Source: Law-Reports of Trials of War Criminals, The United Nations War Crimes Commission, Volume II, London, HMSO, 1947
THE BELSEN TRIAL
BRITISH MILITARY COURT, LUNEBURG,
he Facts Regarding Conditions in Auschwitz and Belsen
The Responsibility of Each Accused
The Prosecution suggested that the Court should first come to a conclusion as to the general picture of what was happening at these two camps, Auschwitz and Belsen, and then consider how the individual persons fitted into that general picture.
Could the Court have the slightest doubt about the gas chamber or the selections which were made for the gas chamber ? It was freely admitted that there were, in the camp Birkenau, five gas chambers attached to the crematoria, and that there was attached to each of these gas chambers a crematorium.
The persons who were being put into those gas chambers were not people who had committed an offence of any sort, and they were not people who had been submitted to any trial ; they were simply persons who were no longer fit to work for the Reich or persons of the Jewish race. There was no doubt whatsoever that, whatever other places may also have been used in the course of this destruction, in Auschwitz alone literally millions of people were gassed for no other reason than they were Jews. The people who were gassed were the old, the weak, pregnant women and children under 14.
Many of the people gassed were Allied nationals who came into the hands of the Germans because they were scattered around the various countries. The Hungarians were brought in at a later period ; it had been rightly argued that the Hungarians were not Allied nationals, but the Court must take the picture as a whole to see what was happening in this camp.
Those selections were made on a variety of occasions. Some victims never entered the camp but went straight to the gas chamber. The second class of selections were selections in the hospital. The third type took place in the camp, when the Jews, and according to some witnesses Aryans as well, were paraded and victims chosen out.
It was common ground that a doctor attended the parades, and it was clear that the Lagerführer (Camp Leader), as a rule, was there, and that some Block Leaders were present, whichever happened to be on duty.
It was the submission of the Prosecution that all people who took part in these selections, knowing what they were, were equally guilty, whether the doctor who said : " This one to live, this one to die ", or the man who pushed the victims into one particular compartment or the other, or the man who led them, or the man who gassed them.
Although a lot of people had tried to pretend that they did not know what these parades were for, was it not obvious from the body of the evidence that everyone knew their purpose ? As Schopf said, everybody knew that Block 25 was kept specially for people who were going to the crematorium. Many
witnesses and Irma Grese herself had borne witness to the brutality used on these occasions.
The last type of selection was the general selection. It had been the custom for some people at the camp gate to be selected. As they came back in the working party they were made to run at the double and those who fell out were selected. Naturally, persons who knew they were in a weak state of health, or had reasons to suspect that they would not be able to pass the selection at the gate, began to hide in the camp. Then the S.S. developed a new plan. When the working parties had gone out, they held a parade, of everybody left in the camp. These were marched and lined up outside Block 25, and only those who could give a proper account of themselves escaped the gas chamber.
What were the duties of the various officials ? Everyone seemed to be agreed that it was the doctors duty to make the selection. According to Hoessler it was the duty of the Overseer at the selection parade to maintain order, and the kapos were under the orders of the Overseer, doing what she told them to do. The Camp Senior had herself said that she took down the numbers of the persons on the selection and that all the Overseers who happened to have camp duty that day, together with the Block Leader, had to attend these selections.
Every person who took part in those parades, knowing what they were for, took part in deliberately organised murder, and an attempt to murder the whole Jewish race, to destroy the strength of Poland and to destroy by fear many other people.
The Prosecutor then asked what was the position in Auschwitz apart from the gas chamber ? Counsel referred to the lack of sanitation, lighting and water, of which Starotska had spoken. Many witnesses had spoken of the beatings there and of the practice of setting dogs on prisoners. To prove that the whole camp was ruled by force and ill-treatment, the Prosecutor referred to the evidence of Defence witnesses, namely Lothe, Grese, Lobauer, Gura, and Dr. Klein himself. (Footnote: See pp. 41, 46, 47, 48 and 51) He again quoted Starotska, who had said : " Some of the Overseers had sticks ; some had whips, and some had dogs. Prisoners in Auschwitz were beaten on every occasion. They had to work very hard. Accommodation was very bad, and they had lice and other diseases, and dogs were set on them ". That was a reasonably fair picture of life at Auschwitz.
Colonel Backhouse explained that he was dwelling on Auschwitz because it was the obvious line of defence to say that Belsen was exceptional.
The evidence made it clear that Belsen was intended to be a new Auschwitz removed from the threat of the Russian advance. Dr. Klein said there was some talk of the camp being some kind of exchange camp for prisoners, but that later he realised that it was not a camp for sick people, but a death camp, a torture camp. Counsel claimed that there was never the slightest attempt to improve conditions there, to bring medical supplies, beds or anything else that one would naturally require to build up a convalescent camp, to provide any diet, or to make any provision for the sick people when they arrived. The prevailing attitude was summed up in Kramers words : " Let
them die ". Was not that a continuation of the general situation in Auschwitz ?
