War Crimes Trials - Vol. II The Belsen Trial. 'The Trial of Josef Kramer and Forty Four Others'

The Trial (Defence - Opening Speech for the Defendant Josef Kramer)
Nineteenth Day - Monday, 8th October, 1945

The Judge Advocate advised the accused that, if they wished, they Court, in which case they would be treated like any other witness. If they preferred not to give evidence on oath they could make a statement to the Court, but that common sense would tell them that as this evidence could not be tested by cross-examination it would not carry so much weight. If they did not wish to give evidence on oath they were not obliged to, and in any event they would be allowed to call witnesses on their behalf.

The interpreters asked each accused in turn whether he or she desired to give evidence as a witness on oath, and all answered in the affirmative.

The Defence Officers then gave notice of the probable witnesses they would be calling on behalf of their clients. The Judge Advocate stated that, by permission of the Court, the Defending Officers would be permitted to outline briefly their particular cases.


Major WINWOOD - I wish to begin by quoting a short paragraph from the Soviet newspaper Izvestia, which reads as follows: "The trial of the Hitlerite criminals gradually turns into a criminal case of local importance, and international bandits are beginning to look like ordinary criminals from the village of Belsen. In two weeks we have not once heard in court the words 'Hitlerite regime' or 'Hitler's henchmen'." I wish to remedy that defect, because it is the very foundation of Kramer's case that he was a member of the National Socialist Party, and it was the National Socialist regime which was in power in the country at the time when these alleged crimes took place.

Kramer is a member of the National Socialist Party and he was, only a few days before the trial, a member of the S.S. He was also a member of the Waffen S.S. and, as such, a part of the armed forces of Germany. In addition to that, Kramer is a German, and I would ask the Court to grasp that phrase.

National Socialism started as the doctrine of a party, and it is based fundamentally on the so-called "Führer" principle which was that the person at the top gave the orders and that the person at the bottom obeyed these orders, not because they were orders but because they came from the top. National Socialism demanded two things: implicit obedience and trust on the part of the person carrying out the order. In the first few days of the war, Rudolf Hess, who was the mouthpiece of Hitler at the time, said this: "With pride we say there is one German far above criticism. That is the Führer; and that arises from the fact that we all feel and know that he is always right and that he always will be right in the uncritical obedience to his command which does not raise the question of wherefore. In the implicit carrying out of his command lies the sheet anchor of National Socialism." At the National Socialist Party Conference in Nuremberg in 1934 Alfred Rosenberg, "High Priest" of National Socialism, said: "Obedience, Loyalty, Comradeship and soldierly courage, are the four essentials of a true regime, and the greatest of these is Obedience." Robert Ley, who was in charge of German labour, said: "It is obedience which has produced everything in the world that is really great. It is obedience which has carried forward human institutions from generation to generation." The Führer himself, in the last Party Congress before the war when he was speaking not to the main body of National Socialists but to a select few including many members of the S.S., said: "I shall strive with all my power to bring back Germany to her rightful place, of which she was raped by the dictator Versailles. To do this I must demand of all of you men and women, soldier and S.S. man, implicit obedience to my orders."

The next quotation I should like to read to the Court is the oath which all members of the S.S. took and which the accused, Josef Kramer, took on the day Hitler first became Chancellor and President of the Reich. it is: "I swear to you, Adolf Hitler, as Führer and Chancellor of the Reich, faith and steadfastness. I pledge to you and to those to whom you entrust your orders unwavering obedience unto death. So help me God."

That party produced a programme which, with the unity of National Socialism and the German State, became part of German Law, and is found at the beginning of the Official German Gesetz Book. Paragraph 4 states that a citizen can only be one who is a member of the Race, and a member of the Race can only be one who is of German blood. No Jew can be a member of the Race. Those who are not citizens of the State call only remain in Germany as strangers in a strange land. The State takes upon itself in the first place to provide life and livelihood for citizens of the State. When it is not possible to look after the whole population of the State, then those people of foreign nationality or foreign blood are to be sent out of the Reich.

