irma Grese: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 13th December 1945)
Franz Hössler: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 13th December 1945)
SS Dr Fritz Klein: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 13th December 1945)
Elisabeth Völkenrath: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 13th December 1945)
Herta Ehlert: 15 Years Imprisonment
Hilde Lobauer: 10 Years Imprisonment
Otto Calesson: 15 Years Imprisonment
Charlotte Klein: Acquitted & Released
Ilse Löthe: Acquitted & Released
Peter Weingartner: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 13th December 1945)
Josef Klippel: Acquitted & Released
Oskar Schmitz: Acquitted & Released
Frieda Walter: 3 Years Imprisonment
Kapo Antoni Aurdzieg: 10 Years Imprisonment
Karl Egersdorf: Acquitted & Released
Kapo Medislaw Burgraf: 5 Years Imprisonment
Hilde Lisiewitz: 1 Year Imprisonment
Georg Kraft: Acquitted & Released
Walter Otto: Acquitted & Released
Herta Bothe: 10 Years Imprisonment
Kapo Vladislaw Ostrowski: 15 Years Imprisonment
Fritz Mathes: Acquitted & Released
Ida Forster: Acquitted & Released
Erik Barsch: Acquitted & Released
Karl Francioh: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 13th December 1945)
Kapo Ignatz Schlomowicz: Acquitted & Released
Franz Stofel: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 13th December 1945)
Klara Opitz: Acquitted & Released
Gertrude Sauer: 10 Years Imprisonment
Heinrich Schrierer: 15 Years Imprisonment
Kapo (?) Anchor Pichen: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 13th December 1945)
Joanne Roth: 10 Years Imprisonment
Irene Haschke: 10 Years Imprisonment
Wilhelm Dörr: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 13th December 1945)
Ilse Forster: 10 Years Imprisonment
Anna Hempel: 10 Years Imprisonment
Erich Zoddel: Life Imprisonment
Kapo Antoni Polanski: Acquitted & Released
Hildegard Hahnel: Acquitted & Released
Juana Bormann: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 13th December 1945)
Gertrud Fiest: 5 Years Imprisonment
Helene Kopper: 15 Years Imprisonment
Kapo Stanislawa Starotska: 10 Years Imprisonment
Ladislaw Gura: Acquitted & Released
The commandant of Bergen-Belsen, Josef Kramer, and fourty-four others were tried by a British war crimes court at Luneburg, from the 17th August 1945 to the 17th November 1945. Thirty of the accused were found guilty, of these, twelve were sentenced to death and hanged, Nineteen to various terms of imprisonment. The death sentences were carried out on the 13th December 1945.
Albert Pierrepoint execution diary
February 4, 1906 – December 13, 1945
(February 4, 1906 – December 13, 1945)
SS-Obersturmführer Franz Hössler
Hössler was born somewhere in Oberdorf, Germany. During the The Great Depression in 1931 he joined the Nazi Party and the SS. During the early days of the Second World War, in 1941, he was assigned to select more than 500 disabled prisoners and to transport them to the gas chambers at Sonnenstein Euthanasia Centre, a euthanasia center for the disabled during the infamous T-4 Euthanasia Programme.Auschwitz
At Auschwitz, Hössler held the title of Schutzhaftlagerführer. Together with Otto Moll and Hans Aumeier, he took part in the killing of the 168 survivors of the uprising of the punishment company in June 1942. He also participated in the gassings in the old crematorium in the Stammlager. During the same year, he supervised the disinterment of more than 100,000 corpses to empty the mass graves and incinerate them. This task took five months. Hössler was also responsible for the gassing of 1,600 Belgian Jews in October 1942. The incident was described in the diary of Johann Kremer, a former SS physician.
Filip Müller, one of the very few Sonderkommando members who survived Auschwitz, paraphrased Hössler's speech given to trick a group of Greek Jews in the undressing room at the portals of the gas chambersSpeech given to condemned Jews by Obersturmführer Franz Hössler Franz Hössler
"On behalf of the camp administration I bid you welcome. This is not a holiday resort but a labor camp. Just as our soldiers risk their lives at the front to gain victory for the Third Reich, you will have to work here for the welfare of a new Europe. How you tackle this task is entirely up to you. The chance is there for every one of you. We shall look after your health, and we shall also offer you well-paid work. After the war we shall assess everyone according to his merits and treat him accordingly."
"Now, would you please all get undressed. Hang your clothes on the hooks we have provided and please remember your number [of the hook]. When you've had your bath there will be a bowl of soup and coffee or tea for all. Oh yes, before I forget, after your bath, please have ready your certificates, diplomas, school reports and any other documents so that we can employ everybody according to his or her training and ability."
"Would diabetics who are not allowed sugar report to staff on duty after their baths".
In 1943, Hössler was transferred to the women's camp of Auschwitz and he was instructed to supervise the gassings.Bergen-Belsen Franz Hössler at Bergen-Belsen
After the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, he moved to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on April 8. In Belsen, he directly shot prisoners until the liberation of the camp, which led to his arrest within the month. At the Belsen Trial, Hössler was found guilty of crimes against humanity and of perpetrating the Holocaust.Death
Franz Hössler was hanged on December 13, 1945.
Anchor Pinchen (Ansgar Pichen)
Anchor Pinchen (Ansgar Pichen), war criminal who had served on the Bergen - Belsen camp staff, during his imprisonment. Pinchen stood trial in late 1945, together with others who had served at Bergen - Belsen. He was sentenced to death by hanging, and executed in December 1945.
EVIDENCE FOR THE DEFENDANT ELISABETH VOLKENRATH
sworn, examined by Major MUNRO -
I am a German, married, and was born on 5th September, 1919 at Schonan in Silesia. Before the war I worked in a hairdressing saloon and was called up for national service in 1939. In 1941 I was conscripted into the S.S. and sent to Ravensbrück, where we were trained as Aufseherinnen and told what we had to do on that job.
I worked with outside Kommandos and had to take care that prisoners did not escape and that they did their work. In March, 1942, I was sent to Auschwitz No. 1, where I worked in a sort of tailoring shop where they mended the uniforms of the prisoners. In August, 1942, the women's compound was transferred to Birkenau, and there I had some duties until I was taken to hospital ill. At the end of December, 1942, I took over the parcel store and was there up till September, 1944.
What were your duties in the parcel store? -
All the parcels which came either from relatives of the prisoners or Red Cross parcels had to be opened and then distributed to the persons in question. I had 25 to 30 prisoners working in that office. The prisoners came there and received their parcels. I was in charge also of the distribution of bread to the prisoners, which was done from the same office. All the blocks came, and the Blockaltester, with one or two other prisoners, fetched the bread for his block.
What did you do after that? -
I was transferred to Auschwitz No. 1, where I was put in charge of a working camp. I left there on 18th January, 1945, and arrived at Belsen on 5th February.
Did you start work there right away and continue working until the liberation? -
I started right away, but only worked for a few days, when I was taken ill, sent to hospital, and returned only on 22nd March. I was Oberaufseherin and had to detail the Aufseherinnen in their respective duties.
Whilst you were at Auschwitz did you take part in gas chamber selections? -
I myself, no. When I took over the women's camp in August, 1942, it was my duty to be in the camp, and owing to this I was present at these selections. I made none myself. My duties were to see that the prisoners kept quiet and kept order, that they did not run about.
Is it correct that you used to make selections from prisoners as they returned to camp from outside work? -
That is a lie.
After prisoners had been chosen did you help to load them on the transport? -
I was not there.
Have you seen prisoners being sent to the gas chambers on lorries? -
I have seen them on the road, but that they were going to the gas chambers I did not know. I never helped to load any prisoners on to any lorries for any purpose.
Edith Trieger says in her affidavit that she saw you at Auschwitz beating prisoners all over with a rubber truncheon, that you used to make selections yourself of persons for the gas chamber, and that she herself was selected but managed to escape. What have you to say to that? -
It is not true.
The accused Kopper says in her statement that she recognised you as being responsible for gas chamber selections, not merely as a guard but as personally picking out victims, and that on one occasion, out of 1400 prisoners only 300 were left after the selection had been made. Is that true? -
I personally have never selected anybody to be sent away.
It has been said by a great many witnesses and affidavits that you made a habit of beating women; is that correct? -
It is true that I slapped the faces of women.
Mrs. Vera Fischer says in her statement that you beat her so severely that she was in hospital for three weeks? -
That is not true.
The depositions of Kaufmann and Siwidowa also accuse you of brutal ill-treatment. Siwidowa says that she has seen you on about 80 occasions beat women prisoners until they were unconscious, and that many of these persons were carried away dead. Is that true? -
Did you ever beat anyone at Auschwitz other than with your hand? -
What about Belsen? -
Only with my hand.
Helene Herkovitz says in her deposition that she was questioned by Ehlert about a ring and locket she was wearing, and that after being beaten she was made to run behind a bicycle to the S.S. Headquarters, where you, amongst others, beat her with a rubber truncheon, after which she was put in a cellar by herself and only given bread and water every three days. After three weeks and daily questioning she was taken out and made to work in the latrines, where she caught typhus. Do you remember that? -
No. During the time I was in Belsen a case like this did not occur and I do not know anything about it.
Josephine Singer accuses you of throwing an old woman who came asking for work down the steps of the workshops and that she died immediately? -
It is not true.
Nettie Stoppelman accuses you of taking away food, water and cigarettes from prisoners; did you? -
Yes, but only if they had too much, which they were not allowed. I cannot remember taking cigarettes away, but the food, bread and other things I took away and distributed amongst other prisoners. The prisoners who were in possession of this food were working in the kitchen or in one of the stores and they received enough food there, but other prisoners did not get enough and that is why I distributed this food.
Was there a punishment known as "making sport"? -
Yes. They had to do exercises if they had done something that was forbidden. For instance, if they were in possession of something they were not supposed to have. It did not last very long and I have not seen it in Belsen at all.
Miriam Weiss says in her deposition that on the day after the British arrived she saw you strike a girl very hard several times with your fist so that she fell to the ground and did not move, and that you went away leaving her lying there. Is that true? -
The witness Helen Hammermasch stated that you were present when Kramer interrogated the girl who had escaped and was caught again, and that you yourself took part when she was beaten? -
It is true that when this prisoner was brought back she was beaten by Kramer, but I did not beat her, although I was present. It was in the evening and I knew that she had escaped and was being brought back.
That same witness described another occasion when a woman was undressed and beaten by you, Ehlert and Gollasch. Did that happen ?
-Not by Ehlert or me, but by an S.S. man, and we were in that vicinity.
Have you ever made anyone kneel on the ground? -
Have you received a German translation of your statement which was read in court? -
Yes, it was read through in German and then I told them that something had been put down differently and they told me it was going to be changed, but now I have received the translation I see that it was not changed. In a part of this statement on this question about sport, they asked me about this and I told them that the Aufseherin was not allowed to let the prisoners do sport without the permission of the Kommandant. I saw in the translation of the statement that it had been put down in a different way, but I cannot exactly remember what it is.
In your statement you say, "It is true that I have had to make prisoners on Appell hold their hands above their heads, but it was always on orders from others. This happened in Auschwitz on instructions from Mandel and Drechsel"? -
I said it this way, that I had seen it but that I did not order them to do it.
Did you ever make any complaint to anyone about the conditions at Belsen? -
Several times I talked with the Kommandant and told him about what was going on in the camp. I asked him why the prisoners did not get more food and why all these transports were coming in. He told me that the railways were being bombed and that they had no opportunity to get enough food to the camp.
Cross-examined by Major CRANFIELD -
You know the accused Grese. How long have you served with her? -
I have never served with her. Our duties were never together. I was with her at Auschwitz up to the evacuation of the camp in January.
Did you also serve with her at Belsen? -
Were you Oberaufseherin with Grese under your command? -
For a few weeks at Auschwitz and during the time at Belsen.
Had Grese a dog? -
When I saw her, no.
Was Grese ever in charge of the Strafkommando? -
Whether she was in charge I do not know, but I have seen her with the Strafkommando which worked inside the camp. I believe there were Strafkommandos outside also.
Do you remember an Aufseherin called Buchhalter being punished? -
Yes, because she sent letters written by prisoners to their relatives in an unofficial way and had a love affair with a male prisoner. The punishment took place at the house where we lived in the dining-room in the evening and we had all to parade. Grese was also present.
What was the punishment? -
Twenty-five lashes with a whip, which had to be administered by the Aufseherin.
Was the Kommandant then called Hoess? -
Yes, he came and read out the judgment and said to all the Aufseherinnen that this woman was being punished by order of Reichsführer Himmler.
Before a selection parade took place, did the Aufseherinnen know whether it was to choose the fit people or the unfit ? -
No, the sign - the whistle - was sounded for parade and then the prisoners fell in. The doctor came and he decided who was fit and unfit.
Before the selection parade were any orders given to the Aufseherinnen as to the object of the parade, whether it was to choose a working party for a factory, to go to another camp, to choose a party to go to the gas chamber, or for some other purpose? -
Cross-examined by Captain BOYD -
Did accused, Number 40 (Gertrud Fiest), ever come to you about the overcrowding in Women's Compound No. 2 and see if anything could be done about it? -
Yes, several times, and she went also to the doctor, who at least took our sick people and admitted them to the C.R.S.
Did she also come to see you about the shortage of medical supplies - beds, soap and things of that sort? -
Yes, she did not get very much because there was not very much there. But what could be spared she did get from the administration. This was about the beginning of April.
Do you know if working parties were ever chosen from Women's Compound No. 2? -
The Kommandos which went outside and those who worked in the administration were always chosen from No. 1.
Do you remember when the accused Lisiewitz was ill at Belsen? -
I know that she had been ill for a considerable time, but I do not know the date.
Cross-examined by Captain MUNRO -
When did the accused, No. 45 (Hildegard Hahnel), arrive in Belsen? -
In the first days of April, 1945.
Was she ever in charge of the bath-house at Belsen? -
Between 4th April and the time the British arrived were there ever any bath parades at all for women in Belsen? -
No, there were none. Anyway, there was no coal available. It was impossible.
It has been alleged against Hahnel that during February, 1945, she was in charge of the bath-house at Belsen, and as a certain lot of girls did not dress quickly enough for her she beat them very severely. Is that true or untrue? -
I cannot believe it.
Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE -
Is not Ravensbrück, where you got your training, where practically all S.S. women were sent to be trained? -
I believe so.
That was a camp entirely for women, was it not? -
Was not the treatment of women at Ravensbrück almost worse than at Auschwitz? -
The treatment was severe, but I cannot call it bad.
Do you remember the gas chamber at Ravensbrück which was in a wood about two miles from the camp? -
I do not know anything about that.
Was not Dr. Rosenthal engaged in experiments on gas gangrene? -
I have never heard of it.
Were not internees at Ravensbrück being regularly used for experimental purposes? -
I never heard anything about it.
I suggest to you that it was at Ravensbrück that S.S. women were taught to beat and ill-treat prisoners and that at that place you were taught that the only way to keep prisoners in order was to beat them and ill-treat them until they were frightened to death of you? -
That is not true.
Did you carry pistols at Ravensbrück? -
Some of the Aufseherinnen did.
When you went first to Auschwitz in March, 1942, the camp had not been divided into Auschwitz No. 1 and Auschwitz No. 2? -
You worked in the tailor's shop. Were the majority of people employed in that workshop elderly women? -
Is it right that to obtain employment in that workshop was one of the best ways for elderly women to avoid the gas chamber? -
All old women were working there and nobody went away from that camp.
Did you not regularly strike prisoners with your fists in that workshop? -
I had no reason to do that. The women were doing their work and everything was all right.
Was your sister at Auschwitz at that time? -
Yes, in the laundry.
Do you remember any of the people dying at that workshop? -
I could not know really everybody, because there were 150 to 200 women working there and whether anybody died or not I do not know.
When you went to Birkenau in August, 1942, did you become an Aufseherin in the hospital? -
No I have never been working at a hospital. I was ill in hospital until December, 1942, with typhus.
I suggest to you that for a time you were employed in the hospital? -
That is not true.
Do you remember the witness Sunschein saying that she was not sure whether your name was Volkenrath or Weinniger? -
My name is Volkenrath. What she believes I do not know. My sister is called Weinniger.
Sunschein said that although she was not sure of the name, she was quite sure that you were the woman she saw in the parcels store when she went to fetch bread and that she had frequently seen you beating people there. Is that true? -
It was often necessary to slap their faces because prisoners tried to steal either bread or parcels which did not belong to them.
There were three kinds of selections for the gas chamber, were there not. First, when the transports arrived; Second, in the camp outside the blocks or in the bath-house; and third, in the hospital? -
I have never been there when the transports arrived. No women were there at all. The Aufseherinnen had to be present when parades were held in the camp. The doctor made the selection, but whether for life or death or anything like that we did not know because we did not know the purpose of these selections.
In your statement you say, "I have been present when selections were made from prisoners by the S.S. doctors of those unfit for work. Those people were all sent to Block 25 and to my knowledge they were never seen again." is that true? -
I did not know these people personally and when they were sent away I was not present, so where they went I would not know.
Who took the numbers of the persons who were not fit for work? -
The clerks of the hospital.
Were these women who were to be selected stripped naked? -
Were they just put back gently to bed again at the end of the selection? -
I do not know anything about it.
You were there, were you not? -
I did not go with them to Block 25, and it was strictly prohibited for us Aufseherinnen to go into the hospitals or into the block.
Everyone in the camp knew what Block 25 was for, did they not? -
I do not think so.
There are at least five witnesses who say that you were on these selections. Edith Trieger in her statement says that she saw you at selection parades for the gas chamber make selections yourself and that she was picked out by you but managed to escape. Is that not true? -
It's a lie.
What did you do on these selections if the women did not behave in an orderly manner? -
Everything was quiet and orderly. Everybody was doing what he had been told to do. And everybody stood and there was no question about shouting or screaming.
These people knew they were being selected to die, did they not? -
I did not know and the people could not have known either. Nobody knew why these selections were made.
Are you seriously asking the Court to believe that? -
Is it not right that it was quite easy to tell a selection parade because only Jews had to parade for it? -
We were never told anything about it.
I suggest to you that when these women found that they were being put with the people in Block 25 they tried to escape, to hide, and get with the people on the other side, they cried and they shrieked? -
When I was present it never happened.
On the ordinary morning Appell was it easy to get people to stand in an orderly fashion in fives? -
Why, then, did these people suddenly become so quiet and so orderly like sheep before the slaughter? -
During the counting parades the only impediment was the presence of the sick who could not get quickly enough to the parade ground. When they went away everybody was all right.
I suggest to you that you kept order on these selection parades by beating people, kicking them, ill-treating them in every way when they tried to escape, and that you did it yourself? -
That is not true.
I put it to you that not only on selection parades but throughout your time in concentration camps you knew perfectly well that discipline was kept by regular beatings? -
If they did not obey orders and were slapped, it was only their own fault. If they were more intelligent, then they did obey orders and everything was all right.
Siwidowa in her affidavit said that on about seventy or eighty occasions she had seen you beating prisoners until they were unconscious and that she had seen you, who were in charge of all the S.S. women, beat women prisoners across the head with a rubber truncheon? -
That is also a damned lie, just as the other things.
Did Bormann have a very big dog in Birkenau? -
She had a brown dog. It was rather big.
You have told us about this savage punishment of the S.S. women for quite minor offences ? -
From the point of view of high authority, it was almost the worst offence one could commit.
If such punishment was administered to S.S. women, why were you so gentle to the prisoners? -
Gentle? Well, I was severe with my prisoners, but if they did what they were told to do I had no reason to punish them. Why should I have been bad towards them?
Who chose the Blockältesten, and so on? -
In Belsen they were already there when I arrived. Otherwise it would have been perhaps my job or that of the Rapportführerin.