It was quite obvious that the internees were being starved ; and if they were not being deliberately starved, at least there was not the slightest care as to whether they starved or not. No attempt was made to organise the feeding of the unfortunate ones who were weak, and the food actually went to the strong.
Counsel referred the Court to the evidence of Brigadier Glyn
Hughes, Colonel Johnston and Captain Sington (Footnote 1: See pp.
9-10) for descriptions of
the emaciated victims living alongside piles of dead. He submitted
that the facts before the Court showed that conditions in Belsen
arose, not out of a breakdown in organisation, but out of the complete
neglect of the authorities.
(i) Kramer. The Prosecutor pointed out that this accused had worked in concentration camps since 1934, and from 1942 onwards had been the Kommandant of a concentration camp. He served his apprenticeship in the gassing of innocent people, as he had explained himself, at Natzweiller, where he constructed the gas chamber, took the people in and gassed them himself. The Prosecution asked the Court to accept that he came to Auschwitz to manage the gassings of new transports in May, 1944. It had been said that he had written orders saying that the gas chamber was not his concern. He was the only person to say so. There were a number of witnesses who said that he took an active part in the selection parades, in that for instance he loaded people into the trucks and beat them when they would not get into the trucks. He admitted that he saw the selections but claimed to have taken no part in them.
So far as his general conduct in Belsen and Birkenau was concerned, everything depended on the general picture which the Court formed of these camps. Kramer had himself said that he was regularly in the camp and that he was always in the camp until the roll-call was finished.
Could there be any doubt that Kramer was implicated absolutely in the events in Belsen, in view of the evidence, for instance, of Brigadier Glyn Hughes, Colonel Johnstone, Sunschein and Sompolinski ? (Footnote 2: See pp. 9, 10, 16 and 21)
(ii) Dr. Fritz Klein. This accused had made no secret whatsoever of the fact that he attended selections and selected people, and that he knew that it was wrong and that it was murder. He agreed that those who were not fit to work were simply destroyed. The only time when he ever did anything to improve conditions in Belsen was when he knew that the British were
coming. The evidence plainly showed that he was content to neglect the camp completely.
(iii) Peter Weingartner. The principal witness against Weingartner was Glinowieski, whose brother was said to have been beaten to death by the accused. Sunscheins evidence was also referred to by Counsel. (Footnote 1: See p. 16) Weingartner had agreed that there were dogs with his party when they came to the hill on the way to work. Had the Court any doubt that the women in the " Vistula" Kommando were chased up the hill with dogs behind them ?
No witness had suggested that Weingartner ever attended or took part in a selection. Nevertheless, he was Block Leader at the gate of Lager A where the transports arrived. Was it credible that he never even saw a selection and knew nothing about them ? There was evidence that he had beaten Sunschein with a rubber hose at Belsen. Counsel asked the Court to regard the accused as being obviously involved in the state of affairs existing in both camps.
(iv) Kraft. Counsel referred to the evidence of Sompolinski, (Footnote 2: See p. 21) who had recognised this accused in person. Kraft denied ever being in the actual concentration camp. Counsel submitted that the explanation of his being in the concentration camp was that soldiers would be sent in from the Wehrmacht camp to clean up the concentration camp before the British arrived.
(v) Hoessler. This accused like Kramer, was " one of the old guard ". In view of his own admissions and of the evidence of Dr. Bimko and various other witnesses, (Footnote 3: See pp. 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22 and 27) Counsel was confident that Hoessler would be found guilty.
(vi) Borman. There were a number of allegations that Borman set her dog on people. She was also seen several times on selection parades. Jonas had said she was not content merely to stand there when she was the Overseer on duty but pointed out to the doctors : " This one looks quite weakly, she can be taken away as well ". There was also evidence of her beating people.
(vii) Elizabeth Volkenrath. Josephine Singer had said that this accused beat many people in the tailoring shop and threw a Czech woman down some steps. Later at Auschwitz she became supervisor in the parcel store, issuing bread, and that was where Sunschein saw her frequently beating people. Kaufmann had said that during selections she saw Volkenrath throw women to the ground or against a wall, trample on them and beat them with a stick or rubber truncheon. Singer, Trieger, Siwidowa and others had said that hers were not merely beatings with the hand but beatings with rubber sticks, beatings producing unconsciousness and sometimes death, and kicking.
At Belsen she continued her beating. Counsel referred to the evidence of Neiger, Loffler (Footnote 4: See pp. 30 and 31) and others in this connection.