In 1933 the Nazi Party became the German government, and I wish to quote a few of the German laws which were enacted since that date; for it is under these laws that Germans had to model their lives. In the same way as Englishmen are bound by English domestic law the German is bound by German law, but I wish in no way to trespass on matters of International Law because someone of far more weight than myself can speak on that hereafter. In the Law of 24th March, 1933, appears this passage: "The laws decided by the Reich government can deviate from the constitution in so far as they do not disturb the existence of the Reichstag or the rights of the President of the Reich." On 1st December, 1933, there was passed the law on which the whole National Socialist system since that date has been based - the law of the consolidation of the unity of the Party and State. The material part is as follows: After the victory of the National Socialist revolution the German Workers' Party becomes the bearer of the German idea of State, and with the State is inseparably united. "Head of the Party Chancellery." To ensure closest co-operation between offices of the Party with the public authorities the deputy of the Führer is made member of the Reich Government. The most important paragraph, "Party and S.A. Jurisdiction," reads as follows: "Members of the National Socialist Party and the S.A. and organisations included therein will have put upon them increased duties with regard to the Führer, people, and State; and the Führer can apply these conditions to members of that organisation of the Party." I submit that that paragraph puts members of the National Socialist Party above the German law.

On 1st August, 1934, a law was passed as follows: "The office of the Reich President is combined with that of the Reich Chancellor. Following on this the former duties of Reich President devolves on the Führer and Reich Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. He appoints his deputy. This law comes into force from the moment of the departure of Vice - President Hindenburg from this mortal life." So you have the National Socialist Government of Germany with Adolf Hitler at the top, and the Party members and organisation placed above German law. It goes further. In 1934 the Führer became the law. Two members of the S.S. killed a man in Breslau - and they were charged with murder under the ordinary domestic law. Hitler himself sent a telegram congratulating them on what they had done and the charge was dropped. The Court will remember the famous 30th June when many members of the Nazi Party were liquidated and Hitler himself in a broadcast said, "I am the law," and took upon himself the right of doing what he liked in the way of legal action.

Ever since the beginning of the Nazi Party one of the main planks in their programme has been anti - Judaism. There was no place for the Jews in the conception of National Socialism, and the liquidation of the Jews in Germany was a gradual process. In the first place it was done by ordinary German law, the process being to outlaw the Jews, and then by a law passed on 15th September, 1935, at Nuremberg, under which a mass of edicts were issued putting the Jews outside the ordinary pale. They could not take jobs or lend money; in fact, they had no place in the German social or civic system. A further law came into being for the protection of German blood and German honour - no German could have intercourse, in both the broad sense and the narrow sense, with any member of the Jewish race. Two laws were passed with regard to sterilization. The law of 14th July, 1933, "Law for the protection of generations to come who have hereditary disease," states: "The Government has power to sterilise those people without the permission of the person undergoing treatment." The law of 24th November, 1933, is the same law applied to habitual criminals. These laws applied to Greater Germany as it was at that time.

Germany when Hitler came into power, set about gathering unto itself several parts of the world, and by a law of 13th March, 1938, Austria became a part of the German Reich, and the Führer had power to extend to Austria all laws that were before only applied to Germany. By a succession of laws Sudetenland, Moravia, Memel and parts of Poland became part of the German Reich. Part of Poland still remained as occupied territory. A large part of that which joined the German Reich was the Province of Upper Silesia in which was situated the small, and at that time unknown, village of Auschwitz. From that time onwards the Nuremberg laws with regard to Jews were extended to all those countries. Party members had to buy unpleasant newspapers which shouted for the complete liquidation of the Jews, and Streicher was allowed to say what he liked about Jews and was never stopped by the Government as such.

It is not a very big step from the laws of Nuremberg to the chimneys of Auschwitz, of which we have heard so much.

There is a consolidated German law dealing with all kinds of matters which affected the citizen and his rights and duty. One paragraph deals with State secrets, and State secrets in this respect are writings, drawings, facts or news which might be of use to foreign governments or which would bring the National Socialist State into disrepute in the eyes of a foreign government. The punishment for such disclosures is death. An offence which is considered very serious in Germany is mutiny. Ordinary civil mutiny is given a punishment of up to ten years penal servitude, but if that mutiny is mutiny against Party authority or against an organisation of the Party, it is punishable with death.

The concentration camp is not a German copyright. The first concentration camp in modern times was set up by the British authorities during the South South African war to keep undesirable elements away until the fighting was over. The most modern concentration camp was set up in Egypt by the British in order to keep undesirable elements from Greece out of the reach of the ordinary people. The object of the German concentration camp was to segregate the undesirable elements, and the most undesirable element, from the German point of view, was the Jew.