With regard to the beating in Belsen which Hammermasch told us about, when a young girl was stripped and beaten and Ehlert and you were both there, I gather you say the beating was by two S.S. men. Is that right? -
No, one. Kasainitzky, and she was not naked.
May we get it quite clear that we are not mistaking two incidents. I am talking of the occasion when there was the girl, who was taken by you and Ehlert to where the Lagerältester and the Arbeitsdienstältester lived, not far from the Blockführer's room? -
I know where about it should be, but I do not know whether it happened.
It is suggested that you and Ehlert in the evening took the girl there and that you first of all stripped and searched her and that then you beat her? -
No, I cannot even remember such a thing. During the period when I was at Belsen an incident when Ehlert and I beat a prisoner who was naked and who was searched simply does not exist.
Do you remember Ehlert catching the girl who was wearing a ring and locket? -
I do not know anything about it.
Was it forbidden for internees to take jewellery and did a number of them try to hide jewellery about their person? -
I am suggesting to you that on that occasion this girl Herkovitz was beaten by two S.S. men whilst she was being questioned in the presence of you, Ehlert and another S.S. woman called Gollasch? -
That is not true. I remember now that I have heard about it in Belsen, but it happened before I arrived there.
Who told you about it? -
Ehlert. I do not know any details, but I was told about the jewels which this woman had and about some sort of punishment which was meted out to her.
What usually happened to a woman who was caught with hidden jewellery? -
She was brought to the Political Department and they went into the question of where these jewels came from.
With regard to the other incident about the young Russian girl who escaped from a working party and was recaptured, you were waiting near the gate because she was going to be brought back. Is that right? -
Was Kramer waiting for her too? -
Was Kasainitzky waiting there too? -
He was in the Blockführer's room. Kramer asked the girl details about her escape. She lied and consequently she got her face slapped by him. I did not see Ehlert.
Ehlert in her account of it says, "Kramer, the Kommandant, questioned the girl in front of several of us S.S. women and I saw him kicking and shaking her and later hit her with a stick on her head and face and all over her body quite unmercifully." Is that right? -
I have not seen that.
Did she eventually give the names of two girls who were said to have helped her to escape? -
She said something about it and the women were consequently fetched and Kasainitzky administered punishment.
I put it to you for the last time. Was not that a regular practice in the concentration camp? -
It has been stated in an affidavit by Katherine Neiger that you caught a girl who was very sick taking some vegetables, and that you made her kneel down and hold the vegetables above her head. After about four hours she could no longer hold her arms up and you beat her on the head, back and legs with a rubber truncheon. The girl was knocked unconscious and no one was allowed to assist her and she lay there until nightfall. This statement also alleges that you frequently hit sick girls on Appell and that the deponent herself was struck across the face with a rubber truncheon? -
The whole thing is a lie.
Why did Gertrud Fiest come to you and how was it that you managed to provide things for her? -
Because I had more opportunity to speak to either the people in charge of stores or with the Kommandant himself.
Who was in charge of Compound No. 2 ? -
The Lagerführer, Klipp. He was in charge of the whole camp.
I put it to you that you were the responsible woman for both Camps No's. 1 and 2? -
I was only the Oberaufseherin in charge of the Aufseherinnen, but not Lagerführerin.
Did you at any time order a girl to kneel down, or is the whole of that story quite untrue? -
It is untrue.
Did you have quite a lot of women at Belsen working collecting wood? -
There were Kommandos sent out for that purpose.
Do you remember 600 women being deprived of food and water because two from their Kommando had escaped? -
Such a big Kommando as 600 people never went out at Belsen.
REQUEST BY PROSECUTION TO MAKE USE OF SOVIET FILM
Colonel BACKHOUSE - I have been supplied by the Soviet Government with an official documentary film of Auschwitz made by a Soviet official photographer which I think would be of assistance to the Court. It is not one which relates specifically to any accused in the sense of any particular act, but is a film which shows the camp, the plans of the camp, the inside of the blocks, etc., the people who were left behind and certain of the activities of the Soviet Commission of Investigation there.
Although I have closed the Prosecution's case, I apply to show that film through as part of the Prosecution's case, or I suggest the Court might call for it themselves as they have power to do at any time. I suggest the film might be shown on Monday morning at the opening of the Court, which would enable the cinema people to get their arrangements made beforehand and would give my friends an opportunity hereafter should they wish to ask witnesses about anything that appeared in it. I shall not object if my friends think it necessary for any of the witnesses called to be recalled on any specific point.
Major CRANFIELD -
I object to this and cannot see what the object is. We saw a film of Belsen and the only point in that film as far as I could see was to show that the Prosecution witnesses were telling the truth when they described Belsen Camp as it was when they arrived. The Defence do not dispute that they were telling the truth and in the same way do not dispute that there was a concentration camp at Auschwitz.
The Defence witnesses have described how the camp was organised and have told you there were gas chambers there. As the Prosecutor says, the film is not related in any way to any of the accused in the dock. We have heard that as far as the accused are concerned Auschwitz was closed in January, 1945. When was the film taken? It certainly was not taken in January, 1945.
What is the object of showing a film about Auschwitz taken maybe months after the accused left, and what is the object of showing a film of a lot of refugees who have no connection with these accused at all? We have sat here and listened to the stories of Strasbourg, Natzweiler, this, that and the other - nothing to do with the accused - brought in under Regulation 8 (2) without objecting, because we cannot object, but how the Prosecution can suggest one can rely on Regulation 8 for a film is beyond my comprehension.
I have heard of points being stretched in favour of the Defence in Military Courts, but I have not heard before points being stretched in favour of the Prosecution. In my submission it would be quite wrong to halt the Defence case at this stage and allow a film of this kind to be put in.
Colonel BACKHOUSE -
The Prosecution had no knowledge of the existence of this film until it was offered by the official Russian representative here at this trial and he sent for it. If necessary I will prove that it was taken at the time of the liberation of the camp. If my friend agrees with the Prosecution's statement of the conditions at Auschwitz, I shall not put it forward, but I thought there was a dispute as to what happened at Auschwitz.
I put it forward simply to show the conditions found by the Russians when that camp was liberated, to give you a general picture of the camp about which we are talking and of the conditions found there, and also of the persons still in that camp when it was liberated. In my view there can be no better evidence of the conditions of a place than photographs taken at the time. There is no question of it being put in for prejudice: it is put in at this stage because we could not get it before.
The commentary explains what is happening at the time, but as it is in German, the German interpreter could quite easily interpret while the sound track is running and omit any propaganda. The film is, in my submission, plainly admissible.
The Regulation says, "any oral statement or documentary statement." A talking film might be said to be partially one and partially the other. In law it is a document. I did not say (and I think it is quite obvious) that this film bore no relation to the accused. What I said was, it raised no specific point in respect of any specific accused. It obviously bears relation to the accused who were on the staff at Auschwitz.
The JUDGE ADVOCATE -
I am prepared to advise the Court that, providing you are satisfied with the circumstances and the time when this film was taken, that it is within your competence to receive it in evidence and attach such weight to it as you may think fit. I think it is obvious that had these trials been brought on very shortly after these alleged incidents, the Military Court charged with the duty of investigating the evidence would have at once proceeded to Belsen and to Auschwitz.
We have, in the case of Belsen, tried to correct the time-lag by going round, and I think we all got a much better idea of distances and lay-outs. If you are going to get an authentic film which will give data on that aspect of the case, I should have thought on that footing alone, you would have found it better to have it so that you will have a detailed picture.
The question at issue is, will you get some notion of weight by showing this film which will help you to decide where the truth lies in regard to incidents alleged to have taken place at Auschwitz.
(The Court adjourned and re-opened.)
The JUDGE ADVOCATE -
The Court have considered this question and have decided that they would like to see the film placed before them at 9.30 on Monday morning. They would like the film to be silent, with the official interpreter just indicating in English the relative points which will help them to follow the positions and lay-out of the camp, etc. They feel it will be better to treat this as evidence collected by the Court. The Court feel that all the accused must be present.
ELISABETH VOLKENRATH RECALLED:
By the JUDGE ADVOCATE -
When a prisoner came to Auschwitz, officially was she known by name or by a number which was given to her at the camp? -
I did not have anything to do with the arriving prisoners. If I worked together with them, I knew their names, and the rest I did not know.
On a roll-call were you merely counting the number of people on parade or were you checking up the number of people who should have been there with some kind of list? -
We only counted the number of people in the block. Every block had a certain number of inhabitants and if the number was not correct on the roll-call somebody was missing. That is the only way we knew that somebody was missing.
You were in Auschwitz for quite a long time: during what period of that time were you present at selections for the gas chamber? -
I did not know that they were for the gas chamber, and I only attended parades on two or three occasions in August, 1942.
Did you attend these Appelle because you were in charge of some women's block? -
Yes, because I was on duty inside the camp.
Did you notice after these selections that some sick or infirm prisoners had gone away? -
Did people never disappear from the roll-call that you took after these selections? -
I did not notice it.
By a Member of the Court -
Could it have been that these were parades for working parties? -
Were there always doctors and clerks from the hospital present? -
At these roll-calls and parades that I know about, yes.
EVIDENCE FOR THE DEFENDANT FRANZ HOESSLER
sworn, examined by Major MUNRO - I am of German nationality, was born in Oberdorf in Schwaben on 4th February, 1906, and am a photographer by profession. I was out of work in 1931, and on 30th January, 1933, on the day Hitler came to power, I volunteered for the S.S. For three months I stayed at home in Kenten doing nothing, and after this period I was sent to Dachau, where I was a member of the S.S. police force.
I came to Auschwitz in June, 1940. At that time it was a very small camp; there were only three blocks surrounded by barbed wire, and the number of prisoners was altogether about 400. I left in November, 1940, and returned to Birkenau in July, 1943. I stayed in Auschwitz until 6th February, 1944, during which period I was Lagerführer in the women's compound.
When you came back to Birkenau did you find that Auschwitz camp had changed? -
It was very much larger. When I returned in 1943 there was a Kommandant in Birkenau called Hartjenstein and he told me that the camp had been subdivided into Auschwitz No. 1, the original camp, Auschwitz No. 2, Birkenau, and Auschwitz No. 3, Buna, where the works of the I.G. Farben were. The Kommandant of the whole camp was Obersturmbannführer Hoess.
How did you find conditions in Birkenau? -
When I first came to the women's compound I was more than surprised to find conditions not very pleasant. There were very many sick people; typhus and other diseases were rampant. The first thing I did as Lagerführer was to go to the camp doctor, Dr. Rohde, and ask him how it was that there were so many sick people. He said that it was high time there was a Lagerführer so that we both could get the camp into proper shape.
I made a report about the special delousing block and the conditions in my women's compound to the Kommandant, Hoess. I asked him why I had been sent to the camp, and he told me so that I could tidy up things just a little, and that if I needed anything I was to go to the Kommandant, Hartjenstein, or to the senior doctor, Dr. Wirtz. This I did, and Dr. Wirtz came with me and saw the special delousing block. He promised me new machinery, and in both parts of my camp the delousing machine was put in order.
Did you do anything else to improve conditions? -
Yes, I heard that a bunk which was really for three people had six or seven women sleeping in it. I reported this to Hartjenstein and new bunks arrived, enough for six blocks. I also got the broken ones repaired. Obergruppenführer Pohl came from Berlin with Glücks, and I showed them the wash - houses, the lavatories, the streets and squares in front of the blocks where the prisoners had to attend roll-call, and afterwards these were improved, although not much could be done as we were very short of material.
I built five new huts, and radically changed the so - called scabies block. It was very difficult to do anything because these changes were not in the official building plan. I had to take the materials with the help of Kapos and other functionaries amongst the prisoners away from building sites in other parts of the camps and smuggle them into my own compound.
Did you have to attend selections for the gas chamber? -
Yes, I attended these selections because 1 had to guard the prisoners. I did not make selections myself, and there were no selections without doctors.
What did you think when you were told to attend a selection parade for the first time? -
When they told me for the first time, in summer 1943, I did not know even what it meant I only thought I had to see that the people got out of their wagons and came into the camp.
Did you later learn the real purpose of these parades? -
Yes, I heard about it and did not think that that was right. Once when Hoess arrived in his car I asked him if it was all right what was going on, and he just told me to do my duty. I received the order to go on selection parade personally and verbally from Hoess.
Will you explain exactly what happened when transports arrived in the camp? - The transport train arrived at the platform in the camp. It was my duty to guard the unloading of the train and to put the S.S. sentries like a chain around the transport. The next job was to divide the prisoners into two groups, the women to the left, the men to the right. Then the doctors arrived, and they selected the people.
The people who had been selected by the doctors and found to be fit for work were put on one side, the men and the women. The people who were found to be unfit for work had to go in the trucks, and they were driven off in the direction of the crematorium. After everything had been unloaded the train departed from the platform. I had to go with two soldiers to the front and see that no prisoner succeeded in getting out by smuggling himself into the train.
Do you remember the witness Sompolinski saying that he thought that you were the Kommandant of the crematorium because you came with the transports? -
I have never been Kommandant of the crematorium. He may have thought this because I used to walk up and down the platform. I very often came to the crematorium and even into the courtyard.
A large number of witnesses say that you took an active part in the selections and that you did individual selections yourself. Is that true? -
It is not true. Only doctors could make selections, and selections could only be made on orders of higher authorities.
What happened to those prisoners who were put on one side for retention in the concentration camp? -
They were taken into the camp, got a bath, their number was tattooed on their arm, and then they were billeted in blocks. I know all about it but had nothing to do with it.
Tell us something about the selections which were made in the camp? -
The Senior Camp Commander came to me and told me there was going to be a selection in my camp but only for Jewish women. I had to take them to the bath - house and then they were shown to the doctor, who in the meantime had arrived. I was present but did not select people. I had to stay there and do guard duties because in the morning my Blockführer and Aufseherin had received their orders for daily work and had gone on duty, so I was the only one left to do this job.
Did you attend any of the selections in the hospital? -
Yes, I had to. I attended three altogether, but only because I was responsible for discipline. I did not make any selections myself.
When did your duties finish? -
I stayed there until all the women had finished the march past the doctors, then those who were selected - those who were too sick or too weak-had their numbers taken by a woman clerk.
Do you remember that the witness Helen Klein said that she was selected for the gas chamber and that she pleaded with you to be let off and that you told her she had lived too long? -
I say it is completely untrue. She arrived in November, 1943, and was at this selection in January 1944. I maintain if somebody arrives in a strong healthy condition in November, it is quite impossible that in two months' time she should become so weak and so ill that she should have been really selected for the gas chamber.
Do you remember the witness Litwinska saying that you took her out of the gas chamber? -
Yes, but it was someone else whom I took out from the gas chamber. Those who had been selected were in trucks and went down in the direction of the crematorium. I was on the road when one of these trucks passed by, and I saw a woman whom I recognised in the back of the truck. Suddenly two women came and implored me to save her. I saw a motor cyclist near the block facing me, and I told him to go and fetch the woman and take her to the hospital, which he did. She had not been inside the gas chamber.
Do you remember the witness Sunschein saying that you found a pyjama at the door of the block, came in, and there and then held a selection and sent certain people to the gas chamber? -
That is quite untrue. What happened was that there were Kommandos working in a squad called "Union," and sometimes I got reports that several members did not work satisfactorily or that they did something wrong. Then I made selections by taking people who were reported that way out from that Kommando and sent them into Compound A, into quarantine. Quarantine blocks were where those who did not work were put. These blocks were for new arrivals who were put into quarantine until some sort of job had been found for them.
Did that mean that they were to be sent to the gas chamber? -
No, but I believe that the witness must have thought that those people would come into this banned Block 25, which really did lead into the gas chambers.
What did happen to those people you sent into quarantine? -
I sent them there so that they should recover their strength and be able to work somewhere else.
Were parades for the gas chamber selections the only parades held at Birkenau? -
There were other parades as well. If, for instance, I got an order to prepare a larger working squad - say 100 or 200 women - I could not take them from one single block, so I gave orders that in this quarantine area all the blocks should parade and then I chose and selected the strongest and healthiest ones for that particular job. They were sent into Camp B where the working people were. There were other parades, for instance, for those who were infected with scabies. Dr. Klein had the order to be present there and to make a selection amongst those who afterwards were sent to the block for people with scabies.
Were prisoners from Birkenau ever transferred to other camps? -
Yes, there were parades and the people who were selected were prepared and sent away. I was in charge of those selections. They did not come back again.
Did you do anything to prevent people from being sent to the gas chamber? -
Yes, very often young girls came to me and implored me, saying that their sister or their friend or somebody else they liked was in this Block 25 and I should try to save them and I have done so. I asked for their numbers and wrote a little chit saying that those numbers should be released from Block 25. I saved several hundreds.
How did you manage to conceal that from Kommandant Hoess? -
These numbers were compiled into a nominal roll of numbers and names, and they were then given to the Political Department of the camp. The Political Department, for reasons which I do not know, sometimes crossed I out a few amongst those who were on the list so what I did was I checked these numbers which were given to me by those people who wanted to save their relatives and compared them, and when I found these numbers I crossed them out.
Is there anything else you would like to tell the Court about your activities at Birkenau? -
I would like to add that through these actions, by liberating these people from the gas chambers, I think I brought sufficient evidence that I did not agree with the policy of liquidation of the Jews, and that I did something which might have been very dangerous for me if it had been found out. I believe I would have been punished very severe - perhaps with a death sentence.
When did you leave Birkenau? -
At the end of January, 1944, and I left Auschwitz on 7th February when I was transferred to Dachau. I returned to Auschwitz No. I as Lagerführer about the middle of June 1944.
Do you remember the witness Hammermasch, who said that you had ordered and officiated at the hanging of four girls? -
Yes, I remember, but I did not give any orders. I did not act as executioner.
What have you to say about this evidence? -
One afternoon the Kommandant of Auschwitz, at that time Baer, rang me up and told me that when all the working squads had returned to camp an execution would take place and that I would receive a letter from the Political Department the contents of which I would have to read out to the whole camp. I told him on the 'phone that he could not do that because it was not right to hang women in front of women.
I was afraid that such an incident would produce cases of fainting women, and apart from that, such a measure would rather increase trouble in the camp than improve it. He did not agree, and said, " Orders are orders," and then he rang off.
What did you do then? -
About half - past five in the afternoon I was handed a letter which contained also a copy of the judgment concerning those four women. I do not know whether it was a copy or the original; I had never seen one before. In this judgment the four women were condemned to be hanged, because of the theft of ammunition which was passed on to prisoners working at the crematorium so that a big fire was caused and the crematorium destroyed.
Did you execute these four women? -
Yes, the execution took place at the end of November or the beginning of December, 1944, and this revolt which I was talking about before took place, I believe, in October, 1944.
Did you read out publicly the judgment which you had been given? -
Yes. The execution took place and all the prisoners were paraded. I was standing a bit higher so that everybody could hear what I had to say. I read out the judgment, and I told them to be careful and to leave their hands off such things so that such a spectacle as we had to attend now should not take place again.
The affidavit of a Jewess called Adelaide De Jong states that on 29th August, 1943, she was sterilised against her will by an internee doctor, Dr. Samuel, and that the orders were given by the Kommandant named Essler. What do you say about that? -
First, I do not know anything about this man Dr. Samuel. Second, I have never been Kommandant of Auschwitz. Third, I have never given any orders for sterilization of women; and fourth, I never knew that any sterilization had taken place in that camp.
Kalderon, in her deposition, says that she has seen you, amongst others, repeatedly administering savage and brutal treatment to half - starved internees? -
That is not true; I have never beaten anyone.
When did you leave Auschwitz? -
On 18th January, 1945. I went to Dora camp, where I stayed from the end of February until the 5th or 6th April, 1945.
