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


This book tells a story which , in its horrible account of "man's inhumanity to man " has perhaps never been surpassed. Yet it was right that it should be written and it is right that it should be widely read. Mr. Phillips has performed his task faithfully and well. He has omitted no material which the reader requires to form his own judgment on the events which were revealed at the trial.

I myself find it quite impossible to believe that these events were not widely known throughout the German Reich; and it is to the eternal disgrace of the German peoples that they should have been, as they must have been, tolerated.

The reader may ask himself how it is possible that a race which has contributed so much to literature, to music and to the arts, which boasted, not without reason, of its contribution to culture and science, can have sunk to these depths of degradation.

He will, I think, find the answer in the general acceptance of the Führer principle which is expressed in the following oath which all members of the S.S. took: '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."

That was the doctrine of the Party and the Party was all powerful; and to this doctrine there was no qualification. That obedience which had to be rendered to Caesar was not controlled or qualified by that higher obedience which should be rendered to God.

There was no God save Hitler. This was the monstrous doctrine that the Party accepted; this was the monstrous doctrine that the nation - with exceptions, as few as they were honourable-tolerated.

In such circumstances, whatever the character of the leader may be, this way lies disaster; for it is surely true that "absolute power corrupts absolutely." But when the leader starts by being a half-crazy degenerate, disaster must come very soon.

His commands were obeyed. He called other men as evil as himself as his lieutenants and their commands were obeyed. It mattered not that these commands offended against every principle that civilized have held sacred-those who carried them out lost all feelings of of pity, of tolerance, of justice. Obedience to orders was the which rendered all these feelings ineffective, and in all too short a time the drug had done its work. The orders were welcomed just because they defied these feelings.

One of the accused said that she always tried to remind herself that she was a human being and a woman. It is all too plain from the evidence which this book records that she failed in both respects.

I have said that I think this book should be widely read, and I think this just because I think it important that everyone should see the frightful consequences that followed - and, as I believe, will ever follow-the acceptance of this principle.

It was a relief to me as I read this book and found myself becoming sickened by an account of the horrors of Belsen and Auschwitz to find also revealed on page after page evidence of the magnificent fairness with which this trial was conducted.

I have always admired the way in which Courts-Martial are conducted. I believe that for Service offences no better and no fairer tribunal could be secured. It must be difficult for a military tribunal whose members have little or no experience in criminal cases to conduct such a trial as was here involved.

For myself, I do not doubt that an experienced judge sitting with assessors would have been able to dispose of this case in a shorter - and probably a far shorter - time than was occupied in this trial.

If this course had been taken I think that none of those convicted would have been acquitted, but I think it possible that some of those acquitted would have been convicted.

I doubt, too, whether the accused and their defenders would have been allowed the latitude which they were in fact allowed; but in any prosecution it is well to err, if indeed there was any error, on the side of the accused.

We, who have inherited the British tradition of justice, may indeed be proud of the manner in which this trial was conducted. May the facts here revealed make it unnecessary that any similar trial should ever be conducted again.