As regards these German concentration camps, there were large numbers of people housed in them, and it is a fact that they were very overcrowded. The guards were few, and the administration staff was even fewer in proportion. The result was that it was left to the internees to do the ordinary "interior economy" of the camp, and that is the principle applied to prisoner of war and internee camps. The type of internee who came to these concentration camps was low, and had very little idea of doing what they were told, so that the control of these internees was a great problem.

Reichsführer Himmler was the head of all concentration camps, and he delegated the Concentration Camps Department to Obergruppenführer Pohl who held the position of Inspector General and was responsible for all the concentration camps in the whole of Greater Germany. Under Pohl was Gruppenführer Glücks who was the administration officer. He was responsible for all personnel, transport, which internee went to which camp, and so on. His department was subdivided into five departments of which D. 1, dealing with personnel, was under the charge, at the beginning, of Hoess, and D. 5, the medical department, under Dr. Lolling.

The S.S. began by being the elite bodyguard of Hitler, and they gradually grew into what became the most advanced element and the most thorough-going Nazi part of the whole system. In Germany the most non - Nazi part of the whole company was the Wehrmacht, and it was only just at the very beginning of the war that the Wehrmacht became Nazis, and you will hear from Kramer that there was no love lost between the S.S. and the Army. The Wehrmacht have always been considered by their enemies, the British and Americans as soldiers, that is the ordinary people who were fighting on the other side. But it is well known what the British thought of the S.S., and you may be sure that the Wehrmacht knew what the British thought of the S.S. In the past it had been difficult for the S.S. to get co-operation from the Wehrmacht; how much more difficult it must have been in the last days when Germany's defeat was assured. Another department which permeates the concentration camp is the Political Department - the Gestapo-and its job was primarily to keep check on the internees, to check their documents, see who they were and decide where they should go. Their second duty was to watch the S.S. and see that they carried out the orders. The Political Department was responsible to the Kommandant with regard to documents, etc., and direct also, without going through the usual channels, to Himmler's office as Head of the staff. They were not part of the ordinary concentration camp staff.

Auschwitz was the largest concentration camp in the whole of Greater Germany; it was a collection of camps controlled by Auschwitz No. 1, whose Kommandant was the Garrison Commander of the whole area. When they started, from the quartermaster's point of view, everything was done from Auschwitz No. 1 Camp - food, clothing, stores, transport, instructions for working parties. There was also something else done from Auschwitz No. 1, and that is, instructions with regard to the gas chamber. You will see the original telegram from Berlin appointing Hoess as Kommandant of Auschwitz No. 1 for the particular purpose of carrying out duties with regard to the gas chamber, and Kramer will tell you that when he arrived at Auschwitz he was told that the gas chamber was nothing to do with him. It is true that the gas chamber was situated in Birkenau, or Auschwitz No. 2, of which Kramer was at that time Kommandant, but his duty was analogous to a Battalion Commander in whose area is a prison, the orders for which come from Brigade Headquarters. Suppose the Brigade Commander sends a certain number of people to the prison with a written order that they should be executed, who is responsible for executing them? The Battalion Commander will carry out his orders. Can it be said that he is responsible for the execution ?

The gas chamber existed, there is no doubt about it. There is very little question about its purpose being to remove from Germany that part of the population which had no part in German life. The way it was done was by selections which took place when the transports arrived at the station, and, later on, inside the camp. These selections were ordered by Hoess, and later by the Kommandant who relieved him, and invariably they were presided over by a doctor. The head doctor and all the other doctors lived in Auschwitz No. 1, and all hospitals in these areas and all doctors, and everything connected with the hospitals, was directly under the control of Auschwitz No. 1. Present at these selections were certain S.S. people. Large numbers of transports were coming in, and when one thinks that a lot of these people knew what they were coming to Auschwitz for, I think it is fair to say that a good deal of control was needed when they arrived. These transports came into Auschwitz No. 2, Birkenau because the gas chamber was situated there, and it was Kramer's misfortune that he was Kommandant of that part. He will tell you that he received instructions from Hoess, and that he was responsible for for law and order on the arrival of the transports and for the control during the selections.