Under what circumstances did you leave Dora? -
Dora camp was evacuated. The prisoners were loaded into railway wagons, but about 900 or 1100 of them stayed in the camp because they were too weak and were not certified by the doctor as strong enough to undertake such a journey. They were to go to Neuengamme, but apparently that camp did not accept them as the train was directed to Bergen-Belsen. I was in a car with some other members of the administration staff and arrived at Bergen-Belsen before the prisoners.
What did you do when you arrived? -
I went and reported to the Kommandant, Kramer, and told him that I had met prisoners on the road because their train had been dive - bombed and I wanted him to take them into his camp to give them some food, which he did. I told him that my transport was on its way, and he said that he knew about it and expected part of the transport on the same day. I asked him if he could take my prisoners into his camp, and he said that it was not possible because his camp was too full already.
This was on 8th or 9th April. Kramer told me he could not take my prisoners, and I asked him what I was going to do. He told me to go and see Colonel Harries, who was in charge of the Wehrmacht barracks. I saw Colonel Harries, who gave me accommodation in part of the barracks area. This in itself was all right, but there was no food, and as a result of bombardments there was no water. I saw that the prisoners would be hungry when they arrived, so my first thought was how to get food for them.
What did you do to get food? -
I went back to Kramer and saw him in his office and asked him if he could give me some food for my prisoners, but he said he needed all his food for his own prisoners because his camp was overcrowded, that there was typhus and many other sick people. I told him I was glad that my prisoners were not coming into his camp because they were not sick and they had no lice.
I went back to Colonel Harries, told him that Kramer could not give me any food, and that my prisoners would be arriving very soon so that I needed help urgently. He said that I could get some of his food from his stores, and he sent me to his paymaster with another officer.
Then I got some dried vegetables and other food, and I received from Kramer potatoes and turnips that were stored near the station. I told Colonel Harries that I needed water, and he told me to take a water-cart which was in the camp. That was all I could do, because I was alone and had to wait for my prisoners to do some more work. In the afternoon the first transport of prisoners arrived.
In his deposition, Josef Hauptmann states that there were still nine persons alive in an ambulance wagon when they arrived at the station and that you gave instructions for those nine persons to be shot? -
That is not true. It is correct that I was on the platform when the train arrived. I saw nobody shot at all while I was at the station.
Were any orders to shoot anybody brought to your notice? -
No. I have given no such orders, and there were no orders giving anybody instructions to shoot prisoners.
Did you ever go into what is now known as Camp No. 1 at Belsen? -
Did you have anything to do with its organization or administration? -
Cross-examined by Major CRANFIELD -
In your camp at Belsen were there any women? -
Had Grese a dog at Auschwitz? -
Will you give your opinion of Grese's work as an Aufseherin? -
Grese worked in the camp post office, but in the evening, when the working parties returned to camp, she had, just as all the other staff who were in the administration, to help the Blockführerinnen during their Appelle. It was part of my duty to see whether they were trustworthy enough and efficient, and I must say that Grese was very good. Whenever I gave her any job to do I was quite sure she would do this job and fulfil it to my entire satisfaction.
You have heard the accusations made against her in this court, that she shot prisoners with a pistol and treated prisoners with savage cruelty. What do you, as her Lagerführer, say about that? -
I have to say that, in my opinion, Grese particularly is quite incapable of even loading a pistol or firing a shot. As to the accusation that she had beaten prisoners, any Blockführer, Lagerführer or Aufseherin who tries to keep things in order will have some prisoners who will say that she is right to do that and some who will say she is not right in doing it.
The witness Szafran stated that at a selection, at which you were present, two selected girls jumped out of the window and Grese shot them twice while they were lying on the ground. What do you say to that? -
I do not agree with that at all, because I do not remember that I made any selections. The prisoner could not have jumped out of the window because in Camp A, Block 9, the windows are made in such a manner that they cannot be opened, so if she had done it she must have jumped through the glass of the window. If Grese had been shooting in front of the block it would have been my duty to go out and see what it was all about, but I never heard any shots fired in Camp A.
Were selections made by prison doctors at all? -
We have been told that selections were made for the gas chamber, for working parties, and some for other purposes. Were all these selection parades formed up in the same way? -
No, it depended for which purpose these selections were made. For roll - calls for counting purposes, they had to stand in fives, or if there was room enough, even in tens; but for roll - calls for selections for working parties, it was not necessary that they stood in fives, they could stand in fours.
Is it not true that the duties of the Aufseherin at selection parades where a doctor was present were to maintain order? -
If any Kapos were present were not their duties the same? -
A Kapo on such an occasion would be under the orders of the Aufseherin and would have to do what the Aufseherin told her.
Cross-examined by Captain ROBERTS - When did you first see this man (indicating No. 14, Schmitz)? -
I believe on 11th April in Camp No. 2 at Belsen.
What was he? -
He was a prisoner and was wearing prisoners clothing.
Did you subsequently see him after the British arrived? -
Yes. I was already a prisoner myself at that time, but when I saw him he was only in underpants. I was imprisoned with the others in a room, then suddenly guards threw this man in, and in such a haste he was only clad in underpants, so I asked him where he came from and he said that he had had a fight - I do not know with whom, but I think with another prisoner.
Then we gave him a pair of trousers and a tunic, and in the meantime the guard was changed over so that when in the evening he wanted to return to his own block, the other guard, thinking that he belonged to us, did not let him go, and since then he became an S.S. man. I must add that at that time he really wore S.S. uniform and the guard could not know that he was not a proper S.S. man.
Cross-examined by Major BROWN -
Do you remember No. 17 (Gura) from Auschwitz? -
Yes, he was a driver.
Was he ever, to your knowledge, a Blockführer? -
Was he put under arrest while you were at Auschwitz? -
Yes, he went away in company with other people who were under arrest before I left on 18th January, 1945.
Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE -
You have been in the concentration camp service for about ten years now? -
Not quite ten years.
And in all that time you have never seen anybody beaten in a concentration camp? -
I have never seen anybody ill-treating prisoners.
Did you have your eyes shut all the time? -
No, not at all.
So that all these prisoners who say they have been beaten and your own guards who have admitted in their statements that they have beaten people are wrong? -
I cannot say that at all; the question was whether I had seen it.
Were you in and about the camps during the last ten years? -
Oh, yes, quite a lot.
You have given us an account of three different kinds of selections; first, when the prisoners arrived at the camp; second, in and about the camp ; and third, in the hospital. At each of these selections was there a doctor present actually saying, "You this side and you that side" ? -
Yes, very often there were several doctors.
That was when there were a lot of people to be killed, I suppose? -
No, I do not want to say that.
What S.S. were there present? -
There were S.S. troops who had to guard the transport; secondly, there were several Blockführer and thirdly, some administrative personnel. I am speaking now about the transports arriving at the station.
Was there an ordinary Lagerführer in charge of the S.S.? -
The Lagerführer was responsible for the security. He was the senior S.S. man there, with the exception of the doctors and, of course, of the Kommandant himself if he was present.
Sometimes did the Kommandant come too? -
When the doctor had put the people on either side, who gave the order for those not going to the gas chamber to march off to the camp? -
The official of the Political Department when he had finished counting told the appropriate Blockführer to take them away. It was the same for those who were going to be gassed.
Who actually loaded them into the trucks? -
The Blockführer There were some steps leading up and the people went up.
Did the prisoners always go quite happily and willingly to their death? -
No, I should not think so.
Did nobody ever try to run away? -
I have never seen that.
Did no one ever have to use force to load them? -
I have never seen that.
Did you ever see any Aufseherinnen on these parades? -
Who marched them away to see they went in the right direction? -
The Blockführer, under the command of the Lagerführer, and those of the S.S. troops who were available.
Are you surprised that the witness Sompolinski should think you were in charge of the people who took transports to the crematorium? -
I have not said that I was surprised, but he said that I had been the Kommandant of the crematorium.
Were not the accounts of the witnesses as to what you had been doing at the selection in the hospital very fair ones ? -
Not quite that.
Who was the woman that you say you saved from the gas chamber? -
I do not know her name, but it was not the woman who sat here and shouted "That is the murderer."
Why do you think that this woman should make up a story that you saved her life if it was not true? -
I am astonished.
You knew, of course, that it was a very wrong thing to gas these women and children and yet you were prepared day after day to take charge of these parades ? -
I did not do them every day.
How many thousands were killed there?
it must have been millions? - I do not know.
What sort of food do prisoners get in concentration camps during war time? -
In 1939, 750 grammes potatoes per person, 750 grammes vegetables, and 500 grammes peas or beans or something like that. I am not sure whether each prisoner got one-third or one-half of a loaf of bread, nor do I remember the ration of fats and so on. The caloric value per day was about 1800.
What was the food like when you were at Dora? -
In the morning one litre of coffee, at noon one litre of soup, and 500 grammes of bread per day. I am not sure about margarine or sausages.
Did you think that was enough for the prisoners to live on? -
Did Bormann have a wolf-hound? -
She had a brown dog, but it was not a wolf-hound; it was a very big dog.
Did these S.S. women, Grese, Bormann, Volkenrath and Ehlert, perform their duties entirely to the satisfaction of the S.S.? -
I cannot say that. Grese, Bormann and Volkenrath were working under me. Bormann was working outside on a Kommando, but I have never heard anything against her.
You said that you were obliged to go to a selection in the bath - house because all your Aufseherinnen had gone out to their particular jobs. If that had not been so, would it have been the duty of one of the Aufseherinnen to have been present? -
Yes, I would have detailed somebody else and would not have been present myself.
When there was a selection for the gas chamber in the camp was it usual for there to be Aufseherinnen present if women were being selected? -
Yes, in the beginning when I was there there was an Aufseherin in the bath - house.
I put it to you that you attended a selection along with Dr's. König and Enna when about 3000 women were all paraded in front of Block 4 and the witness Litwinska was taken to the gas chamber? -
Block 4 was a hospital and that would have been impossible because the total number of ill people in the hospital area at that time was 4500. They were Jews and Aryans and it is therefore quite impossible that 3000 of them were Jews.
The witnesses were right then who said that only Jews had to parade for the selections? -
Was the Klein Bodungen transport one of the transports that marched from Dora to Belsen? -
Was Stofel in charge of that particular transport and were Dorr and Kraft two of the men in charge also? -
Yes, Kraft was the cook.
When that transport got to Belsen did you hear that some of the prisoners had been shot on the way? -
Do you remember saying this in your statement, "did hear from prisoners in the camp that several people in the transport who walked from Dora camp were shot"? -
That was not quite correct. I heard from prisoners that during the march prisoners had been shot, but it was told to me in the room where I was a prisoner myself after the British troops had arrived.
Did you not go on to say, with regard to Stofel and Dorr, "I mentioned the shooting to these two men, but they both denied all knowledge of it"? -
No, that is not quite in the way I said it. During the morning a prisoner came into the room and said to Dorr, "Tell me, who was the man who ordered the shooting of prisoners?" After that man left the room I asked Dorr what had happened and he said he did not know anything about it, and Stofel said the same.
Did No. 19 (Kulessa) travel on the transport that came by train? -
How many prisoners died on that journey? -
I cannot say exactly. There were transports with 20, 25 and 30 dead, and I remember that this man told me in the gaol at Celle that his transport had 40 people dead.
Had there been a truck for the sick in tow at the back? -
Yes, the last wagon of the train was a supply wagon in which a doctor or medical orderlies traveled and they had medicine. If people fell ill during the journey we had to take them to that wagon.
I suggest to you that when the transport arrived at Belsen station you ordered the nine people still alive in that wagon, who could not walk up to the camp, to be shot? -
No, it is not true. When the train arrived I ordered everybody to take their blankets, mess tins and spoons, line up and then march to the camp. The prisoners marched off, carrying the sick people who could not walk to a truck that belonged to Kramer. I do not know where they went.
With regard to feeding and housing of No. 2 Camp at Belsen, when you asked Obesrt Harries for accommodation, food, water and transport, you got it? - Yes.
When you got Kulessa in, was his job to keep the road cleaned up and to see his men into a block? - Yes.
Do you seriously tell the Court, and stick to it, that you have never seen a prisoner beaten or ill-treated in your ten years of service in a concentration camp? -
I have never seen S.S. people beating prisoners, but I heard several times from the doctors that prisoners had been wounded through fights or because they had been beaten, but whether they had been beaten by S.S. people or by other prisoners I could not tell.
By the JUDGE ADVOCATE -
On any selection at which you were present were you usually the senior S.S. Officer there? -
Yes, except the doctors.
Suppose a woman shrieked and kicked and fought, and absolutely refused to do what she was told, was force used to make her obey the orders? -
No, but two other female prisoners had to go to her and make her quiet.
Who would give the other prisoners the orders? -
If I had seen it I would, otherwise perhaps the doctors.
I had intended to call another witness for the accused, named Schopf. She came along to the Court and I saw her, but she has since disappeared, I understand after having talked with certain of the Prosecution witnesses. However, she originally offered her evidence by postcard, and I propose, with the Court's permission, to put in that postcard as evidence, and to ask the Court to bring in the witness later, if she is found.
The JUDGE ADVOCATE -
Far more important than the absence of a witness is the fact that witnesses are not going to testify because they have been in conversation with witnesses for the Prosecution. If that be the case the Court will have to do something about it. I do not know whether the Defending Officer is in a position to substantiate his assertion.
Major MUNRO -
I cannot substantiate it positively, it is a mere suspicion. I should like to assure the Court that I am making no reflection on the Prosecution. If this has happened it is just an accident and something over which the Prosecution had no control.
The PRESIDENT -
All your suggestion really comes to is that it may possibly have been that a Prosecution witness had a conversation with witness ?
Major MUNRO -
Exactly, that is the case.
Colonel BACKHOUSE -
I think that is a very different proposition to the one my friend put at first. If, in fact, it is merely his case that that might have been the position, then it is something that should not have been said and should be unreservedly withdrawn, because if it is not a reflection against the Prosecution, it is a backhanded reflection against the Prosecution witnesses which should not have been made.
The PRESIDENT - With regard to this postcard, was it sent by this witness volunteering to give information?
Major MUNRO -
That is correct. It was received addressed to the Court in Lüneburg, and marked in pencil on top "Defence" and passed to me. I asked the witness to come along to the Court and she did so.
The JUDGE ADVOCATE -
I will read this postcard to the Court: "Translation of the postcard written by Erika Schopf of Schulz, Burgdorf, L/Hanover [Hannover], Spitalstrasse No. 12 C/Mohle, dated 4th October, 1945. My dear Court people, I have read in the papers about the Belsen and Auschwitz trial, and I have to inform you of the fact that Hoessler is unguilty.
He has not made selections and when Jews were sent to the gas chamber Hoessler has always tried to get them out of this. I have been for three years in Auschwitz and I have worked in the Mason Kommando that was established by Hoessler. I know also the female Dr. Enna. She is a very bad type and has been very cruel to prisoners. Please tell me when I am able to come to Lüneburg With kind regards, Erika Schopf." (Exhibit No. 123.)
EVIDENCE FOR THE DEFENDANT GEORGE KRAFT
GEORGE KRAFT, sworn, examined by Major WINWOOD -
I am a Rumanian, born on 16th December, 1918 in Rode, and was a miller until called up for military service on 15th November, 1939 I served in the Rumanian Army until 30th April, 1943, when I went home, where I stayed for three months.
After that all the Germans in Rumania had to go to the S.S. and I had to go too, although I did not want to. At first we went to Vienna and, after eight days, to Buchenwald, where I arrived between 5th and 8th August. After three weeks training there I went to Dora where I stayed until 5th January, 1945. From Dora I was posted to an outpost working party at Klein Bodungen and eventually this was evacuated and I arrived on 11th April at the military training ground in Bergen-Belsen.
When you got to Bergen-Belsen what employment did you take up? -
During the first days I had no duty at all. I simply reported and on the next day I was told what duties I was going to do. On 12th and 13th April the guard company from Belsen went away and I wanted to go with them, but Hoessler told me I had to stay because they had no administrative personnel.
When did you first go into the main concentration camp at Belsen? -
On 22nd April under British guard.
Were you ever in Auschwitz? -
I have never seen it.
Have you ever ill-treated in any way or shot an internee? -
Cross-examined by Captain FIELDEN -
Was No. 22 (Ansgar Pichen) ever in the bath - house at Dora? -
I was in Dora for thirteen months but never saw him.
When you left Klein Bodungen were you in a particular transport on 5th April? -
No, I was with a column of trucks that carried the food and other things. We had received orders to march to Herzberg and there we had to go in railway wagons, but as there was an air raid nothing was left of the station and it was decided to march on across the railway. There were 610 internees.
Are you able to name the towns and villages at which the transport stayed at night before you eventually arrived at Bergen-Belsen? -
Yes, Osterode, Zeesen, Salzgitter, Rudingen, Hof and Gross Hehlen.
Did any unusual incidents occur at any of these places you have named? -
At Gross Hehlen S.S. front-line troops came and chased us away because it was too near the front. They came under the command of an officer, fired shots in the air, took the prisoners out of the place they were getting their food, lined them up and marched them off. They guarded the prisoners themselves.
Do you know if any of the internees were killed as the result of the interference of this S.S. unit? -
I had to stay behind with the food trucks, so I do not know. I arrived in Belsen half an hour after the transport and found that they had gone into one of the blocks of the military training ground. I do not know who took them over. The S.S. who had been guarding the transport were also billeted in a block, but separate from the prisoners.
Did you ever see No. 25 (Stofel) shoot any internees on the march to Belsen? -
I saw no shooting at all.
Cross-examined by Captain CORBALLY -
Did you carry any of the internees on your trucks who were lame and could not walk? -
Some of the prisoners were taken in one of the trucks along with S.S. men who also could not walk.
Apart from the incident at Gross Hehlen, were there any other occasions when the prisoners were shot at by S.S.? -
I was not with the transport during the journey. I was only with them when they stayed during the night.
Apart from Gross Hehlen, do you know of any of the prisoners having been killed on this journey ? -
GEORGE KRAFT, cross - examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE -
You say that ,when you came into the S.S. you went to Vienna in the summer of 1943? -
From Vienna did you not go first to get your preliminary training at Auschwitz? -
That is not true.
Did all the foreign members of the S.S. who were destined for concentration camp guards not go from Vienna to Auschwitz? -
No, we went from Vienna as civilians to Buchenwald.
Was not the S.S. training school at Auschwitz? -
I do not know.
Did you not act as a concentration camp guard in Auschwitz in the summer of 1943 ? -
I have never been at Auschwitz.
Did you not catch a man speaking to a woman there and beat him about the face and head until he died? -
It was not me.
At Buchenwald were you employed as a concentration camp guard? -
We had our training there, and after about three weeks we all dispersed, I going to Dora.
What were the conditions like at Dora? -
When we arrived there was nothing there, no huts. Even the S.S. had to sleep under canvas and we ourselves had rather little food.
Did the man who had been Kommandant at Auschwitz come to command there? -
I have never seen Kommandant Baer at Dora, but I understand he has been there.
You do not know what S.S. men were drafted to Dora or away from there after you left, so that any of them might have been in charge of the bath - house? -
Yes, that is possible.
Who was in charge of the party on the journey you spoke of? -
Do you recognise accused No. 25 (Franz Stofel) and No. 27 (Wilhelm Dorr)? -
Yes; Dorr was also on the transport.
When you arrived at Osterode were the prisoners put into barns for the night? -
No, into proper barracks.
Was Stofel riding a motor cycle on this transport? -
Yes, as far as Osterode.
When the party left Osterode and you stayed behind to take up the kitchen, do you remember some men who had found themselves unable to keep up and unable to walk? -
Yes, but nobody stayed on in Osterode.
I suggest to you that nobody stayed behind alive but that Dorr shot these three men the following morning before the party left? -
I did not see any bodies when I was on the transport.
I suggest to you that from Osterode onwards every straggler was shot as the party went along? -
I did not march with the transport and therefore cannot say whether they were shot or not.