(viii) Ehlert. From the point of view of the Prosecution, there was no evidence with regard to Ehlerts conduct at Auschwitz. Concerning her acts at Belsen, the evidence against her came from Sunschein, Hammer-
masch, Helene Klein, Neiger, Korkovitz, Loffler, Kopper and Weiss, and alleged the beating of people at the gate and the beating of people for unimportant reasons, for instance, for wearing a scarf.
(ix) Grese. Grese was quite frank about almost everything which was suggested against her. Kopper had made an allegation regarding Greses behaviour in the sand pit Kommando. (Footnote 1: See p. 37) Concerning her actions at Auschwitz, the Prosecutor drew attention also to the stories of Rozenwayg, Watinik and Triszinska, according to which she was in charge of a Kommando, with Lothe as the kapo, and alleging that she set a dog on them. On her own admission alone there seemed ample evidence to show that she was ill-treating, beating, and prolonging roll-calls at Auschwitz. At Belsen she was made Arbeitsdienstfiührerin and again there were stories from the prisoners as to how she beat people and forced them to " make sport ".
(x) Lothe. Lothe was herself an imprisoned German. When she eventually became a kapo, however, she worked with the S.S. and against the prisoners. Against her there were many allegations, for instance of beatings.
(xi) Lobauer. Lobauer was another kapo. There were many allegations of beating against this woman. She had said frankly : " I admit carrying a stick at Auschwitz and I admit using it ".
(xii) Klippel. Against Klippel there was very little evidence. One deponent had said that he was employed in the kitchen at Belsen, that he frequently beat women in this kitchen and that he twice shot Jewish women who approached the kitchen in search of food. (Footnote 2: See the affidavit of Jakubowice on p. 27) On the other hand there was considerable evidence to show that the accused did not belong to Belsen at all.
(xiii) Schmitz. The evidence against Schmitz was contained in the statement of Jecny, who disappeared without signing it. (Footnote 3: See p. 28) Could the Court believe, if the accused were really a prisoner, a Camp Senior over 28 prisoners, that he should suddenly be put in charge of 15,000 people and tell Hoessler how to run the camp ? (Footnote 4: See p. 50)
What was much more likely was that he came as an S.S. man and helped to guard and to supervise the clearing up of the concentration camp during the last few days.
(xiv) Francioh. This accused tried to show that he was in jail during the relevant period in April, but actually his jail period was earlier. The evidence of the people from his own kitchen showed that he was not stating the truth. There were a number of different shootings alleged against him.
(xv) Mathes. All the allegations against this accused were to be found in three affidavits, and concerned the shooting of people trying to steal from the kitchen.
(xvi) Calesson. The Court would remember the allegations against this accused with regard to the transport, of which he was quite obviously the senior N.C.O. He was accused of shooting prisoners on the way, and it was also said that there was no food or water on the journey for the Jews and very
little for the Christians. He was also faced with allegations of beating prisoners at Belsen and of shooting prisoners at Belsen station.
(xvii) Burgraf. The evidence against Burgraf was that he behaved badly at Drütte and that when he came to Belsen he continued to do so. He became a functionary in Block 19, where he armed himself with a table leg, with which he beat prisoners.
(xviii) Egersdorf The evidence against Egersdorf was that of Almaleh, from which Counsel quoted the account of the shooting of the girl. (Footnote 1: See p. 23) To the Judge Advocates question asking what Counsels attitude was to the Defence argument, that the evidence showed that the ill-treatment was not of an Allied national but of a Hungarian girl, and that this was not an incident which would support a charge in which ill-treatment of Allied nationals was alleged, the Prosecutor replied that the only reason for quoting these particular incidents in connection with any of the accused was to show that they, having joined the camp staff, co-operated in the ill-treatment of persons in the camp. The fact that the individual person whom an accused was seen ill-treating was Hungarian would not be relevant if the Court believed that the accused was taking a part in the systematic ill-treatment which was going on.
(xix) Pichen. Against Pichen there was a great deal of evidence as to what went on in his kitchen in particular. There was the account of the shooting on the day of the S.S. parade. (Footnote 2: See pp. 12, 27 and 52)
(xx) Otto. The question was whether to believe this accused or not. The allegation made against him was that he caught Stojowska taking a bed from outside Block 213 and that a day or so later he came into Block 201, where she lived, found that the other Block Senior had also got a bed and beat them both. There was only the one affidavit against him, but this man undoubtedly frequented that part of the camp, and, asked Counsel, was it not the practice of an S.S. man, if he saw something irregular as he was going round the camp, to take action there and then ?