Allegations have been made against Kramer and other people in the camp that they took an active part in those selections, and actually chose victims themselves for the gas chamber. Kramer will tell you that he never once chose a victim for the gas chamber, that a physical selection was done by doctors to decide which people were capable of working for the German Reich.

There are many personal allegations against Kramer for personal acts of ill-treatment, and he will tell you what he has to say about them. The most important one was the revolt of 7th October, 1944, when Crematorium No. 1 was burned and when it appeared there was going to be a mutiny in the camp. Dr. Bendel stated that there was a wholesale execution by the S.S. of a large number of internees who had been working in the gas chamber, and it is alleged that Kramer was present. Kramer will tell you that somebody else was present there, and that was the Kommandant of Auschwitz No. 1 at that time, Baer, who was there when Kramer actually arrived at the scene of the execution, and he will tell you what Baer said to him on his arrival. Kramer made two statements, in the first of which he said that he knew nothing of the gas chamber and that everything about it is untrue from beginning to end. In his second statement he gives an account of the gas chamber, of the organisation of Hoess, and he makes no bones about it. He will give you a reason which, to a German and to a National Socialist, is something beyond making an admission to a British officer.

With regard to roll-calls, Kramer, as Kommandant, did not take part them, but he will tell you that a roll-call is an essential part of running any camp of any kind. As to ill-treatment and beatings, he will tell you that as he went up and down the camp he never did himself see any S.S. man or Kapo indiscriminately beating or ill-treating any of the internees. He never saw men or women members of the S.S. carrying sticks, rubber truncheons, or any of the articles of torture of which we have heard so much. He will tell you that S.S. men and women were authorised at Auschwitz to carry pistols as part of their uniform and for self-protection in view of the numbers of internees as compared with themselves. We have heard that although experiments took place at Auschwitz there were none carried out at Birkenau, but Kramer say that although he had heard about them he does not know what happened - it was not his province and he was not concerned with it.

Auschwitz was a camp which must have been loathed by all internees who had the misfortune to go there. It was also loathed by S.S. men who had anything to do with concentration camp life. It was an isolated village in a hostile country in the coldest part of Europe. It was a long way their homes, and it was well known in Germany that in Auschwitz there were those buildings with the tall chimneys. Kramer will tell you that when he first heard he was going there he tried to get out of it; he volunteered for the front, for anywhere, but was told personally by a high official that in Germany orders were orders. Eventually he left Auschwitz and came to a little village in North-West Germany called Belsen.

In the second half of April this year the word "Belsen" echoed round the world and became part of the vocabulary of most nations. It has been described as "The worst hell on earth," and when Brigadier Hughes contacted Kramer, he tells us that Kramer was unashamed. Kramer will say he was unashamed because he had carried out his orders as a German and that he had done all he could under the circumstances. We have had pictures of what it was like on 15th April from British medical and other officers, what it was like in the last few days of Belsen from Mr. Le Druillenec, and what it was like from February to April from Dr. Leo. In order to decide if Kramer has done all that he could under the circumstances the Court must know what the circumstances were when Kramer arrived, and the chain of events from that time until the liberation of the camp. It is quite clear from the evidence that there was a gradual deterioration of conditions which, as it got towards its end, gathered speed until it became completely out of hand.

Kramer has said in his statement, and will tell you in evidence, that he visited the head office of the Concentration Camp Service in Oranienburg on 30th November and received his marching orders for Belsen. He was told it contained a considerable number of Jews, people called Austausch Jews, who were to be exchanged against German nationals abroad. He does not know what the system was to this day, except that Jews were there and they were eventually going to go. He was also told that Belsen was to become a Krankenlager, a camp for sick people from all the other concentration camps in North - West Germany. He was not told that thousands would be coming pouring in from the Eastern part of Germany as the Russians advanced. On 1st December he arrived at Belsen and on the next day he wrote a letter, which I shall put before the Court, to his former chief at Auschwitz in which he described what Belsen was like.

The camp was composed of countless small compounds inhabited by different types of Jews. They were all kept separate, and he will tell you that it was like a ghetto. Some compounds were directly under the Concentration Camp Department at Oranienburg; certain sections under the Gestapo; certain sections under the German Foreign Office and others under the German Home Office. There was no division at all into nationalities. There were three types of rations - ordinary concentration camp ration, extra ration for sick and for children, and the ordinary civilian ration which some of the Jews were supposed to get. None of the Jews were capable of work, and none were working. There were five lorries and no drivers. The number of people there at the handover was certified as 15257, and amongst these was a certain number of sick people who had arrived from concentration camps.