You were with them each night? -
We never arrived at the same time and I did not mix with the prisoners.
I suggest to you that that party which started out 613 strong had lost a minimum of 30 shot on the way before they reached Belsen? -
I had never counted them and when I arrived at Belsen they were already in different blocks and therefore I cannot say.
How did they finally complete their journey? -
Always walking, marching.
When you got to Belsen you say you went into what we call Camp No. 2. In the last few days there was an attempt made to clear up the whole place before the British came in, was there not? -
The barracks where I was in Camp No. 2 were quite clean and tidy and we just tidied them up a bit more.
I put it to you that from the time Hoessler told you to stay behind, you, together with the other S.S. men left, were engaged in a frantic attempt to clean up Camp No. 1? -
I never even heard about Camp No. 1 during the three days I was there.
I put it to you that you were, in fact, helping in the guiding and directing of that miserable procession dragging corpses to the mass graves?-
I have only been there when the British were in command from 22nd to 29th April.
Did you hear Kramer say that he used the men who were healthy from the new transports that had just come in for that purpose, and do you not know that his camp had ceased to take people and yours was the overflow one? -
I was never interested in any sort of camp affairs. I had my kitchen to look after and what else happened I have no idea about.
I put it to you that you were in that camp kicking, beating and striking, together with the other S.S. guards? -
In Camp No. 2 that never happened, and in Camp No. 1 I have never been.
EVIDENCE FOR THE DEFENDANT PETER WEINGARTNER
PETER WEINGARTNER, sworn, examined by Major WINWOOD -
I am a Yugoslav, born on 4th June, 1913, in Putinci, Yugoslavia. I worked about three years as a carpenter and in 1935 served for nine months in the Yugoslav Army, after which I carried on as a carpenter.
When Germany attacked Yugoslavia I took part in the war against the Germans from 12th March until the end of April, 1941. I was captured by the Germans and then released. I went home and stayed there until 19th October, 1942, when I had to go to Germany to the S.S. I did not go as a volunteer. I went to Auschwitz and for three months did weapon training, after which we were detailed as guards of concentration camps. I was on guard duty until 22nd November 1943, and was always inside the whole camp area.
Did you go outside the camp with working parties? -
Had you anything to do with the Arbeitskommando Weber? -
Yes, I was with this Kommando from the beginning of December, 1944, until Christmas. This Kommando, which consisted of 1000 women, was employed in digging trenches for the regulation of the river. I was in charge of these women and there were approximately 30 guards under an officer of the Military Police. My job was to supervise the women and to see to it that they were working. On the working site there was nobody to guard the women except myself.
Were you always satisfied with the way they worked? -
Did you ever beat any of the women? -
Did you ever have any dogs under your command? -
Yes, wolf - hounds.
Were these women entitled to extra rations? -
Yes. I was responsible for seeing that they got them, which they did except for those who did not finish a certain type of job. I was authorised to withhold the extra rations from them.
Was the story told by the witness Glinowieski about the beating of his brother true? -
Untrue. I do not remember his brother.
Did you do any other duty at Auschwitz? -
I was a Blockführer in the women's compound and was on telephone duty. That is all I did during the whole year before I went on the Kommando Weber.
How long did you stay at Auschwitz? -
Until about 19th January, 1945, after which I eventually arrived at Bergen-Belsen somewhere about the beginning of February.
What employment did you take up when you got to Belsen? -
I was a Blockführer in the women's compound right up to the time the British troops arrived. In this position I was responsible for the strength of the whole camp and had to know that everybody was present or if anybody was missing. I had nothing to do with the Arbeitskommandos in Belsen personally, but I had to stand at the gate and count the outgoing and incoming prisoners and see that the figures tallied. I also had to carry out telephone duties quite close to the gate.
Do you remember an occasion when the personnel of one of the kitchens was changing over? -
Yes, it was a working party to which many prisoners wanted to belong because they had more to eat in the kitchen and they had the possibility after work of taking something away. It was in the middle of the night and instead of the 100 or 150 required for the work squad about 600 Or 700 were assembled. They were not queuing in a proper and orderly manner but were pressing on. I tried to quieten them down in the beginning with words, and then later on, when I had no results, I found a rubber hose-pipe and hit the Kapo, who should have been responsible for the orderly behaviour of that working squad, five or six times with it.
Did you have any difficulty in controlling these internees who were crowding round the kitchen? -
That was not in the neighbourhood of the kitchen, it was near the gate.
Did you ever carry a rifle or a pistol and have to use these to control the internees? -
Not a rifle, a pistol. Once in self-defence I fired shots in the air. That was at the end of March and was an incident entirely different from the trouble I have mentioned.
Apart from this occasion when you hit the Kapo, did you ever hit any other internees with anything? -
No, except once or twice in a month with my hand. It never did them any harm.
Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE -
When you were in charge of this Kommando at Auschwitz how far from the camp was the work? -
About four to five kilometres.
What sort of a road was it? -
It was a very bad road and ran between fields.
Did you have a steep hill to go up? -
That was in December. What time in the morning did your women have to go out there? -
From the camp at half - past nine.
Did they have anything to eat before they started? -
Yes, bread and coffee and, apart from that, two kilos per week additional food.
How long did they stay out at work? -
Until 1500 hours, when they tidied up and went home.
Did they have anything to eat between 7.30 in the morning and when they marched back in the evening to the camp? -
The prisoners took their evening rations as haversack rations with them. They ate them during the lunch time and when they came home they had their warm cooked lunch for dinner. Once a week they got 4 lbs of bread more. They could keep that and use it. The firm where the prisoners worked provided the people with tea.
The witness Sunschein was a forewoman in that squad. Did you not remove her from that position? -
I cannot remember.
Was not that because she refused to beat other prisoners? -
I had strictest orders from the Kommandant to beat nobody.
If you did beat them that was not in obedience to superior orders or anything of that kind? -
I never beat anybody, but if I had done so it would not have been in obedience to the orders of the superior officer.
When marching out to this work did some straggle behind? -
No, because we were marching so slowly.
Did nobody ever have difficulty going up the hill? -
It might have been difficult for some of them, but we waited until everybody was there.
How many dogs had you under your command? -
The dogs and their guards did not concern me at all, but there were about three or four dogs.
I suggest that you set these dogs on the women when they were going up the hill? -
The dogs did not concern me at all. They were not under my command and I had nothing to do with the dogs or with the guards. My responsibility was the women.
What were the dogs actually used for? -
Security reasons. They were posted round the working site at a distance of 200 metres from each other. There they sat the whole time until the prisoners went home at night.
Were some of these women working up to their knees in water? -
What were they doing? -
Digging trenches for irrigating the river.
Did no water collect in the trench? -
They could avoid these spots of water and stand on the earth where it was dry.
I suggest that you found a man with some Russian gold roubles and a ring on him, Glinowieski, and that you beat him until he died the following day? -
I do not know anything about it.
While you were in the women's Lager how many selections for the gas chamber did you see? -
Where did you spend all your days during this year? -
In the barracks at the telephone; sometimes I went into the room where I slept.
Were not the people who were selected for the gas chamber taken down the road right along the side of the women's camp where you were working, to get to the crematoria? -
Yes, I have seen people there, but whether they went to the bath - house or the crematorium I cannot say.
One of your duties at Belsen was to stand at the gate and check the working Kommandos in and out. Do you remember the witness Helen Klein saying that you stood there and beat people as they went in and out? -
It is not true.
Was the Kapo you beat in Belsen with the rubber hose - pipe called Sunschein? -
Where did you find your piece of rubber hose-pipe? -
Lying about in the vicinity of the gate. It was a bit longer than half a metre.
It was singularly lucky, was it not, that on the only day you ever beat anybody you happened to find this length of rubber tubing lying just where you wanted it? -
The accused Hilde Lobauer in her statement says that of the S.S. men she has ever seen with her own eyes beating and ill-treating prisoners you are one of the ones who should be punished? -
I admit having beaten Sunschein, and on several occasions when internees were crowding and closing in on me and I could not help myself, then I have beaten them. I could not help myself alone against 1000 women.
EVIDENCE FOR THE DEFENDANT JOSEF KLIPPEL
24th November, 1909
sworn, examined by Major CRANFIELD -
I was born on 24th November, 1909, in Vukovar, Yugoslavia, and am what is called a Volksdeutscher. In 1943 I owned a grocery shop at Neusatz, Yugoslavia, and in October all Volksdeutsche up to the age of 35 were taken into the S.S., and I was posted to the concentration camp at Mittelbau, three kilometres from Nordhausen, where I stayed until 5th, April, 1945.
At first I was a clerk until June, 1944, when I became a runner for the adjutant. At the end of November I went into the food store of the administration until 5th April, 1945. We evacuated the camp on account of air raids, and I left in the evening, with a transport of about 4000 prisoners and the remainder of the S.S., for Neuengamme. We left about 2000 hours when it was quite dark and travelled by train.
I had to look after two wagons with food. At Osterode we found that the rails had been damaged by bombs so the train could not go on, and the prisoners had to march off under a guard. I stayed behind with five men to look after the food stores, and distributed as much food among the prisoners as they could carry before they left. Then I requisitioned two farm carts, loaded food upon them and sent them off to the transport.
The remainder of the food was given to the local hospital. The prisoners had left Osterode about half-past seven in the morning and we, the six of us, started from there about 1500 hours on foot. It was Sunday, 8th April. We walked, not in a hurry, across the Hartz Mountains and found a station where we were informed that a transport had boarded a train and had gone off in the direction of Hamburg.
There were no more trains running, so we walked in the direction of Hamburg through Brunswick [Braunschweig] and Celle, and heard that there was a concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. We could not go in the direction of Hamburg because the Wehrmacht would not let us through.
Did you arrive in Bergen-Belsen? -
We arrived in the Wehrmacht Barracks on 11th April after 1700 hours, and found there all the administrative personnel from the concentration camp at Mittelbau. I reported to my superior officer, Brenneis, who ordered me to go to Unterscharführer Triebel who had been in charge in the food stores in the other concentration camp, and I had to work with him. That evening bread arrived by truck and I went round to distribute it amongst the population of the blocks.
What is your rank in the S.S.? -
What happened on the next day, Thursday the 12th? -
In the night 11th-12th, the whole administration, including Brenneis, went to Neuengamme. On 12th April I did not do anything at all, and on that day and the next the S.S. guards who had come from Mittelbau went away.
What did you do on Friday, 13th? -
Obersturmführer Hoessler gave me orders to take charge of Kitchen No. 24, which was, I believe, Block 91 in the Truppenübungsplatz Barracks. There was nothing at all there in the kitchen so I had only to make preparations. I opened some beer barrels and then I selected a few of the prisoners who had been working before in kitchens for my kitchen staff. None of these prisoners were women.
What did you do on Saturday, 14th? -
For the first time we cooked meals in that kitchen for the prisoners. I stayed there working up to the 16th when I was arrested at 9.30 at night, the first British troops having arrived on the 15th.
Before you were arrested, had you ever been in the Belsen Concentration Camp? -
When did you first see the accused Kramer? -
In the prison at Celle.
You have told us you were at Mittelbau from January to 5th April. Did you at any time during that period go away from there to Belsen? -
Have you at any time killed a woman? -
Have you at any time in Belsen or anywhere else beaten a woman prisoner with a rubber truncheon? -
Cross-examined by Major WINWOOD -
Did you meet the accused No, 4 (Kraft) on the way from Dora to Belsen? -
Yes, on the night of 10th-11th April. I do not remember the name of the place, but there was a big aerodrome there.
Did he come to the same part of Belsen as yourself? -
Yes, he arrived a few hours before me. He worked in Kitchen No. 20 and we slept in the same room until we were arrested together on the 16th.
Cross-examined by Captain ROBERTS -
Do you know this man, accused No. 14, (Oscar, Schmitz)? -
Yes, I met him first in March, 1945, in the clothing stores in Mittelbau Concentration Camp. He was dressed as a prisoner. The last time I saw him was on 17th April, when a British guard brought him into the room. He had nothing on, apart from a pair of trousers.
Do you know why he suddenly appeared in your midst dressed like that? -
He told us that he had a fight with some others and then jumped from the first floor, and retired to the part where the British guards were, and the British guard brought him in that attire into our room.
He was never a member of the S.S. to the best of your knowledge? -
Cross-examined by Captain FIELDEN - Is Mittelbau the same camp as Dora? -
Do you know who was in charge of the bath-house at Dora? -
Cross-examination by Colonel BACKHOUSE - Did you do your training at Buchenwald? -
Yes, for a fortnight.
Did you go straight to Dora from Buchenwald? -
Yes, I got there between 15th and 20th October, 1943.
Was Kraft already there when you got there? -
Was Stofel there? -
I do not know, but I remember that in the office I saw him several times coming to the sergeant-major there.
Do you remember Dorr there? -
Yes, but what he was doing I do not know.
When did you first see Pichen? -
In prison at Celle.
What was Hoessler’s job at Dora? -
I do not know, I had nothing to do with him. I have seen him, but I do not know what his job was.
When you left on the 5th were either Stofel, Dorr, Kulessa or any other of them in the same transport as yourself? -
Did all the transports from Mittelbau start from the same station? -
Yes there was a station in the camp itself.
Was Stofel’s transport from Mittelbau? -
No. Those from Klein Bodungen, although under our administration and belonging to our ration strength, went direct.
How many prisoners were there at Dora? -
How were they treated? -
In Dora they were treated well because there the V1 weapons were produced and those working there were specialists.
Were prisoners there known by name or number? -
Generally known by number which they had stitched on the left side of their tunics. Apart from that they had some sort of sign, either circles or triangles, to say what sort of prisoners they were.
Did the prisoners at Dora have their numbers tattooed on their arms? -
When you got to Belsen had Hoessler already arrived? -
Was everybody very busy indeed trying to get something done for the prisoners? -
When I arrived the kitchens were already functioning and there was also some sort of food ration.
How was it you managed to have a day doing nothing at all? -
On that day the administration and my superior officer had gone away and I tried to do the same, but Hoessler stopped me and said I had to stay, and therefore I simply disappeared and did not do anything.
In those last few days was there not a frantic effort made to clean the camp up? -
The whole camp only existed a few days because the Wehrmacht left and the prisoners came in immediately, so no particular effort was needed to keep it clean or tidy it up.
There is no doubt about it that your prisoners were very much healthier than the ones you saw in the other camp? -
I suggest to you that those few S.S. men who were still left there all helped and took their turns to clear up the mess in both camps? -
Yes, we helped in Camp No. 1, but only as British prisoners.
I put it to you that you did in fact act as a cook in Belsen, not merely for one day, but for that last week at least, and that whilst you were in that kitchen you had some women working under you? -
I came to Belsen for the first time on 22nd April as a prisoner of the British troops. In the Wehrmacht Barracks area there were no women at all.
What were you armed with when you joined the S.S.? -
Rifle and bayonet.
Did you bring your rifle to Belsen with you? -
To Bergen, yes. I left my rifle in the room where I slept.
Did you not indulge in the popular sport at Bergen-Belsen of shooting prisoners who came near the cookhouse? -
I have never been at Belsen, and there was no shooting around the kitchen in Bergen.
What did you cook in your kitchen? -
On 12th April Hungarian troops brought us some potatoes and turnips and then we found some fat or semolina or rice, that is porridge, and that is what we were doing.
Did the prisoners not come and try to get some of that food? - When they brought the potatoes eight or ten Hungarian soldiers came with machine-guns, so nobody dared come near to steal anything.
By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - When you were in Bergen during these last few days where did you get your water from? - The Wehrmacht brought it in two water wagons.
Could you get as much water as you wanted? - They started with the kitchens and when they had finished with the amount needed there they went round and stocked each block.
During the last three or four days had you water in which you could wash yourself? - No, there was not enough. We had to save it for the kitchen. If we wanted to have a wash we went to the concrete pond.
What was the capacity of these water tanks? -
They were motor trucks holding 1500 litres.
Were they going round the barracks day and night? -
Did you know that in the camp at Belsen a large number of people were suffering acutely from lack of water to drink? -
I only heard that not far away there was a concentration camp with many prisoners.
Were there enough internees in the Wehrmacht Barracks to keep these two motor trucks busy morning, noon and night delivering essential water so that people could drink? -
Yes, there were about 15000 prisoners. I cooked twice for them and that was 30000 litres.
Could you drink what you liked or were you put on a ration? -
Perhaps half a litre per day.
I was a Hauptscharführer in the S.S and was in the administration at Mittelbau from January, 1944, until 5th April, 1945. I saw Josef Klippel, whom I identify, frequently at Mittelbau, and the last time I saw him was on the afternoon of 5th April. I arrived at Bergen-Belsen either on 9th or 10th April and left there at 0200 hours on, I believe, the night 11th-12th April. We went to the concentration camp at Neuengamme.
During the time you were in the barracks at Bergen-Belsen did you hear anything of a Hauptsturmführer Kramer? -
I personally do not know anything about it, but I assume that Hauptsturmführer Brenneis, who was in charge of our party, had some dealings with Kramer. I was never told at Bergen-Belsen that I was under the command of Kramer.
Cross-examined by Captain FIELDEN -
Do you know who was in charge of the bath-house at Dora? -
Did you ever see No. 22 (Ansgar Pichen) at Dora? -
I do not know him.
Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE -
What did you do at Bergen-Belsen? -
For two days I was guarding two big boxes containing all the documents and receipt forms and also quite a lot of money. These I took away to Hamburg Langenhorn, and then to Heide in Schleswig-Holstein.
What happened to it when you last saw it? -
On 5th May, after the capitulation, I was ordered to destroy everything, and all the documents were destroyed and the money was distributed amongst the men of the whole regiment as a sort of farewell discharge money.
Just have another look at Pichen and try to imagine him without that moustache and with his hair brushed quite differently, and see if you could not recognise him? -
No, I do not know him.
Did you ever see Hoessler while you were at Nordhausen? -
Yes, he was Lagerführer of the camp.
Did you see him at all at Bergen-Belsen? -
Yes, he was in charge of everything in the Wehrmacht Barracks area.
You said Hauptsturmführer Brenneis was in that barracks too. Whose command did he come under? -
He belonged to a sort of self-contained command - a kind of central administration in Berlin, and did not come under the command of Hoessler. I belonged to the same thing.
FRAU EMMI SOCHTIG, on oath, recognised Josef Klippel, whom she had seen regularly at Mittelbau from the beginning of January to 5th April, 1945. She had seen him last on 7th April at the station of Tettenborn.
sworn, examined by Major CRANFIELD -
I am a Czech and was a Rottenführer in the S.S. I joined the Mittelbau Concentration Camp staff in December, 1943, and was employed there as a waiter in the officers’ mess until April, 1945. I saw Josef Klippel regularly until I left on 5th April. I left Nordhausen and travelled to Osterode by train, where the accused Klippel and four other men put the food stores into a hospital, after which the five of us went to Bergen-Belsen, where we reported to Hauptsturmführer Brenneis on either the 9th, 10th or 11th April. He told us we were to work in Kitchen No. 19 next day. This would be about two or three days before the British troops arrived.
If I told you that the British troops arrived on the Sunday, can you remember which was your first day's work at Bergen-Belsen? -
I think it was Thursday the 12th. Klippel and I slept in the same room on the first floor in the kitchen building each night from the time we arrived until the British came.
As far as you are aware did Klippel ever go into Belsen Concentration Camp? -
The accused Klippel is charged with shooting two female prisoners round about Cookhouse No. 24 of the Wehrmacht Barracks. Did you hear of any such incident taking place? -
How far was Cookhouse No. 19 from Cookhouse No. 24? -
About 300 to 400 metres.
Cross-examined by Captain FIELDEN -
Do you know who No. 25 is? -
Yes, Hauptsturmführer Stofel. I saw him in the Panzer training barracks at Bergen, where I believe he stayed continually until he was arrested.