(xxi-xxii) Stofel and Dorr. Counsel suggested that the finding of the corpses (Footnote 3: See p. 55) was entirely consistent with the story that Dorr shot each straggler along the route of the transport, and asked was it surprising, realising how cheap life was held in the concentration camps, to find one of the guards who had been in a concentration camp for a long time shooting people as they went, with the full approval of the man in charge, Stofel ?
(xxiii) Schreirer. Counsel did not examine the evidence regarding this accused except as regards his identification. Could the Court have any real doubt at all that he was in fact a member of the S.S., that the uniform he was wearing was his and that he was stationed in Belsen when he spent the evening with the girl in Soltau ? (Footnote 4: See p. 54. The Prosecutor later agreed with the Judge Advocate that nothing had been proved against Schreirer as regards Belsen)
(xxiv) Barsch. In view of the evidence, Counsel did not ask the Court to say that this accused was ever in Belsen at all.
(xxv) Zoddel. This man accepted the position and responsibility of a Camp Senior, becoming a senior prisoner in the camp, abused that position as the S.S. did, and identified himself completely with the S.S.
(xxvi) Schlomowicz. It was said that this accused regularly beat people at Belsen with a rubber cable and a stick.
(xxvii) Ostrowski. The Court might think there was no doubt at all that this accused had a function in the block in question and that in fact he was engaged, as various .witnesses said, in beating and ill-treating people.
(xxviii) Aurdzieg. He was the man who made a full confession to Capt. Pipien of the French War Crimes Investigation team, then told the story of how that was obtained from him and he was made to sign at the pistol point ; yet if the Court would examine the original it would find that below his signature he went on to give an account and description of the persons who were working with him.
(xxix-xxxix) Ilse Forster, Ida Forster, Opitz, Charlotte Klein, Bothe, Walter, Haschke, Fiest, Sauer, Lisiewitz and Hempel. Against every one of these women there was evidence of beating. These beatings were not alleged merely to be slaps on the face or the boxing of ears. On the question of the rubber sticks of which the Court had heard so much, Counsel asked whether there existed a kitchen with running water, or with large boilers, and portable boilers which were brought in and filled, which did not have these short lengths of hose ? .
(xl) Roth. In connection with this accused, Counsel made reference to the allegations of Sofia Rosenzweig, Rorman and Helene Klein. (Footnote: See pp. 20, 32 and 33) Helene Klein had not been certain that the victims name was Friedman ; Counsel suggested that whether Friedman was alive or not was of no great importance.
(xli) Hahnel. The only evidence against Hahnel was that of Stempler, who recognised her from a photograph and said that the accused beat a girl in the bath.
(xlii) Kopper. Was it not plain that Kopper preserved herself at Auschwitz as an informer ? She admitted she was two years in a Strafkommando without being beaten when everybody else was. She claimed that she had this good fortune because she knew her rights. The Court might think it was because, as other prisoners alleged, she was a known informer and was kept as such.
When she came to Belsen she was made Block Senior, and then a camp policewoman, and it was only, the Court might think, because she " got too big for her boots " that on the 1st March she was molested, as it was alleged. She was obviously a woman who was not liked by the other prisoners and they were only too pleased to beat her when given the opportunity. There were many allegations made against her regarding her acts while she was Block Senior.
(xliii) Polanski. Witnesses said that he was an assistant Block Senior in Block No. 12, that he behaved extremely badly and that he was one of the
gang of people who were forcing people out to bury the dead early in the morning, beating them on the head as they went.
(xliv) Starotska. This accused had admitted to a number of offences, but claimed that she was actually acting as a sort of Scarlet Pimpernel on behalf of the prisoners. Did the evidence support her ? Rozalja said : " She created an atmosphere of fear in the whole block, Block No. 26 " ; this was quite apart from the evidence of her denouncing people to the S.S., and regularly beating people in the block. The evidence of Anna Wojeiechowska (Footnote: See p. 64) did not support the accuseds story in the way the latter had intended ; the witness had not actually been selected for the gas chamber. Janicka and Komsta, two further Defence witnesses, had testified to her kindness, but they were both Aryan Poles, and therefore favourites. Nowogrodzka had made it quite clear that Starotska did no kindness whatsoever for anybody but Aryan Poles, and that she put Aryan Poles in a favourable position and paid no attention to the other prisoners.
Counsel submitted that she made herself indispensable to the S.S. in Auschwitz, and accepted any post which was given to her. When she came to Belsen the same was true.
The Judge Advocate began his summing up by pointing out that the Prosecution did not ask the Court to consider whether the taking of Allied nationals to Auschwitz was right or wrong. What they did say was that, when they were there, they should not have been ill-treated or maltreated to an extent that they died or suffered physical hardship. If the Court were satisfied that Allied nationals were taken in the way which had been described, and that they were put in a gas chamber because they were of no use to the German Reich, it seemed to him that a violation of the customs and usages of war had been committed.