On 1st December Kramer arrived, and at the end of that month a number of these Jews, 2000 odd, were, in fact, exchanged and went elsewhere. In January Kramer took over the camp next door which had been a Russian prisoner of war camp, and which he turned into the women's compound. In January the first transports arrived, and about the middle of that month Dr. Lolling, on the instructions of Glücks, went to Belsen to see if Kramer was carrying out the orders he had been given and generally to report back what the state of affairs was. He made a detailed tour through the camp and returned to Oranienburg to make his report. In February spotted fever broke out, and Kramer closed the camp and informed Berlin. Berlin replied: "Fever or no fever, Belsen remains open." The state of affairs at the end of February was, to say the least of it, worrying Kramer, and on 1st March he made a detailed written report to Berlin on the situation. During the month of March transports began arriving in ever-increasing numbers, and towards the end of the month Pohl himself came down to Belsen. Whether he came in answer to Kramer's letter or to have a look round is not clear, but it is clear front the evidence of Dr. Leo that he got a very good idea of what Belsen was like and a very good idea of what the worst part of Belsen was like. Pohl went back to Oranienburg, and that is all we know of him.

On 15th April Belsen was liberated. Kramer, as Kommandant, is right in being held responsible for the general administration of the camp, and he has no intention whatever of shifting that burden on to anyone else. One of the most important things when you are looking after internees is to feed them, and Kramer will tell you that when he arrived at Belsen he was told that food for the winter for 15000 internees had been indented for; only a small part of that food had actually arrived on the spot, and he will tell you what his stores of food were during the period he was at Belsen. The authority for issuing food came from the local food people at Hamburg head office, and Celle, which was a sub district head office. At the beginning, food was sent to him either by rail or by transport, and when, due to bombing, transport services were not running to normal, he himself had to send out his troops to collect the food. He has said in his statement that he got some food from the Wehrmacht depot in Bergen-Belsen barracks, and we have had a glowing picture of the conditions in the food stores when the British took over: sacks of sugar, tinned milk, tinned meat, flour and various other things. Kramer will tell you that at no time did he receive from that store any of these articles. The only thing he got from the barracks was bread from the bread store, and when he says he got food there, that was the food he got. He also got bread from a big bread factory in Hanover [Hannover], but with the advance of the British and the accuracy of the R.A.F. bombing, that factory was put out of commission and bread from there finished. He got bread also from a bread factory at Soltau, near Belsen. In his letter of 1st March he says that at that date he had potatoes for eight days and turnips for six days.

There have been allegations that Kramer did nothing about the water system. As long as the electric current was running, water was running. Kramer knew that the water depended on that, and before the current was cut off he had these concrete ponds cleared up, and he will tell you what was found inside them at the time. He had them cleared out, leveled and barbed wire put round to prevent the internees throwing things into them or getting near these ponds for any other purpose than that authorised, which was for drinking water. So when the current did finally go, there were these concrete ponds. There was no water for washing, and there was nothing he could do about that.

When Kramer first arrived there was sufficient sanitation, there were lavatories in each hut. But at that time Kramer gave orders for trenches to be dug, and we have heard from one witness that the sandy soil was one of the easiest soils to dig in. The trenches were dug, and there was no reason why they should not be dug right through until the liberation. Kramer will tell you about those internees. Amongst them there were people - who naturally performed their natural functions where they felt inclined, and, in addition to that, the vast majority of them were sick and unable to make their way to the place where it was intended they should perform these natural functions.