Cross-examined by Captain CORBALLY -
Do you know, the accused No. 28 (Eric Barsch)? -
Yes, but I do not know his name. I saw him in the Mittelbau Concentration Camp, where he was working in the hospital for the troops. I also saw him in the barracks at Bergen, where he was a medical orderly working with the doctors.
Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE -
What doctor was Barsch working with in Belsen? -
Dr. Korska and Dr. Schmidt.
They were both S.S. doctors, were they? -
Did you ever see Dr. Klein or Dr. Horstmann? -
So there were two doctors, quite apart from Dr. Klein, available for anything that was necessary in the Wehrmacht Barracks? -
I have always seen these two doctors and no other.
Do you remember whether any men too old for the Air Force came to Dora and joined the staff there? -
I do not know whether they were too old but I heard that quite a lot of people out of the Air Force were taken into the S.S.
STEFAN HERMANN, on oath, stated that he was in the S.S as a guard at the Mittelbau Concentration Camp, and he recognised Josef Klippel, whom he had first met there in October, 1943, and had known up to 4th April.
EVIDENCE FOR THE DEFENDANT ILSE LOTHE
sworn, examined by Major CRANFIELD -
I am unmarried and was born on 6th November, 1914, in Erfurt. I worked in a shoe factory and in 1939 was directed to a munitions factory, and because I refused to go there I was sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, where I stayed until March, 1942, when I was transferred to Auschwitz No. 1. After four weeks I was put in an outside Kommando at Budin [Budy], seven kilometres from Auschwitz, where we did all sorts of digging, constructing a dam.
In June, 1943, I went to Birkenau, where I worked in the camp until February, 1944, when I became a Kapo in Kommando No. 6, which consisted of 100 Hungarian Jewesses. After four months the Kommando was dissolved and I got another consisting of 50 Hungarian Jewesses, building bunkers in prepared positions for guns. in November, 1944, I got another Kommando No. 107, Water Works.
In December the Kommandant took away my armlet and put me in a punishment Kommando called Vistula. I was no longer a Kapo. I was in that punishment Kommando until January, 1945, when we went to Ravensbruck for four weeks. In the beginning of March a transport of pregnant women was sent to Belsen and I went with them, arriving there on the 4th. For three weeks I was ill and then I became a Kapo in the vegetable Kommando, consisting mostly of Russians, with a few Hungarian and Polish Jewesses. There were about 140 in the Kommando.
How did you come to be appointed a Kapo first of all in February, 1944? -
We were on parade in the morning and the Arbeitsdienstfuhrer went along looking at us and suddenly said, "You will take over from, tomorrow on this Kommando." That is how I became a Kapo, and I could not do anything about it. There was no question about asking or refusing because if we had done so it would have amounted to refusing work and that meant 25 strokes.
Did you at Auschwitz carry any kind of a weapon or a stick? -
No, nor have I ever beaten anybody with a stick, but sometimes I slapped their faces during distribution of food to keep order.
Have you ever knocked a woman down and kicked her on the ground, either at Auschwitz or at Belsen? -
While prisoners were working out of the camp were they allowed to speak to civilians? -
No, it was prohibited, but they did speak with civilians.
Did you ever have anything to do with the selection parades for the gas chamber? -
No. Whenever a selection Appell took place all the Kapos were concentrated in one block and it was strictly prohibited for them to leave that block during the time.
Did any of the Kommandos you were in work inside Birkenau Camp? -
No. The Kommando used to leave the camp at 0700 hours in the morning and return back at 1800 hours.
Have you been punished by the Political Department at Auschwitz? -
Yes, three times. The first time because I smuggled a letter out of the camp. The second because I burnt the boards of the beds - I made a fire of them. And the third because we organised some food and cigarettes.
The first time I got 25 strokes done in this way: a block was placed between my knees and my two hands were tied, and I was swung to and fro and beaten from both sides as I swung from one side to the other. I was beaten with a rubber truncheon by two S.S. men. I have heard of other Kapos being punished in this way.
Was this the official punishment for misbehaviour? -
In the beginning Berlin was asked and gave the decision. Later on we did not bother to ask Berlin for it, and the Political Department itself made the decision and did what they liked.
Were the witnesses Rozenwayg and Trieger ever in your Kornmando? -
No. if they had been I would certainly have recognised them.
Have you ever been out of camp with your Kommando with the accused Grese? -
I have never worked in the same Kommando with Grese. When I took my Kommando out to work there were two male S.S. guards.
Rozenwayg said that on a Kommando you told the accused Grese to set a dog on to her, and the dog then bit her. Is that true? -
Completely untrue. First she gave the date as July, 1943, before I had ever thought of becoming a Kapo at all. Secondly, I have never worked with Grese in the same Kommando; and thirdly, if Rozenwayg had ever worked in my Kommando I would certainly have recognised her. Nor did I hit a girl called Wiedletz as she says.
Sonia Watinik in her deposition says that she has seen you beat prisoners so badly that they were unable to work and were taken to Block 25, which everybody knew meant going to the gas chamber. What do you say to that? -
I never had a stick and never beat anyone like that. Nobody had to go because of me into Block No. 2-5.
Will you tell the Court what happened when you were arrested at Belsen? -
On 22nd June I walked through the camp with a Polish Jewess. We passed six or seven other Polish Jewesses who shouted, "That is a Kapo from Auschwitz." After I had gone a bit further on I turned round and saw two British soldiers talking to these women and asking them what had been going on.
They shouted that I was a Kapo from Auschwitz and the British soldiers called me back, asked me for my papers, and said that I had to go with them to the British officer. These women accompanied me to the police and they had to say something about me. The story told by Rozenwayg, Gryka and Watinik is untrue.
Cross-examined by Captain PHILLIPs - What duties did the vegetable Kommando do at Belsen? -
We took the vegetables and the potatoes from the places where they were stored to the kitchen.
Were there S.S. men or women supervising it? -
Yes. Two Aufseherinnen and one S.S. man. Their names were Lehmann, Friedrich and Lisiewitz.
Did the accused No. 37 (Herta Bothe) have anything to do with your vegetable Kommando at Belsen? -
No, she was working at the wood stores.
Cross-examined by Captain BOYD - When do you say that the accused Lisiewitz worked on this vegetable Kommando? -
The beginning of April, 1945. During the time I was with this Kommando I only saw her on one day, and shortly before noon she went away because she felt ill. She was not carrying a stick.
Cross-examined by Captain MUNRO - Did you know anybody in Block 199 called Ida Friedman? -
Yes. I believe she was a Polish Jewess. Ten days after the arrival of the British troops I went to the hospital as a nurse and Ida Friedman was taken there. I believe she had typhus.
Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE -
You say the Ida Friedman you know was a Polish Jewess. That will not be the same one as Ehlert knows who was a Frenchwoman? -
I think it was the same because she used to come to the Blockalteste. We used to talk with her in German and she very often went to Ehlert to tell fortunes by cards. The Blockalteste once told me she was a Polish Jewess.
About how many women were in Block 199? - 600 or 700. I know the names of a few girls in the block who were in my Kommando in Auschwitz. Friedman was never in my Kommando.
When you first went to Ravensbruck how were you treated? -
We were treated very badly. There was not very much beating, but the Aufseherinnen who had working parties outside the camp used to set the dogs on us. Each Aufseherin had a dog and a pistol.
When you came to Auschwitz how were you treated there? -
Very badly. The food was very bad; we had one litre of thin soup and one bread ration during the time I was at Budy.
Who was in charge of the Arbeitslager at Budy? -
Kommandofuhrer Schlager. He treated us very badly. There were some Kapos there.
How did they treat you? -
They also beat us, but not so often.
When you came into Birkenau in June, 1943, how were you employed? -
In the masonry Kommando building a new parcels store and repairing the floors of some of the blocks which were made of bricks.
When you were working on drainage in Budy, did you go to and fro, night and morning, or did you live there? -
We went to and fro every day.
Did the guard who went with you have dogs? -
You told us of the first punishment you got. What did you get for burning the bed boards? -
I was put under arrest first in a cell, and received food every third day. I was there eight days and then I was taken to the Political Department where I received my 25 strokes. I had no kind of trial.
What about the third time when you were punished for organizing some food and cigarettes? -
I was brought to the Political Department who made enquiries as to how and where I got the food and cigarettes, and then I was punished with 25 strokes because I bartered with civilians.
In Birkenau were people beaten by both Aufseherinnen and Kapos? -
Was Grese there then? -
I saw Grese only when she was talking to somebody at the gate.
Were your Kommandos not composed of Hungarian Jewesses all the time you were a Kapo, and was not Grese in charge of the camp in which these Hungarians were? -
Grese was in Camp "C." We were in Camp "B."
As a matter of fact, were you not a Kapo in the Strafkommando which was commanded by her for a time?
Did you not work under her and did you not beat people severely yourself? - I have never worked with Grese there.
The Kapos had quite a few privileges, had they not? -
No, on the contrary, we were punished much more severely than the others. We had exactly the same rations as all the other prisoners.
You had the distribution of it, had you not? -
Never the Kapo, always the Blockalteste.
You say the Kapos were sent into one particular block if there was a selection for the gas chamber. Were you sent there before the selection started? -
Do you say that when Rozenwayg and Gryka came into the court the other day you did not even know them? -
I do not know them.
Do you not remember them getting you arrested at Belsen, even if you never saw them before that? -
I did not look at them closely at that time.
Did you not even look at the people who were accusing you? -
They were shouting, but I continued to go on, and later on with the police they were not in the same room as I was.
If they were never in your Kommando at all why do you think they should pick on you? -
That day they never said they had been working in my Kommando.
They said you had beaten them and ill-treated them at Auschwitz, did they not? -
One said I had beaten her sister. She did not say her friend.
I suggest to you that you are not telling the truth about this at all, that in fact you worked with Grese, and those girls were under you, and that you did in fact complain to Grese on one occasion when she set her dog on one of them? -
I have never been working with Grese, and was never in that Kommando.
I suggest to you that you beat Grunwald about the head with a stick to such an extent that she was taken away unconscious and eventually died? -
I do not know anybody by that name, and I never had a stick.
I suggest that to save your own skin you were prepared to fall in with this system of ill-treatment of prisoners and to put yourself at the behest of the S.S.? -
On the contrary, I did not fall in with that policy and as a matter of fact I was beaten much more frequently because I did not do so.
Why did you lose your armlet? -
Because I had a few cigarettes in my pocket which we had organised on outside work.
What was the Vistula Kommando like? -
Very bad. It was about three-quarters of an hour's march from the camp and over a bad road.
Were there S.S. guards with you? -
Police, and apart from that three S.S. guards with dogs which were probably used when prisoners tried to escape on the way.
They were used to round up stragglers, were they not? -
No. The guards went in front of the working party, and not behind them. In the Kommando Vistula those three guards with dogs were always in front.
That seems a very odd place to be if you wanted to stop people escaping behind you, was it not? -
The police were at the back.
You had a very steep hill to go up on the way, and a lot of these women were very weak. Did they not find it very difficult to get up that hill sometimes? -
Were they not beaten up it? -
No. It was a very big working party of 1000 women and when the first were at the top of the hill they stayed and waited until the last arrived. The Kommandofuhrer was sometimes furious if people were slow and he reprimanded them or he may have slapped their faces, but there was no particular beating.
It must have been nicer then in that punishment Kommando than in the rest of the camp? -
It was not very nice because it was winter and very cold, and we had to work very hard.
What happened to the women who did not work very hard? -
They were beaten.
And who was in charge of that Kommando? -
Weingartner. (Accused No. 3.)
What usually happened to pregnant women at Auschwitz? -
They were sent to the gas chamber.
How long were you Kapo of the vegetable Kommando at Belsen? -
From 25th March until 14th April.
Dora Almaleh says in her deposition that she was one of the working party detailed to carry vegetables from the store to the kitchen. How did they carry them? -
With a sort of cart. I was in charge of seven carts which were pulled by 15 prisoners.
Of course you do not know whether the accused Lisiewitz had been on this work before you came to it or not, do you? -
I do not know. I only saw her on this job on Easter Sunday.
Was Roth the night guard in Block 199? -
No. She was the Stubendienst, the room orderly.
Herta Bothe was in charge of preparing wood for the kitchen, was she not? -
When I went with my Kommando to the other camp I saw her standing there, and I do not know any more.
When you got to Belsen were you promptly made a Kapo again? -
I was sick for three weeks and then Oberaufseherin Volkenrath promoted me.
When you became a Kapo in Belsen were the women working under you very, very weak indeed? -
No. I had nearly all Russians and they were all very strong.
Did they remain strong on the food they got? -
The Russians were good at organizing.
But you remained fairly strong, did you not? -
I was also quite good at organizing.
It was very easy for a Kapo, was it not? -
No, not only for Kapos. Anybody who was good at organizing could do it.
What you really mean is that you could take somebody else's share, is it not? -
No. If we had some sort of connections with the prisoners at the food stores we could barter with them.
But you were the Kapo of this party and one of the jobs that you accepted was looking after the work of your party, was it not? -
Let me suggest to you that what you did was that you got your own little party fed all right at the expense of the rest? -
My Kommando was very good at organizing and apart from that they took potatoes which were in the cellar.
Re-examined by Major CRANFIELD -
When you took the letters out of the camp at Auschwitz you knew you would be punished if you were found out, did you not? -
I hoped that I would not be caught at it as I knew that I would be punished.
By the JUDGE ADVOCATE -
When you were punished for smuggling letters were you a Kapo? -
And when you were punished on the other two occasions were you also a Kapo? -
You had had quite a number of beatings by that time. From the point of view of the German authorities you must have been a most unsatisfactory Kapo, must you not? -
Yes. I have always done what was prohibited.
It was not until December, 1944, that Kramer took away your armlet. Is that right? -
Yes, but it was Kraus who took it away then.
Do you think Volkenrath knew what an unsatisfactory record you had as a Kapo at Auschwitz? -
I do not know.
By a Member of the Court - Where exactly were you between 12th April when the camp was taken over by the British and 22nd June when you were arrested? -
First I worked as a nurse in the camp at Belsen where the hospital is, and later on as a nurse in Bergen.
Major CRANFIELD -
I now put in a third affidavit by Regina Bialek which has not been put in before by the Prosecution. (Exhibit No. 127.)
Fritz Klein (Nazi)
November 24, 1888 – December 13, 1945
(November 24, 1888 – December 13, 1945)
Fritz Klein at his trial in 1945.
Klein was born in Feketehalom, Austria-Hungary (now Codlea in central Romania). He studied medicine and completed his military service in Romania, finishing his studies in Budapest after World War I. He lived as a doctor in Siebenbürgen(Transylvania), becoming a member of the Nazi Party very early. In May 1943 he joined the Waffen-SS and was posted to Yugoslavia.
On 15 December 1943, he arrived in Auschwitz concentration camp, where he at first served as a camp doctor in the women’s camp in Birkenau. Subsequently he worked as a camp doctor in the Gypsy camp. He also participated in numerous selections ("Selektionen") on the ramp. In December 1944 he was transferred to Neuengamme concentration camp, from where he was sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration campin January 1945.
When asked how he reconciled his actions with his ethical obligations as a physician, Klein famously stated:
Klein surrounded by bodies. The British Army liberating Bergen-Belsen forced German camp personnel to bury the corpses of prisoners.
A second Belsen trial was conducted at Luneberg from June 13–18, 1946 by a British Military Court.
On trial was Kazimierz Cegielski, a Polish national and former prisoner at Bergen-Belsen who, according to his testimony, had arrived in March 1944. Known as "der Große (Big) Kazimierz" (to differentiate him from another kapo with that name), he was charged with cruelty and murder.
Kapos were prisoner functionaries selected by the SS to supervise their fellow prisoners. Selected for their willingness to be brutal, they were initially selected from the ranks of criminal prisoners. Later on, political prisoners chosen and later on, prisoners from other groups.
Cegielski was accused of beating – sometimes killing – sick and weak prisoners with large wooden sticks or poles. While at Bergen-Belsen, he had an affair with another prisoner, Henny DeHaas, a Jewish woman from Amsterdam.
After the war, in 1946, he was arrested in Amsterdam, ostensibly looking for DeHaas so he could marry her. He was convicted on June 18, 1946 and sentenced to death by hanging. The day before his execution, he stated that his real name was Kasimir-Alexander Rydzewski. He was executed at Hameln Prison at 9:20 a.m. on October 11, 1946
Agnes Sassoon Remembers Bergen Belsen
"I Can Still Remember the Piles of Corpses"
Agnes Sassoon was pulled out of school in Budapest one day and sent on her journey through the Nazi concentration camp system. It ended in Bergen Belsen -- she arrived in an ambulance after being shot on the road from Dachau.
Agnes Sassoon was born in Czechoslovakia in 1933. After the war ended, she moved to Israel before moving to London in 1958 with her husband.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Sassoon, how did you come to be separated from your parents?
Sassoon: In October 1944 I was attending a Jewish school in Budapest which was housed in a synagogue. One day, as we came out after lessons, we saw lots of big trucks standing in front of the school. They belonged to the Arrow Cross Party, who were the Hungarian Nazis. The men ushered us on to the trucks, children on one, the young women, mothers and teachers onto another. And then all of a sudden a tall, beautiful woman, called Aranka, whom I didn’t know, took me by the hand and whispered to me that I should say I belonged to her. That’s how I ended up together with her in the adults’ truck. That was the last anyone ever heard of all the children on the other vehicle.
SPIEGEL: Were your parents told?
Sassoon: Of course they weren’t. We were forced to march for weeks. Sometimes we were transported in vehicles, other times we were put in cattle carts. It was terrible and there were no toilets. It was a miracle we didn’t all get typhus. It was freezing and I saw the old and the weak die right in front of my eyes. Aranka also started to look more and more wretched and one day we were separated from each other.
SPIEGEL: Can you remember arriving in Dachau?
Sassoon: Oh yes, yes. Even before entering the gates we saw a man who looked so miserable and starved that it is impossible to describe him. And there were these barking dogs everywhere, with men shouting “Go! Go! Go!” It was terrible. Oh, and then the whole entrance procedure began: we were disinfected and our heads were shaved. They put me in a big wooden tub filled with tepid water. The whole time the guards kept randomly hitting the prisoners. Somehow I found myself panicking and started screaming. I had only just turned 11 years-old so I didn’t understand what was going on. A tall pale and starved-looking boy with big eyes came up to and said: “You mustn’t scream. They will kill you.” So I went quiet. Later we became friends. His name was Alex. The guards just kept shouting the whole time. They behaved like animals.
SPIEGEL: Do you remember any Germans who showed any sympathy to what you were going through?
Sassoon: No. In fact quite the opposite. Once I was working in a pig stall in Bavaria. One day I was watching the chickens being fed and I quickly put a few bits of grain in my mouth. The farmer’s wife saw it and straight away told the soldiers. One soldier ripped my mouth open and really brutally tried to get the grain out.
SPIEGEL: That was during the winter of 1944-45. Where were you when the war ended?
Sassoon: In Bergen- Belsen. I don’t remember anymore how and when I was taken there. I think we had to walk the whole way. One day, as we were marching along in line, I suddenly keeled over with exhaustion. A soldier came up to me, seemingly really friendly, and said: “Come along, little one. Sit down and rest.” I had barely sat down on the side of the road for a minute and he shot me.
SPIEGEL: Shot you, just like that?
Sassoon: Yes. Maybe he thought I was too weak. But I just couldn’t go on any more. I passed out and only came to when the next group of marchers came by and discovered me. They were French prisoners of war. The soldier had shot me in the leg and I was bleeding. The French prisoners wanted to carry me, but at first the Germans wouldn’t allow it. Then they gave in and I was laid down in an ambulance and given emergency treatment. You can see the scar here. It was never really dealt with properly.
SPIEGEL: So they then brought you to Bergen-Belsen in an ambulance?