In regard to the more general question of ill-treatment or maltreatment, the same difficulties did not arise, because it was not claimed that such treatment was in any way authorised by the German Reich, as it had been suggested might be the case in regard to the gas chambers.
Regarding the plea of superior orders, he advised the Court to follow the law as laid down in Volume II of Oppenheims International Law, 6th Edition, p. 452 ; the passages quoted run as follows :
The Court would probably find that the reason why that attitude was adopted by the writer was contained in the next sentence : " To limit liability to the persons responsible for the order may frequently amount, in practice, to concentrating responsibility on the head of the State whose accountability, from the point of view of both international and constitutional law, is controversial."
The Judge Advocate went on to say that the two broad issues which had to be established beyond all reasonable doubt were, first, whether the crime set out in the charge sheet had been established, and secondly, if it had been established, whether the accused or any of them had been proved to have committed it.
Dealing with the first issue, the Judge Advocate expressed the view that there was a tremendous body of evidence to establish that at Auschwitz the staff responsible for the well-being of internees were taking part in gassings, in improper unlawful beating, in roll-calls and in the use of savage dogs ; and that they were overworking and underfeeding the internees. It might even be that there were experiments performed upon people, allegedly in the interests of science, against their will. He was not suggesting for the moment that the prisoners in the dock necessarily committed what he called that general crime, but he stated that in his opinion there was evidence upon which the Court could find that the war crime set out in the first charge had been committed.
In respect of Belsen there was a general allegation of ill-treatment or maltreatment, of a state of wilful or culpable neglect whereby thousands of innocent people lost their lives. Here again it seemed to him, rightly or wrongly, that there was a tremendous volume of evidence upon which the Court could properly find that the offence alleged was committed by the staff employed at Belsen who were responsible for the well-being of the internees.
The difficult issue was whether each or any of the accused had been proved beyond all reasonable doubt to have committed the offence with which they are charged.
The Judge Advocate then summarised the evidence against the accused, beginning with those alleged to have committed crimes at Auschwitz. He prefaced this survey by stating in general that the case for the Prosecution was that at Auschwitz members of the staff agreed together, either tacitly or expressly, that they would ill-treat the internees, and that they would take part in the gassings..
In dealing with the evidence against Weingartner, the Judge Advocate said that through some error the events which were alleged to have taken place at Auschwitz appeared in the Belsen charge. (Footnote: A reference to the alleged killing of Hejmech Glinowiewski. See pp. 4 and 15) Weingartner could not, therefore, be punished for these matters but evidence regarding them had been allowed to be introduced, as showing the way in which he was conducting himself, from which the Court were invited by the Prosecution to infer that he must have been party to a system of ill-treating internees.
Regarding the allegations of beating, the Judge Advocate felt that, if discipline and order could not be maintained without a reasonable use of force, and whether there was specific authority to use that force or not, the Court would not hold that reasonable use of force against any of the accused as a war crime or as a breach of the customs and usages of war. What the Prosecution were alleging, and what they had to prove, was the use of force of such kind that it was savage and brutal, without justification, existing merely because the person causing it was a party to a system of cruelty which was in force in concentration camps.
There was a vast difference between hitting people with the hand and hitting them with a stick or kicking them, and the Court would no doubt have a very keen eye to discriminate between the various kinds of alleged ill-treatment. Great damage could be done even with the hand if people struck in anger or got into the habit of striking every day so that gradually more force was put behind their blows.
The Judge Advocate said that usually affidavits did not come before courts of criminal jurisdiction, but that under war conditions it had become necessary to introduce these affidavits in an endeavour, not to convict innocent people, but to convict guilty people. However much one would prefer to have a deponent in person before the Court the affidavits were properly admitted, and it was for the Court to say whether they would act upon them. There was nothing to compel the Court to accept them.
The affidavits were dangerous material. He had the greatest faith in cross-examination as a means of finding the truth. He invited the Court to consider the way in which the affidavits were taken, especially on the question of identity. He was sure that the Court would find it difficult to act upon the evidence of a mere one or two unless supported in some material particular.
It had been pointed out that sometimes a witness differed in his evidence in Court materially from his affidavit, or that he introduced matters which were not in the affidavit. Some affidavits used indiscriminate and very wide language such as " She threw people to the ground and cruelly beat them and many died ". A great number of the affidavits ended with allegations that people died as a result of what was alleged to have happened. He was sure that the Court would want more proof that people were killed in this manner before they accepted the allegation and that if there was any doubt they would not accept it.