Accommodation was grossly overcrowded by any standard that can be thought of. Kramer had two alternatives. When transports arrived he could either put them into the camp or he could leave them outside. He had instructions to take them into the camp. He never knew when they were coming or how many were coming, or what condition they were going to be in. They came in and he put them into the camp, and they went inside the buildings. That is how the accommodation was grossly overcrowded. When he got there about half the people had beds, that is to say there were about 2000 three - tier beds. When he took over the large compound, which had formerly been the prisoner of war camp, he took over no beds at all, because the beds went with the prisoners. He mentions beds in his report, and in the second half of March he did apparently get 500 three - tier which were, to use the words of Dr. Leo, like a drop of water on a hotplate. All the internees moving from one concentration camp to another were supposed to carry two blankets, and Kramer never had any stocks of blankets. If people came without blankets they were without blankets in the new concentration camp. We have heard that, in the cookhouses, food had to have three cookings in order to produce a meal. It is obvious that Belsen was completely deficient of all the essential things required for cooking food for a large number, and Kramer asked repeatedly for more of these big boilers so that three cookings would be avoided.

We have heard also a lot about the disposal of the dead. There was a small crematorium in the camp which became hopelessly inadequate to deal with the large number of people who died. Dr. Leo told us that large funeral pyres were made on which the dead were burned, but the Forestry Commission refused to allow Kramer to take wood and cut down trees from the surrounding district. There is a suggestion that it was only when Kramer heard that the British were on his doorstep that he began to think of clearing the camp. He will tell you that these mass graves were begun long before the British ever got near the camp. Bodies were being moved by transport and car before Mr. Le Druillenec ever heard of Belsen. We have heard about the British subject called Keith Meyer [Mayor], but Kramer will tell you that he received one and only one order from Berlin for the execution of an internee. We have a picture of Kramer sending for his thugs from Auschwitz to come and do the same thing at Belsen. The Court will hear from Kramer that Auschwitz was broken up as a camp at the beginning of 1945 because the Russians were advancing, and all the internees were sent away to other camps, mostly to Belsen, and it is quite obvious that the staff at Auschwitz was distributed among the staffs of other concentration camps, and that is the reason why numbers of the Auschwitz staff came to Belsen.

Kramer will tell you again that he had no knowledge of any beating or ill-treatment on the part of the S.S. while he was at Belsen. We have heard of the medical arrangements in the camp in February and in the middle of April. Kramer himself, although responsible as Kommandant, delegated everything to do with the medical side of the administration to his doctor, who at the beginning was Schnabel, then Horstmann, and right at the end Dr. Klein. It is quite clear that people in authority at Oranienburg knew that Belsen was to be a camp for sick people, and it is quite obvious that they must have known what there was at Belsen. Dr. Lolling himself came down to see, and went away with a picture of the hospital and medical arrangements which there were, and he must have known what was further required. There is an allegation that a gas chamber was being built at Belsen, but Kramer will tell you that that is nothing but a lie.

Kramer was told that there would be sick people coming from camps in North - West Germany. Those people certainly came to Belsen, and to say that they were sick people is an under - estimate. A large number of them were dying; a large number were dead when they arrived. In addition, there were the people coming from Eastern Germany who were being sent by the Germans to get them away from the Russians. They all came to Belsen, and they came with no notice. They came in small numbers and they came in large numbers; they came by train, truck and on foot. They came in the day - time and at night-time. They came with blankets, they came without blankets. It is quite clear that towards the end the people who sent these transports had not the faintest idea of what was happening. Kramer will tell you that at the beginning of April he received a notice that a large transport was on its way, and it was on that very day that he heard that the British or American armoured spearheads were in Brunswick [Braunschweig] and in Hanover [Hannover].

It is inevitable, that much of what Kramer is going to say will be uncorroborated. Men like Pohl, Glücks and Dr. Lolling are not available for a very good reason. So many of Kramer's attempts to get things done came to naught that you may wonder whether he really made these attempts or intended to make them. As evidence of corroboration of what was in his mind I shall call a witness who shared his hopes, and to a certain extent his plans, and also completely shared his trials. She will tell you, as far as she knows, what was in his mind during these difficult times.

Finally, in the last days, Kramer stood completely alone, deserted by his superiors, while these waves of circumstances beat around him. Since the date of the liberation by the British, Josef Kramer, former Kommandant has been brandished throughout the world as "The Beast of Belsen." When the curtain finally rings down on this stage Josef Kramer will, in my submission, stand forth not as "The Beast of Belsen" but as "The Scapegoat of Belsen," the scapegoat for the man Heinrich Himmler whose bones are rotting on Lüneburg Heath not very far from here, and as the scapegoat for the whole National Socialist system.

The Trial (Defence - Opening Speech for the Defendant Josef Kramer)