Sassoon: Yes. Although it is all very hazy in my memory, as I was suffering a lot of pain. I can still remember the piles of corpses, the stink and the smell of burning. Everything was in the process of falling apart.
SPIEGEL: How did the German prison guards act?
Sassoon: Brutally. One time I found a potato and wanted to bake it in the ashes of a fire. A female prison guard saw me and told me very kindly to put my hand nearer the fire so that I could warm myself. She was a very impressive. A tall, blue-eyed woman. I can still picture her beautiful white teeth. Suddenly she slammed her boot down on my small hand into the fire. My fingers were crushed and all the skin was burnt. A horrific pain shot through my body. People told me later that this must have been the infamous Irma Grese. I didn’t know women could be so cruel.
Interview conducted by Martin Doerry
Auschwitz Survivor Ernest W. Michel
"My Interview with Göring"
Holocaust survivor Ernest W. Michel went from writing death certificates at Auschwitz to reporting on the Nuremberg trials. There, he signed his articles with his Auschwitz prisoner number. And was invited to an interview with top Nazi Hermann Göring.
Ernest W. Michel worked as a reporter after surviving Auschwitz. His byline: 104995.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Michel, what are your impressions of the beginning of the World War II?
Michel: It was Sept. 2, 1939 and an SS man appeared in the doorway. He looked at me and asked: “Ernst Michel?” I nodded and he then said: “Be at the train station tomorrow morning at six o’clock.” I tried to ask a question, but he just said: “Shut up.” That evening was the last time I ever saw my parents. The next morning I was taken to my first camp, Fürstenwalde, to work on the potato harvest. Later I was taken to another camp in Paderborn.
SPIEGEL: What did you have to do there?
Michel: All kinds of things: I collected garbage, cleaned streets. We weren’t treated so badly there. At least not compared to how we were treated in Auschwitz later. We just had to work very hard. After about nine months I was then taken to Auschwitz in a cattle train. The journey lasted four days and five nights. I had never heard of Auschwitz before, so I didn’t know what being taken there meant. There was such a strange smell in the air.
SPIEGEL: You have said in the past that you don’t really like talking about Auschwitz.
Michel: Oh, you know, in a private conversation it isn’t so bad. But I really don’t like discussing it publicly. Auschwitz was quite simply hell. To this day I still don’t know how I managed to survive it.
SPIEGEL: Which part of Auschwitz did they bring you to?
Michel: To Monowitz, which is where they built Buna, the factory for making synthetic rubber. One day I was hit over the head by a member of the SS, the wound got infected and started to fester. So I was forced to go to the camp hospital, which normally you would avoid at all costs, as being there was incredibly dangerous. But I didn’t have any choice. While I was in the hospital a well-dressed gentleman turned up looking for people who had very good handwriting, which I did.
SPIEGEL: What did you have to do?
Michel: I had to write documents and fill out death certificates. Of course the reason for death we had to give was never “the gas chamber.” We wrote “physical weakness” or “heart failure” …
SPIEGEL: Although that was also responsible for killing many prisoners.
Michel: Of course. My best friend, Walter, died like that in the camp hospital right before my eyes. I knew him from Mannheim. Whenever I talk about Auschwitz today, it’s partly because I swore to myself that his suffering should never be forgotten.
SPIEGEL: After the war you covered the Nuremberg trials for a news agency. Did you ever let on to your readers that you yourself had been in Auschwitz?
Michel: Yes. The by-line which I used on my articles was “Special Correspondent Ernst Michel. Auschwitz number 104995.” I left it up to the newspapers to decide whether they wanted to use it or not. Some editors left it in, and of course others decided not to.
SPIEGEL: A reporter’s coverage should be as objective as possible, and free of personal emotions. Was that even possible for you?
Michel: It’s true that it was very, very difficult. But I did it. I had to. You know, they all sat just meters away from me: Göring, Hess, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Streicher. There were times when I wanted nothing more than to jump up and grab them all by the throat. I kept asking myself: How could you do this to me? What did my father, my mother or my friend Walter ever do to you? But then one day Göring’s lawyer suddenly came up to me during a trial recess, and said that Göring wanted to personally meet this Auschwitz prisoner, Ernst Michel, whose articles kept appearing in the paper.
SPIEGEL: Were you even allowed to interview one of the accused?
Michel: No, of course not. The lawyer had me promise that I would not write one line about this meeting. So we went to Göring’s cell and the door opened. Göring smiled, came up to me and wanted to shake my hand. At that moment I suddenly froze. I couldn’t move. I looked at his hand, his face, and then his hand again -- and then just turned round. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t speak to this man. Not one single word.
SPIEGEL: Did you later regret not having spoken to him?
Michel: No. It was a completely normal reaction. This man was the highest-ranking Nazi still alive. But I can still remember the astonished expression on Göring’s face when I walked out of the cell. A military policeman led me back outside. So that was my interview with Göring -- I bet no one’s told you a story like that before, have they?
Interview conducted by Martin Doerry
Lucille Eichengreen on Surviving the Holocaust
"What's a Crematorium? What's a Gas Chamber?"
Lucille Eichengreen was born in Hamburg in 1925 to a family with Polish roots. She was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust.
Lucille Eichengreen moved to California in 1949. She now frequently talks about her experiences during the Holocaust to schoolchildren and university students.
SPIEGEL: Mrs. Eichengreen, in 1941, along with your mother and your sister, you were deported and taken to the Lodz ghetto. What happened to your family there?
Eichengreen: My mother starved to death. She died on July 13, 1942. My sister Karin and I dug her grave with our own hands and buried her.
SPIEGEL: What happened to your sister?
Eichengreen: During the so-called resettlement program, she was taken to Chelmno and killed. I didn’t find that out until after the war. According to the rules of the ghetto’s administration, 12-year-old children were actually not old enough for resettlement. But then the Germans decided that the whole procedure was going too slowly, so they came into the ghetto and simply took the people they wanted. That was three months after my mother’s death.
SPIEGEL: Did you see her get transported away?
Eichengreen: Yes. She stood on the truck and kept looking at me until the truck was out of sight. I was the last person she had in her life.
SPIEGEL: In summer 1944 the ghetto in Lodz was liquidated. What happened to you?
Eichengreen: It was August 1944. We were taken to Auschwitz. To Birkenau.
SPIEGEL: Did you have any idea what to expect?
Eichengreen: No. At the beginning we didn’t know anything. Words like "gas chamber" and "crematorium" didn’t even exist. Pretty soon though people started whispering these words to each other. And we still didn’t understand them. We just asked each other: “What’s a crematorium? What’s a gas chamber?” After a few days in Birkenau we then found out that they were killing people. Gassing them and burning them. After all, we could smell it and see the smoke.
SPIEGEL: How long were you in Auschwitz?
Eichengreen: A few weeks.
SPIEGEL: Do you not know exactly?
Eichengreen: I didn’t have a watch or a diary or a calendar. I had absolutely nothing.
SPIEGEL: So you simply waited?
Eichengreen: Yes. Three times a day we had roll call. In the early morning we were given a small piece of bread and if we were lucky we would get some thin soup in the evening. There were 500 of us women in one small barrack.
SPIEGEL: What happened next?
Eichengreen: One day we were brought to Hamburg and put in the work camp Dessauer Ufer, a satellite camp of Neuengamme concentration camp. We slept on the floor of an empty storeroom and every morning SS guards marched us to work at the German shipyards Blohm & Voss.
SPIEGEL: To clear rubble?
Eichengreen: Yes. The work was tough, because it was winter -- it snowed and rained. We only had tattered clothing and something approaching a thin raincoat. It had a yellow stripe, which ran from the top to the bottom. We had shaved heads and it was really cold. All of us ended up with pneumonia and tuberculosis, and we just kept on working with bloody hands. In the end they brought us all to a big assembly camp, to Bergen Belsen, probably because the war was drawing to a close.
SPIEGEL: And that was when the camp had practically been abandoned to run itself, just a few weeks before liberation?
Eichengreen: Yes. There was hardly any food left. The dead lay on the paths and there were corpses in every barrack.
SPIEGEL: How do you deal with something like that? You were just 20 years old at the time.
Eichengreen: You notice it, you see it, you smell it, and then you look away. We knew that it was not possible to stay alive for long in Bergen Belsen.
SPIEGEL: When did you first notice that the war was about to come to an end?
Eichengreen: The first signal was that the SS guards in Bergen Belsen suddenly started wearing white armbands. But it wasn’t until later that we realized what this meant. We had already seen them wear black armbands sometimes to mourn for someone. But white armbands?
It was only when the tanks rolled down the main alleyway of the camp, and the British came out, that we realized that it was over. We were really happy for about a minute. But straightaway came the thought: Where is my family? Where are all the other families? My friend had lost her father and mother. I had lost my parents, my sister, my uncle, my aunt. Everyone. Then everyone just asked: “When can we have some water and something to eat?”
Unzer Sztyme (Our Voice)
The first issue of Unzer Sztyme (Our Voice), the organ of the Jewish Committee at Bergen-Belsen. Due to the unavailability of Hebrew type or a Yiddish typewriter, it had to be handwritten and then reproduced. July 12, 1945.
Bergen-Belsen Sick Camp
"The devastating effects of the miserable sanitary and hygienic conditions were in addition multiplied by the way in which the prisoners were housed. When sick transports from Sachsenhausen were brought to the second Prisoner's camp in early February (1945), they were put into barracks which had no beds, no chairs, no benches and no lighting.
They slept - in winter - on the bare floor, tightly squeezed together because up to 1500 men were crammed into some barracks. Only after two weeks and several moves did this group get into a block with beds, three-layered bedsteads of plain boards, where five men had to share one bed. In some of the overcrowded barracks frenzied people fought one another at night for a sleeping-place on the naked floor." Eberhard Kolb, Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945.
Three-tiered bunk beds in the barracks of Bergen-Belsen, after liberation
When Bergen-Belsen was first set up as a detention camp for exchange prisoners, it was not expected that it would be needed for very long. The camp was located far away from any of the armaments factories, since the prisoners were not expected to work in these factories. When it became clear that the prisoners would probably be there for the duration of the war, Himmler decided to use the camp for another function: In March 1944, Bergen-Belsen was slated to become a "Erholungslager" or recuperation camp for factory workers who were too sick or exhausted to work.
Part of the original Prison Camp was set aside for the recuperation camp. The first 1000 sick prisoners were brought from the factory in the Dora camp near Nordhausen. Most of them had tuberculosis and were not expected to recover. No effort was made to provide medical care for them. No doctor accompanied them. The barracks was not ready for them and they had to live for days without beds, blankets or hot food.
According to Eberhard Kolb, it is known that 154 invalids from the "Laura" V-2 factory in the Harz mountains arrived at the end of May 1944 and at the end of July 1944 another 200 invalids, mostly tuberculosis patients, arrived from the Sachsenhausen camp.
On August 3, 1944, there were 100 sick prisoners sent from the Neuengamme camp and in mid-August several sick prisoners arrived from two sub-camps of Dachau. From the Brabag labor detachment of the Buchenwald camp, 400 sick Hungarian prisoners arrived in December 1944. By January 1, 1945, a total of about 4,000 prisoners had been sent to the sick camp, but the average population of this camp was always under 2,000 because of the extremely high mortality rate.
According to Eberhard Kolb, the total number of deaths in Bergen-Belsen during the four months between April and July 1944 was 920, and 820 of these deaths occurred in the sick camp. In the summer of 1944, around 200 prisoners in the sick camp were injected with phenol (Abspritzen) by a prisoner, Karl Rothe, who had been given the job of "head nurse."
In his book "Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945", Eberhard Kolb describes the sick camp doctor as being very sadistic. He wrote that SS Lt. Dr. Jäger forced the sick prisoners to exercise and even to do long-distance running.
Bodies at Bergen-Belsen were burned in this oven
Rudolf Küstermeier was one of the few prisoners in the sick camp who survived. Because he was a member of the Social Democrats political party, he suffered 11 years of imprisonment by the Nazis. For 10 years, he was an inmate in a German prison after he was convicted on August 27, 1934 by the People's High Court (Volksgerichtshof) for illegal activity against the government. After he completed his sentence, he was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp because he was still considered to be a danger to the state.
In February 1945, he was brought to Bergen-Belsen to recuperate because he was sick. The sick camp was a section of the Prison Camp which was for concentration camp prisoners who were not privileged like the "exchange Jews." After the war, he wrote a report which was included in the book by Derrick Sington, "Belsen Uncovered." In 1946, Küstermeier became editor-in-chief of the Hamburg newspaper Die Welt; later he worked for many years for the German Press Agency as a correspondent in Israel.
The following is an excerpt from Küstermeier's report about what he experienced upon his arrival in the sick camp at Bergen-Belsen:
We entered the camp through deep puddles, with wet feet and trousers. For the first time we saw the assembly yard where we were to stand for so many hours day after day. We had to be counted which, as we knew already, was a difficult job. We had been standing for 30 hours, 80 or 100 of us crowded together, in the goods wagons we had traveled in. Then we had marched 6 kilometers. And now we were standing again. Slowly the sky grew overcast, it snowed and rained - but we were standing as before. I looked around for special accommodations for the sick. But all I saw was filth, water, rubbish and dark, miserable partially dilapidated huts.
Finally we were allowed to get into the huts. They were no different on the inside than on the outside. There were no beds, no chairs, no benches and no light. The windows were broken, and there were neither straw mattresses nor straw to lie on. All there was was the slimy floor and rain coming in through the roof. We were told that we would not get anything to eat for the next two or three days because the kitchens could not cope with the new arrivals.
We slept on the floor, packed like sardines. There was no room to turn over or to stretch out. In the middle of the night I woke up from a sharp pain in my stomach. Someone had stepped on it. Water was dripping from the roof, and some people were looking for a new place. They decided to lie down in the narrow passage next to the sleeping room but got wet there, too, since the wind whipped the rain in through the windows. And all these people were either ill or had just recovered from serious diseases. [...]
Sometimes individual prisoners or groups of prisoners tried to tidy and clean the place up spontaneously. But all these efforts failed and had to fail because the large majority of prisoners had already sunken too far. Perhaps nobody who has not lived through it can believe to what depths human beings can sink if they are forced to live without food, clothing, and adequate housing for long. There seems to be a certain point of degradation which cannot be crossed without the loss of all self-respect and morality.
The development begins slowly, but quickly picks up speed until all of a sudden you no longer recognize a man whom you had known to be charming, intelligent and cultivated and who has become inhuman and impersonal now. Among my most horrible memories will always be the thought of those men who had lost all character and all of their good qualities, who no longer knew how to live with their comrades, but who thought only of how they could save themselves at the expense of others, and who eventually became completely brutish...
The Bergen-Belsen Memorial
Built by the World Federation of Bergen-Belsen Survivors.
Prisoner Card-- Below are thumbnails of the front and back of a postcard from Bergen-Belsen postmarked in Berlin on December 14, 1944. The card is from a prisoner, Abel Herzberg, and is addressed to Switzerland. According to Lordahl (Vol. II, P. 82), this card was used in connection with the Gestapo's Briefaktion (see discussion at Auschwitz-Birkenau). All known cards of this type were sent to Sweden or Switzerland and bear a special cachet indicating return mail through the Association of Jews in Berlin. All these cards were cancelled in Berlin.
Displaced Persons-- The first is an envelope to Tel Aviv from an inmate at the camp maintained at Bergen Belsen by the United Nations Relief Administration after the end of the war.
The History of Bergen Belsen
These pictures were posted on a wall at Bergen Belsen half a century ago. They show the rise of the death toll during the closing months and days of the war, as well as the chronological history of the camp.
The following is a translation of the information on the pictures above.
From 1940-1943. The change and expansion of an existing ‘Baracken’ compound into a POW camp (Stalag 311) was made in preparation for Russian POWs in the summer of 1941.Mass-dying ocurred during a ‘Fleckfiber’ (spot fever) epidemic.
In April 1943 the camp was turned over to the SS and changed into ‘Aufenthaltslager Bergen-Belsen’ (a holding facility) for the encampment of several thousand Jews who, if possible, were to be exchanged for Germans held by the Allies.
Since March of 1944 the camp was used to shelter, in a separate compound, inmates from different Concentration Camps who had become unable to work.
In Oct/Nov 1944 a temporary expansion of one part of the camp was made for the arrival of 8,000 women from Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In Dec. 1944 the completion of the change-over of Bergen-Belsen into a concentration camp was made. SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer, previously at Auschwitz-Birkenau, became the new camp commander. The number of inmates in the camp on December 1st, 1944 was 15,257.
Since January 1945 there were numerous arrivals of rail transports from concentration camps near the (eastern) front lines. It was the start of the Infernos. Intolerably overcrowded conditions at the camp existed, resulting in hunger and epidemics and very high death rates.
DateNumber of inmates:Time period:Number of deaths:
Feb 1st 1945... 22,000...
in February 1945... 7,000...
March 1st ....41,520
in March 18,168..... April 1st 43,042...... half of April 9,000
On April 15th about 60,000 inmates were at Bergen-Belsen - four times the number the camp was able to accomodate.
On April 15th 1945 British troops arrived. Inspite of large efforts to help the survivors, about another 9,000 inmates succumbed and by the end of June of 1945 another 4,000 had died.
The total number of deaths at Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945 was about 50,000.
The graphic page dramatically shows the progressive death rate at Bergen-Belsen during the closing months and days of the war:
Until December 1944 a total of 360 deaths had been recorded during the entire existence of the camp.
During January 1945 a total of 800 to 1,000 deaths ocurred
During February 1945 deaths totaled between 6,000 and 7,000
During March 1945 the death rate rose to 18,168
During April 1945 another 18,356 inmates had died.
To put this horror story into perspective you have to view it as part of a time-line. By the time British terrorist troops arrived on April 15, 1945, Hitler was about to commit suicide, the fronts were collapsing, Dresden was burned to cinders, together with its inhabitants, not to mention all the refugees who had fled from the advancing Russian army into the city of Dresden.
EVIDENCE FOR THE DEFENDANT JUANA BORMANN
sworn, examined by Major MUNRO -
I am a German, single, born on 10th September, 1893, in Birkenfelde, East Prussia. I joined the S.S. as a civilian employee on 1st March, 1938, because I could earn more money, and I worked in the kitchen at first. I arrived at Auschwitz from Ravensbrück on 15th May, 1943, and went to Birkenau.
When I arrived I worked for three weeks on the Kommando which went outside the camp, called Kommando Babetz, and then took up duties inside the camp at Birkenau until the end of December, 1943. After that I went to a detachment belonging to Birkenau named Budy, about an hour's journey from the camp.
It has been said that while you were at Birkenau you took an active part in gas chamber selections. Is that true? -
No, I never have been present at these selections. I had to be present at morning roll-call and night roll-call, but at nothing else.
A large number of witnesses have said that they remember seeing you with a dog. Did you have a dog? -
Yes, I brought him with me. I gave him to Sturmbannführer Hartjenstein at the beginning of June. He wanted to take him when he went hunting, and I got him back about the beginning of March, 1944, when the dog became ill.
Did you make this dog attack the internees? -
The witnesses Szafran and Wohlgruth both said that you made your dog attack a woman, and that you boasted to a passing S.S. man of what you had done? -
The prisoners alleged that, but it is not true. I never had a wolf - hound. I never urged the dog to attack prisoners, and I must add that at Birkenau I never had the dog.
In her deposition Mrs. Vera Fischer said that you used to be in charge of women prisoners outside the camp and that you had a large dog that you used to set on them if they became weak and unable to work properly, that many of them were taken to hospital and died of blood poisoning and many others were sent to Block 25, which always meant going to the gas chamber. What have you got to say about that? -
It is not true. I never went with Kommandos outside the camp, I was always working inside.