The Judge Advocate was of the opinion that the charges did not say that every person who was on the staff of Auschwitz or Belsen concentration
camps was guilty of a war crime. The Court would have to be satisfied that a person was deliberately committing a war crime, identifying themselves with the system in force at the camp ; their mere presence on the staff was not of itself enough to justify a conviction.
At the end of his summing up of the evidence relating to the offences alleged to have been committed at Auschwitz, the Judge Advocate said that the main allegations related to Allied nationals unknown. It was not necessary to prove everything in a charge. It was the substance which must be proved, and if the Court were satisfied that there was substantial ill-treatment, causing death or physical suffering to people whose names the Prosecution were not able to put forward, that would allow the Court to convict the accused, even though they were not satisfied of the death of any named person.
The case for the Prosecution was that all the accused employed on the staff at Auschwitz knew that a system and a course of conduct was in force, and that, in one way or another in furtherance of a common agreement to run the camp in a brutal way, all those people were taking part in that course of conduct. They asked the Court not to treat the individual acts which might be proved merely as offences committed by themselves, but also as evidence clearly indicating that the particular offender was acting willingly as a party in the furtherance of this system. They suggested that if the Court were satisfied that they were doing so, then they must, each and every one of them, assume responsibility for what happened. The Judge Advocate reminded the Court that when they considered the question of guilt and responsibility, the strongest case must surely be against Kramer, and then down the list of accused according to the positions they held.
Turning to the allegations regarding Kramers actions at Belsen, the Judge Advocate said that he did not think it mattered very much whether he acted wilfully or merely with culpable neglect ; the question was whether the Prosecution had proved that Kramer did not carry out his duties as far as he was able to do and that he had caused at any rate physical suffering upon Allied nationals by reason of his actions ? Further, there was no charge against Dr. Klein of any deliberate acts of cruelty, and it was for the Court to consider whether Klein had a fair opportunity to do anything with regard to the conditions in Belsen and whether he so failed to act that the Court would have to find him guilty of the charge. What had to be decided was whether, in the time when he was really responsible and could improve matters, he failed either deliberately or in a culpable way deserving of punishment to do what he should have done.
The Judge Advocate later commented that it was acknowledged that at Belsen there were a large number of very sick and feeble people ; a resort to violence by smacking or striking people who were weak and not in a fit condition might become a very improper thing, and quite different from the same action adopted towards fit and strong persons.
Regarding offences committed outside Belsen, the Judge Advocate said that the charge alleged certain crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen between certain dates by members of the staff responsible for the well-being of the persons interned therein. A man could not be convicted upon a charge.
which was not before the Court, but if the Court were satisfied ,that the substance of the charge was proved they might find a person guilty though of an offence differing from the particulars set out in the charge. He did not think that it mattered very much, looking at the substance of the charge and not the shadow, whether the people in a convoy on its way to Belsen had already reached and become internees in Belsen.
In the course of his treatment of the case against Burgraf the Judge Advocate said that it did not seem to be the aim of the Prosecution to bring accusations against anyone, however terrible, if they were only ordinary prisoners in the camps at Auschwitz or Belsen. The essence of the charge was that the accused should have been in some position of authority, with the power to look after the inmates and make their life satisfactory. It would be for the Court to decide whether Burgraf could be treated as being on the staff at Bergen-Belsen.
After surveying the evidence before the Court, the Judge Advocate said that on a broad basis it was suggested by the Prosecution that in Germany in the war years there was a system of concentration camps of which Auschwitz and Belsen were two ; that in these camps it was the practice to treat people, especially the unfortunate Jews, as if they were of no account and had no rights whatsoever ; that the staff of these concentration camps were deliberately taking part in a procedure which took no account of these wretched peoples lives ; that there was calculated mass murder such as at Auschwitz ; that there was a calculated disregard of the ordinary duties which fell upon a staff to look after the well-being and health of people at Belsen ; that throughout these camps the staff were made quite clearly to understand that the brutalities, ill-treatment, and matters of that kind would not be punished if they took place at the expense of the Jews ; and that there was a common concerted design of the staff to do these terrible things.
As already indicated, apart from his comments on points of law, to which reference has been made in the preceding paragraphs, the Judge Advocate also provided the Court with a full summing up of the evidence which had been placed before it. This part of the Judge Advocates address is not, here reproduced in full since it would duplicate the summaries of evidence already set out on pp. 9-37 and 39-69.
The Court found the following guilty on both charges : Kramer, Fritz Klein, Weingartner, Volkenrath, Grese and Lobauer.
The following were found guilty on the Auschwitz charge only : Hoessler, Borman, Schreirer and Starotska.