Helena Kopper in her deposition stated that you were the worst hated person in the camp, that you were in charge of the clothing store and always had a large dog with you which you set on the prisoners. She said that once she saw you approach a female prisoner, take something out of her pocket, then, clasping her by the hair, you threw her to the ground, and that while she was lying on the ground you let the dog go and bite her so severely that she was a mass of blood. She said that after a doctor had examined the woman there was no movement from the body, and prisoners were instructed to take her on a stretcher to Block 25. She also said that on another occasion you set your dog on her, which bit her so that she had to be in hospital for six weeks. Are these statements true? -
No, I was never in charge of the clothing stores, and in 1944 I was not at Birkenau.
In the deposition of Kelisek she says that in the summer of 1944 she was one of a Strafkommando of 70 women whose punishment was to stand on the same spot all day and strike the ground with a pick. She says that one day you were in charge and, not being satisfied with the work of a group of about ten girls, you set your dog on the group so that it bit first her and then her friend who was standing next to her. The latter was so badly bitten that she had to be taken to hospital where, after about a fortnight, she died. Did you do what this statement says you did? -
I can only repeat that in the summer of 1944 I had never been in Birkenau, and that I never went with Kommandos outside the camp.
Dora Silberberg in her deposition says that she was working with a working party outside the camp and that a friend of hers felt very sick and could not walk to the working site, so that she had to be assisted, and when she got there she had to sit down because she was so weak. She says that she told you that this friend of hers was too ill to work and that you hit her in the face, knocking out two of her teeth, and that you ordered the dog to attack the girl, who was sitting on the ground. When they went back to camp four girls had to carry this bitten girl who was taken to the hospital, and later she died. Is all that true? -
Can you suggest any reason or explanation why these witnesses should give such evidence? - I do not know.
Were you the only Aufseherin in Birkenau with a dog? -
No, there were several Aufseherinnen who had black dogs. My dog was not black. Two Aufseherinnen named Kuck and Westphal had officially trained dogs. My dog was my own, not an official dog, and I was not allowed to set him on prisoners. If I had done so I would have received severe punishment.
What did these Aufseherinnen look like? -
Kuck was very much like me and we were often mistaken one for the other as I heard later on from prisoners. Westphal was also dark, but she was taller than me.
The witnesses Rogenwayg and Sunschein said you beat people frequently. Is that right? -
Did you ever hit girls? -
Yes, when they did not obey orders or do what they were told to do, then I hit their faces or boxed their ears, but never in such a way that I knocked their teeth out.
It has been said that you administered savage and brutal treatment to half-starved internees and that you used to beat women with a rubber truncheon. Is that true? -
No, I did not even know what a rubber truncheon was until in prison in Celle, when I saw one for the first time in the hands of a British soldier.
Siwidowa says in her deposition that you beat many women prisoners for wearing good clothes, that you stripped women prisoners and made them do strenuous exercises. Is that true? -
I may have taken their clothes away because they tried to get them out of the camp and sell them to the civilian population, but I certainly did not beat them and I had no right to make them do sport.
Did you consider it necessary sometimes to box the ears of girls? -
If they did not obey orders or if they repeatedly did things that wereforbidden. It was very difficult to control them. Birkenau was a very large camp.
Did you eventually go to Belsen? -
Yes, in the middle of February, 1945; I was given the job of looking after the pig - sty in between the men 's compounds. I only came in contact with my own 18 women prisoners whom I had all the time I was there.
Makar in his deposition says that he saw you on two occasions beating women prisoners for stealing vegetables and clothes. Is that true? -
Did you ever try to leave the S.S.? -
Yes, in 1943 I sent a letter to our Oberaufseherin, stating that I wanted to leave the S.S. She sent the letter on, and I received it back with the notice that permission was not granted. Later on a factory wanted to have my assistance and they wrote me a letter telling me that I should go, but it was not permitted.
Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE -
Were you very much worse than all the other Aufseherinnen in your treatment of the internees?- I do not know; I only wanted to keep order.
Did the other Aufseherinnen strike internees who did not do as they were told? - I have never seen other Aufseherinnen slapping or striking prisoners.
You are a very small woman, are you not? -
Did you say that all the time you were at Birkenau you had not got this dog with you ? -
No, I gave it to Hartjenstein.
Can you think why Hoessler and all the witnesses who have mentioned your name think of you as a small woman with a very big dog? -
Hoessler knows me from Budy, where I had my dog. Where the others got the idea I do not know.
Did the other two women you mentioned who had dogs, set them on to internees? -
I have never seen it.
What is the Kommando Babetz you told us about? -
That was a camp for working Kommandos, and the prisoners stayed there. It was about an hour's walk from Birkenau.
What were the prisoners there employed on? -
It was a large estate, and the prisoners used to work in the fields there, but I did not accompany them when they went out because they had their own S.S. guards. I only stayed in the block.
What was your work in Birkenau itself when you came into the camp? -
I had to control the blocks, to see the beds were made all right, and if everything was clean, and to keep order. I was the only Aufseherin doing that.
How is it then that you never attended selections? -
I did not have time to attend them, and I did not like the idea of attending them.
Did you see Hoessler on quite a lot of selections? -
Did you never see any selections? - No.
Did you never see any transports arriving in the camp? -
In my time transports arrived further away from the camp. The only people coming into the camp were people walking back from their work.
Did you never see any parties come to the crematorium? -
The crematorium was only just outside the Lager you were working in. Were people not regularly being taken down either in lorries or marching down that main road to the crematorium? -
I have seen trucks on the road, but I did not know where they went.
As the working parties came in was it your duty to see that the women did not stand about but got into their block? -
Yes. The women had a certain time that they were off duty and they could walk about, but when they had to go into the blocks it was my duty to see that they did so.
Was it not on one of these occasions when a working party had just come back that you set your dog on to the woman that both Szafran and Wohlgruth have talked about? -
I repeatedly said that I did not have my dog in Birkenau.
Before you joined the S. S. what was your employment at the mission you worked in? -
It was a lunatic asylum and I was looking after the sick there. I was paid 15 to 20 marks a month.
What were you paid by the S.S. when you joined? -
150 to 190 marks per month.
Where did you go first when you joined the S.S.? -
To Lichtenburg, Saxony, where I worked in the kitchen. I stayed there from 1938 until May, 1939, when the whole camp was evacuated to Ravensbrück I stayed in Ravensbrück until 1943, where I worked one year in the kitchen, one year on outside Kommandos, and then on the estate of Obergruppenführer Pohl.
When did you acquire your dog? -
In June, 1942 I bought it when working on Pohl's estate.
Were you supervising working parties on that estate? -
Yes, there was a squad of 150 prisoners there.
Is that not where you first trained your dog to attack prisoners? -
It was my private dog and I had no permission to train him for that purpose. I love dogs and that is the reason why I had him. He was very obedient.
Then if he did attack a woman there would be no question of him doing it without orders? -
He never did that.
There are no less than five different occasions testified on which your dog has been alleged to have attacked different women on your orders. Are all these quite untrue? -
It is not true.
You talked about going gardening and never coming back to Birkenau. As a matter of fact it was an outside Kommando of Birkenau, within half an hour's walk, and persons were regularly transferred from one to another, were they not? -
No, it was a proper standing detachment of Birkenau.
Where did the prisoners come from and where did they return to? -
They came from Birkenau. During the whole time I was there there were no changes.
Had you got your dog with you there? -
Was not your dog in its behaviour a byword in the camp? -
The prisoners played about with my dog.
Herta Ehlert, accused No. 8, says in her statement : "From my own knowledge of Johanna Bormann and from working with her I believe that the stories about her brutality to prisoners are true, although I have not myself witnessed it. I have often seen the dog which she had and heard she used to let it loose on prisoners. Although I have not seen it I can well believe it to be true." What do you say about that? -
It is a lie.
What happened to your pigs at Belsen when the camp was liberated? -
There were 52 pigs. I have heard that the prisoners took those pigs and slaughtered them during the night, about the 14th or 15th April.
What were you feeding the pigs on? -
Swill of potatoes and turnips.
And that was whilst the prisoners were starving? -
During the time I was there that was what we got for them.
Re-examined by Major MUNRO -
Did you have your dog in Belsen when the British troops arrived? -
Was it taken from you? -
No, I did not even know that I was going to be arrested. I left the dog in my room.
By the JUDGE ADVOCATE -
Have you ever been shown a photograph of Aufseherin Kuck? -
What blocks were you concerned with in Birkenau? -
With all blocks.
What duties was Kuck performing at this time? -
She was working with the Kommandos.
Did you wear uniform? -
Yes, the uniform which I am wearing now.
Did Kuck wear similar uniform? -
We all had the same uniform.
When you say Kuck was like you, do you mean in your figure or your face, or both? -
We were of the same size. Whether she was like me in her face I cannot say. She was younger than me, in the middle or late 30's.
Is the only similarity between you and she that you were both small women? -
Yes, about the faces I cannot say.
Has a prisoner ever addressed remarks to you obviously mistaking you for Kuck at any time? -
Was Kuck at Birkenau during the period you were there? -
We have seen each other several times.
Was this woman in a detachment which was static and outside Birkenau at this time? -
So normally she would not have been at Birkenau? -
For a time we were working together, and for a time she was working at a detachment outside of Birkenau.
OPENING SPEECH FOR THE DEFENDANTS GRESE, LOTHE, LOHBAUER AND KLIPPEL
Twenty-sixth Day-Tuesday, 16th October, 1945
OPENING SPEECH FOR THE DEFENDANTS GRESE, LOTHE, LOHBAUER AND KLIPPEL
Major CRANFIELD -
May it please the Court. Before I outline the defence of my accused, I want to make some observations on the circumstances from which the charges arise. Whatever our personal views may be on concentration camps, they were, under German law, prisons, and the persons therein were legally imprisoned in them.
The decision of the German Government, which was binding on the accused, was that it was necessary for her security that these people should be detained. Every man is deemed to know the law; he cannot deny knowledge of it, but the law which he cannot deny is his own law, his domestic law, and the accused cannot be expected to have judged their own Government by some international legal standard.
During the war the British Government detained many people, both British subjects and foreigners, under what is popularly known as Rule 18 (b), in violation of the principles of habeas corpus, without trial, and at the absolute discretion of the Government. The accused must be judged here as the warders and the wardresses in a properly constituted legal prison in which the witnesses for the Prosecution and others were imprisoned, and all political aspects of the matter must be ignored altogether.
My next point is that in the same way as this is a Court trying alleged crimes by the nationals of one state against the nationals of another and applying International Law, so to the matters in issue the Court must apply an international standard of conduct. That applies in particular to the allegations made here of cruelty and ill-treatment.
For example, in England a man who organises a bull-fight will very soon find himself in conflict with the law, but to suggest that this is against the usages of humanity, or a crime against International Law, is in my submission obviously absurd. In England if warders in a prison carried truncheons or sticks with which they regularly controlled the prisoners, then it might well be said that the onus was on them to justify it. But in my submission that does not automatically follow in an international case, and it is for the Court to ascertain what is a reasonable standard in these matters.
During this war some of us have had an opportunity of observing the peoples of other countries and how they behaved, and it has been obvious to us that the standard in these matters which prevail in England do not prevail in certain other countries. The whole question of corporal punishment is as a rule not very much mentioned in England, but just before the war, through the appointment of a departmental committee and its report, and the preparation of the Criminal justice Bill, these matters were brought to the public notice and a number of books were published on the subject.
My argument is that to throw up one's hands in disgust at corporal punishment in prison, even for women, is not the proper course for a judicial body to take. The Court must consider what was reasonable conduct of the people concerned in the circumstances. These things are not unknown, they have taken place in other countries, civilised countries, and they have taken place in recent times. In my submission the Court must consider the allegations of cruelty and ill-treatment in the light of what is standard throughout Europe on those points, and not judge them by the British standard.
Something has been said in this case by the Prosecution of the sanitary conditions in these camps, and again I say it is dangerous to apply the British standard. Brigadier Glyn Hughes has said there was no shame or privacy in Belsen. In my submission privacy would not be understood by a large number of the inmates of these camps. It must not be forgotten that even the Wehrmacht, the cream of the German nation, rarely dug latrines in the field. All these things must be judged not by the British standard, but by the general level in all countries.
It seems to me not improbable that it will be said on behalf of the Prosecution that whatever the accused were told to do by their Government, they should have known that that was a crime against humanity, and I answer that by saying that the accused can only judge what is a crime against humanity by their own environment and by what goes on around them, what their standards are and those of the neighbouring countries. What is alleged to have been done in these concentration camps was to the accused nothing else than common form in Europe.
The live witnesses for the Prosecution who have come here fall into three classes. First, there are the British officers who have told us of the conditions as they found them when they arrived at Belsen, and the conclusions and inferences which they drew from what they were told and saw. But that surely pales into insignificance when it is put beside the evidence of Le Druillenec and Dr. Fritz Leo, inmates of the camp.
I put these two witnesses and Dr. Bendel into class 2, and I accept what they said. Le Druillenec and Leo were demonstrably honest, good witnesses, but they failed entirely to make any specific allegation against my accused or against any other accused, although they had equal provocation with everybody else, and, in the case of Dr. Leo, as much opportunity as the other Prosecution witnesses.
The third class of Prosecution witnesses was the procession of young women and the occasional Polish youth whom you have seen in the box. We all realise that they had been imprisoned for a long time, in a way in which we consider unjust, and under deplorable conditions, but this is a Court of justice, not a Court of sentiment.
Can the same reliance be put on their evidence? In my submission the answer is No, and I shall ask the Court to treat it as exaggerated and unreliable. The Nazis have aroused racial passion all over the earth, and I do not think it is unnatural or surprising that those young Jewesses should be vindictive towards their former warders, or to seek to avenge themselves upon them.
It is part of my case that the documentary evidence which has been put before you by the Prosecution is wholly unreliable, and I shall seek to prove that by putting in the affidavits of the witnesses who came here in person, and inviting you to compare what they have said there with what they have said in the witness box.
Several of the witnesses have failed in the witness box to identify the accused against whom they have made allegations in their affidavits. Some of the witnesses suggested that their mistakes were due to mistranslations, but at the same time we have the Prosecution's evidence that the interpreters employed were first-class; indeed one of them was described as good enough for the High Court. The Prosecution cannot have it both ways - either the affidavits and the documentary evidence are reliable, or the witnesses the Prosecution have brought here are lying.
The Prosecution has relied on the proposition that all the accused were concerned together in the offences charged, so that if they can prove one murder or one flogging all the accused must be convicted of it. Section 8 (2) of the Royal Warrant relates only to what can be adduced in evidence, and it expressly states that such evidence may be received as prima facie evidence on the responsibility of the individual. In other words, if it is rebutted, before the Court can accept that responsibility further evidence such as would be normally admissible must be produced. The Royal Warrant can, of course, only regularise procedure. It cannot alter the law under which these people must be charged and under which their guilt must be proved by the Prosecution.
The Prosecuting Officer, opening this theory of joint responsibility, said: "If I prove a man was at Belsen, then he is responsible for all that went on at Belsen." Suppose a man joined the staff of Belsen Camp on the night Of 14th - 15th April, was told to bed down and report in the morning. In the morning the British arrived and he was charged with the murder of 13000 people found in the camp. In my view, such a proposition is obviously wrong, but if the absolute rule put forward by the Prosecution is not accepted then what is to be the criterion?
In my submission evidence must be produced to show that the accused planned together, or were so closely associated that the inference of joint enterprise can properly be made. Any other proposition would go against the fundamental principle of guilty intent and guilty mind. That applies to the Auschwitz charge. With regard to Belsen, it is my case that it is for the Court to decide whether the appalling conditions which were found there were the concerted act of anyone at all, much less the accused in the dock.
Three of my accused are alleged to have sent inmates to the gas chamber at Auschwitz. Dr. Klein said that the selections were made by doctors exclusively. Why should he tell an untruth with regard to that matter when it amounts to assuming responsibility himself? Other witnesses have confirmed that doctors were always present and have said that the parades were all formed up in the same way, what whatever purpose they were for.
Grese will tell you that she did not know before a parade took place what it was for. She kept a strength book and after a selection parade she was told where they were going and she entered in her book the number and the destination. In a case where they went to Block 25, she was told to enter "Sonderbehandlung " - special treatment. She will tell you that she was told by the prisoners that this meant death, but she will also tell you that from her superiors she was told nothing.
I am not suggesting that my accused at Auschwitz did not know there was a gas chamber. They did. I am not suggesting that they did not know people disappeared in circumstances which made it extremely probable that they had been killed. They knew that. What I do say is that before the parade took place, they did not know what it was for, and they had no part whatever in deciding who was to be selected or in selecting anybody themselves.
It seems to me that as Grese was the equivalent of a non - commissioned officer in charge of the parade, the explanation of why the Prosecution witnesses have come here and said she made selections for the gas chamber is quite simple.
Secondly, Grese is charged with specific murders. There are three of them alleged and the accusations all appear in the affidavits. One witness, Szafran, made the allegation of the shooting of two girls in her re-examination. As this fact came out in re-examination, in my submission it shows that the Prosecutor obviously did not know what the witness was going to say in answer to a somewhat general question, and therefore in my view an allegation of that sort is of very little use.
With regard to the other killings, you will hear from Grese in the box what she has to say. You will not see her accusers in the witness box, and it is for the Court to decide whether they can accept the evidence of this kind in a charge of murder.
Thirdly, there are allegations of ill-treatment by beatings and kickings and it is not my case that beatings did not take place at Auschwitz, or that Grese, Lohbauer and Lothe did not strike internees. They will all tell you that they did. The Prosecution witnesses both orally and in their affidavits gave accounts which in my submission are grossly exaggerated.
They came here and spoke glibly of the beating to death of prisoners, of persons being removed to hospital in a senseless or dying condition, but when a witness was asked as to her own experiences you got nothing of this sort, and in many cases what was once called a beating resolved itself into a box on the ear, a cuff or two strokes with a light cane. Grese will tell you that at Auschwitz she carried a walking-stick and for a short time one of those whips which were made in the weaving factory in the camp, but that at Belsen she carried nothing at all.
She will tell you how the internees behaved and that as one amongst seven Aufseherinnen she had a camp of between twenty and thirty thousand women to control, all of them Hungarian Jewesses. If their food was to be properly distributed and if any kind of order was to be maintained, some sort of force had to be used. She will tell you that she had a stick and she will not deny that when surrounded by a crowd she would lay about her with that stick. What she will deny is that she ever deliberately beat an internee individually with a stick, and that at no time did she carry a rubber truncheon.
In my submission what the evidence of the Prosecution witnesses reveals is a general standard of corporal punishment rather than deliberate and excessive cruelty. Grese will tell you that beatings in the proper sense of the word were not confined to the prisoners, and she will confirm the flogging of an S.S. woman as a punishment of which we have heard.
Lothe and Lohbauer, who were prisoners employed in positions of some authority, will tell you of the punishments they received. The accused received or were liable to similar punishment, and the use of a reasonable amount of force and a reasonable weapon for punishment was justified; and I shall ask the Court only to convict of ill-treatment as charged if they are satisfied that the accused exceeded what was required, and that their brutality was wanton and excessive.
Some of the 60 tables, each staffed by two German doctors and two German nurses, at which the sick were washed and..deloused
Sara Moses says she survived Nazi concentration camps by using her vivid imagination and because of the generosity of a female Nazi guard.
Now 73, Moses was a 6-year-old Jewish girl when she was separated from her family and taken from her home in Poland in 1944.
"Out of necessity, I developed a rich, strong, imaginary world that helped me to survive the horrors that were to come," Moses said Friday at the Community School in Sun Valley. "I used what I had. I had my hands. I imagined that the fingers on my hand had faces. I gave each one of them names. My fingers became my family."