The following were found guilty on the Belsen charge only : Ehlert, Francioh, Calesson, Burgraf, Pichen, Stofel, Dorr, Zoddel, Ostrowski, Aurdzieg, Ilse Forster, Bothe, Walter, Haschke, Fiest, Sauer, Lisiewitz, Roth, Hempel and Kopper.
Kraft, Lothe, Klippel, Schmitz, Mathes, Egersdorf, Otto, Barsch, Schlomowitz, Ida Forster, Opitz, Charlotte Klein, Hahnel and Polanski were found not guilty..
The Court ruled that in the case of findings of guilty on the Belsen charge the words : " Anna Kis, Sara Kohn (both Hungarian nationals), Hejmech Glinovjechy and Maria Konatkevicz (both Polish nationals) " would be omitted, as well as the words : " A female internee named Korperova."
In the case of findings of guilty on the Auschwitz charge, the words :
" And particularly to Ewa Gryka and Hanka Rosenwayg (both Polish nationals) " would be omitted.
Without calling any further witnesses, Counsel for the Defence made speeches in mitigation of punishment on behalf of the accused who were found guilty.
Major Winwood said that Weingartner was forced to do service in the S.S. at Auschwitz and Belsen. He felt sure that the Court must have formed the opinion that his mentality and temperament were, to say the least, not quite normal. Though unsuitable for the task, he was put in charge of a large number of women, and his nerves and temper sometimes overrode his reason. Deliberate ill-treatment was not part of his make-up. He was one of those unfortunate people caught up against his will in the Nazi machine of which he became an unwilling but very easily moulded tool. Dr. Klein received from his superior officer distinct and direct orders what to do . From the purely practical and human point of view, Dr. Klein had little option in disobeying the orders he received, since his superior was on the spot seeing that he carried out the order. Counsel asked that the Court bear this in mind in assessing punishment. Further, it had been said that he sent thousands to their death in the gas chamber, but every man or woman whom Dr. Klein chose as fit for work was saved from the gas chamber, and he or she was granted a lease of life. Kramer had represented himself as a true German who carried out an order because it was an order. Counsel suggested that a British officer of the same rank and equivalent position would bear a greater degree of responsibility if convicted of such a crime for he had been brought up to consider the principles of tolerance, kindness, and the rule of fair justice. The mind of the German, especially that of a National Socialist and member of the S.S., was drilled into one particular channel and the broad view of humanity was lost sight of. He could have fled from Belsen like others, yet he did not do so, although he must have known that his superiors had washed their hands of him. In conclusion, Major Winwood quoted from the Manual of Military Law on page 61 : " The instigator of an offence should receive a more severe sentence than the person who was instigated to commit it." The men in the dock were instigated to commit this war crime and they had been found guilty. The instigators of the crime were about to stand their trial in Nuremberg. Were the Court to mete out to these minor characters a punishment which could not be exceeded at Nuremberg ?
Major Munro wished to associate himself with what Major Winwood hsd said about the State system and also as to the effect on sentence of the plea of superior orders. Against Hoessler, apart from one general affidavit, there were no allegations of personal brutality. There was also a certain
amount of evidence in his favour. Borman had said that she joined the S.S. to make more money, but her life up to that time had been one of rather bitter and friendless loneliness. Volkenrath did not volunteer into the S.S. and the job she had latterly at Belsen of Oberaufseherin was not so important as it sounded. She had no administrative control in the camp, and the job mainly consisted in detailing other Overseers to particular jobs. Whatever might have happened later, it was clear that at the beginning Ehlert was a good and decent woman who looked after the interests of the prisoners, and who, it appeared, was punished for it. The Court was invited to take into account what the conditions in concentration camps could do to weak human nature.
Major Cranfield reminded the Court that Greses mother died when she was 14 years of age, that she herself left her home at the age of 16, and that at the age of 18 she was conscripted into the concentration camp service. Grese was a girl of only nineteen when she came to the appalling atmosphere of Auschwitz. Grese was only a poorly educated girl. Her father was an agricultural labourer and she was a subject of the Nazi propaganda machine. At the time of the liberation at Belsen Lobauer had undergone five years of the most rigorous kind of imprisonment. She received that for refusing to make munitions which would, of course, have been used against the Allies. Further ; while she was undergoing that imprisonment she received a savage beating as a punishment for what the Court would consider a trivial offence. Prison functionaries such as she were ordered to take up their appointments and they had no opportunity of refusing.
Captain Roberts pointed out that on the day the British arrived at Belsen, Francioh went out of the camp to help his wife pack in order to return home, and had he chosen at that moment to go with her he could have gone quite easily. Instead he chose to return to the camp and to continue his duties there in accordance with the truce.
Major Brown stressed that less than a year before the liberation of Belsen, Calesson, then 52, was living at home with his wife and three children. In May, 1944, he was conscripted into the German army. He was only in Bergen-Belsen for five days. He was one of those men who could have left Belsen under the terms of the truce, but he remained there, because he had nothing to fear.