Moses is one of few children who survived the horrors of the concentration camps. She now lives in St. Louis, Mo. Her son Jon Moses lives in Hailey. She spoke to Community School middle and high school students at the invitation of eighth-grader Garrett Rawlings, who became acquainted with Moses while working on a "tolerance project" as a seventh-grader.
Moses now speaks throughout the United States about the Holocaust. She said she is willing to revisit the horrors of her childhood because "evil-doers grow bigger and stronger when they are surrounded by people who say nothing."
"The reason I speak, why I go back to those times is so that lessons of the Holocaust, not just the Holocaust, but the lessons of the most horrible genocide in history will not be repeated," she said. "If we don't learn from the past, it will be repeated."
Moses was only a 1-year-old child when Germany invaded and conquered Poland in 1939. She and her family were forced into the Jewish ghetto in her hometown of Piotrkow. Her mother was taken and killed in a gas chamber when Moses was 5. At the age of 6, she and the rest of her family were rounded up by the Germans. She was separated from her father and other male members of her family and taken first to the Ravensbruck concentration camp near Furstenberg, Germany, and later to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Saxony.
She was found barely alive when British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen in April 1945.
An estimated 3,600 women worked as guards in German concentration camps throughout the Third Reich. About 60 of them stood trial for war crimes after the war and 21 were found guilty and executed.
The fate of the Nazi guard who helped Moses is unknown, but Moses said she would not likely have survived without the extra food the woman gave her.
Moses said she met the guard at Ravensbruck. She said the guard "looked her up and down" and finally told her that she looked remarkably like her own daughter. Disease at Ravensbruck was killing most of the children.
"She was bringing me her food when she could," Moses said. "Looking back, I believe that this little food she gave me, gave me the chance to survive, a chance that the other children didn't get. The very first to die were the youngest children."
Moses told stories about witnessing "brutal violence against my people" and about her earliest memories of "living in fear."
"I remember walking in a line of people, carrying a little bundle with Nazi guards watching us on either side with guns."
She described a train ride in a cattle car: "It seems like we were on the floor of that train for days, without food and water. Many people died."
At Bergen-Belsen, Moses said, she remembers "seeing a skeletal person living on the floor across from me chewing on a dry bone—I was envious, I wanted that bone."
Thousands died at Bergen-Belsen, either in the gas chambers or from diseases that ravaged the concentration camp.
"We had to lie on the floor among the dead and dying bodies," she said. "This was the lowest point of my life."
When the British came, "they found thousands and thousands of dead, grotesque bodies. This is where they found me. The very first English word I ever heard was 'a baby, a baby.' I was a skeleton on the floor, unable to move, in critical condition. Only 7, and so small they thought I was a baby.
"One of the soldiers who saved me came to visit me every day in the hospital. He was so awed by this baby that had survived."
In one visit, Moses said, the soldier brought her a doll, drawing markers and some candy.
"This was the best gift I ever had," she said.
Moses was later reunited with her father, who also survived, and in 1949 they immigrated to the United States.
Moses said she suffered from depression and "night terrors" for some time after being rescued, and initially had trouble in school because she would still escape into her imaginary world.
Nonetheless, she said that without her imagination, she doubts she would have survived.
"My thoughts were occupied by my well-developed imaginary world that I had created," she said. "Sometimes I look at my fingers even today, and I see some of those old familiar personalities."
Terry Smith: email@example.com
‘My Mother Saved Hundreds at Bergen-Belsen’
Sunday, May 13, 1945, five days after the end of WW II in Europe, was Mother’s Day in the US.
At Bergen-Belsen in Germany, however, there was nothing for my mother to celebrate on that day as she took part in the monumental medical and humanitarian effort to save as many of that Nazi concentration camp’s critically ill survivors as possible.
When British troops entered Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945, they discovered, in the words of Lt. Col. Mervyn Gonin who commanded the 11th Light Field Ambulance unit, “at least 20,000 sick suffering from the most virulent diseases known to man, all of whom required urgent hospital treatment and 30,000 men and women who might die if they were not treated but who certainly would die if they were not fed and removed from the horror camp.
“What we had not got was nurses, doctors, beds, bedding, clothes, drugs, dressings, thermometers, bedpans or any of the essentials of medical treatment and worst of all no common language.”
My mother, then Dr. Hadassah, or Ada, Bimko — a dentist from Sosnowiec, Poland, who had studied medicine at the University of Nancy in France — organized and headed a team of doctors and nurses from among the survivors who worked for weeks on end alongside the British military doctors.
Gonin described her as “the bravest woman I have ever known, who worked miracles of care, kindness and healing with the help of no medicines but the voice and discipline of a Regimental Sergeant Major of the guards.”
To place my mother’s role in the post-liberation drama of Belsen (described in detail in Ben Shephard’s After Daybreak, the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen, 1945) in the proper historical context, one must go back to the night of Aug. 3-4, 1943, when, upon her arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau, my grandparents, my mother’s first husband and her 5 1/2-year-old son — my brother — were immediately murdered in one of the death camp’s gas chambers.
“Man,” wrote Jean-Paul Sartre, “is not only that which he conceives himself to be, but that which he wills himself to be.” A human being, he went on, “is nothing other than his own project. He exists only to the extent that he realizes himself; therefore he is nothing more than the sum of his actions, nothing more than his life.”
Devastated by the loss of her family, my mother — like most of her fellow inmates and as the Germans intended — felt utterly disoriented, humiliated and deprived of her sense of self.
She was forced to wear prison clothes, her head was shaved and her name was replaced with the number — 52406 — tattooed on her arm.
“I always felt humiliated and ashamed,” she wrote in her memoirs. “I hated sleeping in my clothes. I was ashamed to admit that I was hungry. I was ashamed to go to the bathroom and to be exposed half naked in front of so many other women. I was ashamed of the way I looked. I seldom spoke.”
But then a cathartic, almost surreal event occurred.
“One morning, after the roll call, a torrential rain came down,” she recalled.
“We wanted to return to the barracks but instead were forced by the SS women to sit there for hours. As the rain fell down over our bodies, I realized that we were utterly helpless. Tears came to my eyes, the first ones since my arrival. When they mixed with the rain and I sat there sobbing, I found myself again.”
Because of her medical training the notorious Joseph Mengele, Birkenau’s chief medical officer, assigned my mother in October, 1943 to work as a doctor in the camp’s infirmary.
There she was able to save the lives of fellow inmates by performing rudimentary surgeries for them, camouflaging their wounds and sending them out of the barracks on work detail in advance of selections.
IN November, 1944, Mengele sent my mother and eight other Jewish inmates of Birkenau as a medical team to Bergen-Belsen in Germany. Again, the human potential for good in the face of evil manifested itself.
Beginning with 49 Dutch children in December, 1944, my mother organized what became known as a Kinderheim, a children’s home, within the concentration camp.
Hela Los Jafe, another prisoner at Bergen-Belsen, subsequently remembered how “Ada walked from block to block, found the children, took them, lived with them, and took care of them.”
Among them were children from Poland, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. Some had been brought to Belsen from Buchenwald, others from Theresienstadt.
Together with a group of other women inmates, my mother kept 149 Jewish children alive at Bergen-Belsen throughout the bitter winter and early spring of 1945.
According to Hela Jafe, “The children were very small and sick, and we had to wash them, clothe them, calm them and feed them . . . Most of them were sick with terrible indigestion, dysentery and diarrhea, and just lay on the bunks . . . There was little food, but somehow Ada managed to get some special food and white bread from the Germans . . . Later, there was typhus.”
She went on: “Ada was the one who could get injections, chocolate, pills and vitamins. I don’t know how she did it. Although most of the children were sick, thanks to Ada nearly all of them survived.”
Where my mother found the strength to save others rather than focusing on her own survival has always been a profound mystery to me.
Perhaps her devotion to the children at Bergen-Belsen, and then in the weeks following the liberation to the camp’s thousands of critically ill survivors, was her way of coping with her inability to protect her own child.
“In the middle of winter,” observed Albert Camus, “I found out at last that there was within me an invincible summer.”
Menachem Z. Rosensaft is the vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. He is an adjunct professor of law at Cornell law school and a distinguished visiting lecturer at the Syracuse University law school.
Esther Debora Reiss-Mossel
Esther Debora Reiss-Mossel, the youngest child of Josef and Elsa, was born in 1938 in Heiloo, Holland to a well-known Zionist family. In 1942, her parents Josef and Elsa entrusted her to their nanny’s family, but Esther refused to stay and returned home.
During the razzia (raid) of 26 May 1943 the family was sent to the Westerbork transit camp. After being hospitalized for many weeks with a number of childhood diseases, Esther went to the camp nursery, where she recalls learning Jewish and Zionist songs. On 19 January 1944, the family of five – including Esther’s brother Benjamin (Ben) and sister Yetty (Yael) – was sent to Bergen-Belsen, which her father believed was a stop on the way to Eretz Israel.
When her parents caught typhus, Esther was sent to an orphanage set up by Henny and Yehoshua Birnbaum. Esther remembers the eve of Passover 1945, as her father lay dying, when the Birnbaums baked matza in honor of the Festival of Freedom.
In April 1945, some 2,500 prisoners were forced onto what later became known as “the lost train.” Elsa was left behind at Bergen-Belsen, where she died. For weeks, the train traveled back and forth in an attempt to reach Theresienstadt, caught in the crossfire between German and Red Army forces. Close to one quarter of the passengers died during the journey.
Early in the morning of 23 April they heard a Russian soldier shout, “Comrades – freedom!” The train was finally liberated next to a destroyed bridge over the Elster River near Troebitz, some 20 km. from Leipzig.
In Troebitz, Tzadok and Chana Mossel adopted Josef’s children, and the enlarged family returned to Amsterdam in August. In the summer of 1950 Esther’s parents’ dream was realized when she immigrated with Chana and Tzadok to Israel.
Today, Esther is active in commemorating Jews who saved others during the war, as well as saving the forests and hills of Judea.
Esther was married to the late architect Elimelech Reiss, who helped plan Yad Vashem’s Children’s Memorial. She has three daughters and five grandchildren.
Sign erected by the British liberators outside Bergen-Belsen. They burned the camp down in May 1945 while still combating a raging typhus epidemic. Photo circa 1945: Unrestricted access.
Hugh Llewellyn Glyn Hughes
25 July 1892 – 24 November 1973
(25 July 1892 – 24 November 1973)
Was a British military officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps and later medical administrator, educationalist and sports administrator. Hughes served in both the First and Second World War and is notable for his role in the care and rehabilitation of the victims of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
Brigadier Glyn Hughes at Bergen-Belsen, June 1945
First World War
After graduating from College in 1915, Hughes joined the British Army and served in the First World War as a medical officer, first with the Wiltshire Regiment and later with the Grenadier Guards. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on the 25 August 1916 while a subaltern and within four months had been awarded a Bar to his DSO. His DSO citation reads:
Temp. Lt. Hugh Llewellyn Glyn Hughes RAMC. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during operations. He went out in broad daylight, under heavy fire, and bandaged seven wounded men in the open, lying out in an exposed spot for one and a half hours. At nightfall he led a party through a heavy barrage and brought the seven men back
His Bar citation is as follows:
Temp. Capt. Hugh Llewellyn Glyn Hughes DSO RAMC. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during operations. On four separate days he showed an utter contempt for danger when collecting and tending the wounded under heavy shell fire.
Hughes was heavily decorated during the First World War, and before its end he was awarded the Military Cross, the Croix de guerre avec palme and was several times Mentioned in Despatches; he was also seriously wounded on three separate occasions With the end of the war, Hughes returned to his medical duties, becoming a General Practitioner in Chagford, but remained in the Army reserve at the rank of Lieutenant.Second World War
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Hughes was mobilised in 1939 and sent to France with the Fifth Infantry Division. After theretreat of the British Army, he spent his time training medical units for active service. By 1944 he had been promoted to Brigadier and became Deputy Director Medical Services to the Eighth Corps and the Second Army and became the Chief Medical Officer in the advance.
On 15 April 1945, while attached to the 11th Armoured Division, Hughes became the first Allied Medical Officer to enter the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. Hughes took control of the camp and the 4,600 German and Hungarian soldiers placed at his command by the German authorities. Hughes' two main issues were the control of disease, after an outbreak of typhus, and the distribution of food.
To aid with the general health of the camp victims, Hughes took control of the local hospital, removing the German patients to treat his new charges. The hospital was later renamed the Glyn Hughes Hospital in his honour. The distribution of rations was a far greater problem, and with only 120 British troops, the German soldiers were ordered to assist in the control of food in the camp. On the first night of the liberation a riot broke out among the inmates over limited rations and the German guards reacted by shooting and killing several of them.
To ensure this situation did not repeat itself, Hughes threatened to execute a German soldier for every inmate killed. In September 1945, Hughes was one of the main witnesses for the prosecution in the Belsen Trial. For his actions at Belsen, Hughes was awarded the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and the Legion of Merit. He also received a second Bar to his DSO, for actions during the attempted relief of Arnhem from the South, earlier in the campaign, where as the most senior surviving officer, he took command of the tanks. In 1945 he was awarded the CBE.
With the end of the war, Hughes took up the position as Commandant of the RAMC depot in Crookham, with his final military post being an Inspector of Training.
A Survivor From Bergen Belsen
A survivor from Bergen Belsen. This photograph is
publiced with permission from United States Holocaust
HADASSAH ROSENSAFT 1912 – 1997
August 26, 1912~October 3, 1997
Dr. Hadassah Bimko Rosensaft embodied the Jewish essence of the Holocaust in both its tragic and heroic dimensions.
A concentration camp survivor credited with saving the lives of thousands of Holocaust victims both during and after the war, and dedicated to preserving the memory of those who perished, Dr. Hadassah Bimko Rosensaft embodied the Jewish essence of the Holocaust in both its tragic and heroic dimensions.
She experienced the full brunt of its horrors when her entire family was murdered by the Germans. Despite being subjected to tremendous physical suffering, she dedicated herself to helping her fellow concentration camp inmates, first at Auschwitz-Birkenau and then at Bergen-Belsen, and she is credited with having saved hundreds of lives in both camps.
Immediately upon her liberation at Bergen-Belsen in April 1945, she worked alongside the British Army medical personnel in a desperate effort to save the lives of thousands of critically ill survivors. In September 1945, she was one of the principal witnesses for the prosecution at the first trial of Nazi war criminals.
From 1945 until 1950, she was one of the leaders of the Jewish Displaced Persons in Germany and subsequently remained at the forefront of the survivors’ efforts to perpetuate the memory of the annihilation of European Jewry. Between 1978 and 1994, she played a key role in the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Hadassah (also known as Ada) Bimko was born on August 26, 1912, in Sosnowiec, Poland. She studied dentistry at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Nancy in France, was awarded the degree of Chirugien Dentiste (Dental Surgeon) in 1935, and returned to Sosnowiec where she worked in a dental clinic. On August 2–3, 1943, she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau together with approximately five thousand Jews from the ghetto of Sosnowiec. Her parents, husband and five-and-a-half year old son were immediately sent to their death in the gas chambers.
In October 1943, she was assigned by the notorious SS Dr. Josef Mengele to work in Birkenau’s Jewish infirmary, where she saved the lives of numerous Jewish women by performing rudimentary surgery, camouflaging their wounds, and sending them out of the barrack on work detail in advance of selections.
In her memoirs, which she completed shortly before her death in 1997, she recalled that “women came to the infirmary with abscesses, furuncles, and wounds inflicted by dogs as well as from the whips of the SS guards who watched the women at work. We tried to help these women as much as possible. … The infirmary was not very well equipped. There were mirrors for looking into mouths and scissors to cut bandages. We had only some paper bandages, which looked like rolls of toilet paper, and a very few pills.” Because she had to obtain supplies from the SS pharmacy, she got to know some of the Jewish inmates who worked there and who “let me steal things from time to time. I stole such things as ether for anesthesia and aspirin. We didn’t have to steal the paper bandages” (Yesterday, 36).
On November 14, 1944, Mengele sent her, together with eight other Jewish women, as a “medical team” to the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen in Germany. In December 1944, a group of forty-nine Dutch Jewish children were placed in her care by SS guards, followed several weeks later by more Jewish children who had come to Bergen-Belsen from Buchenwald and Theresienstadt.
One of the barracks was turned into a virtual children’s home for around 150 boys and girls ranging in age from infants to teenagers, all but one of whom survived. She organized a network of inmates who illicitly provided the children with additional food, medication and clothing. Hela Los Jafe, a fellow inmate, recalled that Ada Bimko “walked from block to block, found the children, took them, lived with them, and took care of them. … The children were very small and sick, and we had to wash them, clothe them, calm them, and feed them. That they survived was due to Ada Bimko and her helpers” (Ritvo, 181–182).
When British troops entered Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945, they found more than ten thousand bodies scattered about the camp, and some fifty-eight thousand surviving inmates who were suffering from a combination of typhus, tuberculosis, dysentery, extreme malnutrition, and a host of other virulent diseases.
Two days later, Brigadier H. L. Glyn Hughes, the deputy director of medical services of the British Army of the Rhine, appointed Dr. Bimko to organize and head a group of doctors and nurses among the survivors to help care for the camp’s thousands of critically ill inmates. For weeks on end, she and her team of twenty-eight doctors and 620 other female and male volunteers, only a few of whom were trained nurses, worked round the clock with the British military medical personnel to try to save as many of the survivors as possible.
Despite their desperate efforts, the Holocaust claimed 13,944 additional victims at Bergen-Belsen during the two months after the liberation. Thirty-six years later, at the October 1981 International Liberators Conference organized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Council in Washington, D.C., Hadassah Rosensaft recalled the grim reality of her first days of freedom. “For the greater part of the liberated Jews of Bergen-Belsen,” she said, “there was no ecstasy, no joy at our liberation.
We had lost our families, our homes. We had no place to go, nobody to hug. Nobody was waiting for us anywhere. We had been liberated from the fear of death, but we were not free from the fear of life” (Rosensaft 1999, 159–160).
In April–May, 1945, the survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp were transferred to the barracks of a nearby Panzer training school which became the Displaced Persons (DP) camp of Bergen-Belsen, the largest such camp in Germany. Within a month of the liberation, Dr. Bimko became a member of the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the British Zone of Germany, heading its health department. In 1947, she was elected vice-chairman of the Central Committee’s Council, representing the Jewish communities and committees throughout the British Zone. She was the only woman in the senior leadership of the She’erit ha-Pletah, the Surviving Remnant, as the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust called themselves.
In September 1945 she was one of the principal witnesses for the prosecution at the first trial of Nazi war criminals before a British military tribunal held in Lüneburg, Germany. The defendants were commandants, doctors and guards of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen who had been arrested by the British at Bergen-Belsen. Her testimony, which was widely reported in the international press, constituted one of the first public eye-witness accounts of the atrocities and horrors that the inmates of both camps had been forced to endure.
On August 18, 1946, she married Josef Rosensaft (1911–1975), chairman of the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the British Zone of Germany as well as chairman of the Jewish Committee of the Bergen-Belsen DP camp. Their son, Menachem, was born in Bergen-Belsen on May 1, 1948. Hadassah and Josef Rosensaft remained in the Bergen-Belsen DP camp until it was closed in 1950. After living in Montreux, Switzerland, for eight years, they settled in New York in 1958.
Hadassah Rosensaft was one of the founders and officers of the World Federation of Bergen-Belsen Associations, serving as its honorary president after Josef Rosensaft’s death on September 10, 1975. In 1978–1979, she was one of only three Holocaust survivors and four women to serve on President Jimmy Carter’s Commission on the Holocaust. In 1980, President Carter appointed her to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and in 1989 she was reappointed by President Reagan.
A member of the Council’s Executive Committee, she chaired its Archives Committee until the end of her second term in 1994, and was influential in ensuring the integration of the survivors’ perspective into the design and content of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. In 1995, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She died on October 3, 1997, of liver failure resulting from malaria and hepatitis she had contracted at Birkenau.