Captain Fielden observed that Pichen, far from being a full-blooded S.S. man, was conscripted into the Wehrmacht in 1940, and became an ordinary front line infantry soldier. He had suffered the horrors and perils of the Eastern Front, where he was wounded and was, as a result, a cripple. He did not come to Belsen until the middle of March. In trying to guard against continual thefts from the cookhouse, he was making an attempt to safeguard food for the benefit of the others. There was no accusation of actual killing against Stofel.
Captain Corbally, speaking on behalf of Schreirer, said that at the time when he was alleged to have been at Auschwitz he was 19 years of age. There was no evidence that he killed anybody at Auschwitz, and there was evidence that the most serious atrocity alleged against him was done in obedience to an order. Dorr, at the time of trial a young man of 24, did not
want to be a concentration camp guard. He wanted to be a front line soldier, and it was because of his illness that he was unable to pass the medical examination required. With reference to the crimes which he committed on the march Counsel claimed that every plan which had been made to get the prisoners to Belsen went wrong. Instead of going by train they had to walk. Dorr had never had to do anything like that before. He had considerable worry and responsibility to get these people to Belsen. The road they took might at any time have been cut by the British or American troops. Zoddel had been an internee for a long time and his internment had left him a sick man. Counsel invited the Court to say that there was no evidence which satisfied them that he really killed anybody.
Captain Neave reminded the Court that there was evidence that Ilse Forster, a girl of 23, did do something in her small way to alleviate the suffering and the hardships of those who worked directly under her in the kitchen.
Captain Phillips stated that, at the beginning of the trial, Bothe was 24, Walter 23 and Haschke 24. They all arrived at Belsen towards the end of February, 1945, at a time when the conditions in the camp had already begun to become bad and difficult. Counsel invited the Court to let their punishment be in proportion to their share in the responsibility. They were not in Belsen a very long time and did not hold any greatly responsible position. They were all educated and brought up under the Nazi system, with the result seen at Belsen.
Captain Boyd said that Fiest, Sauer and Lisiewitz were conscripted and only arrived at Belsen in late February and March, 1945. They were all small people with very little responsibility. As Mr Le Druillenec said, although he was speaking more particularly of prisoners, conditions at Belsen were such that anyone coming to the camp was almost inevitably brutalised.
Captain Munro said that Roth had been a prisoner of the Germans without any position at all for four years and two months before being given a position which, suggested Counsel, was only that of a hut orderly. She remained behind in Belsen until 16th June, a considerable time after the liberation by British troops, because she had a clear conscience. Like Pichen, Hempel worked in a cookhouse and Counsel claimed that whatever she did, she did it for the betterment of the prisoners.
Lieutenant Jedrzejowicz said that Aurdzieg, Burgraf, Ostrowski, Kopper and Starotska were all victims of war. They were dragged away from their homes and put for an indefinite period of time in a concentration camp. They were sent there to do hard work and eventually to die. Aurdzieg was taken away from home at the age of 16 years, and grew to be a man in a concentration camp. Burgraf also was in a concentration camp as a young man. He and Ostrowski were only seven days in Belsen. Kopper was an internee for a period of just under five years and held a position at Belsen for not longer than two months. As Starotska said, Kopper was unsuited to the job of Block Senior because she was in a state of complete exhaustion and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The last accused, Starotska, had been in concentration camps since 1942, but before that she was sentenced to death and kept in prison by the Gestapo for a period of two years. This
sentence and her stay in prison until the sentence was commuted must have been a great mental and physical strain for a girl of 23 years of age. Dr. Bimko said that a number of prisoners at Belsen hoped that the accused would be appointed Camp Senior. Lieutenant Jedrzejowicz too referred to the brutalising atmosphere of the concentration camp.
Subject to confirmation by superior military authority, the following sentences were pronounced :
Kramer, Fritz Klein, Weingartner, Hoessler, Francioh, Pichen, Stofel, Dorr, Borman, Volkenrath and Grese were sentenced to death by hanging. Zoddel was sentenced to imprisonment for life.
Calesson, Schreirer, Ostrowski, Ehlert and Kopper were sentenced to imprisonment for 15 years.
Aurdzieg, Lobauer, Ilse Forster, Bothe, Haschke, Sauer, Roth, Hempel and Starotska were sentenced to imprisonment for 10 years. Burgraf and Fiest were sentenced to imprisonment for 5 years.
Walter was sentenced to imprisonment for 3 years. .
Lisiewitz was sentenced to imprisonment for 1 year.
These sentences were confirmed by superior military authority and were carried into effect.